Examining Pagan Sources On Jesus Crucifixion, Genuine or Hearsay?

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Kaleef K. Karim

Christian apologists are in a habit of using any source for the crucifixion of Jesus, even if an author did not refer to Jesus by his name, somehow they would mingle, spice their arguments up that the author(s) must have referred to Jesus. They don’t care whether a passage is a forgery or hearsay, they would add to their collection that Jesus crucifixion outside the Bible is 100% attested, when that is not true in reality.

The reason Apologists use various sources from non-Christian authors, they know that ‘thinking’ humans always need outside sources for them to be convinced that Jesus crucifixion is true in order for them to believe in Christianity. All the sources Christian apologists use are hearsay, because none of those so-called sources, apologists cite are eye-witness accounts. All the names provided that claim to attest to Jesus’s crucifixion lived long after Jesus. In other words, these authors mentioned never lived at the time when Jesus was alive.

Related Articles:
Was Jesus Hanged or Crucified?
Examining Jewish sources on Jesus Crucifixion, genuine or forgery?

CORNELIUS TACITUS (56 – 117 A.D.) Who was a senator and a historian of the Roman Empire. The passage which is cited by Apologists on Jesus Crucifixion:

“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, by through the city of Rome also.” Annals XV, 44

What the passage reveals is:

  • Tacitus doesn’t provide any source where he got this information from.
  • Tacitus names a person who was put to death and uses the name ‘Christus, which cannot be referred to Jesus. If Tacitus was indeed referring to Jesus and he got this information from the Roman archives, as Apologists assume, why didn’t Tacitus use Jesus name? Why did he just refer to the person being killed under Pilate by the name Christus?
  • Tacitus mentions that this person (Christus) was put to death by “Pilate procurator”. What we know historically contradicts what Tacitus says. Pilate was not a “procurator” but a ‘prefect’.

Even if we assume for sake of argument that this passage refers to Jesus, Tacitus most certainly received this information from hearsay. There is absolutely nothing in this passage which can be taken as proof that Jesus was crucified. Most probably Tacitus heard rumours about a man called ‘christus’ and wrote something about it. Scholars are also of the opinion that Tacitus’s statement was taken from other Christians. Then, such source cannot be independent information. He is merely repeating what other Christians are saying about Jesus, and most Christians themselves would boast, exaggerate things.

German Professor Leonhard Goppelt writes:

“We would be very much inclined to ascribe special significance to non-Christian information about Jesus because of its ostensible lack of bias. Our expectations would be high, e.g., if the trial folios of Pilate should be discovered on a piece of papyrus. In all probability, however, such a discovery would lead to disappointment since they would offer only a sum of misunderstandings, much like the accounts of Plinius about the Christians. Such is the confirmed the small number of extant non-Christian sources of information about Jesus from the 1st and 2nd centuries. AMONG THE ROMAN HISTORIANS, JESUS IS MENTIONED ONLY ONCE EACH BY TACITUS AND SUETONIUS. WHAT THEY HAVE TO SAY ABOUT HIM CA. A.D, 110 HAS BEEN TAKEN FROM STATEMENTS OF CHRISTIANS. This fact is not astonishing at all since, after all, for the empire in this period, the activity of Jesus and his disciples was nothing more than a remote affair with hardly more than local significance.” [1]

Professor Richard Thomas France says:

“THE BRIEF NOTICE IN TACITUS ANNALS XV.44 MENTIONS ONLY HIS TITLE, CHRISTUS, AND HIS EXECUTION IN JUDEA BY ORDER OF PONTIUS PILATUS. NOR IS THERE ANY REASON TO BELIEVE THAT TACITUS BASES THIS ON INDEPENDENT INFORMATION-IT IS WHAT CHRISTIANS WOULD BE SAYING IN ROME IN THE EARLY SECOND CENTURY. Suetonius and Pliny, together with Tacitus, testify to the significant presence of Christians in Rome and other parts of the empire from the mid-sixties onwards, but add nothing to our knowledge of their founder. No other clear pagan references to Jesus can be dated before AD 150/1/, by which time the source of any information is more likely to be Christian propaganda than an independent record.” [2]

American New Testament Scholar Bart D. Ehrman also writes on Tacitus’s passage, he says:

“…would Tacitus know what he knew? It is pretty obvious that he had heard of Jesus, but he was writing eighty-five years after Jesus would have died, and by that time Christians were certainly telling stories of Jesus (the Gospels had been written already, for example), whether the mythcists are wrong or right. IT SHOULD BE CLEAR IN ANY EVENT THAT TACITUS IS BASING HIS COMMENT ABOUT JESUS ON HEARSAY RATHER THAN, SAY DETAILED HISTORICAL RESEARCH. Had he done serious research, one might have expected him to say more, if he even just a bit. But even more to the point, brief though his comment is, Tacitus is precisely wrong in one thing he says. He calls Pilate the ‘procurator’ of Judea. We now know from the inscription discovered in 1961 at Caesarea that as governor, Pilate had the title and rank, not of procurator (one who dealt principally with revenue collection), but of prefect (one who also had military forces at his command). This must show that Tacitus did not look up any official record of what happened to Jesus, written at the time of his execution (if in fact such a record ever existed, which is highly doubtful). He therefore had heard the information. Whether he heard it from Christians or someone else is anyone’s guess.“ [3]

What I stated at the start that, most probable is that, the statement of Tacitus was not independent research; the Scholars quoted, confirmed this that Tacitus statement cannot be taken as independent information. He is just repeating what others are saying, his information is derived from hearsay.

THALLUS is another historian quoted by apologists that, he wrote something on the midday darkness linked up to Jesus crucifixion, of the Gospels. There are no fragments that have survived from his works, all of it has perished. Thallus statement is quoted by Africanus in the second century (or third century A.D.). Here is the passage:

“On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness. 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. For the Hebrews celebrate the passover on the 14th day according to the moon, and the passion of our Savior falls on the day before the passover. But an eclipse of the sun takes place only when the moon comes under the sun. And it cannot happen at any other time… 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-manifestly that one of which we speak.” Chronography XVIII, 47

Reading the passage, we do not know what Thallus actually wrote. All we have is Africanus commenting and dismissing Thallus statement on the eclipse. Christian apologists have connected Thallus statement about the darkness that befall Judea with Jesus crucifixion, they try to connect the two, as if Thallus is talking about the same event, in the same year. All we have is Thallus making a comment of a supernatural event of an eclipse, and apologists have stretched his statement connecting it to Jesus crucifixion. There is absolutely nothing in this passage for anyone to be convinced that Thallus mentioned anything about Jesus. The most logical conclusion regarding this passage is Thallus merely reported on a solar eclipse then later Christians associated it with the crucifixion.

Reverend Nathaniel Lardner D.D. who was an English theologian goes in great detail on Thallus statement, he writes:

