Jesus, Historical Evidence

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Archaeological Evidence

Recent Discoveries

Two documents have been discovered proving that Jesus existed, per the Roman census described in Luke 2:1-7. The first document dates to 48 A.D., and shows that families were involved in the census. The second document, dating to 104 A.D., verifies that families living away from their provinces were required to return home for the census.[1]

New Testament Manuscript Evidence

See also Manuscript Evidence

There are 127 papyri,[2] 318 and 2882 Majuscule and Miniscule MSS, and 2436 Lectionary MSS that make up the at least 5,762 manuscripts of the Greek New Testament (current as of 2008).[3][4] There are at least 24,000 manuscripts for the New Testament in all, including at least 8,000 in the Latin Vulgate and 1,000 in Syrian, Coptic, Armenian, Gothic, and Ethiopic,[5] with 99.5% internal consistency.[6][7] More manuscripts are being discovered and translated all the time.[8]

Extra-Biblical Sources

The following is based heavily on the writings of Josh McDowell including 'Evidence That Demands A Verdict' (ch. 5) and 'More Than A Carpenter.'


Flavius Josephus

The most famous Jewish historian of the time, Josephus (37-100 A.D.) became a Pharisee at age 19 and was a former commander of Galilee's Jewish military force opposing the Roman invasion, before defecting and becoming a Roman aide to Emperor Vespasian.[9][10] Despite his prominence in the Roman Empire, his work was banned among Jews for centuries after his death due to his betrayal of his own country to the Romans.[11] These references to Jesus are found without variation even in the oldest copies of Josephus' works.[12]

Cornelius Tacitus

Born in A.D. 52-54, Tacitus was a Roman historian who mentions Jesus in his annals.[10]

Mara Bar-Serapion

Mara Bar-Serapion wrote to his son Serapion, probably around A.D. 73.


A Roman historian under Hadrian born A.D. 120.


A writer who mentioned Jesus in his writings in 52 A.D., however his writings are preserved only in the writings of Julius Africanus around 221 A.D.[10]

Pliny the Younger

Plinius Secundus was Governor of Bythinia who tortured Christians to death, and wrote to Emperor Trajan about this.

Lucian of Samosata

Second century satirist.[10]


As with Thallus his writings (Chronicles) have been lost but a fragment are preserved in the writings of Julius Africanus around 221 A.D. Phlegon's writings are also mentioned by Origen in Contra Celsum.[10]

Jewish Talmuds

Jesus is mentioned repeatedly throughout the Jewish Talmuds. Josh McDowell in ch. 5 of 'Evidence That Demands a Verdict' identifies numerous places in the Talmuds that reference Jesus, albeit derogatorily as made by His enemies, the Pharisees. Noteworthy examples include:

  • Babylonian Talmud (500-600 A.D.): "On the eve of 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 practised sorcery and enticed Israel to apostacy. Anyone 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 Passover."[14]



A jurist and theologian from Carthage who spoke in A.D. 197 on defense of Christianity before Africa's Roman authorities.[10]

Justin Martyr

Around A.D. 150 Justin Martyr in his Defence of Christianity to Emperor Antoninus Pius referred to Pontius Pilate's report.[10]

Critic Arguments


Contrasting the Evidence for Jesus

As pointed out by F.F. Bruce, historians regularly accept the validity of historical documents like Caesar's Gallic Wars and the History of Thucydides, even though the earliest manuscripts date centuries after the originals.

Josh McDowell in Ch. 4 of 'More Than a Carpenter' has echoed Bruce's sentiments:

Dawkins' Arguments

Critics like Richard Dawkins argue for an absurd, unrealistic standard, that documents must be from the exact three-year time period during which Jesus' ministry occurred in order to be reputable, and that even a few decades of time lapse is too long for acceptance of documents about what happened.

However, what documents were written while Caesar was alive, and how do we know they were written when Caesar was alive? As with Caesar's Gallic Wars, the earliest manuscripts date centuries, and often more than 1,000 years after they were allegedly written. If using the standard critics want to apply to the Bible, that the manuscripts should be assumed false unless written within a decade or two of the originals, such documents should obviously be considered false; but no historian would dream of applying such a standard since original documents for works in antiquity are virtually non-existent, all that exists are copies, manuscripts, of the originals. The evidence for the New Testament, tens of thousands of documents, hundreds of which date to within a few centuries of the originals, puts the manuscript evidence for any other ancient document to shame.

Humphrey's False 'Contemporary' Evidences for Caesar

For example, Kenneth Humphreys lists several allegedly contemporaneous documents for the existence of Caesar in contrasting the evidence for Caesar with the evidence for Jesus, that he falsely claims were written during the time of Caesar, while using this hypocritical double standard.[18] These include:

Letters to Caius Sallust

Sallust lived from 86-35 B.C., and his reference to Caesar is in Bellum Catalinae. However, the earliest preserved manuscripts date centuries after the originals. See for example this rare copy from 1440 A.D.[19] Although it appears some manuscripts may exist as early as the 12th or 13th centuries A.D., that still leaves a gap of more than 1,000 years between the original documents.[20] If judging contemporaneity by the same standard Humphreys and Dawkins want to apply to the Bible, the contemporaneity of Sallustus to Caesar should be considered highly suspect. By contrast, early church fathers referred to Jesus in documents dating less than 150 years after His death, e.g. the aforementioned Justin Martyr and Tacitus, but critics will not accept their testimony as evidence because they were Christian.

