an atheist viewpoint

thoughts from a non-theist

Historical texts and Jesus

Below is a rather good list put together by Iasion, a member of AboveTopSecret.com as part of a thread called ‘List of early writers who could have mentioned Jesus‘, used under a Creative Commons licence.

I’m going to add in the actual texts from the writers to see if we get a clearer view (my additions are in italics)….


A well-known list of early writers from Remsberg is much bandied about by sceptics.


This list names a large number of early writers who lived about the time of Jesus, but who failed to mention him.


Some of the names on the list do not belong, because they just could not be expected to have mentioned Jesus. The Remsberg list is also without dates and subjects and places, and is unclear in identifying some authors.


So, I have updated and improved this list, taking it up to the mid 2nd century. Some of the writers listed need more details.






How Likely was a mention of Jesus?


The issue is really HOW LIKELY they would be to mention Jesus.


Factors which increase the expectation that Jesus would be mentioned in a work include :
* a large work (i.e. one which has large index of names)
* a work on an issue somehow related to Jesus or the Gospel events,
* a work whose genre tends to frequently mention or allude to many subjects and people,




I have thus classified these writers into broad categories –
* writers who surely SHOULD have mentioned Jesus (5),
* writers who PROBABLY SHOULD have mentioned Jesus (4,3),
* writers who COULD have mentioned Jesus (2,1, or even 0.5),
* writers who WOULDN’T have mentioned Jesus (0)


I have given each writer a WEIGHT out of 5 as indicated.


As well as –
* writers CLAIMED to mention Jesus.






Of course, one writer who didn’t mention Jesus means nothing.
But,
when DOZENS of writers from the period in question fail to mention anything about Jesus (or the the Gospel events or actors), this argues against historicity.




The argument is sometimes made that these writers could not possibly have mentioned Jesus – because he was a minor figure and unrelated to the issues at hand.


This assumes that no such writer ever mentions a minor figure in passing, that they never make an aside about other events or figures who are not specially related to the subject.


Of course, this is not true, as the evidence below shows that many of the writers mentioned make many references to many other minor figures and often make excurses about other subjects and events and people.




I have included astronomers on the list who might have mentioned the Star of Bethlehem and/or the darkness at the crucifixion – if they had heard of them. This is a lesser issue then the existence of Jesus, and I have rated such writers as 0.5.






Summary of Results


The results of my current classifications is:


1 writer who surely SHOULD have mentioned Jesus (Philo.)


3 writers who PROBABLY SHOULD have mentioned Jesus (Seneca, Plutarch, Justus.)


31 writers who COULD have mentioned Jesus.




(20 writers who could not be expected to.
6 writers claimed to mention Jesus, but disputed or suspect.)






Iasion


10th February 2005










WRITERS WHO SHOULD HAVE MENTIONED JESUS


PHILO


Philo Judaeus wrote very many books about Jewish religion and history, in the 30s and 40s, living in Alexandria, and visiting Jerusalem.


Philo was contemporary with Jesus and Paul,
Philo visited Jerusalem and had family there,
he developed the concept of the Logos and the holy spirit,
he was considered a Christian by some later Christians,
he wrote a great deal about related times and peoples and issues.


If Jesus had existed, Philo would almost certainly have written about him and his teachings.


Rating: SHOULD have mentioned Jesus or his teachings, but did not.
Weight: 5






WRITERS WHO PROBABLY SHOULD HAVE MENTIONED JESUS


SENECA


Lucius Annaeus Seneca wrote many philosophic (Stoic) and satirical books and letters (and Tragedies) in Rome.


Seneca wrote a great deal on many subjects and mentioned many people. He was a Stoic, a school of thought considered sympathetic to Christian teachings.


In fact,
early Christians seemed to have expected him to discuss Christianity – they FORGED letters between him and Paul.


How else to explain these forgeries, except as Christian responses to a surprising VOID in Seneca’s writings?


Rating: PROBABLY SHOULD have mentioned Jesus or his teachings, but did not.
Weight: 4




PLUTARCH


Plutarch of Chaeronea wrote many works on history and philosophy in Rome and Boetia in about 90-120 CE.


Plutarch wrote about influential Roman figures, including some contemporary to Jesus,
Plutarch wrote on Oracles (prophesies),
Plutarch wrote on moral issues,
Plutarch wrote on spiritual and religious issues.


