Skip to comments.Evidence from Outside the Bible: Secular Testimony to the Death of Jesus Christ by Crucifixion
Posted on 04/02/2010 1:53:17 PM PDT by CondoleezzaProtege
Cornelius Tacitus (c. A.D. 55-120)
A Roman historian who lived through the reign of over a half-dozen Roman emperors, Tacitus has been called "the greatest historian of ancient Rome. His most famous works are the Annals and the Histories. The Annals covers from 14 A.D. to approximately 68 A.D. (the death of Augustus up to the time of Nero), while Histories proceeds from 68 A.D. (Nero's death) to 96 A.D. (the time of Domitian).
Here is what Tacitus wrote concerning the history of Jesus, and the existence of Christians in Rome:
"But not all the relief that could come from man, not all the bounties that the price could bestow, nor all the atonements which could be presented to the gods, availed to relieve Nero from the infamy of being believed to have ordered the conflagration, the fire of Rome. Hence to suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished with the most exquisite tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time, broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also." (Annals XV, 44)1.
(excerpt from another translation)
"Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular." (Annals 15 -44)
Some points to note about the narrative from Tacitus:
He mistakenly refers to Jesus as "Christus", however this was a common practice among the pagan writers at that time He supports the fact that Christ existed, and was put to death by Pontius Pilate - agreeing with the Christian scriptures.
He alludes to "the pernicious superstition" which broke out, was repressed, but then spread even more - even throughout the city of Rome itself. This may indeed be referring to the core belief which caused the early church to explode and "turn the world upside down" -- that Jesus had died indeed, but that He had also risen from the grave. .
Exitiabilis is the latin word for mischievous. It means destructive, fatal, deadly. So it would seem that what tacitus actually said was it was a destructive or fatal or deadly superstition. He was calling Christianity evil. So, it is obvious that he was not a Christian, thus he would not be sharing about the death of Jesus to support the fact that there was a historical Jesus that was killed by Pontius Pilate. Note that Tacitus is not referring to the death of the Jesus as supersititon but the practice of Jesus's followers.
A famous historian, reputed in his own days as being extremely careful and factual, Tacitus would not have been prone to writing about a movement without first checking the Roman archives to see if he could not get the most accurate report possible. He wrote his history of Rome covering the death of Augustus to the death of Domitian, that's 14-96 AD. He used earlier works by historians cross checking them with each other. He sought to verify his facts, something unusual in the writing of the time. He clearly has bias as he hated Domitian and wasn't a great fan of Tiberius, but this would have no bearing on mentions of Christ.
Lucian of Samosta,
Greek satirist, second century AD, alludes to Christ:
The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day--the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account. . . . You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the comtempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then 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. All this they take quite on faith, with the result that they despise all worldly goods alike, regarding them merely as common property.
Lucian also reported that the Christians had 'sacred writings' which were frequently read. When something affected them, "they spare no trouble, no expense."
Thallus, A Samaritan-born historian, wrote a history of the Eastern Mediterranean world from the Trojan War to his own time 52 AD. His writings are only found as citations by others. Thallus was quoted by Julius Africanus who wrote about AD 221 mentioned Thallus' account of an eclipse of the sun.
On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun.
The oddity is that Jesus' crucifixion occurred at the Passover which was a full moon. It is not possible for a solar eclipse to occur at a full moon. So, the event had to be a supernatural event.
(Julius Africanus, Chronography, 18.1)
Points to note:
This quote testifies that the gospel accounts of darkness falling upon the land about the time of Christ's death were well known, and thus required a naturalistic explanation from non-Christians1. Thallus did not dispute that Jesus has been crucified -- he was more concerned with coming up with another explanation for the darkness that enveloped the land.
