• Christ and Church Life and Building Spirit and Bride

    基督與召會
    生命與建造
    那靈與新婦



    As a lover of Christ and a pursuer of truth, I write down my joys, memories and reflections.

    May God lead us all into the secret of His presence, and build us into the oneness of His body in love.
  • Categories

  • Archives

  • Recently Viewed

  • Recent Posts

The secular and historical account on the existence of Jesus(1)

No serious scholar has ventured to postulate the non-historicity of Jesus.  

Otto Betz

Cornelius Tacitus (AD55-120)

  • A senator under Emperor Vespasian and was also proconsul of Asia and a Roman historian: known for his analysis and examination of historical documents and is among the most trusted of ancient historians.
  • Most acclaimed works are the Annals and the Histories. The Annals cover the period from Augustus Caesar’s death in AD14 to the death of the Emperor Nero in AD68, while the Histories begin after Nero’s death and proceed to the reign of Domitian in AD96. In the Annals, Tacitus alludes to the death of Christ and to the existence of Christians at Rome.  See Annals XV,44:

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 most exquisite tortures, the persons commonly called Christians, who were hated for their 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. (The misspelling of Christ as “Christus” was a common error made by pagan writers).

It is interesting that Pilate is not mentioned in any other pagan document which has survived.  It is an irony of history that the only surviving reference to him in a pagan document mentions him because of the sentence of death he passed on Jesus the Messiah.

  • In Annals, he also 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.

In this account, Tacitus confirms for us that Jesus lived in Judea, was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and had followers who were persecuted for their faith in Christ.

Suetonius (69-140AD):

  • Roman historian, a court official during the reign of the Emperor Hadrian.
  • Suetonius wrote about Christians in his Life of Claudius, describing their treatment under the Emperor Claudius (41-54AD)

As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome.  (Life of Claudius 25.4).

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)

Chrestus is a misspelling of Christus; the spelling probably assumes that the spelling of Jesus’ title “Christos” was the same as ate ChiRho symbol which was also a literary device which indicated a quote worthy of note = the ‘chrestus” symbol.  Claudius’ expulsion of the Christians form Rome is mentioned in Acts 18:2.  This event took place in 49AD.

  • 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. 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)

  • There is much we can learn from Suetonius as it is related to the life of early Christians. From this very EARLY account, we know that Jesus had an immediate impact on his followers. They believed that Jesus was God enough to withstand 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.

Pliny the Younger (61-113AD)

  • Pliny the Younger, Roman governor in Bithynia, 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)
  • Pliny the Younger also 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.

This EARLY description of the first Christians documents several facts: the first Christians believed that Jesus was GOD, the first Christians upheld a high moral code, and these early followers et regularly to worship Jesus.

Tallus (52AD)

  • Tallus was a secular historian who wrote a history of the Eastern Mediterranean from the Trojan War to his own time. The document no longer exists but it was quoted by other writers like the Christian, Julius Africanus, who wrote around AD 221. He quotes Tallus’ comments about the darkness that enveloped the land during the late afaternoon 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 well known and required a naturalistic explanation from non-Christians.

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)

  • If only more of Thallus’ record could be found, we would see that every aspect of Jesus’ life could be verified with a non-biblical source. But there are some things we can conclude from this account: Jesus lived, he was crucified, and there was an earthquake and darkness at the point of his crucifixion.
Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: