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Regardless of whether you believe or not...

Are there any extra-biblical validations of his existence around the time he is commonly thought to have lived? That is, are there other historically accurate documents from the time period which corroborate the biblical story? Can the claimed geneological lineage (ie: Son of Abraham and David through Joseph) be independently verified?

Is there any accepted archeological evidence to support claims in favor of his living at this time?

Again, this question does not have anything to do with anyone's personal belief or disbelief, and certainly has nothing to do with divinity. It simply asks for a consideration of available evidence regarding the historical existence of a particular person by a particular name at particular place in time.

I am aware that this may be a slippery slope, however I trust everyone will remain civil.

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Please restrict the answers here to the claim that someone called Jesus lived at that time, and leave the question whether he was the son of God or other purely religious aspects out of it. –  Mad Scientist Apr 1 '11 at 5:42
"As we shall see, most of this evidence isn’t even good evidence in the first place, and they are insufficient to justify the conclusion that the story of the resurrection of Jesus is true."This is a quote from your reference.I do not need to remind you that this question does not inquire about any resurrection.Your source then becomes indistiguishable from wikipedia: Check it out: en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historicity_of_Jesus with freethoughtkampala.wordpress.com/2011/03/10/… especially when they mention Tacitus. –  Monkey Tuesday Apr 1 '11 at 7:02
@Lagerbaer, @Monkey Tuesday: I had been taught that the genealogical discrepancies between the gospel accounts is because one writer chose to trace the lineage through Joseph and the other chose to trace the lineage through Mary. The two lineages converge somewhere between Mary/Joseph and David, so the early genealogy for both are the same. –  oosterwal Apr 1 '11 at 12:38
The question is about identity, and if you don't ask, whether just a person of that name existed at that time in that region, you're asking whether there was a person which was born by a virgin, which permitted wonders, which went with his body to heaven. Or what else shall the identity of Jesus be? –  user unknown Apr 1 '11 at 16:33
@Andrew: I think it is reasonable to expect historical evidence for his his existence or non-existence. Take the case of Socrates. We don't know for certain that he existed. But robust accounts by Plato, Xenophon and their contemporaries would seem to make it probable that he did indeed exist. And this was ~400 years before Jesus was purported to have lived. –  user2466 May 14 '11 at 19:23

6 Answers 6

up vote 97 down vote accepted
  1. With respect to written historical references to Christ, here are some examples:

    The Jewish historian, Flavius Josephus wrote in his Antiquities of the Jews, written around 93–94 AD:

    Now there was about this time, Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works - a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and Many of the Gentiles.*

    He was (the) Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the corss, those who loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to themn alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning hiim; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day" (Antiquities, XVIII, III)* (source)

    Tacitus, a Roman historian mentions Jesus in a passage about Nero in his final work Annals written in 116 AD:

    Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus [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, and a most mischievous superstition [Christ's resurrection] thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular (link)

    Will Durant, a agnostic historian (from what I can find), wrote on historical content:

    ...the argument took the existence of Christ for granted. The denial of that existence seems never to have occurred even to the bitterest gentile or Jewish opponents of nascent Christianity

  2. A couple of examples of indirect evidence from historical writing:

    • comments in a letter by Roman Pliny the Younger written around 112 AD about the willingness of many Christians to be killed rather than change their beliefs; this would probably be difficult to produce on any scale for a fictional figure
    • various quotations of eyewitness accounts of Jesus in Bible sections writings; the tone, context and use of the quotations presume that Jesus existed
  3. Scientific evidences would be a little more difficult for any historical figure. For example using DNA or fingerprints to prove that someone existed in history is heading toward logically impossible. It seems you would need sample of biometric information from a person for comparison; but then you would, by definition, already know they existed.

Chapter 9 of Gary Habermas' book "The Historical Jesus" addresses this question extensively.

