The author of 1 Clement, an anonymous letter, usually dated as ca. 96 CE, and attributed to Clement writing from Rome to the church at Corinth, does not appear to be aware of any written Gospels. On two occasions he refers to what Jesus had said; in chap. 13, he repeats the words of Jesus, very similiar to those in the Gospels, although they are not quotations. In chap 46 he brings together two unconnected Markan statements (9:21 and 14:21) and he appears to be quoting loose sayings which were circulating, but in not in a fixed form. He never refers to Gospel stories, or sayings, when it would be very appropriate, applicable and would support the argument he is making; instead he quotes or refers to the O.T (Old Testament).
Ignatius, ca. 110 CE, mentions the Gospel although it again appears he is referring to the Gospel message, rather than written documents. He gives much more information about Jesus' life, but as he refers to things not found in any of the four canonical Gospels, e.g. the story of Jesus speaking after the resurrection (Smyrn. 3) which is apparently from the Gospel according to the Hebrews and not from the canonical Gospels, and he describes the Bethlehem star in a way that is not found in Matt (the only canonical Gospel to mention this), it is not altogether clear what written Gospel was available to him. He does refer to other N.T writings (e.g. 1 Cor, Gal, Eph), but there is no clear indication that he knew of any written Gospels.
In his letter to the Philippians he uses terms found in Matt and Luke although it is noteworthy that the author of 1 John, facing the same Docetic problem as Ignatius, but at an earlier time, clearly did not have the biographical information about Jesus, which was available to Ignatius.
The Epistle of Barnabas ca. 130 CE, uses O.T references to support its contents when N.T ones would have been far more appropriate. He refers to a passage in Matt 20:16b and 22:14 and surprisingly for this early date calls it 'Scripture'; this is quite unique. However, 20:16b appears to have been an interpolation and if it was a loose saying, it is more likely the author is using Matt's source, rather than Matt itself. The author chose to use the apocryphal Enoch when writing about the eschaton (instead of Mark l3), and in referring to the crucifixion he refers to the Psalms rather than the Gospels. The Epistle (chap. 7) also has a saying attributed to Jesus not found in the Gospels.
Polycarp, ca. 130, apparently knew Matt and/or Luke and improves upon Clement's "quotations", but apparently didn't know of John's Gospel. Papias, ca. 140 CE, mentions Matt and Mark in written form, but not Luke or John, and he also made use of non-canonical apocryphal literature indicating that Matt and Mark were not seen a sole source of the gospel message.
Justin Martyr, in the middle of the second century, refers to written Gospels which were deemed as authoritative as the O.T, but he does not name them, nor state their number, so it is not known what he was referring to. He too, used non-canonical material.
It was only by ca. 170 CE that Tatian was using all four Gospels for his Diatessaron harmony, and about a decade later Irenaeus was arguing for the acceptance of the four canonical Gospels, and only those.
Therefore it appears that the writings that give Jesus a historical place only appeared in the closing years of the first century and even these took quite some time to be established and accepted.
In respect of the belief in Jesus of Nazareth as a historical person, one is surely justified in asking why there appears to be so little said by this figure that is original. For example, a good deal of the Sermon of the Mount goes back to the O.T, or the 1st cent BCE apocryphal writings, e.g. the Book of Enoch. There is the further point concerning the remarkable silence over biographical - or chronological - details about Jesus' life in the early/earlier writings.
