Rob Buckingham's Blog

Jesus, a real historical person

The birth, life, death and resurrection of Jesus are well documented by the first century eyewitnesses Matthew, Peter (Mark’s gospel) and John, as well as a very thorough doctor by the name of Luke. These are the first four books of the New Testament.

But I realise that not everyone trusts the Bible or believes it to be an accurate account of actual events. So let’s take a look at what is said about Jesus in secular historical sources of the time.

First Century historian, Josephus, wrote of Jesus in his Jewish Antiquities in AD 93, “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 amongst 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 to this day.”

The Roman historian Cornelius Tacitus in one of his most acclaimed works the Annals which covers the period from Augustus Caesar’s death in AD14 to the death of the Emperor Nero in AD68, alludes to the death of Christ and to the existence of Christians at Rome: “But not all the relief that could come from man … availed to relieve Nero from the infamy of being believed to have ordered … the fire of Rome. Hence to suppress the rumour, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished with most exquisite tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus (Christ), 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” (Annals XV: 44).

Suetonius, the Roman historian and court official during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian wrote in his Life of Claudius: “As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus (Christ), he expelled them from Rome” (Life of Claudius 25.4). Claudius’ expulsion of the Christians from Rome is mentioned in the Bible in Acts 18:2. This event took place in AD49. Assuming Jesus was crucified in the early thirties, Suetonius places Christians in the Roman capital less than 20 years later and he reports that they were suffering for their faith and dying for their conviction that Jesus had really lived, died and that He had risen from the dead.

Pliny the Younger who was Roman governor in Bithynia AD112 wrote to Emperor Trajan to seek advice as to how to treat the Christians. He recounts that he had been killing Christian men, women, and children. He is concerned that so many have chosen death over simply bowing down to a statue of the emperor or being made to “curse Christ, which a genuine Christian cannot be induced to do” (Epistles X, 96)
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Tallus was a secular historian who, in AD52, wrote a history of the Eastern Mediterranean from the Trojan War to his own time. The document no longer exists but other writers like Julius Africanus, who wrote around AD221, quoted it. He quotes Tallus’ comments about the darkness that enveloped the land during the late afternoon hours when Jesus died on the cross. Julius wrote: “Tallus, 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, Chronography, 18.1). The importance of Tallus’ comments is that the reference shows that the Gospel account of the darkness that fell across the earth during Christ’s crucifixion was a well-known event.

Another secular scholar, Phlegon, wrote a history called Chronicles in which he also comments on the darkness at the time of Christ’s crucifixion: “During the time of Tiberius Caesar an eclipse of the sun occurred during the full moon.”

Mara Bar-Serapion was a Syrian stoic philosopher who wrote a letter from prison to his son about AD70. He compares Jesus to the philosophers Socrates and Pythagoras.

Lucian the Greek satirist later half of 2nd century spoke scornfully of Christ and the Christians but never argued that Jesus never existed. “The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account …” (The Death of Peregrine, 11-13).

The Babylonian Talmud states: “It has been taught: On the eve of Passover they hanged Yeshu … they hanged him on the eve of Passover.” Yeshu (or Yeshua) is the Hebrew name that is translated as Joshua or Jesus. “Hanged” is another way of referring to a crucifixion (Luke 23:39 and Galatians 3:13).

A fascinating news item dated 27th November 2013 details a very significant discovery from the 1st century AD Historical archaeologist Ronald Stewart is stating that he has possibly uncovered hand-struck coins minted sometime between 33-47AD which have images and depictions of Jesus Christ – many which correlate to well-known Biblical events including Jesus healing the blind man, Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter from the dead, and Jesus being bound and dragged on His way to Pontius Pilate.

And so there we have it – lots of secular evidence of the birth, life, death, resurrection and power of Jesus Christ: He’s still alive today and He’s still changing lives, and His life-changing power is available to all – including you!


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