"Jesus Christ was the first Palestinian fedayeen."

- Yassar Arafat

"They feed you on the guilt,
To keep you humble and low,
Some man and myth they made up,
A thousand years ago."

- Silent Legacy
Melissa Etheridge

"Jesus was all right, but his disciples were thick and ordinary. It's them twisting it that ruins it for me."

- John Lennon

"Almost no educated person these days doubts that Jesus lived. Some accept it on faith, others on the testimony of a brace of ancient chroniclers, both Christian and Roman."

- Time Online Edition October 30, 2002



What do we know about Jesus - from non-biblical sources?


Jesus Christ is the only proof of the living God. We only know God through Jesus Christ. 1

- Blaise Pascal

There was no such person in the history of the world as Jesus Christ. There was no historical, living, breathing, sentient human being by that name. Ever. [The Bible] is a fictional, nonhistorical narrative.

- Jon Murray, President American Atheists

2.1 Why isn't this commonly taught?

More information has survived about Jesus Christ than most other ancient figures. Yet few historical persons have ever had their existence as questioned and as researched. One result of all that research is that information about Christ, from sources other than the Bible, is readily accessible by the common person for nearly the first time in history.

Unfortunately, this information and other material which refers to Christ seldom makes it into our learning cycle. Almost any material with significant reference to Christ or the Bible can be classified as religion and thus be summarily censored out of all events, displays, or institutions touched by government-allocated tax dollars. And the areas touched by tax dollars broaden every year.

Therefore, because taxpayer-funded expressions of Christ currently seem limited to extreme commentaries like crucifixes submerged in jars of urine, and scowling portraits of Jesus painted with an artist's own feces, the paths by which we have been left to learn any facts about the historical life and times of Jesus are either through churches, private institutions, or self-study.

The world deals differently with Jesus than with other historical figures and rightly so. Jesus made bigger claims and had a bigger impact than all the others. Jesus claimed to be God incarnate and left this world with the original Schwarzenegger-styled promise of "I'll be back". Even if our tax dollars seem to favor Christ's critics, it is not necessarily wrong to hold Christ up to a higher standard. Raising the standards was one of his clearest messages.

2.2 The testimonies from hostile sources.

In the case for Christ, the value of evidence, particularly from hostile sources, is tremendous. Hostile sources are considered to be those who were definitely not followers of Christ; i.e., people who clearly were not out to propagate favorable belief in him. The fact that hostile sources cite Christ, as well as cite other New Testament personages and events, is evidence for both the existence of Christ and the general veracity of the Bible.

The important point of hearing the corroborating testimony by non-Christians writing in Christ's own era, and shortly thereafter, is simply the acknowledgment of Christ's existence. Naturally, because all of the proceeding testimony comes from people who did not conclude him to be God, it does not deal with Christ as favorably or thoroughly as writings by those who did.

It is also categorically true that proof of Jesus' divinity will not be found in writings that qualify as hostile. This is because if some ancient writer had seen and confirmed his miracles or realized his fulfillment of prophecy and then recorded "Yes, Christ actually did this or that which his followers speak of", that writer would no longer be considered hostile by today's skeptic. Right?

Therefore, only writers who reference Christ offhandedly or in a negative way are sources whom skeptics are likely to accept as neutral observers. Hence we are left with a collection of writings that, though by nature lack clear confirmation of Christ's deity, do at least confirm he walked the earth for even his enemies to see.


Josephus was a Jewish historian who was born around AD 38. He served Roman commander Vespasian in Jerusalem until the city's destruction in AD 70. Josephus personally believed Vespasian to be Israel's promised Messiah. When Vespasian later became emperor of Rome, Josephus served under him as court historian. 2 In AD 93, Josephus finished his work Antiquities of the Jews in which at least three passages specifically confirm portions of Scripture:

But to some of the Jews the destruction of Herod's army seemed to be divine vengeance, and certainly a just vengeance, for his treatment of John, surnamed the Baptist. For Herod had put him to death, though he was a good man and had exhorted the Jews to lead righteous lives, to practice justice towards their fellows and piety towards God, and so doing to join in baptism. 3

...convened the judges of the Sanhedrin and brought before them a man named James, the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ, and certain others. He accused them of having transgressed the law and delivered them up to be stoned. 4

At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And 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. And 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;... 5

-- PLINIUS SECUNDUS (Pliny the Younger)

Pliny was the governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor. Much of his correspondence has survived including a particular letter written circa AD 112 to the Roman emperor Trajan. This letter does not reference Christ directly, but it does establish several beliefs and practices of early Christians. This includes their loyalty to Christ even when it cost them their lives. Pliny's letter states:

In the meantime, the method I have observed towards those who have been denounced to me as Christians is this: I interrogated them whether they were in fact Christians; if they confessed it, I repeated the question twice, adding the threat of capital punishment; if they still persevered, I ordered them to be executed.

...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 verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to perform any wicked deed, never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to make it good; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food - but food of an ordinary and innocent kind. 6


Tacitus was a senator under Emperor Vespasian and later became governor of Asia. Around AD 116 in his work entitled Annals, he wrote of Emperor Nero and a fire which had swept Rome in 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 Pilate, 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... 7


Suetonius was a chief secretary to Emperor Hadrian writing around AD 120 in his work Life of Claudius:

Because the Jews at Rome caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from the city. 8


Lucian, the Greek satirist, wrote this rather scathing attack in The Death of Peregrine circa AD 170:

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 contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed upon 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. 9


The Talmud is essentially the collection of Jewish oral traditions that were put into writing with additional commentary between the years of AD 70 and 200. From the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a includes:

On the eve of Passover they hanged Yeshu. And an announcer went out, in front of him, for forty days (saying): 'He is going to be stoned because he practiced sorcery and enticed and led Israel astray. Anyone who knows anything in his favor, let him come and plead in his behalf.' But, not having found anything in his favor, they hanged him on the eve of the Passover. 10

The facts in this passage are somewhat difficult to assimilate. Although Yeshu is referring to Jesus, the announcement that he was to be stoned (a lethal punishment) is followed by the statement that he was hanged (crucified). One possible explanation is that the Jewish leadership's call for his stoning preceded his eventual arrest by at least those forty days. This would be consistent with Scripture's accounts of his numerous near-stonings (John 10:31-33, 11:8).

