The Truth Is…
There Is No Evidence For Jesus Christ Outside the Bible
The recording of history was in full bloom in Jesus time. Presumably, many were aware of the wonders of Jesus “… the churches … throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria … were edified… and … were multiplied.” – Acts 9:31. There were many well known Greek and Roman authors at the time Jesus did his miracles. Yet no where is there any reference to his divinity or these miracles in any writings of the era. One would think that if he really performed the miracles attributed to him, there would be more than two eye-witnesses (Matthew and John) writing about it. If he was such a thorn in the side of the Romans, shouldn’t they have given him more press? They do write about their Gods a lot. Why didn’t they write about Jesus?
Well knowN Christian authors have set out to provide evidence for Jesus Christ outside the bible. They have failed. Robert E. Van Voorst has written “Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence”. His conclusion is that “… the New Testament is the best evidence after all.” Read about it HERE. The Historical Evidence for Jesus by George Albert Wells is another attempt to discover any evidence outside the New Testament. It too fails. Read about his book HERE.
Another writer John E Remsberg, has written extensively on this lack of evidence for Jesus. His chapter “Silence of Contemporary Writers” is much better and more compelliing than what I have written. Mine is the short version, his is much more compelling and better documented. Read it HERE
John 21:25 Proves The Point
Read John 21:25
And there are also many other things which Jesus did, the which, if they should be written every one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written. Amen.
Think about how many miracles Jesus would have had to perform such that “even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written”. That sure would be a lot of books and a whole lot more miracles. That would have been a lot of miracles performed upon a whole lot of people. But no one, outside the Bible wrote about them. No more than four people ever even bothered to write about them. How is this possible? Maybe it’s possible because Jesus didn’t perform miracles!
Don’t you think that the Romans, hearing about someone who performed so many miracles that “even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written” would have been interested in securing his services? Surely they would have heard. After all, there is no way he could have performed so many miracles such that “even the world itself could not contain the books that should be written” and no one except Matthew, Mark, Luke and John would chose to write about them. Is there? Hmm, let me think. Nope – no way.
Who Wrote What About Jesus Outside the Bible?
When challenged about the veracity of the Bible and the paucity of references to Jesus Christ anywhere other than the Bible, Christians are quick to mention Josephus, the author of a 21 volume tome “The History of the Jews” written around 90 CE.
The Truth Is…
Josephus, in 127 words, (now referred to as the “Testimonium Flavianum“) gives the entire story of a divine Jesus. However no biblical scholar today believes that Josephus actually wrote those 127 words. All references to the divinity of Jesus that appear in Josephus have been proven to have been added long after the Josephus wrote his manuscript. Josephus wrote in 90 CE; the references to Jesus dying and being resurrected did not appear in his “writings” until the third century. All scholars agree that the references to a divine Jesus were added to the manuscript by an over zealous copiest.
The third century Church ‘Father’ Origen, for example, spent half his life and a quarter of a million words contending against the pagan writer Celsus. Origen drew on all sorts of proofs and witnesses to his arguments in his fierce defence of Christianity. He quotes from Josephus extensively. Yet even he makes no reference to this ‘golden paragraph’ from Josephus, which would have been the ultimate rebuttal. In fact, Origen actually said that Josephus was “not believing in Jesus as the Christ.”
Origen did not quote the ‘golden paragraph’ because this paragraph had not yet been written.
It was absent from early copies of the works of Josephus and did not appear in Origen’s third century version of Josephus, referenced in his Contra Celsum. In fact, the Josephus paragraph about Jesus does not appear until the beginning of the fourth century, at the time of Constantine.
Consider, also, the anomalies:
1. How could Josephus claim that Jesus had been the answer to his messianic hopes yet remain an orthodox Jew?
The absurdity forces some apologists to make the ridiculous claim that Josephus was a closet Christian!
2. If Josephus really thought Jesus had been ‘the Christ’ surely he would have added more about him than one paragraph, a casual aside in someone else’s (Pilate’s) story?
In fact, Josephus relates much more about John the Baptist than about Jesus! He also reports in great detail the antics of other self-proclaimed messiahs, including Judas of Galilee, Theudas the Magician, and the unnamed ‘Egyptian Jew‘ messiah.
