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Historical Jesus Revealed In Ancient Sources

By Maryanne Goff
There are a number of ancient sources that provide information about the life, ministry and death of Christ. Not all of these sources are of equal value but there is sufficient evidence of the historical Jesus revealed for the conclusion to be drawn that he did in fact exist, was crucified and his followers spread his teachings after his death.

Josephus was a Jew who was born four years after the death of Christ. He was a court historian and wrote about many of the people we find in the New Testament. He referred to Jesus as a virtuous and wise man, talks about his crucifixion and mentions the report by his disciples that he appeared to them after he was resurrected. There are those who feel that his exact words may have been added to by Christians.

The Roman historian Tacitus referred to Christ and the fact that Pontius Pilate ordered his execution. He talks about the existence of early Christians. It is believed by some scholars that Tacitus may have gained his information about Christ from official records, perhaps from actual reports written by Pilate. Scholars generally feel his reference is genuine and of historical value.

Pliny the Younger, a governor in Asia Minor, was perplexed about how to handle the Christians and wrote to Emperor Trajan to ask whether he was going about their interrogation and execution in the right manner. He writes an account of early Christian worship and states that Christianity attracted people from all spheres of society. His purpose was to reclaim them from this contagious superstition.

The Talmud, a Jewish source, does not embrace Christ as a deity and would have had no reason to sanction his existence. However, it contains references to Jesus and his disciples. It refers to the fact that he was hanged and also mentions his disciples going before judges.

Lucian, a Greek Satirist, wrote criticizing Christians for being gullible but revealed in the course of his criticism that Christ introduced new teachings in Palestine, was crucified for them and that he taught his followers such doctrines as the need for conversion, importance of faith and the brotherhood of all believers. He says that they believed in their own immortality and scorned death.

Gnostic sources affirm that Christ became flesh, taking on a human body. They say that he spoke of himself as the son of man and the son of God. The Gnostic sources are somewhat questionable because of their theological character and when they were written. However, both Pliny and Lucian affirmed that Christians believed in the deity of Christ.

There is little question as to the existence of the historical Jesus revealed in ancient extra biblical sources. Even serious scholars accept that a Jew named Jesus taught in Palestine when Tiberius reigned. They agree that he was executed by crucifixion ordered by Pontius Pilate and his followers continued to teach his message after his death.

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