Paul, who wrote the first layer of writings in the N.T, never invokes Jesus' words when they would be invaluable in supporting his argument, and this is not only with Paul, but elsewhere, e.g. 1 Peter. The authors of Romans 13:1-3 and 1 Peter 2:13-14 certainly could not have been aware of the story of Jesus appearing before Pilate in view of what they say. This silence continued over into the end of the 1st century; in fact when the author of 1 Clement wrote, he seems to suffer from the same problem as Paul and others, i.e., a considerable ignorance about Jesus and the Gospels; obviously as is so clearly demonstrated, Christians always used scripture or suchlike to support any argument they were making, so is it somewhat bizarre that Clement does not do this. In chap. 3-6 he lists Abel, Joseph, Moses and David as examples of people who suffered through jealousy - but surely Jesus would have been the ideal example of this - Matt 27:18/Mark 15:10 ??? When he speaks about people preaching repentence in 7-8, he uses Ezekiel and Isaiah as examples - but again surely Jesus would have been the ideal example to use - Luke 13:3, Matt 18:3 ? In 9-12 he lists examples of faith - but yet again they're all from the O.T - surely an example from the Gospels would be more appropriate ? In 16 he refers to Jesus' humility and one would expect him to refer to his birth in a stable or suchlike, but instead he quotes from the O.T again (Isa 53). In chap 17, he speaks of examples dressed in animal skins who announce the coming of Christ. The obvious example of this would be John the Baptist (Matt 3:4), but Clement does not do this, but rather lists the O.T prophets Elijah and Ezekiel. It is very clear that although the Gospels emerged in the last decade of the 1st century CE, they took a lengthy period of time to be circulated and/or accepted.
With regard to the eyewitness testimony for Jesus' existence, there is certainly a problem. It is amazing that anything up to 70(100?),000 people saw Jesus, but no one compiled an eye-witness account. Mark was obviously not an eyewitness due to his errors concerning chronological, historical, geographical and theological matters in 1st. cent Palestine; Matt and Luke have to use Mark as their base (which they obviously would not have done if they were eyewitnesses), and in John (Which even the church only hesitantly accepted into the canon) the account of Jesus' life and ministry is at variance with the Synoptic record, e.g., the timing of the Temple-clearing and the last supper, etc., in relation to the Passover. John also reports situations e.g., expulsions from the synagogue (16:2) which did not occur until after 90 CE (ie. Rabbi Gamaliel II's official cursing prayer of the 'Minim' in ca. 90 CE). In the case of Paul, he gives virtually no detail about Jesus' earthly life, other than he was a descendent of David, was crucified and was raised by God. If Romans, a genuinely Pauline letter, is examined to discern Paul's knowledge of Jesus' earthly life, the silence becomes most apparent:-
(l)Jesus was a Jew/descended from David (1:3, 15:8,12);
(2)Jesus was human (8:3);
(3)His blood was shed (3:25, 5:9);
(4)Jesus suffered/died/was crucified (5:6,8,10,l5, 6:3,4,5,6,8, 8:17, 14:15);
(5)Jesus rose from the dead (1:4, 4:24,25, 6:4,5,9,10, 8:11,34, 10:7,9, 14:9):
As can be seen, the same few details are repeated over and over again. In the letters that are genuinely accepted as being written by Paul there is no specific reference to the parents of Jesus, and certainly not a virgin birth; his place of birth or the area in which his ministry took place is not mentioned either; 'Of Nazareth' is never used; the details supplied by Paul give no indication whatsoever of the time or place of Jesus' earthly existence. Paul never refers to Jesus' trial before a Roman official. He does not appear to even know who crucified Jesus - in 1 Cor 2:8 he refers to the death of Christ by 'rulers of the age' - this hardly fits a tinpot prefect called Pilate (this term really denotes supernatural spirits - 2 Cor 4:4, Col 2:15). Paul never refers to Jerusalem as the place of Jesus' execution and never mentions John the Baptist, Judas, or Peter's denials (This would have been quite pertinent in combatting Cephas/Peter at Antioch - Gal 2:11-17. Paul's position was apparently being threatened by Peter and despite calling him a hypocrite, he does not allude to his three denials of Jesus, as recorded in the Gospels, e.g. Mark 14:30 par). The only chronological reference to Jesus in the Pauline corpus is in 1 Tim 6:13 and this letter is widely accepted as post-Pauline. Furthermore it appears to be a non-Pauline insertion from a baptismal creed.
(* Although some argue that Paul's reference in 1 Thess 2:14-15 shows he knew that the Jews crucified Christ (this of course is incorrect - the Gospels portray the Romans as being responsible), this reference is clearly to God's vengeance on the Jews and the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE - therefore it has to be an interpolation as 1 Thess is generally accepted as having been composed ca. 55 CE.
