Non-Biblical Testimony to the Historicity of Jesus

Non-Biblical Testimony to the Historicity of Jesus*

There is no person in all the annals of history in behalf of whom there is more convincing testimony than for Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of the New Testament.

BY  W. W. Prescott

There is no person in all the annals of history in behalf of whom there is more convincing testimony than for Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ of the New Testament. To some who have not given the matter serious attention, this statement may seem unwarranted; but certain facts must not be overlooked in deciding this question.

The testimony of contemporaries is of prime value. The men who wrote the four Gospels were associates of Jesus. Day by day they saw the mul­titudes who assembled wherever He went; they heard His wonderful teach­ing; they saw His works; and they testified in the most artless way of what they themselves had seen and heard.

Not only so, but through all the cen­turies of the Christian era millions upon millions have borne witness to the reality of the now invisible Christ. The history of the Christian church is itself unimpeachable proof of the fact of Christ.

It is true that there are some shal­low thinkers with an impulse to create sensation and to secure a transitory notoriety, who will claim to doubt the historical reality of Jesus of Nazareth, but they are not worthy of serious attention. Generally speaking, even those who deny the truth of His unique claims, do yet admit that such a person actually lived in the early part of the first century.

"It is too late in the day for any intelligent student of history to deny or even to question the historicity of Jesus. Equally impossible is it to doubt that the four Gospels present a substantially accurate and faithful ac­count of His person and work. Unless these Gospels are all second-century compilations of traditions which have passed through many mouths and been both colored and enlarged in the pass­ing; unless they contain incidents which never occurred, but were only imagined, and speeches that were never spoken but only invented; and unless it be an a priori assumption that miracle is impossible and every narrative reporting miracle is a fiction, it must be admitted that no reasonable ground exists for challenging the truth­fulness of the portrait of Jesus which has been drawn by the evangelists."— "Jehovah-Jesus," Rev. Thomas White-law, D. D., p. 9.

But there are some who accept the testimony of the four Gospels, and yet ask in a good spirit whether there are other writers of those early times who confirm the historicity of the Man of Nazareth. For the benefit of this class of inquirers, and of any others who may be interested in the subject, the following results of- our investigation are herewith submitted.

Josephus, the Jewish historian, whose works are so well known, would naturally hesitate to give prominence to one whose claims were rejected by his nation, and who so severely rebuked its religious leaders, and yet he does bear testimony to the fact of Christ. Here is one quotation from his writings:

"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, and 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 among 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, is not ex­tinct at this day."—"Antiquities of the Jews," book 18, chap. 3. Translated by Whiston.*

Another extract from Josephus, which, so far as we know, has not been questioned, reads thus: 

"Festus was now dead, and Albinus [the procurator of Judea] was but upon the road. So he [Ananus the on the road. So he [Ananus the high priest] assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before thein the brother of Jesus who.was called Christ, whose name was James, and some of his companions."--/d., book 20, chap. 9.

A paragraph of some length in the "Annals" of Tacitus deals with the ex­perience of the Christians in the time of Nero. After speaking 'of certain ones whom "the common.people called Christians,".Tacitus affirmed:. "Auctor nominis' ejus Christus, Tiberio imperi­tante, per procuratorem Poritium Pila­turn, supplicio adfectus erat [Christ, the originator of this name, had been punished by the procurator Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius]."--- "Annals." 15, 44.

Those who accepted Christ as the promised Messiah Were called Chris­tians, and Suetonius in his "Life of Nero" mentioned their punishment by Nero in these words: "Afilicti supplicia Christiani, genus hominum super­stitionis nova et malefic [The Chris­tians, a class of men of a new and wicked superstition, were visited with punishments]."---"Vita Neronis" (Life of Nero), par. 16.

Washington, D. C.

(To be concluded) 

* Requests are periodically received at the Association office for dependable informa­tion on this and similar questions requir­ing research and demanding accurate, trust­worthy evidence. In the past, these have for the most part been answered by cor­respondence. But because of their general interest and value many of these will be made available to all.—Editors.

*It is true that- the genuineness of this paragraph has been seriously questioned by some writers, and positively denied by George Rawlinson in a note on a lecture delivered at Oxford in which he declared : "I regard the arguments which have been brought against the famous passage in our conies of Josephus concerning our Lord's life and teaching as having completely established its spuriousness."—The Bamp­ton Lectures, 1859, p. 896. In direct con­trast with this view is the testimony of Thomas Hartwell Horne, the conservative Bible scholar of the last century, who gives good reasons for accepting the paragraph as genuine. Among his reasons for believ­ing that the evidence is most decidedly in favor of the genuineness' of this testimony of Josephus" are the following: "1. It is  found' in all the copies [italics his] of Josephus' works which are now extant, whether printed or manuscript ; in a Hebrew translation preserved in the Vatican library, and in an Arabic version preserved by the Maronites of Mount Libanus. 2. It is cited by Eusebius, Jerome, Rufinus the antagonist of Jerome, Isidore' of Pelusium, Sozomen. Cassiodorus, Nicephorus, and by many other authors. Greeks. Syrians, and Egyptians, of the fourth and fifth centuries; all of whom had indisputably seen various manuscripts, and of considerIble antiquity " --"Horne's Introduction," Vol. 1, p. 511. Such an array of authors in its favor would sPena to justify the acceptanto of the para­graph in question as genuine.

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BY  W. W. Prescott

February 1932

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