Section 1 .. Choose Life That You Might Live

003white  Index to Choose Life       >      Part 10: Historical Corroboration


Choose Life That You Might Live

Part 10: Historical Corroboration... Were Any Of The Gospel Accounts Substantiated By Non-Christian Sources?
While none prove Jesus is the Son of God, they certainly lend credibility to the Gospel accounts

Carol Brooks
Edited by Vicki Narlee

List of Chapters
For a slightly longer description of each chapter, please go to the Main Index

Part 1: ‘Spiritual But Not Religious’. The question is how do you know that the spiritual path you are on will lead somewhere you want to be?
Part 2: Religious Pluralism. Anyone who doesn't have their facts straight cannot be trusted, and certainly not to show you the path to God.
Part 3: Faith and The Bible. Christianity is perhaps the only religion that does not demand 'blind faith' from its followers.
Part 4: God And His Bible. There is far more evidence in favor of the Bible being true, than there is for any of the other 'holy books.
Part 5: Differences and Discrepancies in the Old Testament (Pending)
  Part 6: Why Jesus Is Without Equal. Anyone can claim to be divine, be divinely inspired, or have mystical visions or experiences, but...
Part 7: The Reliability of The New Testament. Applying the same standards to the Bible as we do to other ancient literary works.
Part 8: Differences and Discrepancies in the New Testament. Most alleged 'mistakes' arise from understanding too little about the Bible.
Part 8 b: Alleged Discrepancies in the Resurrection Accounts
 Part 9: The Bible, Then And Now. The New Testament happens to be the best authenticated ancient document... by far.
YOU ARE HERE001orange Part 10: Historical Corroboration. Were any of the Gospel accounts substantiated by non-Christian sources?
Part 11: Does archaeology confirm, or undermine, the New Testament accounts?
Part 12: Is The Evidence Insufficient or Too Obscure? A far more sensible way to look at it is... the more severe the consequences, the fewer risks we should take.
Part 13: The Message of The Bible. The Heaven Jesus was sent to tell us about is no pie in the sky ethereal place 'somewhere out there'
Part 14: The Warning of The Bible. We are all under the death penalty.
Part 15: Who Is and Isn't a Christian. Since the word originated with the Bible, only the Bible has the right to define what a "Christian" is. Part 16: Myths and misconceptions that stem from knowing too little about Biblical Christianity.



The Jews
The Talmud

The Gentiles
Tacitus - A Roman Historian
Lucian of Samosata
Pliny the Younger

Why Isn't There More Evidence Like Coins and Inscriptions?... Seriously?


Did Any Secular Authors Confirm Any New Testament Accounts?

The Jews
Josephus, a Jew, a Pharisee, and an important historian of the day, completed The Antiquities (a history of the Jewish people) about A.D. 93. One of Josephus' writings about Jesus has been hotly contested through the ages. Called the Testimonium Flavianum, it says...

    "About this time there lived a Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Christ... When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing among us, has condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvelous things about him. And the tribe if Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared". [Antiquities 18.3.3.]

Many scholars, familiar with the works of Josephus, have agreed than the passage, as a whole, is authentic, but that there are certain phrases which Josephus would probably not have used. For example "if indeed one ought to call him a man" was probably inserted by Christian copyists somewhere along the way. It is also unlikely that Josephus would have flatly stated that Jesus was The Christ.
However, we cannot throw the baby out with the bath water. The interpolations aside, Josephus corroborates that Jesus was the martyred leader of the Jerusalem church, and that He had a large following. (The entire argument for and against can be read HERE

In his Anitiquities Josephus also says..

    "He convened a meeting of the Sanhedrin and brought before them a man named James, the brother of Jesus, who was called the Christ, and certain others. He accused them of having transgressed the law and delivered them up to be stoned". [Antiquities 20.9.1] [01]

This passage does not prove that Jesus was who He said He was, but it does provide evidence that a man called James, the brother of Jesus, was condemned by the Sanhedrin, and stoned. As said by Dr. Paul L. Maier, Professor of Ancient History at Western Michigan University..

