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Thursday, October 09, 2008

Jesus (The) Christ


Thallus was a historian who lived in the middle of the first century C.E. His writings focus partly on the historical events of the Roman empire of the first century C.E. We do not have his original works, written around 52 C.E., but we do have the writings of men who referred to his work.

Julius Africanus, an early church father, writing in the year 221 C.E. wrote about the writings of Thallus. In a document written by Julius Africanus, there is a discussion about the darkness that was recorded by the writers of the New Testament at the time of the crucifixion of Jesus.

"Now from the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land." [That is, from noon to 3:00pm.] (Matthew 27:45)

Now the skeptic might easily dismiss this event, recorded in the gospel of Matthew, as mere dramatics, an attempt to dress up the crucifixion event with some supernatural imagery. However, the darkness which occurred at the time of a full moon was recorded by Thallus.

Africanus notes that Thallus had attempted to explain away the event:

"Thallus, in the third book of his history explains away the darkness as an eclipse of the sun, unreasonably as it seems to me."

Africanus, writing in the year 221 C.E., had access to the writings of Thallus. Thallus in his third book wrote that this darkness, which occurred during the reign of Caesar Tiberius, was a result of an eclipse of the sun. Africanus makes the point that this could not have been a solar eclipse, because the crucifixion took place at Passover, which always occurs during a full moon. During a full moon, there can be no solar eclipse, and Africanus recognized this.

An interesting aspect of this reference is that Thallus does not try to deny the existence of Jesus of Nazareth, the occurrence of his crucifixion nor the historical fact that the darkness occurred. He presents Jesus of Nazareth as an historical person, and the darkness as an historical event. His motive in writing about the darkness is to explain it as a natural event.


Philopon, a sixth-century secular historian, wrote regarding Phlegon as well. He wrote:

"And about this darkness...Phlegon recalls it in his book The Olympiads."

Like Thallus, Phlegon verifies the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth and the historicity of the darkness which occurred during the reign of Tiberius Caesar. These common threads occurring in the writings of two men who were not Christians, is powerful evidence that Jesus is an historical figure and an unnatural darkness(not an eclipse) occurred during his life.


Cornelius Tacitus, born circa 52-55 C.E., became a senator in the Roman government under Emperor Vespasian. He was eventually promoted to governor of Asia. Writing in the year 116 C.E., in his Annals, he writes of the burning of Rome in 64 C.E. And how Caesar Nero had tried to stop the rumor that he (Nero) was behind the destruction.

"Therefore, to scotch the rumor (that Nero had burned Rome) Nero substituted as culprits, and punished with the utmost refinements of cruelty, a class of men, loathed for their vices, whom the crowd styled Christians. Christus, the founder of the name, had undergone the death penalty in the reign of tiberius, by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilatus, and the pernicious superstition was checked for a moment, only to break out once more, not merely in Judea, the home of the disease, but in the capital itself, where all things horrible or shameful in the world collect and find a vogue...They [the Christians] were covered with wild beasts' skins and torn to death by dogs; or they were fastened on crosses, and, when daylight failed were burned to serve as lamps by night. Nero had offered his gardens for the spectacle, and gave an exhibition in his circus, mixing with the crowd in the habit of a charioteer, or mounted on his car. Hence, in spite of a guilt which had earned the most exemplary punishment, there arose a sentiment of pity, due to the impression that they were being sacrificed not for the welfare of the state but to the ferocity of a single man."

This amazing document verifies that Jesus, or Christus, was a true historical figure, that he lived and was killed during the reign of Caesar Tiberius, that he was sentenced under Pontius Pilate and that by about 64 C.E., Christianity had spread rapidly throughout the Roman empire. Tacitus verifies that Christians were viciously tortured by Nero only 32 years after the death of Jesus of Nazareth. The historical validity of this letter by Tacitus is doubted by very few scholars. According to some scholars, Tacitus is:

"Universally considered the most reliable of historians, a man in whom sensibility and imagination, though lively, could never spoil a critical sense rare in his time and a great honesty in the examination of the documents." [Amoit, Francois; Brunot, Amedee; Danielou, Jeah; Daniel-Rops, Henri. The Sources for the Life of Christ. Translated by P.J. Herpburne-Scott. New York; Hawthorn Books, 1962, pg. 16.]