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Since you referenced it - here's the Dead Sea Scrolls point (which I removed as out-of-scope) "The Dead Sea Scrolls include (but are not limited to) texts which are also in the Bible; they have been dated before the Jesus and contain detailed predictions that match important aspects of the life and death of Jesus; the Bible claims that these detailed predictions which can be shown to be before Jesus' time are part of its self-authentication" –  BrianCooksey Apr 1 '11 at 7:25
I would put a historian from that era to the test of transmission (how did we get the text), internal consistency (does it fall apart under its own scrutiny) and external consistency (how does it compare to other sources of its time). I don't have the means to do that at an academic level, so I've read the work of others who have researched it with an eye to their approach, reasoning, perspective and with a preference for indications of a life of careful integrity. I also review my view against people I personally know who have done more homework and meet those same criteria. –  BrianCooksey Apr 1 '11 at 7:49
@BCooksey: Tacitus quote proves that Christians existed. And that they believed in Jesus. It's not an evidence that Jesus existed. The authenticity of Testimonium Flavianum is doubtful. The rest is mere speculations. You think people wouldn't die on account of fictional person, I believe they would and they did. Just because they believed Jesus was real it didn't make him real. –  user288 Apr 1 '11 at 8:26
Ok.This is getting a little too much into a debate WITH NO ANSWER IN SIGHT!. Unless someone starts citing specific references, we're not accomplishing anything. Let's TRY to keep it to the FACTS. Like, for instance, what about the census which required Joseph to return to Nazareth"? –  Monkey Tuesday Apr 1 '11 at 8:35
@BCooksey No. This is the common story given in the gospel. Tacitus reciting this story is not evidence. Evidence for this judicial sentence would be the proper court documents. I don't know to what extent Romans kept those for non-Roman citizens, though. –  Lagerbaer Apr 1 '11 at 21:35

The non-Christian historical references mentioned above are all significant. What we need to understand first, though, is that there is no contemporaneous or documentary evidence for the existence of most ancient figures. That's the nature of our historical sources for the ancient world. So if the question is "Do we have good historical evidence that Jesus existed, the kind of evidence that historians take as conclusive when they're doing ancient history" then the answer is a clear "yes."

One difficulty with the way the question is posed here is that it rules out any evidence coming from Jesus' followers. But that's not good historical method. For a relatively obscure figure from a backwater Roman province, the only sources you will find for the first several decades will come from the figure's own circle of followers. What we find is that within two decades of his death we have first- and second-hand accounts of Jesus' life and references to Jesus as a real person. (Paul writes in the late 40s and through the 50s AD.)[1] It is important here that Paul and the other early Christians writing within living memory of Jesus don't treat his existence as a focus of argument or as something to prove. They display no defensiveness about it. Instead, it is just taken for granted both by Jesus' followers and by his detractors.[2] This early evidence, then, seems widespread geographically (Paul in the Eastern Mediterranean, Peter and James the Just in and around Jerusalem, John perhaps in the Ephesus area of Asia Minor)[3] and is uncontested by contemporaries. I find it particularly telling that Paul doesn't need to argue for Jesus' existence when he writes to the new Christian communities in Rome around AD 58. Paul clearly didn't found the community, has never been to Rome, and (based on how much of his teaching he has to defend in the letter) is regarded with some suspicion by Roman Christ-followers. Most scholars think that teaching about Jesus was brought independently to Rome by Jews returning from pilgrimages to Jerusalem or some similar informal route.[4] Even so, Paul can take for granted their agreement that Jesus existed and was crucified [5].

But we also need to look carefully at Tacitus and Josephus. Tacitus is writing in the second-century, true, but he is a meticulously careful historian. When he encounters dubious or unsubstantiated rumors, Tacitus is very clear with his readers that the evidence before him is suspect. So it is significant that Tacitus (less than a century after the events) does not signal any doubt. As for this passage being a Christian interpolation, there is no reason to say that except for prior doubts about Jesus. There is a danger here of "rigging the deck". If we dismiss evidence (without internal grounds) as fabricated, then what evidence could possibly be accepted? No, Tacitus is a very strong witness, even if he was writing two generations later.

The so-called "Testimonium Flavium" by Josephus, on the other hand, is certainly the victim of Christian editing (for the reasons discussed here in other answers). But the general consensus among historians is that there was an original, neutral reference to Jesus here in Josephus that has been expanded and made more pious by later Christian scribes. I'll leave aside the detailed arguments here about the "seams" in the passage itself.[6] More convincing to me is the fact that there are so few references to Jesus in early historians. If Christian scribes (who preserved all of these classical sources for us through late Antiquity and the early middle ages until they were "discovered" in Constantinople by Arab Muslims) did not make a habit of injecting references to Jesus everywhere, then we should be careful about assuming that this reference in Josephus is pure fabrication. What Christian scribes did do, though, is add to and elaborate on references to Jesus in "secular" sources to make them more pious. If that is what happened with Josephus, then we do have a non-Christian historian writing within living memory of the events about Jesus as a real figure.

