Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Jesus outside of the New Testament

Copy/pasted below is an old essay of mine on Jesus in historical sources outside of the New Testament - I cover the common non-Christian sources as well as as go with Thomas and P.Egerton 2. I cannot remember what I wrote so some of my views may have changed.[I tried editing it and ended up redacting it into something terrible.]

Jesus of Nazareth is mentioned in a number of Christian and non-Christian documents found outside of the New Testament. The critical study of these sources in terms of  origin,and date are important in determining their value as historical sources for the life of Jesus. This study will confine itself to sources that: have a high probability of having their origins in the first century and or are later sources that may preserve independent or authentic Jesus traditions. Sources such as Slavonic Josephus[1] and Sepher Toledot Yeshua which are widely seen as having no value for serious historical Jesus research have been omitted.

Non-Christian Sources
            Minimal Value
Pliny the Younger was a Roman official sent to govern the province of Bithynia circia 110.[2] In a correspondence to Emperor Trajan Pliny makes reference to early Christians and their worship of Jesus. (Epistle book 10, letter 96) Jesus is referred to as  “Christus”  and the text  reflects the ethical teaching of Jesus such as to “abstain from theft, robbery, adultery…”.[3] Pliny notes the Christian practice of coming together to “partake of a meal, but an ordinary and innocent meal.” This meal appears to be an allusion to the early Christian practice of the last supper that is multiply and independently attested to in the canonical gospels and 1 Corinthians.[4] Pliny’s investigation into the practices of Christians may have corrected a misunderstanding of the symbolism of wine and blood and other allegations against the Christians.[5]
Although reflecting Jesus traditions, the letter tells us more about early Christians of Bithynia.  The Christology of Messiaship is important as  Christ acts as a sufficient identification of Jesus.[6] Similarly, a high Christology is evident in the practice of singing hymns to “Christ as if to a god” which may have precedent among the Pauline churches.[7] Pliny informs us that his information is obtained through interviews, often forced, with Christians such as “the slave women, whom they call deaconesses.” On the question of reliability, there appear to be no reasons to doubt the textual authenticity of the reference.[8] In conclusion, Pliny’s letter tells nothing new about the historical Jesus, although alluding to early Christian practices, Christological models and his ethical teachings which are also developed within the canonical corpus.[9]

Suetonius writing c. 120 in Divus Claudius 25:4, the fifth volume of The Twelve Caesars, mentions that Emperor Claudius expelled the “Jews” because “at Rome [they] caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus.”[10] This sufficiently ambiguous text may be a reference to the situation mentioned in Acts 18:2, and  may be making reference to Jesus as Chrestus. It has been suggested that Chrestus was a misspelling of the title Christus, of which Romans would not have been aware of.[11] If identified as a reference to Jesus, Suetonius mistakenly places Jesus in Rome at the time of Claudius making it unlikely that Suetonius was orally or literarily dependent on Christian sources. Suggestions such as Suetonius making use of imperial archives appear to be purely conjectural, especially as the source is unnamed.[12] Concluding, Suetonius’ vague and ambiguous reference essentially tells us nothing of Jesus as a historical figure.

Other sources of minimal, or at least questionable value, are those of Thallus and Mara bar Serapion. According to Julius Africanus (c. 160-240), as preserved by Byzantine historian George Syncellus, the first century historian Thallus refers to the darkness that accompanied Jesus’ death as found in the synoptic gospels.[13] Africanus disagrees with Thallus’ explanation that it was an eclipse of the sun, arguing that the Hebrews celebrate the Passover on a full moon making such impossible.[14] It has been argued that the value of Thallus lies in (1) an early non-Christian witness to the crucifixion; (2) a pre-Markan origin of the darkness.[15] However, there does not appear any reason to endorse either view in light of the very limited sources. Similarly, Mara bar Serapion in a letter to his son Serapion written “some indeterminate time after A.D. 73” makes reference to an unnamed “wise king” of the Jews who was presumably executed, in line with the theme of persecution.[16] However, in some sense the “wise king” transcended death by living on in the “teaching which he had given.”[17] The source of the reference was possibly non-Christian as there were (1) no Christological titles; (2) Jesus was placed on the same level as Socrates and Pythagoras; (3) the title wise king draws clearer parallels to possibly independent sources such as Josephus’ σοφóς áνηρ, Lucian’s σοφιστης and the Roman’s ó βασιλευς των ‘Ιουδαιων.[18]