“IV. Thallus, a Syrian author is sometimes alleged by learned moderns, as bearing witness to the darkness at the time of our saviour’s passion. Whether there be any good reason for so doing, may appear from a few observations. In the fragments of Africanus, which are in the Chronicle of G. Synecellus of the eighth century, and in the collections of Eusebius’s Greek Chronicle, as made by Joseph Scaliger, that very learned ancient Christian writer says,
“There was a dreadful darkness over the whole world, and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many buildings were overturned in Judea, and in other parts of the earth. This darkness Thallus calls an eclipse of the sub, in the third book of his histories: but as seems to me, very improperly; for the Jews keep the Passover in the fourteenth day of the moon; at which time an eclipse of the sun is impossible.”
Upon this passage I must observe, 1. THAT IT APPEARS ONLY IN THE FRAGMENTS OF AFRICANUS; WHEREAS IT OFTEN HAPPENS THAT, IN COLLECTIONS OF THAT KIND, WE DO NOT FIND SO MUCH ACCURACY AS COULD BE WISHED. 2. THE WORDS OF THALLUS ARE NOT CITED: FOR WHICH REASON WE CANNOT PRESUME TO FORM A JUDGMENT CONCERNING WHAT HE SAID. 3. This passage of Thallus is no where quoted or referred to by any other ancient writer that I know of. It is not in any work of Eusebius, excepting those Greek collections of his chronicle, which are very inaccurate and imperfect: nor is there any notice taken of it in Jerome’s version of the Chronicle.
The time of Thallus seems not be exactly known. If indeed there was anything in his history relating to transactions in Judea in the time of our saviour, he must have lived between that time and Africanus; but of that we want some farther proof. In Eusebius’s Evangelical preparation is quoted a long passage of Africanus, from the third book of his Chronology; where are mentioned, all together, Diodorus, Thallus, Castor, Polybius , and Phlegon. And afterwards Hellanicus and Philochorus, who wrot a history of Syria; Diodorus, and Alexander Polyhistor. Whereby we learn that Thallus was a Syrian, who wrote in the Greek language.
Thallus is quoted by divers ancient Christian writers. Justin Martyr, in his exhortation to the Greeks, allegeth Hellanicus, Philochorus, Castor, and Thallus, as bearing witness to the antiquity of Moses, the Jewish lawgiver.
Tertullian and Minucius Felix quote Thallus and divers other authors, as acknowledging Saturn to have been a man who had lived on this earth. Thallus and other writers are quoted with a like view by Lactantius. Theophilus, bishop of Antioch about the year 180, in his atter to Autolicus, quotes Thalluys, to prove that Belus lived long before the Trojan War; which passage is quoted again from Theophilus by Lactantius. All these quotations of THALLUS APPEAR TO BE MADE PROPERLY: AND HE IS SO QUOTED WITH OTHER WRITERS OF ANTIQUITY, THAT ONE MIGHT BE APT TO THINK THAT HE LIVED RATHER BEFORE THAN AFTER OUR SAVIOURS COMING; nor is there anything here said of an eclipse, which may induce us to think that the passage in the fragments of Africanus is not material. Indeed if I was unwilling to admit anything disrespectful to the memory of so great and learned an ancient as Africanus, I SHOULD SUSPECT THAT THE ECLIPSE MENTIONED BY THALLUS, (WHENEVER IT HAPPENED,) WAS A NATURAL ECLIPSE OF THE SUN. FOR IT IS NOT LIKELY THAT A LEARNED HISTORIAN, AS THALLUS WAS, SHOULD USE THAT EXPRESSION CONCERNING ANY OTHER DARKNESS OR OBSCURITY. CONSEQUENTLY, WHAT HE SAID COULD NOT HAVE ANY REFERENCE TO THE DARKNESS IN JUDEA AT THE TIME OF OUR SAVIOUR’S LAST SUFFERINGS.” [4]

Retired Professor George Albert Wells:

“THE RELEVANT ARTICLE IN A STANDARD CHRISTIAN RELIGIOUS ENCYCLOPEDIA NOTES CURTLY THAT “THALLUS CANNOT BE CONSIDERED AS WITNESSING” TO EVENTS IN JESUS’S LIFE.
Jacoby notes that it is not certain from what Africanus said that Thallus made any mention of Jesus or Jewish history at all, and may simply have recorded the eclipse of the sun in the reign of Tiberius, for which astronomers have calculated the date 24 November A.D. 29; it may have been Africanus who introduced Jesus by retorting- from his knowledge of Mark- that this was no eclipse, but a supernatural event. That this may be so is conceded by R.T. France who, having studied both Bruce’s argument and my reply to it in DJE, comments: “We do not know whether Thallus actually mentioned Jesus’s crucifixion or whether this was Africanus’s interpretation of a period of darkness which Thallus had not specifically linked with Jesus.” France also rejects the confident statement that Thallus wrote “about A.D. 52”, and says that ‘his date of writing is not known’….” [5]

The evidence presented again for another so-called historian, cited by Christian Apologists, is refuted by their own Christian experts that, what Thallus mentioned was most likely just an eclipse and had nothing to do with Jesus crucifixion.

MARA BAR SERAPION Who is only known for writing a letter to his son while in captivity, which allegedly speaks about Jesus. Let’s read the passage and see if there is any mention of Jesus of the Gospels:

“What advantage did the Athenians gain from putting Socrates to death? Famine and plaque came upon them as a judgement 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 clied 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 the teaching of Plato.”

There nothing whatsoever in this passage that says anything about Jesus. It doesn’t say where this ‘wise king’ lived. It doesn’t mention how this ‘wise king’ was killed. It just mentions that Jews killed the ‘wise king’, that is it! How can apologists be 100% sure that this is referring to Jesus Christ of the Gospels, when there is no detail whatsoever to know, who Serapion is speaking about? If Serapion wanted to refer to Jesus in this passage, why didn’t he do so by name, as he done with Socrates and Pythagoras? Why did he just say a ‘wise king’ got killed by the Jews and left it at that?

