Extra-Biblical testimonies to Jesus of Nazareth

In this dossier, we have collected all the ‎Non-Christian sources about Jesus and all sources for the his historicity (and on the early Christian community), which may be found in the extra-canonical writings (that is outside the Gospels but in the New Testament), in the extra-testamentary writings (outside the New Testament), and in the extra-Christian writings (composed by non-Christian writers) in the first two hundred years of the Common Era.

In the last Centuries, there was a heated debate on this topic, as the problem of the historical existence of Jesus Christ was at the centre of the attention of researchers. Today, it is not so anymore; the debate has moved to something else, since no serious scholar questions the historicity of Jesus anymore: it was not the discovery of other extra-Biblical sources on Jesus, but the increase in the historical reliability the Gospels and of the other New Testament writings (Pauline letters, Acts of the Apostles, etc.) gained in the eyes of the scientific community to enable the development of the study concerning the historicity of Christianity.

As written by agnostic scholar B.D. Ehrman, Professor of New Testament Studies at the North Carolina University, the evangelical sources «have been sufficient to convince almost all the scholars having been even only interested in the topic. We do not, indeed, talk about one Gospel which, at the end of the 1st Century, reported the deeds and words of Jesus, but about a certain number of Gospels», and about Christian writings «completely independent of one another. They attest the existence of Jesus and confirm the same group of data […]. It is even more noteworthy that that those independent testimonies glean information from a relatively high number of previous writings, gospels that we have never received but that have almost certainly existed. It has been shown beyond any reasonable doubt that some of them date back at least to the Fifties of the Common Era and are, in their turn, independent of one another […]. Even more importantly, each of those innumerable evangelical texts are was based on oral traditions, some of which undoubtedly originated in the Aramaic-speaking Palestinian communities, probably in the Thirties, not much after the traditional date of the death of Jesus […]. Independently of the fact that they are deemed inspired writings or not, the Gospels may be considered and used as important historical sources» (B.D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?, HarperCollins 2012, p. 75, 93-95).

The extra-Biblical sources – we anticipate it since now – do not add anything new compared to what we already know from the Gospels; on the contrary, the may be useful to confirm these writings, which, however, are sufficient to back the historicity of the data they report. Before continuing and examining the records the person of Jesus left outside the Gospels, we shall deal with the problem of the scarcity of these sources. The dossier keeps being updated and widened.



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Most non-Christian sources are of little value for who is interested in the historical Jesus. As explained by Biblist J.M. Garcia, director of the Chair of Theology of the Complutense University and Professor of Sacred Scripture at the San Damaso Ecclesiastical University, «the pagan and Jewish sources on Christianity of the first Centuries are mostly scarce or short. This peculiarity is above-all due to the insignificant origin of the Christian faith, which appeared in the world as a human fact whatsoever and besides in Palestine, a region completely marginalised from the centres of power» (J.M. Garcia, Il protagonista della storia. Nascita e natura del cristianesimo, Rizzoli 2008, p. 19).

Eminent researcher J.P. Meier, Professor of New Testament Studies at the Notre Dame University and one of the most important living Biblists, stated: «From the point of view of the Jewish and pagan literature of the century after Jesus, the Nazarene was at the most a little dot on a radar screen […]. It was initially insignificant for the national and world history, in the eyes of the Jews and pagans of the Ist Century and of the beginning of the IInd Century AD», without considering that «the trial and execution of Jesus made him marginal in a terrifying and repugnant way». If we hypothesise a balance sheet, we may say that «Jesus was Jew living in a Jewish Palestine directly or indirectly controlled by the Romans. In a certain sense, he belonged to both worlds; in the end, he was rejected by both. Jesus was the first to marginalise himself» (J.P. Meier, Un ebreo marginale. Ripensare il Gesù storico, Queriniana 2008, p. 16). Italian Biblist Romano Penna, full Professor of Christian Origins at the Pontifical Lateran University, confirmed: «The world of the great Greek and Roman culture of the Ist Century remained completely uninvolved in the origins of the Christian fact, which, on one hand, did not have any sufficient human titles to call its attention, and, the other hand, they did not demand it either» (R. Penna, L’ambiente storico-culturale delle origini cristiane: una documentazione ragionata, EDB 1986, p. 270). The Evangelists, as rightly reminded by Professor R. Penna, had no intention at all of creating what we today intend as historical biography: «The remained sources about Jesus have never had the intention of recording everything or most of the words and of the deeds of his public ministry, not to speak about the rest of his life» (J.P. Meier, Un ebreo marginale. Ripensare il Gesù storico 1, Queriniana 2001, p. 27).

We need consider that, for who believes, this only confirms the main characteristic of God: the humility of coming amidst men silently, by starting from a bunch of poor fishers in a little and poor region of a marginal Roman country province. Still we must remember that «the mass destructions made by Vespasian and then by Hadrian wiped out all the archives of Jerusalem», as noticed by historian Barbara Frale (B. Frale, La Sindone di Gesù Nazareno, Il Mulino 2009, p. 127). Also Karl Adam, Professor of moral theology at the University of Strasbourg, pointed out that «the ensemble of the literary tradition from the time of the Roman Empire until the days of Tacitus and Suetonius went lost» (K. Adam, Gesù il Cristo, Morcelliana 1943, p. 61). Dwelling on Roman historian Tacit, for example, many books of his work Annales, describing Rome’s history from 14 to 68 AD, went lost. «Unfortunately for us» – observed Professor J.P. Meier: «one of the gaps in the Annals is found in the treatment of 29 AD, with a narrative resuming in 32 AD. Consequently, the most probable year of the trial and of the death of Jesus is not present in today’s manuscripts of the Annals» (J.P. Meier, Un ebreo marginale. Ripensare il Gesù storico 1, Queriniana 2001, p. 86).

Secondly, we need clarify that «whoever is familiar with ancient history should not be worried, as the main data in Jesus’s life have to remain approximative; the same is true about the majority of the historical figures of the Graeco-Roman epoch […]. The complaints about the scarcity and ambiguity of the sources are a common feature for most of the biographies of the Roman Emperors» (J.P. Meier, Un ebreo marginale. Ripensare il Gesù storico 1, Queriniana 2001, p. 28, 355). Flavius Josephus, for example, was never mentioned in the Greek and Roman sources; there is no eyewitness of him. We do not know the dates of birth and/or death of Herod Antipas, of Pontius Pilate, of Jerome, and of the Emperors Nerva and Trajan. What we know with certainty about Alexander the Great may be collected in few pages (moreover dated 400 years after his death), just as the first mention of Socrates by Herodotus is dated 100 years after his death. We must also bear in mind that «the Jews and pagans of this period, even if informed about the new religious phenomenon on the horizon, would have been more informed about the new group called Christianity than about who was deemed his founder, Jesus. Some of these writers, at least, had had direct or indirect contacts with Christians; none of them had had any contacts with the Christ Christians worshipped» (B.D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?, HarperCollins 2012).

Therefore, if we consider the willing self-marginlisation of Jesus of Nazareth, the geographical insignificance of the place where he lived, the social and political powerlessness of his disciples (fishers, poor, women, etc.), the loss of most of the historical material relative to the years of Jesus which could have provided historical information about him; if we consider that we know few certain things of the majority of the Graeco-Roman historical figures and that the intention of the Evangelists was not to realise an official and complete of Jesus, then it is really even more surprising to be in possession of innumerable coinciding and reliable pieces of information outside the Gospels on the initial event of Christianity, which confirm what we already know from the Gospels. As explained by Prof. J.P. Meier: «Jesus was a marginal Jew leading a marginal movement in a marginal province of a vast Roman Empire. The wonder is that any learned Jew or pagan would have known or referred to him at all in the 1st or early 2nd century. Surprisingly, there is a certain number of possible references to Jesus» (J.P. Meier, Un ebreo marginale. Ripensare il Gesù storico 1, Queriniana 2001, p. 57). Prof. Michael K. Licona, New Testament scholar and Professor of Theology at the Houston Baptist University, wrote: «I challenge Ms. Murdock to name someone other than Jesus who lived in the first century (e.g., Augustus, Tiberius, Nero, etc.), who is mentioned by 17 writers who do not share his convictions, and who write within 150 years of his life. No first century person was as well attested as Jesus».