            Significant Value
The Roman source of greatest value appears to be by Roman official and historian Cornelius Tacitus, found in his Annals of Imperial Rome 15.44. Within this short but important reference from c.116, Tacitus confirms a number of core details about Jesus.[19] Firstly, Tacitus identifies Jesus  - or Christus, as he is known – as “the founder of the name.” The life of Jesus is placed within a specific historical and geographical context. Tacitus connects Jesus and movement to “Judaea, the home of the disease” and within the “reign of Tiberius.” More specifically, Jesus was put to death at the sentence of Pontius Pilatus, who is identified as “procurator.” The reign of Tiberius was 14-37, and the governorship of Pilate was AD 26-36, a time span closer to the traditional dating of Jesus’ crucifixion.[20]  In addition to this, a number of speculative views on what Tacitus meant in reference to “the superstition was checked for the moment, only to break out once more…” Habermas has suggestedd that Tacitus may have “indirectly referred to the Christians’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection, since his teachings “again broke out” after his death.”[21]  A more sober proposal has been made by Meier suggesting that, if simply not a retrojection by Tacitus, this may indicate that the Jesus movement was already in existence before the crucifixion – temporarily being suppressed by such actions.[22]

Although without challenges – both historic and contemporary – the consensus appears to be in favour of authenticity of the passage. First of all, there is no textual basis to suspect interpolation as all extant manuscripts attest to the reference.[23] Secondly, the hostile nature of the references to Jesus and Christianity make it an unlikely interpolation. It is very unlikely that a Christian scribe would describe Christians as “loathed for their vices” and Christianity as a foreign superstitio, likened to a “disease” to be checked. Instead, it has been suggested that these views reflect the consistent Roman conservative approach of Tacitus’ views of foreign superstitio and hostility towards the Jews with whom he may have identified the movement’s origins.[24] Arthur Drews has argued that that the hostile nature towards the Christians may have been intentional in order to “to strengthen its changes of passing as genuine.”[25] However, such a view makes insufficient account of the nature of Tacitus’ criticism in identifying Christianity as a superstitio and presupposes modern critical criteria upon would-be forgers.[26] Finally, the lack of apologetic themes such as of the resurrection make it unlikely to be a Christian interpolation. For these reasons, Meier’s judgement that the “passage is obviously genuine” is endorsed.[27] Following on, on the reliability, it should be noted that Tacitus is generally credited as a thorough classical historian.[28] However, Tacitus assigns Pilate the rank of “procurator”, which appears to be an anachronism – either intentional or unintentional – as prior to Agrippa Roman governors held the rank of prefect.[29] This is confirmed by the “Pilate Stone” that provides epigraphical evidence of Pilate’s rank as “prefect of Judaea.”[30] It has been argued that this error should not discount Tacitus’ information as faulty as near contemporaneous writers.[31]
As Tacitus does not name his sources, a number of proposals have been put forward. Firstly, there may have been an earlier history no longer extant that Tacitus used in this case, or possibly in the missing books dealing with the time of Jesus.[32] Parallel to this, is that he may have made use of Josephus, however, it does not appear that Josephus describes Jesus and the early Christian movement in comparable terms. The two most plausible possibilities appear to be that Tacitus obtained his information by contact with Christians – whether through his administrative duties as governor of Asia, or through his friend Pliny who had personal contact with Christians; or that his information was obtained from Imperial archives.[33] Van Voorst has furthered the first by suggesting that this may have taken place as a member of the Quindecimviri Sacris Faciundis, in a role understanding the licit Judaism and its illicit derivative of Christianity.[34] This appears to be a plausible scenario for obtaining non-independent witness, although unverifiable. Similarly, it is possible that as an official Tacitus had access to a report to the Emperor by Pilate of the details, constituting an independent source.[35] Evidently, Tacitus has the potential to act as an independent source on the crucifixion of Jesus in addition to his geographical and historical context. 

