Top 5 Non Christian Sources Attesting to The Historical Jesus

I  get the claim a lot, that Jesus never  existed. Typically I see this objection  brought up when atheists are in an  argument that they’re having trouble  with and so when they’re having trouble  answering the other objections, this  serves as their proverbial trump card. Jesus never existed anywhere. Don’t  you know that the Jesus story was  borrowed from pagan mythology? There are no credible historians  that mention Jesus. Let’s examine  those claims together and give you  something to think about. Here are my top  5 non-christian sources attesting to the  historical Jesus. 

Before we go into  the five sources, let me explain  something about the nature of ancient  history. When dealing with this subject,  we need to keep in mind that this is the  ancient world. They didn’t have copy  machines, they didn’t have typewriters,  they didn’t have fax machines or  computers. Not only that but they had  trouble keeping the material they had  serviceable. There are many ancient  documents that have been lost to wars, to  water, fire, the bugs and countless other  elements. So this modern standard that we  have, that we need to have absolutely  perfect and unquestionable sources  before we accept a historical claim, is  just incorrect and it’s not the way  ancient history is done. Not only this,  but if something was not considered  newsworthy, then Roman historians  wouldn’t record it. They mostly recorded  things of economic or political nature  so an unheard-of rabbi teaching in the  smallest pocket of the Middle East  needless to say is not very newsworthy. The fact that Jesus is mentioned in  secular history is itself huge so I’ll  go on record and say that we don’t  necessarily need any secular history in  order to prove the historicity of Jesus. The multiple letters that we have penned  down by Paul and the Apostles collected  in what we call the New Testament is  itself enough. Secular  historians would agree with that not to  mention the countless number of  Christian writers down through the ages  who wrote about Jesus. But for the sake  of argument, let’s go ahead and see if  Jesus is mentioned in secular history.

Source number one Tacitus. Tacitus was a  Roman orator and  official, probably the greatest historian, one of the greatest pro-stylists who  wrote in the Latin language. Here we  have a serious Roman historian who is  non-sympathetic to Christianity and is  merely recording the facts. He wrote a  work called The Annals, which was dealing  with the Roman Empire from dates AD 14  to 1868. In the Annals he says “This  Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the  most exquisite tortures on a class hated  for their abominations, called Christians  by the populace. Christus, from whom the  name had its origin, suffered the extreme  penalty during the reign of Tiberius at  the hands of one of our procurator’s  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 center and become popular. From the source we learned two things. That Christ is the one from whom the  Christians got their name from. And the  Christ suffered under the Roman  procurator Pontius Pilate.

Source number  two – Pliny the Younger. Pliny the Younger was a Roman author, an  administrator who left the collection of  private letters of great literary charm,  intimately illustrating public and  private life in the heyday of the Roman  Empire. In one of his letters dated  around AD 112, Pliny was seeking the  advice of Trajan on how to conduct legal  proceedings on individuals accused of  Christianity. Here we have another  Roman source, who is actually hostile to  Christianity and is in fact conducting  legal punishment of Christians. This is  not one who is sympathetic to the  Christian faith; he’s simply recording  the facts. At one point in his letter, Pliny relates some of the information  that he learned about the Christians. 

“They were accustomed to meet on a fixed  day before dawn and sing responsively a  hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind  themselves by oath not to some crime, but  not to commit fraud, theft or adultery,  not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to  return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom  to depart and to assemble again to  partake of food but  ordinary and innocent food.”

We learned a  few things about early Christian life  from the source but most importantly we  learned that Christ was sung to or  worshiped as a God.

Source number three – Josephus. Josephus was a Jewish priest,  scholar and historian who wrote valuable  works on the Jewish revolt of 66 to 70  AD and on earlier Jewish history.  Josephus is another historian non- sympathetic to Christianity and one of  Josephus’ works titled Antiquities of the  Jews, originally written in Greek, there  exists a small passage which has come to be known  as the Testimonial Flavian. Josephus’ Testimonial Flavian has been criticized  heavily by skeptics saying that later  Christian authors came in and altered  the text to make it sound more Christian,  thus rendering it unreliable. Here is the  original version as it’s often cited.

“Now  there was about this time Jesus, a wise  man, if it be lawful to call him a man,  for he was a doer of wonderful works, a  teacher of such men has received the  truth with pleasure. He drew over to him  both many of the Jews and many of the  Gentiles. He was the Christ and when  Pilate, at the suggestion of the  principal men amongst us, had condemned  him to the cross, those that loved him at  first did not forsake him, for he  appeared to them alive again the third  day as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful  things concerning him. And the tribe of  Christians so named from him are not  extinct to this day.”

