Unless you consider yourself to be a "radical skeptic," and fall into the strange and bizarre camp of Dr. Richard Carrier, Dr. Richard Price, or famed atheist Matt Dillahunty who consider themselves to be a Jesus "mythicist," most, if not all, "credible" historians will agree on the following information:
Jesus is a fact and not fiction; He lived, and He died, by the way of crucifixion, under Pontius Pilate's reign.
There is more earlier historical evidence for Jesus existence than Alexandra the Great. The basic facts that we know about him are invalid, so why are unbelievers more "skeptical" about Jesus' existence than they are about the way history books describe Alexander the Great?
Even secular "agnostic" scholar and historian Bart Ehrman, who specializes in the field of New Testament studies, who is no "friend" of Christianity, when he was challenged about Jesus’ existence, stated the following:
“This is not even an issue for scholars of antiquity… it is not an issue for scholars. There is no scholar in any college, or university in the Western world who teaches classics, ancient history, New Testament, early Christianity, or any related field who doubts that Jesus existed."
And in his book "Did Jesus Exist? The Historical argument for Jesus of Nazareth" p.338-339 Chapter "Conclusion," Dr. Ehrman states in the last two paragraphs:
"I should also say that even though I happen to share some of the biases of many of the mythicists when it comes to harm that has been done over the years in the name of Christ (not just in crusades and inquisitions, but in our own society, right here, right now), I also see that a tremendous amount of good has been done in his name, and continues to be done, by well-
meaning and hardworking Christian men and women who do untold good in the world on both massive and individual scales."
"But neither issue-the good done in the name of Christ or the evil-is of any relevance to me as a historian when I try to reconstruct what actually happened in the past. I refuse to sacrifice the past in order to promote the worthy cause of my own social and political agendas. No one else should either. Jesus did exist, whether we like it or not."
If you consider yourself to be a "radical skeptic," I humbly ask you to review the below information, doing your best, as hard as it may be, keeping your personal bias (whatever it may be) towards Christianity afar just for a moment. Consider for yourself the early evidence of Jesus existence, what each writing tells you, and make your own conscience decision to understand, that like Dr Bart Erman said,
"Jesus did exist, whether we like it or not."
Let's now take a look at some early sources...
1. Thallus (52AD) Thallus is probably the earliest secular writer to mention Jesus and he is so ancient, his writings don’t even exist anymore. But Julius Africanus, writing around 221AD does quote Thallus who previously tried to explain away the darkness occurring at Jesus’ crucifixion:
“On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness
Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun." (Julius Africanus, Chronography, 18:1)
What can we observe from this? Jesus lived, He was crucified, and there was a "possible" earthquake and darkness at the point of His crucifixion. This may confirm the Gospel of Matthew 27:45; 50-54
2. Tacitus (56-120AD) Cornelius Tacitus was known for his analysis and examination of historical documents and is among the most trusted of ancient historians. He was a senator under Emperor Vespasian and was also proconsul of Asia. In his “Annals’ of 116AD, he describes Emperor Nero’s response to the great fire in Rome and Nero’s claim that the Christians were to blame:
“Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and
shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.”
What can we observe from this? Jesus lived in Judea, was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and had followers who were persecuted for their faith in Christ.
3. Mara Bar-Serapion (70AD) Sometime after 70AD, a Syrian philosopher named Mara Bar-Serapion, writing to encourage his son, compared the life and persecution of Jesus with that of other philosophers who were persecuted for their ideas. The fact Jesus is known to be a real person with this kind of influence is important. Mara Bar-Serapion refers to Jesus as the “Wise King”:
“What benefit did the Athenians obtain by putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as judgment for their crime. Or, the people of Samos for burning Pythagoras? In one moment their country was covered with sand. Or the Jews by murdering their wise king?…After that their kingdom was abolished. God rightly avenged these men…The wise king…Lived on in the teachings he enacted.”
What can we observe from this? Jesus was a wise and influential man who died for His beliefs. The Jewish leadership was somehow responsible for Jesus’ death. Jesus’ followers adopted His beliefs and lived their lives accordingly.
4. Phlegon (80-140AD) In a manner similar to Thallus, Julius Africanus also mentions a historian named Phlegon who wrote a chronicle of history around 140AD. In this history, Phlegon also mentions the darkness surrounding the crucifixion in an effort to explain it:
“Phlegon records that, in the time of Tiberius Caesar, at full moon, there was a full eclipse of the sun from
the sixth to the ninth hour.” (Africanus, Chronography, 18:1)
Phlegon is also mentioned by Origen (184/5 – 253/4) an early church theologian and scholar, born in Alexandria:
“Now Phlegon, in the thirteenth or fourteenth book, I think, of his Chronicles, not only ascribed to Jesus a knowledge of future events . . .
but also testified that the result corresponded to His predictions.” (Origen Against Celsus, Book 2, Chapter 14)
“And with regard to the eclipse in the time of Tiberius Caesar, in whose reign Jesus appears to have been crucified, and the great earthquakes which then took place … ”
(Origen Against Celsus, Book 2,Chapter 33)
“Jesus, while alive, was of no assistance to himself, but that he arose after death, and exhibited the marks of his punishment, and showed how his hands had been pierced by nails.” (Origen Against Celsus, Book 2, Chapter 59)
What can we observe from this? Jesus was believed to have the ability to accurately predict the future, was crucified under the reign of Tiberius Caesar, and demonstrated His wounds, after he was believed to be resurrected.
