Wednesday, 9 December 2009

A list of Jesus references outside the NT

Below is a summary of references of Jesus outside the New Testament from no more than about 150 years after His death. This series was inspired by some comments that I regularly see on Digg and other online discussion boards.

Greco-Roman sources

1. Thallus (50-70 AD) was a historian who said that when Jesus died a solar eclipse happened. We have a retort to his statement by Sextus Julius Africanus (180-250 AD) but not the original statement by Thallus. About him, what he "said" and possible conclusions.

2. Mara Bar-Serapion (73-165?? AD) in a letter to his son, mentions a Jewish "wise king" that was killed by Jews. The text, possible wise kings and possible conclusions.

3. Tacitus (56-117 AD) in his Annuals attributes a Christus who under Pontius Pilatus suffered some extreme punishment. The followers of Christus started from Judea and spread to Rome. The text and conclusions.

4. Pliny the Younger when writing to emperor Trajan (53-117 AD) talks of interrogating techniques for Christians and also mentions what the Christians were up to when they gathered together. Pliny had seen Christians recant 25 years of faith and how Christians saw Jesus as a god. The text and conclusions.

5. Suetonius (70-130 AD) mentions the Christians being kicked out of Rome in 49 AD, indicating the spread of Christianity to Rome in less than 19 years of Jesus' death. The Suetonius' references are more about Christians then Jesus himself. Text and conclusions.

6. Lucian of Samosata (125-180 AD) wrote a play called The Passing of Peregrinus (165 AD) which mocks the Christians. This is more a pop-culture reference to Jesus at the time than a factual account of what happened, but does show some ideas about Jesus such as his crucifixion. The text and conclusions.

Jewish sources

7. Josephus (37-100 AD) in his Antiquities of the Jew (93/94 AD) mentions Jesus as doing strange deeds, died on a cross under Pilate and converted Jews and Gentiles. There is debate about parts of this quote. The "original" quote, possibly the real quote with conclusions.

8. Josephus again later in his Antiquities of the Jew off the cuff mentions Jesus again in reference to his brother James. The quote with conclusions (and a video)

9. In a section of the Jewish Talmud (200 AD) called the Beraitha Sanhederin 43a there is a possible reference to Jesus who was killed because of his sorcery and leading of Jews astray. The text, problems with the text and possible conclusions.

I followed most of the sources in the book The Christ Files although it also quotes another passage in the Talmud called baraitha Shabbat 104b. But like the last Talmud quote, I am not sure about it. The Christ Files also gives a passing reference to Celsus, so this is my passing reference to it as it might be too far removed from the events.

Putting it together from these references

We can say that Jesus:
1. lived during the reign of Tiberius
2. was considered a teacher
3. was considered a doer of might works
4. was known as Christ
5. died under Pilate
6. died on a cross (x2) in Palestine
7. suffered an "extreme penalty" (a 3rd reference to the cross?) by Pontius Pilate
8. had a brother James
9. was followed by Jews and Gentiles

We can say that Jesus' followers:
1. started in Judea
2. made it to Rome before 49 AD
3. in Rome broke the peace or upset the status quo
4. took on the name Christians
5. worshiped and obeyed the teachings of Jesus
6. considered Jesus a god (a 2nd reference to worship of him?)
7. were punished for following Jesus (x2) under Nero

(x2 means that there are two different sources that are not suspect that say this)

And if we assume the questionable references above (the ones with "possible conclusions") to be true we can further say:
1. Jesus died by execution (we already know that from other sources)
2. Jesus' actions were suspect of sorcery (that might align with the other reference of "doer of might works")
3. Jesus was considered wise (another source said others considered him a teacher)
4. Jesus had disciples (there is already lots on his followers already)
5. His teachings lived on after his death (already a few references about his followers)
6. Jesus died before Jerusalem fell (could work this out with the Pilate reference)
7. Jesus was a Jew (could possibly work that out from the above sources and his name in the original text)
8. Jesus was killed by Jews
9. Something happened in the sky (it went dark?) around the time Jesus died
10. The Jews might have had an independent tradition about the circumstances around Jesus' death as possibly a response to what the Christians were saying.

And if your are not convinced you can email your local university's history depart and ask them if Jesus ever existed, like I did here.

1 comment:

  1. There is also a google book preview of "Jesus outside the New Testament: an introduction to the ancient evidence" By Robert E. Van Voorst. Chapter 2, starting from page 19 looks good, but the preview cuts out before it talks about Celsus, which I would be interested in seeing what this book thought about that.