Early Non Biblical Writings that mention Jesus and his followers

Early Non Biblical Writings that mention Jesus and his followers


Antiquities 18.3.3 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 among 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.

Antiquities 20.9.1 But the younger Ananus who, as we said, received the high priesthood, was of a bold disposition and exceptionally daring; he followed the party of the Sadducees, who are severe in judgment above all the Jews, as we have already shown. As therefore Ananus was of such a disposition, he thought he had now a good opportunity, as Festus was now dead, and Albinus was still on the road; so he assembled a council of judges, and brought before it the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ, whose name was James, together with some others, and having accused them as law-breakers, he delivered them over to be stoned.

Although time would not permit me to mention it on the radio, another version of Josephus’ “Testimonium Flavianum” survives in a tenth-century Arabic version (Bruce, Christian Origins, 41). In 1971, Professor Schlomo Pines published a study on this passage. The passage is interesting because it lacks most of the questionable elements that many scholars believe to be Christian interpolations. Indeed, “as Schlomo Pines and David Flusser…stated, it is quite plausible that none of the arguments against Josephus writing the original words even applies to the Arabic text, especially since the latter would have had less chance of being censored by the church” (Habermas, The Historical Jesus, 194). The passage reads as follows: “At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. His conduct was good and (he) was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive; accordingly he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.” (Quoted in James H. Charlesworth, Jesus Within Judaism, (Garden City: Doubleday, 1988), 95, cited in Habermas, The Historical Jesus, 194).

LucianusLucian / Λουκιανός: From this satirist and playwright of the second century, we have two quotes from a play entitled “The Passing of Peregrinus.” The hero of the tale, Peregrinus, was a Cynic philosopher who became a Christian, rose in prominence in the Christian community, then returned to Cynicism. Lucian’s attack is not so much on Christianity, but on the person of Peregrinus, who took advantage of the Christians’ simplicity and gullibility. [Alli.Luc, 99]

The first quotes tells of Peregrinus, who learned “the wondrous lore of the Christians,” became one of their leaders and was revered as a god, lawgiver, and protector, “next after that other, to be sure, whom they (the Christians) still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult to the world.” [Harm.Luc, 13]

Obviously Jesus is not mentioned by name in these citations, but there is no doubt that it is Jesus to whom Lucian is referring here. No one else was ever worshipped by the Christians! I will also throw my own view in the mix: I believe, contrary to majority opinion, that in referring to “their first lawgiver,” Lucian is referring not to Jesus, but to Paul or some other apostolic leader. I say this because the teachings referred to (to deny the gods, and do reverence to Jesus) fit far better with what was done by Paul than by Jesus.

Secular References to Jesus: Mara bar-Serapion

This letter contains the following passage:

“What advantage did the Athenians gain from putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as a judgment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise King? It was just after that their Kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea; the Jews, ruined and driven from their land, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates did not die for good; he lived on in the teaching of Plato. Pythagoras did not die for good; he lived on in the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise King die for good; He lived on in the teaching which He had given.”

This reference to Jesus is not particularly valuable. We have no idea what qualifications the writer of this letter held. We are not even sure when this letter was written, other than that it was after 73 AD, and very likely after 135 AD (which fits better the description of the Jews’ dispersal), but also likely no later than 165 AD (because of the description suitable to the Parthian war) [VanV.JONT, 56]. At best, it offers us a special insight into how one particular pagan viewed the person of Jesus.

Jesus is not mentioned by name. “Wise King” probably does not refer to Jesus. There were many messianic pretenders at the time; Mara Bar-Serapion could be referring to one of them.

How do we know that the Serapion letter does not refer to one of those pretenders? The letter sets out seven distinct criteria describing this Wise King, and none of those pretenders filled all seven descriptions of a person who:

  • Was executed;
  • Was possessed of wisdom;
  • Was executed just before the Jews’ kingdom was abolished.
  • Was executed before the Jews were dispersed;
  • Was executed by the actions of the Jews;
  • Lived on in the teaching that he had given;
  • Was referred to as a “king.”