Paul suggests that miracles might be expected wherever a Christian mission went, for he includes the working of them among 'the gifts of the Spirit' (1 Cor 12:10,28) and himself claimed to have won converts by 'the power of signs and wonders' (Rom 15:19), but he never makes any mention of Jesus having been a miracle-worker.
Among the signs of a true apostle, he lists 'signs and wonders and mighty works' (2 Cor 12:12); the striking feature is that he fails to mention that Jesus is reported as having done on an extensive scale in his earthly life. Another striking feature is that whilst the Synoptic Gospels portray Jesus as an ethical teacher, there is no suggestion of this in Paul's letters. Paul is certainly not indifferent to ethical problems and on several occasions his letters contain a sizeable amount of ethical instruction. On only one occasion does he represent Jesus as having made an ethical injunction and this is in 1 Cor 7:10 when Paul discusses the subject of divorce. The Gospel 'parallel' to this is Mark 10:11-12 (Matt is simply following Mark), but there is a difficulty even here as some reject this is authentic as Jesus refers to women divorcing their husbands - something that was not possible in Palestine. Some have argued that this statement was assigned to Jesus through Paul quoting a Christian prophet (himself ?) through whom the risen Lord was speaking and it was then utilised by the author of Mark who placed it in the mouth of Jesus whilst on earth, but was careless in not realising that its context was Gentile rather than Palestinian. It is clear from such early Christian writings as the Didache that as late as the end of the first century Christian prophets were viewed as being channels of communication for the risen Lord.
Paul was content to suffer weakness, insults, humiliation, persecution and hardship (2 Cor 12:10) adding that he entreated the readers by the 'meekness and gentleness of Christ' (2 Cor 10:1). He stated that he imitated Christ (1 Cor 11:1) and that his whole existence was 'to know nothing...except Jesus Christ and him crucified' (1 Cor 2:2) and then goes on to say he was with his readers in 'weakness, much fear and trembling' (1 Cor 2:3). If this is Paul's 'imitation' of Christ, then it is a far cry from the Jesus of the Gospels and particularly the picture of Jesus portrayed in John. It would seem that Paul thought Jesus led a humble inconspicuous life that went completely unnoticed by the world.
Other situations arise in Paul's writing that suggest a lack of knowledge concerning Jesus' supposed earthly life. He clearly was unaware of Jesus' command not to go to the Gentiles (Matt 10:5) in Rom 11:13, and in Rom 8:26, he states 'for we do not know how to pray as we ought' suggesting that he knew nothing about Jesus' instructions in Matt 5:7-13, Luke 11:14. The instructions regarding baptism by Jesus given in Matt 28:19 were also apparently unknown to Paul (1 Cor 1:17).
The person of Paul was that of someone who believed that God was now revealing secrets or mysteries; these terms frequently arise in Paul's letters, e.g., 1 Cor 2:7, 13:2, 14:2,, 15:51, with 'revealed' or similiar also arising frequently, e,g. Rom 1:17,18, 8:18, 16:25, 1 Cor 2:10,13, 3:13, 2 Cor 12:1. Paul believed that he had seen the risen Jesus (1 Cor 15:8) and he had spoken directly to him (2 Cor 12:8-9); he had experienced ecstatic states (2 Cor l2:1-4, 1 Cor 14:18) and God was now revealing previously-hidden information (1 Cor 2:10,12-13, 7:40).
A question therefore arises: did Paul's scant knowledge about Jesus arise through his belief that the risen Lord was now communicating with and through him, along with other Christian prophets, or from information gleaned from earthly companions and eyewitnesses of the earthly Jesus? One passage in which Paul clearly refers to a hist- -orical event in Jesus' earthly life, i.e., the last supper, is 1 Cor 11:23-26. However this passage begins "For I received from the Lord...." and indicates this information was transmitted directly to Paul from the risen Christ, rather than from the apostles. Consequently a question arises, ie. why this should be as Paul had met the apostles (Acts 9:27, Gal 1:18-19, 2:2,9) and would have been given this information by them. By this is only if these "apostles" had in fact accompanied the earthly Jesus rather than being as Paul, i.e., Christians who were receiving information direct from the risen Lord. But in view of Paul's lack of knowledge, it would seem that these "apostles" also knew nothing of Jesus' supposed earthly life.