It is striking that though Josephus “confirms” everything the Christians could wish for, he adds nothing that is not in the gospel narratives, nothing that would have been unknown by Christians already.
3. The question of context.
Antiquities 18 is primarily concerned with “all sorts of misfortunes” which befell the Jews during a period of thirty-two years (4-36 AD).
Josephus begins with the unpopular taxation introduced by the Roman Governor Cyrenius in 6 AD. He presents a synopsis of the three established Jewish parties (Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes), but his real quarry is the “fourth sect of philosophy … which laid the foundation of our future miseries.” That was the sect of Judas the Galilean, “which before we were unacquainted withal.“
At the very point we might expect a mention of “Christians” (if any such sect existed) we have instead castigation of tax rebels!
“It was in Gessius Florus’s time [64-66] that the nation began to grow mad with this distemper, who was our procurator, and who occasioned the Jews to go wild with it by the abuse of his authority, and made them revolt from the Romans; and these are the sects of Jewish philosophy.“
“Nor can fear of death make them call any man Lord.” Sound a tad familiar?
Chapter 2 notes the cities built to honor the Romans; the frequent changes in high priest (up to Caiaphas) and Roman procurators (up to Pontius Pilate); and also the turmoil in Parthia.
Chapter 3, containing the Testimonium as paragraph three, is essentially about Pilate’s attempts to bring Jerusalem into the Roman system. With his first policy – placing Caesar’s ensigns in Jerusalem – Pilate was forced to back down by unexpected Jewish protests in Caesarea. With his second policy – providing Jerusalem with a new aqueduct built with funds sequestered from the Temple, Pilate made ready for Jewish protests. Concealed weapons on his soldiers caused much bloodshed.
At this point the paragraph about Jesus is introduced!
Immediately after, Josephus continues:
“And about the same time another terrible misfortune confounded the Jews …”
There is no way that Josephus, who remained an orthodox Jew all his life and defended Judaism vociferously against Greek critics, would have thought that the execution of a messianic claimant was “another terrible misfortune” for the Jews. This is the hand of a Christian writer who himself considered the death of Jesus to be a Jewish tragedy (fitting in with his own notions of a stiff-necked race, rejected by God because they themselves had rejected the Son of God).
With paragraph 3 removed from the text the chapter, in fact, reads better. The “aqueduct massacre” now justifies “another terrible misfortune.“
4. The final assertion, that the Christians were “not extinct at this day,” confirms that the so-called Testimonium is a later interpolation. How much later we cannot say but there was no “tribe of Christians” during Josephus’ lifetime. Christianity under that moniker did not establish itself until the 2nd century. Outside of this single bogus paragraph, in all the extensive histories of Josephus there is not a single reference to Christianity anywhere.
5. The hyperbolic language is uncharacteristic of the historian:
… as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him.”
This is the stuff of Christian propaganda.
The original writings of Josephus do MENTION a man named Jesus, but there is nothing in the original writing to indicate that Josephus thought of Jesus as Lord and Savior . In addition, there are 21 references to other men named “Jesus” in Josephus writings.
Conclusion: Josephus does acknowledge that there was a man named Jesus and he had a brother named John. That’s IT!
Pliny, the Younger
Pliny, the Younger is another writer that Christian quote as a contemporary writer who wrote about Jesus.
The Truth Is…Around 112 AD, in correspondence between Emperor Trajan and the provincial governor of Pontus/Bithynia, Pliny the Younger, reference is made to Christians for the first time. Pliny famously reports to his emperor:
“Christians … asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so.” – Pliny to Trajan, Letters 10.96-97.
Note that Pliny is relaying what those arrested said they believed and there is no reference to a ‘Jesus.’ Note also that this was written in 112 CE. It is based on hearsay, not any eye-witness account. In addition, the entire correspondence is believed by many biblical scholars to have been forged.
Caius Suetonius (69-140 CE)
Caius Suetonius is another author Christians point to as evidence that there are external references to Jesus (but not Jesus Christ).
The Truth Is… he did not make reference to Jesus or more importantly, Jesus Christ. Here’s what happened:
Suetonius did write a biography called Twelve Caesars around the year 112 AD and of Emperor Claudius he says:
“As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of one Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome.”