Secular References to Jesus: Pliny Plinius_der_Jüngere

Pliny the Younger (62?-c.113) was Governor of Bithynia. His correspondence in 106 AD with the emperor Trajan included a report on proceedings against Christians. In an extended explanation to his supervisor, Pliny explained that he forced Christians to “curse Christ, which a genuine Christian cannot be induced to do.” He also described their actions and practices thusly:

They affirmed, however, that the whole of their guilt, or their error, was, that they were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verse a hymn to Christ as to a god, and bound themselves to a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft, adultery, never to falsify their word, not to deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up.

Pliny then records how Christians received their punishment.

TacitusTacitus was a Roman historian writing early in the 2nd century A.D. His Annals provide us with a single reference to Jesus of considerable value. Rather frustratingly, much of his work has been lost, including a work which covers the years 29-32, where the trial of Jesus would have been had he recorded it. [Meie.MarJ, 89]

Here is a full quote of the cite of our concern, from Annals 15.44. Jesus and the Christians are mentioned in an account of how the Emperor Nero went after Christians in order to draw attention away from himself after Rome’s fire of 64 AD:

But not all the relief that could come from man, not all the bounties that the prince could bestow, nor all the atonements which could be presented to the gods, availed to relieve Nero from the infamy of being believed to have ordered the conflagration, the fire of Rome. Hence to suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished Christians, who were hated for their enormities. Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also, 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.

B.The Clement Connection.

I Clement, is the earliest known example of extra Biblical Christian writing. It dates to A 95, and according to tradition is the work of the Biship of Rome, Clement, to the Church at Corinth. The issue was rebellion in the ranks of Presbyters. Be that as it may, the author does mention the Apostle Peter and Paul as having been with them in Rome during his own time.

“Let us come to the Heroes nearest out own times. Let us take the noble examples of our own generation; by reason of rivalry the greatest and most righteous pillars [of the church] were persecuted and battled to the death. Let us set before our eyes the nobel Apostles; Peter who…frequently endured suffering and thus wen to the glorious place which he merited…Paul showed how to win the prize for patient endurance…. (5:2-5 in Richardson and Fairweather, et al. Early Christian Fathers, New York: MacMillian, 1970 p.45-46). a foot note of the editor adds that this is good evidence for Peter’s martyrdom in Rome (fn Ibid.).

D.Papias Connection

Papias, Bishop of Hierapolis (c.130) Expositions of the Oracles of the Lord. Papias records that that he met and knew many of Jesus’ actual deciples and that he spoke with them, and with those who knew the Apostles.

Sources on Papias:

Early Christian Writings

“Schoedel writes about Papias (The Anchor Bible Dictionary, v. 5, p. 140): According to Irenaeus, our earliest witness, Papias was “a hearer of John and a companion of Polycarp, a man of primitive times,” who wrote a volume in “five books” (haer. 5.33.4; quoted by Eusebius Hist. Eccl. 3.39.1). Eusebius already doubted the reality of a connection between Papias and the apostle John on the grounds that Papias himself in the preface to his book distinguished the apostle John from John the presbyter and seems to have had significant contact only with John the presbyter and a certain Aristion (Hist. Eccl. 3.39.3-7). Eusebius’ skepticism was no doubt prompted by his distaste – perhaps a recently acquired distaste (Grant 1974) – for Papias’ chiliasm and his feeling that such a theology qualified Papias for the distinction of being “a man of exceedingly small intelligence” (Hist. Eccl. 3.39.13). Nevertheless Eusebius’ analysis of the preface is probably correct; and his further point that Papias’ chiliasm put him to the same camp as the Revelation of John is surely relevant.

Early date gaining ground among scholars:

It is notable that Eusebius, in spite of his desire to discredit Papias, still places him as early as the reign of Trajan (A.D. 98-117); and although later dates (e.g., A.D. 130-140) have often been suggested by modern scholars, Bartlet’s date for Papias’ literary activity of about A.D. 100 has recently gained support (Schoedel 1967: 91-92; Kortner 1983: 89-94, 167-72, 225-26).