Reference to Jesus' resurrection, rather than his earthly life appears in 1 Cor 15:3-8, when Paul lists the resurrection appearances (apparently in chronological order); these bear no resemblance to the Gospel ones and reference to an appearance to 'all the twelve' whilst the Gospels report Judas' suicide before the resurrection again suggests a lack of information; Paul's mention of a post-resurrection appearance to five hundred brethren at one time (15:6) is quite extraordinary as it would be inexplicable for the Gospel writers to have omitted this event if they had known of it. The empty tomb, nor Jerusalem itself is ever mentioned by Paul; his several visits to Jerusalem, recorded in both Acts and Gal. surely would have brought him into contact with the empty tomb; the failure to mention this, which surely would have had great significance for Paul due to his preoccupation with Jesus' death and resurrection, may have been due, unlike the Gospels reporting a physical resurrection, to a belief in Jesus being raised as a spirit (1 Cor 15:44,45,50). The 1 Cor 15:3-8 passage does not link Jesus to any specific historical time; it simply reports that he died, was buried, was raised, and had appeared to a number of people alive in Paul's time. There is no suggestion whatsoever that these appearances occurred immediately after his death/resurrection. Whilst the Gospels have Jesus appearing as a resurrected physical human being to his apostles and Acts having Jesus appearing in a totally different form to Paul (ie. after his ascension), there is no such suggestion here; Paul does not differenciate in any way between the earlier appearances in 1 Cor 15:3-7 and the one to him (15:8). It appears from this that he believed all those listed in 15:3-7 had experienced the same vision as he had done - they are certainly not made to be companions of Jesus in his earthly life and Paul appears to think of the others who are listed as experiencing a supernatural vision as he had done. The reason for Jesus now appearing was apparently because of the approaching end which was imminent (1 Cor 7:29, 15:23-24, 1 Thess 4:14-17, etc, etc).
The baffling silence is accounted for in a number of ways; the conservative Catholic theologian Xavier Leon-Dufour says of the matter:
"Why do these epistles...pay so little attention to the events in the public life of our Lord, and why do they not frequently cite his actual words ?..... To some Paulinists the earthly existence of Jesus...was meaningless as it is seen as a convenient way of teaching simple-minded men about the spiritual experience of the first Christians...Some go further and maintain that Christianity is not essentially concerned with a unique happening in past time, but is a vision in which an experience is crystallised......".
Dufour believes there are some passages where there is an 'echo' of Jesus words, e.g. 1 Thess 4:15-17, but some argue that rather than this (and a few others) being an 'echo' of Jesus' words, the situation was that the messages imparted by Christian prophets 'speaking in the name of the risen Lord' in Paul's time were collected and fed back into Jesus' time and put into his mouth lips during his earthly ministry.
It is argued that Paul had no need to refer to events in Jesus' earthly life when writing to Christian comunities as they would have already known the Gospel story; however, Paul's constant failure to invoke the words of Jesus to support his arguments suggests it was rather a case of being unable to do this, rather than not needing or wanting to do this. There are many occasions when Jesus' words are so very applicable, but Paul simply ignores them. For example, in 1 Cor 7, Paul argues about the value of celibacy, but the words of Jesus in Matt 19:12, which are totally relevant, are not cited.
To say either that Paul was only concerned with Jesus' death, resurrection and present role in heaven, and not so much his earthly life, or that his readers already knew Jesus' life and Paul had no need to repeat details of this simply does not explain Paul's astonishing silence.
Other examples of Paul's failure to invoke Jesus' words are:-
Rom 2:1, 14:13/Matt 7:1, Luke 6:37.
Rom 12:14,17/Matt 5:44, Luke 6:38.
Rom 13:9, Gal 5:14/Matt 22:39-40, Mark 12:31, Luke 10:27.
Rom 13:6/Mark 12:17.
Rom 14:14/Mark 7:18-19.
