Secular historians and others from antiquity attest to the historical reality of Jesus Christ.
JOSEPHUS: (37-101 A.D.)
Josephus was born in Jerusalem only four years after Jesus’ crucifixion. He was an eyewitness to much of what he recorded in the first century A.D. Josephus mentions many events and people from the Gospels. Josephus was an Orthodox Jew who was commissioned by the Romans to write a history of the Jewish people and Rome up until that point.
Mentions Jesus: Antiquities, Book 18, ch. 3, par. 3.
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, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; 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.
Mentions John the Baptist and Herod: Antiquities, Book 18, ch. 5, par. 2
“Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness.”
Mentions James, the half-brother of Jesus: Antiquities, Book 20, ch. 19.
“Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done.”
TACITUS: (55-117 A.D.)
Cornelius Tactitus is regarded as the greatest historian of ancient Rome. Writing on the reign of Nero, Tacitus alludes to the death of Christ and to the existence of Christians in Rome.
“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: (112 A.D.)
Governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor, Pliny wrote a letter to the Emperor Trajan regarding how to deal with Christians who worship Christ. These letters concern an episode which marks the first time the Roman government recognized Christianity as a religion separate from Judaism, and sets a precedent for the massive persecution of Christians that takes place in the second and third centuries.
“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.”
BABYLONIAN TALMUD: (Completed in the 6th Century A.D.)
The Babylonian Talmud is a Rabbinic commentary on the Jewish scriptures (Tanach: Old Testament). They are a look into what a hostile source was saying about Jesus. They couldn’t deny his miracles so they claim that it was sorcery rather than admit to what was a known fact. They also admit that Yeshu (Hebrew for Jesus) was hanged (Crucified: Luke 23:39, Galatians 3:13).
“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 (an admission of his miracles) 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!”
The Babylonian Talmud, vol. III, Sanhedrin 43a.
LUCIAN: (120-180 A.D.)
A Greek satirist that spoke scornfully of Christ and Christians, affirming that they were real and historical people, never saying that they were fictional characters.
“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.”
Lucian, The Death of Peregrine. 11-13.
LETTER OF MARA BARSARAPION: (73 A.D.)
Mara Bar-Serapion was a Syrian who lived in the first century A.D. He wrote a letter to his son Serapion that mentions the Jews who killed their King. The letter is now in the possession of the British Museum.
“What benefit did the Athenians obtain by putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as judgment for their crime. Or, the people of Samos for burning Pythagoras? In one moment their country was covered with sand. Or the Jews by murdering their wise king?..After that their kingdom was abolished. God rightly avenged these men…The wise king…Lived on in the teachings he enacted.”
Thallus: (52 A.D.)
One of the first secular writers that mentioned Christ. Thallus wrote a history of the Eastern Mediterranean world from the Trojan War to his own time. Unfortunately, his writings are only found as citations by others. Julius Africanus, a Christian who wrote about AD 221 mentioned Thallus’ account of an eclipse of the sun (Luke 23:44-45).
“On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and 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.”
Julius Africanus, Chronography, 18:1.
PHLEGON: (1st Century)
A secular historian wrote a history named, “Chronicles.” This original work has been lost, Julius Africanus preserved a small fragment in his writings. Phlegon mentions the eclipse (Matthew 27:45) during the crucifixion of Jesus.
“During the time of Tiberius Caesar an eclipse of the sun occurred during the full moon.”
Africanus, Chronography, 18:1.
SUETONIUS: (69-140 A.D.)
A Roman historian and annalist of the Imperial House under the Emperor Hadrian. He refers to Christ and Christians and the “disturbances” caused by them, namely not worshipping idols and loving all, including their tormentors.
“Because the Jews at Rome caused constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus [Christ], he [Claudius] expelled them from the city [Rome].” Acts 18:2, which took place in 49 A.D.
Life of Claudius, 25:4.
In another work Suetonius wrote about the the fire which devastated Rome in 64 A.D. under the reign of Nero. Nero blamed the Christians and exacted a heavy punishment upon them, among them covering them with pitch and burning them alive in his gardens.
“Nero inflicted punishment on the Christians, a sect given to a new and mischievous religious belief.”
Lives of the Caesars, 26.2
CELSUS: (2nd Century)
Criticizes the Gospels, unknowingly reinforces the authors and the content, he alludes to 80 different quotes in the Bible. Admits that the miracles of Jesus were generally believed in the 2nd century.
JULIAN THE APOSTATE: (332-363 A.D.)
Emperor of Rome mentions the Gospels, miracles and other facts about Jesus. Julian had struggled to end the power of Christians in the Roman Empire. Since the day fifty years earlier that Constantine conquered in the sign of the cross, Christian influence had steadily grown. As Julian lay dying from a mortal wound he made the following remark:
"As he bled, the dying emperor groaned, "You have conquered, O Galilean," referring to Jesus Christ.
