Friday, August 24, 2012

Print Page Did Jesus Really Exist?

There are some out there that doubt that the Jesus of the Bible really existed. Most people, including atheists, wouldn't deny the existence of Jesus. They would only deny his deity and miracles. The reason for this is that there is a large amount of evidence for his existence, both Christian and secular. In this article I will show extra biblical accounts for Jesus to show that he existed beyond a shadow of a doubt. It doesn’t prove that Jesus is God but it does show that at least the man really existed.

Extra Biblical Accounts of Jesus

Cornelius Tacitus

Cornelius Tacitus was a 1st century Roman historian. In his famous work Annals he makes mention of an executed Jesus who has followers called Christians.

Annals 15:44

"Nero created scapegoats and subjected to the most refined tortures those whom the common people called 'Christians'....Their name comes from Christ, who, during the reign of Tiberius, had been executed by the procurator Pontius Pilate"

Pliny the Younger

Pliny the Younger, also known as Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, was an author, lawyer and natural philosopher of Rome in the 1st century. In one of his letters to the Emperor Trajan he talks extensively about Christians and their worship to Christ.
Letters 10.96-97

It is my practice, my lord, to refer to you all matters concerning which I am in doubt. For who can better give guidance to my hesitation or inform my ignorance? I have never participated in trials of Christians. I therefore do not know what offenses it is the practice to punish or investigate, and to what extent. And I have been not a little hesitant as to whether there should be any distinction on account of age or no difference between the very young and the more mature; whether pardon is to be granted for repentance, or, if a man has once been a Christian, it does him no good to have ceased to be one; whether the name itself, even without offenses, or only the offenses associated with the name are to be punished.

Meanwhile, in the case of those who were denounced to me as Christians, I have observed the following procedure: I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished. There were others possessed of the same folly; but because they were Roman citizens, I signed an order for them to be transferred to Rome.

Soon accusations spread, as usually happens, because of the proceedings going on, and several incidents occurred. An anonymous document was published containing the names of many persons. Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ--none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do--these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshipped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ.

They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food--but ordinary and innocent food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition.

I therefore postponed the investigation and hastened to consult you. For the matter seemed to me to warrant consulting you, especially because of the number involved. For many persons of every age, every rank, and also of both sexes are and will be endangered. For the contagion of this superstition has spread not only to the cities but also to the villages and farms. But it seems possible to check and cure it. It is certainly quite clear that the temples, which had been almost deserted, have begun to be frequented, that the established religious rites, long neglected, are being resumed, and that from everywhere sacrificial animals are coming, for which until now very few purchasers could be found. Hence it is easy to imagine what a multitude of people can be reformed if an opportunity for repentance is afforded.

Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus

Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus was a well known Roman historian in the 1st century. Short after the time of Jesus’ trial and crucifixion he wrote the following which is in the Lives of the Caesars.

Lives of the Caesars

“Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus (Jesus Christ), he expelled them from Rome. . .”

Claudius Galenus of Pergamum

Claudius Galenus of Pergamum was a well known Roman physician in the 2nd century. He made several references to Christ in De pulsuum differentiis.

De pulsuum differentiis iii.3 and ii. 4

"One might more easily teach novelties to the followers of Moses and Christ than to the physicians and philosophers who cling fast to their schools."

" order that one should not at the very beginning, as if one had come into the school of Moses and Christ, hear talk of undemonstrated laws, and that where it is least appropriate."

Lucian of Samosata

Lucian of Samosata was a famous 2nd century Roman rhetorician and satirist. In his work The Death of Peregrine he wrote about the Christians who thought the man (Jesus) crucified was God.

The Death of Peregrine, 11-13

“It was now that he came across the priests and scribes of the Christians, in Palestine, and picked up their queer creed. I can tell you, he pretty soon convinced them of his superiority; prophet, elder, ruler of the Synagogue--he was everything at once; expounded their books, commented on them, wrote books himself. They took him for a God, accepted his laws, and declared him their president. The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day,--the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account.”


