Jesus in Extra-Biblical Sources – Apologetics Canada

Posted: December 19, 2013 in Apologetics, Quotes
Tags: , , , , ,
Tacitus

Tacitus (Photo credit: Nick in exsilio)

“Tacitus (ca. 56 AD-ca. 120 AD)

Like Suetonius, Tacitus was also a Roman historian. He is best known for his Annals which records events from the death of Roman emperors Augustus to Nero in 14-68 AD.6 In Annals 15.44, Tacitus makes a reference to Jesus:

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 Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.7

This reference reveals many things about this Christus (Latin for “Christ”): he was executed under Pontius Pilate while Tiberius was emperor (14-37 AD), and a group of people—who were named after him—formed a following based on “a most mischievous superstition” surrounding this figure. This corroborates what the New Testament records about Jesus of Nazareth.

However, this passage has its own challenges. For one, skeptics often charge that this passage was a later Christian insertion. Early Christian apologists would have certainly mentioned such a helpful passage, yet it isn’t quoted until the 4th century by Sulpicius Severus.8 Furthermore, even if this passage is genuine, its accuracy is questionable. Tacitus refers to Pontius Pilate as a “procurator.” However, his actual title was “prefect,” and Tacitus would have known this.9

Pilate, Washing His Hands

Pilate, Washing His Hands (Photo credit: elycefeliz)

Still, the first charge is unlikely. If this passage were a later Christian insertion, we should expect to see Christianity presented in a more glowing way. Tacitus does nothing like it. Instead, Christ is executed under the authority of Pontius Pilate for what the readers would have understood to be a crime against Rome.10 Also, Christianity is said to be an “evil” based on “a most mischievous superstition,” which only adds to the already shameful state of Rome. Moreover, Tacitus calls Christians chrestianoi, which may be derogatory given his occasionally belittling use of the -ianoi suffix.11 In today’s language, it would be like calling Christians “Jesus freaks.” Such a negative view of Christianity makes the first charge weak.

As for Pilate’s title, Tacitus was probably just reading the political environment of his own time into the event he was describing: “Until Claudius in 41 C.E. gave each provincial governor from the equestrian class the title “procurator of the emperor” (procurator augusti), the Roman governor was called a “prefect” (praefectus).”12 Regardless, this minor mistake doesn’t change the historical core that someone named Christ was executed under Pontius Pilate.13 Thus, the second charge ultimately amounts to nothing.”– Steve K.

via Jesus in Extra-Biblical Sources – Apologetics Canada.

simul iustus et peccator,

Ericomondo

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Comments
  1. […] Jesus in Extra-Biblical Sources – Apologetics Canada (christianreasons.com) Like Suetonius, Tacitus was also a Roman historian. He is best known for his Annals which records events from the death of Roman emperors Augustus to Nero in 14-68 AD.6 In Annals 15.44, Tacitus makes a reference to Jesus: + 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 Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. […]

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