III.Ancient Secular Historians

E. Lucian of Samosata

Satarist and Playwrite of the second century. He wrote “The Passing of Peregrinus” about a cynic who comes to join the ranks of the Christians, takes advantage of them, and than leaves to go back to his former philosphy. [Alli.Luc,99]

From this satirist and playwright of the second century, we have two quotes from a play entitled “The Passing of Peregrinus.” The hero of the tale, Peregrinus, was a Cynic philosopher who became a Christian, rose in prominence in the Christian community, then returned to Cynicism. Lucian’s attack is not so much on Christianity, but on the person of Peregrinus, who took advantage of the Christians’ simplicity and gullibility. [Alli.Luc, 99]

There are two quotes of primary interest in this play: the first states that Peregrinus (the fictional character) rose thorugh the ranks to become reverenced as a god, “next after taht other, to be sure, whom they (the Christians) still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine becasue he introduced this new cult to the world.” [Harm. Luc, 13] The second states: “Their first lawgiver [Peegrinus being the second] persuaded them that they are all brothers…after they have thrown over and denied the gods of Greece and have done reverence to that crucifed sophist himself and live according to his laws.” He doens’t mention Jesus by name, but this is clealry who he means.Note the phrasing, “the man who was crucified in Palestine…” As if to say “You know, that guy we have all heard about…” He clearly assumes common knowlege of the story, at least in essence on the part of his audience.


4. The Babylonian Talmud

There are only a few clear references to Jesus in the Babylonian Talmud, a collection of Jewish rabbinical writings compiled between approximately A.D. 70-500. Given this time frame, it is naturally supposed that earlier references to Jesus are more likely to be historically reliable than later ones. In the case of the Talmud, the earliest period of compilation occurred between A.D. 70-200.{20} The most significant reference to Jesus from this period states:

On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald . . . cried, “He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy.”{21}

Let’s examine this passage. You may have noticed that it refers to someone named “Yeshu.” So why do we think this is Jesus? Actually, “Yeshu” (or “Yeshua”) is how Jesus’ name is pronounced in Hebrew. But what does the passage mean by saying that Jesus “was hanged”? Doesn’t the New Testament say he was crucified? Indeed it does. But the term “hanged” can function as a synonym for “crucified.” For instance, Galatians 3:13 declares that Christ was “hanged”, and Luke 23:39 applies this term to the criminals who were crucified with Jesus.{22} So the Talmud declares that Jesus was crucified on the eve of Passover. But what of the cry of the herald that Jesus was to be stoned? This may simply indicate what the Jewish leaders were planning to do.{23} If so, Roman involvement changed their plans!{24}

The passage also tells us why Jesus was crucified. It claims He practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy! Since this accusation comes from a rather hostile source, we should not be too surprised if Jesus is described somewhat differently than in the New Testament. But if we make allowances for this, what might such charges imply about Jesus?

Interestingly, both accusations have close parallels in the canonical gospels. For instance, the charge of sorcery is similar to the Pharisees’ accusation that Jesus cast out demons “by Beelzebul the ruler of the demons.”{25} But notice this: such a charge actually tends to confirm the New Testament claim that Jesus performed miraculous feats. Apparently Jesus’ miracles were too well attested to deny. The only alternative was to ascribe them to sorcery! Likewise, the charge of enticing Israel to apostasy parallels Luke’s account of the Jewish leaders who accused Jesus of misleading the nation with his teaching.{26} Such a charge tends to corroborate the New Testament record of Jesus’ powerful teaching ministry. Thus, if read carefully, this passage from the Talmud confirms much of our knowledge about Jesus from the New Testament.

20. Habermas, The Historical Jesus, 202-03.

21. The Babylonian Talmud, transl. by I. Epstein (London: Soncino, 1935), vol. III, Sanhedrin 43a, 281, cited in Habermas, The Historical Jesus, 203.

22. Habermas, The Historical Jesus, 203.

23. See John 8:58-59 and 10:31-33.

24. Habermas, The Historical Jesus, 204. See also John 18:31-32.

25. Matt. 12:24. I gleaned this observation from Bruce, Christian Origins, 56.

26. Luke 23:2, 5.



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18 Responses to Early Non Biblical Writings that mention Jesus and his followers

  1. Bino Bolumai says:

    Is your theory able to distinguish references to Jesus from references to Christianity?

    Everybody agrees there were Christians in the late first and early second century. People − Tacitus, Suetonius, Lucian, are some −− wrote about them and their myths. How exactly would you expect someone to describe an odd new cult to people who didn’t know anything about the cult, without mentioning the cult’s peculiar beliefs?

    For example, in 1997 the New York Times, Time, Newsweek, etc. all wrote about the Heaven’s Gate cult, mentioning the space−gods cult members believed were coming to earth in the trail of the Hale−Bop comet.

    Do you think the New York Times, Time, Newsweek articles are evidence that the comet−Gods actually existed?