1 Cor 6:7/Matt 5:39-40.
1 Cor 15:35-55*/Mark 12:25.
1 Thess 4:9/John 15:17.
* In 1 Cor 15, Paul uses the O.T. rather than Jesus' statements in the Gospels i.e., 15:45 (Gen 2:7), 15:54 (Isa 25:8) and 15:55 (Hos 13:14).
Paul argues that the 'spirits of this age' will be put down at Christ's second coming (1 Cor 15:24-25) - he appears to be ignorant of the fact that spirits were overcome by Jesus in his earthly life (e.g. Mark 3:11) and furthermore this was when Satan himself was judged and cast out (John 12:31).
It is very clear that Paul was greatly influenced by the Wisdom tradition and the expectations of Jewish belief which arose in the first century BCE. In fact a striking similarity can be found between Paul's letters and this literature. A summary of some parts of the Wisdom of Solomon, the Book of Enoch, Proverbs and Ecclesiasticus, which mention Wisdom, 'the virtuous man', the Lord and the 'Word' produces the following (these all pre-date Christianity).
Wisdom is the sustainer and governor of the universe (Wis. 8:1, 9:4) who comes to dwell among men but is rejected by most. 1 Enoch states that after being humiliated on earth, wisdom then returned to heaven. In Wisdom there is mention of the 'just man' also, who is persecuted and condemned to a 'shameful death' (2:20); he is tested and then has immortality bestowed upon him (3:5); he is called a son of God (5:5). In 1 Enoch, the son of man shall bring salvation to the Gentiles; when he comes, he will come with angels and everyone will worship him; he will then destroy sinners.
In the upshot, Paul's view of Jesus appears to be wholly based on this line of thinking. In the case of 1 Cor 1:23-25, this comes very close to actually calling the supernatural personage that became Jesus, 'Wisdom'. In view of what information is available, it seems what little Paul knew about Jesus appears to be was based on (a)Current Jewish beliefs concerning wisdom, etc, (b)Revelations that he believed he was receiving from the resurrected messiah who had died sometime in the past and was now revealing himself just before the end of the age.
Additionally, there seems to be no pagan evidence for Jesus' existence either. Reference to his life does not occur until well into the second century and even then the writers seem to be merely repeating Christian statements about Jesus (e.g. Tacitus in 120 CE). What is really striking is that the same ignorance about Jesus' earthly life is found in most other N.T writings, e.g. in 1 Pet, readers are told to love one another, have unswerving faith and put away malice - but the writer never quotes Jesus' words in the Sermon on the Mount - instead he quotes the O.T.
With regard to Paul and the origins for Jesus, it does seem that Jesus' 'teachings' overall were borrowed from the O.T. and occasionally from elsewhere. It also seems that messages received 'from the risen Lord' by Christian prophets in trance were fed back into Jesus' earthly life. The Didache, a Christian writing of ca. 1st century (probably from Syria) writes of Christian prophets; "Welcome them as the Lord...Every missioner who comes to you should be welcomed as the Lord...While a prophet is uttering words in a trance, you are on no account to subject him to any tests or verifications - this is the sin that shall never be forgiven...They exhibit the manners and conduct of the Lord.....".
Here it can be seen these prophets were treated with the same respect as Jesus himself; what they said was treated as coming direct from Jesus and was not to be questioned. Furthermore this feature is found elsewhere, e.g. B. E. Beck (Senior Tutor and Methodist minister, New Testament Studies, Wesley House, Cambridge), in his Reading the New Testament Today:-
"Sayings attributed to Jesus in the gospels were used by Christians without acknowledgement, but the possibility cannot be ruled out that the reverse process has occurred - maxims in general use, from whatever source, have been mistakenly attributed to Jesus, e.g., Matt 6:34, 7:6. Apparently Christian prophets spoke in the name of the risen Lord, that is, on his behalf. Were such sayings treasured as those of the earthly Jesus ? Was any real distinction made between them when both were felt to express the mind of the Lord who had now risen and was still acting through his church ? If the distinction was not sharply drawn, what was to prevent a saying of the Lord, delivered through a prophet, being attributed to the Lord in his earthly ministry ?......"
In the book 1 and 2 Thessalonians by Ernest Best (Professor of Divinity and Biblical Criticism, University of Glasgow) it is stated:-
"....There were many prophets among the early Christians; such prophets may have passed on sayings of the exalted Lord to his church, and the church have made little distinction between these sayings and those of the earthly Jesus; confirmation of this may be seen by the ascription by Paul of sayings of Jesus to the Lord.....".
Paul's letters are usually dated 50-60 CE, but by the time the Gospels were written (after ca. 90 CE), the 'apostles' were made to be companions of Jesus whilst he lived on earth - and yet there is no such mention of this whatsoever in pre-90 CE writings; Paul certainly never suggests this: he appears to liken them to himself, receiving messages from the risen Christ who had lived 'sometime in the past'.
In Gal 2:11 Paul has a fierce argument with Peter, but he makes no reference to Peter' denials of Jesus as the Gospels relate which would crush Peter's arrogance here; in the same way, Paul has to labour over the problem of unclean foods (e.g., Rom 14:14-15, 1 Cor 8:7-13) even though Jesus had supposedly spoken on this matter already (Matt 15:10). The explanation might be that Jesus were never spoke these words, but rather, a Christian prophet received this information supposedly from the risen Lord and the words were fed back to Jesus' earthly life which by 90 CE had been located ca. 30 CE.
The reasons for this are numerous, but very briefly, it was necesssary to locate Jesus in history and as John the Baptist could be seen as 'fulfilling' a supposed O.T prophecy (Malachi 3:1), Jesus became tied to this period (Note that Josephus the Jewish historian writes of the Baptist but he never mentions any Jesus associated with him). As it was believed that a foreign power would have killed Jesus, it seemed sensible to presume this Christ-figure had lived in the time of Pilate's prefectship. In sum, the events of ca. 30 CE provided an excellent background to when Christians believed Jesus would have lived.
As far as Jesus being connected with Nazareth, most commentators (even Christian ones) admit he was called this in error - i.e., his title was Jesus the Nazarene which had nothing to do with Nazareth but only meant 'Holy' or 'devout' or 'Separated one'. Although the word 'Nazareth' is only mentioned once in Mark (in 1:9), the translators have unfortunately translated all references as 'of Nazareth' when most of them do not say 'of Nazareth' but 'Nazarene' (1:24, 10:47, 14:67), which, as stated, refers to Jesus' sect or way of life, rather than a geographical location anywhere. Matt and Luke used Mark and interpreted this as meaning 'of Nazareth', when quite clearly it did not. One reason for this 'change-of-meaning' was no doubt due to seeing Jesus as a rebel against orthodox Judaism and the South (i.e. Judea) was considered to be fairly conservative, but Galilee in the North was notorious for producing rebels (e.g. Judas the Galilean led the famous 6 CE revolt).
Therefore, logically they presumed he must have come from there. Also, and finally, commentators admit there are 'difficulties' in bridging the gap between the two terms, i.e., how 'of Nazareth' is obtained from the original 'Nazarene' term.
Furthermore it appears these Christian prophets (called 'apostles' - surely evidence that 'apostle' originally meant someone receiving direct revelations from Christ in heaven and not someone who had been a companion of the earthly Jesus) were not all transmitting the same information from him - 2 Cor 11:4,5,13.
It has to be borne in mind that there were apparently "many Jesus'" - i.e., different Christian prophets were receiving different revelations from the figure they believed to be this person. This may explain why Jesus contradicts himself in the Gospels, e.g. in Matt 5:16 he says "Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works....", but seconds later (Matt 6:1), says "Beware of practising your piety before men in order to be seen of them" - and he then goes on to say all good works must be done secretly and not to be observed by other people. How could one historical person have spoken like this ? It can only be explained by statements from different sources that is, Christian prophets relaying on revelations they believed they were receiving, and these being combined into the one figure of Jesus.
With regard to Paul's consistent and continual failure to locate Jesus in any chronological period, some argue that the reference to James being 'the Lord's brother' by Paul in Gal 1:19 indicates that Paul knew that Jesus' life was in that period of time, but far too much has been built up upon this one isolated statement. For example, the statement may have a theological, rather than a sociological meaning, viz. it is a term to denote something other than a literal flesh-and blood brother.