5. Pliny the Younger (61-113AD) Early Christians were also described in early, non-Christian history. Pliny the Younger, in a letter to the Roman emperor Trajan, describes the lifestyles of early Christians:
“They (the Christians) were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food—but food of an ordinary and innocent kind.”
What can we observe from this? The first Christians believed Jesus was GOD, the first Christians upheld a high moral code, and these early followers met regularly to worship Jesus.
6. Suetonius (69-140AD) Suetonius was a Roman historian and annalist of the Imperial House under the Emperor Hadrian. His writings about Christians describe their treatment under the Emperor Claudius (41-54AD):
“Because the Jews at Rome caused constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus (Christ), he (Claudius) expelled them from the city (Rome).” (Life of Claudius, 25:4)
This expulsion took place in 49AD, and in another work, Suetonius wrote about the fire which destroyed Rome in 64 A.D. under the reign of Nero. Nero blamed the Christians for this fire and he punished
Christians severely as a result:
“Nero inflicted punishment on the Christians, a sect given to a new and mischievous religious belief.” (Lives of the Caesars, 26.2)
What can we observe from this? Jesus had an immediate impact on His followers: They were committed to their belief that Jesus was God and withstood the torment and punishment of the Roman Empire. Jesus had a curious and immediate impact on His followers, empowering them to die courageously for what they knew to be true.
7. Lucian of Samosata: (115-200 A.D.) Lucian was a Greek satirist who spoke sarcastically of Christ and Christians, but in the process, he did affirm they were real people and never referred to them as fictional characters:
“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.”
(Lucian, The Death of Peregrine. 11-13)
What can we observe from this? Jesus taught about repentance and about the family of God. These teachings were quickly adopted by Jesus’ followers and exhibited to the world around them.
8. Celsus (175AD) Celsus was quite antagonistic to the claims of the Gospels, but in his criticism he unknowingly affirmed and reinforced the Biblical authors and their content. His writing is extensive and he alludes to 80 different Biblical quotes, confirming their early appearance in history. In addition, he admits the miracles of Jesus were generally believed in the early 2nd century:
“Jesus had come from a village in Judea, and was the son of a poor Jewess who gained her living by the work of her own hands. His mother had been turned out of doors by her husband, who was a carpenter by trade, on being convicted of adultery [with a soldier named Panthéra (i.32)]. Being thus driven away by her husband, and wandering about in disgrace, she gave birth to Jesus, a bastard. Jesus, on account of his poverty, was hired out to go to Egypt. While there he acquired certain (magical) powers which Egyptians pride themselves on possessing. He returned home highly elated at possessing
possessing these powers, and on the strength of them gave himself out to be a god.”
What can we observe from this? Jesus believed had an earthly father who was a carpenter, possessed unusual magical powers, and claimed to be God. Celsus admits Jesus was reportedly born of a virgin, but then argues this supernatural account could not be possible and offers the idea that Jesus was the illegitimate son of a man named Panthera (an idea borrowed from Jews who opposed Jesus at the time).
9. Josephus (37-101AD) In more detail than any other non-biblical historian, Josephus writes about Jesus in his “the Antiquities of the Jews” in 93AD. Josephus was born roughly four years after the crucifixion. He was a consultant for Jewish rabbis at an early age, became a Galilean military commander by the age of sixteen, and he was an eyewitness to much of what he recorded in the first century A.D. Under the rule of Roman emperor Vespasian, Josephus was allowed to write a history of the Jews. This history includes three passages about Christians, one in which he describes the death of John the Baptist, one in which he mentions the execution of James (and describes him as the brother of Jesus), and a final passage which describes Jesus as a wise man and the messiah.
There is much controversy about the writing of Josephus, because the first discoveries of his writings are
late enough that “possibly” could have been “re-written” by Christians who were “accused” of “making additions” to the text. So below is a scholarly reconstruction stripped of "possible" Christian embellishment:
“Now around this time lived Jesus, a wise man. For he was a worker of amazing deeds and was a teacher of people who gladly accept the truth. He won over both many Jews and many Greeks. Pilate, when he heard him accused by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, (but) those who had first loved him did not cease (doing so). To this day the tribe of Christians named after him has not disappeared” - Book 18, Chapter 3, 3 of the Antiquities
“And now Caesar, upon hearing the death of Festus, sent Albinus into Judea, as procurator. But the king deprived Joseph of the high priesthood, and bestowed the succession to that dignity on the son of Ananus, who was also himself called Ananus... Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.” -Book 20, Chapter 9, 1 of the Antiquities
“Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod's army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod slew him, who was a good man... Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion... Accordingly he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod's suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death." - Book 18, Chapter 5, 2 of the Antiquities
What can we observe from this? Jesus lived in Palestine, was a wise man and a teacher, worked amazing deeds, was accused by the Jews, was crucified under Pilate, and had followers called Christians. Jesus had a brother, and though there is no “tie” between Jesus and John the Baptist in Josephus writings, we can conclude that John the Baptist existed, and from biblical sources Jesus and John are connected.
