Tactus, Lucian, Thallus, Josephus, the Talmud

Statements by non-Christian sources

Tacitus, a Roman historian
He describes the Roman Emperor Nero’s actions after the great fire of Rome, AD 64:

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.

Annals 15-44

Mischievous Superstition
Exitiabilis is the latin word for mischievous. It means destructive, fatal, deadly. So it would seem that what tacitus actually said was it was a destructive or fatal or deadly superstition. He was calling Christianity evil. So, it is obvious that he was not a Christian, thus he would not be sharing about the death of Jesus to support the fact that there was a historical Jesus that was killed by Pontius Pilate. Note that Tacitus is not referring to the death of the Jesus as superstition but the practice of Jesus followers.

A famous historian, reputed in his own days as being extremely careful and factual, Tacitus would not have been prone to writing about a movement without first checking the Roman archives to see if he could not get the most accurate report possible. He wrote his history of Rome covering the death of Augustus to the death of Domitian, that’s 14-96 AD.  He used earlier works by historians cross checking them with each other. He sought to verify his facts, something unusual in the writing of the time. He clearly has bias as he hated Domitian and wasn’t a great fan of Tiberius, but this would have no bearing on mentions of Christ.

Some say that Tactitus also wrote about Hercules so his works are not valid. Read our response to this accusation.

Lucian of Samosta, Greek satirist, 2nd Century A.D.

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 comtempt 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 also reported that the Christians had ‘sacred writings’ which were frequently read. When something affected them, “they spare no trouble, no expense.”

Lucian, “The Passing of Peregrinus” 12, 13. Loeb Classical Library. English translation by A. M. Harmon (London: William Heinemann, Ltd.; Cambridge, mass.: Harvard University Press, 1936), pp. 13, 15.

Lucian, The Death of Peregrine, 11-13, in The Works of Lucian of Samosata, transl. by H.W. Fowler and F.G. Fowler, 4 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1949), vol. 4

Thallus a Samaritan-born historian.
Thallus, a Samaritan-born historian, wrote a history of the Eastern Mediterranean world from the Trojan War to his own time 52 AD.  His writings are only found as citations by others. Thallus was quoted by Julius Africanus who wrote about AD 221 mentioned Thallus’ account of an eclipse of the sun.

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.

Thallus quoted by Julius Africanus

The oddity is that Jesus’ crucifixion occurred at the Passover which was a full moon.  It is not possible for a solar eclipse to occur at a full moon. So, the event had to be a supernatural event.

Julius Africanus, Extant Writings, XVIII in the Ante�Nicene Fathers, ed. by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973), vol. VI, p. 130. as cited in Habermas, Gary R., The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ, (Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Company) 1996.
2. Jewish sources.

Josephus, Jewish historian (AD 37-100)

“About this time appeared Jesus, a wise man (if indeed it is right to call Him man; for He was a worker of astonishing deeds, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with joy), and He drew to Himself many Jews (Many also of Greeks. This was the Christ.) And when Pilate, at the denunciation of those that are foremost among us, had condemned Him to the cross, those who had first loved Him did not abandon Him (for He appeared to them alive again on the third day, the holy prophets having foretold this and countless other marvels about Him.) The tribe of Christians named after Him did not cease to this day.”

Jewish Antiquities, 18.3.3 63

Most scholars agree that the statements in parantehsis were added later by others, most likely Christians. However, there has not been any dispute regarding the accuracy of his statement regarding the crucifixion of Jesus.

The Jewish Talmud
Centuries of Jewish oral tradition committed to writing between AD 200 and AD 500), In the Babylonian Talmud in tractate Sanhedrin (43A), there is an interesting reference to Jesus.

On the eve of Passover they hanged Yeshu (of Nazareth) and the herald went before him for forty days saying (Yeshu of Nazareth) is going to be stoned in that he hath practiced sorcery and beguiled and led astray Israel. Let everyone knowing aught in his defense come and plead for him. But they found naught in his defense and hanged him on the eve of Passover.

The Babylonian Talmud, transl. by I. Epstein (London: Soncino, 1935), vol. III, Sanhedrin 43a, p. 281 as cited in Habermas, Gary R., The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ, (Joplin, MO: College Press Publishing Company) 1996.

Historians and others that were not Christians, acknowledge the death and/or crucifixion of Jesus. Most Jews even to this day don’t doubt that Jesus died on a cross. They just don’t recognize Him as the Messiah and that He rose from the dead.

Crucifixion-Historical Evidence II

Medical Evaluation of Crucifixion