Absence of Historical Witnesses

Non-Christian Testimony for Jesus?

– From the authentic pen of lying Christian scribes !

Jesus Never Existed – Christianity's Fabrication Factory

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Kenneth Humphreys



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Josephus and friends – but no Jesus!

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"Testimonium Flavianum"

"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."

– Josephus (aka Joseph ben Matthias) The Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18, Chapter 3: the so-called Testimonium Flavianum.

Testimonium Flavianum from Codex Ambrosianus (Mediolanensis) F. 128 superior, the oldest extant manuscript.




Catholic Admission

"The passage [Testimonium Flavianum] seems to suffer from repeated interpolations."

Catholic Encyclopedia.











"The Jamesian Reference"

Because the Testimonium is so readily exposed as a forgery, Christian apologists turn increasingly to a much briefer reference in Book 20:

"Festus was now dead, and Albinus was put upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, (or some of his companions). And when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned."

Josephus (The Antiquities of the Jews, Book 20, Chapter 9)


Yet Josephus's second reference falls both because it is dependent upon the earlier (false) reference for explanation – and because it actually refers to "Jesus, the son of Damneus" who was made high priest by king Agrippa!

>>> See The Real James





Omit Jesus?

"Here is an historian who remembers and records in his work with staggering efficiency and in voluminous detail the events and personalities and sociopolitical subtleties of eight decades and more.

Can we believe that Josephus would have been ignorant of this teaching revolutionary and the empire-wide movement he produced, or that for some unfathomable reason he chose to omit Jesus from his chronicles?"

Earl Doherty (The Jesus Puzzle)








Book-loving Patriarch

Photius (St. Photios the Great to the Greek Orthodox) was a powerful Patriarch in Constantinople during the 9th century, defending the eastern church from papal ambitions. His value to historians, however, rests on his avid love of books. He set himself the task of summarizing or reviewing the 279 works in his own library. The resulting Bibliotheca thus preserves something of many ancient volumes now lost.

The comment from Photius that another Jewish historian, Justus of Tiberias, failed to say a word about Jesus in his history of the Jews from Moses to Agrippa II, is powerful testimony against an historical Jesus.




'Chronicorum Libri duo'The 'world history' of the Christian scribe Sulpicius Severus of Aquitaine.

Published early in the 5th century and preserved in a single 11th century manuscript.

The "Tacitus" passage is found in Chronica 2.29..

"Nero could not by any means that he tried escape from the charge that the fire had been caused by his orders. He therefore turned the accusation against the Christians, and the most cruel tortures were accordingly inflicted upon the innocent.

Nay, even new kinds of death were invented, so that, being covered in the skins of wild beasts, they perished by being devoured by dogs, while many were crucified or slain by fire, and not a few were set apart for this purpose, that, when the day came to a close, they should be consumed to serve for light during the night."






A procurator, as the word implies, was a financial administrator who acted as the emperor's personal agent.

A prefect was a military official. In the early decades of the 1st century Judaea was under military control.

Pilate was a prefect – not a procurator as in the
"Tacitus" quote – as a famous block of limestone, which was found at Caesarea in 1961, attests:

. . . . . S TIBERIEVM











AD – BC ? Dennis the Little Gets His Sums Wrong

Dating from the supposed 'birth of Christ' originated in the 6th century with a monk in the service of Pope John I – Dionysius Exiguus or "Dennis the Little."

At a time when bilingualism was fast disappearing, this monk from the Balkans translated the decrees of various church councils from Greek into Latin – in the process formulating canon law in the west.

Pope John (523-526), anxious to free Rome from arcane missives from Constantinople, set Dionysius the task of computing future dates of Easter.

Dennis decided he couldn't base his calculations on the then prevailing dating system (from the accession of the great persecutor Emperor Diocletian!) so he went back to the 'foundation of Rome.'

Working forward he got to year 753/4 for JC's birth and, deciding that was the most important event, made it 'Year 1'. Earlier years became 'Ante Christum', later 'years of the Lord' 'Anno Domini.'

Dennis's system had no year zero because zero was unknown until the Arabs introduced the concept from India centuries later.

Dennis had to fudge the period between December 25th (Mithras' birthday, inherited by JC a century earlier) and January 1st, the beginning of the Roman year.

He also made an error in his calculation of 753 years – 749 would have been nearer the mark.

Though in truth the 'birth' of a fictional character could have been placed in any day, month, or year (the Eastern church chose January 6th; the Coptic church still uses 'anni Diocletiani'), between the 7th and 14th centuries Dennis's system spread across Christendom.












