Sources Outside Bible

What Do Ancient Writers Outside the Bible Say About Jesus? – Part 3

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What Do Ancient Writers Outside the Bible Say About Jesus?

This week we wrap up looking at what ancient writers outside the Bible had to say about Jesus.  We’ll look at two more and sum up all that we can put together about Jesus just from these little known sources.


Pliny the Younger

Pliny the Younger was a Roman author and administrator.  Writing to Emperor Trajan in approximately AD 112, he described the early Christian worship practices.

“They 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 do any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny any 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 confirms several things from the New Testament, most importantly that these early Christians worshiped Jesus as God.  So this was not a later invention.  We also see the Christian’s commitment to live moral lives, according to the teachings of Jesus.  The last part is a reference to the Christians sharing meals together, as in Acts 2:42-46, and possibly the Lord’s Supper or communion.


Lucian was second century Greek writer who was critical of Christianity.  He wrote:

“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.”

This again confirms that Jesus was worshiped by Christians.  It also states that Jesus brought new teachings and was crucified for them.  We also see that the Christians did not fear death.  He said they thought they were immortal.  This seems to be a reference to their belief that, as Jesus rose from the dead, they would too.  Worshiping and following after Jesus, the Christians denied other gods and saw little worth in material goods, sharing them together as brothers.

Summing it All Up

When you put together all that is written about Jesus by ancient sources outside of the Bible it paints a picture of Jesus that is quite consistent with what is written in the New Testament.  Frank Turek and Norman Geisler sum up all that we can know just from the sources outside the Bible alone.

  1. Jesus lived during the time of Tiberius Caesar.
  2. He lived a virtuous life.
  3. He was a wonder-worker.
  4. He had a brother named James.
  5. He was acclaimed to be the Messiah.
  6. He was crucified under Pontius Pilate.
  7. He was crucified on the eve of the Jewish Passover.
  8. Darkness and an earthquake occurred when he died.
  9. His disciples believed he rose from the dead.
  10. His disciples were willing to die for their belief.
  11. Christianity spread rapidly as far as Rome.
  12. His disciples denied the Roman gods and worshiped Jesus as God.

The Pictures are Consistent

Jesus picture same

I don’t know about you but when I see what was written about Jesus by those who weren’t his followers, it gives me even more confidence in what was written about him by his followers.  The pictures are consistent.  From all of the sources put together, it seems clear to me that the early Christians worshiped and followed the same Jesus, as God, as we do today and that the Jesus of the Bible is indeed the Jesus of history.


Sources: Cold Case Christianity by J. Warner Wallace, I Don’t Have Enough Faith to Be An Atheist by Frank Turek and Norman Geisler, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics by Norman Geisler

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What Do Ancient Writers Outside the Bible Say About Jesus? – Part 2

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What Do Ancient Writers Outside the Bible Say About Jesus?

This week we continue to look at what ancient writers outside the Bible had to say about Jesus.  In doing so, we continue to see that they confirmed several key details that the New Testament authors reported about Jesus.  There are nine ancient non-Christian sources that wrote about Jesus (the same number that wrote about the Roman emperor of the day).  Last week we started with Josephus, Thallus and Tacitus.  This week we look at two more.


Mara Bar-Serapion

Thought it’s unfortunate for us, because it’s hard to remember and pronounce his name, it’s also very fortunate that Syrian philosopher Mara Bar-Serapion wrote to his son about Jesus, sometime after AD 70.  To encourage his son he compared the life and persecution of Jesus to that of other philosophers who were persecuted for their ideas. He wrote:

What advantage did the Athenians gain from putting Socrate to death? Famine and plague came upon them as a judgment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise King? It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea; the Jews, ruined and driven from their land, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates did not die for good; he lived on in the teaching of Plato. Pythagoras did not die for good; he lived on in the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise King die for good; he lived on in the teaching which he had given.