(Despite the suggestion in one answer above, there is no evidence whatsoever that Josephus was an "Ebionite" Christian. The authority mentioned for this idea (Whiston) is a 19th century translator of Josephus who was making the assertion on the basis of the Testimonium Flavium, which he assumed was genuine in its present form.[9])

I am a biblical scholar and historian (PhD in Religious Studies from a secular public University in Canada, now tenured faculty at a Canadian Seminary). Every year I go to secular academic conferences to present and hear research papers from around the world. Arguments from consensus are dangerous, since the majority can easily be wrong. Still, it is significant that I have never met a colleague holding a faculty position in ancient history at a University who doubts Jesus' existence. This is certainly not because of public pressure (some of the same people are deeply iconoclastic) but because the evidence satisfies all the reasonable standards that we can expect for 90% of the ancient world. Anyone who spends her/his time working with ancient history comes to recognize quickly that the evidence for Jesus' existence is very good. Those who continue to question Jesus' existence are consistently people without academic training, whose work hasn't passed the peer review process that helps to maintain rigour. It tends to be journalists, documentary makers, amateurs writing a blog, or (at most) academics whose training is in an entirely different field (not in ancient history). My point is not that the historical academics couldn't (in theory) be wrong. It's that historians (even those much more skeptical than I) recognize that the existence of Jesus is as well attested as we can usually hope for in the ancient world. If we doubt Jesus' existence then certainly we must doubt, say, Pythagoras who left no writings and is only described by much later writers.[7] There is also much better historical evidence for Jesus than for Gautama the Buddha, who was not treated in "outsider" accounts for much longer than Jesus.[8]

The trick, of course, is the term "verifiable" in the question. If one is looking for the kind of evidence that gives us measurable experimental data in the physical sciences, then no we won't be satisfied with the evidence. But if that is our standard we lose most of the past. The first Skeptics (of the post-Plato Academy) understood that we live in a world where the best we can usually do is probability, but that this doesn't make evidence or the degree of probability insignificant. So maybe what we can say is that the probability of Jesus' existence is much, much higher than the probability that he did not.

