Series 2 – Chapter 7

Although the New Testament is the major source about Jesus’ life, his existence is also documented in pagan, Jewish, and Christian writings outside the New Testament. For example, Josephus, a Jewish priest and Pharisee who was regarded as a reliable historian, wrote in his “Antiquities of the Jews” around AD 93 a passage that corroborated important information about Jesus. He referred to James, the brother and later follower of Jesus, and also mentioned people like the high priests Annas (Ananias) and Caiaphas, the Roman governor Pontius pilate, King Herod, and John the Baptist. Tacitus, in AD 115, said that Nero persecuted Christians as scapegoats to divert suspicion away from himself for the great fire that devastated Rome in AD 64.


He refers to the death of Christus under Pontius Pilate and the spread and success of Christianity. From Josephus and Mara bar Serapion we learn that the Jewish leaders made a formal accusation against Jesus and took part in the events leading up to his Crucifixion. Pliny the Younger around AD 111 talks about the worship of Jesus as God, the rapid spread of Christianity, and the high ethical standards of the Christians who were not easily swayed from their beliefs. The Roman historian Suetonius, in his history “The Twelve Caesars”, stated regarding the emperor Claudius:


“Because the Jews at Rome caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from the city.” This event occurred about the year AD 52,6 and there is a strong case that Chrestus is an alternative spelling of Christus, or Christ. He also mentions the persecution of Christians by Nero (AD 54–68). Some other possible contributions to the life of Jesus are by Thallus and Lucian of Samosata (AD 115–200), who describe Jesus as a man crucified in Palestine and was still worshipped, and the Babylonian Talmud “Sanhedrin 43a” that describes Jesus as a false teacher who practiced sorcery and was put to death on the eve of the Passover. The reference to sorcery might confirm the belief that he worked miracles.