How many people have never heard about Jesus of Nazareth? Of course everybody has heard of Jesus. The bible tells us his fame spread throughout the lands of Palestine and Syria. This is the god-man/savior of the world who performed miracles only a God could perform: He turned water into wine; fed thousands with a few pieces of bread and fish; walked on water; stilled the raging storm; healed the blind, the deaf, the infirm, the withered hand and the demon-possessed; and raised the dead. His moral teachings are said to surpass anything ever taught. Rejected by his own Jewish people, the Romans brutally crucified him. But, that didn’t stop Jesus. At his crucifixion the bible tells us the heavens and earth affirmed his deity, causing a 3 hour eclipse of the sun over all the earth, an earthquake causing Jerusalem’s temple curtain to be split in two, and graves were opened with many Jewish saints resurrected and appearing to the people in Jerusalem. Within three days, the Son of God, defeated Satan the prince of darkness, rose from the dead, appeared to his disciples, then ascended into heaven. How can anybody not love such a story and want to believe it?
The problem sincere, objective-minded inquirers of history have with this astounding story is why the historical record is virtually silent about the Jesus of Nazareth story in the writings of non-Christian Jewish, Greek, and Roman writers. Certainly news of such events, if true, would have spread throughout the Mediterranean world. Yet, the surviving writings of some 35 to 40 independent observers of the first one hundred years following the alleged crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus give virtually no confirmation. These authors were respected, well-traveled, articulate, thinkers and observers, the philosophers, poets, moralists, historians of that era. Some of the most prominent figures who make no mention of Jesus are:
Seneca, 4BCE - 65CE Rome’s most prominent writer on ethics, philosophy, morals, natural scientist who tracked eclipses & quakes; the alleged correspondence between Paul and Seneca was later exposed as fraudulent.
Pliny the Elder, 23-79 CE Natural History 37 books on natural events such as earthquakes, eclipse and healing.
Quintilian 39-96CE authored Instituio Oratio 12 books on morals and virtue.
Epictetus 55-135CE, former slave who became a recognized moralist, philosopher and wrote about the "brotherhood of man" and the importance of helping the poor and oppressed.
Martial 38-103CE Poet, wrote epic poems about human foibles and the diverse characters of Roman Empire
Juvenal, 55 - 127 CE Rome’s most powerful satirical poet, wrote about injustice and tragedy in Roman gov’t
Plutarch, 46 - 119 CE Greek, traveled Rome to Alexandria, wrote Moralia on morals and ethics.
Three Romans whose writings contain minimal reference to a Christ, Chrestos or Christians are:
Pliny the Younger, 61-113CE Governor of Bithynia In a letter in 112CE asking Emperor Trajan about prosecuting Christians who "met regularly before dawn on a fixed day to chant verses alternately amongst themselves in honor of Christ as to a god." Some eighty years after Calvary, somebody was worshiping a Christ (Hebrew equivalent for Messiah)! But, nothing is said as to whether this Christ was Jesus, a teacher and miracle working man who was crucified and resurrected in Judea or a mythic Christ of the pagan mystery religions. Even Jesus allegedly said there would be many false Christs, so Pliny’s statement lends little if any credence for Jesus of Nazareth historicity.
Suetonius, 69 - 122 CE Lives of the Emperors , a history of 11 emperors; writing in 120 about Emperor Claudius 41-54CE who "expelled from Rome the Jews who under the influence of Chrestus, did not cease to cause unrest." Who is Chrestus? No mention of Jesus. Is this Chrestus a Jewish agitator, one of many false Messiah’s or a mythic Christ? This statement proves nothing for a historical Jesus of Nazareth.
Tacitus, 56 -120 CE noted Roman historian, in his Annuals 14-68 CE Book 15, chapter 44 written about 115CE gives the first non-Christian reference to Christ as a man executed in Judea by Pontius Pilate. Tacitus states "Christus, the founder of the name, had undergone the death penalty in the reign of Tiberius, by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate." Scholars point out several reasons to suspect this statement was not from Tacitus or any Roman records, but instead a later insertion in Tacitus’ Annuals. #1. Pilate is referred to as "procurator" which is appropriate in Tacitus’ day, but in Pilate’s day the correct title was "prefect". #2. If Tacitus’s comment was written in the early 2nd Century, why didn’t later church fathers who all sought to find proofs for Jesus historicity such as Tertullian, Clement, Origen, even Eusebius (Father of Church History) quote Tacitus? #3 Tacitus is not quoted by any Christian writer prior to the 15th Century. This quotations inaccuracy and lack of use strongly suggest it is a later insertion.
The clear and indisputable fact is 80 to 100 years is a suspiciously long time after alleged events of such magnitude for no credible written recognition. Further, the brevity and scarceness of substantive fact in these three writings relative to the claim that this was about a miracle working Jewish Messiah named Jesus who was God in human flesh, crucified, and resurrected clearly calls into question the credibility of these writings.
