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Historicity of Jesus Christ

It is often argued there is no proof that Jesus Christ was a real person, or that any "proof" is compromised by an agenda of the church or Jesus' followers, or is not contemporaneous with the events. However, such arguments are uninformed at best and in fact there exist several proximate, contemporary, extra-biblical, secular historical references.

These are listed below in context with phrases referencing Jesus Christ underlined, with links to the author's full text, and some commentary where appropriate.

The secular historical references are brief, not surprisingly, commensurate with Jesus' activities having spanned only about 3.5 years over an area about the size of the San Francisco peninsula or the "boot heel" of Italy (south eastern half of the Puglia region), of which few historians took note at the time. Consequently, there were few extant contemporary historians and historical documents relating to Palestine from 1st century A.D. and even fewer extant extra-biblical references to Jesus. Palestine during Jesus' lifetime was under the rule of Tiberius (A.D. 12-37), and the Roman historians for that period are Velleius (who was too soon; c. 19 B.C. - c. A.D. 31), Tacitus (55-117), Suetonius (70-160), and Dio (who was 3rd century). The two Jewish historical resources are Josephus (A.D. 37 - c. A.D. 100) and the Rabbinical Writings (written in Hebrew sometime after 200).

And so, though scant and brief, the earliest and proximate, extant, extra-biblical historical references bearing on the historicity of Jesus Christ are:

Thallus, Histories (lost except for fragments) undated, but likely 2nd century if not 1st.

"On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun."

Thallus cited by Africanus as preserved by Syncellus

Thallus was an historian writing perhaps from the mid 1st century to the late 2nd century, A.D. Thallus is cited by Eusebius (Chronicle) as the author of a brief compendium covering the years from the fall of Troy to the 167th Olympiad, by Theophilus, Bishop of Antioch (Ad Autolycum), and above by Africanus as preserved in Syncellus. Because the reference above is to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, there have been attempts to place the date of Thallus' writings earlier to A.D. 50 or 52, and while plausible, these early dates are inconclusive and somewhat speculative.

It is generally presumed that Thallus in his Histories referred to what Matthew, Mark and Luke record as a ' three-hour darkness over the whole land' at Jesus' crucifixion, and that Africanus is disputing Thallus' interpretation, namely that the 'fearful darkness over the whole world' was a supernatural aspect of Jesus Christ's crucifixion and not a natural solar eclipse.

While plausible, the extant information on Thallus is minimal and care must be taken to neither overstate nor understate the available facts. Below, the extant factual information is assembled, two thoughtful but opposing viewpoints are offered, an analysis presented, and lastly a summary of additional popular arguments that yet seem insupportable.

Jacoby and Müller on "Thallus" as compiled by Richard Carrier (highly recommended background):

Carrier (an atheist) has compiled in one place, all translated to English, most of what is factually known about Thallus to date: Jacoby's material on "Thallus" (Jacoby's commentary originally in German plus original-language Thallus-fragments) from "Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker", with Müller's earlier commentary originally in Latin (emphasized in bold) from "Fragmenta Graecorum Historicorum", and the translator's personal notes (emphasized in blue). This seems a competent, scholarly effort, and while Carrier's introductory commentary is highly skeptical, as is Jacoby's interpretation, it is recommended reading as factual background on what is known of Thallus' fragment.

Carl Müller (1841-1870) originally published "Fragmenta Graecorum Historicorum" with commentary in Latin. Later, Jacoby published "Die Fragmente der griechischen Historiker" (begun in 1923 but sections were unfinished at his death in 1959) based on the multi-lingual textual fragments from Müller's earlier collection, and including portions of Müller's Latin commentary translated into German and further extended by Jacoby himself, all in German (copies linked at Carrier's article Jacoby and Müller on "Thallus").

Additional Thallus material was published in "Fragments from Graeco-Jewish Writers" by Wallace Nelson Stearns (1906) pp 62-66 (pp 77-81 of the digitized .pdf file). Stearns' translation of the Thallus fragment in question (the "darkness v eclipse" passage attributed to Thallus by Africanus, as preserved in Syncellus) is substantially different (see p. 66).

There is also The Extant Fragments of the Five Books of the Chronography of Julius Africanus translated by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson.

Neither Jacoby's original material on Thallus, Fragments of the Greek Historians, nor Müller's earlier Fragmenta Graecorum Historicorum are available.

Here are the various English translations of the fragment itself:

Jacoby (Fragment 8):

On What Followed the Savior's Passion and Life-Giving Resurrection

... after the most dreadful darkness fell over the whole world, the rocks were torn apart by an earthquake and much of Judaea and the rest of the land was torn down. Thallus calls this darkness an eclipse of the sun in the third book of his Histories, without reason it seems to me. ...

Richard Carrier, Jacoby and Müller on "Thallus"

Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson:

On the Circumstances Connected with Our Saviour’s Passion and His Life-Giving Resurrection.

... On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun. ...

"The Extant Fragments of the Five Books of the Chronography of Julius Africanus",
Ante-Nicene Fathers vol 6, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson (1890)

William Adler and Paul Tuffin:

A most terrible darkness fell over all the world, the rocks were torn apart by an earthquake, and many places both in Judaea and the rest of the world were thrown down. In the third book of his Histories, Thallos dismisses this darkness as a solar eclipse. In my opinion, this is nonsense.

William Adler and Paul Tuffin,
The Chronography of George Synkellos: A Byzantine Chronicle of Universal History from the Creation,
Oxford University Press (2002)

Stearns (Fragment 6):

Throughout all the known world a terrifying darkness (by some [Thallos] thought to have been an eclipse), the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and most of Judea and rest of the world was overthrown.

Wallace Nelson Stearns, Fragments from Graeco-Jewish Writers (1906)

And here are two thoughtful opposing viewpoints of the Thallus material:

Thallus: an Analysis - by Richard Carrier (an atheist)

Extrabiblical Witnesses to Jesus before 200 a.d. by Glenn Miller (Christian apologist)

There is little substantive difference between the English translations, except for Stearns' which omits (erroneously it seems) some details. From the remaining translations, three fundamental points surface:

  1. Thallus, recording for history, described a "darkness" as a "solar eclipse" instead
  2. Africanus inferred Thallus knew that same "darkness" was observed over the "whole world"
  3. Africanus said that Thallus was incorrect that a 'darkness observed over the whole world' could be a natural "solar eclipse"

Thallus offered a natural "solar eclipse" explanation for a "darkness" event which had allegedly been observed over the "whole world" and drawn enough attention that Thallus felt compelled to correct the historical record. In doubt are only when did the darkness occur, when did Thallus write about it, and were Thallus and Africanus referring to the same event?