Jewish historian Josephus writing near the end of the first century is arguably the most important non-Christian witness to Jesus.  Within Antiquities 20.9.1 Josephus makes a brief remark and the bringing forward of  “a man  named James, the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ” to the Sanhedrin.[36] There appears to be no reason to doubt the textual authenticity of the reference as Jesus and James are neither exhorted in any visible Christianised manner.[37] James is referred to as the brother of “Jesus”, contrary to early Christian usage as “brother of the Lord” while Jesus is not identified as Messiah, but said to be the Christ.[38] The implications of referring to Jesus in terms of the Christ is significant for the longer reference known as the Testimonium Flavianum (TF) as it appears to presuppose an earlier identification of this individual.

The textual authenticity of the longer reference,  known as the  Testimonium Flavianum (TF) is debated within scholarly circles, and following from this the various reconstructions challenge the implications that may be drawn for the study of Jesus.[39] Although most scholars regard the passage as authentic but edited there are a number of polarized views from Robert M. Price’s assertion that the TF was fabricated by Church historian and Bishop Eusebius of Caesarea or Carsten Peter Thiede’s contention that Josephus viewed Jesus as a Messiah.[40] Most reconstructions of the text identify interpolations regarding: identifying Jesus as the Messiah; implications that Jesus was more than a man; and, Jesus’ resurrection and post-resurrection discourse.[41] Reference has also been made to the “Arabic version” of the TF preserved in Agapius, Book of the Title that contains the possible interpolations conflated at the end of the passage. Evans has suggested that this conflation arose under influence of the Christianised Greek version.[42] Evidence that there was an authentic reference to Jesus may be argued on the basis of vocabulary. Josephus uses neuteral terms that do not appear to be common Christological titles for Jesus.  Similar to Mara bar Serapion, Jesus is referred to as a “wise man.” At other times, Josephus appears to be critical of Jesus, describing his winning over of followers in a negative light. Graham Stanton describes Josephus’ use of ἐπηγἁετο as to “bring something upon someone, mostly something bad” making it unlikely to be an inauthentic Christian interpolation.[43] Josephus’ description may indicate a non-Christian source, and information probably received in his time in Palestine, which he had later supplemented first hand in noting the existence of Christians within Rome.[44]
What Josephus can tell us about Jesus is important, especially if an independent source. He confirms that Jesus was a wise man and teacher of some notable influence – winning both Jew and Greeks.  Jesus in some sense was known for his “great deeds”, paralleling the rich miracle tradition associated with him. Like Tacitus, Josephus talks of Jesus execution – specified as crucifixion – under Pilate, having been accused by the “leading men” who may be identified as the ruling priests.[45] We are told that Jesus was identified as the Messiah by his followers, and that his brother James was influential in the movement after his death. In conclusion, Josephus is a source of important value to understanding the perceptions of Jesus and some key aspects of his ministry and death.

Christian Sources
By the end of the second century, a number of early Christian writings had accumulated. Many of these were identified as gospels, claiming to be composed by important figures in the ministry of Jesus. These writings reflect a wide theological spectrum, and often made use of the first century sources.  Although most of these works are seen as secondary, a number of scholars have argued for exceptions that these sources may be independent and earlier than the canonical gospels.[46]
Over the past twenty years a number of scholars have launched a renewed interest in the application of the Gospel of Thomas to understanding the historical Jesus. Being described as “the most important early Christian text outside the canon of scripture” [47] has the text heavily debated especially in understanding the relationship between Thomas and the synoptic gospels. The extant version of the Gospel of Thomas consists of 114 “secret sayings” attributed to Jesus claiming to be recorded by Didymus Judas Thomas.[48] What is known as the Gospel of Thomas is contained in a Coptic translation as the second tractate in Codex II of the Nag Hammandi library, as well as partially preserved in three Greek Oxyrhynchus Papyri – P.Oxy1, P.Oxy654 and P.Oxy655.[49] Although containing a number of sayings found within the canonical gospels, Thomas contains no miracles, passion narrative or any obvious narrative framework. It stands as sayings source, structurally similar to various reconstructions of the hypothetical Q source.[50]

