Jesus, Historical Evidence

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The following is a historical analysis of the evidence for the existence of Jesus based heavily on the writings of Josh McDowell including 'Evidence That Demands A Verdict' (ch. 5) and 'More Than A Carpenter.'

Extra-Biblical Sources


Flavius Josephus

The most famous Jewish historian of the time, Josephus (37-100 A.D.) became a Pharisee at age 19 and was a former commander of Galilee's Jewish military force opposing the Roman invasion, before defecting and becoming a Roman aide to Emperor Vespasian.[1][2] Despite his prominence in the Roman Empire, his work was banned among Jews for centuries after his death due to his betrayal of his own country to the Romans.[3] These references to Jesus are found without variation even in the oldest copies of Josephus' works.[4]

"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 among 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."

-Josephus, Antiquities xviii. 33.[5]

"But the younger Ananus who, as we said, received the high priesthood, was of a bold disposition and exceptionally daring; he followed the party of the Sadducees, who are severe in judgment above all the Jews, as we have already shown. As therefore Ananus was of such a disposition, he thought he had now a good opportunity, as Festus was now dead, and Albinus was still on the road; so he assembled a council of judges, and brought before it the brother Jesus the so-called Christ, whose name was James, together with some others, and having accused them as law-breakers, he delivered them over to be stoned."

-Josephus, Antiquities xx. 9:1.

Cornelius Tacitus

Born in A.D. 52-54, Tacitus was a Roman historian who mentions Jesus in his annals.[2]

"But not all the relief that could come from man, not all the bounties that the prince could bestow, nor all the atonements which could be presented to the gods, availed to relieve Nero from the infamy of being believed to have ordered the conflagration, the fire of Rome. Hence to suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished with the most exquisite tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for theri enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also."

-Tacitus, Annals XV. 44

Mara Bar-Serapion

Mara Bar-Serapion wrote to his son Serapion, probably around A.D. 73.

"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 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."

-Mara Bar-Serapion


A Roman historian under Hadrian born A.D. 120.

"As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome."

-Suetonius, Life of Claudius 25.4


A writer who mentioned Jesus in his writings in 52 A.D., however his writings are preserved only in the writings of Julius Africanus around 221 A.D.[2]

"Thallus, in the third book of his histories, explains away this darkness as an eclipse of the sun - unreasonably, as it seems to me (unreasonably, of course, because a solar eclipse could not take place at the time of the full moon, and it was at the season of the Paschal full moon that Christ died)."

-Julius Africanus referencing Thallus

Pliny the Younger

Plinius Secundus was Governor of Bythinia who tortured Christians to death, and wrote to Emperor Trajan about this.

"They affirmed, however, that the whole of their guilt, or their error, was, that they were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verse a hymn to Christ as to a god, and bound themselves to a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit fraud, theft, adultery, never to falsify their word, not to deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up."

-Pliny the Younger, Epistles x.96.

Lucian of Samosata

Second century satirist.[2]

"...the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world... Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they were all brothers one of another after they have transgressed once for all by denying the Greek gods and by worshipping that crucified sophist himself and living under his laws."

-Lucian, The Passing Peregrinus


As with Thallus his writings (Chronicles) have been lost but a fragment are preserved in the writings of Julius Africanus around 221 A.D. Phlegon's writings are also mentioned by Origen in Contra Celsum.[2]

"...during the time of Tiberius Caesar, an eclipse of the sun occurred during the full moon."

-Phlegon, quoted by Julius Africanus

"And about this darkness... Phlegon recalls it in the Olympiads... Phlegon mentioned the eclipse which took place during the crucifixion of the Lord Christ, and no other, it is clear that he did not know from his sources about any eclipse in previous times... and this is shown by the historical account itself of Tiberius Caesar."

-Origen, Contra Celsum, Book 2, sections 14, 33, and 59

Jewish Talmuds



A jurist and theologian from Carthage who spoke in A.D. 197 on defense of Christianity before Africa's Roman authorities.[2]

"Tiberius accordingly, in those days the Christian name made its 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 favor of Christ. The senate, because it had not given the approval itself, rejected his proposal. Caesar held to his opinion, threatening wrath against all the accusers of the Christians."

-Tertullian, Apology, v.2.

Justin Martyr

Around A.D. 150 Justin Martyr in his Defence of Christianity to Emperor Antoninus Pius referred to Pontius Pilate's report.[2]

"They pierced my hands and my feet are a description of the nails that were fixed in His hands and His feet on the cross; and after He was crucified, those who crucified Him cast lots for His garments, and divided them among themselves; and that these things were so, you may learn from the 'Acts' which were recorded under Pontius Pilate... That He performed these miracles you may easily be satisfied from the 'Acts' of Pontius Pilate."

-Justin Martyr, Apology 1.48.

External Sources


  1. Balint, Benjamin (2013, January 18). When History Is Written by the Loser. The Wall Street Journal.
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 McDowell, Josh (1989, February). Evidence That Demands a Verdict. Here's Life Publishers, Inc.
  3. Moylan, William J. (2013). The King of Terror. p. 45. Xlibris Corporation. ISBN: 978-1-4797-9703-5.
    Thrope, Samuel (2013, March 5). Doing Justice to Josephus, Ancient Jewish Archetype. Haaretz Daily Newspaper Ltd.
  4. Holding, J.P. Josephus' Testimony on Jesus. Tekton Apologetics.
  5. Josephus, Flavius,& Whiston, William (1835). The Works of Flavius Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews. Book xviii, ch. 3. p. 364. Harvard Divinity School.