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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Posted on by Reasons for Hope 315 in Reliable Documents, Sources Outside Bible

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