Who is Jesus?

Secular evidence for His existence

Since Jesus Christ kept quite a low profile and confined His public teaching to 3 years, we would not expect Him to have great mentions in the historical writings of the time. However Jesus Christ is mentioned several times in secular literature, mainly because of the manner of His death and the way that Christianity sprung from that event. There are several references to Him in secular writings but for this brief study we will limit our discussion to a few key quotes.

Josephus

Josephus was a Jewish historian who lived from about 37-100 AD. He gives the following account in the 18th book of Jewish Antiques.

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 amongst 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. Jewish Antiquities 18.3.3

Thallus

There was a 1st century historian named Thallus. His works are lost but some of his statements are recorded by the so-called 'church fathers'. He accepted the existence of Jesus but tried to find a natural explanation for the things that He did. The following quote is recorded by Julius Africanus in his book The Chronology of Julius Africanus. Julius Africanus could clearly quote Thallus as being a well known, trust worthy historical source.

As to His works severally, and His cures effected upon body and soul, and the mysteries of His doctrine, and the ressurestion from the dead, these have been most authoritatively set froth by His disciples and apostles before us. 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 Histry, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun. Julius Africanus, c. 221 A.D., "The Chronology of Julius Africanus", 18.1

Phlegon

Julius Africanus also quotes from another historian called Phlegon who wrote a book called Chronicles in 140 AD, which is also lost. Phlegon also agrees that Jesus was a historical figure but like Thallus tries to find a natural explanation for the things that he did. Julius Africanus gives us the following quotes.

Phlegon records that, in the time of Tiberius Caesar, at full moon, there was a full eclipse of the sun from the sixth hour to the ninth - manifestly that one of which we speak. Africanus, 18.1

Now Phlegon, in the thirteenth or fourteenth book, I think, of his Chronicles, not only ascribed to Jesus a knowledge of future events (although falling into confusion about some things which refer to Peter, as if they referred to Jesus), but also testified that the result corresponded to His predictions. So that he also, by these very admissions regarding foreknowledge, as if against his will, expressed his opinion that the doctrines taught by the fathers of our system were not devoid of divine power. Origen, "Against Celsus", Book 2.14

And with regard to the eclipse in the time of Tiberius Caesar, in whose reign Jesus appears to have been crucified, and the great earthquakes which then took place, Phlegon too, I think, has written in the thirteenth or fourteenth book of his Chronicles.Origen, 2.33

Cornelius Tacitus

Cornelius Tacitus was a Roman senator and later governor of Asia. He wrote the book Annals in around 116 AD. From the quote it is clear that he was completely against Christianity, yet he cannot deny the existence of Jesus Christ.

Christus, the founder of the name [Christians], had undergone the death penalty in the reign of Tiberius, by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilate, and the pernicious superstition was checked for a moment, only to break out once more, not merely in Judea, the home of the disease, but in the capital itself, where all things horrible or shameful in the world collect and find a vogue. quoted from McDowell, p. 49

Mara Bar-Serapion

A Syrian by the name Mara Bar-Serapion made the following statement in a letter from prison to his son sometime after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise king? It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished...Nor did the wise king die for good; he lived on in the teaching which he had given. quoted from McDowell, p. 52