Tacitus, Lucian and Josephus

todangst's picture

This is just a brief outline of an entry I will add to later.

Those interested in learning about a complete lack of any historical corroboration for Jesus should go here:

http://www.rationalresponders.com/a_silence_that_screams_no_contemporary_historical_accounts_for_jesus Key points to be made:

Common historical citations for Jesus are bandied about uncritically on many websites.

These claims fall to pieces upon examination.

The Flaws:

1) None are contemporary accounts
2) Some are frauds (The Testimonium)
3) Some only reference christians, and not 'jesus the christ'
4) Several only reference religions leaders, or folks like 'chrestus' and not Jesus the christ.
5) Many reference events that clearly come after the purported time of jesus. (I.e. like making referneces to Nero)

And so on....

Other key points to deal with

"We have more evidence for "jesus' than we do for Caesar/Socrates/Alexander"

Basic flaws to cover:

1) Supernaturalism: Claims for Socrates, et. al. are naturalistic, not supernatural claims.

2) Provenance: Even though we do not have original sources, we have provenance for these claims back to the times of these people.

3) There are 24,000 copies of the bible from time period X.

I will also cite Rook's excellent analysis of the claims for Tactitus, et al.

They are on this site, and also here:


Tacitus (ca. 56 – ca. 117)

Tacitus is remembered first and foremost as Rome's greatest historian. His two surviving works: Annals and The Histories form a near continuous narrative from the death of Augustus in 14 CE to the death of Domitian in 96.

Interestingly, I cannot report on the silence of Tacitus concerning Jesus, because the very years of the purported existence of Jesus 30, 31, are suspiciously missing from his work(!)

Richard Carrier writes:

"...we are enormously lucky to have Tacitus--only two unrelated Christian monasteries had any interest in preserving his Annals, for example, and neither of them preserved the whole thing, but each less than half of it, and by shear luck alone, they each preserved a different half. And yet we still have large gaps in it. One of those gaps is the removal of the years 29, 30, and 31 (precisely, the latter part of 29, all of 30, and the earlier part of 31), which is probably the deliberate excision of Christian scribes who were embarrassed by the lack of any mention of Jesus or Gospel events in those years (the years Jesus' ministry, death, and resurrection were widely believed at the time to have occurred). There is otherwise no known explanation for why those three years were removed. The other large gap is the material between the two halves that neither institution preserved. And yet another is the end of the second half, which scribes also chose not to preserve (or lost through negligent care of the manuscript, etc.)."

Ironically, Christians often cite Tacitus as historical evidence for Jesus.

This is the passage cited:

But neither the aid of man, nor the liberality of the prince, nor the propitiations of the gods succeeded in destroying the belief that the fire had been purposely lit. In order to put an end to this rumor, therefore, Nero laid the blame on and visited with severe punishment those men, hateful for their crimes, whom the people called Christians. He from whom the name was derived, Christus, was put to death by the procurator Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. But the pernicious superstition, checked for a moment, broke out again, not only in Judea, the native land of the monstrosity, but also in Rome, to which all conceivable horrors and abominations flow from every side, and find supporters. First, therefore, those were arrested who openly confessed; then, on their information, a great number, who were not so much convicted of the fire as of hatred of the human race. Ridicule was passed on them as they died; so that, clothed in skins of beasts, they were torn to pieces by dogs, or crucified, or committed to the flames, and when the sun had gone down they were burned to light up the night. Nero had lent his garden for this spectacle, and gave games in the Circus, mixing with the people in the dress of a charioteer or standing in the chariot. Hence there was a strong sympathy for them, though they might have been guilty enough to deserve the severest punishment, on the ground that they were sacrificed, not to the general good, but to the cruelty of one man." (Annals XV, 44)

However, there are serious problems with using this passage as independent corroboration of Jesus:

Jeffery Jay Lowder states:

"There is no good reason to believe that Tacitus conducted independent research concerning the historicity of Jesus. The context of the reference was simply to explain the origin of the term "Christians," which was in turn made in the context of documenting Nero's vices..."

It is not just 'Christ-mythicists' who deny that Tacitus provides independent confirmation of the historicity of Jesus; indeed, there are numerous Christian scholars who do the same! For example, France writes, Annals XV.44 "cannot carry alone the weight of the role of 'independent testimony' with which it has often been invested." E.P. Sanders notes, "Roman sources that mention [Jesus] are all dependent on Christian reports." And William Lane Craig states that Tacitus' statement is "no doubt dependent on Christian tradition."
- Jeffery Jay Lowder, "Evidence" for Jesus, Is It Reliable?