The full context in which Africanus (as preserved by Syncellus) discusses this "darkness" is unarguably the crucifixion of Jesus Christ (from Extant Fragments of the Five Books of the Chronography of Julius Africanus, Thallus fragment underlined):

On the Circumstances Connected with Our Saviour’s Passion and His Life-Giving Resurrection.

1. As to His works severally, and His cures effected upon body and soul, and the mysteries of His doctrine, and the resurrection from the dead, these have been most authoritatively set forth by His disciples and apostles before us. On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun. For the Hebrews celebrate the passover on the 14th day according to the moon, and the passion of our Saviour fails on the day before the passover; but an eclipse of the sun takes place only when the moon comes under the sun. And it cannot happen at any other time but in the interval between the first day of the new moon and the last of the old, that is, at their junction: how then should an eclipse be supposed to happen when the moon is almost diametrically opposite the sun? Let that opinion pass however; let it carry the majority with it; and let this portent of the world be deemed an eclipse of the sun, like others a portent only to the eye. Phlegon records that, in the time of Tiberius Caesar, at full moon, there was a full eclipse of the sun from the sixth hour to the ninth-manifestly that one of which we speak. But what has an eclipse in common with an earthquake, the rending rocks, and the resurrection of the dead, and so great a perturbation throughout the universe? Surely no such event as this is recorded for a long period. But it was a darkness induced by God, because the Lord happened then to suffer. And calculation makes out that the period of 70 weeks, as noted in Daniel, is completed at this time.

"The Extant Fragments of the Five Books of the Chronography of Julius Africanus",
Ante-Nicene Fathers vol 6, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson (1890)

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ has been dated to A.D. 30 based on harmonization of gospel accounts with calendars and vernal equinoxes (see Harmonization of the Passion Week Gospel Accounts), and it is that darkness coincident with Jesus' crucifixion as recorded in Matt 27:45, Mark 15:33 and Luke 23:44 to which Africanus refers.

But to what darkness did Thallus refer, and when?

It is implausible Thallus was correcting the historical record of a mere solar eclipse, because:

  1. There was obviously something legendary about the event which Thallus felt compelled to address and correct, for history's sake:
  2. Conjunctions of sun, moon and earth causing new moons, full moons and solar and lunar eclipses had regular and recognized behavior, even if the underlying heliocentric planetary motions were not precisely understood. Solar eclipses were not misunderstood in their behavior, even if meanings or omens were ascribed to effects (such as in astrology) i.e., the meaning of a solar eclipse might be superstitious, but the recognized behavior of a solar eclipse was not. Regardless of what meaning, however superstitious, may have been attached to the "world-wide darkness", its behavior was not that of a solar eclipse (further demonstrated below).

  3. That "darkness" which Thallus sought to explain as a solar eclipse could not possibly be caused by an eclipse, and though Thallus was incorrect in his explanation, he was correct that an explanation was needed:
  4. As Africanus makes clear, the "worldwide darkness" was widely believed to be coincident with the crucifixion of Jesus because it was widely observed and unnatural. Thallus did not dispute the coincidence of the "worldwide darkness" and Jesus' crucifixion, rather Thallus sought to explain the cause as natural.

    While historians like Thallus do record solar eclipses often, nonetheless a solar eclipse is a physical impossibility at Passover because Passover eve (when Jesus was crucified) always occurs with a full moon rising in the east, the 15th day after the new moon, and never before the vernal equinox, i.e. the Earth is between the sun and the moon which are in opposition (causing the "full" moon) and hence a solar eclipse (where the moon is between the sun and the earth and thus casts a shadow on the earth) is plainly impossible.

What other "worldwide darkness" (even if the result of popular superstition) did Thallus need to correct?

Africanus knew a solar eclipse is impossible at Passover, but Thallus it seems did not.

But what does "worldwide" or the "whole world" mean? Being conservative, presumably in the minds of the gospel writers and the people living in the 1st century it meant at least Israel and neighboring countries and at most the "known world" which would include Europe, Africa, and Asia. A more insightful question is how does the observable extent of a solar eclipse compare to "world wide" or even "all the land" or the "whole land" as noted by Matthew, Mark and Luke.

The observation area for a solar eclipse can be 100-250 km wide for the umbra (night-like shadow cast by a total or annular eclipse) to almost 5,000 km for the penumbra (translucent shadow cast by a partial eclipse), and lasts not more than 8 minutes for any single stationary observer location:

Solar eclipse: Geometry of an eclipse (Wikipedia):

"This means that in any given year, there will always be at least two solar eclipses, and there can be as many as five. However, some are visible only as partial eclipses, because the umbra passes above Earth's north or south pole, and others are central only in remote regions of the Arctic or Antarctic."

Solar eclipse: Path of an eclipse (Wikipedia):

"The width of the track of a central eclipse varies according to the relative apparent diameters of the Sun and Moon. In the most favourable circumstances, when a total eclipse occurs very close to perigee, the track can be over 250 km wide and the duration of totality may be over 7 minutes. Outside of the central track, a partial eclipse can usually be seen over a much larger area of the Earth."

Craigmont Planetarium, Lunar Odyssey:

"Total solar eclipses occur when the Moon’s umbra reaches the surface of the Earth. The width of the penumbra shadow, or the area of partial eclipse on the surface of the Earth, is about 4828 km, but the path of totality is only about 112 km wide."

NASA has produced a Five Millennium Catalog of Solar Eclipses and a World Atlas of Solar Eclipse Paths, from which a map constructed by NASA of the total and annular solar eclipse paths for years 21 through 40 (1st century A.D.) shows (click to enlarge):

Note carefully the thin blue band crossing the Middle East is the one total eclipse of Nov 29th A.D. 30, and the path of totality (the umbra) crossed 500 km or more north of Israel, and no part of it touched Israel. The swath of the penumbra being some 2500 km wider to either side, would have encompassed all of Israel, most of Europe, the Middle East, North Eastern Africa, Asia minor and India.

Note also that the red band in the south western Pacific ocean is the annular eclipse of May 21st A.D. 30 and even the 5000 km wide penumbra would only have been visible in Indonesia and Australia.

Further, in the 1st century A.D., there were 248 solar eclipses (91 partial, 74 annular, 58 total and 25 hybrid) with multiple occurrances in the same year: 2 eclipses occurred in 70 years, 3 eclipses occurred in 14 years, 4 eclipses occurred in 14 years, and 5 eclipses (the maximum possible in any one year) occurred in 2 years.

