Is there any historical proof that Jesus existed?
The ancient historical record provides examples of writers, philosophers and historians who lived during or not long after the time Jesus is believed to have lived and who testify to the fact that he was a real person. We will look at what some of these people have said.
Tacitus lived from A.D. 55 to A.D. 120. He was a Roman historian and has been described as the greatest historian of Rome, noted for his integrity and moral uprightness. His most famous works are the Annals and the Histories. The Annals relate the historical narrative from Augustusí death in A.D.14 to Neroís death in A.D. 68. The Histories begin their narrative after Neroís death and finish with Domitianís death in A.D. 96. In his section describing Neroís decision to blame the fire of Rome on the Christians, Tacitus affirms that the founder of Christianity, a man he calls Chrestus (a common misspelling of Christ, which was Jesusí surname), was executed by Pilate, the procurator of Judea during the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberias. Tacitus was hostile to Christianity because in the same paragraph he describes Christusí or Christís death, he describes Christianity as a pernicious superstition. It would have therefore been in his interests to declare that Jesus had never existed, but he did not, and perhaps he did not because he could not without betraying the historical record.
Lucian of Samosata
Lucian was a Greek satirist of the latter half of the second century. He therefore lived within two hundred years of Jesus. Lucian was hostile to Christianity and openly mocked it. He particularly objected to the fact that Christians worshipped a man. He does not mention Jesusí name, but the reference to the man Christians worship is a reference to Jesus.
Suetonius was a Roman historian and a court official in Emperor Hadrianís government. In his Life of Claudius he refers to Claudius expelling Jews from Rome on account of their activities on behalf of a man Suetonius calls Chrestus [another misspelling of Christus or Christ].
Pliny the Younger
Pliny was the Governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor (AD. 112). He was responsible for executing Christians for not worshipping or bowing down to a statue of the emperor Trajan. In a letter to the emperor Trajan, he describes how the people on trial for being Christians would describe how they sang songs to Christ because he was a god.
Thallus and Phlegon
Both were ancient historians and both confirmed the fact that the land went dark when Jesus was crucified. This parallels what the Bible said happened when Jesus died.
Some time after 70 A.D., Mara Bar-Sarapion, who was probably a Stoic philosopher, wrote a letter to his son in which he describes how the Jews executed their King. Claiming to be a king was one of the charges the religious authorities used to scare Pontius Pilate into agreeing to execute Jesus.
Josephus was a Jewish historian who was born in either 37 or 38 AD and died some time after 100 AD. He wrote the Jewish Antiquites and in one famous passage described Jesus as a wise man, a doer of wonderful works and calls him the Christ. He also affirmed that Jesus was executed by Pilate and actually rose from the dead!
The four Gospels
The four Gospels are the four accounts of Jesusí life, which are contained in the New Testament part of the Bible. Historians will tell you that the closer an historical document is written to the time of the events it describes, the generally more reliable it is as a source of information about those events. Matthewís Gospel account of Jesusí life is now reckoned to have been written sometime between AD 70 and AD 80. Markís Gospel is dated between AD. 50 and AD. 65. Lukeís Gospel is dated in the early AD 60s and Johnís Gospel sometime between AD 80 and 100. If Jesus died sometime in the AD 30s, it is clear that Mark, Luke and Matthew wrote their Gospels within living memory of Jesusí death. Johnís Gospel comes later and probably outside of living memory for most as John lived to an unusually old age for the ancient period, but the accuracy of his Gospel was verified no doubt by those who read the earlier Gospels.
Another feature of the Gospels is that they were written by men who either knew Jesus personally, or who knew people who themselves knew Jesus personally. Matthew was a former tax collector who became a disciple of Jesus. Mark was a close associate of Simon Peter, who is regarded as being Jesusí most prominent disciple whilst Jesus was on the earth. Luke was a close associate of Paul who is the most famous of Christian missionaries and who wrote the largest contribution to the New Testament. Paul, in turn, was a close colleague of Simon Peter. John was the former fisherman who became the closest disciple of Jesus. The accounts of such men need to be considered at least seriously!
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