Nepos Letters to Atticus

Cornelius Nepos lived from 100-24 B.C., and he refers to Caesar in 'Life of Atticus' (Gk. Epistulae ad Atticum). The earliest manuscript ever discovered for the letters was written in 1345 A.D. It has since been lost, but a copy of it was made in 1508 A.D. that scholars still retain.

Needless to say, a gap of more than 1,500 years between when the original document was authored and the manuscript we have today is hardly contemporaneous evidence for Caesar's existence, and the portrayal of it as such by Humphreys is very dishonest.
Poetry of Catullus: Carmina

Gaius Valerius Catullus lived from 84-54 A.D., during which he composed several poems. Julius Caesar is mentioned in Carmina. However, the earliest manuscripts date to 1375 A.D.[22] Humphreys is claiming contemporary evidence for Julius Caesar living in the 1st century B.C. using documents dating from the Middle Ages, over 1,000 years later, but is questioning evidence for Jesus that is only a century later! It makes no sense for critics like Dawkins and Humphreys to insinuate that the Biblical records could be corrupted like a game of telephone over just a few decades, but claim that evidence for Caesar could survive undisturbed for well over 1,000 years!

Writings of Asinius Pollio

Gaius Asinius Pollio lived from 75 B.C. to 4 A.D. His original works have been lost, but are mentioned in the 2nd century A.D. works of Plutarch. (46-120 A.D.) The oldest-preserved Plutarch manuscript is the Codex Sangermanensis (Sg9) which dates to the tenth century A.D.[23] With over a 1,000-year gap between Caesar's lifetime and the manuscript source, to claim contemporary evidence for Caesar while excluding far stronger evidence for Jesus' existence is highly dishonest by Humphreys.

Virgil's Aeneid

Virgil's Latin poem, the Aeneid, was allegedly composed around 29-19 B.C. Unlike other documents referenced by Humphreys, this one has at least some relatively ancient manuscripts dating to around 400 A.D., over 400 years after the original documents.[25] By contrast, there is less than a 200-year gap between many passages of the New Testament and their preserved manuscripts; see Manuscript Evidence.

Ovid's Metamorphoses

Ovid (43 B.C.-17/18 A.D.) in Metamorphoses references Caesar. The earliest fragments of Metamorphoses are from the 9th and 10th centuries A.D., and the earliest complete copies are from the 11th century A.D.[26] So a document copy made over 900 years after Julius Caesar lived is the basis for Humphreys claiming that there is contemporary evidence for Caesar's existence and not Jesus'.

Paterculus' History of Rome

Marcus Velleius Paterculus lived from 19 B.C. to 31 A.D. and authored Historiae Romanae (History of Rome) about 30 A.D. The only surviving manuscript preserving its text has long since been lost, so there is not even documentary evidence for Caesar at all from Paterculus.

Lucan's Pharsalia

The earliest manuscript of Lucan's Pharsalia dates to the 12th century A.D. Some 15th century manuscripts exist as well.

Writings of Plutarch
See Writings of Asinius Pollio
Appian's Civil Wars

Appian lived from 95-165 A.D., so he was not even a contemporary of Caesar's. The earliest manuscript for his Historia Romana (Civil Wars) dates to the 12th century A.D., a gap of more than 1,200 years between the life of Caesar and preserved manuscripts.[29]


So according to Humphrey's thinking, Suetonius is too late a source to qualify as evidence for Jesus, but it's okay to use Suetonius' reference to Caesar as evidence for Caesar's existence? Even though there is more of a time gap between Suetonius and Caesar than between Suetonius and Jesus?

Why Wasn't There More Recent Evidence of Jesus?

One would expect plentiful evidence for Julius Caesar, one of the Roman Empire's most prominent rulers, yet in spite of that, there is better evidence for Jesus' existence than Caesar's. One must remember that Israel at the time of the Roman Empire was just one small occupied colony held by the Roman Empire among its vast global holdings. Jesus did not become notable even in Israel until 33 A.D. Christianity itself did not become truly notable in the Roman Empire until Nero had Jerusalem destroyed in 70 A.D.

Furthermore, it took time for lengthy historical treatises to be produced. Such massive historical volumes were not produced instantaneously, they often took a decade or more for historians to meticulously write out by hand on parchments long before the existence of paper and the printing press. In spite of that, Jesus is mentioned by some of the most prominent historians of both the Roman Empire and Israel in the 1st and 2nd centuries A.D. as previously mentioned, including Josephus, Tacitus, and Suetonius; not to mention the Talmuds. Early church fathers such as Justin Martyr and Tertullian likewise refer to Jesus within a century of His life; not to mention the Gospels themselves, fragments of which are preserved within a century of the original documents (e.g. the Bodmer Papyri and John Rylands ms).