In A.D. 30 there were two solar eclipses: an annular lasting 6 minutes and 9 seconds on May 21st (48 days after Jesus' crucifixion) and a total eclipse lasting 4 minutes and 8 seconds on Nov 14th (7 months after Jesus' crucifixion):

NASA Catalog of Solar Eclipses: 0001 to 0100

             Greatest    Saros        Eclipse              Sun  Path Center
      Date    Eclipse Type #    Gamma   Mag.   Lat.  Long. Alt Width  Dur.
                                                °      °     °  km

  0030 May 21  01:20   A   67  -0.322  0.952   1.9N 164.4E  71  186  06m09s
  0030 Nov 14  00:46   T   72   0.067  1.047  14.5S 166.9E  86  158  04m08s

Irrefutably, no solar eclipse occurred even proximate to April 3rd, 30 A.D. (the fixed date of Jesus' crucifixion as established by a Harmonization of the Passion Week Gospel Accounts), and those two eclipses that did occur on May 21st and Nov 14th, would not have exceeded a few minutes duration under any circumstances.

Further, NASA computes that solar eclipses occur about 250 times every century (248 in the 1st century A.D. and 251 in the 1st century B.C.), and while historians commonly record these events, the normal natural solar eclipse behavior is seldom described as "dreadful", "fearful", "terrible" or "terrifying" "worldwide darkness", especially considering actual solar eclipses only last a few minutes, regularly. However, Matthew, Mark and Luke record the darkness over the whole land as lasting 3 hours:

Mat 27:45 Now from the sixth hour darkness fell upon all the land until the ninth hour.
Mar 15:33 When the sixth hour came, darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour.
Luk 23:44-45 It was now about the sixth hour, and darkness fell over the whole land until the ninth hour, because the sun was obscured; and the veil of the temple was torn in two.

New American Standard Bible, The Lockman Foundation (1995)

Nobody mistakes a few minutes of darkness for three hours of darkness, and understandably when the darkness fails to abate after a few minutes even the "learned" would become anxious, and further become "fearful" as the minutes extended into hours. It is likely that it took many years for travelers and visitors from various parts of the "whole world" to cross paths, compare notes and exchange "tales" of a fearful darkness lasting hours, and consequently a popular "legend" would grow, a popular notion would take hold.

But eyewitness reports to the crucifixion (including at least John and Mary) who observed the coincidence with the darkness first hand, plus reports of "legends" from worldwide travelers, were undoubtedly transmitted to Matthew, Mark and Luke who, twenty or thirty years later, faithfully recorded a three hour darkness that fell on all the land in their respective gospel accounts.

And yet, given the physical impossibility of a solar eclipse at Passover (apparently unknown by Thallus), and given that regular solar eclipse behavior stands in stark contrast to a unique 'fearful worldwide darkness', Thallus nonetheless was compelled (perhaps he read Luke's "because the sun was obscured") to record for history what Thallus thought was a correct natural explanation of a phenomena otherwise popularly associated with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

We don't know when Thallus wrote his assessment that the "fearful worldwide darkness" was a solar eclipse. It seems unlikely that Thallus was an eyewitness to the crucifixion or the "fearful worldwide darkness", and more likely Thallus had heard or received, second or third hand, accounts from eyewitnesses which he discounted and upon which he concluded that a natural solar eclipse had actually been observed.

Lest it be thought the gospel accounts and 'legends' of a "fearful worldwide darkness" can be dismissed outright, as did Thallus, one is then confronted with explaining to what darkness did Thallus (an historian) refer, especially in view of the physical impossibility of the explanation Thallus was offering (i.e. no natural solar eclipse can explain a darkness at Passover) and the absence of any exculpatory solar eclipse data catalogued by NASA?

Here again is the fragment of Thallus referenced by Africanus as preserved by Syncellus:

"On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun."

The language of the fragment does not permit Thallus' mere recording of a solar eclipse to stand alone. It stands in relation to something Thallus sought to correct. But how many "fearful worldwide darkness" are there? If Thallus believed he was only recording a solar eclipse, why was Thallus correcting some other notion with that recording, and what notion did Thallus believe he was correcting?

Arguably, Thallus was an eyewitness to neither the "fearful worldwide darkness" nor the "solar eclipse" he believed to be the actual event, as an eyewitness to either could not have confused them together given the narrow scope and short duration of an actual eclipse as documented above. Consequently it can only be presumed Thallus was writing from second hand information after the event. But these are arguments from silence.

Irrefutably, Thallus was aware of an event of darkness, he was aware that others associated that darkness with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, and Thallus underscored his awareness with a faulty explanation of a solar eclipse. The skeptics' resort is to suspect forgery or corruption in Africanus or Syncellus, because while one can criticize over-zealous citations of Thallus as an eyewitness, Thallus' fragment regardless stands as historical evidence (unless forged or corrupted) of an unexplained darkness popularly associated with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Unanswered as yet is when did Thallus record his explanation, for which the evidence to ascertain a date is too thin.

Attempts are made to equate Thallus to an "Allos" referenced by Josephus (Jewish Antiquities 18.167), and hence to date Thallus therefrom, but these Josephus references are speculative and a connection to Thallus is otherwise unsupported.

While a strong correspondence has been shown that Thallus was alluding to a popular notion or legend arising out of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, knowing to what Thallus referred is not the same as knowing when he wrote the reference.

Letter to Mara, son of Serapion (c. A.D. 73)

For what else have we to say, when wise men are forcibly dragged by the hands of tyrants, and their wisdom is taken captive by calumny, and they are oppressed in their intelligence without defence? For what advantage did the Athenians gain by the murder of Socrates, the recompense of which they received in famine and pestilence? Or the people of Samos by the burning of Pythagoras, because in one hour their country was entirely covered with sand? Or the Jews by the death of their wise king because from that same time their kingdom was taken away? For with justice did God make recompense to the wisdom of these three: for the Athenians died of famine; and the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea without remedy; and the Jews, desolate and driven from their own kingdom, are scattered through every country. Socrates is not dead, because of Plato; neither Pythagoras, because of the statue of Juno; nor the Wise King, because of the laws which he promulgated.

