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Some people think that Jesus is only ever talked about in the Bible and that no other evidence exists to show Jesus lived on the earth about 2000 years ago. This is not true – here is a list of some of the historians, from the first and early second century, who mention Jesus of Nazareth (or the Christ) as an historical figure who lived in the first century.
Thallus (c. 50-75AD)
Thallus was one of the first Gentile historians to mention Christ. His writings have disappeared but we know of them from the writing of others, such as Julius Africanus (about AD 221) who quotes from Thallas. One of his quotes includes reference to the darkness that occurred at the crucifixion and suggests that a total eclipse was the cause. Julius points out in his writing the impossibility of this since the festival of Passover, when Jesus was crucified, occurs at full moon (eclipses only occur at a new moon).
Phlegon (First century)
Phlego was a first century historian whose ‘Chronicles’ have now been lost, but he is quoted by other early writers. He mentions the darkness at the crucifixion of Jesus saying that “an eclipse of the sun occurred during the full moon”.
Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews, c.93)
Flavius Jospehus was a Jewish historian who became commander of the Jewish forces in Galilee in AD 66, just after the time of Jesus. He writes in his ‘Antiquities’, “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was the doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ, and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those who 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.” Josephus also mentions James “the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ” and how James was put to death in AD 62 after accusation by Annas the High priest.
Pliny the Younger (c. 61-113)
Pliny the Younger was governor of Bithinia in Asia Minor around AD 110 and wrote to the emperor Trajan (for whom he worked) concerning Christians. He had been putting Christians to death for their faith and making them bow down to Trajan’s statue. He records how, in their defence, the Christians described their meetings for worship which included singing “a hymn to Christ as a god”.
Tacitus (Annals, c. 115-120)
Cornelius Tacitus was a Roman historian born in about 53 AD. Writing in his ‘Annals’ (c. 110 AD) about the reign of Nero, he describes how Nero accused the Christians of burning down Rome. He states that “The name (Christians) is derived from Christ who the procurator Pontius Pilate had executed in the reign of Tiberius”.
Suetonius (c. 125)
Suetonius was a Roman historian, the source of most of what we know of the caesars from Julius Caesar to Domitian, refers to “Chrestus” (another spelling of Christus) in his ‘Life of Claudius’. He reports how Claudius expelled the christians from Rome in AD 49, which is mentioned in Acts 18 v 2. Suetonius also writes of the punishment of Christians by Nero.
Justin Martyr (c. 150)
Justin Martyr addressed his ‘Defence of Christianity’ to the Emperor Antonius Pius and in it describes Jesus’ crucifixion, how he was nailed to the cross and how his clothes were divided among the soldiers by casting lots. He also refers the Emperor to “the ‘Acts’ which were recorded by Pontius Pilate”, these being Pilate’s own report of the crucifixion which Justin supposed the Emperor had access to.
Tertullian (c. 155-220)
Tertullian in a defence of Christianity called ‘Apology’ (AD 197), mentions the following exchange between Tiberius and Pontius Pilate. “Tiberius accordingly, in those days the Christian name made it’s entry into the world, having himself received intelligence from the truth of Christ’s divinity, brought the matter before the senate, with his own decision in favour of Christ. The senate, because it had not given the approval itself, rejected his proposal.”
Mara Bar-Serapion (pre-180)
Mara Bar-Serapion wrote to his son a letter which is now in the British Museum. In this letter he refers to Jesus as the King of the Jews, stating that they (the Jews) had crucified him.
Lucian (Second century)
Lucian of Samosta lived in the second century and was scornful of Christ but described how he “introduce this new cult into the world” and was “crucified in Palestine” because of it.