Three 1st Century Jewish authors of great significance are:
Philo-Judaeus, 15 BCE - 50 CE of Alexandria, a Greek speaking Jewish theologian-philosopher, personally knew Jerusalem because of family living there. He wrote extensively on Jewish history and religion from a Greek perspective and taught the following concepts all prominent in John’s Gospel and Paul’s epistles: God and His Word are one; the Word is the first-begotten Son of God; God created the world thru His Word; God holds all things together thru His Word; the Word is the fountain of eternal life; the Word dwells in and among us; all judgment is committed to God’s Word; and the Word never changes. Philo also taught on God as Spirit, the Trinity, the virgin birth, Jews who sin will go to hell, Gentiles who come to God will be saved and go to heaven, and God is love and forgives. Yet, Philo, a Jew in nearby Alexandria, who would have been a contemporary of Jesus never once mentions anybody named Jesus nor any miracle worker being crucified and resurrected in Jerusalem, let alone an eclipse, an earthquake, or graves opening and resurrected Jewish saints walking the streets of Jerusalem. Why? Philo’s total silence about a Jesus is deafening!
Josephus, 37-103CE a Jerusalem born Pharisee, living in Rome wrote History of the Jews, 79CE and Antiquities of the Jews,93CE. Christian apologists (defenders of the faith) consider Josephus’ Jesus testimony the one sure evidence of the historicity of Jesus. This Jesus Testimony is found in Josephus’, Antiquities of the Jews. Contrary to those Christian apologists, the Jesus testimony is considered by many scholars including the Encyclopedia Britannica’s scholars as "an insertion by later Christian copyists." This Jesus testimony states "Jesus is the Christ, a doer of wonderful works, was crucified, and appeared the third day as the divine prophets foretold".
Why is this Jesus testimony considered a later insertion?
1. Josephus was a Pharisee. Only a Christian would call Jesus the Christ. Josephus would have had to renounce his pharisaical beliefs to say Jesus was the Christ. Josephus died a pharisee.
2. Josephus writing style is to write chapter upon chapter about the most insignificant people and events. The Jesus testimony consists of four sentences. Why would Josephus’ Christ (the Jewish Messiah) deserve only four sentences?
3. The paragraphs before and after the Jesus testimony describe Romans killing Jews. The paragraph following the Jesus testimony begins "About the same time another sad calamity put the Jews in disorder". Would the "sad calamity" refer to the appearing of the "doer of wonderful works" or Romans killing Jews? The Jesus Testimony clearly does not follow the preceding paragraph and characteristic of later insertions is out of context.
4. Finally, and most convincing had Josephus actually written the Jesus testimony, church fathers in the following 200 years would surely refer to it in fending off critics of Jesus’ being just another myth. But, not once does Justin, Irenaeus, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, or Origen ever refer to Josephus’ Jesus testimony. We know Origen read Josephus because Origen’s writings criticize Josephus for attributing the destruction of Jerusalem to the killing of James. The church fathers made no reference to Josephus’ alleged Jesus testimony because it was not in Josephus’ writing.
Not only does the Jesus Testimony appear fraudulent, but Josephus’ historical accounts both contradict and omit other New Testament bible stories:
1. According to the bible John the Baptist was killed about 30 CE at the beginning of Jesus ministry. In Josephus, John the Baptist is killed by Herod when Herod is at war with King Aertus of Arabia in 34 - 37 CE.
2. Josephus makes no reference to the celebration of Pentecost in Jerusalem when allegedly devote Jews of every nation gathered and all received the Holy Spirit evidenced by speaking in new tongues; a Jewish fisherman Peter is head apostle of the new church; a fellow pharisee named Saul of Tarsus becomes the apostle Paul, or of the church’s explosive growth throughout Palestine, Alexandria, Greece, or Josephus’ city of residence Rome. Peter and Paul’s alleged martyrdoms in Rome about 60 CE is unknown to Josephus. It bears noting that Christian apologists so determined to rely on the veracity of Josephus’ Jesus testimony excuse his later oversights.
Is it probable, as the Encyclopedia Britannica asserts that Christian copyists distorted truth by inserting the Jesus testimony? Eusebius (265-339 CE), acknowledged as "Father of Church History" and known to be the emperor Constantine’s overseer of doctrine writes in his The Preparation of the Gospel published by Baker House (a Christian company)on page 619 "it will be necessary sometimes to use falsehood as a remedy for the benefit of those who require such treatment". Eusebius, one of the most influential Christians in church history, condoned fraud as a tool to promote Christianity! The probability of Constantine’s Christianity being a product of fraud is directly related to the desperate need of evidence to support the historicity of Jesus. Without Josephus’ alleged Jesus testimony there is no credible first century non-Christian evidence of a historical Jesus.
