First century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus mentions Jesus twice in Jewish Antiquities:
At this time there was a wise man called Jesus. And his conduct was good and (he) was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and 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; accordingly he was perhaps the messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.The original version had unfortunately been interpolated later to include questionable phrases like "if it would be lawful to call him a man," and "he was the Christ." However, the above translation is of the Arabic version, which was found without the interpolated parts. It has been translated by Schlomo Pines, professor at Hebrew University in Jerusalem.
The second mention of Jesus by Josephus is as follows:
Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but 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.Jesus (Yeshu) also appears to be mentioned in the Jewish Talmud, in Sanhedrin 43a:
On the eve of the Passover Yeshu 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 practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Any one who can say anything in his favor, let him come forward and plead on his behalf." But since nothing was brought forward in his favor he was hanged on the eve of the Passover.This tells us several things: First, this Yeshu was accused of practicing sorcery, which sounds like a derogatory characterization of the miraculous. It is also consistent with Luke 11:15, which says that some of the Jewish leaders accused Jesus of casting out demons by the power of Beelzebub, the ruler of the demons.
Second, he "enticed Israel to apostasy." This indicates that he had a strong following among the Jews and that he taught something the Jewish leaders disapproved of and labeled "apostasy."
Third, he was hanged on the eve of the Passover, just like Jesus. The word "hanged" was also used for crucifixion, in the sense that someone was hanged on a cross.
Wikipedia adds the following: "In the Florence manuscript of the Talmud (1177 CE) an addition is made to Sanhedrin 43a saying that Yeshu was hanged on the eve of the Sabbath." So this Yeshu was hanged on the eve of the Sabbath and on the eve of the Passover, just like Jesus in the Bible. It is rare for the Passover and the Sabbath to fall on the same day; for example, in the twentieth century it only happened ten times.
Fourth, the herald that went out before the hanging said that Yeshu was to be stoned, which was the penalty for blasphemy. However, he was not stoned--he was hanged.
Although the Talmud does not mention Pontius Pilate, Cornelius Tacitus, one of Rome's greatest historians, does. He wrote in his Annals about the great fire of Rome in 64 AD, which had been blamed on the emperor Nero, and explained:
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 Pilate, and a deadly superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but also in the City [Rome], where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world meet and become popular.Some skeptics have claimed that this part of the Annals was a forgery added later by Christians. But most scholars have concluded that the passage was written by Tacitus, including the skeptical Bible scholar Bart Ehrman, who said, "Tacitus's report confirms what we know from other sources, that Jesus was executed by order of the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, sometime during Tiberius's reign."
Pliny the Younger described more persecution of the early Christians in his lettters to Trajan around 110 AD:
Lucian, a second century Greek satirist, wrote:
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.Second century philosopher Celcus, an opponent of Christianity, wrote a book about the Christians in which he said that Jesus was a sorcerer. In other words, in his effort to discredit Christianity, he unwittingly affirmed that Jesus did perform extraordinary works, because rather than denying them, he explained them away.
These and numerous other sources indicate that Jesus really existed. There is simply no dispute about that among historians. In fact, atheist New Testament scholar Gerd Lüdemann has written a book in which he explicitly tries to disprove Christianity by arguing that the resurrection never happened, but not only does he concede that Jesus existed, he also says that there is no question that Jesus actually died on the cross, and that his disciples "had experiences after Jesus's death in which Jesus appeared to them as the risen Christ."
In the next post I will discuss the historical evidence for the resurrection of Jesus. And in the following post, I will discuss the response of skeptical scholars.