Emperor Hadrian

During the period when Hadrian was emperor of Rome, 117-138 C.E., there continued to be tremendous persecution of Christians. Serenius Granianus, the governor of Asia at that time, wrote a letter to Emperor Hadrian asking for his advice regarding how he should handle the Christians. Hadrian wrote back to Serenius' successor, Minucius Fundanus, his response. This letter was preserved by Eusebius. This is an excerpt;

"I do not wish, therefore, that the matter should be passed be without examination, so that these men may neither be harassed, nor opportunity of malicious proceedings be offered to informers. If, therefore, the provincials can clearly evince their charges against the Christians, so as to answer before the tribunal, let them pursue this course only, but not by mere petitions, and mere outcries against the Christians. For it is far more proper, if anyone would bring an accusation, that you should examine it."

This fascinating letter from the Roman emperor himself verifies the historical existence of the church, the belief that Christians were trouble-makers, that Christianity was illegal at that time, and that Christians would be taken before a counselor simply for admitting that they were Christians. Though not a specific reference to Jesus of Nazareth, this very early historical reference to the church, its illegality in the Roman Empire and the persecutions (malicious proceedings) are powerful evidences for the rapid spread of the church within one generation of the life of Jesus. Therefore, this increases the reliability that Jesus was an historical figure and that the events surrounding his life were extraordinary, so much so that people were willing to die for the belief that he was the Messiah.

Lucian of Samosata

Lucan of Samosata, a Greek satirist, wrote a remarkable statement regarding the church in 170 C.E.

"The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day-the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account... You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the Gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws. All this they take quite on faith, with the result that they despise all worldly goods alike, regarding them merely as common property."

That is quite a testimony. This letter confirms that Christians worshipped a crucified Jewish sage, that they faced death bravely, and that they despised worldly attributes. He explains this on the basis that Christians believed they were immortal and would spend eternity with God.

Mara Bar-Serapion

Mara Bar-Serapion, a Syrian and a stoic philosopher, wrote this letter to his son from prison sometime after 70 C.E.

"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 their executing their wise King? It was just after that 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 statue 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."

This letter refers to Jesus of Nazareth as being the "wise King." The writer is obviously not a Christian because he places Jesus on a par with Pythagoras and Socrates. Consequently, the writer can hardly be described as biased in his reference to Jesus and the church. Therefore, it is a valuable historical reference regarding the historicity of Jesus. There are many other non-Christian historical sources for Jesus of Nazareth but since space is limited we will move on to rabbinical sources.

Ancient Rabbinical References to Y'shua (Jesus)

Of all the ancient historical sources for Jesus of Nazareth, the least favorably biased would have to be rabbinic in origin. There are actually quite a large number of such references to Jesus of Nazareth. The problem with the rabbinical writings is that they use names like "such and such" and "so and so" or "that man" when they refer to Jesus of Nazareth. Consequently, some of the references are considered to be unreliable. During the middle ages and the early renaissance, the Talmud and Midrash were cleaned up with the removal of most of the references to Jesus of Nazareth.

As expected, the remaining references to Jesus are very unflattering. However, they do verify a number of important historical facts that the gospels proclaim regarding Jesus of Nazareth. As mentioned earlier by Shlomo Pines, no one doubted that Jesus was an historical figure up until about two to three hundred years ago. The myth theory was created and perpetuated by atheists, agnostics and embraced by mainstream Judaism during the Renaissance.

In the Babylonian Talmud, which was compiled between the years 200-500 C.E., in Sanhedrin, 43a, there is a fascinating reference to Jesus of Nazareth:

"It has been taught: On the Eve of the Passover, they hanged Yeshu. And an announcer went out in front of him, for forty days saying: 'he is going to be stoned because he practiced sorcery and enticed and led Israel astray.' Anyone who knows anything in his favor, let him come and plead in his behalf.' But, not having found anything in his favor, they hanged him on the Eve of the Passover."