Conclusion: The sources cited by apologists on Jesus crucifixion are worthless. The evidences presented by scholars would make anyone think, these passages cited by Christian apologists are useless. The best we can say is that, these passages cited are second-hand hearsay of what they heard from other Christians say. None of these authors cited by Christians are contemporary eye-witness accounts of Jesus life. All the authors mentioned by Christians, in defence of Jesus crucifixion, never lived at the time when Jesus was alive. Isn’t it ironic that there is not one contemporary writer when Jesus was alive, that mentions anything about Jesus crucifixion outside the New Testament?

References:

[1] The Ministry of Jesus in Its Theological Significance by Leonhard Goppelt Volume 1 [Copy Right 1981] page 18 – 19
[2] The Gospels As Historical Sources For Jesus,The Founder Of Christianity by Professor R. T. France http://leaderu.com/truth/1truth21.html
[3] Did Jesus Exist?: The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth By Bart D. Ehrman
[4] The works of Nathaniel Lardner D.D. With A Life by Dr. Kippis (1835) volume 7 page 121 – 123
[5] The Jesus Legend By George Albert Wells page 43 – 46

Jesus crucifixion, nail

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8 Responses »

  1. Thank you so much for academically dispelling the Christian myth that the alleged crucifixion of Jesus was “one of the best attested facts of history”.

    Thus, close examination of the sources on which the missionaries made the preposterous claim shows that the alleged crucifixion of Jesus was just “one of the best attested ancient myths (hearsays)”!

    E. P Sanders admitted:
    “Roman sources that mention Jesus are all dependent on Christian reports” (The Historical Figure of Jesus, Penguin, New York, 1993, page 49, by E. P Sanders – http://www.amazon.com/Historical-Figure-Jesus-E-Sanders/dp/0140144994/ref=la_B000APLRDO_1_1/188-6903521-5064661?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1385189094&sr=1-1 ).

  2. MANY WILL COME AND ALL WILL PASS BEFORE US AND KINGDOM ALSO , AMEN , HOWEVER ALL CANNOT REFUSE THE BIRTH , LIFE , DEATH AND RESURRECTION OF ‘JESUS’ BECAUSE … IT DID HAPPEN AND WE KNOW IT DID . WHY WOULD PEOPLE TRY SO HARD TO OVER THINK , AND OR TO OUT SMART THE MAN WHO WAS , IS AND WILL BE FOREVER MORE , SO OUR CARNAL UNFORGIVING MINDS TRY AND WRAP THEIR THOUGHTS AROUND THE SCRIPTURE TO GRASP IT . HAVE FAITH AND TRUST THE BIBLE . IF YOU ARE LEFT WITH AN EMPTINESS … WELL , I WOULD SAY YOU ENTERED INTO DOUBT AND WITHOUT THE TANGIBLE TRUTH IN YOUR GREEDY AND FLESHY HANDS , YOU SIMPLY WILL NOT BELIEVE , AND BY NOT BELIEVING , YOU DO NOT RECEIVE , AMEN, AMEN AND AMEN . I NEED NO PROOF … THE PROOF IS IN ME !!! ‘JESUS’ , LIVES IN ME , HALLELUJAH !!!

  3. You are being bias, many other sources confirm the account of Tacitus. In any event, Tacitus’s report confirms what we know from other sources, that Jesus was executed by order of the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate. (Bart Ehrman, The New Testament: A Historical Introduction to the Early Christian Writings, Oxford University Press, 2000], p. 197) Secondly you are basing your evidence on an incomplete inscription which is contrary to the words of Josephus and Tacitus, who all describe Pilate as a ‘procurator,’, whereas the inscription describes Pilate as a ‘prefect.’ It is important to note that the Inscription was not complete, but what could be read was: “Pontius Pilate, prefect of Judaea, . . . the Tiberieum . . . .” The evidence of an inscription is not supported by historical sources.

  4. It is foolish to expect the accuracy and details found in modern history writing from the ancient writers. Probably they never thought that the moderns will subject their works to such rigorous criticism. As for Tacitus obviously he had no intention of establishing the crucifixion of Christ.He just wrote about what came to his notice and which he thought was a reliable piece of information. There is no need to take pains to prove him false in the absence of solid proof to the contrary

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  1. Pagan Sources on Jesus Crucifixion, genuine or hearsay? « Discover The True Facts
  2. May 20 Part 5 | buybulljournalresponses
  3. Examining Jewish Sources On Jesus Crucifixion, Genuine Or Forgery? | Discover The Truth
  4. Contradictions In New Testament – Was Jesus Hanged Or Crucified? – Blogging Theology

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