Is there credible evidence for the historicity of Jesus?
I was looking for some credible evidence for the historicity of Jesus. Two
main historians who wrote about Jesus, Thallus and Josephus, are
controversial. It is not clear if they wrote it and when they wrote it.
Are there records which date to the 1st century which we know where
scholars are sure that they refer to Jesus Christ?
The historicity of Jesus is about as well established as for any single
person in the ancient world. No serious scholar would even entertain the
claim that the existence of Jesus is a myth. In fact, you may assume that
anyone who does claim that Jesus is a myth does not know what they are
talking about at all! You refer to Josephus and Thallus being
controversial. Josephus was a Jewish historian who lived from about AD 35
to AD 100. He actually wrote for the emperors in Rome at the time. It is
not at all controversial that Josephus mentions Jesus in his work, The
Jewish Wars. He refers to Jesus and the Christians in a few places. He
also mentions specifics about the execution of the apostle James. There is
one passage in Josephus which is controversial. In this passage, some
scholars speculate that the sayings of Josephus were amplified by
Christian copiers during the second or third century BC. See my chapter on
the resurrection for more specifics on Josephus and the particular quote
which some doubt The Resurrection of Jesus. Also, see my article on the
claims of Jesus, which has a significant amount of information on those
who mention Jesus in the first century. The Claims of Jesus.
To summarize on Josephus, it is not controversial whether he mentioned
Jesus. What is controversial is the specific wording of one of the
passages in his writings whose authenticity some scholars question. As far
as Thallus goes, he is a Roman historian who mentions specifics about the
resurrection of Jesus. The problem here is that his writings are known
only by his being quoted by others. We do not have the originals in the
case of Thallus. I suppose one could claim that there is some possible
doubt about the references of Thallus to Jesus because we do not have the
original, but I believe in general scholars accept that he did in fact
refer to Jesus in his original writings.
You ask whether others in the first century mention Jesus. The answer is
definitely yes. For example, both Tacitus and Pliny the Elder, well-known
Roman historians of the first and second century AD mention Jesus. Tacitus
mentions his resurrection. Besides, a number of Jewish rabbis mention the
life of Jesus during the first three centuries. These writings can be
found in the Jewish Talmud. These Jewish writers mention the miracles of
Jesus, but of course do not acknowledge that he was the Messiah. They
claim that the miracles of Jesus were the work of Satan, which is
reminiscent of the sayings of Jesus’ accusers during his lifetime. Details
of these claims may be found in the references above.
You may be extremely well assured that Jesus was a real person who lived
in Palestine, who performed many public signs, who was crucified under
Pontius Pilate, and about whom it was claimed that he was resurrected from
the dead. These things are a matter of public record. You cannot prove all
the sayings and acts of Jesus from sources outside the New Testament, but
the facts mentioned above are without doubt true.
John Oakes, PhD