The critic's standard that documents from the exact decade Jesus lived should be produced is laughable from a historian's perspective, even the most prominent figures in ancient history such as Julius Caesar are not held to such an exacting standard. The manuscript evidence referenced by these same critics contains far longer time period gaps than that for Jesus and the New Testament. Critics will use any dishonest standard to write off the overwhelming evidence for Jesus being who the Bible says He was.

External Sources


  1. Hoare, C. (2019, March 2). "Bible Proof: How New Testament 'Was Confirmed' After Discovery of Document From 48 AD." Express Newspapers.
  2. Wallace, Daniel B. (2012, February 10). "Earliest Manuscript of the New Testament Discovered?." The Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts.
  3. Welte, Michael (2008). "Kurzgefasste Liste der Griechischen Handschriften des NT." Quoted by Wieland Willker in "Update-list of Greek NT Uncials."
  4. Wallace, Daniel B. (2007). "Greek New Testament Manuscripts Discovered in Albania."
  5. Williams, Jimmy (1995). "Are the Biblical Documents Reliable?" Probe Ministries.
  6. Slick, Matt. "Manuscript Evidence for Superior New Testament Readability." Christian Apologetics and Research Ministry.
  7. Boa, Kenneth. "How Accurate is the Bible?"
  8. Metzger, B. & Ehrman, B. (2005). "The Text of the New Testament: Its Transmission, Corruption and Restoration." p. 50. Oxford University Press.
  9. Balint, Benjamin (2013, January 18). When History Is Written by the Loser. The Wall Street Journal.
  10. 10.0 10.1 10.2 10.3 10.4 10.5 10.6 McDowell, Josh (1989, February). Evidence That Demands a Verdict. Here's Life Publishers, Inc.
  11. Moylan, William J. (2013). The King of Terror. p. 45. Xlibris Corporation. ISBN: 978-1-4797-9703-5.
    Thrope, Samuel (2013, March 5). Doing Justice to Josephus, Ancient Jewish Archetype. Haaretz Daily Newspaper Ltd.
  12. Holding, J.P. Josephus' Testimony on Jesus. Tekton Apologetics.
  13. Josephus, Flavius,& Whiston, William (1835). The Works of Flavius Josephus. Antiquities of the Jews. Book xviii, ch. 3. p. 364. Harvard Divinity School.
  14. Brown, R.E. (2009, February 5). "The Babylonian Talmud on the Execution of Jesus." Cambridge University Press.
  15. Bruce, F. F. (1954). "The New Testament Documents Are They Reliable?" Ch. 2, p. 16. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.
  16. McDowell, J. (1977). "More Than a Carpenter." ch. 4. Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers.
  17. Hoare, C. (2019, September 25). "Jesus Christ Proof: Richard Dawkins in Shock ‘Archaeological Evidence’ Claim Over Messiah." Express Newspapers.
  18. Humphreys, K. (2011, November 21). "Did Julius Caesar Exist?" Jesus Never Existed.
  19. "Gaius Sallustus Crispus, De coniuratione Catilinae, Bellum Iugurthinum." TextManuscripts Les Elumineres.
  20. Osmand, P.J. (2000, Summer). "Catiline in Fiesole and Florence: The After-Life of a Roman Conspirator." International Journal of the Classical Tradition 7(1): 3-38. Springer.
  21. Abbott, F.F. (n.d.) "Commentary on Selected Letters of Cicero: Cicero's Correspondence and its First Publication." Tufts University.
  22. Kiss, D. (n.d.). "Manuscripts." Catullus Online.
  23. Perrin, B. (1914). "The Parallel Lives by Plutarch, Vol. 1." Cambridge, MA: Loeb Classical Library. Online at the University of Chicago.
    "PLUTARCH, Pompei viri illustris vita (Life of Pompey), Latin translation by Antonius Tudertinus Pacinus (or Jacopo Angeli da Scarperia)." TextManuscripts Les Enlumineres.
  24. Pade, M. (2014). "The Reception of Plutarch from Antiquity to the Italian Renaissance." p. 536. Wiley-Blackwell.
  25. Garceau, B. (2017, October 16). "Is the Aeneid We Are Reading the Same One That Virgil Wrote?" UC Irvine.
  26. Bruère, R.T. (1939). "The Manuscript Tradition of Ovid's Metamorphoses." Harvard Studies in Classical Philology 50:95-122. Harvard University.
  27. Shipley, F.W. (1924). "Velleius Paterculus, Roman History - Introduction." Loeb Classical Library. Online at the University of Chicago.
  28. Pavelich, D. (2012, March 21). "Another Civil War: Lucan’s Pharsalia." Duke University Libraries.
    Lucan (1430). "Guide to Lucan, Pharsalia. Manuscript, circa 1430." University of Chicago Library.
  29. Dilts, M.R. (1971). "The Manuscripts of Appian's Historia Romana." Revue d'Histoire des Textes Vol. 1, p. 4, footnote 2. Persée.
    White, H. (1899). "The Foreign Wars." New York: MacMillan Company.
    Fryde, E.B. (1984). "Humanism and Renaissance Historiography." London: Hambledon Press.