10. Jewish Talmud (400-700AD) While the earliest Talmudic writings of Jewish Rabbis appear in the 5th century, the tradition of these Rabbinic authors indicates they are faithfully transmitting teachings from the early “Tannaitic” period of the 1st Century BC to the 2nd Century AD. Scholars believe there are a number of Talmudic writings referring to Jesus, and many of these writings are said to use code words to describe Jesus (such as “Balaam” or “Ben Stada” or “a certain one”).
“Jesus practiced magic and led Israel astray”(b. Sanhedrin 43a; cf. t. Shabbat 11.15; b. Shabbat 104b)
“Rabbi Hisda (d. 309) said that Rabbi Jeremiah bar Abba said, ‘What is that which is written, ‘No evil will befall you, nor shall any plague come near your house’? (Psalm 91:10)… ‘No evil will befall you’ (means) that evil dreams and evil thoughts will not tempt you; ‘nor shall any plague come near your house’ (means) that you will not have a son or a disciple who burns his food like Jesus of Nazareth.”
(b. Sanhedrin 103a; cf. b. Berakhot 17b)
“Our rabbis have taught that Jesus had five disciples: Matthai, Nakai, Nezer, Buni and Todah. They brought Matthai to (to trial). He said, ‘Must Matthai be killed? For it is written, ‘When (mathai) shall I come and appear before God?’” (Psalm 92:2) They said to him, “Yes Matthai must be killed, for it is written, ‘When (mathai) he dies his name will perish’” (Psalm 41:5). They brought Nakai. He said to them, “Must Nakai be killed? For it is written, “The innocent (naqi) and the righteous will not slay’” (Exodus 23:7). They said to him, “Yes, Nakai must be kille, for it is written, ‘In secret places he slays the innocent (naqi)’” (Psalm 10:8).
(b. Sanhedrin 43a; the passage continues in a similar way for Nezer, Buni and Todah)
“It was taught: On the day before the Passover they hanged Jesus. A herald went before him for forty days (proclaiming), “He will be stoned, because he practiced magic and enticed Israel to go astray. Let anyone who knows anything in his favor come forward and plead for him.” But nothing was found in his favor, and they hanged him on the day before the Passove. (b. Sanhedrin 43a)
What can we observe from this? Jesus had magical powers, led the Jews away from their beliefs, had disciples who were martyred for their faith (one of whom was named Matthai), and was executed on the day before the Passover.
Final thoughts to consider...
Alexander III of Macedon (20/21 July 356 – 10/11 June 323 BC), commonly known as Alexander the Great.
The earliest biography of Alexander the Great was written 400 years after his death. The earliest of these is Diodorus Siculus (1st century BC), followed by Quintus Curtius Rufus (mid-to-late 1st century AD), Arrian (1st to 2nd century AD), the biographer Plutarch (1st to 2nd century AD), and finally Justin, whose work dated as late as the 4th century. Of these, Arrian is generally considered the most reliable, given that he used Ptolemy and Aristobulus as his sources, closely followed by Diodorus.
The earliest account about Jesus is from:
1 Corinthians 15:3-8 – “For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once, of whom the greater part remain to the present, but some have fallen asleep. After that He was seen by James, then by all the apostles. Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time.”
Most credible scholars and historians would agree that this is in fact an oral tradition that the Apostle Paul (the author of this letter was speaking of and penned by either his own hand or dictated it to a scribe) which can be placed within 2-5 years of Jesus’ death.
The earliest gospel, Mark, was written “about” 30 years after Jesus’ death.
The earliest non-Christian source, Josephus, wrote about Jesus approximately 70 years after His death.
In all honesty, if you were still to believe that Jesus did not exist, you might as well be skeptical of anyone whoever existed that were penned down in history.
There is nothing wrong with healthy skepticism, but radical skeptisim is a bit extreme!
So now that Jesus existence has been established as fact of historical reliable information, what do you do now, with knowing this, if you did not believe it before?
It does not matter if you believe if He was divine or anything like that at this point, the one thing you now understand is that Jesus actually lived. Since He actually lived, He must have actually died right?
And on we go to another topic that most, if not all "credible" historians will agree on:
Jesus died, by the way of crucifixion, under Pontius Pilate's reign.
Scroll back up to the top of the page, click the Resurrection Apologetics tab, and then click the button for "Crucifixion."