Ecce signum!: Titus Flavius Josephus and other historical truths:

Titus Flavius Josephus (AD 37 – c. 100)

I recently read this interesting conversation between a believer and a skeptical individual in regards to the existence of Christ. The skeptic said: “On what basis would Christianity be if the bones of Jesus were suddenly found? And going through history books, one notices there is no mention of Jesus except in the Bible...hmm!”

And the response: “This is perhaps one of the most irrational arguments used by those who try to discredit Jesus and the Christian Faith. To believe that even a small group of people (the 12 disciples) would fabricate a ‘mythical’ person and claim him to be God, then promptly lay there own worldly desires aside, remain in poverty the rest of their lives, be continuously punished and tortured for holding on to their claim that this ‘Jesus’ was God, even to the point of death (all of them were either killed or imprisoned until death), takes a far larger leap of faith than simply believing that Jesus existed in the first place. Not to mention the fact that when these disciples went about “preaching the gospel” of Jesus to the people, these people could and would have easily been able to refute their “ridiculous” claims of some man named Jesus going around healing the blind, being put to death on a cross, and even the “far fetched” notion of resurrection.”

Furthermore, “The Jewish historian Josephus, writing for the Roman government in the ‘70's A.D. records some incidental things regarding Christ and the church. He confirms that John the Baptist died at the hand of Herod (this same incident is recorded in the gospels) as well as the death of, “The brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James. . .he delivered them to be stoned” (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, Book XVIII, ch. V, p. 20; Book XX, ch. IX, p. 140). Again, there are many sources external to the Bible that demonstrate the historical reliability of the text. Josephus, who was probably alive during the time of Christ, is attesting to the reality of his existence. What this also tells us is that within 40 years of Christ’s death, the knowledge of who he was widespread enough that Josephus could reference him and expect his readers to know exactly who he was talking about. Roman records of the time indicate that there not only was a Jesus, but that He was crucified. Many other writings at the time support that Jesus existed as a historical figure — thousands of people saw him. The Jewish opponents during the rise of the Christian faith would have the most to gain by denying Jesus ever lived, but guess what, they DON’T! In fact, in several Jewish writings, His opponents don’t deny Him at all, and they speak of Jesus as a real person, though an opponent to their Jewish beliefs. Both Gemaras of the Jewish Talmud refer to Jesus, although they are quite bitter against Him. They speak of Him as having really existed, but of course to only deny His deity and slander His name. There is just a drop of proof for you out of many of them that Jesus walked this earth.

Also, one of antiquity’s greatest historians affirmed that Jesus had suffered under Pilate. That historian’s name is Cornelius Tacitus. Tacitus was born around 20-25 years after Jesus died and he had seen the spread of Christianity just begin to impact Rome. He wrote negatively of Christ and Christians identifying them in 115 AD as “a race of men...detested for their evil practices.” If compelling claims existed that Jesus was never a real person, Tacitus would have naturally hit Christianity with this claim...not that He really existed.”

And from Return to Biblicism: “One of the more popular accusations brought against Biblical Christianity is that there are no external sources that confirm the Biblical record of Jesus of Nazareth. Most simply deny the accuracy of the New Testament in details of the life of Jesus, but others boldly deny that He existed at all. Either way, the accusation is based on a supposed lack of written historical evidence outside of the Bible referring to the existence of Jesus.

However, there are numerous sources that yield historical confirmation of the Biblical record, such as in the field of archeology. The fact is, whether it is simply the result of misinformation or plain ignorance of the facts, denying that there are extra-biblical sources that confirm the existence of Jesus simply has no credible basis. But, far be it from me to make such a claim without giving any supporting information.

The question is, are there sources outside of the Bible that give historical evidence of the existence of Jesus of Nazareth? The answer is a resounding yes. There are actually twelve known non-Christian sources consisting of historians, government officials and documents that give historical accounts of Jesus. The following is a list of those sources:

1. Cornelius Tacitus
2. Suetonius
3. Flavius Josephus
4. Thallus
5. Pliny the Younger
6. Trajan
7. Hadrian
8. the Babylonian Talmud
9. Toledoth Jesu
10. Lucian
11. Mara Bar-Serapion
12. Phlegon.