In fact Robertson suggests that the term really referred to a group of messianists that had a particular school of thought; Brandon suggests it could simply mean a 'principal servant' (which of course would suit the leader of the Jerusalem church). It does appear that in Paul's time 'brother/brethren' was a very common term for members of a particular group of people, rather than members of a physical family.
1 Cor 1:11-13 does imply that such groups existed within the church - it does seem from this that there were particular groups of people, e.g. those who were a 'Christ-party', and a member of this could be called "the Lord's brother".
Furthermore, as the Gospels also have Jesus referring to his non- family disciples as 'brethren' e.g., Matt 28:9-10 and John 20:17, it does appear that a blood relative is not necessarily meant by the term 'brother/brethren' in the N.T. Some go as far as believing that Jesus' family, as briefly referred to in the Gospels, were in fact 'created' by the Gospel writers purely for anti-docetic reasons. It is also strange that the author of Acts never mentions the James of Acts l5 as Jesus' brother, although he presumably knew Mark which named James as a brother of Jesus.
Finally, it is necessary to comment on the argument that maintains that as Josephus and Tacitus, both non-Christians, refer to Jesus, this surely proves that he was a historical personage.
These references are very brief fleeting statements concerning a Jesus by (1)Josephus (XVIII, 3.3), ca. 93 CE. and (2)Tacitus (Anals., xv, 44), ca. 120 CE. However, serious questions arise.
In the case of Josephus, (i)Why do no Christians up to the 4th cent. refer to Josephus' priceless remark that 'Jesus was the Christ'? (ii)Why does the Christian apologist Origen (185-254 CE), who knew of Josephus' writings, categorically state that Josephus did not believe that Jesus was the Christ when in the passage Josephus refers to Jesus by this very title? (iii)How could a strict Pharasaic Jew make such a statement? (iv)Why is it written in the same style as Luke? (v)Why does it look like an insertion in the narrative and appears to interrupt the flow, not following on from what is said before and not leading into what is said afterwards? (vi)Why does Josephus not say more about Jesus if he did really believe 'he was the Christ'?
Additionally, it should be noted that firstly, a host of eminent Christian theologians/scholars who firmly believe in Jesus' historicity reject that it was written by Josephus. Secondly, why should this be genuine when other copies of Josephus's Antiquities have been discovered which are heavily interpolated with Christian references? And thirdly, the very fact that it does appear to be a Christian interpolation surely suggests there was a problem, as why should Christians feel there was a need to even do this?
In the case of Tacitus, it is never clear why this passage is even referred to; it was written nearly a century after Jesus' supposed existence and is therefore hardly 'contemporary'. If he is quoting a historical fact, then why does he make the same error that Christians also made about Pilate, i.e,. calling him a procurator when he was in fact a prefect. Trilling, an orthodox Christian, comments that Tacitus was saying what 'could have reached him from any educated contemporary' and 'is no more than what could be learned anywhere in Rome'. In fact when Pliny wrote to Trajan (ca. 112 CE) he admits that his information about Christians was obtained by questioning Christians - not by using any historical record or common knowledge. Tacitus is undoubtedly doing the same. Tacitus does not refer to Jesus as 'Jesus' but 'Christ' - i.e., the title ('Anointed/Messiah') that Christians gave Jesus. He could have hardly found this reference in any records he consulted (which would have therefore read:- 'We executed the Christ today' !). It is obvious that he is only repeating what he had heard that Christians believed.
NB. Further information on this topic will be found on page8.
Therefore, to conclude, in the matter of eyewitness and contemporary accounts to Jesus' earthly life, there is a striking absence. The situation is adequately summed up by Professor Fuller, Professor of New Testament, Union Theological Seminary, New York, in his A Critical Introduction to the New Testament:-
"Of the 27 books of the New Testament only the authentic Pauline epistles are, strictly speaking, the testimony of an apostolic witness. And even Paul...was not a witness of the historical Jesus. Since the earliest witnesses wrote nothing...there is not a single book in the New Testament which is the direct work of an eyewitness of the historical Jesus..." (p.197).
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