Pliny, Tacitus, Josephus and Jesus: Why These Writers Don’t Prove Jesus Existed

A Statue of Jesus

Christian scholars will point to passages that occur in the writings of Tacitus, Pliny and Josephus to prove that Jesus existed. This requires a reader to make a conclusion that is not supported in the case of Tacitus or Pliny. The passage in the writings Josephus may indicate that he existed Josephus, unlike Pliny or Tacitus, at least lived during a time when he could have in theory have met early Christians who knew Jesus.

Tacitus and Pliny: Born too Late

The writings of Tacitus and Pliny do not prove the existence of Jesus as these authors were born late in the first century of the current era.. In the case of the Roman historian, the passage in question comes from his annals. It is no secret that after the fire that consumed Rome in 64 A.D. the emperor Nero scapegoated Christians because he had to blame the fire on someone. Tacitus, who is never objective when he mentions Nero, probably had to balance this with the dislike of the Christians typical of the Roman pagans of his day against his dislike of Nero. Although there is no evidence that Tacitus hated the early Christians, perhaps his hatred for the former emperor was greater. He does mention that the Christians were likely not the cause of the fire but merely a convenient and unpopular target to distract blame away.

The Annals do not prove that Jesus Christ existed but merely that Christians existed in the First Century A.D., which no scholar has ever disputed. Tacitus lived too far away from the events that supposedly took place in Galilee almost a hundred years before his birth to know about them first hand.

The next piece of evidence of Jesus’s existence is the letters of Pliny the Younger. In a letter to the Emperor Trajan while serving as the governor of Pontus and Bithynia from 111 to 113 of the current era, Pliny asks the emperor how to handle people caught in a witch hunt and accused of the crime of being Christian.

Trajan’s response shows a remarkable and measured restraint as well as indicating leniency for those who repented of the crime of Christianity, but the Emperor suggested the appropriate punishment for those still guilty of being Christians.Pliny’s letter fails to prove the existence of Jesus. First, the dates 112 to 113 do not coincide with the date of Jesus’s execution which took place in roughly 30 A.D. Secondly, Pliny himself was born long after the death of Jesus and would not have personal knowledge.

Josesphus or was that Eusebius?

The passage in Josephus used to prove the existence of Jesus is a bit harder to pin down because Josephus lived in the right time, lived in the right area and perhaps most importantly, was Jewish. The passage often quoted as proof of the existence of Christ is believed to have been inserted by a Roman Catholic bishop, Eusebius, in the fourth century A.D. Eusebius was a historian in his own right, but the bishop was more concerned with proving the legitimacy of the early Roman Catholic church than he was in historical accuracy. When the passage believed to be inserted by Eusebius on Jesus is removed, the text that occurs in Josehpus’s The Jewish War flows in context..

Little proof exists outside of the new testament that a historical Jesus existed. The Existence of the Gospels themselves argues powerfully enough for the existence of Jesus Christ.