This is considered to be one of the very reliable rabbinical references to Jesus ("Yeshu"). The writer here verifies that Jesus of Nazareth was an historical figure, that he was crucified on the Eve of the Passover, and that he did miracles, referred to as sorcery. The supernatural events surrounding the life of Jesus were not denied, but verified. The miracles of Jesus were simply explained away as being from a demonic source, i.e., sorcery.

According to Jewish law it is illegal to perform capital punishment on the Eve of the Passover. However, this record verifies something that we wouldn't expect to find in a rabbinical source, the fact that the Sanhedrin acted illegally in condemning and crucifying Jesus on Passover. Consequently, this reference is even more valuable in terms of validating the historicity of Jesus. Certainly, if any passage should have been edited from the Talmud, it should have been this one. The fact that a passage which points out an illegal action was retained in the Talmud makes it a credible and valuable source for the historicity of Jesus.

In the Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a, it says,

"Our rabbis taught that Yeshu had five disciples: Matti, Necki, Netsur, Burni, and Toda."

Now one of those names we can recognize, Matti, the disciple named Matthew. Again it is considered by historians to be another reliable reference in the Talmud for the historicity Jesus of Nazareth.
Pliny the Younger
Pliny the Younger, the provincial governor of Pontus and Bithynia, wrote to Emperor Trajan c. 112 concerning how to deal with Christians, who refused to worship the emperor, and instead worshiped "Christus".
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.


Maimonides was a very highly revered thirteenth century rabbi. There was a saying back during the thirteenth century that, "there was never a greater man than Maimonides except Moses." He was given the nickname, Rambam.

Maimonides wrote a fourteen volume work called the Mishne Torah. In this he made multiple references to the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth. However, in the year 1631, Catholic and Jewish authorities censored the fourteenth volume, removing all references to Jesus. It was censored because there were multiple derogatory references to Jesus of Nazareth. During the Spanish inquisition certain members of the Catholic church used Maimonides' work, and his negative references about Jesus, to justify the killing of Jews. Consequently, these references were removed from most of the extant volumes of Maimonides' writings.

An excerpt from the uncensored versions of the Mishne Torah is a remarkable historical reference to Jesus.

"Jesus of Nazareth who aspired to be the Messiah and was executed by the court was also [alluded to] in Daniel's prophecies (Daniel 11:14), as 'the vulgar [common] among your people shall exalt themselves in an attempt to fulfill the vision, but they shall stumble.' Can there be a greater stumbling block than Christianity? All the prophets spoke of the Messiah as the Redeemer of Israel and its Savior, who would gather their dispersed and strengthen their [observation of] the Mitzvot [the commandments]. By contrast, [Christianity] caused the Jews to be slain by the sword, their remnant to be scattered and humbled, the Torah to be altered and the majority of the world to err and serve a god other than the Lord. Nevertheless, the intent of the Creator of the world is not within the power of man to comprehend, for his ways are not our ways, nor are his thoughts, our thoughts. [Ultimately,] all the deeds of Jesus of Nazareth and that Ishmaelite [Mohammed] who arose after him will only serve to prepare the way for the Messiah's coming and the improvement of the entire world [motivating the nations] to serve God together, as [Zephaniah 3:9] states: 'I will make the peoples pure of speech that they will all call upon the Name of God and serve him with one purpose.'"

Here Maimonides, writing in the thirteenth century, verifies that Jesus of Nazareth was executed by the Sanhedrin, that he aspired to be the Messiah, that he was referred to in the prophecies of Daniel as one of the sons of the lawless, and that Jesus of Nazareth led many astray.

It is fascinating that Maimonides calls Jesus and his church "a stumbling block." I don't think Maimonides remembered that the Tanakh states that the Messiah would be a stumbling block to both houses of Israel.

He will be as a sanctuary, but a stone of stumbling and a rock of offense to both the houses of Israel, as a trap and a snare to the inhabitants of Jerusalem."(Isaiah 8:14 )

Surely Jesus of Nazareth was an historical figure and his life, message, ministry was a stumbling block to the Jews of his day.

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