Spicilegium Syriacum (1855). Preface

THE Manuscript from which the materials for the present volume have been chiefly derived, is one of those which were obtained by Archdeacon Tattam from the Syrian convent in the desert of Nitria in the year 1843. It is now numbered 14,658 amongst the Additional Manuscripts in the British Museum. Several leaves were added in 1847 from fragments subsequently acquired by M. Pacho;1 and four more were again supplied from other fragments procured also by him from the same source in the year 1850. At present the volume consists of one hundred and eighty-eight leaves. Originally it must have had more than two hundred and twenty; for the last gathering as it now stands is numbered the twenty-second, and each gathering consisted of ten leaves. It is imperfect both at the beginning and the end, has suffered mutilations in several parts of the volume, and some of the leaves have been much stained by oil. It is written in a large bold hand in two columns: the headings of chapters and the titles of separate works are distinguished by red letters. It appears to have been transcribed about the sixth or seventh century of our era.


Josephus' "Testimonium Flavianum":


[63] 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. [64] 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.

Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews,
William Whiston ed., Ant. 18.3.3 (Beardsley, 1895)



[197] AND now Caesar, upon hearing the death of Festus, sent Albinus into Judea, as procurator. But the king deprived Joseph of the high priesthood, and bestowed the succession to that dignity on the son of Ananus, who was also himself called Ananus. Now the report goes that this eldest Ananus proved a most fortunate man; for he had five sons who had all performed the office of a high priest to God, and who had himself enjoyed that dignity a long time formerly, which had never happened to any other of our high priests. But this younger Ananus, who, as we have told you already, took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, 1 who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews, as we have already observed; when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority]. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrim 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: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king [Agrippa], desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified; nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a sanhedrim without his consent.

Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews,
William Whiston ed., Ant. 20.9.1 (Beardsley, 1895)

Jospehus wrote Wars of the Jews approximately A.D. 75-79, and Antiquities of the Jews approximately A.D. 94.

Seutonius: (c. A.D. 110)

25 1 He rearranged the military career of the knights, assigning a division of cavalry after a cohort, and next the tribunate of a legion. He also instituted a series of military positions and a kind of fictitious service, which is called "supernumerary" and could be performed in absentia and in name only. He even had the Fathers pass a decree forbidding soldiers to enter the houses of senators to pay their respects. He confiscated the property of those freedmen who passed as Roman knights, and reduced to slavery again such as were ungrateful and a cause of complaint to their patrons, declaring to their advocates that he would not entertain a suit against their own freedmen. 2 When certain men were exposing their sick and worn out slaves on the Island of Aesculapius because of the trouble of treating them, Claudius decreed that all such slaves were free, and that if they recovered, they should not return to the control of their master; but if anyone preferred to kill such a slave rather than to abandon him, he was liable to the charge of murder. He provided by an edict that travellers should not pass through the towns of Italy except on foot, or in a chair or litter. He stationed a cohort at Puteoli and one at Ostia, to guard against the danger of fires.

3 He forbade men of foreign birth to use the Roman names so far as those of the clans were concerned. Those who usurped the privileges of Roman citizenship he executed in the Esquiline field. He restored to the senate the provinces of Achaia and Macedonia, which Tiberius had taken into his own charge. He deprived the Lycians of their independence because of deadly intestine feuds, and restored theirs to the Rhodians, since they had given up their former faults. He allowed the people of Ilium perpetual exemption from tribute, on the ground that they were the founders of the Roman race, reading an ancient letter of the senate and people of Rome written in Greek to king Seleucus, in which they promised him their friendship and alliance only on condition that he should keep their kinsfolk of Ilium free from every burden. 4 Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus,75 he expelled them from Rome. He allowed the envoys of the Germans to sit in the orchestra, led by their naïve self-confidence; for when they had been taken to the seats occupied by the common people and saw the Parthian and Armenian envoys sitting with the senate, they moved of their own accord to the same part of the theatre, protesting that their merits and rank were no whit inferior. 5 He utterly abolished the cruel and inhuman religion of the Druids among the Gauls, which under Augustus had merely been prohibited to Roman citizens; on the other hand he even attempted to transfer the Eleusinian rites from Attica to Rome, and had the temple of Venus Erycina in Sicily, which had fallen to ruin through age, restored at the expense of the treasury of the Roman people. He struck his treaties with foreign princes in the Forum, sacrificing a pig and reciting the ancient formula of the fetial priests. But these and other acts, and in fact almost the whole conduct of his reign, were dictated not so much by his own judgment as that of his wives and freedmen, since he nearly always acted in accordance with their interests and desires.

75 Another form of Christus; see Tert. Apol. 3 (at the end). It is uncertain whether Suetonius is guilty of an error in chronology or is referring to some Jew of that name. The former seems probable because of the absence of quodam. Tac. Ann. 15.44, uses the correct form, Christus, and states that He was executed in the reign of Tiberius.

C. Suetonius Tranquillus, "The Life of Claudius" 25.4,
The Lives of the Twelve Caesars, Loeb (1914)

Pliny, the Younger: (A.D. 112)



IT is my invariable rule, Sir, to refer to you in all matters where I feel doubtful; for who is more capable of emoving my scruples, or informing my ignorance? Having never been present at any trials concerning those who profess Christianity, 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. Whether, therefore, any difference is usually made with respect to ages, or no distinction is to be observed between the young and the adult; whether repentance entitles them to a pardon; or if a man has been once a Christian, it avails nothing to desist from his error; whether the very profession of Christianity, unattended with any criminal act, or only the crimes themselves inherent in the profession are punishable; on all these points I am in great doubt. In the meanwhile, the method I have observed towards those who have been brought before me as Christians is this: I asked them whether they were Christians; if they admitted it, I repeated the question twice, and threatened them with punishment; if they persisted, I ordered them to be at once punished: for I was persuaded, whatever the nature of their opinions might be, a contumacious and inflexible obstinacy certainly deserved correction. There were others also brought before me possessed with the same infatuation, but being Roman citizens, I directed them to be sent to Rome. But this crime spreading (as is usually the case) while it was actually under prosecution, several instances of the same nature occurred. An anonymous information was laid before me containing a charge against several persons, who upon examination denied they were Christians, or had ever been so. They repeated after me an invocation to the gods, and offered religious rites with wine and incense before your statue (which for that purpose I had ordered to be brought, together with those of the gods), and even reviled the name of Christ: whereas there is no forcing, it is said, those who are really Christians into any of these compliances: I thought it proper, therefore, to discharge them. Some among those who were accused by a witness in person at first confessed themselves Christians, but immediately after denied it; the rest owned indeed that they had been of that number formerly, but had now (some above three, others more, and a few above twenty years ago) renounced that error. They all worshipped your statue and the images of the gods, uttering imprecations at the same time against the name of Christ. They affirmed the whole of their guilt, or their error, was, that they met on a stated day before it was light, and addressed a form of prayer to Christ, as to a divinity, binding themselves by a solemn oath, not for the purposes of any wicked design, 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 eat in common a harmless meal. From this custom, however, they desisted after the publication of my edict, by which, according to your commands, I forbade the meeting of any assemblies. After receiving this account, I judged it so much the more necessary to endeavor to extort the real truth, by putting two female slaves to the torture, who were said to officiate' in their religious rites: but all I could discover was evidence of an absurd and extravagant superstition. I deemed it expedient, therefore, to adjourn all further proceedings, in order to consult you. For it appears to be a matter highly deserving your consideration, more especially as great numbers must be involved in the danger of these prosecutions, which have already extended, and are still likely to extend, to persons of all ranks and ages, and even of both sexes. In fact, this contagious superstition is not confined to the cities only, but has spread its infection among the neighbouring villages and country. Nevertheless, it still seems possible to restrain its progress. The temples, at least, which were once almost deserted, begin now to be frequented; and the sacred rites, after a long intermission, are again revived; while there is a general demand for the victims, which till lately found very few purchasers. From all this it is easy to conjecture what numbers might be reclaimed if a general pardon were granted to those who shall repent of their error.



