Historical Sources on Jesus 

from the Star Course

Josephus (born AD37)

Now there was about this time, Jesus, a wise man ... a doer of wonderful works - a teacher .... He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was '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, ... and the tribe of 'Christians' so named after him, are not extinct at this day. (Antiquities XVIII 63f) [Some scholarly difficulties about this passage are discussed in the note below]

In Antiquities XX.9.1 he also describes the martyrdom of James the bother of Jesus. In the year AD62 the newly appointed High Priest, Ananias, was speedily deposed because he illegally: 'convened the court of the Sanhedrin, and brought before them the brother of Jesus the so-called Messiah, who was called James, and some other men, whom he accused of having broken the law, and handed them over to be stoned.'

[Works of Jospehus]


in his Life of Claudius (XXv.4) says that: "Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome". This was c.49AD. In his Life of Nero (XV1.2) he refers to "punishment was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and wicked superstition".


in his Annals (XV.44.2-8) tells in horrific detail how Nero tried to blame the Christians for the great fire of Rome in 64AD:

"Consequently ... 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 Tiberias at the hands of ... Pontius Pilatus, and a deadly superstition, thus checked for a moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but also in the City."

Tacitus is writing in 110 and regards Christians as scum, so this confirmation of the basic facts comes from a very hostile witness.


[also writing c.110] is perplexed about Christians & refers the matter to the Emperor Trajan

.. For the moment this is the line I have taken with all persons brought to me on the charge of being Christians. I have asked them in person if they are Christians, and if the admit it, I repeat the questions a second and third time, with a warning of the punishment awaiting them. If the persist, I order them to be led away to execution ... There have been others similarly fanatical who have been Roman citizens. I have entered them on the list of persons to be sent to Rome for trial... the charges are becoming more widespread ... an anonymous pamphlet has been circulated which contains the names of a number of accused persons. Amongst these I considered I should dismiss any who denied that they were or ever had been Christians when they had repeated after me a formula of invocation to the gods and made offerings of wine and incense to your statue ... and furthermore had reviled the name of Christ; none of which things, I understand, any genuine Christian can be induced to do.

Others ... first admitted the charge and then denied it; they said they had ceased to be Christians two or more years previously, and some even 20 years ago. ... They also declared that the sum total of their guilt or error amounted to no more than this: that they had met regularly before dawn on a fixed day to chant verses alternately among themselves in honour of Christ as if to a god, and also to bind themselves by oath, not for any criminal purpose, but to abstain from theft, robbery, and adultery ... After this ceremony it had been their custom to disperse and re-assemble later for food of an ordinary harmless kind; but they had in fact given up this practice since my edict, issued on your instructions, which banned all political societies. This made me decide it was all the more necessary to extract the truth by torture from two slave-women, whom they call deaconesses. I found nothing but a degenerate cult carried to extravagant lengths ... a great many individuals of every age and class, both men and women, are being brought to trial, and this is likely to continue. It is not only the towns, but villages and rural districts too which are infected through contact with this wretched cult. (Letters X 96)

More info about Pliny: U of Pennsylvania


'It is taught: On Passover Eve they hanged Yeshu ... because he has practised magic and led Israel astray. Babylonian Talmud Sanhedrin 43a

Another interesting story comes from Tosefta Hullin 2:22-24 which concerns Rabbi Ishmael, who died about AD 135: 'Rabbi Eleazar ben Dama was bitten by a snake. And Jacob of Kefar Sama came to heal him in the name of Jesus ... and Rabbi Ishmael did not allow him' Eleazar disputed the decision, but he died before he could argue his case.

For these and a few others see The Evidence for Jesus by RT France (Hodder & Stoughton 1986) and Evidence that Demands a Verdict by Josh McDowell (Alpha Books)

Note on Jospehus

Josephus, Antiquities XVIII 63f. He has no love of Christians. The full text in the available manuscripts is: "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 as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was '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 after him, are not extinct at this day."

Most scholars seem to agree that this text contains some emendations by a Christian scribe ­ although there is no direct evidence for this (and there is evidence that this was the text in the 4th Century) but Jerome quotes Josephus as saying 'he was the so-called Christ'. It seems probable that the original may have been something like this: "Now there arose about this time a source of further trouble in one Jesus, a wise man who performed surprising works, a teacher of men who gladly welcome strange things. He led away many Jews, and also many of the Gentiles. He was the so-called Christ. When Pilate, acting on the information supplied by the chief men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had attached themselves to him at first did not cease to cause trouble, and the tribe of Christians, which has taken its name from him, is not extinct even today." none the less the evidence of Josephus confirms the historical existence of Jesus.

Further Links
Information at  Wheaton University 
The Gospels As Historical Sources  by Prof RT France 


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