Josephus, Tacitus, and Jesus


Here is one poster’s thoughts on the historicity of Jesus:

[quote=Mersenne]Josephus is more then controversial, it is beyond a shadow of a doubt a forgery.

We know the time and place and likely person that did it because copies we have before that time are missing the passage and copies after that time have it, and those making the copies had the motive and opportunity and the passages don’t make any sense comming from Josephus and aren’t writen in the same style.

The fact that Christians still use Josephus as evidence of Jesus’s existence just goes to show that they’re grasping for straws.

Tacitus is no better then the gospels, he was writing 200 years after the fact and only repeating rumors that he heard, that there was some cult following a guy named Christus.

Last I read his work I seem to recall him seemingly being unaware even that Christ was dead. Tacitus is also notorious for speaking alogorically.

What does history have to say about this?


Even mostly non-christian historians accept the historicity of Jesus, its only the hardcore atheist that try to claim that he wasn’t a historical figure.

Here is Tacitus on Jesus:

"Consequently, to get rid of the report, 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 procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, 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. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. " (Tacitus annals 15:44)

The Gospels are also a historical account, for more on this go this protestant apologetical essay on the subject.


“Tacitus is no better then the gospels, he was writing 200 years after the fact and only repeating rumors that he heard, that there was some cult following a guy named Christus.”

Wikipedia: The part of Tacitus’ annals that mentions Jesus was written in 116 AD. So we go from 200 years after the fact to less than 100. And for what it’s worth, “Overall the vast majority of scholars conclude that the passage is authentic and not a later interpolation.”

Regarding Josephus from Wiki: “Today almost no scholar holds that position: however, many writers claim that Josephus did write something about Jesus which has been corrupted in the surviving Greek text.”

Read the entry “Josephus on Jesus” for yourself - it’s pretty enlightening. The reality is that what Josephus said about Jesus is under dispute, and calling ‘beyond a shadow of a doubt a forgery’ evidences some… well. Grasping at straws. Josephus’ writings on Jesus are inconclusive - and there are two possible references to Christ in his writing according to the wikipedia, rather than just one.

As for the gospels: “Most critical scholars agree on the dating of the majority of the New Testament, except for the epistles and books that they consider to be pseudepigraphical (i.e., those thought not to be written by their traditional authors). For the Gospels they tend to date Mark no earlier than 65 and no later than 75. Matthew is dated between 70 and 85. Luke is usually placed within 80 to 95. The earliest of the books of the New Testament was First Thessalonians, an epistle of Paul, written probably in 51, or possibly Galatians in 49 according to one of two theories of its writing. Of the pseudepigraphical epistles, Christian scholars tend to place them somewhere between 70 and 150, with Second Peter usually being the latest.”

So ‘no better than the gospels’ would place our earliest known NT manuscripts within a few decades of Christ’s death (and resurrection :smiley: ).

In other words, the history of Jesus has this to say: The quoted claims are extraordinarily off-base. Either by intention or accident.



What does history have to say about this?

There’s more evidence - about fifty separate documents written within living memory - on Jesus than almost anyone else from the period, except a few figures like Julius Caesar.
However that’s not good enough for Jesus Mythers, so they demand “non-Christian evidence”. There’s not much motive for a non-Christian to write extensively about Jesus, but there’s not nothing either. Josephus mentions him, as does Tacitus. (The writer seems to have confused Tacitus with Suetonius, who mentions riots in Rome amongst the Jews instigated by a certain “Chrestus”. This is fascinatingly close to “Christos”, and might represent a garbled account of Early Christianity. However Chestus is a name in its own right, so he could have been an unrelated Jewish rioter).
Obviously if the main body of evidence is not considered good enough for some reason, what will be left is straws. A bit like asking for evidence that George Bush exists untainted by the theory that he was US President - there are a few dental records and the like, but not much in comparison to the enormous body of political material.


"…Josephus wrote an account of the Jewish War, where he doesn’t mention Jesus at all. As Meier states, “This simply reminds us that Jesus was a marginal Jew leading a marginal movement in a marginal province of a vast Roman Empire.”

There are two texts from Josephus which are particularly worthy of consideration. The first is a reference to James as the brother of Jesus- to his death by stoning at the instigation of the high priest Ananus. (Catholic Tradition which has afformed the perpetual virginity of Mary interpreted “brother” to mean James was either “cousin” or “half-brother” of Jesus):

Being therefore this kind of person *, Ananus, thinking that he had a favourable opportunity because Festus had died and Alibinus was still on his way, called a meeting [literally,“sanhedrin”] of judges and brought into it the brother of Jesus who is called Messiah ton adelphon Iesou tou legonenou Christou], James by name, and some others. He made the accusation that they had transgressed the law, and he handed them over to be stoned.
Scholars are quite convinced that this text is authentic, i.e. it is not a Christian interpolation. Many reasons are given for its authenticity, particularly in Meier, to whom the reader is referred [Father John P. Meier (- a professor of the New Testament in Indiana) A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus]. Even the slightly less than respectful “brother of Jesus” is a pointer. Would not a Christian scribe have put “brother of the Lord Jesus” or some such more deferrential appelation? And Jesus “who is called Christ” (ho legomenos christos) is likewise impersonal and an unenthusiastic way for a Christian scribe to designate Christ. (Cf Colossians 4:11 Iesous ho legomenos Ioustos, Jesus with the surname Justus, equally neutral as a designation."

An extract from Bad, Mad or God by Canon John Redford. p.104*


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