Gibbon on Tacitus

Gibbon does not press the idea that the celebrated passage in Tacitus is a later interpolation. But he certainly rejects the idea that Christians could have been identified as a group distinct from Jews at so early a date.

Gibbon suggests that Tacitus, who was writing during the reign of Hadrian, conflates the early 1st century bandit followers of Judas the Gaulonite, known as "Nazarenes", with the Christians of his own time (i.e. 130s AD), who were also known as "Nazarenes".

The tax revolt of Judas the Gaulonite (aka Judas of Gamala, Judas of Galilee) is descibed by Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews - Book 18).

It occurred during the goverorship of Sulpicius Quirinius (aka Greek "Cyrenius" in Luke) in 6/7 AD.

Moreover, Gibbon suggests that Jewish moderates might themselves have fingered the extremists in order to direct popular anger away from themselves.





































































The Darkness of Thallus

A total solar eclipse lasts no more than several minutes (NEVER three hours).

During the 1st century there were 58 total eclipses throughout the world. Between years 16 and 43 AD there were eleven:

28 March 24 (off southeast Africa);
1 August 26 (south central Africa);
22 July 27 (central west Pacific);
10 July 28 (Arctic Ocean);
24 November 29 (Persian Gulf);
14 November 30 (southwest Pacific);
3 November 31 (off Chile);
19 March 33 (southern Indian ocean);
9 March 34 (Indonesia);
1 July 37 (Canada);
8 April 42 (southeast Pacific).

If Thallus had lived in the 1st rather than the 2nd century, he may have noted the eclipse that was visible in the Persian Gulf in November of 29 – which doesn't fit the Jesus chronology and would have been of negligible impact in Jerusalem, hundreds of miles away.


Josephus (c37-100 AD)

Flavius Josephus is a highly respected and much-quoted Romano-Jewish historian. The early Christians were zealous readers of his work.

A native of Judea, living in the 1st century AD, Josephus was actually governor of Galilee for a time (prior to the war of 70 AD) – the very province in which Jesus allegedly did his wonders. Though not born until 37 AD and therefore not a contemporary witness to any Jesus-character, Josephus at one point even lived in Cana, the very city in which Christ is said to have wrought his first miracle.

Josephus's two major tomes are History of The Jewish War and The Antiquities of the Jews. In these complementary works, the former written in the 70s, the latter in the 90s AD, Josephus mentions every noted personage of Palestine and describes every important event which occurred there during the first seventy years of the Christian era.

At face value, Josephus appears to be the answer to the Christian apologist's dreams.

In a single paragraph (the so-called Testimonium Flavianum) Josephus confirms every salient aspect of the Christ-myth:

1. Jesus's existence 2. his 'more than human' status 3. his miracle working 4. his teaching 5. his ministry among the Jews and the Gentiles 6. his Messiahship 7. his condemnation by the Jewish priests 8. his sentence by Pilate 9. his death on the cross 10. the devotion of his followers 11. his resurrection on the 3rd day 12. his post-death appearance 13. his fulfillment of divine prophecy 14. the successful continuance of the Christians.

In just 127 words Josephus confirms everything – now that is a miracle!



Not a single writer before the 4th century – not Justin, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Cyprian, Arnobius, etc. – in all their defences against pagan hostility, makes a single reference to Josephus’ wondrous words.

The third century Church 'Father' Origen, for example, spent half his life and a quarter of a million words contending against the pagan writer Celsus. Origen drew on all sorts of proofs and witnesses to his arguments in his fierce defence of Christianity. He quotes from Josephus extensively. Yet even he makes no reference to this 'golden paragraph' from Josephus, which would have been the ultimate rebuttal. In fact, Origen actually said that Josephus was "not believing in Jesus as the Christ."

Origen did not quote the 'golden paragraph' because this paragraph had not yet been written.

It was absent from early copies of the works of Josephus and did not appear in Origen's third century version of Josephus, referenced in his Contra Celsum.

Josephus knows nothing of Christians

It was the around the year 53 AD that Josephus decided to investigate the sects among the Jews. According to the gospel fable this was the period of explosive growth for the Christian faith: " the churches ... throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria ... were edified... and ... were multiplied." – Acts 9:31.

This is also the time of the so-called "Council of Jerusalem" when supposedly Paul regaled the brothers with tales of "miracles and wonders" among the gentiles (Acts 15.12).

And yet Josephus knows nothing of all this:

"When I was sixteen years old, I decided to get experience with the various sects that are among us. These are three: as we have said many times, the first, that of the Pharisees, the second that of the Saduccees, the third, that of the Essenes. For I thought that in this way I would choose best, if I carefully examined them all. Therefore, submitting myself to strict training, I passed through the three groups." – Life, 2.