You have adopted the right course, my dearest Secundtis, in investigating the charges against the Christians who were brought before you. It is not possible to lay down any general rule for all such cases. Do not go out of your way to look for them. If indeed they should be brought before you, and the crime is proved, they must be punished; with the restriction, however, that where the party denies he is a Christian, and shall make it evident that he is not, by invoking our gods, let him (notwithstanding any former suspicion) be pardoned upon his repentance. Anonymous informations ought not to he received in any sort of prosecution. It is introducing a very dangerous precedent, and is quite foreign to the spirit of our age.

Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, Letters of Pliny [the Younger],
tr. William Melmoth (1777), ed. F. C. T. Bosanquet

Tacitus: (c. A.D. 117)

Such indeed were the precautions of human wisdom. The next thing was to seek means of propitiating the gods, and recourse was had to the Sibylline books, by the direction of which prayers were offered to Vulcanus, Ceres, and Proserpina. Juno, too, was entreated by the matrons, first, in the Capitol, then on the nearest part of the coast, whence water was procured to sprinkle the fane and image of the goddess. And there were sacred banquets and nightly vigils celebrated by married women. But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. 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. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man's cruelty, that they were being destroyed.

Publius Cornelius Tacitus, The Annals 15.44,
The complete works of Tacitus, tr. Alfred John Church, William Jackson Brodribb, The Modern Library (1942)

Celsus: lost except for excerpts in Origen's Contra Celsus (A.D. 178)

Aurelius Cornelius Celsus was a 2nd century Greek philosopher and physician who wrote "On the True Doctrine" in A.D. 178, a highly critical demolition of Christanity. None of Celsus works survive, but numerous direct quotes are found in Origen's Contra Celsus (A.D. 240). Origen writes "Contra Celsus" (or "Against Celsus") to a "reverend Ambrosius" who apparently provided Origen with a copy of Celsus' "On the True Doctrine" and asked Origen to write a rebutal. Origen meticulously and methodically addressed most if not all of Celsus' assertions, and provided hundreds of direct quotes of Celsus in eight books.

In all those hundreds of direct quotes, not once did Celsus deny the existance of Jesus Christ, but rather argued the illogic (in Celsus' view) of Jesus' claims, teachings and Christian doctrine. Celsus seemingly read (at least once) the Hebrew scriptures, the Gospels and Apostles' epistles that were circulating, and seems to have been informed of what Celsus termed the rebellious and seditious activities of Christians. While Celsus' arguments are often shallow and uninformed, they are nonetheless directed at what he obviously understood was a real social phenomenon with a real human leader, and the essence of Celsus' arguments is to explain away any divine cause and deconstruct Jesus Christ as a mere mortal and Egyptian sorcerer.

The excerpts chosen below demonstrate Celsus' viewpoint that Jesus Christ was a real person and Celsus' extra-biblical, real-world explanations for Jesus' origins, divinity and powers. The point is not that Celsus was wrong in his Christian or Hebrew theology, but rather that Celsus believed Jesus Christ was a real person with unreal powers.

If one is going to argue a different explanation of history, then one accepts there is a history to explain. If one is going to argue "evil spirits" as the source of Jesus' miraculous powers, then one accepts Jesus performed miracles to explain.

The following are all quotes of Celsus from "On the True Doctrine" as preserved by Origen.

Origen: Contra Celsus - Book 1

The following quotes demonstrate Celsus' view that Jesus was an illegitimate child of Mary and a soldier named Panthera; that Jesus obtained his miraculous powers somehow in Egypt; and the miracles performed by Jesus were not divine but due to the evil powers he obtained in Egypt:

Chap. 32 But let us now return to where the Jew is introduced, speaking of the mother of Jesus, and saying that "when she was pregnant she was turned out of doors by the carpenter to whom she had been betrothed, as having been guilty of adultery, and that she bore a child to a certain soldier named Panthera;" ...

Chap. 38 ... And yet he desires to throw discredit on them, as being done by help of magic and not by divine power; for he asserts "that he (Jesus), having been brought up as an illegitimate child, and having served for hire in Egypt, and then coming to the knowledge of certain miraculous powers, returned from thence to his own country, and by means of those powers proclaimed himself a god." ...

Chap. 68 But after this, Celsus, having a suspicion that the great works performed by Jesus, of which we have named a few out of a great number, would be brought forward to view, affects to grant that those statements may be true which are made regarding His cures, or His resurrection, or the feeding of a multitude with a few loaves, from which many fragments remained over, or those other stories which Celsus thinks the disciples have recorded as of a marvellous nature; and he adds: "Well, let us believe that these were actually wrought by you." But then he immediately compares them to the tricks of jugglers, who profess to do more wonderful things, and to the feats performed by those who have been taught by Egyptians, who in the middle of the market-place, in return for a few obols, will impart the knowledge of their most venerated arts, and will expel demons from men, and dispel diseases, and invoke the souls of heroes, and exhibit expensive banquets, and tables, and dishes, and dainties having no real existence, and who will put in motion, as if alive, what are not really living animals, but which have only the appearance of life. And he asks, "Since, then, these persons can perform such feats, shall we of necessity conclude that they are 'sons of God,' or must we admit that they are the proceedings of wicked men under the influence of an evil spirit?"...

Origen, "Contra Celsus - Book I",
Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 4. ed., Roberts, Donaldson, Coxe, Christian Literature (1885)
rev. ed., Kevin Knight

Origen: Contra Celsus - Book 3

The following quotes demonstrate Celsus' awareness that Christianity was a genuine and growing movement (though factionalized), but was simply a unified rebellion being lead by a mortal, Jesus, acting as God:

Chap. 10 But observe what he alleges as a proof of his statement: "Christians at first were few in number, and held the same opinions; but when they grew to be a great multitude, they were divided and separated, each wishing to have his own individual party: for this was their object from the beginning." ...

Chap. 12 In the next place, since he reproaches us with the existence of heresies in Christianity as being a ground of accusation against it, saying that "when Christians had greatly increased in numbers, they were divided and split up into factions, each individual desiring to have his own party;" and further, that "being thus separated through their numbers, they confute one another, still having, so to speak, one name in common, if indeed they still retain it. And this is the only thing which they are yet ashamed to abandon, while other matters are determined in different ways by the various sects." ...

Chap. 14 After this he continues: "Their union is the more wonderful, the more it can be shown to be based on no substantial reason. And yet rebellion is a substantial reason, as well as the advantages which accrue from it, and the fear of external enemies. Such are the causes which give stability to their faith."

Chap. 41 But since he has charged us, I know not how often already, "with regarding this Jesus, who was but a mortal body, as a God, and with supposing that we act piously in so doing," ...

Origen, "Contra Celsus - Book III",
Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 4. ed., Roberts, Donaldson, Coxe, Christian Literature (1885)
rev. ed., Kevin Knight

Origen: Contra Celsus - Book 4

Celsus' alludes to the crucifixion of Jesus, but embellishes the account with Christians correcting the Jewish belief that a Messiah was still in the future, and that the Jewish sin was to blame for Jesus crucifixion:

Chap. 22 But, according to Celsus, "the Christians, making certain additional statements to those of the Jews, assert that the Son of God has been already sent on account of the sins of the Jews; and that the Jews having chastised Jesus, and given him gall to drink, have brought upon themselves the divine wrath." ...

Origen, "Contra Celsus - Book IV",
Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 4. ed., Roberts, Donaldson, Coxe, Christian Literature (1885)
rev. ed., Kevin Knight

Origen: Contra Celsus - Book 5

Celsus reiterates his viewpoint that no God did or would incarnate himself, (thus Jesus was a normal human) and Christians have no excuse for believing Jesus teachings:

Chap. 2 We have now, then, to refute that statement of his which runs as follows: "O Jews and Christians, no God or son of a God either came or will come down (to earth). But if you mean that certain angels did so, then what do you call them? Are they gods, or some other race of beings? Some other race of beings (doubtless), and in all probability demons." ...

Chap. 35 The argument of Celsus appears to point by these illustrations to this conclusion: that it is "an obligation incumbent on all men to live according to their country's customs, in which case they will escape censure; whereas the Christians, who have abandoned their native usages, and who are not one nation like the Jews, are to be blamed for giving their adherence to the teaching of Jesus." ...

Origen, "Contra Celsus - Book V",
Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 4. ed., Roberts, Donaldson, Coxe, Christian Literature (1885)
rev. ed., Kevin Knight

Origen: Contra Celsus - Book 6

The following quotes reinforce Celsus' view that Jesus was a maneuvering deluder, an ill-favoured, ignoble, undifferentiated mortal being:

Chap. 42 After these matters, Celsus brings the following charges against us from another quarter: "Certain most impious errors," he says, "are committed by them, due to their extreme ignorance, in which they have wandered away from the meaning of the divine enigmas, creating an adversary to God, the devil, and naming him in the Hebrew tongue, Satan. Now, of a truth, such statements are altogether of mortal invention, and not even proper to be repeated, viz., that the mighty God, in His desire to confer good upon men, has yet one counterworking Him, and is helpless. The Son of God, it follows, is vanquished by the devil; and being punished by him, teaches us also to despise the punishments which he inflicts, telling us beforehand that Satan, after appearing to men as He Himself had done, will exhibit great and marvellous works, claiming for himself the glory of God, but that those who wish to keep him at a distance ought to pay no attention to these works of Satan, but to place their faith in Him alone. Such statements are manifestly the words of a deluder, planning and manœuvring against those who are opposed to his views, and who rank themselves against them." ...

Chap. 69 Celsus, however, asserts that the answer which we give is based upon a probable conjecture, admitting that he describes our answer in the following terms: "Since God is great and difficult to see, He put His own Spirit into a body that resembled ours, and sent it down to us, that we might be enabled to hear Him and become acquainted with Him." ...

Chap. 72 It is therefore in vain that Celsus asserts, as one who knows not the nature of the Spirit of God, that "as the Son of God, who existed in a human body, is a Spirit, this very Son of God would not be immortal." ...

Chap. 73 He proceeds to repeat himself, and after saying a great deal which he had said before, and ridiculing the birth of God from a virgin—to which we have already replied as we best could—he adds the following: "If God had wished to send down His Spirit from Himself, what need was there to breathe it into the womb of a woman? For as one who knew already how to form men, He could also have fashioned a body for this person, without casting His own Spirit into so much pollution; and in this way He would not have been received with incredulity, if He had derived His existence immediately from above." ...

Chap. 75 To the preceding remarks he adds the following: "Since a divine Spirit inhabited the body (of Jesus), it must certainly have been different from that of other beings, in respect of grandeur, or beauty, or strength, or voice, or impressiveness, or persuasiveness. For it is impossible that He, to whom was imparted some divine quality beyond other beings, should not differ from others; whereas this person did not differ in any respect from another, but was, as they report, little, and ill-favoured, and ignoble." ...

Origen, "Contra Celsus - Book VI",
Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 4. ed., Roberts, Donaldson, Coxe, Christian Literature (1885)
rev. ed., Kevin Knight

Origen: Contra Celsus - Book 7

Celsus argues the illogic (in his view) that Jesus death was not glorious, that it lacked mythic legend, and the infamous life of god ended in a miserable death:

Chap. 53 After these remarks of Celsus, which we have done our best to refute, he goes on to address us thus: "Seeing you are so eager for some novelty, how much better it would have been if you had chosen as the object of your zealous homage some one of those who died a glorious death, and whose divinity might have received the support of some myth to perpetuate his memory! Why, if you were not satisfied with Hercules or Æsculapius, and other heroes of antiquity, you had Orpheus, who was confessedly a divinely inspired man, who died a violent death. But perhaps some others have taken him up before you. You may then take Anaxarchus, who, when cast into a mortar, and beaten most barbarously, showed a noble contempt for his suffering, and said, 'Beat, beat the shell of Anaxarchus, for himself you do not beat,'— a speech surely of a spirit truly divine. But others were before you in following his interpretation of the laws of nature. Might you not, then, take Epictetus, who, when his master was twisting his leg, said, smiling and. unmoved, 'You will break my leg;' and when it was broken, he added, 'Did I not tell you that you would break it?' What saying equal to these did your god utter under suffering? If you had said even of the Sibyl, whose authority some of you acknowledge, that she was a child of God, you would have said something more reasonable. But you have had the presumption to include in her writings many impious things, and set up as a god one who ended a most infamous life by a most miserable death. How much more suitable than he would have been Jonah in the whale's belly, or Daniel delivered from the wild beasts, or any of a still more portentous kind!"

Origen, "Contra Celsus - Book VII",
Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 4. ed., Roberts, Donaldson, Coxe, Christian Literature (1885)
rev. ed., Kevin Knight

Origen: Contra Celsus - Book 8

Celsus believes that Jesus' followers worship him out of loyalty to the leader in their sedition, not because he is God, and argues that had Jesus really been God, the Jews who crucified him would have been punished by God, and the illogic of a father's inhumanity to his own son:

Chap. 14 Again Celsus proceeds: "If you should tell them that Jesus is not the Son of God, but that God is the Father of all, and that He alone ought to be truly worshipped, they would not consent to discontinue their worship of him who is their leader in the sedition. And they call him Son of God, not out of any extreme reverence for God, but from an extreme desire to extol Jesus Christ." ...

Chap. 41 He then goes on to rail against us after the manner of old wives. "You," says he, "mock and revile the statues of our gods; but if you had reviled Bacchus or Hercules in person, you would not perhaps have done so with impunity. But those who crucified your God when present among men, suffered nothing for it, either at the time or during the whole of their lives. And what new thing has there happened since then to make us believe that he was not an impostor, but the Son of God? And forsooth, he who sent his Son with certain instructions for mankind, allowed him to be thus cruelly treated, and his instructions to perish with him, without ever during all this long time showing the slightest concern. What father was ever so inhuman? Perhaps, indeed, you may say that he suffered so much, because it was his wish to bear what came to him. But it is open to those whom you maliciously revile, to adopt the same language, and say that they wish to be reviled, and therefore they bear it with patience; for it is best to deal equally with both sides—although these (gods) severely punish the scorner, so that he must either flee and hide himself, or be taken and perish." ...

Origen, "Contra Celsus - Book VIII",
Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. 4. ed., Roberts, Donaldson, Coxe, Christian Literature (1885)
rev. ed., Kevin Knight

In all the foregoing, Celsus did not argue that Jesus did not exist, did not perform (what appeared to be) miracles, and wasn't crucified, rather Celsus argues what he perceives as the illogic of Christian doctrine and offers human explanations (adultery, delusion, maneuvering, sorcery, sedition, gullibility) for an historical person and related events.

Phlegon (2nd century A.D.)

Phlegon's report of the crucifixion dated to the 202nd Olympiad is recorded in Eusebius' The Chronological Canons (ca. 311 AD) as translated and revised by Jerome in The Chronical of Jerome (c. 380 AD):

Jesus Christ, according to the prophecies, which had been spoken about him beforehand, came to the Passion in the 18th year of Tiberius, at which time also we find these things written verbatim in other commentaries of the gentiles: an eclipse of the sun happened 1, Bithynia shaken by earthquake, and in the city of Nicaea many buildings collapsed: all of which agree with what occurred in the Passion of the Saviour. Indeed Phlegon, who is an excellent calculator of olympiads, also writes about this, in his 13th book writing thus:

[Phlegon writing in the 2nd century A.D.] "However in the fourth year of the 202nd olympiad, an eclipse of the sun happened, greater and more excellent than any that had happened before it; at the sixth hour, day turned into dark night, so that the stars were seen in the sky, and an earthquake in Bithynia toppled many buildings of the city of Nicaea." These things the aforementioned man (says).

The proof however of this matter, that in this year the Saviour suffered, the gospel of John presents, in which it is written that after the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar, the Lord preached for three years. Also Josephus, a native writer of the Jews, attests that around that time on the day of Pentecost, the priests first perceived an earth tremor and certain (loud) sounds. Then, that an unexpected voice suddenly burst out from the innermost part of the Temple saying: "Let us flee from this abode." However the aforementioned man writes that in the same year Pilate the governor secretly in the night set up images of Caesar in the temple, and from this arose the first cause of the rebellion and turmoil of the Jews.

Jerome, "The Chronicle" translated by Roger Pearse, et.al. (2005) from
The Bodleian Manuscript of Jerome's Version of the Chronicle of Eusebius by J. K. Fotheringham, Clarendon (1905);

Correlation of the Olympiad year recorded by Phlegon to the year of Jesus 'crucifixion:

Olympiads are 4 years, summer to summer and historians generally accept the 1st Olympiad to have been 776/5 B.C. (though this is not absolutely fixed). The formula to convert an Olympiad year O.y to a Julian year is:

Julian = -776 [+0th] +4x(O-1) + (y-1)

-776 is the assumed Julian year of the 1st Olympiad,
O=Olympiad number,
y=year in the Olympiad, and
[+0th] means +1 if crossing from B.C. to A.D., else +0 if not crossing B.C. to A.D.

Converting 202.4 Olympic to Julian yields:

-776 +1 + 4x(202-1) +(4-1) = -776 +1 +804 +3 = A.D. 32

This result, A.D. 32, for the year of Jesus' crucifixion conflicts with the result of A.D. 30 established by:

  1. 18th Year of Tiberius and coins of Gratus and Pilate (Judean prefects under Tiberius), reckoned factually
  2. Essene calendrics (based on US Naval Observations of the vernal equinox) and Hillel II calendrics
  3. Harmonization of the Gospel accounts of Passion Week
  4. Fulfillment of Daniel's prophecy of 69 Weeks

Phlegon may have computed the year wrong (2nd year of 202nd Olympiad would give a consistent result) or the generally accepted date of the first Olympiad 776 B.C. may be in error (778 B.C. would give a consistent result). Further investigation is to be done.

Irrefutably however, Phlegon records an event he believed coincident with the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.

Eusebius' The Chronological Canons (ca. 311 AD) as translated and revised by Jerome in The Chronical of Jerome (c. 380 AD):

Eusebius records his own dating of the crucifixion, as well as citing Phlegon's dating:

Jesus Christ, according to the prophecies, which had been spoken about him beforehand, came to the Passion in the 18th year of Tiberius, at which time also we find these things written verbatim in other commentaries of the gentiles: an eclipse of the sun happened 1, Bithynia shaken by earthquake, and in the city of Nicaea many buildings collapsed: all of which agree with what occurred in the Passion of the Saviour. ...

