The Historicity of Jesus Christ’s Existence
By Jack Wellman |
Posted 3:50 pm on July 26, 2010
Perhaps most people don’t believe in Jesus Christ because they think that the only written record of His life is restricted to the Bible and many people see scriptures as less than 100 percent convincing. In fact, some go so far as to say that He never even existed! This is hard to believe, since even the non-religious or other world religions have heard of Him. And there are enormous amounts of secular history from secular historians who were contemporaries’ of Jesus and that go into great detail in writing about Him that are most convincing. And these Historians included almost every culture in the world at that time. Here is what they wrote.
Thallus is perhaps the earliest secular writer to mention Jesus in his writings….even though his writings are so ancient, that no copies exist but those of Julius Africanus, whose writing around 221 A.D. quotes Thallus. Thallus and Africanus both explain mention a strange darkness that occurred at the point of Jesus’ crucifixion. And these stories of a “strange darkness” were written about far and wide on Earth. They all coincided with around 32-33 A.D.
Africanus writes that “Thallus in the third book of his histories, explains away this darkness as an eclipse of the sun…” This record of Thallus, confirms that Jesus lived, and was crucified and that something highly unusual and unexplainable happened on that day. There were many reports of various earthquakes, destruction, and a “strange darkness."
Africanus also mentions a historian named Phlegon who wrote a chronological history around 140 A.D. In this history, Phlegon also mentions the darkness surrounding the crucifixion in an effort to explain it, but even more interestingly, he mentions Jesus’ ability to foresee the future in describing the life of our Savior.
Josephus (A.D. 37 – c. 100), born of a priestly and royal ancestry, survived and recorded the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 [*]…and he was a prodigy. At age 13, he was already a consultant for the Jewish rabbis, by 16 he became a Galilean military commander and a Roman citizen. And being under the rule of Roman Emperor Vespasian, he was allowed to write a First Century history of the Jews. Being a devout Jew and Roman citizen, Josephus could hardly be described as a hostile witness. He wrote more about Kings the Messiah’s, but Josephus makes references to the Sadducees, the names of Jewish High Priests of the time, the Pharisees and the Essenes, the Herodian Temple, Quirinius' census and the Zealots. He also writes of such figures as Pontius Pilate, Herod the Great, Agrippa I and Agrippa II, John the Baptist, James the brother of Jesus, and to Jesus. He even describes the death of John the Baptist, mentions the execution of James -- all of which are described in the New Testament.
People, groups, times and events written about are corroborated in the New Testament by Josephus’ history. He describes the death of John the Baptist, and calls James the brother of “Jesus the Christ“. In his final passage he writes that Jesus was a wise man and the Messiah, and there is a retelling the resurrection story! All of which is described as such in the Bible. Josephus writes in his Antiquities of the Jews (18.63-64; 3.3).
“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.”
The interesting thing is that the Historian Origen states that Josephus was "not believing in Jesus as the Christ" [1.] "he did not accept Jesus as Christ" [2.], but Josephus’ declares in the Jesus to be Christ (in the Testimonium). The manuscript evidence in support of the iron-clad, "pre-accretions" reference to Jesus in Josephus is very strong and accepted by the great majority of professional historians [of which I am one]. Between the New Testament and Jospheus, there is no serious reason whatsoever to doubt the historical 'existence' of the Jesus of Nazareth behind those references.
All the relevant non-Jewish historical sources of the time mention Jesus! It is nearly universal. Not just in the books, but common knowledge of Jesus life and death among the people. This was not done undercover, but out in the open as much as could be possible. The crucifixion was done on a hill, and always by a man thoroughfare, for all to see, far and wide. The list is enormous: Tacitus (Annals, AD 115-120), Suetonius (Lives of the Caesars, AD 125), Lucian (mid-2nd century), Galen (AD 150; De pulsuum differentiis 2.4; 3.3) Celsus (True Discourse, AD 170), Mara Bar Serapion (pre AD-200?), Jewish Talmudic References (AD 300).
Jesus historicity and story became known from the Mediterranean to Africa to Asia Minor, and into most of the known world at the time. One example was around 70 A.D., when a Syrian philosopher named Mara Bar-Serapion, writing to encourage his son, compares the life and persecution of Jesus with that of other philosophers who were persecuted for their ideas. He used Him as an example of being persecuted for your belief. The fact that Jesus is known to be a real person with this kind of influence is important. It should not surprise us that Mara Bar-Serapion refers to Jesus as the “Wise King” and was held in high esteem but most of the known-world religions, save Judaism.
Additionally, Suetonius, Pliny the Younger, and Eusebius of Caesarea, who was a third century theologian who used the library in Caesarea for much of his research. Tertullian wrote about Christian worship and persecution that is consistent with New Testament accounts. Justin Martyr, a Gentile who lived in Palestine and later became a Christian records the many doctrines of the church, like the Sacraments, Salvation, etc. “Resources for Philo of Alexandria” who was a Jewish philosopher and historian that lived in the first century.
As we have seen and read, Jesus Himself being historically indisputable; what more can be said, other than He did live, He did many wonders, He did die from crucifixion for the Redemption, (John 3:16), He did rise again, He was known as The Messiah, and as The Christ. This man and His story….is History, incontrovertibly.
1. Origen, Against Celsus, i:47
2. Origen, Commentary on Matthew, x:17
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