    "This, Josephus's second reference to Jesus, shows no tampering whatever with the text and it is present in all Josephus manuscripts. "

He adds

    Nor could the New Testament have served as Josephus' source since it provides no detail on James's death. For Josephus to further define Jesus as the one "who was called the Christos" was both credible and even necessary in view of the twenty other Jesuses he cites in his works....

    Furthermore, his second citation regarding the attitudes of the high priest and Sanhedrin versus that of the Roman governor perfectly mirrors the Gospel versions of the two opposing sides at the Good Friday event. And this extrabiblical evidence comes not from a Christian source trying to make the Gospels look good, but from a totally Jewish author who never converted to Christianity. [02]

The Talmud, which contains the teachings and opinions of thousands of rabbis on a variety of subjects, is the basis of religious authority in orthodox Judaism, and is much quoted in rabbinic literature. It contains passages that some scholars have concluded are references to Jesus. Others do not believe they have any relationship to the historical Jesus.

However, if these texts do, in fact, refer to Jesus Christ, they do not mention Him favorably, which would hardly be surprising. They say He was the Son of Mary... a teacher of the Torah, a sorcerer who had disciples, an idolater who led people astray. And, possibly in reference to the miracles done by Him, that He practiced magic. Also, that He was executed and would be punished in hell. 

Scholars have identified passages that they believe mention Jesus' execution:

    "On (Sabbath eve and) the eve of Passover Jesus the Nazarene was hanged and a herald went forth before him forty days heralding, 'Jesus the Nazarene is going forth to be stoned because he practiced sorcery and instigated and seduced Israel to idolatry. Whoever knows anything in defense may come and state it.' But since they did not find anything in his defense they hanged him on (Sabbath eve and) the eve of Passover. Ulla said: Do you suppose that Jesus the Nazarene was one for whom a defense could be made? He was a mesit (someone who instigated Israel to idolatry), concerning whom the Merciful [God]says: Show him no compassion and do not shield him (Deut. 13:9).

It is extremely unlikely that we will ever come to any firm conclusion on the matter, but I have to wonder how many men called Jesus from Nazareth were executed on the eve of Passover.

The Gentiles
Please note that while the following secular accounts do not tell us whether Jesus really existed, they do substantiate the beliefs of the very early church.

Tacitus - A Roman Historian
The Roman historian, Tacitus, was a personal friend of the historian Pliny the Younger, and is generally considered a reliable historian. In A.D. 115, he wrote the following...

    But not all the relief that could come from man, not all the Bounties that the prince could bestow, nor all the atonements Which could be presented to the gods, availed to relieve Nero From the infamy of being believed to have ordered the Conflagration, the fire of Rome. Hence to suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished Christians, who were Hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was Put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign Of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief Originated, but through the city of Rome also, where all things Hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their Center and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first Made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an Immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of Firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. (Tacitus, Annals of Imperial Rome, XV.44

Tacitus called Christianity a 'mischievous superstition', from which we can infer that he was not sympathetic to the new religion. However, he unwittingly provides us with some significant corroboration to the Gospels.

    1. Christ was ’put to death’ under Roman procurator, Pontius Pilate, which is totally consistent with all four gospels.

    2. Christ was crucified during the reign of Tiberias (14 AD to 37 AD). It is very likely that Jesus was crucified around A.D. 27.

    3. Christ's crucifixion briefly checked the spread of Christianity, but it then broke out again in Judea and even in Rome. Again this is entirely consistent with the Gospel narratives, which says Christianity gathered momentum only from the day of Pentecost, forty days after Jesus' death.

    4. An "immense multitude"  believed in Jesus by the time of Nero and were arrested for their faith by Nero.

Tacitus also confirms that the Christians were falsely accused of crimes... not only setting fire to the city, but "hatred against mankind". This probably rose from their refusal to worship pagan gods, and the Emperor himself.

Paul L. Maier, cited earlier, wrote...