Jesus in Rome in 54 AD? Of course not. But the unwary can be misled by this reference.
‘Chrestus’ does not equate to ‘Christ’ in English but to ‘The Good’ in Greek, It was a name used by both slaves and freemen and is attested more than eighty times in Latin inscriptions. Clearly, Suetonius was explaining why the Jews (not Christians) were expelled from Rome and is referring to a Jewish agitator in the 50s – not to a Galilean pacifist of the 30s. Yet even this report is questionable.
It is also said that Suetonius, in his Life of Nero, described Nero’s persecution of the Christians:
‘Punishments were also inflicted on the Christians, a sect professing a new and mischievous religious belief …’ (16.2)
We have moved from ‘rebellious Jews’ to ‘mischievous Christians’.
BUT WAIT A MINUTE:
“Christians” in Rome during the reign of Nero (54-68 AD) ?
Would (could) Nero have made such a fine sectarian distinction – particularly since there was no identifying faith document (not a single gospel had been written) – so just what would ‘Christians’ have believed? Even St Paul himself makes not a single reference to ‘Christians’ in any of his writings.
Cornelius Tacitus (c.55-117 CE)
Another “contemporary” writer (even though born after Jesus’ death) who, presumably, is proof of external evidence about Jesus.
The Truth Is…Christianity has no part in Tacitus’s history of the Caesars. Except for one questionable reference in the Annals he records nothing of a cult marginal even in his own day. Sometime before 117 AD, the Roman historian apparently wrote:
“Nero looked around for a scapegoat, and inflicted the most fiendish tortures on a group of persons already hated for their crimes. This was the sect known as Christians. Their founder, one Christus, had been put to death by the procurator, Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. This checked the abominable superstition for a while, but it broke out again and spread, not merely through Judea, where it originated, but even to Rome itself, the great reservoir and collecting ground for every kind of depravity and filth. Those who confessed to being Christians were at once arrested, but on their testimony a great crowd of people were convicted, not so much on the charge of arson, but of hatred of the entire human race. – Tacitus (Book 15, chapter 44):
Well, it looks like we have something here.
BUT WAIT A MINUTE:
As indicated above, the term ‘Christian’ was not in use during the reign of Nero and there would not have been ‘a great crowd’ unless we are speaking of Jews, not Christians. There may have been Jews who embraced Jesus as the Messaih, but they were not known as Christians at that time. Also note the time at which Tacitus wrote his history: 117 CE!. He wrote nearly 75 years after the event he was describing. What was his source? Hearsay provided by would-be Christians! Not a very reliable testimony.
There are Numerous Witnesses to Jesus Life – NOT
What happens when we take a closer look at these so-called “eyewitnesses”? For instance, what if we arrange them on a timeline with Jesus? Our first problem is where to put Jesus on that timeline. Since Matthew and Luke give conflicting details of his birth, most estimates assume Luke was wrong and go with Matthew, giving estimates a range from 8 B.C.E to 4 B.C.E. Equally problematic is the year Jesus died – it’s a guessing game based on clues from the Gospels. In a nutshell, it has to be when Pontius Pilate was Prefect of Judea (from 26 or 27 to around 36 or 37). If John is right (and all the other Gospels wrong), it also must be a year when Passover fell on a Saturday. But most scholars side with the Synoptic Gospels against him, and look for a year when Passover fell on a Friday – which leaves two possibilities, 30 or 33. That said, the early Church was no more certain than we are, and many had still other ideas. But just for argument’s sake, let’s place Jesus’ life roughly between 4 to 8 B.C.E. and the year 30 or 33 C.E. Here’s how close the written accounts of Jesus come to him:
Name: Year Born – Year Published
Flavius Josephus: 37 – c. 100
Clement of Rome: born ? – c. 98 – 102
Ignatius: c. 35 – 107
Pliny the Younger: c. 62 – 113
Suetonius: c. 75 – 160?
