Ancient Quotes Mentioning Jesus and the Christians
The Bible talks about Jesus Christ in great detail, and it treats Him as a historical person who grew up in Israel. He did many great things and then it says He gave his life for the sins of the world and then rose again. It also talks about His followers and that they were called "Christians." The Bible says the Christians were given the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised would come, and they spread the Gospel, the good news throughout the Roman Empire. But the question arises, did anyone write anything about Jesus or the Christians outside of the Bible? Are there any non-biblical historical sources that we can refer to? The answer is yes, but the information is scarce, that is, until after the centuries of persecution upon the Christians had ended and the emperor of Rome became a Christian. Here are a few references to Christ in secular history also referred to as extra-biblical sources.
Josephus was a Jewish historian who wrote about the history of the Jews and lived from 37-100 AD. In his book "Jewish Antiquities" which was written in 93 AD he said, "About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Christ. And when, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first come to love him did not cease. He appeared to them spending a third day restored to life, for the prophets of God had foretold these things and a thousand other marvels about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared."
- Josephus, "Jewish Antiquities," Book 18, Ch. 3, part 3
Tacitus was a famous Roman historian who lived from 55-117 AD. He wrote about the Emperor Nero blaming the Christians and said, "Therefore, to resolve the rumour, Nero substituted as culprits, and punished with the utmost treatment of cruelty, a class of men, hated for their vices, whom the crowd called Christians. Christus, the founder of the name, had undergone the death penalty in the reign of Tiberius, by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilatus, and a pernicious superstition was suppressed for the moment, only to break out once more, not merely in Judea, the home of the disease, but in the capital itself, where all things horrible or shameful in the world collect and find a mania."
- Tacitus, "Annals," Book 15, 44
Suetonius was a famous Roman historian and biographer who lived from 69-122 AD. His most famous work was called "The Lives of the Caesars" which was written in 121 AD. Regarding the Emperor Nero, Suetonius said, "Punishment by Nero was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition."
- Suetonius, "The Lives of the Caesars," Nero 16
Regarding the Emperor Claudius (who reigned from 41-54 AD) Suetonius said, "Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome."
- Suetonius, "The Lives of the Caesars," Claudius 25
Pliny the Younger
Pliny was Governor of the Province of Bithynia in modern Turkey. He wrote many letters to the Emperor Trajan and around 112 AD he asked for advice on dealing with Christians. ... Pliny states that he gives Christians multiple chances to affirm they are innocent and if they refuse three times, they are executed. He wrote, "I asked them whether they were Christians; if they admitted it, I repeated the question twice, and threatened them with punishment; if they persisted, I ordered them to be at once punished: for I was persuaded, whatever the nature of their opinions might be, a contumacious and inflexible obstinacy certainly deserved correction. There were others also brought before me possessed with the same infatuation, but being Roman citizens, I directed them to be sent to Rome. But this crime spreading (as is usually the case) while it was actually under prosecution, several instances of the same nature occurred. An anonymous information was laid before me containing a charge against several persons, who upon examination denied they were Christians, or had ever been so. They repeated after me an invocation to the gods, and offered religious rites with wine and incense before your statue (which for that purpose I had ordered to be brought, together with those of the gods), and even reviled the name of Christ: whereas there is no forcing, it is said, those who are really Christians into any of these compliances: I thought it proper, therefore, to discharge them. Some among those who were accused by a witness in person at first confessed themselves Christians, but immediately after denied it; the rest owned indeed that they had been of that number formerly, but had now (some above three, others more, and a few above twenty years ago) renounced that error. They all worshipped your statue and the images of the gods, uttering imprecations at the same time against the name of Christ. They affirmed the whole of their guilt, or their error, was, that they met on a stated day before it was light, and addressed a form of prayer to Christ, as to a divinity, binding themselves by a solemn oath, not for the purposes of any wicked design, but never to commit any fraud, theft, or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble, to eat in common a harmless meal. From this custom, however, they desisted after the publication of my edict, by which, according to your commands, I forbade the meeting of any assemblies. After receiving this account, I judged it so much the more necessary to endeavour to extort the real truth, by putting two female slaves to the torture, who were said to officiate in their religious rites: but all I could discover was evidence of an absurd and extravagant superstition. I deemed it expedient, therefore, to adjourn all further proceedings, in order to consult you. For it appears to be a matter highly deserving your consideration, more especially as great numbers must be involved in the danger of these prosecutions, which have already extended, and are still likely to extend, to persons of all ranks and ages, and even of both sexes. In fact, this contagious superstition is not confined to the cities only, but has spread its infection among the neighbouring villages and country. Nevertheless, it still seems possible to restrain its progress. The temples, at least, which were once almost deserted, begin now to be frequented; and the sacred rites, after a long intermission, are again revived; while there is a general demand for the victims, which till lately found very few purchasers. From all this it is easy to conjecture what numbers might be reclaimed if a general pardon were granted to those who shall repent of their error."
- Pliny, "Letters," 10.96-97
Trajan's Reply to Pliny. "The method you have pursued, my dear Pliny, in the proceedings against those Christians which were brought before you is extremely proper; as it is not possible to lay down any fixed rule by which to act in all cases of this nature. But I would not have you officiously enter into any enquiries concerning them. If indeed they should be brought before you; and the crime should be proved, they must be punished with this restriction, however, that where the party denies he is a Christian, and shall make it evident that he is not, by invoking our gods; let him (notwithstanding any former suspician) be pardoned upon his repentance. Informations without the accuser's name subscribed, ought not to be received in prosecutions of any sort; as it is introducing a very dangerous precedent, and by no means agreeable to the equity of my government."
- Pliny, "Letters," 10.96-97
Lucian of Samosata
Lucian from Samasota (in modern Turkey) was a Syrian Greek Satirist who lived from 120-192 AD. He 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 their 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. All this they take completely on faith, with the result that they despise all worldly goods alike, regarding them merely as common property."
- Lucian, "The Passing of Peregrinus" 12, 13.
Thallus and Phlegon
There were also two historians named Thallus (mid-first-century AD) and Phlegon (early second century) who referred to the darkness in Judea during the crucifixion of Jesus. The particular works were lost but the first was quoted by a man named Julius Africanus in the late 2nd century AD. Thallus said, "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 was an eclipse of the sun." The second was quoted by Origen of Alexandria, an eclipse accompanied by earthquakes during the reign of Tiberius: that there was "the greatest eclipse of the sun" and that "it became night in the sixth hour of the day (noon) so that stars even appeared in the heavens. There was a great earthquake in Bithynia, and many things were overturned in Nicaea."
- Julius Africanus, "Chronography 18"
- Origen of Alexandria (182-254 AD), in "Against Celsus" (Book 2, Chap. 14)