Josephus elsewhere does record a "fourth sect of Jewish philosophy" and reports that it was a "mad distemper" agitating the entire country. But it has nothing to do with Christianity and its superstar:

"But of the fourth sect of Jewish philosophy, Judas the Galilean was the author. These men agree in all other things with the Pharisaic notions; but they have an inviolable attachment to liberty, and say that God is to be their only Ruler and Lord.

They also do not value dying any kinds of death, nor indeed do they heed the deaths of their relations and friends, nor can any such fear make them call any man Lord ...

And it was in Gessius Florus's time that the nation began to grow mad with this distemper, who was our procurator, and who occasioned the Jews to go wild with it by the abuse of his authority, and to make them revolt from the Romans. And these are the sects of Jewish philosophy." – Antiquities 18.23.

Nothing could better illustrate the bogus nature of the Testimonium than the remaining corpus of Josephus's work.


Consider, also, the anomalies:

1. How could Josephus claim that Jesus had been the answer to his messianic hopes yet remain an orthodox Jew?
The absurdity forces some apologists to make the ridiculous claim that Josephus was a closet Christian!

2. If Josephus really thought Jesus had been 'the Christ' surely he would have added more about him than one paragraph, a casual aside in someone else's (Pilate's) story?

In fact, Josephus relates much more about John the Baptist than about Jesus! He also reports in great detail the antics of other self-proclaimed messiahs, including Judas of Galilee, Theudas the Magician, and the unnamed 'Egyptian Jew' messiah.

It is striking that though Josephus confirms everything the Christians could wish for, he adds nothing that is not in the gospel narratives, nothing that would have been unknown by Christians already.

3. The question of context.

Antiquities 18 is primarily concerned with "all sorts of misfortunes" which befell the Jews during a period of thirty-two years (4-36 AD).

Josephus begins with the unpopular taxation introduced by the Roman Governor Cyrenius in 6 AD. He presents a synopsis of the three established Jewish parties (Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes), but his real quarry is the "fourth sect of philosophy ... which laid the foundation of our future miseries." That was the sect of Judas the Galilean, "which before we were unacquainted withal."

At the very point we might expect a mention of "Christians" (if any such sect existed) we have instead castigation of tax rebels!

"It was in Gessius Florus's time [64-66] that the nation began to grow mad with this distemper, who was our procurator, and who occasioned the Jews to go wild with it by the abuse of his authority, and made them revolt from the Romans; and these are the sects of Jewish philosophy."

"Nor can fear of death make them call any man Lord." Sound a tad familiar?

Chapter 2 notes the cities built to honour the Romans; the frequent changes in high priest (up to Caiaphas) and Roman procurators (up to Pontius Pilate); and also the turmoil in Parthia.

Chapter 3, containing the Testimonium as paragraph three, is essentially about Pilate's attempts to bring Jerusalem into the Roman system. With his first policy – placing Caesar's ensigns in Jerusalem – Pilate was forced to back down by unexpected Jewish protests in Caesarea. With his second policy – providing Jerusalem with a new aqueduct built with funds sequestered from the Temple, Pilate made ready for Jewish protests. Concealed weapons on his soldiers caused much bloodshed.

At this point the paragraph about Jesus is introduced!

Immediately after, Josephus continues:

"And about the same time another terrible misfortune confounded the Jews ..."

There is no way that Josephus, who remained an orthodox Jew all his life and defended Judaism vociferously against Greek critics, would have thought that the execution of a messianic claimant was "another terrible misfortune" for the Jews. This is the hand of a Christian writer who himself considered the death of Jesus to be a Jewish tragedy (fitting in with his own notions of a stiff-necked race, rejected by God because they themselves had rejected the Son of God).

With paragraph 3 removed from the text the chapter, in fact, reads better. The "aqueduct massacre" now justifies "another terrible misfortune."

The final assertion, that the Christians were "not extinct at this day," confirms that the so-called Testimonium is a later interpolation. How much later we cannot say but there was no "tribe of Christians" during Josephus' lifetime. Christianity under that moniker did not establish itself until the 2nd century. Outside of this single bogus paragraph, in all the extensive histories of Josephus there is not a single reference to Christianity anywhere.

The hyperbolic language is uncharacteristic of the historian:

"... as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him."

This is the stuff of Christian propaganda.

6. The Testimonium is a rather short for a genuine digression in the narrative of Josephus (the material surely was deserving of more attention than it gets). But a copyist, working with scrolls of a fixed length, would have had little space to play with.