Jesus' death by crucifixion may have then just been a matter of Roman involvement in the affair. Perhaps it is more likely that his sudden crucifixion (which immediately followed his arrest and dubious midnight trial) was gladly allowed by the Jewish leaders to pre-empt the normal forty day holding period for a condemned man. The leaders may have feared that, during this time, Jesus' followers might have been able to organize his release or stir up an outcry against them.


In summary, what can we conclude about the figure of Jesus Christ by only listening to non-Christians of the first centuries? That he was an invented myth? Absolutely not. Just by listening to Jesus' enemies and outsiders, we can put together the following profile on Christ and his influence; the sum of which positively affirms the believability of the Bible and deity of his person:

2.3 The testimonies from martyrs.


The testimony of death is what this author found as a nonbeliever to be a very difficult problem to get around. This is in reference to the last point on the above list: people who were tortured and executed willingly rather than deny their beliefs of Christ.

It is a challenging conjecture for any of us to think of what beliefs, if any, we would hold to the point of enduring torture or death. How long would you burn, or how much skin could you take being peeled away before screaming out whatever your tormentors wanted to hear? Until such moment comes, no one can say. But that moment did arrive for many who came before us, and history answers that they believed Jesus to be God-incarnate to their last breath.

The torturous end of Jesus' closest followers and the torture and exile of another indicates something radical. Their lives and their writings may show us what they believed; but nothing as much as their deaths shows us just how much they believed Jesus to be risen.

Although many martyrs (people who died for not relinquishing their beliefs) and confessors (people who were threatened with death for the same) can be named throughout church history, it is the deaths of the apostles and other close followers which carry the bulk of evidence for Christ's deity.

The apostles knew, lived, and worked with Christ daily for years. If Christ were a fake, no matter what the apostles might have previously preached or written, it is improbable that even one of them would have died for the sake of a joke or a lie. How rational is it that all of them would endure torture, eleven to the death, without even one wavering from their singular belief that Christ was God, and that he appeared to them after his crucifixion?

The fact that they maintained perfect unanimity on Jesus' resurrection under torture, separately and over many years, is inconceivable unless they were each absolutely convinced of Christ's claim to be the almighty God of the universe. The possibility that the apostles honestly mistook him to be God and only thought he appeared to them will be discussed later. But it is without a doubt that, rightly or wrongly, they were all totally convinced of Jesus' deity to the end.


Here is how many of those closest to Jesus met their end:

No group of individuals had closer contact with Jesus than those listed above. Their conclusion, even unto death, was that Jesus was God. Multitudes of unnamed Christians of the same and following eras likewise perished faithful to the conviction that Jesus is Lord. Pliny records an arrest procedure of many such Christians that today reads like a McCarthy-era transcript:

Those who denied they were, or had ever been, Christians, and who repeated after me an invocation to the gods,... and who finally cursed Christ - none of which acts, it is said, those who are really Christians can be forced into performing - these I thought it proper to discharge. 12

Tacitus, in his work Annals, tells us of the fate common to Christ's faithful, under Nero, who refused to recant their beliefs:

Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. 13

We often hear or say some variation of, "Your actions are speaking so loudly that I can't hear what you're saying." The apostles and early Christians' actions speak very clearly. Their actions matched their words. They walked their talk. Of course at this point, one might wonder what good their faithfulness did them - secure for them a horrible death? Where was their so-called loving God?


Long ago I asked this kind of question and felt a certain skepticism about the supposed love of Christ for us. The apostles were Jesus' best friends and they carried on the faith just as he had asked. If the Bible is an accurate portrayal of history and of Christ, I wondered how he could have let them suffer and die as they did.

Christ did love these men, and these men loved Christ. These men could have denied their belief in Jesus and he probably would have forgiven them. But they loved the truth of God literally more than earthly life. Even one denial just to spare themselves from the moment might have become popularized as the "awful truth about Christ", and the worship of Christ then greatly curtailed.

By the apostles' obedience and sacrifice, Christ has allowed their deaths to become an extremely powerful witness to us of his person. They died because they loved Christ, and Christ let them die for him because he loves us. Belief in Christ is that important, and those who died knew it. So it is not God who devalues the apostle's deaths, but us whenever we ignore the truth of Christ for which they surrendered their lives.

The deaths of Jesus' closest followers are speaking to us. Their deaths have become evidence of Christ's deity and ministry on earth. This is evidence of the Bible's believability that no historian, scientist, or skeptic can ignore in clear conscience.

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NEXT: How did the Old Testament instruct people to recognize God's promised messiah?

See also:

Does archaeology confirm or deny the claims of the Bible?

Was Christianity cut-and-pasted from other religions?

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The Gospel







Corroborating reports of Jesus by those who did not believe him to be God serve at least two purposes.

1.) Such reports confirm Jesus' existence in a way that cannot be doubted as merely the exaggeration of his loyal followers.

2.) Abiblical reports also serve to confirm other people, places, and events which are mentioned in the Bible but have otherwise left no surviving proof.

A. "What we know" summary
B. Fates of the closest followers