Are there any extra-biblical documents that corroborate the historical Jesus?

Questions about God, the Bible and the Christian culture 

Question: Some people claim things about Jesus that contradict the Bible. How can I prove to these people that Jesus existed and that the Jesus mentioned in our Gospel is the right one? Are there 1st or 2nd-century historical records that agree with the Jesus we believe in? 

Answer: It will be my pleasure to respond to your question today. I will do it in three parts: First, I’ll offer a defense of what is commonly known about Jesus. Second, I shall defend the Bible as a true and worthy historical narrative. Third, I’ll discuss a few of the extra-biblical sources that reference the person of Jesus. Let’s begin.

We live in a wonderful age. The instant communication that allows you and I to communicate through the Internet has made it possible (and I am only exaggerating a little) for everyone to know everything instantly — and overtly so by wiki entries. Since wikis are designed for everyone to contribute to the knowledge-base, there can be no better system in the world for telling us what is commonly understood to be true.

Now, this unique “democracy” does not make every wiki entry true; scholars know better than to use a wiki for anything more than to compare their suppositions against common knowledge. But a wiki entry does serve to illuminate (and to police) common knowledge. With that in mind, here is what is commonly understood about the historical Jesus Christ:

"There is near unanimity among scholars that Jesus existed historically, although biblical scholars differ about the beliefs and teachings of Jesus as well as the accuracy of the details of his life that have been described in the Gospels. While scholars have sometimes criticized Jesus scholarship for religious bias and lack of methodological soundness, with very few exceptions, such critics do support the historicity of Jesus, and reject the theory that Jesus never existed, known as the Christ myth theory." (Emphasis mine).

With this type of statement in place by the secular world, who would be complaining about the historical veracity of Jesus Christ except for a few conspiracy buffs…or maybe some cranks? These are small voices. Don’t worry about them.

(Cranks are people who are characterized by being against a thing…even though they are not usually for anything in particular.)

This is not to say that we should ever stop investigating the historical veracity of Jesus Christ; indeed, all topics should be continually pursued by legitimate scholars. But now that we have accumulated so much secular consensus concerning Jesus’ historical veracity, we should not let the fact that there is ongoing scholarship, that people believe in conspiracies (or that cranks abound) have disproportionate weight against the common knowledge that Jesus Christ did indeed live during the biblically described period.

Those who protest this fact are like the pre-enlightened Apostle Paul who found himself “kicking against the goads.” As such, you are not the one that needs to prove that Jesus did live as described — that work’s been done! It is those who are fighting against the secular consensus who must prove their point…although, I understand your need to feel equipped — and we shall proceed as requested. But before we move on to the extra-biblical documents, I’ll take a minute to repudiate the idea that the Bible’s internal pieces of evidence are inadequate histories.

The New Testament is not Christian propaganda. It is a collection of amazing historical documents that tell the story of Jesus Christ and his Church. Many of the people who claim things against these documents are prejudiced by hate for God and/or the Christian culture before going into their “studies.” But the documents themselves stand far above any other ancient documents in their number, and the closeness of dates to the events that they describe and in their centuries-long vetting by both secular and non-secular scholars. If they contained anything reasonably untoward, we would know. What we know instead is that they are credible histories. Look at the Apostle Paul’s reminder to Festus that the events surrounding Jesus Christ were commonly known — even to a “king.”

“I am not insane, most excellent Festus,” Paul replied. “What I am saying is true and reasonable. The king is familiar with these things, and I can speak freely to him. I am convinced that none of this has escaped his notice, because it was not done in a corner. (Acts 26:25–26, NIV, emphasis mine)

We have another example where Paul reminded the Corinthian church of relatively recent events in the life of Jesus Christ. What is extraordinary about this is its codification of events so soon after they occurred and so near to Paul’s time. There were still hundreds of first-person eyewitnesses available, some of whom Paul names. This was a call for people to check the facts for themselves. In a world where two eyewitnesses were sufficient in matters of life or death, Paul declares that there were hundreds of first-person witnesses to the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that he appeared to Cephas, and then to the Twelve. 6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. 7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, 8 and last of all he appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born.” (1 Corinthians 15:3–8, NIV).