Another Roman historian, Suetonius, a court official under the emperor Hadrian, stated in his Life of Claudius (written about 120 A.D.) that Christians were expelled from Rome because of Christ (whom he calls Chrestus)::
"As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he [Claudius] expelled them from Rome". (Life of Claudius, 25:4)1
In another of his works, Suetonius records the punishment that Christians were receiving in Rome during the time of Nero (64 A.D.):
"Punishment by Nero was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition." (Lives of the Caesars, 26.2)
This "superstition" undoubtedly refers to the conviction by early Christians that Christ had been crucified and risen from the dead.
Pliny the Younger
C. Plinus Secundus, called Pliny the Younger to distinguish him from his uncle, was governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor about A.D. 112. He wrote to the emperor Trajan to seek advice on how to deal with the problem of Christians in his province. He recounted to Trajan in his letters that he had been killing so many, he was considering whether he should continue killing anyone who professed to be a Christian, or only certain ones. He explains that he made them bow down to statues of Trajan, and "curse Christ, which a genuine Christian cannot be induced to do." In the same letter he say of the people who were being tried:
"They affirmed, however, that the whole of their guilt, or their error, was, that they were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verse a hymn to Christ as to a god, and bound themselves to a solemn oath, not to do any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft, adultery, never to falsify their word, not to deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up." (Epistles X, 96)
Another secular authority, Phlegon, wrote a book entitled Chronicles, which was quoted by Julius Africanus. Like Thallus, Phiegon acknowledges that a darkness fell upon the land about the time of Christ's death, and like Thallus he attributes this to a solar eclipse:
"During the time of Tiberius Caesar an eclipse of the sun occurred during the full moon." (Africanus, Chronography, 18.1)
In the British Museum we have the text of a letter written by a Mara Bar-Serapion to his son, encouraging him to pursue wisdom. This letter, written by this Syrian and probably Stoic philosopher, is dated about 70 A.D. He compares Socrates, Pythagoras and the King of the Jews (which by context points to Jesus):
"What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their King? It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished."
Other sources for the thread:
Ancient Non-Christian Sources for the Life of Christ:
The History of Jesus
Evidence from Outside the Bible: Secular Testimony to the Death of Jesus Christ by Crucifixion
Very good... and it's interesting to read these other parties talking about Jesus and His followers, too.
And people need to know a bit more, too. It's that Jesus' death was more than a mere death. It's like someone else pointed out to me earlier today -- when I was pointing out that it was important to recognize the death of Christ being just as important as the resurrection.
I was told it was "obvious" that He died, if he was "resurrected" ... doncha know ... LOL ... (as if that was a "given"...). Well..., it's more than a "given" -- there were requirements to be met as to how Jesus died and as to the time He died, too.
He was the Passover Lamb of God, and Jesus had to meet requirements in order to be that. In addition, the "timing" was precise, too... as He died at the precise time that the Passover Lamb was being killed in the Temple.
Jesus was the Passover Lamb of God ... and in order to be Salvation to the world, He had to die as the Passover Lamb of God, and not "merely" die -- so He could be resurrected.