CLEMENT OF ROME: (100 A.D.)
Clement affirms the Resurrection, Gospels and that Jesus was sent to earth by God to take away our sins.
“Clement was the fourth bishop of Rome, the first being Peter. Did he know Peter and Paul? It is completely possible that those two Spirit-filled men taught him. Clement even wrote a letter to the Corinthian church that echoed the teachings of the apostles.”
Ignatius of Antioch: (50-107 A.D.)
Disciple of the apostles Peter, Paul, and John, who was martyred for his faith in Jesus. He was obviously convinced that Jesus really had lived and that Jesus was all that the apostles has said He was.
“…nearness to the sword is nearness to God; to be among the wild beasts is to be in the arms of God; only let it be in the name of Jesus Christ. I endure all things that I may suffer together with him, since he who became perfect man strengthens me…We have not only to be called Christians, but to be Christians.”
While the emperor Trajan was on a visit to Asia Minor, he arrested Ignatius. When the bishop confessed his faith in Christ, the Emperor sent him in chains to Rome to die. He was hustled to the arena at once and thrown to two fierce lions who immediately devoured him.
QUADRATUS: (125 A.D.)
Bishop of Athens and a disciple of the apostles. Church historian Eusebius has preserved the only work that we have from Quadratus.
“The deeds of our Saviour were always before you, for they were true miracles; those that were healed, those that were raised from the dead, who were seen, not only when healed and when raised, but were always present. They remained living a long time, not only whilst our Lord was on earth, but likewise when he had left the earth. So that some of them have also lived in our times.”
Eusebius, IV, III
EPISTLE OF BARNABAS: (130-38 A.D.)
Mentions the Resurrection, miracles, content of the Gospels and the crucifixion of Jesus.
ARISTIDES: (138-161 A.D.)
Aristides was a second-century Christian believer and philosopher from Athens. This portion of his defense of Christianity was addressed to the Roman Emperor Antonius Pius, who reigned from 138-161 A.D.
“The Son of the most high God, revealed by the Holy Spirit, descended from heaven, born of a Hebrew Virgin. His flesh he received from the Virgin, and he revealed himself in the human nature as the Son of God. In his goodness which brought the glad tidings, he has won the whole world by his life-giving preaching…He selected twelve apostles and taught the whole world by his mediatorial, light-giving truth. And he was crucified, being pierced with nails by the Jews; and he rose from the dead and ascended to heaven. He sent the apostles into all the world and instructed all by divine miracles full of wisdom. Their preaching bears blossoms and fruits to this day, and calls the whole world to illumination.”
Carey, “Aristides,” 68.
JUSTIN MARTYR: (106-167 A.D.)
Justin Martyr is regarded as one of the greatest early Christian apologists. He was born around 100 A.D and was beheaded for his faith in Jesus in 167 A.D. He mentions as facts many things about Jesus and Christianity, such as: The Magi (wise men who brought gifts from Arabia), King Herod, His crucifixion, His garments parted among the Roman soldiers, the apostles leaving him on the night of his arrest, his fulfilled prophecies, His resurrection and His ascending into heaven among many others. These quotes can be found in his debate with Trypho the Jew.
HEGESIPPUS: (2 Century)
Eusebius draws the conclusion that Hegesippus was a Jew that wrote five books called, “Memoirs.” Only fragments remain of his original work in the writings of Eusebius. They show that Hegesippus traveled extensively trying to determine if the stories of Jesus and the apostles were true. He found that they they were accurate, even in the troubled church in Corinth.
"The Corinthian church continued in the true doctrine until Primus became bishop. I mixed with them on my voyage to Rome and spent several days with the Corinthians, during which we were refreshed with the true doctrine. On arrival at Rome I pieced together the succession down to Anicetus, whose deacon was Eleutherus, Anicetus being succeeded by Soter and he by Eleutherus. In every line of bishops and in every city things accord with the preaching of the Law, the Prophets, and the Lord."
Eusebius, The History of the Church, 9.22.2.
TRAJAN: (53-117 A.D.)
Trajan is a Roman Emperor who wrote a letter [see letter] in response to the Governor of Asia Minor, Pliny the Younger. Pliny needed advice in dealing with “Christians” who renounced their belief in Jesus due to fear of torture and execution.
MACROBIUS: (4th-5th Century)
Pascal (Pensees) mentions a quote of Augustus Caesar as an evidence to the murder of the 7-20 male babies (this is based on the population of Bethlehem in 4-6 B.C., which was 700-1,000 people) by King Herod in Bethlehem (Matthew 2:16).