Celsus was a 2nd century Greek philosopher who was hostile to Christianity. Being hostile gives his writings even more weight for the existence of Jesus. The writings about Christians and Jesus are too numerous to post in this article but here is just one quote from Celsus.

Contra Celsum 1.28

Jesus had come from a village in Judea, and was the son of a poor Jewess who gained her living by the work of her own hands. His mother had been turned out of doors by her husband, who was a carpenter by trade, on being convicted of adultery [with a soldier named Panthéra (i.32)]. Being thus driven away by her husband, and wandering about in disgrace, she gave birth to Jesus, a bastard. Jesus, on account of his poverty, was hired out to go to Egypt. While there he acquired certain (magical) powers which Egyptians pride themselves on possessing. He returned home highly elated at possessing these powers, and on the strength of them gave himself out to be a god.

Mara Bar-Serapion

Mara Bar-Serapion was a prisoner in Syria sometime between the 1st and 3rd century. He makes casual remarks that look to point to Jesus Christ.

Mara Bar-Serapion: Letter from a Near Eastern Jail

What advantage did the Athenians gain from putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as a judgment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise King? It was just after that their Kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea; the Jews, ruined and driven from their land, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates did not die for good; he lived on in the teaching of Plato. Pythagoras did not die for good; he lived on in the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise King die for good; He lived on in the teaching which He had given


Josephus was a well known 1st century Jewish historian.

Book 20, Chapter 9, Part 1

And now Caesar, upon hearing the death of Festus, sent Albinus into Judea, as procurator. But the king deprived Joseph of the high priesthood, and bestowed the succession to that dignity on the son of Ananus, who was also himself called Ananus. Now the report goes that this eldest Ananus proved a most fortunate man; for he had five sons who had all performed the office of a high priest to God, and who had himself enjoyed that dignity a long time formerly, which had never happened to any other of our high priests. But this younger Ananus, who, as we have told you already, took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews, as we have already observed; when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority]. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king [Agrippa], desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified; nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a sanhedrim without his consent. Whereupon Albinus complied with what they said, and wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest

Book 18, Chapter 3, Part 3 *

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 cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.

*Some claim that this part of Josephus’s book was altered to give evidence for Jesus. There is evidence against this though. Eusebius of Caesarea, quoted this section in the early 4 century in Ecclesiastical History, 1:XI. So this is very close to the original time of writing giving little chance for the text to be corrupted. Scholars such as F.F. Bruce and Daniel Rops have also show that this part of the text is written in the same style as the rest. Finally an Arabic edition of Josephus works which would have been around the time of the original show this texts concerning Jesus but don’t show Jesus being the Messiah. In 1972 Professor Schlomo Pines was quote by times reading the Arabic version. "At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good and he was known to be virtuous. And many people among the Jews and other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders".


The Talmud is a Jewish holy book written between 70 A.D. – 200 A.D. In Sanhedrin 43a these non Christians give a stunning account of history that backs up what the Bible has to say about the times of Jesus.

Sanhedrin 43a

There is a tradition (in a Barraitha): They hanged Yeshu on the Sabbath of the Passover. But for forty days before that a herald went in front of him (crying), "Yeshu is to be stoned because he practiced sorcery and seduced Israel and lead them away from God. Anyone who can provide evidence on his behalf should come forward to defend him." When, however, nothing favorable about him was found, he was hanged on the Sabbath of the Passover.

The Bible

The Bible is often too quickly overlooked as a historical source to prove the existence of Jesus. We have some text from the New Testament that was written in the 1st century so we can be assured that what is written is accurate. The Bible not only tells us of the countless encounters Jesus had with people before his crucifixion but also the encounters hundreds of people had with him after he rose from the dead. Some of these peoplewere still alive and could testify to this fact.

1 Corinthians 15:4-6 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep.


So in conclusion we can see why even so many non-Christians believe that Jesus was a real person. The big question then becomes, who was/is he? Was he just another man or is he your living God and Saviour?

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