Bible critics and atheists say that none of the nine non-Christian writers like Thallus, Josephus, Tacitus and others actually wrote about Jesus of Nazareth of the Bible in their documents. They say those documents were all fabrications by a Christian. Your response?
This is quite simply a lie, and ought to be labeled as what it is. Whoever said this is simply throwing mud around and is doing so in the most irresponsible possible way. This is unethical and such people need to be called out for what they are. Let me explain the actual evidence.
For example, there is Suetonius, who wrote about Christ. As far as I know there is not a single reputable person (atheist or otherwise) who claims that the writings of Suetonius were somehow edited by Christians. The same goes for Tacitus and Pliny the Younger. As far as I know, there is only one of the nine ancient writers who mentioned Christ or Christians before 125 AD about whom there has been some evidence of tampering with the original. That is with Josephus and his famous “Testimonium Flavium.” from his Antiquities. In this document, there is evidence that for the oldest Greek manuscript we have there was as interpolation (in other words material added after the original), probably by believers, into the original of Josephus. However, there is also an ancient copy of Antiquities translated into Arabic which has what is almost certainly the original, uninterpolated version, so that the problem of the editing by a well-intentioned but unwise believer can be gotten around. This means that even with the one problematic ancient witness, the question of interpolation has been solved.
I suppose that the person who is making this irresponsible claim that all the ancient mentions of Jesus are fakes may have heard about the problem with Josephus and simply, without even bothering to check out whether it is true, made a blanket unsupported and irresponsible claim about all the documents. It is unfortunate that unbelievers, in their hatred of Christianity, are willing to be so sloppy, irresponsible or dishonest in their critiques of Christianity.
I am including below a summary of the nine ancient non-Christian witnesses to Jesus Christ. If you look at the section on Josephus you can see for yourself both the original of Josephus and the interpolation by believers.
Extra-Biblical references to Jesus:
- Tacitus, Roman historian(AD 56-118)(about AD 115 concerning Nero in AD 64);
Not all the relief that could come from the man, not all the bounties that the prince could bestow, nor all the atonements which could be presented to the gods, availed to relieve Nero from the infamy of bbeing believed to have ordered the conflagration, the fire of Rome. Therefore, to squelch the rumor, Nero created scapegoats and subjected to the most refined tortures those whom the common people called ‘Christians,’ [a group] hated for their abominable crimes. Their name comes from Christ, who, during the reign of Tiberius, had been executed by the procurator Pontius Pilate. Suppressed for the moment, the deadly superstition broke out again, not only in Judea, the land which originated this evil, but also in the city of Rome, where all sorts of horrendous and shameful practices, from every part of the world converge and are fervently cultivated.
(note: Tacitus has it wrong. He was prefect, not a procurator acc to the Pilate inscription from Caesarea Maritima. Also note: The Annals have lost the years 29-32 which most likely also mention Jesus as this passage seems to look back to his earlier mention of Jesus)
Tacitus probably reports from second hand information regarding Christians in Rome and in Asia Minor where he served AD 112
- Flavius Josephus (AD 38-100) Writing about AD 94 under Domitian. Concerning events he had indirect knowledge of. Josephus was a Pharisee. Jewish historian who was a turncoat, switching from the Jewish rebel side to Rome to serve under Nero and Vespasian. Josephus is a relatively reliable historian.
The “Testimonium Flavium” (Antiquities 18:3.3)
About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvelous things about him. And the tribe of Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.
Agapius, an Arab Christian in 9thcentury probably quotes the original, leaving out the parts in parenthesis. Note the passage reads grammatically well without the parts in parenthesis.
There is little doubt that Josephus wrote the passage as it presents Jesus in a light Christians would never accept.
Note: Josephus also reports the martyrdom of “James, the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ” (Antiquities 20:20)
- Babylonian Talmud (late first or second century AD) Babylonian Sanhedrin43a-b
On the eve of the Passover they hanged Yeshu and the herald went before him for forty days saying [Yeshu] is going forth to be stoned in that he hate practiced sorcery and beguiled and led astray Israel
It is taught: On the eve of Passover they hung Yeshu and the crier went forth for forty days beforehand declaring that “[Yeshu] is going to be stoned for practicing witchcraft, for enticing and leading Israel astray. Anyone who knows something to clear him should come forth and exonerate him.” But no one had anything exonerating for him and they hung him on the eve of Passover. Ulla said: Would one think that we should look for exonerating evidence for him? He was an enticer and G-d said (Deuteronomy 13:9) “Show him no pity or compassion, and do not shield him.” Yeshu was different because he was close to the government
Here Jesus is accused of sorcery, in obvious parallel with the charge leveled in Matthew 12:22-23.
Babylonian Sanhedrin107b Jesus practiced magic. tHul2:22-23 Healings done in the name of Jesus.
So we have confirmation of the crucifixion of Jesus and indirect confirmation of his working of public miracles—only charging that the miracles were worked by Satan, not God.
- Seutonius about AD 120Very reliable historian wrote concerning the times of Claudius about AD 50
“As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he Claudius) expelled them from Rome”
- Lucian of Samosata Social commentator and critic of Christianity
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 converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and life after his laws. (Lucian The Death of Peregrine 11-13)
- Pliny the Younger AD 112 Writing to Emperor Trajan.
Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ — none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do — these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshiped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ
- Celsus (mentioned in Origen Contra Celsus1:38 and 2:48). A Greek philosopher and bitter critic of Christianity. He accepted that Jesus worked miracles, but contended that he did so by the power of Satan.
8. Mara bar Sarapion
The pagan philosopher Mara bar Sarapion wrote a letter to his son in which he mentions Jesus as the wise king of the Jews. Mara was a Syrian Stoic. In the late first century he describes the fall of Jerusalem as the gods’ punishment for the Jews having killed Jesus. Mara includes Jesus as one of three wise men, along with Socrates and Pythagoras, who were killed and whose deaths were met with divine retaliation. Jesus is not named in the letter but referred to as the Jews’ “wise king.” Mara refers to Jesus as primarily a lawgiver, with no mention of his resurrection.
- Thallus We know of Thallus only from a third century Christian historian named Julius Africanus. Thallus wrote a three-volume treatise of world history in the 50s AD. In discussing the darkness at the time of the resurrection of Jesus, Julius Africanus mentions that in the 3rdbook of Thallus’ history, he mentions the darkness and calls it an eclipse of the sun. Africanus believes that Thallus is wrong—that there was no eclipse at that time. Whether or not this source proves the darkness at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion is debatable, but it does support the idea that even non-Christians were aware of the resurrection as early as the 50s AD—at about the time the first book of the NT was written. It also supports the claim, not necessarily of the darkness having occurred, but of the darkness having been claimed and believed by the Christians.
The number of Pagan sources for Jesus Christ among contemporaries or within 100 years: 9
The number of Pagan sources for Tiberius among contemporaries or within 100 years: 9 (or 10 if you count Luke)