Tacitus: c. 55 – after 117
Polycarp: c. 69 – 155
Justin Martyr: c.114 -167
Lucian: c. 125 – 180
Clement of Alexandria: c. 150 – 211/216
Tertullian: c. 155 – 230
Origen: c.185 – c. 254
Cyprian of Carthage: c. 208 – 258
Eusebius: c. 235 – 339
As you can see, none of these supposed witnesses were in any position to give a contemporary eyewitness account of the time in which Jesus supposedly lived, because none of them were even born yet during the period in question. And even the very earliest of these writings are nearly one hundred years after Jesus’ alleged birth. If that weren’t enough already, the fact is none of the so-called “testimonies” are very impressive. Few are even talking about Christ in any context. For the most part, they are discussing Christians, not Christ at all. The two that do (or just appear to) even mention Christ, namely those of Tacitus and Suetonius, are just snippets that happen to mention common Christian beliefs of their day in passing while actually discussing some other subject altogether, not making any grand pronouncements on Jesus’ historicity.
They Should Have Noticed
But there were many first century writers, philosophers, historians, and other commentators who had good reason to notice Jesus, and despite apologists’ fervent denials, a wealth of their writings still exists today. But these perfectly respectable sources are never on Christian lists of historical witnesses. They include important figures like Epictetus, Pomponius Mela, Martial, Juvenal, Seneca the Younger, Gallio, Seneca the Elder, Pliny the Elder, Plutarch, Justus of Tiberias, Philo of Alexandria, Nicolaus of Damascus and more. And these are just the contemporaries; there are still later commentators who we would expect to have mentioned Christ, but did not. For now let’s briefly touch on a few of the more significant ones.
Seneca the Younger (c. 3 B.C.E. – 65)
Lucius Annaeus Seneca, Stoic philosopher, writer, statesman, and de facto ruler of the Empire for many years, had three compelling reasons to mention Jesus at least at some point in his many writings. First, though regarded as the greatest Roman writer on ethics, he has nothing to say about arguably the biggest ethical shakeup of his time.
Second, in his book on nature Quaestiones Naturales, he records eclipses and other unusual natural phenomena, but makes no mention of the miraculous Star of Bethlehem, the multiple earthquakes in Jerusalem after Jesus’ death, or the worldwide (or at the very least region-wide) darkness at Christ’s crucifixion that he himself should have witnessed.
Third, in another book On Superstition, Seneca lambasts every known religion, including Judaism. But strangely, he makes no mention whatsoever of Christianity, which was supposedly spreading like wildfire across the empire. This uncomfortable fact later made Augustine squirm in his theological treatise City of God (book 6, chapter 11) as he tried mightily to explain away Seneca’s glaring omission. In the 4th century, Christian scribes were so desperate to co-opt Seneca they even forged a series of correspondence between Seneca and his “dearest” friend, the Apostle Paul!
Gallio (died 65 C.E.)
Seneca’s silence is compounded by the fact that his older brother was Junius Annaeus Gallio, who actually appears in the Bible. According to the author of the book of Acts (18:12-17), Gallio was the magistrate who heard Paul’s case and threw it out of court. If this is true, it’s curious that Gallio never seems to have told his brother about this amazing Jesus character that everyone was so excited about, since Seneca was very interested in just this sort of thing. But Seneca shows no sign of ever having heard of Christians or Jesus at all. It’s also strange that even in Acts, Gallio has never heard of Jesus. This makes no sense at all if Jesus was a famous miracle worker recently executed who had returned from the dead and remained in Jerusalem for forty days, as Acts also says.
A few mere mentions of Jesus is not EVIDENCE that he was God’s Son or God himself. It is certainly safe to say there is no evidence of his miracles and god-like attributes anywhere. Not even in the Bible. What the Bible says is not “evidence”; it is, in all cases, hearsay.
When we take the trouble to look for confirmation of the Bible from contemporary (or even near-contemporary) historical eyewitnesses for Jesus, amazingly, the first thing we discover is: there are none. This fact alone is astounding. Looking at the supposed period of Jesus’ ministry, we find there were numerous commentators who both had opportunity and could be reasonably expected to make mention of his exploits – yet none of them show any awareness of Jesus whatsoever.
