What sources outside of the Bible give supporting evidence to the existence of Jesus and any of the events in His life?


3 Answers 3


In short

  1. Lucian
  2. Pliny the younger
  3. Josephus
  4. St. Ignatius of Antioch
  5. Tacitus
  6. Suetonius
  7. Aristides
  8. Galenus
  9. Lampridius

I tried to get all those that Norman names. Just a problem with spelling those wholly foreign names. You can find all 19 of them in the video though.

It is curious to note that even Tacitus who was a rather big critic of the early church never thought that Jesus was a myth or never existed. When even Christianity's first century opposition talk about Jesus as a historical figure then it really becomes unreasonable to buy into this atheist rhetoric of him being a myth.

Josephus is the account is the most violently opposed because it gives such credence to Christianity. The atheist is left with the burden of proof of proving the text suspect. This again becomes unreasonable seeing as all the extant manuscripts of The Antiquities of the Jews says the same thing.

The Christian when confronted with these attacks need to ask the naysayer what is his / her evidence for these texts being suspect? This will probably get you the response of denial of the burden of proof or if the opponent is honest enough he / she will admit their is none.

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    Oh so later testimony holds more sway for you. Rather ridiculous. The people who knew him is not good enough neither is the historians of his day, but the people 2000 years later now those are the people we should trust to tell us who Jesus was.
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Nov 19, 2011 at 19:44
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    It is like my pastor said Jesus is as sure to have lived as any figure of history can be. Most atheist use their hyper skepticism hypocritically as they do not doubt historical evidence in other cases. If I remember correctly Tacitus is the same person who written a lot of the history Rome. If they are fair to their skepticism they should also not believe Caesar never existed.
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Nov 19, 2011 at 19:50
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    "The people who knew him" Those people you listed did not meet Jesus. "Oh so later testimony holds more sway for you" No, not at all - I'm not sure where you got that from. "historians of his day", I wouldn't call centuries after his death his day. I can easily believe that some historians wrote about Jesus after hearing about him. Now did that Jesus actually exist, and was that the same Jesus as described in the NT is another question. Commented Nov 19, 2011 at 22:11
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    Also, it's not only atheists who doubt the existence of or divinity of Jesus. Commented Nov 19, 2011 at 22:57
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    Josepehus was born 3 - 5 years after Jesus was crucified so Yes I would call him a historian of Jesus time. Really if you cannot accept the 1st and second century historians accounts of Jesus then you really have no business believing that any figure of history existed. We have the 27 books in the New Testament and the 19 extra biblical accounts both friend and foe thought Jesus was real so why we should believe the 12st century atheist who says he never existed when no account in the 1st and second century think so is beyond me.
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Nov 21, 2011 at 12:57

A "Case for Christ" does address this question. Among others, Josephus and Pliny both make reference to early Christian practice. The Josephus material is suspect, or more so than Pliny, anyway. Note these are to the followers of Christ, not "see that guy over there named Jesus" type references. See http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Historicity_of_Jesus for a start.

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    Welcome to Christianity.SE!
    – Richard
    Commented Nov 17, 2011 at 15:35
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    Why is Josephus testimony suspect? All the manuscripts we have today say virtually the same thing. What evidence the skeptic has of any later on extrapolation they have yet to inform me of.
    – Neil Meyer
    Commented Nov 19, 2011 at 15:34
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    @NeilMeyer: This answer on a related question over on Skeptics does an excelent job of explaining both why Josephus was ever called into question on this point, what the extent of that doubt is, and why the doubt is a non-issue on this case of the actual historicity of Jesus as a character in history.
    – Caleb
    Commented Nov 19, 2011 at 16:45

Most historians choose to accept the existence of a person in ancient times if there is evidence that the person's contemporaries referred to him as existing. Thus, historians accept the historicity of Jesus because of the four gospel accounts of his life. Perhaps this consensus would now be weaker because of the accumulating evidence that Mark's Gospel was the source for the narrative material in Matthew and Luke, and probably also John, meaning that there was only one independent New Testament gospel and this was written by an author who never met Jesus. The apostle Paul seems to have believed that Jesus was a historical person, although he seems vague about how long previously Jesus had lived.

Extra-biblical evidence from the middle of the first century comes in the form of the Gospel of Thomas and the hypothetical 'Q' document, both of which report sayings attributed to Jesus. Of course, we also have documented sayings attributed to pagan gods of the same general period, so GThomas and Q are not strong evidence for the historical Jesus.

Philo of Alexandria would be a near-contemporary of Jesus and ought to be our best source for the existence of Jesus, since he wrote about every Jewish sect and movement of which he was aware, but unfortunately he never mentions Jesus.

Late in the first century, the Jewish historian, Josephus, mentions Jesus in the Testimonium Flavianum:

Antiquities 18.3.3. "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."

It is impossible that this passage is entirely genuine, although it is likely that Josephus did write something like this and that Christians altered his text. In any case, Josephus was not a contemporary of Jesus and it seems clear from the text that he is simply reporting what the "tribe of Christians" had told him. He makes no claim to have met anyone who had actually met Jesus.

Tacitus wrote in the second century that Jesus was crucified, and this is often accepted as evidence that Jesus existed and was crucified under Pontius Pilate. Tacitus was a patriotic Roman senator and his writings shows no sympathy towards Christians, but it is difficult to imagine any source for his information about Jesus, other than Christians of his own time, and their gospels.

It can not be said with certainty whether the historical Jesus actually lived, but assuming it is likely that he did he may well have lived some time earlier than the gospel account attributes.

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    "The apostle Paul ... seems vague about how long previously Jesus had lived." What is this in reference to?
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 6:15
  • @curiousdannii I am answering the question in 2 parts: (i) did Jesus live at all; (ii) if so, do we know when he lived? Some scholars hold the view that Jesus lived and was crucified, but not necessarily in the timeframe of the gospels. So this was looking at Paul's epistles to see whether he would confirm the historical Jesus lived shortly before he began to preach the gospel. Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 7:15
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    But you never mention Paul again... what did Paul say that seems vague to you?
    – curiousdannii
    Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 7:36
  • @curiousdannii inter alia: Paul never states that can demonstrate that Jesus lived and died recently in Palestine; in fact shows no interest in visiting any of the sites associated with Jesus in the gospels (written after his death). He only speaks of it being preached that Jesus rose from the dead, but does not suggest any living eyewitnesses to the mission of Jesus (not even Peter, whom he treats as no more than an equal): 1 Cor 15:12 "12 Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead?" Commented Jun 25, 2015 at 8:08

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