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Researchers distinguish three big groups of non-Christian sources: the Graeco-Roman pagan sources, the Syro-Palestinian pagan sources, and the Jewish sources.



The Graeco-Roman pagan testimonies are the most numerous available to us; for sure, the most important one is Tacitus’s, whereas the others are not very (or not at all) useful as independent sources on the life of Jesus.


Roman historian and senator Tacitus (approximately, 56/57-118 AD), through his work Annales, written between 115 and 117 AD, recounted the history of the Roman Empire from the death of Augustus to that of Nero, that is from 14 to 68 AD. He used official documents kept in archives, private memories of illustrious figures, and historiographic sources. As already anticipated, the work went lost, and gaps are evident also in the VIth book in the part dedicated to the years 29-31 AD (period when Jesus was put to death).

There is a brief retrospective reference to Jesus when Tacitus talks about the the attempt by Nero to blame Christians for the Great Fire or Rome (64 AD): «Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians 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 Judæa, 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» (Tacitus, Annali, XV,44, Einaudi 1968, pp. 493-94).

The authenticity of this passage is held by the majority of scholars: «It is an evident fact that the majority of classicists and Bible scholars agree that his passage of Tacitus is referring to Jesus» – wrote Robert E. Van Voorst, Professor of New Testament Studies at the Michigan Western Theological Seminar (R.E. Van Voorst, “Jesus Outside the New Testament”, B. Eerdmans Publishing 2000, p.42-43). As explained by J.P. Meier, «despite some weak attempts to show that this text is a Christian interpolation in Tacitus, the passage is certainly genuine. Not only is it attested in all the manuscripts of the Annals, but the decisively anti-Christian tone of the text makes a Christian origin almost impossible […] Christians, per se considered, are clearly despised for their abominable crimes or vices; they constitute a moral or dangerous superstition». In addition, the reference to Jesus is so «brief and of little consideration, that it could hardly have been written by a Christian» (J.P. Meier, Un ebreo marginale. Ripensare il Gesù storico 1, Queriniana 2001, p. 89). B.D. Ehrman wrote: «I do not know any professional classicist or any scholar of Ancient Rome who» does not hold its authenticity. «It is evident that Tacitus knew something about Jesus» (B.D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?, HarperCollins 2012, p. 57).

Tacitus seems to have used a non-Christian source openly hostile to Christianity, thereby making, besides, the mistake of defining Pilate a “procurator” of Judaea whilst he was a prefect instead (as we know from the inscriptions discovered in 1961 in Caesarea). «This should suffice to demonstrate that Tacitus, to know what had really happened to Jesus, did not consult any official document written at the time when the man was executed (provided that these documents existed). Therefore, he reported orally transmitted information […], nothing lets us think that he acquired his information on Jesus from the Gospels» (B.D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?, HarperCollins 2012, p. 57, 98).

Anyway, the most important information provided by the Roman historian are mainly three: (1) Jesus died under the reign of Tiberius (14-37 AD) and under the prefecture of Pilate (26-36 AD); (2) Jesus died because of an execution decided by the Roman governor of Judaea; the crucifixion is not mentioned, but it is implicit to presuppose it, being the method used for the Jews executed in Judaea by a Roman governor; (3) Tacitus presupposed a rapid diffusion of Christianity throughout the whole Empire. In any cases, J.P. Meier concluded: «Tacitus provides us with an ancient non-Christian testimony of the existence, of the temporal and geographical collocation, of the death and of the enduring historical incidence of Jesus, but does not say anything» we did not already know. This conclusion was also agreed with by C.A. Evans, Professor of New Testament Studies at the Acadia Divinity College, and N.T. Wright, one of the main New Testament scholars in the Anglo-Saxone world, who wrote: «Although Tacitus makes a minor mistake by elevating Pilate’s title (he was a prefect, not a procurator), his laconic synthesis agrees with what we find in Flavius Josephus and in the Christian Gospels» (C.A. Evans e N.T. Wright, Gli ultimi giorni di Gesù. La verità dei fatti, San Paolo 2010, p. 11). B.D. Ehrman uses the testimony of Tacitus as one of the main extra-testamentary demonstrations of the existence of Jesus: «his reference shows that at the beginning of the 2nd Century the highest Roman institutional charges knew that Jesus had lived and had been executed by the governor of Judaea» (B.D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?, HarperCollins 2012, p. 58).