Plutarch’s writings also include a fascinating piece known as the “Vision of Aridaeus”, a spiritual journey, or out of body experience, or religious fantasy –
members.iinet.net.au…


If Plutarch knew of Jesus or the Gospel events, it is highly likely he would have mentioned them.


Rating: PROBABLY SHOULD have mentioned Jesus or his teachings, but did not.
Weight: 4






JUSTUS


Justus of Tiberias wrote a History of Jewish Kings in Galilee in late 1st century.


Photius read Justus in the 8th century and noted that he did not mention anything: “He (Justus of Tiberias) makes not one mention of Jesus, of what happened to him, or of the wonderful works that he did.”


It is surprising that a contemporary writer from the very region of Jesus’ alleged acts did not mention him.


Rating: PROBABLY SHOULD have mentioned Jesus, but did not.
Weight: 3






WRITERS WHO COULD HAVE MENTIONED JESUS




DAMIS


Damis wrote most of what we know about Apollonius of Tyana. He was a philospher and mystic exactly contemporary with Jesus and who was rather similar to Jesus – enough for some authors to argue they were one and the same person.


If Damis/Apollonius had known of Jesus, he could have easily have been mentioned as a competitor. A story in which Apollonius bested Jesus in debate would not be un-expected.


Rating: COULD easily have mentioned Jesus, but did not.
Weight: 2






APOLLONIUS


See Damis.








PLINY THE ELDER


Gaius Plinius Secundus wrote a large Natural History in Rome c.80CE


Pliny wrote a great deal – his Natural History mentions HUNDREDS of people, major & minor – writers, leaders, poets, artists – often with as much reason as mentioning Jesus. (Of course like many other writers he talks about astronomy too, but never mentions the Star of Bethlehem or the darkness.)


It is not at all un-reasoble for this prolific writer to have mentioned Jesus or the Gospels events.


Rating: COULD easily have mentioned Jesus, but did not.
Weight: 2






JUVENAL


Decimus Junius Juvenalis wrote sixteen satires in Rome in early 2nd century.


Lucian the Roman satirist DID ridicule Christians (as gullible, easily lead fools) in mid 2nd century. By the later time of Lucian, Christianity obviously was known to the wider Roman community. Whereas Juvenal wrote at a time when Christianity had only just started to rate a few tiny mentions (Pliny the Younger, Tacitus.)


Rating: COULD have mentioned Jesus, but did not.
Weight: 2






MARTIAL


Marcus Valerius Martialus wrote satires in Rome in late 1st century.


Martial wrote a large body of poems about all sorts of things. He mentions many people, places, stories and issues – major and minor, within and without Rome, such as :
* Stoic suffering of discomfort and death,
* virgin’s blood,
* Roman funerary practices,
* the way accused men look in court,
* Roman soldiers mocking their leaders,
* anointing the body with oil,
* Molorchus the good shepherd,
* Tutilius a minor rhetorician, Nestor the wise,
* the (ugly) Temple of Jupiter,


This shows Martial mentions or alludes to many and varied people and issues.


He could easily have mentioned Jesus (or the Gospel events).


Rating: COULD have mentioned Jesus, but did not.
Weight: 2






PETRONIUS


Petronius Arbiter wrote a large novel (a bawdy drama) the “Satyricon” c.60CE.


Petronius mentions all sorts of people and events in this large work, including :
** a CRUCIFIXION !
** a scene where guards are posted to stop a corpse being stolen,
** a tomb scene of someone mistaking a person for a supernatural vision,
* gods such as Bacchus and Ceres,
* writers such as Sophocles and Euripides and Epicurus,
* books such as the Iliad,
* Romans such as Cato and Pompey,
* people such as Hannibal, and the Governor of Ephesus,
* female charioteers, slaves, merchants, Arabs, lawyers
* baths, shipwrecks, meals…


This large work, cover MANY topics, including a CRUCIFIXION, and it was written just as Peter and Paul had come to Rome, allegedly. It could easily have mentioned Jesus.


Rating: COULD have mentioned Jesus, but did not.
Weight: 2






PAUSANIAS


Pausanias wrote the massive Guide to Greece in mid 2nd century.