    Tacitus, it should be emphasized, was not some Christian historian who was trying to prove that Jesus Christ really lived, but a pagan who despised Christians as a "disease," a term he uses later in the passage. Had Jesus never even existed, he would have been the first to expose that pathetic phantom on whom such cultists placed their trust. Were no other references to Jesus available, this passage alone would have been sufficient to establish his historicity. Skeptics realize this, and so have tried every imaginable means to discredit this passage-but to no avail. Manuscript analysis and computer studies have never found any reason to call this sentence into question, nor its context". [03]

You can read more about the debate here.... http://www.tektonics.org/jesusexist/tacitus.php

Lucian of Samosata
(AD 125 – after AD 180)
was a rhetorician and satirist who wrote in Greek. He satirized the Christians in his Passing of Peregrinus, a story of a philosopher/sage who at one point becomes a leader of the Christians to take advantage of their gullibility.

    The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day --the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account.....

    You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws. All this they take quite on trust, with the result that they despise all worldly goods alike, regarding them merely as common property. Now an adroit, unscrupulous fellow, who has seen the world, has only to get among these simple souls, and his fortune is pretty soon made; he plays with them. [04]

His text confirms that Jesus, who was worshiped introduced "novel rites" and was crucified. Also Christians believed in eternal life, and denied false gods.

Pliny the Younger
Around 111 A.D., Pliny the Younger, governor of Bithynia, wrote the following to the Emperor Trajan

    "I have asked them if they are Christians, and if they admit it, I repeat the question a second and third time, with a warning of the punishment awaiting them. If they persist, I order them to be led away for execution; for whatever the nature of their admission, I am convinced that their stubbornness and unshakable obstinacy ought not to go unpunished...

    They also declared that the sum total of their guilt or error amounted to no more than this: that they met regularly before dawn on a fixed day to chant verses alternately amongst themselves in honor of Christ as if  to a god, and also to bind themselves by oath, not for any criminal purpose, but to abstain from theft, robbery, and adultery ...

    This made me decide it was all the more necessary to extract the truth by torture from two slave-women, whom they called deaconesses. I found nothing but a degenerate sort of cult carried to extravagant lengths." (Pliny the Younger, Letters 10.96)

This letter, this time from a persecutor of the church, shows us that the Christians by the early second century most definitely considered Christ to be a god, if not God.


In The Life of Claudius 25.4, Suetonius, secretary and historian to Hadrian, Emperor of Rome from 117 to 138 AD, noted...

    "As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome." [05]

There is a huge amount of controversy surrounding this verse, particularly in regard to whether Chrestus is a misspelling of Christus. However, it seemed fairly common for both pagan and Christian authors to spell the name using either an e or an i- .

    In his first apology, Justin Martyr who was born around the end of the first century, used the incorrect spelling of Chrestian. [06]

Tertullian (c. 155 –240 AD) was a prolific early Christian author from Carthage. He criticised pagan hatred for Christianity and pointed out the fact they didn't even get the name right.

    But Christian, so far as the meaning of the word is concerned, is derived from anointing. Yes, and even when it is wrongly pronounced by you "Chrestianus" (for you do not even know accurately the name you hate), it comes from sweetness and benignity. You hate, therefore, in the guiltless, even a guiltless name. But the special ground of dislike to the sect is, that it bears the name of its Founder. [07]

Lactantius (c. 274-337 AD) who tutored Constantine's son, Crispus repeats Tertullian's lament

    "But although His name, which the supreme Father gave Him from the beginning, is known to none but Himself, nevertheless He has one name among the angels, and another among men, since He is called Jesus among men: for Christ is not a proper name, but a title of power and dominion; for by this the Jews were accustomed to call their kings. But the meaning of this name must be set forth, on account of the error of the ignorant, who by the change of a letter are accustomed to call Him Chrestus" [08] 

Critics also claim the unrest could not have serve as evidence for the historicity of Christ, because there are, apparently, other records of Claudius expelling Jews from Rome which took place between somewhere around 49, or 52-53 AD. In other words, this revolt happened quite a few years after Christ's time.

This contention actually makes no sense whatsoever since, the passage says there was an instigation, not that "Chresto" was the instigator. The original Latin reads

    "Iudaeos (The Jews) impulsore (the instigation) Chresto (Chrestus) assidue (upon) tumultuantis (making a disturbance) Roma (Rome) expulit (were expelled)."

In fact, an expulsion of 'Jews' is mentioned in Acts 18:1-2, which says Paul left Athens and went to Corinth, where he met a Jew named Aquila, who had "recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had commanded all the Jews to leave Rome". Note: It is reasonable certain that Luke finished writing the book of Acts by AD 62, since he says nothing about the deaths of Paul or James, the brother of Christ and leader of the church in Jerusalem. Paul was executed during Nero's reign, which ended in A.D. 68, and the Jewish historian Josephus tells us that James was killed in 62.


I have to wonder...

Why Isn't There More Evidence?
There are several reason for the paucity of evidence.

Palestine is only 60 miles wide in places, yet it is strategically positioned as a land bridge between three continents... Asia, Africa and Europe. It is little wonder then that various empires (including Egypt, Assyria, Babylon, Persia, Greece, etc) seeking to control what was an important trade and military route, fought wars over this very narrow piece of real estate. In fact, it was the ideal place for God to make Himself known, since innumerable people passed through Palestine heading every which way.

Having said that, it is also important to remember that not too many people were interested in the country itself, just its very strategic location. In the time of Christ, Israel itself was not a significant economic, political, and cultural center, but a backwater on the eastern frontiers of the Roman Empire. Nor was Jerusalem exactly a booming Metropolis or center of learning. An event in Jerusalem, even a noteworthy event, especially one that both Roman and Jewish authorities were opposed to, was but a small storm in an even smaller teacup. As New Testament scholar and Principal of Wycliffe Hall, Oxford, Anglican cleric Professor R. T. France said,

    The explanation for this lack of evidence is to be found in the nature and scale of the early Christian movement.

    From the point of view of Roman history of the first century, Jesus was a nobody. A man of no social standing, who achieved brief local notice in a remote and little-loved province as a preacher and miracle-worker, and who was duly executed by order of a minor provincial governor, could hardly be expected to achieve mention in the Roman head-lines. Even his fellow-countrymen who did not respond to his mission would not be likely to think much of him once his execution had put paid to his claims.

    If Jesus was to be noticed it would more likely be through the success of the movement which he founded. As we noted above, it is Christianity rather than Jesus which first makes an appearance in Roman records. In the light of the political prominence which Christianity achieved in the fourth century, it is natural for us to envisage it as an imposing movement from the beginning. But sociological studies indicate first-century Christianity as a predominantly lower-class movement, with only a very limited appeal to the influential classes. And the careful reader of Paul's letters and of the Acts of the Apostles does not gain the impression of a mass movement, but rather of small, rather isolated groups of Christians banding together for mutual support in a hostile environment. Such groups are not the stuff of which news stories are made. [09]

Yet, apparently some people do have what amounts to, in some cases, very unrealistic expectations.

No Coins and Inscriptions
In his article Why I Don't Buy the Resurrection Story (6th ed., 2006), Richard Carrier talks about the various coins struck by the Roman emperors.

    Consider what we have for Caesar. In 47 B.C. coins were struck by the government of Antioch (which Caesar had just liberated from Pompey) declaring it to be "year two of the era of Caesar." Cicero's letters confirm that Caesar's conquest of the Roman Empire began in 49 B.C., two years before this coin was struck. This is corroborating physical evidence. Comparably, if we had coins struck in Damascus in 33 A.D. declaring "year two of the era of Jesus Christ," that would be physical evidence corroborating the resurrection of Jesus.

    We have other coins struck by Caesar himself during the war to pay his soldiers, then coins struck celebrating Caesar's victory over Rome (and then coins struck by Brutus celebrating his assassination of Caesar). In a similar fashion, inscriptions document Caesar's victory over Rome, his capture of Italy, and his founding of colonies for veterans of the war there. We could certainly have had similar inscriptions by or about Jesus erected during his life, or shortly thereafter, documenting his miracles in life or appearances after death, or the subsequent commitments of the Church, and so on. But we don't. [10]

Which, to me, are absolutely absurd comments.