Gaius Plinius Secundus (around 61-113 AD), nephew and adoptive son of Pliny the Elder, was a Roman writer known for his intense correspondence (12 books of letters). On September 111 AD, he was nominated legatus pro praetore for the province of Bithynia (Asia Minor) with consular power, and during his mandate he exhanged many letters with Emperor Trajan (98-117 AD), to whom he wote to have advice on every kind of issue.

One of the epistles, the No. X,96, written in 112 AD, concerns the persecution against Christians which his office obliges his to carry out: «It is my custom, Sir, to refer to you in all cases where I do not feel sure, for who can better direct my doubts or inform my ignorance? I have never been present at any legal examination of the Christians, and I do not know, therefore, what are the usual penalties passed upon them, or the limits of those penalties, or how searching an inquiry should be made. I have hesitated a great deal in considering whether any distinctions should be drawn according to the ages of the accused; whether the weak should be punished as severely as the more robust; whether if they renounce their faith they should be pardoned, or whether the man who has once been a Christian should gain nothing by recanting; whether the name itself, even though otherwise innocent of crime, should be punished, or only the crimes that gather round it. In the meantime, this is the plan which I have adopted in the case of those Christians who have been brought before me. I ask them whether they are Christians; if they say yes, then I repeat the question a second and a third time, warning them of the penalties it entails, and if they still persist, I order them to be taken away to prison. For I do not doubt that, whatever the character of the crime may be which they confess, their pertinacity and inflexible obstinacy certainly ought to be punished. There were others who showed similar mad folly whom I reserved to be sent to Rome, as they were Roman citizens. Subsequently, as is usually the way, the very fact of my taking up this question led to a great increase of accusations, and a variety of cases were brought before me. A pamphlet was issued anonymously, containing the names of a number of people. Those who denied that they were or had been Christians and called upon the gods in the usual formula, reciting the words after me, those who offered incense and wine before your image, which I had given orders to be brought forward for this purpose, together with the statues of the deities – all such I considered should be discharged, especially as they cursed the name of Christ, which, it is said, those who are really Christians cannot be induced to do. Others, whose names were given me by an informer, first said that they were Christians and afterwards denied it, declaring that they had been but were so no longer, some of them having recanted many years before, and more than one so long as twenty years back. They all worshipped your image and the statues of the deities, and cursed the name of Christ. But they declared that the sum of their guilt or their error only amounted to this, that on a stated day they had been accustomed to meet before daybreak and to recite a hymn among themselves to Christ, as though he were a god, and that so far from binding themselves by oath to commit any crime, their oath was to abstain from theft, robbery, adultery, and from breach of faith, and not to deny trust money placed in their keeping when called upon to deliver it. When this ceremony was concluded, it had been their custom to depart and meet again to take food, but it was of no special character and quite harmless, and they had ceased this practice after the edict in which, in accordance with your orders, I had forbidden all secret societies. I thought it the more necessary, therefore, to find out what truth there was in these statements by submitting two women, who were called deaconesses, to the torture, but I found nothing but a debased superstition carried to great lengths. So I postponed my examination, and immediately consulted you. The matter seems to me worthy of your consideration, especially as there are so many people involved in the danger. Many persons of all ages, and of both sexes alike, are being brought into peril of their lives by their accusers, and the process will go on. For the contagion of this superstition has spread not only through the free cities, but into the villages and the rural districts, and yet it seems to me that it can be checked and set right» (Letter of Pliny to Trajan, Epistularum, X, 96).

The answer of Emperor Trajan was this one: «You have adopted the proper course, my dear Pliny, in examining into the cases of those who have been denounced to you as Christians, for no hard and fast rule can be laid down to meet a question of such wide extent. The Christians are not to be hunted out; if they are brought before you and the offence is proved, they are to be punished, but with this reservation – that if any one denies that he is a Christian and makes it clear that he is not, by offering prayers to our deities, then he is to be pardoned because of his recantation, however suspicious his past conduct may have been. *   But pamphlets published anonymously must not carry any weight whatever, no matter what the charge may be, for they are not only a precedent of the very worst type, but they are not in consonance with the spirit of our age» (Letter of Trajan to Pliny, Epistularum, X, 97).