  • [1] This dating for Paul's writings is universally accepted among historians of the period and biblical scholars. See, e.g., Brown, Raymond E. An Introduction to the New Testament (New York: Doubleday, 1997), pp. 428-430.
  • [2] Of course, a neat reference is difficult when you're saying that something does not appear in a document. But take Paul's letter to the Corinthians as an example. He talks throughout about Jesus, and in 1 Corinthians 15:1ff. he offers argumentative evidence for his claim that Jesus was raised from the dead. But nowhere in the letter does he feel the need to argue in a similar way for Jesus' mere existence. His argumentative structure presumes that everyone in the audience takes it for granted. Similarly, in Matthew's Gospel we find that his resurrection narrative is geared to counter the claim that Jesus' disciples stole his body after the crucifixion (Matthew 28:11-15). The existence of Jesus, and his crucifixion by the Romans, is taken for granted. The same thing is evident in all of the NT books and the non-canonical Christian writings from the first to early-second centuries.
  • [3] Paul's geographic locations are evident from his authentic letters to churches that he founded: Galatians to various centres in Galatia (north-central Turkey), Philippians to Philippi (Macedonia), 1 Thessalonians to Thessalonica (Macedonia), Colossians to Colossae (Ionia in south-eastern Turkey--though some contest Pauline authorship of Colossians), 1 and 2 Corinthians to Corinth (at the top of the Peloponnesus of southern Greece). James is located in Jerusalem by first-hand accounts in Paul (Galatians 1) and possibly first-hand accounts in Acts (Acts 15 etc.). The Ephesian location for the disciple John is trickier and depends on second-century tradition. See the sections on each of these letters in Raymond Brown's introduction referenced above (Galatians, pp. 474-477; Philippians, pp. 483-485; 1 Thess, pp. 456-459; Colossians, pp. 599-601; Corinthian letters, pp. 511-515, 541-544; James, pp. 741-743; John in Ephesus, pp. 368-369).
  • [4] See Dunn, James D. G. Romans 1-8. Word Biblical Commentary 38A (Dallas: Word, 1988), pp. xlvi-xlvii.
  • [5] See, e.g., Romans 1:1-5; 3:25; and the allusions to crucifixion as the mode of Jesus' death in Romans 6.
  • [6] See the good treatment in volume 1 of Meier, John P. A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus (New York: Doubleday, 1991), pp. 56-69.
  • [7] See Riedweg, Christoph. "Pythagoras." Pages 276-281 in Brill's New Pauly: Encyclopedia of the Ancient World (Antiquity v. 12; Leiden: Brill, 2008).
  • [8] See the section on 'The Historical Buddha' in Reynolds, Frank E. and Charles Hallisey. "Buddha" in Encyclopedia of Religion, 2nd ed. (v. 2; Detroit: Thomson Gale), pp.1061-1062.
  • [9] On Josephus' clear and obvious Jewishness, with no Christian inclinations, see e.g. Altshuler, David. "Josephus Flavius" in Encyclopedia of Religion, 2nd ed. (v. 7; Detroit: Thomson Gale), pp. 4957-4958. Tessa Rajak, a major authority on Josephus, says that "Josephus was always a Jew, and, throughout his writing life, was preoccupied with Judaism..." and by "Judaism" here she does not mean Jewish Christ-believers (Rajak, Tessa. Josephus: The Historian and His Society, 2nd ed. [London: Duckworth, 2002], p. 11).
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Sources would be very helpful here. You are obviously knowledgable on the subject, but it would be nice to be able to get more information. –  Ustice Apr 1 '11 at 18:03
I should add that on several points here I'm speaking from my personal acquaintance with the primary sources. Given my academic credentials (which I don't want to wave too much) I think I'm in a position to speak about, e.g., the fact that we don't usually find Christian interpolations about Jesus in ancient historians. I've read the sources and this is my field. But I'm more than happy to provide some other sources where specifics would be helpful. –  Ian W. Scott Apr 1 '11 at 18:17
"One difficulty with the way the question is posed here is that it rules out any evidence coming from Jesus' followers. But that's not good historical method". I am asking specifically if the claims of those followers can be verified. They cannot, by definition, validate themselves. –  Monkey Tuesday Apr 1 '11 at 20:54
-1. I believe Monday in question passed a while ago. –  user288 Oct 12 '11 at 15:52
I've just updated my answer here with the references to secondary literature I had promised. Only a year late! Sorry about that, but I hope they're useful. –  Ian W. Scott Mar 28 '12 at 14:47

The infidels.org website has an article titled, "Historicity Of Jesus FAQ", which I believe is an even-handed treatment of the question.

In that article, Scott Oser uses some of the same sources that BCooksey used in an excellent response on this page. Oser provides some additional information regarding the authenticity of those sources.

Flavius Josephus:

  1. The early Christian writer Origen claims that Josephus did NOT recognize Jesus as the Messiah, in direct contradiction to the above passage, where Josephus says, "He was the Messiah." Thus, we may conclude that this particular phrase at least was a later insertion. (The version given above was, however, known to Jerome and in the time of Eusebius. Jerome's Latin version, however, renders "He was the Messiah" by "He was believed to be the Christ.") Furthermore, other early Christian writers fail to cite this passage, even though it would have suited their purposes to do so. There is thus firm evidence that this passage was tampered with at some point, even if parts of it do date back to Josephus.
  2. The passage is highly pro-Christian. It is hard to imagine that Josephus, a Pharisaic Jew, would write such a laudatory passage about a man supposedly killed for blasphemy. Indeed, the passage seems to make Josephus himself out to be a Christian, which was certainly not the case.

In objection #2, Oser claims that Josephus was a Pharisaic Jew; at least one other source, William Whiston, proposes that Josephus may have been an Ebionite Christian. Oser provides additional evidence for the theory that the references to 'Jesus' and 'The Christ' were later reconstructionist alterations by pro-Christian copyists. (Follow previous link to infidels.org to see those arguments.)

Cornelius Tacitus (55-120 CE):

Two questions arise concerning this passage [Annals 15.44 (see answer by BCooksey)]:

  1. Did Tacitus really write this, or is this a later Christian interpolation?
  2. Is this really an independent confirmation of Jesus's story, or is Tacitus just repeating what some Christians told him?