Jerome, "The Chronicle" translated by Roger Pearse, et.al. (2005) from
The Bodleian Manuscript of Jerome's Version of the Chronicle of Eusebius by J. K. Fotheringham, Clarendon (1905);

Tiberius' years are reckoned as factual (not regnal) beginning from his co-regency with Augustus in A.D. 12, each year extending from the fall month of September through August of the following year, coinciding with 8 months of the previous calendar year and 4 months of the next calendar year.

Jesus was baptized in the 15th year of Tiberius and crucified in the 18th year of Tiberius. Reconciling these years of Tiberius is shown in the following table:

year AD
Daniel's 69-week prophecy fulfilled at Jesus' baptism ↑
Jesus' crucifixion ↑

The 1st year of Tiberius began as coregent in October of A.D. 12 and he was named head of state in September of A.D. 14 which pushed his factual year earlier two months, reckoned thereafter from the fall month of September through August of the following year.

Consequently, Tiberius' 15th year spanned the last 4 months of A.D. 26 (when Christ was baptized just after His 30th birthday) to the first 8 months of A.D. 27, and Tiberius' 18th year spanned the last 4 months of A.D. 29 into the first 8 months of A.D. 30 (when Christ was crucified on April 3rd).

Above, "JO" means January through October, "JA" means January through August, "SD" means September through December, and "ND" means November through December, all ranges inclusive.

Babylonian Talmud: Sanhedrin (43a) (c. A.D. 300 - 500)

AND A HERALD PRECEDES HIM etc. This implies, only immediately before [the execution], but not previous thereto. [In contradiction to this] it was taught: On the eve of the Passover Yeshu34 was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, 'He is going forth to be stoned because he has practised sorcery and enticed Israel to apostacy. Any one who can say anything in his favour, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.' But since nothing was brought forward in his favour he was hanged on the eve of the Passover!35 — Ulla retorted: 'Do you suppose that he was one for whom a defence could be made? Was he not a Mesith [enticer], concerning whom Scripture says, Neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him? With Yeshu however it was different, for he was connected with the government [or royalty, i.e., influential].'

34 - Ms.M. adds the Nasarean'.
35 - A Florentine Ms. adds: and the eve of Sabbath.

Our Rabbis taught: Yeshu had five disciples, Matthai, Nakai, Nezer, Buni and Todah. When Matthai was brought [before the court] he said to them [the judges], Shall Matthai be executed? Is it not written, Matthai [when] shall I come and appear before God? Thereupon they retorted; Yes, Matthai shall be executed, since it is written, When Matthai [when] shall [he] die and his name perish. When Nakai was brought in he said to them; Shall Nakai be executed? It is not written, Naki [the innocent] and the righteous slay thou not? Yes, was the answer, Nakai shall be executed, since it is written, in secret places does Naki [the innocent] slay. When Nezer was brought in, he said; Shall Nezer be executed? Is it not written, And Nezer [a twig] shall grow forth out of his roots. Yes, they said, Nezer shall be executed, since it is written, But thou art cast forth away from thy grave like Nezer [an abhorred offshoot]. When Buni was brought in, he said: Shall Buni be executed? Is it not written, Beni [my son], my first born? Yes, they said, Buni shall be executed, since it is written, Behold I will slay Bine-ka [thy son] thy first born. And when Todah was brought in, he said to them; Shall Todah be executed? Is it not written, A psalm for Todah [thanksgiving]? Yes, they answered, Todah shall be executed, since it is written, Whoso offereth the sacrifice of Todah [thanksgiving] honoured me.

Tractate Sanhedrin, Folio 43a, Babylonian Talmud, ed. Rabbi Dr. Isidore Epstein of Jews’ College, London
Soncino Press (1935 - 1948)

There are other references in the Talmud to a "Yeshu" or to persons believed to have been "Yeshu", however the contextual circumstances of those other references seem to preclude their being about Jesus Christ.

The main objections to Sanhedrin 43a being references to Jesus Christ are that "Yeshu" was hung on Passover eve, that Nakai, Nezer, Buni and Todah are neither known disciples nor was Matthai (Matthew executed), and the Sanhedrin lacked authority to peform executions under Roman occupation.

However, Jesus Christ (Yeshu the Nasarean) was in fact crucified on Passover eve:

As per Ex 12:6-18, Lev 23:3-5; and Num 28:16, Passover is preceded by four days of preparation and then on Nisan 14th comes the Passover evening and its accompanying meal (Jewish Seder) and into that subsequent night of Nisan 15th. It was in the night (the early part of Nisan 15th) that God's destroyer "passed over" the Jewsih homes marked with the blood of the Paschal Lamb. The Passover lamb is to be selected and killed at twilight or "beyn haarbayim" or literally “between the two evenings.” The Jews divided the day into morning and evening: till the sun passed the meridian all was morning or fore-noon; after that, all was afternoon or evening. Their first evening began just after twelve o’clock, and continued till sunset; their second evening began at sunset and continued till night. (Adam Clark's Commentary on Exodus 12:6:)

Jesus Christ was crucified between 9 AM and 3 PM of Nisan 14th A.D. 30. From the sixth through the ninth hour darkness fell upon all the land (noon to 3 PM) and from the sixth through the ninth hour and gave up his spirit and died at about the "ninth hour" (3 PM) - all on the "first evening" of Nisan 14th before Passover had actually begun on the "second evening" at 6PM beginning Nisan 15th.

The Sanhedrin priests were in a rush to complete the execution before Passover began.

And while the Sanhedrin had no authority to execute anyone, they had instead persuaded Pontius Pilate, Roman Prefect of Judea, to execute Christ on (false) charges of insurrection and treason against Caesar.

As to the remaining objection, the identity of Matthai, Nakai, Nezer, Buni and Todah can be neither proven nor disproven, but they certainly could not be lawfully executed by the Sanhedrin without Roman approval. But it is plausible. Many followers of Jesus Christ were in fact executed subsequently, notably Stephen, and it was for a time Paul's job as a Pharisee and Sanhedrin member to track down Christians and have them executed (ostensiby with Roman approval). Of the twelve disciples; John is the only one known to have died of natural causes, Matthew's death is unknown, the rest died unnaturally in various locations around the Mediterranean and Asia, many believed (traditionally) to have been martyred, notably Paul and Peter.

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(last updated October 10, 2013)