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The Historical Jesus

QUESTION: What non-biblical books mention the historical Jesus?


There are some independent, non-biblical books that mention the historical Jesus. Historian Edwin Yamauchi calls attention to the most important reference to Jesus outside the New Testament. This proof comes from Tacitus, a Roman, who wrote that the Christians were responsible for the fire that destroyed Rome in A.D. 64. He believed that Christ had died under extreme execution during the reign of Pontius Pilatus. Yet, he stated that Christ's death briefly checked "a most mischievous superstition," which arose, not only in Judea, but also in Rome. He is bearing indirect testimony to the conviction of the early church that Christ who had been crucified had risen from the grave. This would explain the bizarre occurrence of a rapidly growing religion based on the worship of a man who had been crucified as a criminal. How do you explain that?

Another source of evidence about Jesus is found in the letters of Pliny the Younger to Emperor Trajan. Pliny was the Roman governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor. He asks Emperor Trajan about various ways to conduct legal proceedings against those accused of being Christians. He did some research regarding these Christians and this is what he came up with: They met on a certain fixed day before it was light and sang hymns to Christ, as to a god. Unlike other gods who were worshipped, Christ was a person who had lived on earth. They bound themselves by a solemn oath to not participate in any wicked deeds, and never to commit fraud, theft, adultery, falsify their word, or deny a trust. These early Christians believed he was a real person and they held his teachings in the highest esteem. They also bound themselves to a higher oath to not violate various moral standards which is the source of the ethical teachings of Jesus.

The writings of Josephus points out in his reference called, "Testimonium Flavianum, that "About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he wrought surprising feats. He was the Christ. When Pilate condemned him to be crucified, those who had come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared restored to life. And the tribe of Christians has not disappeared." Josephus was not a Christian. Therefore many believe that he could not have written anything such as the above statements. But, even so, we are left with details of a picture which tells us that the "biblical Jesus" and the "historical Jesus" are one and the same.

There is also a collection of Jewish rabbinical writings that give a few clear references to Jesus called the Babylonian Talmud written approximately A.D. 70-500. The most significant reference from this period states, "On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald. . .cried, 'He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy.'" The name, Yeshu, is actually the name, Jesus, in Hebrew. However, upon reading the passage, we know for a fact that Jesus was not hanged, but that He was crucified, but the word, "hanged" serves as a synonym for "crucified." And what about the statement that Jesus was to be stoned? This could indicate that the Jewish leaders were planning to do just that, but the Roman Government intervened on those plans.

Another source of writings comes from Lucian of Samosata who was a second century Greek satirist. In one of his writings, he notes as follows: "The Christians…worship a man to this day - the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account. . . . [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."

We know the man Lucian is writing of, and that man is Jesus. What did Jesus do to arouse such wrath? He taught men are brothers from the moment of conversion which means denying Greek gods, worshipping Jesus, and living according to His teachings.

As we can see, these writings corroborate our knowledge of Jesus from the gospels.

Learn More about the Historical Jesus!

What do you think?
We have all sinned and deserve God’s judgment. God, the Father, sent His only Son to satisfy that judgment for those who believe in Him. Jesus, the creator and eternal Son of God, who lived a sinless life, loves us so much that He died for our sins, taking the punishment that we deserve, was buried, and rose from the dead according to the Bible. If you truly believe and trust this in your heart, receiving Jesus alone as your Savior, declaring, "Jesus is Lord," you will be saved from judgment and spend eternity with God in heaven.

What is your response?

Yes, I want to follow Jesus

I am a follower of Jesus

I still have questions

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