Jewish and Roman (Pagan) Sources on the historicity of Jesus
JEWISH SOURCES ON JESUS
Flavius Josephus, Antiquties of the Jews
written about 94 A.D.
He (Annas the Younger) convened a judicial session of the Sanhedrin and brought before it the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ — James by name — and some others, whom he charged with breaking the law and handed over to be stoned to death.
– Antiquities 20.200
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 was the Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those who loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again at the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and 10,000 other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, is not extinct at this day.
– Antiquities 18.63-64 (Greek)
Epitome from Church History of Agapius (Arabic)
At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good and he was known to be virtuous. And many from among the Jews and other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive. Accordingly he was perhaps the Messiah concerning who the prophets have recounted wonders.
On the eve of Passover Yeshua was hanged. For forty days before the execution a herald went forth and cried, “He is going to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Anyone who can say anything in his favor, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.” But since nothing was brought forward in his favor he was hanged on the eve of Passover.
– Sanhedrin 43a
ROMAN (PAGAN) SOURCES ON JESUS
Gaius Suetonius, Lives of the Twelve Caesars
written about 100-125 A.D.
He expelled the Jews from Rome, on account of riots in which they were constantly indulging, at the instigation of Chrestus.
– Claudius 25.4
Punishment was inflicted on the Christians, a body of people addicted to a novel and mischievous superstition.
– Nero 16.2
Cornelius Tacitus, Annals
written in the 2nd century A.D.
But neither the aid of men, nor the emperor’s bounty, nor propitiatory offerings to the gods, could remove the grim suspicion that the fire had been started by Nero’s order. To put an end to this rumor, he shifted the charge on to others, and inflicted the most cruel tortures upon a group of people detested for their abominations, and popularly known as “Christians”. Their name came from one Christus, who was put to death in the principate of Tiberius by the Procurator Pontius Pilate. Though checked for a time, the destructive superstition broke out again, not in Judaea only, where its mischief began, but even in Rome, where every abominable and shameful iniquity, from all the world, pours in and finds a welcome.
– Annals 15.44
Mara bar Serapion, Letter to Son Serapion
What advantage did the Athenians gain from putting Socrates 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 their kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: 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.
Pliny the Younger, Letters to Trajan
It is my rule, Sire, to refer to you in matters where I am uncertain. For who can better direct my hesitation or instruct my ignorance? I was never present at any trial of Christians; therefore I do not know what are the customary penalties or investigations, and what limits are observed. I have hesitated a great deal on the question whether there should be any distinction of ages; whether the weak should have the same treatment as the most robust; whether those who recant should be pardoned, or whether a man who has ever been a Christian should gain nothing by ceasing to be such; whether the name itself, even if innocent of crime, should be punished, or only the crimes attaching to that name.
Meanwhile, this is the course that I have adopted in the case of those brought before me as Christians. I ask them if they are Christians. If they admit it I repeat the question a second and a third time, threatening capital punishment; if they persist I sentence them to death …
All who denied that they were or had been Christians I considered should be discharged, because they called upon the gods at my dictation and did reverence, with incense and wine, to your image … and especially because they cursed Christ, a thing which, it is said, genuine Christians cannot be induced to do. Others named by the informer first said they were Christians and then denied it, declaring that they had been but were no longer, some having recanted three years or more before and one or two as long ago as twenty years. They all worshipped your image and the statues of the gods and cursed Christ. But they declared that the sum of their guilt or error had amounted only to this, that on an appointed day they had been accustomed to meet before daybreak, and to recite a hymn antiphonally to Christ, as to a god, and to bind themselves by an oath, not for the commission of any crime but to abstain from theft, robbery, adultery and breach of faith and not to deny a deposit when it was claimed. After the conclusion of this ceremony it was their custom to depart and meet again to take food: but it was ordinary and harmless food, and they had ceased this practice after my edict in which, in accordance with your orders, I had forbidden secret societies. I though it more necessary, therefore, to find out what truth there was in this by applying torture to two maidservants, who were called deaconesses. But I found nothing but a depraved and extravagant superstition, and I therefore postponed my examination and had recourse to you for consultation. – Letters 10.96
ibid., Trajan’s Reply
The method you have pursued, my dear Pliny, in sifting the cases of those denounced to you as Christians is extremely proper. It is not possible to lay down any general rule which can be applied as the fixed standard in all cases of this nature. No search should be made for these people; when they are denounced and found guilty they must be punished; with the restriction, however, that when the party denies himself to be a Christian, and shall give proof that he is not, that is by adoring our gods, he shall be pardoned on the ground of repentance, even though he may have formerly incurred suspicion. Information without the accuser’s name subscribed must not be admitted in evidence against anyone, as it is introducing a very dangerous precedent, and by no means agreeable to the spirit of the age. – Letters 10.97