Some scholars believe the passage may be a Christian interpolation into the text. However, this is not at all certain, and unlike Josephus's Testimonium Flavianum, no clear evidence of textual tampering exists.

The second objection is much more serious. Conceivably, Tacitus may just be repeating what he was told by Christians about Jesus. If so, then this passage merely confirms that there were Christians in Tacitus' time, and that they believed that Pilate killed Jesus during the reign of Tiberius. This would not be independent confirmation of Jesus's existence. If, on the other hand, Tacitus found this information in Roman imperial records (to which he had access) then that could constitute independent confirmation. There are good reasons to doubt that Tacitus is working from Roman records here, however. For one, he refers to Pilate by the wrong title (Pilate was a prefect, not a procurator). Secondly, he refers to Jesus by the religious title "Christos". Roman records would not have referred to Jesus by a Christian title, but presumably by his given name. Thus, there is excellent reason to suppose that Tacitus is merely repeating what Christians said about Jesus, and so can tell us nothing new about Jesus's historicity.

There seems to be little or no argument that Tacitus was the original author of the passage and that it survives with no evidence of tampering. As Oser point out in his rebuttal to the second argument, we have no way of knowing how Tacitus got the information he wrote. It was obviously not first hand; Tacitus was born in 55 CE, and Jesus is believed to have left this earth around 27 CE, almost 30 years before Tacitus was born. It is believed that The Annals were written about year 117 CE, roughly 90 year after the death of Jesus, so it is highly doubtful that Tacitus would even have had access to anyone with first-hand knowledge of Jesus. For the sake of this argument, it is important to note that Tacitus does not name 'Jesus' as 'The Christ', and almost equally important, Tacitus does not mention Paul, Peter, or any other Christian leaders who would have been influential figures to Christians in Rome.

Suetonius, Thallus, and Pliny the Younger:

Oser also provides arguments against the references to 'Jesus' or 'Christians' in the writings of Suetonius, Thallus, and Pliny the Younger. For sake of brevity they are not included here; you can follow the link to the infidels.org page to see those arguments.

Just to add additional muck to this already muddy problem...

In personal discussions about the historicity of Jesus with other amateur scholars the theory has been posited that, like so many other hero myths, the figure we know as Jesus is based on deeds of more than one person and embellished to add greater credence to the claims made by proponents. This bit of trivia adds nothing to support or oppose the historicity of Jesus, it is, as I mentioned, only provided to obfuscate an already highly-debated subject. You can read part of a conversation between a believer and a skeptic, at www.christiananswers.net in an articled titled "Was Jesus Christ only a legend?", that implies that some skeptics subscribe to the hero-myth theory about the historicity of Jesus.

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"The early Christian writer Origen claims that Josephus did NOT recognize Jesus as the Messiah, in direct contradiction to the above passage, where Josephus says, "He was the Messiah." Careful with quotes like this. I understand what you are saying, but we are specifically not evaluating any messianic claims here. –  Monkey Tuesday Apr 1 '11 at 17:32
On the Tacitus evidence, we do know the kinds of sources that historians generally used. Yes, Tacitus had likely spoken to Christians, but he also had access to imperial records and to other earlier historians' accounts. He would also not have simply swallowed whatever story was fed him. So at the very least Tacitus shows us that a critical historian at the time thought Jesus' existence was credible. He saw no reason to question it. –  Ian W. Scott Apr 1 '11 at 20:04
As I note in my answer, William Whiston is entirely unreliable as an authority on Josephus. He was a 19th century translator of Josephus who didn't question anything critically about the historian's account. No-one in 20th century Josephus scholarship has bought the idea that he was a Christian because (aside from this one passage) there is no hint of Christian belief in his writings. So Josephus certainly does "count" as outside evidence. The question is whether his mention of Jesus has just been "improved" by Christians or whether it was entirely fabricated. –  Ian W. Scott Apr 1 '11 at 20:07
Composite, legendary "hero" figures (like king Arthur or Achilles) never emerge within two decades of the underlying individuals' deaths. There's too much living memory of the different individuals floating around. Since Paul's letters (in the late-40s and 50s AD) already treat Jesus as an historical figure who was crucified, the real miracle would be how the legend-forming process had happened so fast. (Jesus' birth, based on all the early Christian accounts, would have been around 6BC and his death in either 30 or 33 AD. –  Ian W. Scott Apr 1 '11 at 20:11
But aren't the abundant apocryphal sources that are, by today's standards quite wacky, testament to this legend-forming process? –  Lagerbaer Apr 2 '11 at 2:54

Here is an interview (LANG=DE) with the German Theologian Hermann Detering, who wrote the book „Falsche Zeugen. Außerchristliche Jesuszeugnisse auf dem Prüfstand“ (False witnesses, exochristian Jesus witnesses on trial).

