The Pagan Witnesses of Christ
Often we think all the witnesses to Jesus Christ are found in the Bible. There are several early statements made by non-Christians that bear witness to Him. These are given below.
1. Emperor Tiberitus (14-37) or Claudius (41-54) issued an edict against grave robbing. An inscription of it was found in Nazareth. It reads:
Before this time punishment would had been mild. Why was it changed to death? We know this decreed was soon after Christ’s resurrection. Was it due to a reaction against the turmoil in Israel caused His resurrection?
2. Josephus (A.D. 37-100), the Jewish historian, would wrote a generation after Jesus Christ, makes several references to people well-known to New Testament readers. F. F. Bruce summarized the evidence:
He wrote explicitly about Jesus:
“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 ever to him both many of the Jews, and many Gentiles. He was the Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestions of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to be condemned and to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not foesake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and the ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day” (Antiquities, xviii.ch. 3, subtopic 3, Greek text).
Note: The above are disputed passages, especially the second one. Josephus writing were handed down through Christian scribes. No Jew cared for this Jew turned Roman General. Since Josephus was not a Christian it is unlikely statement like “if it be lawful to call him a man ,” “he was the Christ,” etc. Surely words were added to these statements, especially to the second one. No unbelieving Jew would made such statements about Jesus.
Josephus also wrote about James, the brother of Jesus.
3. Cornelius Tacitus (A.D. 55?-after 117), the Roman Historian, wrote of Nero’s attempt to relieve himself of the guilt of burning Rome:
4. Lucian (second century), Greek Satirist, alludes to Christ in these words:
5. Suetonius (c. A.D. 120), a Roman Historian and court official under Hadrian made two references to Christ. In the Life of Claudius (25.4) he wrote
In the Lives of the Caesars (26.2) he wrote:
6. Pliny the Younger (c. A.D. 112), when writing to the emperor about his achievements as governor of Bithynia, wrote how he had killed multitudes of Christian men, women, and children. He wrote:
He also wrote in the same letter:
7. Thallus (c. A.D. 52) was a Samaritan-born historian. Julius Africanus (c. A.D. 221) wrote:
This was unreasonable, of course, because a solar eclipse could not take place at the time of the full moon, and it was the time of the paschal full moon when Christ died.
8. Mara Bar Serapion (after A.D. 73) wrote a letter that now resides in the British Museum. According to F. F. Bruce it was written by a father to his son in prison. In the letter he compares the deaths of Socrates, Pythagoras, and Jesus:
9. The Jewish Talmud was completed by A.D. 500. The Babylonian Talmud reference to Jesus:
R. Shimeon ben’ Azzai wrote concerning Jesus:
In summary, there are several reference to Jesus made by non-Christians. Only those made by Josephus are open to question since they were handed down through Christian scribes. The others were handed down through Roman/Latin scribes and are likely accurate copies of these writings.