Justus of Tiberius is the third 1st Century Jewish writer. The writings of Justus of Tiberius have been lost, but Photius, the patriarch of Constantinople 878-886 CE wrote Bibleotheca in which he reviewed the writings of Justus of Tiberius. Photius records "of the advent of Christ, of the things that befell him one way or another, or of the miracles that he performed, (Justus) makes absolutely no mention". Justus’ home was Tiberius in Galilee (Jn 6:23). Justus’ writing preceded Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews 93CE, so it is probable he lived and wrote during or immediately after the alleged era of Jesus, yet remarkably "makes absolutely no mention of him".
Rabbinic literature would logically be the one final inquiry for the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth. The Bible’s New Testament alleges Jesus is the fulfillment of Jewish prophesy for the Messiah, having been crucified on Passover Day. On that day allegedly Jerusalem had an earthquake, its temple veil was split in two, there was an eclipse of the sun, Jesus is resurrected, even resurrected Jewish saints walked the streets of Jerusalem, a few days later on the Day of Pentecost Jews gathered from every nation to witness the Holy Ghost descending with tongues of fire, and the Christian church growth exploded with both Jewish and Gentile converts, signs and miracles being unleashed in abundance. In 70 CE Jerusalem is besieged by the Roman army and Israel as a nation is destroyed and dispersed. Regardless of Rabbinic rejection of Jesus as Messiah, the historical impact of events surrounding Jesus would logically be noted in Israel’s Talmudic commentaries known as the Midrash. Jewish oral traditions and history recorded in the Midrash were updated and given final form by Rabbi Jehudah ha-Qadosh around 220 CE. Quoting Frank Zindler’s The Jesus The Jews Never Knew " Remarkably, not a single early rabbinic source so much as hints at the events of a 1st Century false Messiah, of the events alleged surrounding Jesus crucifixion and resurrection, or for that matter of anyone identifiable with the Jesus of Christianity."
The Holy Land’s historic landmarks do not confirm the historicity of Jesus of Nazareth. Local monks, priests, and tour guides pointing Christian pilgrims (donations accepted) to the locations of events described in the Bible can hardly be considered as objective. Again quoting portions of Zindler, "Unbiased confirmation of these locations is severely lacking. Nazareth is not mentioned once in the Hebrew Old Testament. The Talmud mentions 63 Galilean towns, yet never mentions Nazareth. Josephus mentions 45 Galilean towns or villages, yet never once mentions Nazareth. Josephus does mention a Japha which is a suburb of present-day Nazareth. Lk 4:28-30 describes Nazareth having a synagogue and a "brow of a hill whereon their city was built" presumably steep enough to kill Jesus had they succeeded in throwing him over it. But, present-day Nazareth occupies a valley floor and the lower half of a hillside. There is no hill. Further, present-day Nazareth has no 1st Century synagogue ruins. Origen 182-254 CE who lived in Caesarea 30 miles from present-day Nazareth does not mention Nazareth. The first solid reference to Nazareth comes from Eusebius in the 4th Century. The best guesti-mates are that Nazareth did not come into existence until the 2nd Century. This historic evidence strongly suggests why no 1st Century non-Christian Roman, Greek, Jewish historian, or Rabbinic literature mentions a Jesus of Nazareth, i.e. there was no 1st Century Nazareth.
Time and space do not allow for discussion of other significant New Testament towns. The historical and archaeological evidence for 1st Century Capernaum (mentioned 16 times in the New Testament), Bethany, Bethpage, Bethabara, and Calvary, like Nazareth is equally unconvincing or even counter-indicative.
The mark of an objective, critical thinking mind is to seek non-biased confirmation of alleged facts. When the only available evidence of an event or product is, not only suspiciously questionable, but is what the event or product’s promoters want you to believe then "Buyer Beware". The facts are that non-Christian Jewish, Greek, and Roman writers of the decades following the alleged events of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection are virtually silent about any person named Jesus of Nazareth. Though the fair-minded critical thinker is always willing to consider further evidence, today 2,000 years later, Christianity has no more 1st Century objective, unbiased evidence for its historicity then The Wizard of Oz, Paul Bunyan, Zeus, or any of the many mythical savior-gods of that era.
Lee Salisbury, Stillwater, Mn., was a former bible-believing Pentecostal pastor 1972-1986. He is founder/director of The Critical Thinking Club of MN, is a Columnist for www.axisoflogic.com, where this article originally appeared, and participates in public speaking/debates. Lee's e-mail is firstname.lastname@example.org. Copyright (C) 2004 Lee Salisbury
The Jesus the Jews
Never Knew by Frank R. Zindler
Deconstructing Jesus by Robert Price, Ph.D.
Josephus Complete Works translated by William Whiston, Ph.D.
The Jesus Puzzle by Earl Doherty
The Jesus Mysteries by Timothy Freke and Peter Gandy
Other Articles by Lee Salisbury