The portions that  are marked in red are the portions of  the passage that are considered to be  unreliable and I think that many  Christian apologists, scholars and  teachers would probably agree with that. At this point, what has to be done is:  the skeptic needs to explain the  portions remaining in black. Not only  this but what is often not mentioned is  that the Testimony of Flavian also  exists in a 10th century Arabic text. In  1971 Professor Shlomo Pines published a  study on this passage. It is very  interesting to note that the Arabic  version lacks most of the questionable  portions of the often-quoted version as  Shlomo Pines and David Flusher stated “It  is quite plausible that none of the  arguments against Josephus writing – the  original words – even applies to the  Arabic text, especially since the letter  would  have had less chance of being censored  by the church. The Arabic version reads  as follows:

“At this time there was a wise  man who was called Jesus. And his conduct  was good, and he was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and  the other nations became his disciples.  Pilate condemned him to be crucified and  to die. And those who had become his  disciples did not abandon his  discipleship. They reported that he had  appeared to them after his crucifixion  and that he was alive. Accordingly, he was  perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the  prophets had recounted wonders.”

Skeptics  ought not to dismiss this famous passage  in light of this evidence. From this  source alone, we learned five things.  Jesus was considered to be wise, good and  virtuous. Jesus was the teacher. Jesus was  crucified under Pontius Pilate. Jesus’  followers reported that he had risen  from the dead. And he was also considered  to be the Messiah that the Old Testament  prophets spoke about.

Source number four – the Babylonian Talmud. The Talmud (Hebrew  for “study”) is one of the central works of  the Jewish people. It is the record of  rabbinic teachings that spans a period  of about 600 years. Yet another source  that has nothing to do with Christianity. This comes from the Jewish people and  they are simply recording the facts. At  one point in the Talmud it says this of  Jesus:

“On the eve of the Passover, Yeshu (i.e. Jesus) was hanged. For forty days before the  execution took place, a herald went forth  and cried ‘He is going forth to be stoned  because he has practiced sorcery and  enticed Israel to apostasy. Anyone who  can say anything in his favor,  let him come forward and plead on his  behalf but since nothing was brought  forward in his favor,  he was hanged on the eve of Passover.’”

From the source, we learned two things. Jesus was hanged on the eve of  Passover and that he was accused of  sorcery or in other words miraculous  works.

Source number five – Lucian. Lucian  was a Greek writer, rhetorician,  pamphleteer and satirist. He writes in  one of his works 

“It was then that he  learned the wondrous lore of the  Christians, by associating with their  priests and scribes in Palestine. And how  else could it be? In a trice he made them  all look like children, for he was a  prophet, cult leader, head of the  synagogue and everything all by himself. He interpreted and explained some of their books and even composed  many and they revered him as a god, made  use of him as a lawgiver, and set him  down as a protector, next after that  other, to be sure, whom they still worship  the man who was crucified in Palestine  because he introduced this new cult into  the world. The poor wretches have  convinced themselves, first and foremost,  that they are going to be immortal and  live for all time. In consequence of  which they despised death and even  willingly give themselves into custody. Furthermore, their first lawgiver  persuaded them that they are all  brothers of one another after they have  transgressed once, for all by denying the  Greek gods and by worshipping that  crucified sophists himself and living  under his laws. Therefore they despised  all things indiscriminately and consider  them common property, receiving such  doctrines traditionally without any  definite evidence. So if any charlatan  and trickster, able to profit by  occasions, comes among them he quickly  acquires sudden wealth by imposing upon  simple folk.”

We certainly learned a lot  of things about Christians in this  passage but most importantly we learned  two things about Jesus. That he was  crucified and that he was worshiped as  a god.

Each one of  these sources alone is more than  sufficient to identify that Jesus of  Nazareth that we all read about in the  New Testament. Each one of these sources  speaks of Jesus as a real historical  person, as though it were an assumed fact. However when the multiple sources are  grouped together, they produce an even  stronger case. With these five sources, we  can have confidence in saying that:

  • Jesus  was considered to be wise
  • Jesus was  revered as the teacher
  • Jesus was claimed  to have performed miraculous acts
  • Jesus was  crucified
  • Jesus’ followers believed he  had risen from the dead
  • Jesus was  worshiped as a God

Jesus that we read about in the New  Testament was a real historical person  that walked the earth in 1st century  Palestine. Any who had denied this plain  fact is demonstrating an extreme level  of historical criticism that would  render nearly all ancient history  uncertain.

I’d like to end this video  with the word from dr. Bart Ehrmen. Dr.  Ehrmen is a graduate of Moody Bible  Institute, Wheaton College and Princeton  Theological Seminary. He studied under  the  late Bruce Metzger and became an expert  in New Testament textual criticism. Dr.  Ehrman is himself not a Christian and a  professed unbeliever in critic of  Christianity. Dr. Ehrman himself has  gone on record and opposed this very  uneducated and uninformed view so I’ll  go ahead and let him have the last word.

I know in the crowds you all run around with it’s  commonly thought that Jesus did not  exist. let me tell you once you get  outside of your conclave, there’s nobody. This is not even an issue for  scholars of antiquity. There is no  scholar in any college or university in  the Western world who teaches classics, ancient history, New Testament early  Christianity, any related field who  doubts that Jesus existed. The  reason for thinking Jesus exists is  because he is abundantly attested in  early sources. I think that atheists have  done themselves a disservice by  jumping on the bandwagon of mythicism  because frankly it makes you look foolish to the outside  world. If that’s what you’re gonna believe,  you just look foolish. You are much  better off going with historical  evidence and argument historically  rather than coming up with the theory that  Jesus didn’t exist.