Caesar was a Roman emperor with all means, authority, and power that came with the position. He could strike all the coins his little heart desired and, I am sure, that there were plenty of people willing to put up inscriptions documenting his victories all over the place. In complete contrast, in 33 A.D. the disciples were a rag tag bunch with no leader. Even after Pentecost when Christianity began to spread, they were endlessly persecuted, and even executed for their faith.

Carrier also asks whether it was "unreasonable of Diogenes of Oenoanda to erect an inscription conveying the complete gospel of his beloved philosopher Epicurus" and adds it would not be unreasonable

    "... to expect some Christians to have done the same. If any king had been converted, for example, it would not be unreasonable for him to mint coins honoring his new god... If Joseph of Arimathea was indeed a rich believer, it would not be unreasonable for him to do what Diogenes did and inscribe his own beloved gospel in stone somewhere. And motives aside, the point remains we still don't have any such evidence. It doesn't matter why we don't have it. We still don't have it. [11]

To begin with, he forgets that "Diogenes was wealthy enough to acquire a large tract of land in the city of Oenoanda to construct (or possibly buy) a piazza to display his inscription" [12] Although there is some doubt as to exactly how 'converted' he was, the first king to turn to Christianity was the Roman emperor Constantine, in the fourth century. After the edict of Milan, Christians, protected from religious persecution could, for the first time, draw breath without fear. Oh yes, and not only did Constantine's military standard display the "Chi-Rho" symbol (formed from the first two Greek letters of the word "Christ") but He had coins issued that depicted his labarum spearing a serpent.

Also, although Joseph of Arimathea was a prominent member of the Sanhedrin, the court which condemned Jesus to death, the Bible very clearly states that he was a secret disciple of Jesus "for fear of the Jews". He got Pilate's permission to take Jesus' body away then, along with Nidodemus, bound the body with spices and laid it in the tomb. (John 19:38-42). By doing this, he risked his reputation and his very life. One hardly would expect him to then run around erecting inscriptions.

Continue on to Part 11: Does Archaeology Confirm, or Undermine, The New Testament Accounts? In spite of the fact that the four Gospels are ancient documents that claim to be eye witness testimony, much of what those men wrote was dismissed as the product of fervent and vivid imagination. Yet, archaeology has corroborated many minute details found in the New Testament. About those details that haven't been substantiated, I only have this to say... Isn't it amazing how we, in our infinite wisdom, think that something in the ancient past cannot possibly be true simply because we haven't found any tangible evidence for it?  CLICK HERE


Endnotes (Chapter 10)

[01] Antiquities of the Jews - Book XX. http://earlyjewishwritings.com/text/josephus/ant20.html

[02] Paul L. Maier. Josephus and Jesus. http://www.4truth.net/fourtruthpbjesus.aspx?pageid=8589952897

[03] Did Jesus Really Exist? By Paul L. Maier, The Russell H. Seibert Professor of Ancient History, Western Michigan University

[04] The Death Of Peregrine. http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/luc/wl4/wl420.htm
Also Sumber: Lucian, The Death of Peregrine 11–13, translated by H.W. Fowler and F.G. Fowler in The Works of Lucian of Samosata (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1949), vol. 4.

[05] Early Christian Writings. Suetonius. Early Christian Writings is copyright © 2001-2014 Peter Kirby.

[06] Justin Martyr. First Apology . Chapter Iv -- Christians Unjustly Condemned For Their Mere Name.

[07] Tertullian Apology, Chapter III http://earlychristianwritings.com/text/tertullian01.html

[08] Lactantius. Chapter VII. http://www.ccel.org/ccel/schaff/anf07.iii.ii.iv.vii.html

[09] Professor R. T. France. The Gospels As Historical Sources For Jesus,The Founder Of Christianity.

[10] Richard Carrier. Why I Don't Buy the Resurrection Story. http://infidels.org/library/modern/richard_carrier/resurrection/rubicon.html

[11] ibid.

[12] Wikipedia. Quoting Reale, Giovanni (1990), A History of Ancient Philosophy: The Schools of the Imperial Age, SUNY Pressl


Index To
Choose Life