My abstract:

You can't take the bible for granted, because it isn't a historic book, but a statement of faith. It's hard to tell, when it was written and by whom. Most author names, mentioned, are wrong. Some parts of it are first mentioned in the beginning of the 2nd century, but from witnesses, who are themselves faked.

There are 6 main witnesses outside of Christianity:

  • the Jewish historian Josephus
  • the Roman historian an authors
    • Tacitus
    • Plinius
    • Sueton
  • a purported mail from a father to his son
  • another document from 3rd hand

The central statements of these witnesses about Jesus would fit on a postcard. These witnesses have been massively overestimated in the past. They where treated as if they were independent source. However, in reality, they where redacted by Christians, which is of little surprise, since copying at that time took place by handwriting.

In younger times, there were 3 new texts discovered:

  • the Judasgospel
  • the post 1945 discovered handwritings in
    • Qumran and
    • Nag Hammadi

They didn't help much in the finding, whether Jesus was a historic person. In the Qumran text, he doesn't take place at all, and in the gnostic literature of Nag Hammadi, he is mostly a mythologic figure.

The whole question of historic Jesus isn't new, and was debated before WWII in Germany, but abandoned afterwards. But today, there are new methods to analyse scriptures. With modern databases, it is possible to find favourite words for different authors. So were words and phrases found in texts, which weren't used in the time, the document supposedly origins. This shows, that the texts were redacted.

An example is the „Testimonium Flavianum“ from Josephus. He mentions Jesus as a wise man. But early, Christian literature from that time doesn't mention that witness, as one would expect. The christian historian Eusebius is the first to mention the witness of Josephus. Unfortunately, his wording and phrases are very similar to the wording and phrases of Josesphus.

The roman historian Sueton mentions a man called 'Chrestos', who shall, under imperator Claudius (reg.: 41-54) , agitated the Jews of Rome to furor. Then Claudius displaced the Jews from Rome. But Jesus is said to died under imperator Tiberius (reg.: 14-37), and Christus is not Chrestos, which was a common name for slaves in Rome.

Then there is the Roman historian Tacitus, who wrote about the burning of Rome under Nero, as filmed in Hollywood. Isn't this a witness of early prosecution of Christs? Well - early Christian scriptures don't talk about this important event. Only later writings from about 300-400 BC talk about it, and again, the words and phrases of the reporting Tacitus, and his 'source', Sulpicius Severus are very similar.

Today, historians doubt, that Nero burned Rome.

So the conclusion is not only, that the existence of Jesus is questionable, but the existence of an early Christianity in the first century too. First witnesses are from the mid of the second century, namely imperator Marc Aurel.

More to be read:

Hermann Detering: Falsche Zeugen. Außerchristliche Jesuszeugnisse auf dem Prüfstand. Aschaffenburg: Alibri 2011. 243 Seiten, kartoniert, Euro 19.-, ISBN 978-3-86569-070-8

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One should mention the interesting philosophical parallels between gnosticism and Plato. It seems that Hellenized Jews created a hybrid Platonic-Jewish faith that could have transmuted into Christianity in the 1st century without any direct input from Palestine, except for John the Baptist and James the Just. It is strange to me that the Gnostics were considered Christian in earliest times. –  Ron Maimon Mar 27 '12 at 5:01
@fredsbend: No. –  user unknown Oct 29 '13 at 11:33
This answer is inaccurate as to be ridiculous. At least I'm not relying on leftist propaganda to make my case. –  Neil Meyer Jul 2 '14 at 13:39
You take the gnostic gospel as canon but ignore the three century earlier eyewitness testimony? Does not seem like good history to me. –  Neil Meyer Jul 2 '14 at 13:45
@NeilMeyer: The gnostic gospel is of the same era as the other gospels, none is eyewitness. Paul is the closest thing to an eyewitness. –  Ron Maimon Nov 6 '14 at 13:16

According to Mt 2,1 and Lk 1,5 (KJV): Mt 2,1

1 Now when Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judaea in the days of Herod the king, behold, there came wise men from the east to Jerusalem,

Lk 1,5

There was in the days of Herod, the king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abia: and his wife was of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth.