In fact, the Josephus paragraph about Jesus does not appear until the beginning of the fourth century, at the time of Constantine.

Bishop Eusebius, that great Church propagandist and self-confessed liar-for-god, was the first person known to have quoted this paragraph of Josephus, about the year 340 AD. This was after the Christians had become the custodians of religious correctness.

Whole libraries of antiquity were torched by the Christians. Yet unlike the works of his Jewish contemporaries, the histories of Josephus survived. They survived because the Christian censors had a use for them. They planted evidence on Josephus, turning the leading Jewish historian of his day into a witness for Jesus Christ ! Finding no references to Jesus anywhere in Josephus's genuine work, they interpolated a brief but all-embracing reference based purely on Christian belief.

Do we need to look any further to identify Eusebius himself as the forger?

Sanctioned by the imperial propagandist every Christian commentator for the next thirteen centuries accepted unquestioningly the entire Testimonium Flavianum, along with its declaration that Jesus “was the Messiah.”

And even in the twenty first century scholars who should know better trot out a truncated version of the 'golden paragraph' in a scurrilous attempt to keep Josephus 'on message.'


The "Arabic Josephus"

In a novel embellishment to the notion of an orthodox Jew giving testimony of Jesus, defenders of the faith have in recent times tossed an Arabic version of the Josephus text on to their pile of dubious evidence. The Arabic recension was brought to light in 1971 by Professor Schlomo Pines of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Pines himself remained cautious about claims of untampered authenticity but the brethren have no such reservations, such is their desperation to keep Josephus in the witness stand for Jesus.

The work in question is actually a history of the world to the year 941/942 penned by a Christian Arab bishop, Agapius of Hierapolis. His World History preserves, in Arabic translation, a version of the Testimonium minus the most obvious Christian interpolations.

But what does a 10th century copy actually prove?

Claims that the Arabic passage itself dates from the 4th century are untenable (written Arabic barely existed at such an early date). Moreover Agapius was a Melkite Christian (pro-Byzantium) at a time of intensifying Islamization of his native Syria. What he wrote was political correctness for his own times. A new Shia Hamdani dynasty had been established barely 50 miles away in Aleppo. Its first prince, Sayf ad Dawlah ("sword of the state"), began a century of persistent attacks against Byzantium. Agapius' paraphrase of a Syriac rendition of Josephus from a Greek original rather significantly mentions JC's "condemnation to die" but not the actuality of it and of JC being "alive" 3 days later – in other words, a carefully balanced compatibility with Muhammad's view of a Jesus as a prophet who did not die on the cross.

In short, the Arabic Josephus is no evidence of the Christian godman and serves only to confuse the unwary.


Justus of Tiberias

Justus was also an historian, a rival to Josephus, and from the same region. Perhaps his work was not as easily doctored – his histories did not make it through the Christian Dark Age and are – as they say – "lost to us"!

" I have read the chronology of Justus of Tiberias ... and being under the Jewish prejudices, as indeed he was himself also a Jew by birth, he makes not one mention of Jesus, of what happened to him, or of the wonderful works that he did."

– Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople, 9th Century



Christian apologists, for their own convenience, blur the distinction between evidence of Jesus and evidence of Christians.

It is rather as if a child who believed in the Tooth Fairy was to be presented as evidence that the Tooth Fairy really existed.

The Usual Suspects

There is no doubt that Christians existed, from the early years of the second century certainly, and – as heretical Jews and under diverse names – up to a generation earlier. Belief in a Messiah (a 'Christ' in Greek) was endemic among the Jews after all.

But belief in a celestial Christ does not equate to belief in a flesh-and-blood 'Jesus of Nazareth' – and when the 'heretical' and 'gnostic' views of early Christians are examined 'Jesus of Nazareth' is noticeably absent. And to press the point, even a belief in a 'Jesus of Nazareth' does not make him a reality – it is only the belief that is a reality.

None abashed, Christian apologists compound their suspect 'logic' by recruiting notable pagans as witnesses, writers who were doing their best to faithfully report on a suspect cult. And as ever in the history of Christianity, in the hands of its scribes, forgery augments what the ancient writers actually wrote, the better to bring unbelievers to the One True Faith.


Pliny the Younger (61-115 AD)

Around 112 AD, in correspondence between Emperor Trajan and the provincial governor of Pontus/Bithynia, Pliny the Younger, reference is made to Christians for the first time. Pliny famously reports to his emperor:

"Christians ... asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so." – Pliny to Trajan, Letters 10.96-97.

