Atheists are divided on whether or not Jesus ever existed as a historical figure. Muslims likewise critique the Biblical accounts of Jesus, some going so far as to completely deny anything Christians claim that He said or did. None of them, of course, believe that He was the Son of God, but for now let’s just focus His existence. Some believe that Jesus of Nazareth was an actual historical figure, while others claim that He didn’t exist at all. Those who deny His total existence argue that there isn’t any extra-Biblical evidence of Him beyond a few writings here and there, and those that do exist were interpolated along the way.
If you think about it there is a great deal of evidence, both Biblical and extra-Biblical about Jesus. At the time, the focus of non-Christian historians likely would not have been on a lowly carpenter from Galilee, but on the affairs of the Romans. However, many Roman writers did in fact document cases of how Christians acted and that they followed the teachings of a man, named Jesus. Not only that, but we also have Jewish historians such as Josephus and also the Talmud which documented the events of the time and the existence and works (which the Jews called magic) of Jesus. Keep in mind the fact that many Jews hated Jesus, and even still today deny the fact that He was the Messiah. It would seem as though the idea would be to hide His existence, not to prove it.
Below are quotes from Roman historians and Jewish writers on Jesus that proves he did in fact exist:
What benefit did the Athenians obtain by putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as judgment for their crime. Or, the people of Samos for burning Pythagoras? In one moment their country was covered with sand. Or the Jews by murdering their wise king?…After that their kingdom was abolished. God rightly avenged these men…The wise king…Lived on in the teachings he enacted. – Mara Bar-Serapion, written some time between 70 and the 3rd Century, attributed to shortly after 73 AD; Stoic Philosopher
They (the Christians) 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 any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food—but food of an ordinary and innocent kind. – Pliny the Younger, 61-113AD; Lawyer, author, and magistrate of Ancient Rome
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. – Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews; First-century Romano-Jewish scholar, historian and hagiographer.
This quote from Josephus has been authenticated by Scholars and while it does not attest to Jesus’ existence, it does prove that another New Testament figure, John the Baptist who was Jesus’ cousin, did exist.
…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. – Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews; First-century Romano-Jewish scholar, historian and hagiographer.
This text has been authenticated by Scholars as well (see note below).
The following text however is disputed and Scholars remain divided on whether it is authentic or not:
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;… – Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews; First-century Romano-Jewish scholar, historian and hagiographer.
Note that even if this is an interpolation in Josephus’ writings, the previous quote before this one stating, “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James” from Book 20, Chapter 9, 1 of the Antiquities, is NOT disputed and is authentic. Thus, Josephus still testifies to the fact that Jesus did exist and was called the Christ.
Because the Jews at Rome caused constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus (Christ), he (Claudius) expelled them from the city (Rome). – Suetonius (69-140AD), Life of Claudius, 25:4
Nero inflicted punishment on the Christians, a sect given to a new and mischievous religious belief. – Suetonius (69-140AD), Lives of the Caesars, 26.2
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 on 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. All this they take quite on faith, with the result that they despise all worldly goods alike, regarding them merely as common property. – Lucian of Samosata: (115-200 A.D.), The Death of Peregrine. 11-13
Jesus had come from a village in Judea, and was the son of a poor Jewess who gained her living by the work of her own hands. His mother had been turned out of doors by her husband, who was a carpenter by trade, on being convicted of adultery [with a soldier named Panthéra (i.32)]. Being thus driven away by her husband, and wandering about in disgrace, she gave birth to Jesus, a bastard. Jesus, on account of his poverty, was hired out to go to Egypt. While there he acquired certain (magical) powers which Egyptians pride themselves on possessing. He returned home highly elated at possessing these powers, and on the strength of them gave himself out to be a god. – Celsus (175AD)
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 Judea, 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. – Tacitus (56-120AD)
Early comments on the writings of the historian Phlegon (80-140AD) who mentioned Jesus and evidence for the eclipse that occurred during the crucifixion:
Now Phlegon, in the thirteenth or fourteenth book, I think, of his Chronicles, not only ascribed to Jesus a knowledge of future events . . . but also testified that the result corresponded to His predictions. – Origen Against Celsus, Book 2, Chapter 14