by Rich Deem
The festival of the Passover has been celebrated by Jews for thousands of years. It is the retelling of the great story of how God redeemed the Jewish nation from enslavement in Egypt.1 The celebration itself was given to the Jews while they were still in Egypt.2 The original celebration centered around the Passover lamb, which was sacrificed and its blood put over the doorposts as a sign of faith, so that the Lord passed over the houses of the Jews during the last plague poured out on the Egyptians - the killing of every firstborn.3 To a large degree, the Passover lamb has been eliminated from the Passover festival (with the only remnant being the roasted lamb shank bone).4 The New Testament says that Jesus is our sacrificial Lamb.5 The Passover lamb was to be a "male without defect,"6 which is the same description given to Jesus.7 In addition, when the lamb was roasted and eaten, none of its bones were to be broken.8 This fact was also prophesized for the Messiah, whose bones were not to be broken.9 It was customary during crucifixion to break the leg bones of the person after a few hours in order to hasten their death. The only way a person could breathe when hanging on a cross was to push up with his legs, which was very exhausting. By breaking the legs, death followed soon by asphyxiation. However, in the case of Jesus, they broke the legs of the other two men, but did not break His, since He was already dead.10
Much of the symbolism of Jesus' last Passover week is lost to us because we are unaware of the customs of the time. For example, Jesus came into the city of Jerusalem five days before the lamb was killed in the temple as the Passover sacrifice for the sins of the people of Israel. Five days before the lamb was to be sacrificed, it was chosen. Therefore, Jesus entered Jerusalem on lamb selection day as the lamb of God.11 The people did not understand the significance of this, since they greeted Him with palm branches12 and hailed Him as King,13 shouting "Hosanna,"14 which means "save us." However, they were not looking for a spiritual Savior, but a political savior. Palm branches were a symbol of freedom and defiance, since Simon Maccabeus had entered Jerusalem with that symbolism.15 Jesus' reaction was to weep,16 since He realized that they did not understand the Messiah's purpose in coming.
Good Friday was the day of the Passover celebration and the day that the Passover lamb was to be sacrificed. For the previous 1,200 years, the priest would blow the shophar (ram's horn) at 3:00 p.m. - the moment the lamb was sacrificed, and all the people would pause to contemplate the sacrifice for sins on behalf of the people of Israel. On Good Friday at 3:00,17 when Jesus was being crucified, He said, "It is finished"18 - at the moment that the Passover lamb was sacrificed and the shophar was blown from the Temple. The sacrifice of the lamb of God was fulfilled at the hour that the symbolic animal sacrifice usually took place. At the same time, the veil of the Temple (a three-inch thick, several story high cloth that demarked the Holy of Holies19) tore from top to bottom20 - representing a removal of the separation between God and man. Fifty days later, on the anniversary of the giving of the law (Pentecost), God left the earthly temple to inhabit those who call on the name of Jesus through His Holy Spirit.21
The festival of unleavened bread began Friday evening (at sunset). As part of the festival, the Jews would take some of the grain - the "first fruits" of their harvest - to the Temple to offer as a sacrifice. In so doing, they were offering God all they had and trusting Him to proved the rest of the harvest. It was at this point that Jesus was buried - planted in the ground - as He said right before His death.22 Paul refers to Jesus as the first fruits of those raised from the dead in 1 Corinthians.23 As such, Jesus represents the fulfillment of God's promise to provide the rest of the harvest - resurrection of those who follow the Messiah.
Christian symbolism in the Passover occurs early in the Seder (the Passover dinner). Three matzahs are put together (representing the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit). The middle matzah is broken,24 wrapped in a white cloth, and hidden, representing the death and burial of Jesus.25 The matzah itself is designed to represent Jesus, since it is striped and pierced, which was prophesized by Isaiah,26 David,27 and Zechariah.28 Following the Seder meal, the "buried" matzah is "resurrected," which was foretold in the prophecies of David.29
It was during a Passover seder30 that Jesus proclaimed that the meal represented Himself and that He was instituting the New Covenant, which was foretold by Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Isaiah.31 The celebration of this covenant has become the ordinance of communion in the Christian Church. At the end of the meal, Jesus took the unleavened bread, broke it, and said that it represented His body.32 Then He took the cup of wine, which would have been the third cup of the Seder - the cup of redemption. He said that it was the new covenant in His blood "poured out for you."33 It is through the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus Christ that we are declared clean before God, allowing those of us who choose to accept the pardon, to commune with Him - both now and forevermore through the eternal life He offers.
If you are a Christian, I encourage you to celebrate the Passover with your friends and neighbors. Our family has been doing this for the last six years and have used the celebration as a way of sharing the gospel of Christ in a fun and non-threatening manner. For more information on how you can celebrate your own Passover Seder, see the related pages below.