Note that Pliny is relaying what those arrested said they believed (and there is no reference here to a 'Jesus.')

Pliny had convened trials of Christians, not because of their beliefs but because he had 'forbidden political associations' which he obviously suspected them of forming. He continues:

"Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition."

Some of those arrested recanted, worshipped the imperial image and state gods, and cursed Christ. But Pliny is uncertain how to proceed with numerous others in what he describes as a widespread 'contagion' and asks Trajan for guidance. Trajan's celebrated reply is:

"They are not to be sought out; if they are denounced and proved guilty, they are to be punished, with this reservation, that whoever denies that he is a Christian and really proves it -- that is, by worshiping our gods -- even though he was under suspicion in the past, shall obtain pardon through repentance."

Is the exchange of letters genuine?

It's worth noting that unlike the 247 letters Pliny himself prepared for publication (so-called books 1-9), book 10, which contains the celebrated letters "96" and "97", was published posthumously and anonymously. "It is surprising," says Betty Radice (translator of the Penguin edition), "that no more letters were to be found in the imperial files or among Pliny's personal papers to add to this record of the relations between one of the best of Rome's Emperors and his devoted servant." On the other hand, Tertullian (c. 160-220 AD) discusses the letter and refers to Trajan's reply in his Apology, chapter 2, which suggests authenticity:

" We find that even inquiry in regard to our case is forbidden. For the younger Pliny, when he was ruler of a province, having condemned some Christians to death, and driven some from their stedfastness, being still annoyed by their great numbers, at last sought the advice of Trajan, the reigning emperor ..."

Pliny's ignorance of Christians

Pliny was a lawyer in Rome before going to the east. He was only a child when the "persecution of Christians by Nero" supposedly took place but his guardian Verginius Rufus was a high-placed commander at the time, loyal to Nero. Following Nero's suicide, Rufus actually declined an offer from the army of the Rhine to become emperor himself. Any "lurid massacre" of Christians, if it had taken place, could have been told to Pliny as a child – but in later life he recalls no such thing.

At the age of 17 Pliny inherited his uncle's extensive estates after the elder Pliny died in the eruption of Vesuvius. Rich and talented, and with impeccable connections to the highest echelons of the Roman state, Pliny began a distinguished career. He served on the imperial staff in Syria, a centre – one is led to believe – of energetic Christian activity, but again it left no mark on Pliny.

Rising rapidly through the ranks of quaestor, tribune and praetor, while still in his thirties the bright young aristocrat was appointed state prosecutor at four major public trials of provincial governors. Such a career would have made any incumbent aware of "persecution" of Christians, if indeed there had ever been any such thing. But Pliny reports none of it.

Pliny survived the persecution of the Stoic opposition during the reign of Domitian (81-96). The emperor actually made him a senator, even though several of Pliny's Stoic friends were executed. Subsequently Pliny went on to become consul, state priest, and finally, governor of Bithynia-Pontus.

Curious, is it not, that such a well-placed, well-educated Roman grandee, directly and intimately involved in the Roman judicial system at the highest levels, and a friend of historians Tacitus and Suetonius, should – in the second decade of the 2nd century – remain so ignorant of Christians and the persecution of them – unless, that is, they were nothing other than an obscure, and insignificant bunch of fanatics and the "persecution" is a fable?

"Having never been present at any trials concerning those persons who are Christians, I am unacquainted not only with the nature of their crimes, or the measure of their punishment, but how far it is proper to enter into an examination concerning them."

Pagan Tolerance

The real value of this correspondence (the only example of its kind to survive the Christian dark age) is not that it is some 'proof' of Jesus's existence (which it manifestly is not) but evidence of the toleration of Roman jurisprudence in the 'golden age' of the Empire. Says Trajan:

"But anonymously posted accusations ought to have no place in any prosecution. For this is both a dangerous kind of precedent and out of keeping with the spirit of our age." – Trajan to Pliny, Letters 10.96-97.

Compare this ruling of the 'pagan' Trajan in 113 AD with that of the Christian Inquisitors thirteen centuries later – for whom 'anonymous accusations' and 'seeking out' of heretics was the modus operandi!



Caius Suetonius (c.69–140 AD)

Nowhere in any of Suetonius's writings does he mention 'Jesus of Nazareth.' Suetonius did write a biography called Twelve Caesars around the year 112 AD and of Emperor Claudius he says:

"As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of one Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome."

Jesus in Rome in 54 AD? Of course not. But the unwary can be misled by this reference.