A shift mostly in North American studies grants Thomas the status of a “very, very, early” source with numerous and vocal scholars placing its composition pre-70.[51] Crossan argues a two-stage redaction of Thomas, with the first layer being completed under the authority of James in Jerusalem, the second under Thomas in Edessa.[52] However, this interpretation of sayings 12 and 13 are highly speculative at best. Other arguments for independence call attention to comparative literary genre: Thomas is a sayings source, and the genre of a sayings source can be identified in works such as Mishnah Abot, the book of Proverbs, the Sayings of Amen-hotep and various reconstruction of the hypothetical Q source.[53] However, to assign Thomas to the same period as Q is where the logic of genre becomes arbitrary; why not assign the document to the same period as other sayings collections?[54]
Against this backdrop, many scholars have been arguing that the composition of Thomas is a second-century document, reflecting later Syrian concerns and dependent on the canonical gospels.[55] Saying 114 and its rejection of womanhood has a Sitz im Leben in 2nd-4th century ascetic Christianity and not likely Jesus’ first century Judaic context.[56] Similarly, sayings 73-75 that begin resembling Matt 9:37-38//Luke 10:2 move towards a ‘Gnosticised’ speculative interpretation regarding the solitary one and the deeper life of the bridal chamber.[57]
Thomas contains parallels with all canonical sources, including Markan material, M, L, Q, the Gospel of John.[58] It has also been suggested that Thomas alludes to or presupposes  Acts, Romans, 1-2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Colossians, 1 Thessalonians, 1 Timothy, Hebrews, 1 John, and Revelation[59] and has numerous points of contact with Tatian’s Diatessaron.[60]  In addition, Thomas appears to be somewhat dependent on Lukan redactions of Markan traditions evident in structure and content.[61] The dependence postulated is one of oral dependence on the canonical traditions. This may be seen by examining the structure of the Parable of the Tenants as it appears in the synoptic gospels and Thomas. In all, the parable retelling is followed by reference to Psalm 118:22.[62] However, whereas in the synoptic gospels the reason of this allusion is clear, none is evident in Thomas. It may be that the Thomasine version being simplified through oral transmission disconnected the Psalm, but it continued to be passed on as an oral unit.[63]

In conclusion, Thomas most likely reflects a secondary document orally dependant on the canonical gospels. The secondary nature of this gospel is evident in Gnostic redactions, and the dealing with later issues. For this reason, caution should be used in applying its picture of Jesus purely as wisdom sage should be nuanced by the canonical sources, and should be subject to the same critical method.

The next non-canonical gospel of possible importance is the Unknown Gospel also known  as Egerton Papyrus 2, which is now extant in four fragments usually dated to around 150.[64]  Although generally dated as a second century document, Crossan has argued that the original composition is “independent of all the intracanonical Gospels” and could be dated as early as the fifties C.E.[65] The surviving fragments preserve four stories, with generally strong connections to the canonical gospels.[66] Ehrman writes that:
(1) an account of Jesus’ controversy with Jewish leaders that is similar to the stories found in John 5:39–47 and 10:31–39; (2) a healing of a leper, reminiscent of Matt 8:1–4; Mark 1:40–45; Luke 5:12–16; and Luke 17:11–14; (3) a controversy over paying tribute to Caesar, comparable to Matt 22:15–22; Mark 12:13–17; and Luke 20:20–26; and (4) a fragmentary account of a miracle of Jesus on the bank of the Jordan River, possibly performed to illustrate his parable about the miraculous growth of seeds. This final story has no parallel in the canonical Gospels.[67]

In addition, it has also been suggested that there may be connections with the secondary Infancy Gospel of Thomas.[68]    Noting this single document contains both Johannine and synoptic material together, suggesting a late date as a requirement by necessity of canonical dependence seems most likely.  Koester challenges this view arguing that the elements are in fact “pre Johannine and pre-synoptic” representing a more primitive reading where these traditions were not yet separated.[69] However, the most convincing argument against Koester (and shared by Crossan) is the existence of redactional elements in Egerton, reflecting clear Matthaean and Lucan redactions of common Markan material.[70] In conclusion, it is more likely that Papyrus Egerton 2 is an early gospel harmony drawing on the canonical gospels to present an orthodox Jesus who was a teacher and miracle worker who at times came in conflict with other Jews.