1. The entire story can be read in the book of Exodus
2. See Exodus chapter 12.
3. Then Moses summoned all the elders of Israel and said to them, "Go at once and select the animals for your families and slaughter the Passover lamb. Take a bunch of hyssop, dip it into the blood in the basin and put some of the blood on the top and on both sides of the doorframe. Not one of you shall go out the door of his house until morning. When the LORD goes through the land to strike down the Egyptians, He will see the blood on the top and sides of the doorframe and will pass over that doorway, and he will not permit the destroyer to enter your houses and strike you down. (Exodus 12:21-23)
4. The Passover lamb was still sacrificed in the first century, as indicated in the New testament - Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. (Luke 22:7)
5. Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast--as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. (1 Corinthians 5:7)
The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, "Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29)
When he saw Jesus passing by, he said, "Look, the Lamb of God!" (John 1:36) For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. (1 Peter 1:18-19)
I answered, "Sir, you know." And he said, "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. (Revelation 7:14)
"And they overcame him because of the blood of the Lamb and because of the word of their testimony, and they did not love their life even to death. (Revelation 12:11)
6. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats. (Exodus 12:5)
7. For you know that it was not with perishable things such as silver or gold that you were redeemed from the empty way of life handed down to you from your forefathers, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. (1 Peter 1:18-19)
8. "It must be eaten inside one house; take none of the meat outside the house. Do not break any of the bones. (Exodus 12:46)
9. He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken. (Psalm 34:20)
10. The soldiers therefore came, and broke the legs of the first man, and of the other man who was crucified with Him; but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs;... For these things came to pass, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, "Not a bone of Him shall be broken." (John 19:32, 33, 36)
11. The next day he saw Jesus coming to him, and said, "Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! (John 1:29)
12. On the next day the great multitude who had come to the feast, when they heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem, took the branches of the palm trees, and went out to meet Him, and began to cry out, "Hosanna! BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD, even the King of Israel." (John 12:12-13) And most of the multitude spread their garments in the road, and others were cutting branches from the trees, and spreading them in the road. (Matthew 21:8)
13. saying, "BLESSED IS THE KING WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; Peace in heaven and glory in the highest!" (Luke 19:38)
And the multitudes going before Him, and those who followed after were crying out, saying, "Hosanna to the Son of David; BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; Hosanna in the highest!" (Matthew 21:9)
14. And the multitudes going before Him, and those who followed after were crying out, saying, "Hosanna to the Son of David; BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; Hosanna in the highest!" (Matthew 21:9) And those who went before, and those who followed after, were crying out, "Hosanna! BLESSED IS HE WHO COMES IN THE NAME OF THE LORD; Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David; Hosanna in the highest!" (Mark 11:9-10)
15. Simon Maccabeus entered the Akra at Jerusalem after its capture, with thanksgiving, and branches of palm trees, and with harps, and cymbals, and with viols, and hymns, and songs: because there was destroyed a great enemy out of Israel (1 Maccabees 13:51) (see also 2 Maccabees 10:7).
16. And when He approached, He saw the city and wept over it, (Luke 19:41)
17. And about the ninth hour [3:00 p.m.] Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, "ELI, ELI, LAMA SABACHTHANI?" that is, "MY GOD, MY GOD, WHY HAST THOU FORSAKEN ME?"... And Jesus cried out again with a loud voice, and yielded up His spirit. (Matthew 27:46, 50) (see also Mark 15:34-37, Luke 23:44-46)
18. When Jesus therefore had received the sour wine, He said, "It is finished!" And He bowed His head, and gave up His spirit. (John 19:30)
19. And behind the second veil, there was a tabernacle which is called the Holy of Holies, (Hebrews 9:3)
20. And behold, the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom, and the earth shook; and the rocks were split, (Matthew 27:51) And the veil of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. (Mark 15:38) the sun being obscured; and the veil of the temple was torn in two. (Luke 23:45)