... the birth of Jesus happened during the kingdom of Herodes.

And according to Lk 2,2, Cyrenius was governor of Syria at that time:

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.

According to our today knowledge, the census in Syria took place at 6 or 7 AD. From the writings of Flavius Josephus, a second census seems impossible, since the census was unknown to the Jews. More: Their province didn't belong to Syria before 6 or 7 AD.

But Herodes died 4 BCE so there is a 10 to 11 year gap between both possibilities. Some authors have speculated, that Luke might have confused Herod the Great with another Herod, Herod Antipas, but the gospel of Mathew clearly speaks about Herod the Great.

So the story of the birth is inconsistent with other historically more reliable material.

Some Original sources:

  • Emil Schürer, A History of the Jewish People in the Time of Jesus Christ, 5 vols. New York, Scribner’s, 1896.
  • Gerd Theißen, Annette Merz, Der historische Jesus: ein Lehrbuch, (Vandenhoeck & Ruprecht, 2001), 149-50.
  • Flavius Josephus Ant. XVI 5,3 und Bell. Jud. I,21,12
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See the Hermeneutics.SE thread on this specific confusion: hermeneutics.stackexchange.com/q/4808/241 –  Daniel Feb 26 at 2:31

There is actually quite a few references to Jesus in books from antiquity. The second chart also puts the New Testament in comparison to other ancient works.

enter image description here

SOURCE: The Verdict of History, Gary Habermas

Are there any extra-biblical validations of his existence around the time he is commonly thought to have lived?

The following book chapter (online) from this author details the non-Christian writers referenced in Chart #1 above: Chapter IX Ancient Non-Christian Sources

Is there any accepted archeological evidence to support claims in favor of his living at this time?

The author claims this is historical (documentary) evidence at least of Jesus being crucified.

Using only the information gleaned from these ancient extra biblical sources, what can we conclude concerning the death and resurrection of Jesus? Can these events be historically established on these sources alone? Of the seventeen documents examined in this chapter, eleven different works speak of the death of Jesus in varying amounts of detail, with five of these specifying crucifixion as the mode. When these sources are examined by normal historical procedures used with other ancient documents, the result is conclusive.(91) It is this author’s view that the death of Jesus by crucifixion can be asserted as a historical fact from this data. This conclusion is strengthened by the variety of details which are related by good sources. As mentioned often, a few of the documents may be contested, but the entire bulk of evidence points quite probably to the historicity of Jesus’ death due to the rigors of crucifixion.

The ancient references to the resurrection are fewer and somewhat more questionable. Of the seventeen sources, seven either imply or report this occurrence, with four of these works being questioned in our study. Before answering the issue concerning Jesus’ resurrection, we will initially address the cognate point of whether the empty tomb can be established as historical by this extra biblical evidence alone. There are some strong considerations in its favor.

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Homer? How can it be a reference for the historicity of Jesus? –  Sklivvz Dec 30 '13 at 9:21
It just compares the New Testament with other ancient work. It may have been better to omit the second table but that was a bit hard. I do not know if that merits a down vote seeing as it took me two hours to source that. –  Neil Meyer Dec 30 '13 at 10:50
+1 Two Oxford professors of Roman history have told me there is evidence, as good as any or as good as may be expected, for the historicity of Jesus. They don't doubt that Jesus existed; what's less evident is whether he was the son of God and performed miracles. –  ChrisW Dec 30 '13 at 11:14
"Are there any extra-biblical validations of his existence around the time he is commonly thought to have lived?" You have something from Thallus in 52AD. The next closest is in 93AD. I would think that only 52AD has a chance of being "around the time" of someone believed to have live from 6 to 2 BC to 30 or 36AD. And Thallus makes no mention of Jesus. Only mentioning a solar eclipse. –  Scooter Feb 25 '14 at 9:34
If you read my post from Oct. 14 '11, you would find that most of your authors are already debunked. –  user unknown Jun 30 '14 at 1:35

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