Although Mara Bar-Serapion did not place Jesus above Socrates or Pythagoras, he listed him alongside them.  He also confirmed some important facts about Jesus. At the least it’s confirmed that Jesus was a wise and influential man who was killed for his beliefs.  We can also conclude that the Jews were involved with his death and that Jesus’ followers lived lives that reflected his teaching.


As in the case of Thallus, Sextus Julius Africanus wrote about a historian named Phlegon who wrote in about AD 140.  In his historical account, Phlegon also mentioned the darkness that occurred at the crucifixion of Jesus:

Phlegon records that, in the time of Tiberius Caesar, at full moon, there was a full eclipse of the sun from the sixth hour to the ninth.

The early church theologian Origen also cited Phlegon several times in a book he wrote in response to criticisms from the Greek writer Celsus:

Now Phlegon, in the thirteenth or fourteenth book, I think, of his Chronicles, not only ascribed to Jesus a knowledge of future events (although falling into confusion about some things which refer to Peter, as if they referred to Jesus), but also testified that the result corresponded to his predictions. So that he also, by these very admissions regarding foreknowledge, as if against his will, expressed his opinion that the doctrines taught by the fathers of our system were not devoid of divine power.

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, Phlegon too, I think, has written in the thirteenth of fourteenth book of his Chronicles.

He also imagines that both the earthquake and the darkness were an invention, but regarding these, we have in the preceding pages made our defense, according to our ability, adducing the testimony of Phlegon, who relates that these events took place at the time when our Savior suffered.

So although Phlegon was not a believer in Jesus and denied some of the claims of the Gospel writers, his statements did reluctantly admit that Jesus had the ability to accurately predict the future and was crucified under the reign of Tiberius Caesar.

“But These Source Stop Short”

Some might say that these non-Christian sources stop short of confirming really key details about Jesus, like his resurrection, but remember that we’re talking about non-Christian sources.  If they did confirm the resurrection they would be considered a Christian source, joining the thirty-three Christian authors who wrote about Jesus in the first 150 years.

In total we have forty-two ancient sources for Jesus and while I don’t think it’s fair to discount the Christian sources just because they’re Christian, even the non-Christian sources confirm, even if reluctantly, several of the key details of the Christian sources.  All together they make a very strong case about who Jesus really was.

Witness_stand_in_a_courtroomTo deny the strength of the case of what they say is kind of a like a defense attorney saying, “Other than the four eyewitnesses who say my client committed the murder, all you have are several other witnesses who can confirm several of the key details.  Clearly, the case should be thrown out!”  What would you say to the attorney if you were the judge?

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What Do Ancient Writers Outside the Bible Say About Jesus? – Part 1

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What Do Ancient Writers Outside the Bible Say About Jesus?

We saw last week that some have said not enough was written about Jesus outside of the Bible, if he really did miracles and rose from the dead.  But considering what we have that was written about the Roman emperor at the time, what we do have that was written about Jesus is really pretty impressive.   In total we have about four times more written about Jesus than the emperor and if you just consider non-Christian sources, there is a tie with nine sources each.  So what do those ancient sources outside the Bible say about Jesus?




First is a Jewish historian named Flavius Josephus who wrote in the second half of the first century.  He served as historian for the Roman emperor Domitian.  He wrote an autobiography and two major historical works.  One of these was the Antiquities of the Jews.  In that he wrote this:

At this time [the time of Pilate] there was a wise man who was called Jesus. His conduct was good and (he) was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive; accordingly he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.

Josephus also records that Ananus the high priest of the Jews had James, the brother of Jesus, killed in AD 62.  James had become a leader of the church in Jerusalem.  So while not believing in Jesus, Josephus confirmed many key details about Jesus’ life as reported in the New Testament.


Thallus was a Samaritan historian who wrote during the first century, only about 20 years after Jesus’ crucifixion. Much of his work has been lost to history but another historican, Sextus Julius Africanus wrote History of the World in AD 221 and he quoted from Thallus’ original writing. Thallus wrote about the crucifixion of Jesus and offered an explanation for the darkness that was said to have been observed at the time of Jesus’ death.  Africanus wrote:

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.