Pausanias’ work is vast and the index covers over 70 pages of small print, I estimate a couple of THOUSAND names are mentioned. He mentions a large number of minor figues from within and without Greece.


He even mentions a Jewish prophetess – a figure so minor she is essentially unknown: “Then later than Demo there was a prophetic woman reared among the Jews beyond Palestine; her name was Sabbe.” Phokis, Book X, 12, [5]


Pausanias also mentions the Jewish rebellion under Hadrian.


Rating: COULD easily have mentioned Jesus, but did not.
Weight: 2






EPICTETUS


Epictetus is known for several books of Stoic religious and philosophic discourses in the early 2nd century. One of his disciples was Arrian, and thanks to him much of Epictetus’ works are extant.


Epictetus DID apparently mention “the Galileans”, which could be a reference to :
* the early Christians,
or
* the revolt under Judas the Galilean in early 1st century.


Either way, this shows quite clearly that Epictetus could refer to a figure such as Jesus.


Rating: COULD easily have mentioned Jesus, but did not.
Weight: 2






AELIUS ARISTIDES


Aelius Aristides the Greek Orator spoke and wrote a History of Rome and other subjects – he seems to refer to the Christians as “impious men from Palestine” (Orations 46.2)


If he could mention people from Palestine, he could easily have mentioned Jesus.


Rating: COULD easily have mentioned Jesus, but did not.
Weight: 2






FRONTO


Marcus Cornelius Fronto of Rome wrote several letters in mid 2nd century.


According to Minucius Felix, he scandalised rites practiced by Roman Christians – so he could easily have mentioned Jesus.


Rating: COULD easily have mentioned Jesus, but did not.
Weight: 2






PERSIUS


Aulus Persius Flaccus wrote six fairly long satires in Rome in the mid 1st century, of a rather philosophic nature.


The argument that no Roman satirist could be expected to mention Jesus, is proven wrong by the case of a Roman satirist who DID mention Jesus (but only as echoes of later Christian beliefs.)


Persius wrote a reasonably large body of work that mentions many people and issues.


Rating: COULD possibly have mentioned Jesus, but did not.
Weight: 1






DIO CHRYSOSTOM


Dio Chrysostom (Cocceianus Dio) wrote many works and gave many speeches in various Roman and Greek centres in late 1st century, of which 80 survive e.g. the Euboicus.


Dio wrote a large number of works in the late 1st century – he certainly could have mentioned Jesus, if he knew of him.


Rating: COULD possibly have mentioned Jesus, but did not.
Weight: 1






AULUS GELLIUS


Aulus Gellius wrote Attic Nights (Nights in Athens), a large compendium of many topics and which mentioned many people.


Rating: COULD possibly have mentioned Jesus, but did not.
Weight: 1






LUCIUS APULEIUS


Lucius Apuleius wrote the Metamorphoses (the Golden Ass or Transformations of Lucius) and many other spiritual, historical, and philosophic works – several survive.


Rating: COULD have mentioned Jesus, but did not.
Weight: 1






MARCUS AURELIUS


Marcus Aelius Aurelius Antoninus wrote the Stoic Meditations in mid 2nd century – he (apparently) refers once to the Christians in XI, 3.


Rating: COULD have mentioned Jesus, but did not.
Weight: 1






MUSONIUS RUFUS


C. Musonius Rufus wrote on Stoic philosophy in Rome in mid 1st century.


Rating: COULD have mentioned Jesus, but did not.
Weight: 1






HIEROCLES


Hierocles of Alexandria wrote on Stoic philosophy in late 1st century.


Rating: COULD have mentioned Jesus, but did not.
Weight: 1






MAXIMUS of TYRE


Cassius Maximus Tyrius, a Greek NeoPlatonic philosopher, wrote many works in mid 2nd century.


Rating: COULD have mentioned Jesus, but did not.
Weight: 1






ARRIAN


Arrian wrote a History of Alexander c.120CE.


The subject is not related, but Arrian wrote a very large work which mentioned HUNDREDS of people, some not from Alexander’s time.


Rating: COULD possibly have mentioned Jesus, but did not.
Weight: 0.5






APPIAN


Appian wrote a large Roman History (from the Gracchi to Caesar) in mid 2nd century.


