Tuesday, 20 August 2013

Alleged Evidence For Jesus

I see there has been some discussion about whether Jesus really existed as a historical person. I see many posters claim there is "Roman records" for Jesus, and other historical evidence. Being interested in history, I have checked this evidence, and present the results here as a list of writers or documents who are claimed to be evidence for Jesus, along with analysis of how significant they are.

The famous Testamonium Flavianum (the T.F.) in the Antiquities of the Jews is considered probably the best evidence for Jesus, yet it has some serious problems :
  • the T.F. as it stands uses clearly Christian phrases and names Christ as Messiah, it could not possibly have been written by the devout Jew Josephus (who remained a Jew and refused to call anyone "messiah" in his book, which was partly about how false messiahs kept leading Israel astray.),
  • The T.F. comes in several variant versions of various ages,
  • The T.F. was not mentioned by any of the early CHurch fathers who reviewed Josephus.
  • Origen even says Josephus does NOT call Jesus the Messiah, showing the passage was not present in that earlier era.
  • The T.F. first showed up in manuscripts of Eusebius, and was still absent from some manuscripts as late as 8th century.
  • The other tiny passage in Josephus aparrently refers to Jesus, son of Damneus. The phrase "so-called Christ" may have been a later addition by a Christian who also mis-understood which Jesus was refered to.

  • An analysis of Josephus by Earl Doherty can be found here:

    this passage is possibly a total forgery (or at best a corrupt form of a lost original.)

    But, yes,
    it COULD just be actual evidence for Jesus - late, corrupt, controversial but just POSSIBLY real historical evidence.

    TACITUS (c.112CE)

    Roughly 80 years after the alleged events (and 40 years after the war) Tacitus allegedly wrote a (now) famous passage about "Christ" - this passage has several problems however:
  • Tacitus uses the term "procurator", used in his later times, but not correct for the actual period, when "prefect" was used.
  • Tacitus names the person as "Christ", when Roman records could not possibly have used this name (it would have been "Jesus, son of Joseph" or similar.)
  • This passage is paraphrased by Sulpicius Severus in the 5th century without attributing it to Tacitus, and may have been inserted back into Tacitus from this work.

  • This evidence speaks AGAINST it being based on any Roman records -

    but merely a few details which Tacitus gathered from Christian stories circulating in his time (c.f. Pliny.)

    this passage is NOT evidence for Jesus, it's just evidence for 2nd century Christian stories about Jesus.

    PLINY the Younger (c.112CE)

    About 80 years after the alleged events, (and over 40 years after the war) Pliny referred to Christians who worshipped a "Christ" as a god, but there is no reference to a historical Jesus or Gospel events.

    Pliny is not evidence for a historical Jesus of Nazareth,
    just evidence for 2nd century Christians who worshipped a Christ.

    SUETONIUS (c.115CE)
    Roughly 80-90 years after the alleged Gospel events, (about 75 years after the war) Suetonius refers to a "Chrestus" who stirred the Jews to trouble in Rome during Claudius' time, but:
  • this "Chrestus" is a Greek name (from "useful"), and is also a mystic name for an initiate, it is not the same as "Christos"
  • this Chrestus was apparently active in Rome, Jesus never was.
  • So,
    this passage is not evidence for Jesus, it's nothing to do with Jesus, it's evidence for Christians grasping at straws.

    IGNATIUS (107CE? 130-170CE?)
     The letters of Ignatius are traditionally dated to c.107, yet:
  • it is not clear if he really existed, his story is suspicious,
  • his letters are notoriously corrupt and in 2 versions,
  • it is probable that his letters were later forgeries,
  • he mentions only a tiny few items about Jesus.
  • So,
    Ignatius is no evidence for Jesus himself, it is 2nd century evidence to a few beliefs about Jesus.

    QUADRATUS (c.125CE)
    Quadratus apparently wrote an Apology to Hadrian (117-138), but:
  • we have none of his works,
  • it is not certain exactly when he wrote,
  • all we have is 1 sentence quoted by Eusebius much later ("But the works of our Saviour were always present, for they were genuine:-those that were healed, and those that were raised from the dead, who were seen not only when they were healed and when they were raised, but were also always present; and not merely while the Saviour was on earth, but also after his death, they were alive for quite a while, so that some of them lived even to our day.")
  • So,
    Quadratus is not evidence for Jesus, but evidence of Christian beliefs from about a century later.


    THALLUS (date unknown)
    We have NO certain evidence when Thallus lived or wrote, there are NONE of Thallus' works extant.

    What we DO have is a 9th century reference by George Syncellus who quotes the 3rd century Julianus Africanus, who, speaking of the darkness at the crucifixion, wrote: "Thallus calls this darkness an eclipse".

    there is NO evidence Thallus made specific reference to Jesus or the Gospel events at all, as there WAS an eclipse in 29. This suggests he merely referred to a known eclipse, but that LATER Christians MIS-interpreted his comment to mean their darkness. (Also note the supposed reference to Thallus in Eusebius is a false reading.)

    Richard Carrier the historian has a good page on Thallus:

    Thallus is no evidence for Jesus at all,
    merely evidence for Christian wishful thinking.

    PHLEGON (c.140)
    Phlegon wrote during the 140s - his works are lost. Later, Origen, Eusebius, and Julianus Africanus (as quoted by George Syncellus) refer to him, but quote differently his reference to an eclipse. There is no evidence Phlegon actually said anything about Gospel events, he was merely talking about an eclipse (they DO happen) which LATER Christians argued was the "darkness" in their stories.

    Phlegon is no evidence for Jesus at all -
    merely evidence for Christian wishful thinking.

    VALENTINUS (c.140CE)
    In mid 2nd century the GNOSTIC Valentinus almost became Bishop of Rome, but:
  • he was several generations after the alleged events,
  • he wrote of an esoteric, Gnostic Jesus and Christ,
  • he mentioned no historical details about Jesus.
  • So,
    Valentinus is no evidence for a historical Jesus.

    POLYCARP (c.155CE)

    Polycarp wrote in mid 2nd century, but :
  • he is several generations after the alleged events,
  • he gives many sayings of Jesus (some of which do NOT match the Gospels),
  • he does NOT name any evangelist or Gospel.
  • So,
    Polycarp knew sayings of Jesus,
    but provides no actual evidence for a historical Jesus.

    LUCIAN (c.170CE)
    Nearly one-and-a-half CENTURIES after the alleged events, Lucian satirised Christians, but :
  • this was several generations later,
  • Lucian does NOT even mention Jesus or Christ by name.
  • So,
    Lucian is no evidence for a historical Jesus, merely late 2nd century lampooning of Christians.

    GALEN (late 2nd C.)
    Late 2nd century, Galen makes a few references to Christians, and briefly to Christ.
    This is far too late to be evidence for Jesus.

    NUMENIUS (2nd C.?)
    In the 3rd century, Origen claimed Numenius "quotes also a narrative regarding Jesus--without, however, mentioning His name" - i.e. Numenius mentioned a story but said nothing about Jesus, but by Origen's time it had become attached to Jesus' name.

    This not any evidence for Jesus, it's just later wishful thinking.

    TALMUD (3rd C. and later)
    There are some possible references in the Talmud, but:
  • these references are from 3rd century or later, and seem to be (unfriendly) Jewish responses to Christian claims.
  • the references are highly variant, have many cryptic names for Jesus, and very different to the Gospel stories (e.g. that "Jesus" was born about 100BC, that he learned black magic in Egypt, that he worshipped a brick-bat, that he was stoned to death in Lydda, that he had 5 disciples Matai, Nekai, Netzer, Buni, and Todah.)
  • So,
    the Talmud contains NO evidence for Jesus, it merely has much later Jewish responses to the Gospel stories - responses which vary much from the Gospel accounts.

    MARA BAR SERAPION (date unknown)
    A fragment which includes -
    "... What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise King?",

    in the context of ancient leaders like Socrates. It is NOT at all clear WHEN this manuscript was written, nor exactly who it is referring too, but there is no evidence it is Jesus.


    In short,
  • there are no Roman recods of Jesus,
  • there is no contemporary evidence for Jesus,
  • the claimed evidence is very weak - late, forged, suspect or not about Jesus at all.
  • the T.F. is probably the best "evidence", but it is at best corrupt, at worst forged.

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