The biblical record invites scrutiny because it is so rich in detail. If such a work were merely “invented” by humans to advance a religion, it would implode! But it does not implode… it persists! And it stands up to scrutiny without the help of extra-biblical corroboration. That being said, I will indulge that (ostensive) need by commenting a few extra-biblical mentions of Jesus from the dates you mentioned. Be aware, however, that skeptics will challenge these historical citations also. I am merely alerting you to their existence. It is beyond the scope of this answer to defend the critical challenges to these statements.

That being said, you will note that these accounts are either neutral or hostile to Christianity. In my opinion, the fact that an “enemy” mentions Jesus at all testifies strongly to Jesus’ historical veracity.

Flavius Josephus (37-101 AD, a Jewish historian) mentions Jesus in Antiquities.

"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 drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles.  He was [the] Christ.  And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, (9) those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; (10) as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him.  And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day."

Josephus gives additional evidence to the biblical/historical Christ by also referencing John the Baptist, Herod, James (the brother of Jesus) and Ananias (the high priest). Please note that Josephus was not a Christian. He was a scholar, raised as a religious Jew and never converted to Christianity. Although was enslaved by the Romans, he later became a Roman citizen. But neither persona (the religious Jew nor the Roman citizen) could be considered pro-Christian.

Tacitus (Publius [or Gaius] Cornelius Tacitus,  56– 117 AD, a Roman historian) 

Tacitus mentions a person "Christus" (who is Jesus) in his Annals and also references Pontius Pilate. Plus, he gave me my favorite negative comment about Christianity by calling it “a most mischievous superstition.” (This has grown in irony over the last two millennia.)

"Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular."

Pliny the Younger (61-113 AD, an imperial magistrate for Rome under Trajan) 

Pliny mentioned Christ in one of his letters. 

"They (the Christians) were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food but food of an ordinary and innocent kind."

Lucian of Samosata (125- after 180 AD, a Greek writer and rhetorician)

Lucian opposed Christianity, but he credits the historical Jesus with introducing our (ongoing) “novel rites.” 

"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 all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws.  All this they take quite on faith, with the result that they despise all worldly goods alike, regarding them merely as common property."

The Babylonian Talmud

The Babylonian Talmud contains rabbinic traditions; these tend not to be friendly to the cause of Christ. Yet the Talmud testifies to the fact of Jesus’ crucifixion. 

"On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged.  For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, "He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy.  Any one 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 the Passover!"

Celsus (175AD). Let me end with Celsus’ take on Jesus’ story.

“Jesus had come from a village in Judea, and was the son of a poor Jewess who gained her living by the work of her own hands. His mother had been turned out of doors by her husband, who was a carpenter by trade, on being convicted of adultery [with a soldier named Panthéra (i.32)]. Being thus driven away by her husband, and wandering about in disgrace, she gave birth to Jesus, a bastard. Jesus, on account of his poverty, was hired out to go to Egypt. While there he acquired certain (magical) powers which Egyptians pride themselves on possessing. He returned home highly elated at possessing these powers, and on the strength of them gave himself out to be a god.”

Celsus was certainly antagonistic to the claims of the Gospels, but in this criticism, he actually reinforced the Jesus’ historical veracity. True, his story is horrible…but it is not all wrong. You see, Celsus finds that he has to deal with this person, Jesus — and one only “deals” with a phenomenon. So, in “dealing” with the Christ, Celsus admits that Jesus lived, that he went to Egypt, that he did wondrous works, that his father was a carpenter, that his mother was a virgin and that he claimed to be God. Now, his story was certainly not the Gospel story…but he had to address every fact of the Gospel story to skew them. This means that those facts were “out there” and that they posed a threat to non-believers. What we have then is a hostile writer verifying that, in the early second century, Jesus was generally understood to be a real person who worked real miracles and claimed to be God... and that sounds like information straight out of the Gospels to me!

The Quran

This 7th-century document is the Muslim "Bible"... sort of. It has no authoritative or qualitative equivalence with the Christian Scriptures, but it does mention Jesus... and frequently. Now, the Quran gets Jesus wrong, but my point is that people have to deal with the Jesus phenomenon — that he really did live, claimed to be the Jewish Messiah, was crucified and rose from the dead. His resurrection from the dead is the linchpin of the Christian faith, and millions have continually followed him.

CARM ministries has some good information on this. Visit the following link:

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