Jesus: Was He A Historical Person?

The attacks on Christmas has been expanded to claiming Jesus never existed. To millions He is a “real live historical personality.” Some current critics assert He was “just a folklore character.” They falsely claim there is no historical evidence outside the Bible that He lived. They discount the fact there were at least six writers who without collusion wrote of Him and their works were compiled as part of the Bible.

One evidence He really existed is that during the first seven hundred years after His life no critic said He never lived. Who would have wanted most to discredit Him? The priests and Roman governor who opposed Him. Not one of them wrote to deny His existence during the time of the emerging church.

There are extra-Biblical records of His existence. Cornelius Tacitus, (55/56 – 118 AD) is considered by most historians to have been the best historian of the time who never wrote carelessly. His last classical work entitled “Annals,” was a biography of Nero. In writing of Nero’s defense of himself against criticism that he was responsible for the burning of Rome Tacitus wrote:

“Therefore, to put down the rumor, Nero substituted as culprits and punished in the most unusual ways those hated for their shameful acts — whom the crowd called ‘Christians.’ The founder of this name, Christ, had been executed in the reign of Tiberius by the procurator Pontius Pilate.”

Supporting the authenticity of this statement as being authored by Tacitus is the fact it is in the distinctive style of writing for which Tacitus is known. He is also known not to report as real executions of nonexistent persons.

Josephus, a Jewish commander in Galilee, surrendered to the Romans and became a historian for them receiving patronage form three different Roman rulers. He wrote two works, “The Jewish Wars,” and “Jewish Antiquities.” As a Jew, secure in Roman imperial patronage, he wrote in such as way as to show pride in his Jewish heritage and extol Judaism.

In the”Jewish Wars,” reference is made to Jesus, but the passage is questionable, believed by many to have been added later by scribes. However, in “Jewish Antiquities” there are two accepted references to Jesus. In writing of the high priest Ananus efforts to have James executed Jospehus wrote: “Ananus … called a meeting of judges and brought into it the brother of Jesus-who-is-called-Messiah … James by name, and some others.”

The only reason James is mentioned is to show that his death resulted in Ananus being deposed as high priest. Jesus is mentioned to help identify James from others named James. Jesus was a common name of the era so to identify which Jesus, Josephus identifies Him as the one “who-is-called-Messiah.” This passage could not have been added by Christians because in their identification of James they always called him the” brother of the Lord,” or “brother of the Savior,” never as “the brother of Jesus,” as did Josephus.

Josephus was in a position to know if at the time Jesus was a folklore character and surely would not have used such a fictitious character as proof of a known historical event.

Josephus confirms Christianity endured through the first century. Tacitus attested it continued during the second century. During these first centuries of the faith there is no record of any person who opposed Christianity denying the existence of the historical Jesus.

He lived and He lives.