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Are there any Roman documents which mention Christ in the time of his existence?

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2015-07-15 20:23:27

There's only one Roman document that refers to Jesus and this is

the writing of Josephus in his works the Antiquities of the Jews

which some modern historians now agree was a later insertion. There

are no documents that date from Jesus' actual ministry. Let's not

forget that his ministry lasted barely three years, and so in that

time communications were poorer than today, and much of what Jesus

did and said (with some exceptions) were orally transmitted. Even

the gospel accounts were written a decade or two after the events,

mainly by Jewish eyewitnesses (John, Matthew), one by a non-Jewish

scholar and doctor commissioned to do so after interviewing

eyewitnesses (Luke), and one by an early Jewish Christian (Mark).

However, there are several Roman documents that mention

Christ and Christians either directly or in passing that were

written shortly after the events: Tacitus (56-117AD) a

senator and Roman historian wrote in his Annals rather deogatively

about the Christians and specifically about Jesus as the Christ

('Christus'): "Nero fastened the guilt of starting the blaze and

inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their

abominations, called Christians [Chrestians] 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."

Josephus (37-100AD) was a Jewish historian (not a Roman),

but, like Paul, had Roman Citizenship. There has been some

controversy regarding Josephus' inclusion of this passage, mostly

by sceptics and atheists wanting to 'disprove' the existence of

Christ, as some sceptics claimed it was 'added' later. However,

these claims have been categorically discredited by Roman scholars,

as so many ancient copies of Josephus' works exist and textual

criticism and the style of Latin used corrroborates Josephus'

writing of this passage. In his Antiquities he wrote: "About

this time came Jesus, a wise man, if indeed it is

appropriate to call him a man. For he was a performer of

paradoxical feats, a teacher of people who accept the unusual with

pleasure, and he won over many of the Jews and also many Greeks. He

was the Christ. When Pilate, upon the accusation of the first men

amongst us, condemned him to be crucified, those who had formerly

loved him did not cease to follow him, for he appeared to them on

the third day, living again, as the divine prophets foretold, along

with a myriad of other marvellous things concerning him. And the

tribe of the Christians, so named after him, has not disappeared to

this day."

Pliny the Younger was a Roman governor who wrote to

Caesar about the Christians c112AD but not specifically about

Christ, although Christ is mentioned in passing: "Those who

denied that they were or had been Christians, when they

invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with

incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought

for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover

cursed Christ - none of which those who are really

Christians, it is said, can be forced to do - these I thought

should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that

they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had

been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many

years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshiped your

image and the statues of the gods, and cursed

Christ."

Suetonius (69-140AD) wrote of riots that broke out as a

result of Romans attacking Christians, who were then expelled from

Rome by the Emperor Claudius: "As the Jews were making constant

disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus (Christ),

he (Claudius) expelled them from Rome".

Thallus wrote a history of the Trojan War and wrote of

the earthquake that hit the area of Judaea as Jesus died - exactly

as recorded in the gospels at the same time: "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 his third book of History, calls (as

appears to me without reason) an eclipse of the sun. Lucian

- a second century Roman satirist wrote disparagingly: "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."

Other writers include Celsus, Pontius Pilate

himself (in the Acts of Pilate - although these lack providence),

Tertullian, and many others. Finally one must never forget

St Paul. Paul was a Jew like Josephus but, like Josephus was

also a Roman Citizen from his birthright, and therefore, like

Josephus, must be classed as a Roman writer in the same way. Paul

left us a wealth of writing that constitutes the bulk of the New

Testament. In his writings descriptions and dates etc have been

corroborated by archaeological and historical evidence to confirm

their providence. The writings consist primarily of letters sent to

various churches and individuals around the mediterranean area that

teach, guide, admonish and encourage the fledgling churches

there.


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