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Is there evidence for Jesus outside the Bible? (in just one minute)

November 3, 2013

I’ve encountered a number of atheists who suggest that there is no mention of the historical character of Jesus outside of the Bible (hence reducing the historical likelihood of his existence). This is a short short response to that claim.


The answer to this question is ‘yes’. There are numerous references to Jesus in Greek and Roman writings of the first and second centuries.

·         The Jewish historian Josephus makes two references to Jesus. Once when discussing the death of James ‘the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ’. And another, which though interpolated, contains a genuine reference to Jesus – who Josephus describes as having performed amazing deeds.

·         The Roman historian Tacitus mentions Jesus when describing how Emperor Nero blamed the Christians for the fire of Rome in 64. Tacitus was no friend of Christianity yet he correctly places Jesus execution in the reign of Tiberius at the sentence of Pontius Pilate.

·         Mara bar Sarapion asks why the Jews killed their wise king? And there are other references in Pliny, Thallos, Lucian and the Talmud.

There is evidence for Jesus outside the Bible.

  1. And if everything you claimed was “There was some guy called Jesus back then who impressed some people and made enemies out of others.” – well, then that would be pretty nice evidence. But we all know, that’s not everything you claim, don’t we?

    • Atomic, glad you accept some of the key evidence for the life of Jesus.

      • Personally, I don’t doubt that a real person existed on whose life the fictional person “Jesus” was based upon. It’s simply easier to assume that were was someone who preached, had followers, etc. – happens all the time – instead of assuming that everything was made up from scratch.

        Of course, that doesn’t mean that the real guy behind the mythology would recognize “Christianity” as something that’s based on his ideas if he came back tomorrow.

  2. Rob, although my primary response to this is “so what?”, I can’t help but zero in on this part:
    “And another, which though interpolated, contains a genuine reference to Jesus – who Josephus describes as having performed amazing deeds.”
    How can an interpolation be a “genuine reference to Jesus”?
    It is well known that the Testimonium Flavianum was almost certainly written by someone else, and a strong case has been made for this someone else being the historical Christian scholar called Eusebius. Furthermore, it would have been some 300 years after the death of Jesus.
    It still perplexes me that Christians seem to hold up the records of Josephus as compelling evidence for the existence of Jesus, when Christians themselves accept that he (Josephus) didn’t even write this passage. It was basically “sexed up” by someone with a vested interest in the success of Christianity!
    Anyway, as I said above, “so what”? The existence of the historical person known as JC makes little difference to the truth about divinity or theism.

    • Paul – no, you throw the baby out with the bathwater. Most scholars agree that it contains a genuine reference to Jesus. The case that it was written by Eusebius is not convincing. Which scholars have you read which suggest that the entire reference is fabricated? (interestingly there is no textual evidence against an interpolation at all).

      You’re correct with your ‘so what’ claim, though many hyper-skeptical atheists claim that Jesus never existed – including Christopher Hitchens, Michel Onfray and Vic Stenger. Hence it’s a little difficult to justify the reasonableness of the Christian faith if Jesus never existed. Hence I have to make such fairly basic claims.

      Further, I’m a little less convinced in the atheist proposals if they suggest that Jesus never existed, for this is not a conclusion based on evidence. Wouldn’t you agree?

  3. jacksaunsea permalink

    I think it may be beneficial for us to avoid using statements like “there is no evidence for that in history.” Because what we are really saying is that in our extremely limited capacity for know ALL of history, we haven’t heard about it.

  4. patchingcracks permalink

    Curious why you did not dip into talmudic references to Jesus. There are a couple of decent books on the subject out there.

    • Thanks for the comment. I did mention the Talmud very briefly at the end. The main reason I didn’t expand was that I was trying to answer the question in just one minute and there is only so much you can say!! Which books do you recommend in particular? Thanks for your comment, much appreciated.

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