Indicators of Jesus' existence or non-existence (Continued):
Flavius Josephus: He was a Jewish historian who was born in 37 CE.
He wrote a book, Antiquities of the Jews circa 93 CE, perhaps
between the times when Luke and John were written.He described Jesus' as a wise man who was
crucified by Pilate. The passage appears below.
[Colored sections in small print are commonly believed to have been
added by a later Christian forger and probably do not form part of Josephus
"About this time arose Jesus, a wise man, [if indeed it be lawful
to call him a man. For he was a doer of wonderful deeds, and a teacher of
men who gladly receive the truth.] He drew to himself many [both
of the Jews and of the Gentiles. He was the Christ]; and when Pilate, on
the indictment of the principal men among us, had condemned him to
the cross, those who had loved him at the first did not cease to do so,
[for he appeared to them again alive on the third day, the
divine prophets having foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful
things about him.] And even to this day the race of Christians, who are
named from him, has not died out." 1
Origen, published a book Contra Celsum circa 254 CE, over 150 years
after Josephus' book Antiquities of the Jews. In it, Origen wrote
that Josephus did not believe that Jesus was the Christ:
"For in the 18th book of his Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus bears witness
to John as having been a Baptist, and as promising purification to those who
underwent the rite. Now this writer [Josephus], although not believing in
Jesus as the Christ, in seeking after the cause of the fall of Jerusalem and
the destruction of the temple ..."
Origin also published a book Commentary on Matthew which also contained a
reference to Josephus rejecting Jesus as Christ. He wrote:
"And the wonderful thing is, that, though he [Josephus] did not accept
Jesus as Christ, he yet gave testimony that the righteousness of James was so
great; and ..."
Both of these references confirm that Josephus' writing in Antiquities of the Jews
did not include a reference to Jesus being the Christ, at least in the middle
of the 3rd century CE. It is probable that the Christian forgery was done
after that time.
Modern-day historians' and theologians' opinions about Josephus' passage:
Most religious historians believe that the paragraph in which he describes Jesus is partly or
completely a forgery that was inserted into the text by an unknown Christian. The passage
"appears out of context, thereby breaking the flow of the narrative." 2
Josh McDowell, Don Stewart and other fundamentalist and other
evangelical Christians accept the
entire passage as
Josephus' actual text. 3
There exists no consensus on a second passage in Antiquities which refers to
Jesus' brother James, having being tried and stoned to death. Some consider it legitimate;
others assess it to be a forgery.
Cornelius Tacitus: He was a Roman historian who lived from 55 to 120 CE and wrote a book Annals, circa 112 CE. McDowell and Stewart accept his
writings as a strong indicator of Jesus' existence in the early 1st century CE.3
However, the information could have been derived from Christian oral tradition circulating
in the early 2nd century.
Suetonius: He was the author of The Lives of the Caesars circa
120 CE. He wrote to "Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the
instigation of Chrestus, [Emperor Claudius in 49 CE] expelled them from Rome."
This passage is often used to support the historicity of Jesus, assuming that Jesus' title
was misspelled. But Chrestus was in fact a common Greek name. There is a good chance that
the reference is to a Jewish agitator in Rome by that name.
Other ancient Roman historians: There were about 40 historians who
wrote during the first two centuries. 4 With the exception of
the above, none stated that Jesus existed in the 1st century.
Jewish literature: The Talmud states that Jesus lived in the 2nd
century BCE. However, this passage itself dates from the early 2nd century CE. The authors were
probably basing their writings on a reaction to some of the dozens of Christian gospels
circulating by that time.
Pope Leo X (1513-1521): Some
believe that he considered Jesus to be a mere legend.
Barbara Walker in her Woman's Encyclopedia of Myths and Secrets, Page 471,
quotes him as as having said "What
profit has not that fable of Christ brought us!"
Rev. Taylor, in The Diegesis, Page 35, has a slightly different quote
well known how profitable this fable of Christ has been to us."
The Catholic Encyclopedia refers to a widely circulated
remark: "How much we and our family have profited by the legend
of Christ, is sufficiently evident to all ages."
The first two quotes appear fictional, and unrelated to any actual statement
by Pope Leo X. They have the flavor of folk tales. One reason is than
they have appeared in so many different wordings. The origin of the quote appears
to be in a fictional work by John Bale. The Catholic Encyclopedia
refers to him as an: "...apostate English Carmelite, the first to
give currency to these words in the time of Queen Elizabeth" (1533 -
1603). 5 Even if Leo X said
something like one of these "quotes" the meaning is not clear. He may
have been referring to legends and fables arising about the life of
Jesus which accumulated after his death.
Present-day theologians: The assertion that Jesus is not a historical
figure or that he did not live in the early 1st century CE is held by a small number of
In interests of full disclosure....:
B.A. Robinson, this web site's main author, normally restricts his writing on this web site to the reporting the views of other individuals. However, he occasionally makes an exception. He has a hunch concerning the sources of stories about Jesus that is a heresy when compared to the orthodox position. He suggests that
there were many Jewish teachers wandering in Galilee during the interval 20 to
30 CE. One or more may have been named Yeshua (Hebrew for
Joshua -- a common name). One developed a devoted following of fellow Jews, committed aggravated
assault in the Jerusalem temple, and was arrested by the occupying Roman Army.
He was crucified as an insurrectionist as one of
perhaps ten thousand other Jews who suffered the same fate at the hands of the Roman occupying army during the first
The beliefs of two or three of these Galilean teachers were subsequently
merged and recorded in the early gospels that explained the life of a
single individual: Yeshua of Nazareth as a single individual:
One was an itinerant Greek cynic philosopher who lived a life of poverty
and challenged the public on philosophic, ethical and religious matters. The
closest example to a cynic philosopher today would be a combination of
stand-up comic and political cartoonist.
A second was a apocalyptic teacher who preached about the imminent end
of the world in his immediate future -- much like John the Baptizer.
There might even have been a third teacher who was a follower of Hillel.
The latter was a 1st century CE Jewish liberal theologian and one-time
president of the Sanhedrin.
There is some evidence of this merging of the stories of separate individuals. The Gospel of Q,
appears to be the oldest surviving gospel. It was written in sections over time.
The first section describes the sayings of a Greek cynic philosopher; the second
section describes sayings of an apocalyptic teacher. Meanwhile, many of Yeshua's
teachings, as found in the synoptic Gospels, closely match those of Hillel
except on matters of divorce where Hillel was more liberal.
Between about 40 CE and 100 CE, when the Gospel of Q, the three synoptic canonic
Gospels, and the Gospel of Thomas were first written, the teachings of these
multiple teachers were merged and attributed to a single individual: Yeshua of
Nazareth. The rest is history.
I stress that these are my personal hunches. They are shared by few if any
theologians. They are certainly heretical when compared to modern-day