In conclusion, from the texts outside the New Testament a number of details may be known about Jesus. These details are generally biographical, however, some detail may be found in Pliny and Thomas about the teachings of Jesus, although not necessarily independent sources. With considerable certainty, these sources place Jesus within the historical context of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, and Pontius Pilate’s governorship. During this time he was executed – by crucifixion. That Jesus was perceived as a wise man and a teacher is multiply attested in the Christian and non-Christian sources. That he was in some sense a doer of miraculous deeds is evident in Josephus. Jesus was heralded as Messiah, and such an association may have been early by its constant association as a name. Jesus’ movement although temporarily halted after his death, continued to flourish in Judaea and beyond, with his brother James playing an influential role in Jerusalem. These details are also attested to in the canonical sources – gospels, Acts and epistles – increasing the reliability of these details.

Allison, Dale C. Jr, (2006), “Thallus on the Crucifixion” in A.-J. Levine, et al, (ed.) The historical Jesus in context. Princeton
Anderson, J.N.D. (1969),  Christianity: The Witness of History.  London,
Barnett, Paul, (2009), Finding the Historical Christ, Grand Rapids.
 Bauckham, Richard. (1992),  “Apocryphal Gospels” in J.B. Green, et al. (eds.) Dictionary of Jesus and Gospel. Downers Grove.
Bruce F.F. Bruce, (1974), Jesus and Christian Origins outside the New Testament, London,.
Casey, Maurice. (2002), An Aramaic Approach to Q: Sources for the Gospels of Matthew and Luke. Cambridge.
Crossan, John Dominic. (1991),  The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant. San Francisco.

Davies, Steven L. (2002), The Gospel of Thomas: Annotated & Explained.

 Drews, A, (1912), The Witness to the Historicity of Jesus. Tr. Joseph McCabe
Ehrman, Bart D. (2003a), Lost Christianities: The Battles for Scriptures and Faiths We Never Knew. New York.
__________. (2003b), Lost Scriptures: Books that Did Not Make it Into the New Testament. New York.
Evans, Craig A. (2005),  Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies: A Guide to the Background Literature. Peabody.
_________. (1994), “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources” in  B. Chilton & C.A. Evans Studying the Historical Jesus: Evaluations of the State of Current Research,. New York.
_________ & Charlesworth, James H. (1994) “Jesus in the Agrapha and Apocryphal    Gospels” in B. Chilton and C.A. Evans (ed.) Authenticating Studying the Historical Jesus: Evaluations of the State of Current Research,. New York
Grant, Michael & Graves, Robert. (2003), The Twelve Caesars.

Feldman,  L.H, (1982). “The Testamentum Flavianum: the State of the Question”, in R.F. Berkey and S.A. Edwards, (eds.)., Christological Perspectives, New York.
__________.  Josephus: Jewish Antiquities, (Loeb Classical Library No. 456)

Habermas, Gary, (1996), The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. Joplin.

Hadas,  Moses. (1942) The Complete Works of Tacitus. California.

Hurtado, Larry W. (2005), Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity.  Grand Rapids.
Koester, H.,  (1990).  Ancient Christian Gospels : their history and development. London
Mason, S. (1992), Josephus and the New Testament, Massachusetts.

 McKechnie, Paul. (2001), The First Christian Centuries: Perspectives on the Early Church. Downers Grove.

Meier, John P. (1991), A Marginal Jew: The roots of the problem and the person (The Anchor Bible Reference Library). New York.

Pines, S. (1971) An Arabic Version of the Testimonium Flavianum and Its Implications. Jerusalem.