    If not, why are Tacitus, Suetonius, Lucian mentioning the Jesus cult’s legendary founder evidence that that God actually existed?

    Bino Bolumai

    / In Bino Veritas /

  2. What are you trying to say? Reference about my blog if recorded today or discussed in 50 to 100 years time and discovered in 100 years later will in fact prove that there was a someone out there under the name of Defend the Word who did exist and has communicate his ideas etc.

    Not sure why do you want to dispute this kind of argument with such flimsy rebuttal?

  3. Bino Bolumai says:

    Simple question: Are the New York Times, Time, Newsweek articles evidence that the comet−Gods actually existed?


  4. Simple answer, two are not related you equate Bible with the New York Times and that is big no, no. Even for Journalists.

    Defend the word

  5. Bino Bolumai says:

    I didn’t ask you about the bible. I asked you about the evidence for the comet gods. Are the New York Times, Time, Newsweek articles evidence that the comet−gods actually existed?


  6. Hi Bino

    I know you didn’t ask me about the Bible, but what I’m saying is that you are building a straw man argument. In other words your argument does not disprove what was mentioned here.


    Defend the word

  7. Bino Bolumai says:

    what I’m saying is that you are building a straw man argument.

    OK. But I don’t see how it’s a straw man. Perhaps you can show me. You’ll have to go slowly. Please start by telling me: Are the New York Times, Time, and Newsweek articles evidence that the comet−gods actually existed?

    And if not, why not?


  8. The answer is it could be either way, I don’t know, I am not aware of the story you raised. Secondly if you are going to use critical analysis you can’t possibly compare apples with bananas can you? If your story is that this was incorrect in one example this does not prove or disprove next example does it? Fact is that our history is conducted on several historical principles that are always used to which both the Bible and other supporting material holds wholeheartedly.

    Defend the word

  9. Bino Bolumai says:

    The answer is it could be either way, I don’t know,


    Do you really mean to say that when the NYT and Time and Newsweek reported about a crazy cult in California, that when news reports included descriptions of the nutty beliefs of cult members – cult members believed space gods were coming to Earth on a comet— that those reports might indicate to you that there actually were space gods coming to Earth on a comet?

    Bino Bolumai

    / In Bino Veritas /

  10. No that is not what I said. If you read carefully and not read it selectively you will notice that I said that I didn’t know the story you were referring to. But you just prove my point that you are building a straw man argument in order to burn it and make a claim that what you said disproves the original point even thought there are absolutely no connections between the two stories.

    Defend the word

  11. Bino Bolumai says:

    But you just prove my point that you are building a straw man argument in order to burn it and make a claim that what you said disproves the original point even thought there are absolutely no connections between the two stories.

    I’m surprised your original point was that there are absolutely no connections between he two stories – when, as you say, you didn’t know anything about the space gods story.

    But please, help me understand the straw man business. Please, read the wiki …


    …and tell me: When the NYT and Time and Newsweek reports included descriptions of the nutty beliefs of cult members – cult members believed space gods were coming to Earth on a comet— were those reports evidence that there actually were space gods coming to Earth on a comet?

    If not, why not?

    Bino Bolumai

    / In Bino Veritas /

  12. Right let me try and build my case that may sound the same to you as your original argument. Hitler and Stalin did not believe in personal God. All the people that don’t believe in personal God are as bad as Hitler and Stalin. I am sure you would not agree with such superficial argument and neither would I. We both know from our personal experiences that there are many lovely people out there who are either agnostics or atheists.

    Likewise when you find counterfeit of the original Ferrari you don’t say that the original is none existent do you?

    That is what I call straw man argument, you can’t build argument on the case that is not related to the original issue in order to destroy your straw man argument and then claim that the original and straw man are related can you?

    Defend the word

  13. misunderstoodranter says:

    I believe today that my conduct is in accordance with the will of the Almighty Creator.

    – Adolf Hitler, Mein Kampf, Vol. 1 Chapter 2

  14. misunderstoodranter says:

    “I believe today that I am acting in the sense of the Almighty Creator. By warding off the Jews I am fighting for the Lord’s work. ”

    – Adolf Hitler, Speech, Reichstag, 1936

    Opps and another – in fact, there are hundreds of references to God or the creator in Hilter’s writings and recorded speeches. Christian’s like to align the evils of Hilter to atheists – to demonise athiets for not believing in god – he didn’t believe in Christ, because Christ was a Jew – and Hilter was busy trying to exterminate the Jews.