I would like to discuss what each of these sources have to say, but for sake of time and attention span I will save that for the next post. For now, suffice it to say that what this non-Christian evidence suggests about the existence of Jesus may be summarized as follows:

* Every witness confirms that a man named Jesus actually existed, most by statement, only two by inference.
* Two witnesses explicitly state that Jesus was considered a virtuous man.
* Six of the witnesses explicitly state that Jesus was worshiped by His followers.
* Seven of the witnesses explicitly state that Jesus had life long disciples that took preeminence as leaders of His other followers (Apostles, perhaps).
* Four of the witnesses explicitly state that Jesus was a renowned teacher.
* Seven of the witnesses refer to the fact that Jesus was crucified. Only one of those seven were by inference.
* Seven of the witnesses refer to the discovery of an empty tomb. Three of those are very specific.
* Two of the witnesses explicitly refer to Jesus’ followers’ belief in His resurrection.
* Six of the witnesses explicitly refer to the rapid spread of Christian belief.
* Seven of the witnesses explicitly refer to the persecution that Jesus’ followers faced because of their belief.

All twelve of these witnesses do nothing but confirm the Biblical record of Jesus and His followers. So why are these twelve so important? To appreciate their importance more fully, three things must be understood about these sources.

The Time Span

First, they are all confirmed to be within 150 years of the ministry of Jesus, some living during same time as Jesus. Though 150 years may seem like a long time for us, we can put things into perspective by comparing how people wrote of other progenitors of various religions after the religion took hold.

Although the Gathas of Zoroaster have been authenticated to date back to 1200 BC, most of the Zoroastrian scriptures were not put into writing until after the third century AD. That’s a span of over 1,500 years. The first biography written about Zoroaster was written in AD 1278. That’s a span of over 2,200 years.

Buddha is believed to have lived in the sixth century BC. However, the Buddhist scriptures were not put into writing until after Christianity took hold as a religion. That’s a span of about 800 years. The first biography of Buddha was written in the first century AD. That’s another span of about 800 years.

We have the sayings of Muhammad in the Koran, but his first biography was not written until a full century later.

By comparison, all of the New Testament was completed in less than 70 years after the life of Jesus. As for these extra-biblical sources, Thallus wrote of Jesus within 20 years of His crucifixion. The very latest of the twelve sources, Mara Bar-Serapion, stretches the time period to within 150 years.

The Number of Sources

Also, we are prone to look at twelve sources as being a small number to confirm someone that has had as much influence as Jesus. Surely, more would have been written outside of the Biblical record, or so it seems. However, we must compare the fact that Tiberius Caesar, the Roman Emperor of Jesus’ day, is only mentioned in nine other places outside of the Bible within 150 years of his lifetime. Those who assume that there is not enough if any historical evidence for the existence of Jesus must also write off the Emperor of Rome to be a myth as well! The truth is, this Jewish Teacher and His followers got more coverage than the Emperor.

The Nature of the Sources

The next thing to understand about the twelve sources is that their record is secular in nature, and that they are all markedly anti-Christian. In the field of law enforcement, a good witness is priceless. There are, however, types of witnesses whose testimony is more telling than others. For example, there are “friendly” witnesses who are likely to be partial to the one on trial. These, of course, are not very valuable. Then, there are “impartial” witnesses. These are strong witnesses because they have no incentive to help out or hurt the one on trial. Finally, there are “hostile witnesses. These are evidently opposed to the defendant. If a hostile witness admits to any good about the accused or testify to the viability of the defendant’s story, this will carry the most weight with any jury.

All of the twelve sources, falling under the “hostile” category, offer a most valuable testimony. The wealth of historical corroboration is undeniable.

I’d like to make a couple of final points in closing. It is obvious from both this evidence and other later writings on the subject that not even Jesus’ enemies thought to challenge His historicity until centuries after His death. The fact is, with these twelve non-Christian sources confirming His existence we cannot make that challenge either.

Obviously, there are no references to the miraculous events spoken of in the New Testament other than the Christians’ belief in them. But, you could not honestly expect that from hostile witnesses. Nevertheless, the fact that these non-Christian sources only confirm the basic outline of the life of Jesus and the acts of His followers as presented by the New Testament gives credible evidence as to the reliability of the Biblical record. It only follows that this evidences gives a sound basis for trusting the One to whom these twelve witnesses point.”

Publius Cornelius Tacitus (ca. 56 – ca. 117)

Justify Full

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