It’s not particularly likely that this specific writer would mention Jesus.
But,
he wrote a LARGE work which mentions HUNDREDS of people.
Appian does mention some issues of HIS day (mid 2nd century), e.g. a decision by Hadrian.


Rating: COULD possibly have mentioned Jesus, but did not.
Weight: 0.5






THEON of SMYRNA


Theon of Smyrna wrote on astronomy/philosophy in early 2nd century.


Theon wrote about philosophy. If Jesus and his teachings were known, it is entirely plausible for to mention them.


Theon also wrote about astronomy.
If he had heard about the Star of Bethlehem or the Darkness (as an event, or from the Gospels) he could easily have mentioned it.


Apologists frequently cite Phlegon and Thallus, astronomers who mentioned eclipses (but NOT Jesus or the Gospel events, that is merely later Christian wishful thinking) as evidence for Jesus.


An astronomer could easily be expected to mention those incidents, especially when apologists claim other astronomers of the period did exactly that.


The silence of early astronomers about the Star of Bethlehem or the crucifixion darkness argues these “events” were unknown until later.


Rating: COULD possibly have mentioned Jesus, but did not.
Weight: 0.5






QUINTILIAN


Marcus Fabius Quintilianus, wrote the “Education of an Orator” in Rome in late 1st century.


One of the things Jesus was allegedly noted for was his PUBLIC SPEECHES – e.g. the Sermon on the Mount, which supposedly drew and influenced large crowds.


If Quintilian had heard of Jesus or the Gospels events, he could have mentioned the allegedly famous speeches of Jesus.


Rating: COULD possibly have mentioned Jesus, but did not.
Weight: 0.5






LUCIUS ANNAEUS FLORUS


Lucius Annaeus Florus wrote an Epitome of Roman History.


Although not directly on subject, Florus wrote a large work which mentions many names. He could have mentioned Jesus if he had known of him.


Rating: COULD possibly have mentioned Jesus, but did not.
Weight: 0.5






LUCAN


Marcus Annaeus Lucanus wrote the Pharsalia (Civil War) in Rome in mid 1st century.


In his large poem, the Pharsalia, he mentions some events from later times, and he covers many different issues and people in passing.
He:
* mentions an event from 56CE,
* refers to places as far afield as Sicily and Kent,
* refered to Stoic religious beliefs about the end of the world,
* refers to many books and myths and persons and events not part of the main story.


Rating: COULD possibly have mentioned Jesus, but did not.
Weight: 0.5






STATIUS


Publius Papinius Statius wrote numerous minor and epic poems (e.g. Ode to Sleep and the Thebaid) in Rome in late 1st century.


Statius wrote many works on several subjects, he could have mentioned Jesus.


Rating: COULD possibly have mentioned Jesus, but did not.
Weight: 0.5






HERO of ALEXANDRIA


Hero(n) of Alexandria wrote many technical works, including astronomy.


If he had known of the Gospel stories about Jesus, he could have mentioned them.


Rating: COULD possibly have mentioned Jesus, but did not.
Weight: 0.5






GEMINUS


Geminus wrote on mathematics astronomy in Greece.


If he had known of the Gospel stories about Jesus, he could have mentioned them.


Rating: COULD possibly have mentioned Jesus, but did not.
Weight: 0.5






ALBINUS


Albinus taught on (neo-)Platonism in early 2nd century, a little survives.


Rating: COULD possibly have mentioned Jesus, but did not.
Weight: 0.5






ARISTOCLES


Aristocles of Messene wrote On Philosophy, early 2nd century.


Rating: COULD possibly have mentioned Jesus, but did not.
Weight: 0.5






APOLLODORUS


Apollodorus compiled a large Mythology in mid 2nd century.


Rating: COULD possibly have mentioned Jesus, but did not.
Weight: 0.5






HEPHAESTION


Hephaestion of Alexandria wrote many works in mid 2nd century.


Rating: COULD possibly have mentioned Jesus, but did not.
Weight: 0.5






SEXTUS EMPIRICUS


Sextus Empiricus wrote Outlines of Scepticism in mid 2nd century.


Rating: COULD possibly have mentioned Jesus, but did not.
Weight: 0.5






WRITERS CLAIMED TO MENTION JESUS


JOSEPHUS


Much has been said about Josephus, but not here.