While Thallus was not a believer, he rejected the supernatural cause, he corroborated some important details given in the New Testament documents.  He confirmed that Jesus was crucified and that darkness fell over the land at that time.


Cornelius Tacitus is one of the most trusted and respected ancient historians. He was a senator and a proconsul of Asia. In AD 116 he wrote in his Annals about Emperor Nero blaming Christians for the great fire in Rome.

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 it’s origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, 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.

So Tacitus confirmed that Jesus lived in Judea, was crucified under Pontius Pilate, and had followers who were persecuted for their faith in him.  It’s also possible that the “most mischievous superstition”, as he calls it, refers to the belief of Christians that Jesus had risen from the dead.

Several important details provided by the eye-witness writers of the New Testament are corroborated by other ancient writers who were not friendly to Jesus or the early Christians.  Come back next week as we continue to look at what these other ancient writers wrote about Jesus.

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Is Jesus Written About by Ancient Writers Outside the Bible?

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Is Jesus Written About by Ancient Writers Outside the Bible?

If Jesus is who the Bible says he is and did the things the Bible says he did, wouldn’t you expect him to be written about by other ancient writers outside the Bible?  I think that’s a fair assumption.  If someone changed the world it’s natural to expect that people would write about him.  The New Testament authors were the closest eye witnesses to Jesus’ life but other authors should have written some about him too.  So did they?  Yes, several of them did.  Let’s take a look at this.


How Many Ancient Authors Wrote About Jesus?

Critics have said that there’s not enough written about Jesus if he really did miracles and rose from the dead.  They say more authors outside of the Christian authors should have written about him.  Before we look at the numbers though we need to realize that things were different back then than they are today.  First century people didn’t have all the convenient ways of recording and preserving facts about events as we do today.  They couldn’t just take their phone and post to the world what they were having for breakfast or take a selfie with the risen Jesus and put it on Instagram.  It was a different world when it came to recording things.

On top of that, we know that much of what was recorded in the past has been lost.

  • P52_versoAbout half of what the Roman historian Tacitus wrote is no longer available
  • Only a fragment of what Thallus wrote in the first century about ancient Mediterranian history has survived
  • Suetonius is aware of the writings of Asclepiades of Mendes, yet his writings are no longer available
  • Herod the Great’s secretary, Nicholas of Damascus, wrote a Universal History in 144 books, none of which have survived
  • Livy the great Roman historian has suffered a similar fate, only his early books and excerpts of the rest survive

We also know of several early Christian writings that are no longer available.

  • In the 2nd Century Papias wrote five books that are quoted by several church fathers, however none of these books survived
  • Eusebius quotes a couple of other Christian writers that we wouldn’t know about except for his quotes

So, all of that considered, what we do have concerning Jesus is really pretty impressive.  We have the nine authors of the New Testament plus another twenty Christian authors and four heretical writings that mention Jesus within 150 years of his death.  Additionally there are nine non-Christian sources that mention Jesus within 150 years:

Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny the Younger, Phlegon, Lucian, Celsus,  Thallus and Mara Bar-Serapion

In all at least forty-two authors, nine of them non-Christian, mention Jesus within 150 years of his death.

How Does that Compare to Other Figures of History?

For a comparison let’s look at how many authors, that we know of, that wrote about Tiberius Caesar, the Roman emperor at the time of Jesus’ ministry and execution.   Tiberius is mentioned by ten sources within 150 years of his death:

Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, Velleius Paterculus, Plutarch, Pliny the Elder, Strabo, Seneca, Valerius Maximus and the New Testament author, Luke.

So that’s forty-two sources for Jesus and ten sources for Tiberius.  That’s four times more for Jesus than the Roman Emperor of the day!  And if you only want to consider non-Christian sources? That’s a tie of 9 each.

Of course if they both lived today the story would be much different.  But considering how history was written back then and how documents have survived, what we have that was written about Jesus back then is pretty impressive, both from Christian authors and the others.  Next week we’ll look at what some of the authors outside the Bible wrote about Jesus.


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