Incredibly, this silence continues throughout the entire first century. The figures that are touted as witnesses don’t come until decades, even centuries, after Christ’s time; more significantly, none of them even provide the evidence they are supposed to (see the appendix for details). It is sobering to realize that in all of recorded history, for the first century the closest we have to historical support for the Gospels’ picture of Christ are an outright forgery, and a single disputed line that in all likelihood refers to someone else entirely. This is why these two problematic bits of text in Josephus are fought over so fiercely. As brief, questionable and disputed as these two small scraps are, they are quite literally all there is to historically support the Bible’s account of Jesus in the first century.
Yet how can this be? Jesus was supposed to have single-handedly captured the attention of all Judea and Galilee, and as far afield as Syria and the Decapolis. The Gospels claim his teachings enraptured multitudes and outraged the establishment. Even if one discounted all the miraculous events surrounding his birth, ministry, death, resurrection, and ascension merely as later legends, if nothing else his (allegedly) controversial, (allegedly) new teachings alone should have left an impact in the historical record.
After all, unlike the myriad well-documented phony healers, sham miracle-workers and failed messiahs from this time, he was supposed to be the real thing, the one who genuinely could do what the others could not: feed thousands, heal the sick, even raise the dead, not just once, but numerous times.
Among his thousands of supporters were said to be the highest members of society: a royal official, a centurion, a temple leader and members of the Jewish ruling council, the Sanhedrin. He single-handedly drove out the moneychangers from the Temple.
The entire city of Jerusalem wildly acclaimed him as he entered triumphantly. He was dramatically arrested and endured a wildly illegal tribunal of the Jewish leaders before being brought before not only Pilate, but also King Herod, in a spectacular show trial that played out before the entire city of Jerusalem.
His death – and resurrection – were marked by spectacular supernatural events: angelic appearances, earthquakes, legions of beloved Jewish saints coming back from the dead and publicly appearing in Jerusalem, supernatural darkness that covered the entire world, or at the very least the entire region, for hours, and much more. And yet, there is no mention of these supernatural events anywhere other than the bible!
And he appeared again to many of his followers afterwards, some say for as long as forty days, before ascending bodily into Heaven before a crowd of his followers.None of them or any of the 500 to whom he “appeared” after his death felt disposed to write about it. There is no mention of it anywhere other than the bible!
Despite all this, perhaps it’s conceivable that the Romans and Greeks missed all the fuss – but how could anyone in Judea? Without being able to read Justus of Tiberias ourselves, we might be willing to discount his omission of anything about Jesus. But the silence of figures like Philo of Alexandria or Nicolaus of Damascus on any deed or word of Jesus is deafening. And the silence of everyone at the time completely goes against the image of Jesus presented to us in the Gospels.
Given the zeal of the early church to latch on to any ancient writing that even seemed to offer documentation of Jesus, can we really believe they missed or failed to preserve every single reference to him for the first hundred-plus years? If even just one of the supernatural stories told about Jesus were true, no one would even bother with a pair of doctored lines in Josephus – we would have dozens of contemporary references to Jesus, even if only to be found in quotations from later Christian authors.
If true, the events of Jesus’ life really should have been what Christians have always exaggeratedly claimed they were: the best-attested events in human history. Instead, they are forced to fight tooth and nail to defend the veracity of two highly suspicious disputed passages. We might even expect to have physical evidence for him. Instead all we have is a two thousand year history of forged relics. It doesn’t seem too much to hope that Jesus might have left writings himself. But we have nothing but ridiculous forgeries centuries after the fact, like the correspondence between Jesus and King Abgarus, or Seneca and Paul, and
We have shown that every “external” reference that Christians use as evidence fails to produce any evidence of an extraordinary man who WAS the Messiah. Only one of the writers actually mentions Jesus of Nazareth. But so what if they all mentioned Jesus of Nazareth. That would not prove that he was the son of God, the Messiah, crucified and resurrected. One questionable reference to a man named Jesus or a sect called “Christian” proves nothing. None of the writings were contemporary with Jesus. They were all written after his death and make no claim to be eye-witness accounts. In each case, they are merely repeating what was told to them; we call that “hearsay” and it is not evidence.
Much of the above is taken from …
Fitzgerald, David (2010-09-30). Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed At All (Kindle Locations 416-432). Lulu. Kindle Edition.