King Herod heard that a king was to be born and his fear and mental instability caused him to kill these male children under two years of age. King Herod killed his Wife, mother in law, and three sons. This is in character with his life of murder and paranoia. King Herod’s reign was described by his enemies as, “He stole to the throne like a fox, ruled like a tiger, and died like a dog.”
Saturnalia, lib. 2, ch.4.
HADRIAN: (106-167 A.D.)
Justin Martyr quotes this Roman Emperor’s letter to Minucius Fundanus, proconsul of Asia Minor. This letter deals with accusations from pagans against the Christians.
“I have received the letter addressed to me by your predecessor Serenius Granianus, a most illustrious man; and this communication I am unwilling to pass over in silence, lest innocent persons be disturbed, and occasion be given to the informers for practicing villainy. Accordingly, if the inhabitants of your province will so far sustain this petition of theirs as to accuse the Christians in some court of law, I do not prohibit them from doing so. But I will not suffer them to make use of mere entreaties and outcries. For it is far more just, if any one desires to make an accusation, that you give judgment upon it. If, therefore, any one makes the accusation, and furnishes proof that the said men do anything contrary to the laws, you shall adjudge punishments in proportion to the offences. And this, by Hercules; you shall give special heed to, that if any man shall, through mere calumny, bring an accusation against any of these persons, you shall award to him more severe punishments in proportion to his wickedness.”
Justin Martyr, The First Apology, Chapters, 68-69.
JUVENAL: (55 AD-127 AD)
Juvenal makes a reference of the tortures of Christians by Nero in Rome.
“But just describe Tigellinus and you will blaze amid those faggots in which men, with their throats tightly gripped, stand and burn and smoke, and you trace a broad furrow through the middle of the arena.”
Satires, 1, lines 147-157.
SENECA: (3 B.C.-65 A.D.)
Seneca mentions the cruelties that Nero imposes upon Christians.
“The other kind of evil comes, so to speak, in the form of a huge parade. Surrounding it is a retinue of swords and fire and chains and a mob of beasts to be let loose upon the disemboweled entrails of men. Picture to yourself under his head the prison, the cross, the rack, the hook, and the stake which they drive straight through a man until it protrudes from his throat. Think of human limbs torn apart by chariots driven in opposite directions, of the terrible shirt smeared and interwoven with inflammable materials, and of all the other contrivances devised by cruelty, in addition to those which I have mentioned!”
Epistulae Morales, Epistle 14, “On the Reasons for Withdrawing from the World.”
HIEROCLES: (AD 284-305)
A quote by Eusebius preserves some of the text of this lost work of Hierocles, Philalethes or Lover of Truth. In this quote, Hierocles condemns Peter and Paul as sorcerers. Again, their miracles could not be denied, rather they claimed that they used sorcery.
“And this point is also worth noticing, that whereas the tales of Jesus have been vamped up by Peter and Paul and a few others of the kind,–men who were liars and devoid of education and wizards.”
Eusebius, The Treatise of Eusebius, ch. 2.
ANTONIUS PIUS: (86 AD to 161 AD)
A letter from the Roman Emperor Antoninus Pius to the general assembly in Asia Minor. This letter says that the officials in Aisa Minor were getting upset at the Christians in their province, and that no changes are to be made in Antoninus’ method of dealing with them.
“The Emperor Caesar Titus AElius Adrianus Antoninus Augustus Pius, Supreme Pontiff, in the fifteenth year of his tribuneship, Consul for the third time, Father of the fatherland, to the Common Assembly of Asia, greeting: I should have thought that the gods themselves would see to it that such offenders should not escape. For if they had the power, they themselves would much rather punish those who refuse to worship them; but it is you who bring trouble on these persons, and accuse as the opinion of atheists that which they hold, and lay to their charge certain other things which we are unable to prove. But it would be advantageous to them that they should be thought to die for that of which they are accused, and they conquer you by being lavish of their lives rather than yield that obedience which you require of them. And regarding the earthquakes which have already happened and are now occurring, it is not seemly that you remind us of them, losing heart whenever they occur, and thus set your conduct in contrast with that of these men; for they have much greater confidence towards God than you yourselves have. And you, indeed, seem at such times to ignore the gods, and you neglect the temples, and make no recognition of the worship of God. And hence you are jealous of those who do serve Him, and persecute them to the death. Concerning such persons, some others also of the governors of provinces wrote to my most divine father; to whom he replied that they should not at all disturb such persons, unless they were found to be attempting anything against the Roman government. And to myself many have sent intimations regarding such persons, to whom I also replied in pursuance of my father’s judgment. But if any one has a matter to bring against any person of this class, merely as such a person, let the accused be acquitted of the charge, even though he should be found to be such an one; but let the accuser he amenable to justice.”
Justin Martyr, The First Apology, ch. 70.