So it may simply be that Tacitus was relying on oral tradition, and not on any historical research for his reference to Jesus. Tacitus himself tells us about the vlaue of such traditions:

"...everything gets exaggerated is typical for any story" and "all the greatest events are obscure--while some people accept whatever they hear as beyond doubt, others twist the truth into its opposite, and both errors grow over subsequent generations" (Annals 3.44 & 3.19). (Cited via Carrier's article)

As weak as the Tacitus claim is, it remains a possibility that even this weak bit of apparent corroboration is a later interpolation. The problems with this claim are examined here:


Some of these problems are summarized by Gordon Stein:

"While we know from the way in which the above is written that Tacitus did not claim to have firsthand knowledge of the origins of Christianity, we can see that he is repeating a story which was then commonly believed, namely that the founder of Christianity, one Christus, had been put to death under Tiberius. There are a number of serious difficulties which must be answered before this passage can be accepted as genuine. There is no other historical proof that Nero persecuted the Christians at all. There certainly were not multitudes of Christians in Rome at that date (circa 60 A.D.). In fact, the term "Christian" was not in common use in the first century. We know Nero was indifferent to various religions in his city, and, since he almost definitely did not start the fire in Rome, he did not need any group to be his scapegoat. Tacitus does not use the name Jesus, and writes as if the reader would know the name Pontius Pilate, two things which show that Tacitus was not working from official records or writing for non-Christian audiences, both of which we would expect him to have done if the passage were genuine.

Perhaps most damning to the authenticity of this passage is the fact that it is present almost word-for-word in the Chronicle of Sulpicius Severus (died in 403 A.D.), where it is mixed in with obviously false tales. At the same time, it is highly unlikely that Sulpicius could have copied this passage from Tacitus, as none of his contemporaries mention the passage. This means that it was probably not in the Tacitus manuscripts at that date. It is much more likely, then, that copyists working in the Dark Ages from the only existing manuscript of the Chronicle, simply copied the passage from Sulpicius into the manuscript of Tacitus which they were reproducing."
- The Jesus of History: A Reply to Josh McDowell
Gordon Stein, Ph.D. http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/gordon_stein/jesus.shtml

Supporting Stein's claim is that, as with the Testimonium, there is no provenance for the passage: No early Christian writer uses Tacitus' passage in their apologetics, even when discussing Christian persecution by Nero:

* Tertullian (ca. 155–230)
* Lactantius (ca. 240 - ca. 320)
* Sulpicius Severus (c. 360 – 425)
* Eusebius (ca. 275 – 339)
* Augustine of Hippo (354 – 430)

However, the key point here is that Tacitus did in fact write a thorough history of the purported times of Jesus and his ministry, and while this work is lost to us, Tacitus never makes any cross reference to it during his discussion of christians and Nero nor at any other point in his surviving works.

Those who know the good, do the good. - Socrates

Books on atheism.

Strafio's picture

Something to look forward

Something to look forward to. Smiling

caseagainstfaith's picture

Broken links

Link to "A Silence that Screams" is broken.

HisWillness's picture

The problem from a

The problem from a classicist's point of view is that what few surviving texts we have in Latin were copied many times by hand over centuries, so there's always that grain of salt that you have to take with the text, realizing that you're reading one end of the most extended game of broken telephone ever. To pretend like it's history without another source (or physical evidence in the case of the account of the eruption of Vesuvius) is just weak.

Also, the Latin of that chapter doesn't read like Tacitus. I mean, it kind of does, but it's choppier and weird by comparison.

Saint Will: no gyration without funkstification.
fabulae! nil satis firmi video quam ob rem accipere hunc mi expediat metum. - Terence

Historical Jesus

Although the quotes by Tacitus, Suetonius and Josephus refer to the middle of the first century, it must be noted that these texts were actually written at the very end of the first century, or after the gospel story had already been created. A more accurate picture of the truth can be garnered by reading the Epistles of Paul which date to the middle of the first century. Here we find Christ Jesus, a cosmic savior, mentioned and references to someone who was either crucified or hung from a tree, but the author 'Paul' is not certain which. What is most surprising is that we find absolutely no mention of either Jesus Christ or Jesus of Nazareth.

The reason for this is quite simple. The real Paul was actually Apollonius of Tyana who made 2 trips to India. On the first trip which ended in 39 CE he brought back 9 manuscripts which were the basis for the 9 epistles. He also brought back the concept of Christ. Although today, due to Christian influence, we believe that Jesus Christ and the Jewish Messiah are one and the same this is not the case. The Jewish Messiah had to be a son of David and Jesus Christ was the 'Son of God,' which make the two titles mutually incompatible. After his second trip which ended in 49 CE he brought back 4 writings from further India which served as the basis for the gospel accounts. These manuscripts were not written until the mid 60s under the auspices of the Roman Emperors Vespasian and his son Titus. As you can see, Paul did not write about Jesus of Nazareth because at the time the epistles were written he did not exist.

Besides the writings of Tacitus and Suetonius, you also have mention of Jesus by St. Ignatius of Antioch and Clement of Rome which also were written at the end of the first and beginning of the second century. It is strange that no one mentioned Jesus of Nazareth prior to the composition of the gospels. To learn more about how the Romans usurped the scriptures of Yeshu and the Nazoreans and proclaimed them the revelations of their godman Jesus Christ visit: http://www.nazoreans.com