Perrin, Nicholas. "Recent Trends in Gospel of Thomas Research (1991-2006): Part I, The Historical Jesus and the Synoptic Gospels" in Currents in Biblical Research. 2007; 5: 183-206. 183.
_________.  (2002) Thomas and Tatian: The Relationship between the Gospel of Thomas and the Diatessaron. Boston.

Price, Robert M. (2009) “Jesus at the Vanishing Point” in  J.K. Beilby & P.R. Eddy (eds.) The Historical Jesus: Five Views. Downers Grove.

Thiede, Carsten Peter. (2005), Jesus, Man or Myth? Oxford.
Tuckett, C.M.“Thomas and the Synoptics”, Novum Testamentum vol. 30, 1988, pp. 132-157.

 Sherwin-White., A.N. (1969). "Pliny, the Man and his Letters". Greece & Rome 16 (1): 76–90.
_________. (1985) The Letters of Pliny: A Historical and Social Commentary. Oxford.
Snodgrass, Klyne, “The Gospel of Thomas: a secondary gospel”, Second Century, vol. 7, 1989/90, pp. 19-38.
 Van Voorst,  Robert E. (2000), Jesus outside the New Testament: an introduction to the ancient evidence, Grand Rapids.
Vardaman, Jerry,  “A New Inscription Which Mentions Pilate as ‘Prefect,’” Journal of Biblical Literature 81 (1962) 70-71.