'Chrestus' does not equate to 'Christ' in English but to 'the good' in Greek (and for a definitive study of the manuscript evidence see here). It was a name used by both slaves and freemen and is attested more than eighty times in Latin inscriptions. Clearly, Suetonius was explaining why the Jews (not Christians) were expelled from Rome and is referring to a Jewish agitator in the 50s – not to a Galilean pacifist of the 30s. Yet even this report is questionable. The historian Cassius Dio gives a more convincing account of the same Claudian "expulsion":

"As for the Jews, who had again increased so greatly that by reason of their multitude it would have been hard without raising a tumult to bar them from the city, he did not drive them out, but ordered them, while continuing their traditional mode of life, not to hold meetings." – Roman History, 60.6.

It is also said that Suetonius, in his Life of Nero, described Nero's persecution of the Christians:

'Punishments were also inflicted on the Christians, a sect professing a new and mischievous religious belief ...' (16.2)

We have moved from 'rebellious Jews' to 'mischievous Christians'.



Christians in Rome during the reign of Nero (54-68 AD) ?

Would (could) Nero have made such a fine sectarian distinction – particularly since there was no identifying faith document (not a single gospel had been written) – so just what would 'Christians' have believed?

Even St Paul himself makes not a single reference to 'Christians' in any of his writings.

The idea that a nascent ‘Christianity’ immediately faced persecution from a cruel and bloodthirsty pagan Rome is an utter nonsense. For one thing, it is only in the last third of the 1st century AD, that Christ-followers emerged as a separate faction from mainstream Judaism. Until then they remained protected under Roman law as Jews. The irritation they caused to their more orthodox brethren meant nothing to the pagan magistrates. Says Gibbon:

"The innocence of the first Christians was protected by ignorance and contempt; and the tribunal of the Pagan magistrate often proved the most assured refuge against the fury of the synagogue."

Early Christ-followers called themselves 'saints', 'brethren', 'Brothers of the Lord' and their critics used various names: Nazoreans, Ebionites, 'God fearers', atheists. The Jewish association remained strong throughout the first century and when Christian sects got going in Rome in the second century they were identified by their rival leaders – Valentinians, Basilidians, Marcionites, etc.

So little were Christ-worshippers known in the Roman world that as late as the 90s Dio Cassio refers to 'atheists' and 'those adopting Jewish manners'. Christians as a distinct group from the Jews appear only late in the 1st century, not long before the Jewish curse on heretics at the council of Jamnia (around 85 AD). The label 'Christian' itself only appears with the 2nd century Acts – with the story that the term 'began in Antioch' (11.26).

Equally odd, is that Suetonius's isolated sentence appears in a section on Nero's 'good points.'

It should also be noted that Suetonius does not associate punishment of the Christians with the fire that swept Rome, a crucial part of the later myth.

Quite simply, the reference is a Christian forgery, added to Suetonius to backup the work of the 5th century forger Sulpicius Severus, who heavily doctored the work of another Roman historian – Tacitus – with a lurid tale of brutal persecution ('torched Christian martyrs') which immortalized Nero as the first Antichrist in the eyes of the Christian church (the second Antichrist being the reformist Luther).


Cornelius Tacitus (c.55-117 AD)

Convenient lacuna

The years 30 and 31 of Tacitus' account of the reign of Tiberius in the Annals are mysteriously missing. What might those lost chapters have said – or not said – about Jesus? Did Christian scribes have a reason to destroy them?

Christianity has no part in Tacitus's history of the Caesars. Except for one questionable reference in the Annals he records nothing of a cult marginal even in his own day.

Sometime before 117 AD, the Roman historian apparently wrote:

"Nero looked around for a scapegoat, and inflicted the most fiendish tortures on a group of persons already hated for their crimes. This was the sect known as Christians. Their founder, one Christus, had been put to death by the procurator, Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius. This checked the abominable superstition for a while, but it broke out again and spread, not merely through Judea, where it originated, but even to Rome itself, the great reservoir and collecting ground for every kind of depravity and filth. Those who confessed to being Christians were at once arrested, but on their testimony a great crowd of people were convicted, not so much on the charge of arson, but of hatred of the entire human race.

Their deaths were made farcical. Dressed in wild animals' skins , they were torn to pieces by dogs, or crucified, or made into torches to be ignited after dark as substitutes for daylight."

– Tacitus (Book 15, chapter 44):

As we have seen, the term 'Christian' was not in use during the reign of Nero and there would not have been 'a great crowd' unless we are speaking of Jews, not Christians. 'Jewish/Christians' – being perceived by Roman authorities (and the populace at large) simply as Jews meant that early Christ-followers also got caught up in general attacks upon the Jews.