And with regard to the eclipse in the time of Tiberius Caesar, in whose reign Jesus appears to have been crucified, and the great earthquakes which then took place … – Origen, Against Celsus, Book 2, Chapter 33
Jesus, while alive, was of no assistance to himself, but that he arose after death, and exhibited the marks of his punishment, and showed how his hands had been pierced by nails. – Origen, Against Celsus, Book 2, Chapter 59
Phlegon records that, in the time of Tiberius Caesar, at full moon, there was a full eclipse of the sun from the sixth to the ninth hour. – Julianus Africanus, Chronography, 18:1
In the Talmud:
Jesus practiced magic and led Israel astray -b. Sanhedrin 43a; cf. t. Shabbat 11.15; b. Shabbat 104b
Rabbi Hisda (d. 309) said that Rabbi Jeremiah bar Abba said, “What is that which is written, ‘No evil will befall you, nor shall any plague come near your house’? (Psalm 91:10)… ‘No evil will befall you’ (means) that evil dreams and evil thoughts will not tempt you; ‘nor shall any plague come near your house’ (means) that you will not have a son or a disciple who burns his food like Jesus of Nazareth.” – b. Sanhedrin 103a; cf. b. Berakhot 17b
Our rabbis have taught that Jesus had five disciples: Matthai, Nakai, Nezer, Buni and Todah. They brought Matthai to (to trial). He said, ‘Must Matthai be killed? For it is written, ‘When (mathai) shall I come and appear before God?’” (Psalm 92:2) They said to him, “Yes Matthai must be killed, for it is written, ‘When (mathai) he dies his name will perish’” (Psalm 41:5). They brought Nakai. He said to them, “Must Nakai be killed? For it is written, “The innocent (naqi) and the righteous will not slay’” (Exodus 23:7). They said to him, “Yes, Nakai must be killed, for it is written, ‘In secret places he slays the innocent (naqi)’ Psalm 10:8, -b. Sanhedrin 43a;
It was taught: On the day before the Passover they hanged Jesus. A herald went before him for forty days (proclaiming), “He will be stoned, because he practiced magic and enticed Israel to go astray. Let anyone who knows anything in his favor come forward and plead for him.” But nothing was found in his favor, and they hanged him on the day before the Passover. – b. Sanhedrin 43a
One must wonder why the Jews would go through so much trouble as to write about Jesus in the Talmud rather than simply denying His existence had He never existed.
Modern Thoughts on the evidence that Jesus did exist:
“ONLY IN THE AGE OF INSTANT MISINFORMATION AND NET-ATTACK IS THIS KIND OF IDIOCY POSSIBLE. ONLY IN THE ATHEIST UNIVERSE WHERE THE MAJOR PREMISE – “RELIGION IS A LIE SO THE STUDY OF RELIGION IS A STUDY OF LYING”– INFECTS EVERYTHING IS THIS KIND OF LUNACY POSSIBLE.” – R. Joseph Hoffman, atheist historian. He holds graduate degrees in theology from Harvard Divinity School and a PhD in Christian Origins from the University of Oxford and is also the former Chair of the Committee for the Scientific Examination of Religion.
..as a historian I can show why at least one set of skeptical claims about the past history of our civilization is almost certainly wrong, even though these claims are seeping into the popular consciousness at an alarming rate. Jesus existed, and those vocal persons who deny it do so not because they have considered the evidence with the dispassionate eye of the historian, but because they have some other agenda that this denial serves. From a dispassionate point of view, there was a Jesus of Nazareth. – Agnostic Scholar, Bart Erhman
These sensationalist books may have a reading public. They are, after all, written to be read. But if scholars take note of them at all, it is simply out of amazement that such inaccurate and poorly researched publications could ever see the published light of day – Did Jesus Exist, By Bart Erhman
“The endorsement of amateurs by amateurs is becoming a rampant, annoying and distressing problem for biblical scholarship. The disease these buggers spread is ignorance disguised as common sense. They are the single greatest threat, next to fundamentalism, to the calm and considered academic study of religion, touting the scientific method as their Mod Op while ignoring its application to historical study. While there is some very slight chance that Jesus did not exist, the evidence that he existed is sufficiently and cumulatively strong enough to defeat those doubts.” – Professor Bart Erhman
“This is not an issue for scholars. There is no scholar in any college or university who teaches classics, ancient history, new testament, early christianity, who doubts that Jesus existed. He is abundantly attested in early sources. Early and independent sources indicate that Jesus certainly existed. Paul is an eyewitness to both Jesus’ disciple Peter and the brother of Jesus. Like, I’m sorry. Atheists have done themselves a disservice by jumping on the bandwagon of mythicism because it makes you look foolish to the outside world.” – IBID
In an article he wrote for Huffington Post, Ehrman said:
“There are a couple of exceptions: of the hundreds — thousands? — of mythicists, two (to my knowledge) actually have Ph.D. credentials in relevant fields of study. But even taking these into account, there is not a single mythicist who teaches New Testament or Early Christianity or even Classics at any accredited institution of higher learning in the Western world.”
For more on the Myths about Christianity see below: