Extra Biblical Evidence

Hello I’m writing this question regarding to a conversation I have with someone online.
He claimed that there is no extra biblical evidence of Jesus which I found weird because this is something I knew was false since I know about Tacticus, Pliny the Younger, Josephus etc.
But apparently atheists have all sorts of proof that every extra biblical reference is false.
And when you google it there is a lot of confusion for me. Articles that claim Jesus did exist with all sorts of evidence, articles countering that, articles countering that. I just don’t really know what to believe at this point. I think the truth is of great importance here. For me at least I don’t want to be the one to be ignorant and believes in fairy tales obviously.
So all these articles are written with great confidence and everyone claims to be right. Which makes it really difficult for me what to believe. If Jesus existed shouldn’t that we common fact? Why is this a discussion? He wasn’t like a super famous man at the time but if he appeared to 500 people some of them should have written something down. My biggest problem is that everyone is biased on this. I don’t expect any answers here that could lead to thinking Jesus doesn’t exist.
I’m curious if anyone here has knowledge on the history side of this. And I want to know if there are others who have struggled with this.
How do you get to the truth in an honest way?
I don’t think only reading research from Christians is fair for example.

So those are my questions and I’ll paste the comment I got in this discussion below:

And I already told you that these references cannot be shown to be independent, or they are forgeries or interpolations.

If you want specifics for Pliny and Tacitus, here you go:

Pliny the Younger and Tacitus were close friends and Pliny is the likely source of Tacitus’ knowledge of Christians since we know that Tacitus asked Piny to supply information for his histories. [See Richard Carrier: On the Historicity of Jesus; Why We May Have Reason for Doubt – Chapter 8, p. 342]

Pliny the Younger, in letters to Trajan, admits he knew nothing of Christians until he, as Governor of Bithynia, had to interrogate some. Clearly, he only has second hand information from those people. We can therefore dismiss Pliny the Younger as an independent source of evidence for Jesus.

Pliny the Elder, eye witness to the Great fire of Rome in 64 CE, never mentions Christians in his writings. If he had, his nephew and adopted son (PtY) would not have told Trajan he’d no knowledge of them. [See Richard Carrier: On the Historicity of Jesus; Why We May Have Reason for Doubt – Chapter 8, p. 343]

Tacitus’ mention of “Christ” is the first ever extra biblical reference to a historical Jesus. Scholars are confident it dates to around 116 or 117 CE; Tacitus’ Annals.

There is a problem with the line: “Christ, 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 Pilate.” As several scholars including [Richard Carrier], Josef Ceska, Earl Doherty, Erich Koestermann, Jean Rogué, Charles Saumagne, Roger Viklund and others have argued, this line is probably an interpolation, added sometime after the mid-fourth century. Before then, no one, Christian or otherwise, ever appears to have heard of this persecution event under Nero. Nor does anyone notice reference to Christians in Tacitus. [See David Fitzgerald “Jesus: Mything in Action” Chapter 18 and Richard Carrier (following the arguments of scholars before him who have argued the same), “The Prospect of a Christian Interpolation in Tacitus, Annals 15.44,” Vigilae Christianae 68, 2014, pp. 1-20.]

Considering just Origen alone, there are several passages where it’s almost certain he would have remarked upon this paragraph, even quoted it, had he known of it. [See Richard Carrier: On the Historicity of Jesus; Why We May Have Reason for Doubt – Chapter 8, p. 335]

Nero’s scapegoating is not mentioned when other second century Christians told stories of Nero persecuting Christians. _ [See David Fitzgerald “Jesus: Mything in Action” Chapter 18]_

There is strong evidence that Tacitus originally stated that followers of a Jewish instigator in Rome, Chrestus (who we learn about from Suetonius) were scapegoated by Nero. This is indicated by the single manuscript that contains this passage, Cornelius Tacitus Manuscript M.II, in the Laurentian library in Florence, Italy. That manuscript originally said the victimised group were “Chrestians,” not “Christians.” As subsequent investigations (including ultra-violet examination of the manuscript have confirmed, at some point a later scribe changed the word chrestianos to christianos. The evidence of tampering is unmistakable. [See: J. Boman, “Inpulsore Cherestro? Suetonius’ Divus Claudius 25.4 in Sources and Manuscripts,” Liber Annuus 61 (2011), Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, Jerusalem 2012, p. 355n2.]

*Tacitus was probably talking about a completely different group; and it is unlikely he ever wrote anything about “Christ”[Carrier, Fitzgerald]. *

The use of ‘Chresto’ to mean ‘Christo’, though a linguistic possibility, is nevertheless not a necessary conjecture, Chrestus being a common name at the time (likewise we need not posit a textual corruption). [See Stephen J. Boman, “Inpulsore Cherestro? Suetonius’ Divus Claudius 25.4 in Sources and Manuscripts,” Liber Annuus 61 (2011), Studium Biblicum Franciscanum, Jerusalem 2012, p. 355n2]

As Bart Ehrman points out for the Testimonium Flavianum, so Carrier and Brodie also point out that even if just for the sake of argument we allowed that the “Testimonium Taciteum” was entirely authentic, it still adds nothing to the discussion.

Why? Because nothing it contains says anything about “Christ” that wasn’t already available from Christians or the Gospels, the youngest of which was around twenty years old, the oldest was written around 57 years before. So even if every single factor listed above is mistaken, wrong or even an outright lie, (to be clear it is not) it makes no difference.

Bottom line: Tacitus cannot be seen as an independent source and therefore cannot be used as evidence, let alone proof, that Jesus exited.

Now, if you want an even more comprehensive dismantling of dearly held Christian beliefs over Titus Flavius Josephus, (born Yosemite ben Matityahu), do feel free to include him in your next attempt at providing ‘secular sources’.

So this is something someone actually sent to me.

The following article is a good example of atheists being really confident about the truth:
https://www.atheists.org/activism/resources/did-jesus-exist/
I find it hard to believe that the writers of these articles make all of this up, but someone has to be wrong.

Kind regards,
Daniël.

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@dePloert Wonderful question :slight_smile: This may be the first time I’ve cited Bart Ehrman, with whom I strongly disagree about the Person of Jesus Christ. Ehrman is a scholar who questions the miraculous stories about Jesus and the accounts of the Gospel. However, as you can read in the following article, even Ehrman admits there is strong non-Biblical evidence that Jesus existed. He even briefly mentions Tacitus, noting that it is very unlikely he had received this information from interviewing Christian sources.

For a thorough defense of the reliability of the N. T., please see F. F. Bruce’s book The Canon of Scripture. And for a terrific defense of Jesus’ resurrection, see N. T. Wright’s classic The Resurrection of the Son of God - it is a tome, but well worth reading.

The Lord Jesus be with you :slight_smile:

As a Roman historian, Tacitus did not have any Christian biases in his discussion of the persecution of Christians by Nero in 64 CE, as recounted in his multi-volume work, the Annals of Rome (book 15). He was reporting what was widely known, at least to those who knew anything about it. It seems unlikely that he had Christian sources of information for his account (he almost certainly was not interviewing Christians for information); his account is as an outsider, who considers Christians to represent a foul and obnoxious superstition involving a crucified criminal.

One would certainly not expect any literary reference to Christians or Christianity or Jesus himself in Roman authors of the first century. Christianity was simply a tiny (TINY) religious movement that no one had heard of. Most Romans would not even have heard the name Christian until probably the middle or end of the second century, well over a century after the movement started.

The fact that we do have some Roman authors mentioning Jesus and/or the Christian already within eighty years of his death – Pliny the Younger, Tacitus, Suetonius – shows that Roman intellectuals who were interested in such things (some of them) had no trouble understanding where this tiny, odd, religious superstition came from. It originated with “Christ” (hence the name: Christian), in Judea, at the time of the emperor Tiberius. These authors have no stake in saying this. It was just information known from their own Roman sources of information.

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Along with @SeanO I would like to recommend Bart Ehrman to you. Especially the book:

In the first chapter he sets about to dismantle the mythologists which are mainly who they are quoting to you. You will find this resource immensely helpful.

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@dePloert Hey!

One source of extra Biblical evidence that has worked in my interactions with other people who present this type of objection is from Rabbinic Judaism. Jesus is mentioned in the Talmud.

Sanhedrin 43a (200-500 C.E.)

“On the eve of the Passover Yeshua4 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 apostacy. Any one who can say anything in his favour, let him come forward and plead on his behalf. But since nothing was brought forward in his favour he was hanged on the eve of Passover!”5

Endnotes

  1. Antiquities xviii. 33 (early second century) from F.F. Bruce, Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974), 37.
  2. Pliny, Epistles x.96, from Bruce, p.26.
  3. Tacitus, Annals xv, 44, from Bruce, p. 22.
  4. Talmudic designation of Jesus.
  5. “Sanhedrin,” vol 3 of Nezikin, Babylonian Talmud, edited by Isidore Epstein, reprint (London: Soncino, 1938), 281.

This information comes from the Jews For Jesus Canada site (https://jewsforjesus.ca/did-jesus-even-exist/).

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Hello Daniel. That’s an interesting question. In conversations with atheists, the topic “historical reliability of the Bible” is often discussed. It’s great that you stay in touch with them and make your point clear.

A few weeks ago I asked a similar question and got good answers:

These questions deal with similar topics:


Wish you God’s blessing and the right words as you continue the conversation.

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To the already great answers I would like to coat tail on @joncarp 's comment. As much we want evening news style reports of Jesus in history that did not happen in the 1st century save the Gospels but I think a better push back on the naysayers is what the Rabbis said and didn’t say about Jesus.
Here is a summary of this thought from a good book on the subject:

Finally, if we were to characterize the Jewish view of Jesus in one word or phrase, what would it be? The main Jewish tradition, originated in the first century, carried through the rabbinic tradition and adapted for more popular use by in the Toledot Yeshu, is that Jesus is a magician and deceiver. He founded and led a movement that tried to lead Israel away from the one true God and his Torah. He used deception and magic in miracles worked by an alliance with evil. Like all deceivers, he was rightly tried and executed for his religious crimes, as the Hebrew Bible directs. Only Josephus sees Jesus in a more nuanced way, a reflection of both his Jewish faith and his Roman fealty.

Van Voorst, R. E. (2000). Jesus outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence (pp. 134–135). Grand Rapids, MI; Cambridge, UK: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company.

The Toledot Yeshu ( “Book of the Life of Jesus”) is a medieval polemic, a “counter Gospel” for the Jewish community. Interestingly enough it was reprinted and taught as late as the first decades of the 20th century.