[1] Evans writes, “to my knowledge no one today believes that they contain anything of value for Jesus research” (Evans 1994:451.)
[2] For a general information on the biography of Pliny and more specifically on his letters as correspondence see A.N. Sherwin-White. (1969). "Pliny, the Man and his Letters". Greece & Rome 16 (1): 76–90.
[3] See Matt 5:27-28; Mark 10:19 as examples.
[4] 1 Corinthians 11:24ff. ; Mark 14:22ff.  par.
[5] Paul McKechnie (2001), The First Christian Centuries: Perspectives on the Early Church. 112.
[6] Compare with Josephus and Tacitus below.
[7] Philippians 2:5-11. Cf. Larry W. Hurtado (2005), Lord Jesus Christ: Devotion to Jesus in Earliest Christianity.  148-149; 606-607.
[8] A.N. Shervin-White, The Letters of Pliny. 691-692.
[9] This judgement appears to be consistent with John P.Meier, “But, again, it adds nothing to our knowledge of the historical Jesus.”  A Marginal Jew. 1:92; and Craig A. Evans, “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources”, 459.
[10] Claudius 15.4. Trans. Michael Grant & Robert Graves, The Twelve Caesars. (Penguin Classics Series).
[11] For example, Tertullian notes that the title Christians is “wrongly pronounced” as “Chrestianus” (Tertullian, Apology 3. Tr. Roberts, Alexander ;  Donaldson, James ;   Coxe, A. Cleveland: The Ante-Nicene Fathers Vol. III  : Translations of the Writings of the Fathers Down to A.D. 325.)  while the Christian scribal tradition of Acts 11:26, 26:28 and 1 Peter 4:16 shows spelling variations in Codex B reading Χριστιανóς and Codex Aleph Χρηστιανóς. (Craig A. Evans, “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources” 458.)
[12] This is suggested in Van Voorst 200: 50.
[13] Mark 15:33//par; Dale C. Allisoon, “Thallus on the Crucifixion” in The Historical Jesus in Context. Ed. Amy-Jill Levine, J.D. Crossan and D.C. Allison.
[14] Tr. In Allison, “Thallus on the Crucifixion”/
[15] Evans 1992: 455; Allison 2006: 405.
[16] Bruce1974: 30. Translation, Allision 2006: 405-406.
[17] Cureton, Spicilegium Syriacum, 73 extracted in Evans 1994:  456.
[18] Αnt. 18.3.3; Peregrinus 13; Mark 15:26//par.
[19] Van Voorst 2000: 51
[20] Meier 1992: 90; Barnett 2009: 59.
[21] Habermas 1996: 190. cf. Anderson 1969: 19.
[22] Meier, 1992: 91.
[23] Meier 9921: 91; Evans 1994:  465.
[24] Barnett 2009: 57.
[25] Drews 1912: 26.
[26] Identifying Christianity as a superstitio fits the conservative nature of some Romans, including Tacitus and earlier Cicero (Cicero, On the Nature of the Gods 3.39-40) who drew clear distinction between superstitio and religio as expression of belief and cult.  Ironically enough, later in the Christian era Christianity was the standard by which superstitio and proper belief were judged, Augustine writing ““the impious superstitions were fire with the Chaldeans…so, in the deluge of superstitio that flooded the whole world…” This is also reflected in the Theodosian Code 16.2.5 and the Edict of the people of the city of Constantinople, 27.2.380.
[27] Meier1992: 90.
[28] Moses Hadas calls him the “greatest historian” of ancient Rome, Hadas, “Introduction” to The Complete Works of Tacitus. This view is shared by Van Voorst 2000: 51 and Habermas 1996:  187.
[29] Evans 1994: 465.
[30] Jerry Vardaman, “A New Inscription Which Mentions Pilate as ‘Prefect,’” Journal of Biblical Literature 81 (1962) 70-71.
[31] For example, Josephus refers to two different governors of Judaea – Cuspius Fadus and Porcius Festus by both terms at different points of his work. Compare Antiquities 19.363 and 20.2,4; and Antiquities 20.193 and Jewish War 2.271. Evans 1994: 465  also writes that “This “error” should not be taken as evidence that Tacitus’ information is faulty.” (465).
[32] Barnett 2009: 58.
[33] For example, these have been suggested by Barnett, 58; Meier, 1992: 90-91; Bruce, 23 and Van Voorst 2000: 52.
[34] Van Voorst 2000: 52
[35] This suggestion is made by F.F. Bruce, Jesus and Christian Origins outside the New Testament. 23. Similarly, Meir states that one cannot “exclude the possibility that Tacitus used Roman archives.” (91).
[36] Josephus, Antiquities 20.9.1 Loeb Classical Library Tr.
[37]L.H. Feldman, Josephus X, Loeb Classical Library 456 states “few have doubted the genuineness of this passage on James.”
[38] Galatians 1:19; Evans 1994: 469.
[39] An excellent summary of the state of TF research are Feldman 1982: 179-199, with an excellent summary at 199 in addition cf Whealey 2003.
[40] Evans 1994: 467 writes  “Most today regard the passage as authentic but edited.”;  Robert M. Price, “Jesus at the Vanishing Point” in The Historical Jesus: Five Views. 62.; Carsten Peter Thiede, Jesus, Man or Myth? 12-13.
[41] See the reconstructions in Evans 1994: 467; Barnett 2009: 47; Meier 1991:  61.
[42] Evans 1994: 468.; Cf. S. Pines, An Arabic Version of the Testimonium Flavianum and Its Implications.
[43] Quoted in Evans 1994:  470.
[44] This view seems to be endorsed by a number of scholars, including Van Voorst 2000:  77; Barnett 2009: 51. Meier 1991: 68 states that “one cannot exclude” such a possibility, although opting more generally that many suggestions are equally possible as they are equally unverifiable.
[45] This identification is made by Barnett 2009: 50 and Evans 1994: 472.
[46] See the dates in Ehrman, 2003a: xi-xv.
[47] Nicholas Perrin, "Recent Trends in Gospel of Thomas Research (1991-2006): Part I, The Historical Jesus and the Synoptic Gospels" in Currents in Biblical Research. 2007; 5: 183-206. 183.
[48] P.Oxy. 654; Coptic Gospel of Thomas Preamble. Tr. Bart D. Ehrman, Lost Scriptures:Books that did not Make it into the New Testament. 25.ff.
[49] James H. Charlesworth and Craig A. Evans, “Jesus in the Agrapha and Apocryphal Gospels” in Authenticating the Activities of Jesus. Ed. Bruce Chilton and Craig A. Evans. 496.
[50] Casey 2002:  32.
[51] Crossan 1991: 427-428.
[52] Crossan 1991: 427-428.
[53] Davies 2002: 13-17.
[54] Casey 2002: 33.
[55] Brown 1997: 840; Bock 2005: 61, 63 make statements to the effect that the second century date is a majority view.
[56] Casey 2002: 34-35.
[57] Bruce touches on this slightly in his commentary, Bruce 1974: 141-142.
[58] A list of parallels in Matthew between M, L and Johannine material may be found in James H. Charlesworth and Craig A. Evans, “Jesus in the Agrapha and Apocryphal Gospels” in Authenticating the Activities of Jesus. Ed. Bruce Chilton and Craig A. Evans 1994: 498.; C.M. Tuckett makes a strong case in “Tuckett 1988: 132-157.
[59] Evans 2005: 258.
[60] N. Perrin, Thomas and Tatian: The Relationship between the Gospel of Thomas and the Diatessaron. Although Syrian influence on the Thomasine versions of the canonical traditions is arguably evident, Perrin’s argument is unconvincing. See. Robert F Shedinger, review of Nicholas Perrin, Thomas and Tatian: The Relationship between the Gospel of Thomas and the Diatessaron, Review of Biblical Literature [] (2003).
[61] Here, the dominant two-source hypothesis of Luke’s use of Mark is assumed.
[62] Gos. Thom. 65; Mark 12:1-8; Matthew 21:33-39; Luke 20:9-15.
[63] See also the extensive discussions in Kylne Snodgrass, “The Gospel of Thomas: A Secondary Gospel”, Second Century, 7, 1989. 19-30.
[64] Ehrman 2003b :29;  Barnett 2009:  39.
[65] Crossan 1991: 428; Ehrman 2003b  :29 states that “most have concluded that it was produced somewhat later, during the first half of the second century.”
[66] Barnett 2009:  40.
[67] Ehrman 2003b:  29.
[68] Barnett 2009: 40; Craig A. Evans 2005: 259.
[69] Koester 1990:  207.
[70] For example PEger 2, line 32 contains vocabulary from Matt 8:2 not found in Mark. More convincingly, PEger 2, lines 39-41 shows strong verbal agreement with the Lucan redaction (17:14) of Mark 1:44. Charlesworth and Evans conclude on the second example that “The best explanation for this is the influence of Lucan redaction, not some non- or pre-Synoptic tradition.” (521; cf. 520-525.)


