by Lee Salisbury
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 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; 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 many Jewish saints resurrected from their graves 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 history 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; 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 became a recognized moralist, philosopher 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 some superficial, 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." Aha! So somebody was worshiping a Christ! 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 Christ’.
Suetonius, 69 - 122 CE Lives of the Emperors 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 he a Jewish agitator?, a mythic Christ? No one knows.
Tacitus, 56 -120 CE Roman historian, Germania, Annuals 14-68 CE, Histories 69-96 CE; Tacitus in Annuals 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 refers to an incident forty years earlier when Nero in an attempt to dispel rumors that he had torched Rome produced substitute culprits, called "a class of men loathed for their vices, whom the crowd styled Christians." "Christus, the founder of the name, had undergone the death penalty in the reign of Tiberius, by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate." Why did Tacitus refer to Pilate as "procurator", the title in Tacitus day, when it was "prefect" in the earlier Tiberius day? Tacitus’ source was partially incorrect. The question is where did Tacitus get his information of an event 75+ years before? Could it be a later insertion by Christian copyists? Or could it be a legend that developed in the era of Pontius Pilate rule 26-36 CE, possibly retold by Ignatius, Bishop of Antioch who was executed in Rome 105CE. Is Tacitus account historical or legend? Does this prove a historical Jesus?
The clear and indisputable fact is 80 to 100 years is a suspiciously long time after alleged events of such magnitude for 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 must call into question the credibility of these writings.
Two authors of greater significance are:
Philo-Judaeus(look under "Hellenistic Judaism: Religious Development" at this link), 15 BCE - 50 CE of Alexandrian, a Greek speaking Jewish theologian-philosopher, who personally knew Jerusalem because of relatives living there; wrote extensively on Jewish history and religion from a Greek perspective; and taught the following concepts: 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, a God of love and forgiveness. 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 Jews being resurrected from their graves. Why? Philo’s silence about 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, 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 habitually writes chapter upon chapter about the most insignificant people and events. The Jesus testimony consists of three sentences. Why would Josephus’ Christ be given only three brief 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 is clearly out of context having every appearance of a later insertion.
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 rather then Jesus. The church fathers made no reference to Josephus’ Jesus testimony because Josephus never wrote it.
Not only does the Jesus Testimony appear fraudulent, but Josephus’ historical accounts both contradict and omit other New Testament bible stories:
1. In Josephus John the Baptist is killed by Herod when Herod is at war with King Aertus of Arabia in 34 - 37 CE. According to the bible John was killed about 30 CE at the beginning of Jesus ministry.
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 as head apostle of the new church; a fellow pharisee named Saul of Tarsus becoming the apostle Paul; or 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 completely ignored by Josephus. How interesting that Christian apologists so determined to rely on the veracity Josephus’ Jesus testimony conveniently 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 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’ testimony there is no, (none, zero) credible first century non-Christian evidence of a historical Jesus.
We’ll never know all the answers, but the obvious issue is: When the only available evidence of an event or product 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 first one hundred years following the alleged Jesus crucifixion are virtually silent about any person named Jesus of Nazareth. Considering the implications of this silence along with the many amazing similarities, if not outright plagiarisms of prior Greek, Roman, Egyptian, Persian, and Indian savior god stories, it seems highly probable that Christianity is in reality a product of religious syncretism and fraud.
By Lee Salisbury Copyright 2001 (posted with the express permission of the author)