    Hilter most defiantly not an atheist – and was most defiantly a racist.

    I find that religious people are more racist than any other kind – religionist maybe – but ultimately racist.

    Stalin was an Atheist – I am happy to accept that fact, he hated religion, in fact he hated anyone that didn’t believe in socialism. And since he was (as far as he was concerned) the ultimate socialist. However, he did have a funny turn at one point and started to bring back priests – maybe he had doubts… but the fundamental reasoning here, is yes he hated religion – they were a threat to his superiority, so he decided that he would do away with the church and everyone that subscribed to it, he killed thousands of nuns and priests – and perhaps this is why Christians associate atheism with evil – which is irrational, but understandable.

  15. Please post your comment in the correct place not just anywhere, that just confuses people. I appreciate you are keen to post your thoughts but please do keep record where they are originally from.

    Secondly Hitler was into occult, his God was the Satan, this is not far from animism and witchcraft and pagan worship, this kind of religion in the eyes of Christians have origins with the worship that is away from God and therefore anti God. Secondly it is clear by the amount of Catholics and other Christians that have been killed in concentration camps that he was anti Christian. In that sense not much different to atheists.

    Defend the word

  16. misunderstoodranter says:

    Of course Hitler was Anti-Christian – Christ was a Jew, hilter hated Jews, so if you thought Christ was the Lord, you would have been at odds with Hitler’s ideology.

    However, Hilter also believed that Christ was anti-Jew and in his book in his own words he wrote:

    “My feelings as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded only by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God’s truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. .. How terrific was His fight for the world against the Jewish poison.”

    Hitler obviously thought of himself as a Christian – -and emphasised with Christ in his own ideological plight.

    If you look at Nazi badges and symbols many of them bare a Christian cross – Hitler, took the Christian religion and manipulated to his own needs – i.e. he believed in what he wanted to believe.

    If you are saying that he wasn’t a Christian by your standards – then fine, I can understand that.

    The Nazi movement is an idealism – it is not compatible with religion unless that religion promotes its ideology.

    For example the current Pope was a member of the Hilter youth – such was the strength of Nazi party – if his family had publically denounced the Nazi scouts, they probably would have been persecuted as well – this allows me to understand how the Pope could have been associated with the Nazi movement.

    To believe that Hitler was evil and sponsored by Satan, is a very immature view – Hitler didn’t persuade millions of Germans to become racist. If you lived near a death camp you would have smelt it, you have seen the ash rising into the sky, the people knew what was happening – it was a massive operation involving thousands of operators, and the consent of millions of people in all classes of society.

    If Hilter wandered around worshiping the devil he would have been outcast by his peers and society consequently he would never had got to power – Hitler was not stupid, he knew how to turn people on in his speeches, he was a master of social manipulation, and after he failed to convince the Christian church to sponsor Nazi ideology, he decided that it was a threat to his ‘mission’ and would destroy the Church’s that didn’t believe in his interpretation of faith in God.

    You really shouldn’t confuse ideology with religion – they are not the same thing. Ideology will use religion to realise sell its mission to society – because it is the smart move to make – this is the reason why politicians proclaim their religion, they know that if they do – they will get votes, and votes is power.

    The difference between Hitler and Stalin, is that Starlin knew what religion was, and decided that there was no point in trying to convince them that he was right – therefore it was more efficient for him to dispose of the church right away.

    Dictator’s are social engineers – religion is either a tool or a threat to them – plain and simple, and another reason why I will not sponsor the bible or the church, because the church knows this as well. Unless you are telling me that powerful church people don’t sit in government or have any influence over society?

  17. Let’s not go in the circle with this one. I think I spelt out my views clearly in the previous reply. Besides you are contradicting yourself first he hated Christ then he is a Christian. Secondly you should google Nazi ideology and Occult and see what you find.

    Defend the word

  18. Mark says:

    Why is there so much hate when it comes to Christians and Christianity. So much effort to disprove that which cannot be dis-proven? It boils down to a simple insecurity in my opinion, one in which Satan feeds off of. God wants you to accept him in your life, when you choose not to there is a hole, a hole that must be filled. What better to fill it with then hatred of Christians.

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