  1. The problem I see with the theory that Tacitus used official archives for his information concerning the historical Jesus is simple: "Christus". It seems unlikely in the extreme that any spectulated report from Pilate would have listed the accused under anything other than "Jesus" or it's equivalent. If the gospels are to be believed, the sign the Roman's placed above Jesus' cross read "King of the Jews" not "Annointed One" as the title Chist would indicate.

    Just as the source of Tacitus' "Christus" is more likely to have been Christian rather than Imperial sources, he provides no details that would require a contemporaneous Judean document whatsoever. The time, place and cause of Jesus' execution would be widely known by Christians through out the empire. Any second century Christian could have provided this information to Tacitus directly or to any Roman official to whom he would have had access. Even if Tiberius' name is not as tied to the gospel narrative as Pilate's, one would expect Tacitus to be able to do the math.

    Inventing an official report for Tacitus to consult fails on the grounds of multiplying entities and should not entertained with any seriousness until better reasons than apologetic wishful thinking can be provided.

  2. I very much enjoyed your post here and I agree with you quite a bit, though I have a slightly different opinion in some small issues.

    I noticed that the citations on your page don't work they way they are supposed to (they direct to the Blogger page that you edited the post on and not to the note at the bottom of the essay). I have the same problem often with Blogger; the only way I've discovered to fix it is to go back into the post editor, go to the HTML view, and remove everything before the # in each of the links.

    In spite of the formatting issues, again, I really enjoyed reading this essay; you did an excellent job here in summarizing the non-canonical historical sources for the life of Christ.

  3. Hey Scott, that argument is not the most solid. Tacitus may have adjusted the name to that which Jesus was widely known to his audience. Furthermore, that a Christian may very well have been his source does not preclude one to speculate on an official source.

  4. Hey David. I may also disagree with some of my minor points. I am not too fussed about the footnote links not working, but it is much appreciated.