Was Jesus a Real Person?

Roman Historians: Early Roman historians wrote primarily of events and people important to their empire. Since Jesus wasn’t of immediate importance to the political or military affairs of Rome, very little Roman history referenced him. However, two important Roman historians, Tacitus and Suetonius, do acknowledge Jesus as a real person.

Tacitus (a.d. 55-120), the greatest early Roman historian, wrote that Christus (Greek for Christ) had lived during the reign of Tiberius and “suffered under Pontius Pilate, that Jesus’ teachings had already spread to Rome; and that Christians were considered criminals and tortured in a variety of ways, including crucifixion.”[18]

Suetonius (a.d. 69-130) wrote of “Chrestus” as an instigator. Most scholars believe this is a reference to Christ. Suetonius also wrote of Christians having been persecuted by Nero in a.d. 64.[19]

Roman Officials: Christians were considered enemies of Rome because of their worship of Jesus as Lord rather than Caesar. The following Roman government officials, including two Caesars, wrote letters from that perspective, mentioning Jesus and early Christian origins.[20]

Pliny the Younger was an imperial magistrate under Emperor Trajan. In a.d. 112, Pliny wrote to Trajan of his attempts to force Christians to renounce Christ, whom they “worshiped as a god.”

Emperor Trajan (a.d. 56-117) wrote letters mentioning Jesus and early Christian origins.

Emperor Hadrian (a.d. 76-136) wrote about Christians as followers of Jesus.

Pagan Sources: Several early pagan writers briefly mention Jesus or Christians prior to the end of the second century. These include Thallus, Phlegon, Mara Bar-Serapion and Lucian of Samosate.[21] Thallus’ remarks about Jesus were written in a.d. 52, about twenty years after Christ.

In total, nine early non-Christian secular writers mention Jesus as a real person within 150 years of his death. Interestingly, that is the same number of secular writers who mention Tiberius Caesar, the Roman emperor during Jesus’ time. If we were to consider Christian and non-Christian sources, there are forty-two who mention Jesus, compared to just ten for Tiberius.[22]

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