21. Acts chapter 2.
22. And Jesus answered them, saying, "The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified. Truly, truly, I say to you, unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains by itself alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. (John 12:23-24)
23. But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. (1 Corinthians 15:20)
24. And when He had given thanks, He brake it, and said, "Take, eat: this is My body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of Me." (1 Corinthians 11:24)
25. And so they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. (John 19:40)
26. But he was pierced through for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities: the chastisement of our peace was upon him; and by his stripes we are healed. (Isaiah 53:5)
27. For dogs have surrounded me; A band of evildoers has encompassed me; They pierced my hands and my feet. (Psalm 22:16)
28. "And I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him, like the bitter weeping over a first-born. (Zechariah 12:10)
29. For Thou wilt not abandon my soul to Sheol; Neither wilt Thou allow Thy Holy One to undergo decay. (Psalm 16:10)
O LORD, Thou hast brought up my soul from Sheol; Thou hast kept me alive, that I should not go down to the pit. (Psalm 30:3)
But God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol; for He will receive me. Selah. (Psalm 49:15)
I shall not die, but live, And tell of the works of the LORD. (Psalm 118:17)
30. And He said to them, "I have earnestly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer; (Luke 22:15)
31. "Behold, days are coming," declares the LORD, "when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and with the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers in the day I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, My covenant which they broke, although I was a husband to them," declares the LORD. "But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of Israel after those days," declares the LORD, "I will put My law within them, and on their heart I will write it; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people. (Jeremiah 31:31-33)
"And I shall give them one heart, and shall put a new spirit within them. And I shall take the heart of stone out of their flesh and give them a heart of flesh, that they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances, and do them. Then they will be My people, and I shall be their God. (Ezekiel 11:19-20)
"I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I will also hold you by the hand and watch over you, And I will appoint you as a covenant to the people, As a light to the nations, (Isaiah 42:6)
32. While they were eating, Jesus took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to his disciples, saying, "Take and eat; this is my body." Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, "Drink from it, all of you. This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins." (Matthew 26:26-28)
33. In the same way, after the supper He took the cup, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood, which is poured out for you. (Luke 22:20)
The History of Jesus
“Exitiabilis is the latin word for mischievous. It means destructive, fatal, deadly. So it would seem that what tacitus actually said was it was a destructive or fatal or deadly superstition.”
No doubt that the Christians were persecuted and died for their beliefs. I wonder though, could they have also meant something like “death superstition”; as in that Christ is NOT dead.?
Thanks for an interesting read. I find the couple accounts of the “eclipse” during a full moon very interesting!
Bookmarking to read tonight, this is really interesting!
Nice collection of historical references! Thank you.
“Tang Taoism and the Mention of Jesus and Mani in Tibetan Zen: A Comment on Recent Work by Rong Xinjiang”
T. H. Barrett
“Bulletin of the School of Oriental and African Studies,” University of London, Vol. 66, No. 1 (2003), pp. 56-58
(article consists of 3 pages)
Published by: Cambridge University Press on behalf of School of Oriental and African Studies
Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4145694
Record in Chinese history of the 33 AD earthquake (in German. Hard to find references now): http://de.wikipedia.org/wiki/Liste_von_Erd-_und_Seebeben
Have you seen Gary’s wonderful explanation of the testimony of Paul, dating Paul’s connection to within less than a decade of the Cross? He delivered the talk at UNChapel HIll, IIRC. I’ve got a link to it somewhere, if you’re interested in viewing his one hour lecture/talk.
Reference to the “Glass Mirror”
“A Chinese text preserved in Tibetan called the “Glass Mirror” mentions Yesu, who was “a teacher and founder of the religion who was born miraculously, proclaimed himself the Savior of the World,” (Hassnain, the author, trying to make the case in mentioning this reference that Jesus
‘followed Buddhist principles.’)
Hi Star Traveler,
Thank you for putting the links in the right HTML format, I still do not know how to do that.
Fascinating. Thank you for sharing.
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