"Their effects to dissemble their Jewish origins were detected by the decisive test of circumcision; nor were the Roman magistrates at leisure to enquire into the difference of their religious tenets."

– Edward Gibbon (Decline and Fall)

One consequence of the fire which destroyed much of Rome in 64 AD was a capitation tax levied on the Jews and it was the Jews – throughout the empire – who were required to pay for the city’s rebuilding – a factor which helped to radicalise many Jews in the late 60s AD.

Not for the first time would Christian scribes expropriated the real suffering of a whole people to create an heroic 'origins' fable...

No Christian apologist for centuries ever quoted the passage of Tacitus – not in fact, until it had appeared almost word-for-word in the writings of Sulpicius Severus, in the early fifth century, where it is mixed in with other myths. Sulpicius's contemporaries credited him with a skill in the 'antique' hand. He put it to good use and fantasy was his forte: his Life of St. Martin is replete with numerous 'miracles', including raising of the dead and personal appearances by Jesus and Satan.

His dastardly story of Nero was embellished during the Renaissance into a fantastic fable with Nero 'fiddling while Rome burned'. Nero took advantage of the destruction to build his 'Golden House' though no serious scholar believes anymore that he started the fire (we now know Nero was in his hometown of Antium – Anzio – when the blaze started.) Indeed, Nero opened his palace garden for temporary shelter to those made homeless.

In short, the passage in Tacitus is a fraud and adds no evidence for a historic Jesus.



Update: The probing eye of science

11th century monk corrects Tacitus: "Goodies" to read "Christians"!

Ultraviolet photo of a critical word from the earliest known extant manuscript of Tacitus (second Medicean, Laurentian library, Italy).

The photograph reveals that the word purportedly used by Tacitus in Annals 15.44, chrestianos ("the good"), has been overwritten as christianos ("the Christians") by a later hand, a deceit which explains the excessive space between the letters and the exaggerated "dot" (dash) above the new "i". The entire "torched Christians" passage of Tacitus is not only fake, it has been repeatedly "worked over" by fraudsters to improve its value as evidence for the Jesus myth.

The truth may be that there was an original gnostic cult following a personified virtue, "Jesus Chrestos" (Jesus the Good). Consequently, they were called Chrestians, an appellation which seems to have attached itself at an early date to the sectarians of the "heretic" Marcion. Support for this possibility comes from the earliest known "Christian" inscription, found in the 19th century on a Marcionite church at Deir Ali, three miles south of Damascus. Dated to circa 318, the inscription reads "The meeting-house of the Marcionists, in the village of Lebaba, of the Lord and Saviour Jesus the Good", using the word Chrestos, not Christos.

As a flesh-and-blood, "historical" Jesus gradually eclipsed the allegorical Jesus so, too, did "goodness" get eclipsed by "Messiahship". Justin, in his First Apology (4), about thirty years after the death of Tacitus, plays on the similarity in sound of the two words Χριστὸς (Christ) and χρηστὸς (good, excellent) to argue for the wholesome, commendable character of Jesus followers.

The Chrestianos Issue in Tacitus Reinvestigated by Erík Zara © 2009



Did the Rabbis Know Jesus?

In a most ironic twist, Christian apologists sometimes bring forward an ancient anti-Jesus slur, circulated by the rabbis, as "evidence" that their godman existed.

Yet the earliest rabbinic writings – for example, the Mishnah ("study") (of which the Talmuds are later commentaries) – make no reference to a "Jesus" character at all.

In the vast corpus of material the closest we get to such testimony is Mishnah Yevamot 4.13 which has a very oblique reference to a 'peloni' (rabbinic Hebrew for 'so and so') but nothing more:

"Simeon ben Azzai has said: I found in Jerusalem a book of genealogies; therein was written: That so and so is a bastard son of a married woman."

The reference could have been to anyone. Though difficult to date the verse could well be a rabbinic counter-stoke to Matthew's manufacture of a genealogy for JC early in the 2nd century.

A later, 2nd or 3rd century, rabbinical reference is to a magician who had led some Jews into apostasy. This is in an addendum to the Mishnah – 'Baraitha Sanhedrin 43a' – which records the hanging of a 'Yeshu' on the eve of Passover for sorcery. It also adds that he had 5 disciples – Mattai, Naqai, Netzer, Buni and Todah – not exactly the familiar names!

The 3rd century Tosefta (another supplementary commentary on the Oral Law, even later than the Mishnah) tells of an attempt to invoke the name of 'Yeshu ben Pandira' to cure a rabbi of a snake bite (Chullin 2:23).

Later still, the references to Yeshu get more colourful.

Both Talmuds are 'late' constructions: the Jerusalem Talmud was compiled in the early 5th century AD and the Talmud of Babylon was compiled during the 6th century. By this date the only source of information about Jesus available to the rabbis was the Christians themselves! But far from confirming anything found in the gospels the rabbinic authors appear to have confounded at least two Jesuses – a 1st century BC Yeshu ben Pandira and 2nd century AD Yeshu ben Strada.

According to Talmud Shabbat 104b, Sanhedrin 67a, JC is apparently the son of an adulterous hairdresser ('Miriam Megaddela') and is executed in Lud. Talmud Sanhedrin 107b, Sotah 47a,  has the magician Jesus worshipping a brick during the 1st century BC reign of John Hyrcanus.

If the 3rd century Church Father Origen is to be believed (Contra Celsum 1.28) Celsus, the pagan opponent of Christianity, writing in the late 2nd century, had heard from Jewish sources the scandalous rumour that the Christian hero was the result of an illicit affair between Miriam, a young Jewess, and a Roman trooper called 'Pantheras.' The woman had been driven off by her husband when he discovered she had got herself pregnant by a soldier of the occupying power.

One could hardly conceive of a more disreputable pedigree for a would-be Jewish Messiah!

Which of course reveals the whole point of the slur: to damn the iconic figure held high by apostate Jews who, together with their gentile converts, now formed the rival Christians. In comparison, simply denying that the hero figure had ever existed would have appeared weak and conveyed none of the scurrilous insult of a bastardised racial impurity. The rabbis responded to a fable with a lie of their own.

The rumour probably originated among the rabbis shortly after the Christians invented their nativity story, in the late 130s.


"Darkness over the whole land"?

"And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour." – Mark 15.33.

The death, like the birth of any great figure in antiquity, was meant to be accompanied by "signs and wonders" so there's no surprises that the author of Mark added this little frill.

When the author of Matthew copied the story from Mark, he added an even grander wonder:

"And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many." – Matthew 27.52-53.

For obvious reasons, apologists choose to ignore Matthew's wild fantasy but they are fond of claiming ancient pagan witnesses for the "darkness." Two names are banded about: Thallus and Phlegon. But the truth is we know next to nothing about either and our sources are all Christian scribes.

Apologists like to push Thallus into the 1st century to make him a "better witness" but all we can be sure of is that he wrote before Theophilus, a bishop in Antioch who mentions his name, at the end of the 2nd century. The probability is that Thallus is actually a 2nd century writer.

In any event, we have NO text written by Thallus himself. What we do have is a reference to Thallus in a 9th century work by Georgius Syncellus, a Byzantine churchman. Yet Syncellus doesn't quote the words of Thallus directly – he relies on a 2nd - 3rd century Christian writer called Julius Africanus (thought to be a Libyan). But Africanus himself has paraphrased Thallus, thus making the testimony of Syncellus no better than third-hand and unreliable.

Even allowing such dubious provenance for the "testimony of Thallus," just what does our pagan witness say? Africanus tells us that Thallus recorded a solar eclipse – and there is nothing at all unusual in an ancient observer recording such natural phenomena.

The twist is that Africanus says Thallus was mistaken, that he was really recording the darkness spoken of in the gospels! It is Africanus who makes the link to Jesus – not Thallus!

There is no doubt that Phlegon was a 2nd century writer, around the time of Hadrian. Phlegon merely recorded a great earthquake in Bithynia, which is on the coast of the Black Sea. Again, not Phlegon but the Christians who quote him make the link to Judaea and the crucifixion.

The Christian fraudsters concatenated Thallus' eclipse with Phlegon's earthquake (both "signs" planted in the gospels) to witness their fabulous nonsense, disregarding what was written, when it was written and which part of the world it referred to!

Thallus and Phlegon would have been horrified by this misuse of their work!


Tacitus [c.55 -117AD], The Annals, The Histories (Penguin, 1964)
Dan Cohn-Sherbok, The Crucified Jew (Harper Collins,1992)
Henry Hart Milman, The History of the Jews (Everyman, 1939)
Josephus [c.37-100AD], The Antiquities, The Jewish War (Hendrickson, 1987)
Leslie Houlden (Ed.), Judaism & Christianity (Routledge, 1988)
Frank Zindler, The Jesus the Jews Never Knew (American Atheists, 2003)
Suetonius [c.69AD-140AD], The Twelve Caesars (Penguin, 1980)
Norman Cantor, The Sacred Chain - A History of the Jews (Harper Collins, 1994)
Edward Gibbon, The Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire (1799)




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