Rating: CLAIMED to mention Jesus, but may not have.


Here’s the text (taken from Wikipedia)

3.3 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.

In the Complete Concordance to Flavius Josephus, (edited by K. H. Rengstorff, 2002), it is claimed that the passage fails a basic test for authenticity, as it differs significantly from the style of the surrounding text.



TACITUS

Cornelius Tacitus wrote a celebrated passage about Jesus roughly 80 years or so after the alleged events – but he seems to be reporting Christian beliefs of his later times, not using earlier documents: he uses the incorrect title ‘procurator’ – the term used in Tacitus’ time, not Pilate’s; he fails to name the executed man (Roman records could not possibly have called him ‘Christ ‘); and he accepts the recent advent of the Christians, when Rome was known to allow only ancient cults and religions.

Rating: CLAIMED to mention Jesus, but probably late hearsay.

Here’s the text, again from Wikipedia

Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite punishments on a class hated for their disgraceful acts, called Chrestians by the populace. Christ, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty (i.e., Crucifixion) 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 center and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. 
This text does nothing to authenticate Jesus, it was written significantly after the supposed events, and does nothing but confirm what Christians at the time believed.

NUMENIUS

In the 3rd century, Origen claimed Numenius “quotes also a narrative regarding Jesus–without, however, mentioning His name”

Numenius does not mention Jesus, just a story that was later attributed to him.

Rating: CLAIMED to mention Jesus, but probably late hearsay.

No mention of Jesus in the text

SUETONIUS

Gaius SUETONIUS Tranquillus wrote a histories/biographies of Roman Caesars c.120CE.

He mentions a “Chrestus” (a common slave name meaning “Useful”) who caused disturbance in Rome in 49CE.

Rating: CLAIMED to mention Jesus, but did not.

Here’s the text (taken from here)

“…drove the Jews out of Rome, who at the suggestion of Chrestus were constantly rioting.”

49CE is almost twenty years after the supposed death of Christ. This text does not mention Jesus.


PHLEGON

Phlegon wrote during the 140s – his works are lost. Later, Origen, Eusebius, and Julianus Africanus (as quoted by much later George Syncellus) refer to him, but quote differently his reference to an eclipse. There is no evidence Phlegon said anything about Gospel events – just evidence for later Christians believing his statements about an eclipse (there WAS an eclipse in this period) was really about the Gospel darkness.

Rating: CLAIMED to mention Jesus, but did not.

The original text is lost, but later writers claim he mentioned Jesus. There is no evidence either way.

THALLUS

Thallus perhaps wrote in early 2nd century or somewhat earlier (his works are lost, there is no evidence he wrote in the 1st century, in fact there is some evidence he wrote around 109 BCE, and some authors refer to him for events before the Trojan War!) – 9th century George Syncellus quotes the 3rd century Julianus Africanus, speaking of the darkness at the crucifixion: “Thallus calls this darkness an eclipse”. There is no evidence Thallus made specific reference to Jesus or the Gospel events, as there was an eclipse in 29, the subject in question. Furthermore the supposed reference to Thallus in Eusebius is likely a mis-reading.

Rating: CLAIMED to mention Jesus, but did not.

All writings are lost, no evidence either way.


WRITERS WHO COULD NOT BE EXPECTED TO HAVE MENTIONED JESUS

Dion Prusaeus
Paterculus
Ptolemy
Valerius Maximus
Pomponius Mela
Quintus Curtus Rufus
Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella
Favorinus
Phaedrus
Babrius
Silius Italicus
Marcus Manilius
Cleomedes
Dioscorides
Sextus Julius Frontinus
Nicomachus of Gerasa
Menelaus of Alexandria
Menodotus of Nicomedia
Tiberius Claudius Herodes Atticus
Valerius Flaccus

Missed off the list is Celsus, who probably wrote in the 2nd Century CE, 

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. 
Completely at odds with the Biblical story.


The extra-biblical evidence for the existence of Jesus is virtually non-existent, relying on various misinterpretations of the few contemporary writers that supposedly mention him. The only one that has anything in common with the Biblical version of events is Josephus, and that’s now commonly agreed to be a later insertion. 
Theists will often claim that these lists are biased by the desire of atheists to disprove Jesus, I hope that including the available texts does something to counter that accusation.





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