As written by Robert Van Voorst, «the text of these two letters is well attested and stable; their authenticity is not seriously contested. Their style corresponds to the one of the other letters of Book 10, and they were already known at the time of Tertullian» (R.E. Van Voorst in Jesus outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company 2000, p. 30,31). The information we can draw from this correspondence are mainly two: (1) Christians used to meet on Sunday morning, before the dawn, to recite hymns to Christ «as though we were a god», and in the afternoon to celebrate the agape or brotherly banquet. (2) The absence of any danger and the harmlessness of these meetings is signalled several times by him, answering the accusations that people used to make against Christians (cannibalism, as they ate the flesh of the son of God and drank his blood, etc.). According to J.P. Meier, «the fact that Christ was treated by Christians as a god is something new in our scarce non-Christian sources. However, nothing is added to our knowledge of the historical Jesus» (J.P. Meier, Un ebreo marginale. Ripensare il Gesù storico 1, Queriniana 2001, p. 92). Conclusion confirmed by B.D. Ehrman: «This reference only tells us that in the region of Asia Minor, at the beginning of the 2nd Century, there were Christians who worshipped someone called Christ. We already knew it from other (Christian) sources […]. At least, we can confirm that at the beginning of the 2nd Century it was a diffused opinion that Jesus had existed, even though the mention by Pliny does not tell us much else» (B.D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?, HarperCollins 2012, p. 54).


Roman writer Suetonius (69/70 – 140 AD) was contemporary to Tacit and held three offices at the service of the Emperor: archivist a studiis, supervisor for the care of the Imperial libraries, and editorial secretary of the Imperial correspondence. In the redaction of his writings, he drew information from the Imperial archives, and around 120 AD he wrote the biographies of the first Roman Emperors, from Augustus to Domitianus, preceeded by the biography of Julius Caesar. In his work The Twelve Caesars, written around 115 AD, we read: «Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome» (Suetonius, Divus Claudius 25,4). There is an allusion to the same episode in the Acts of the Apostles (Acts 18:2).

As far as the authenticity of this passage is concerned, we ignore what source of information Suetonius used: «Maybe because of some erroneous information or because of his erroneous opinion, he thinks that in Rome there was a certain Chrestus, instigator of the revolt. In fact, he was only the reason for the dispute; therefore, very probably here he hints at Christ and to the Christian preaching: the form “Chrestus” referred to Jesus is certainly due to a distortion of that time. Two important data support this possibility: the fact that the term “Christians” appears written in some Roman works as “chrestianos”, and the absence of the name “Chrestos” on the epitaphs of the Jewish tombs of the 1st Century» (J.M. Garcia, Il protagonista della storia. Nascita e natura del cristianesimo, Rizzoli 2008, p. 26, 27). Even Tacitus talks about “chrestianos” rather than “christianos”; B.D. Ehrman explains indeed that «that kind of mistake was diffused» (B.D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?, HarperCollins 2012, p. 55). R.E. Brown, Emeritus Professor at the Union Theological Seminary of New York, explained that «in the several hundreds of Roman Jews made known by the Jewish catacombs and by other sources, “Chrestus” never appears» (R.E. Brown, Antioch and Rome, Ramsey 1983, p. 100). Robert E. Van Voorst wrote: «We agree with the vast majority of scholars that this sentence is true» (R.E. Van Voorst, “Jesus Outside the New Testament”, B. Eerdmans Publishing 2000, p.30,31). C.A. Evans, instead, wrote relatively to the form “Chrestos”: «The orthographic variation was quite common and is also documented in the best of the New Testament manuscripts» (C.A. Evans, The Historical Jesus: Critical Concepts in Religious Studies, vol. 4, Taylor & Francis Group 2004, p.383). According to J.P. Meier, «maybe the source used by Suetonius identified Chrestus with Jesus, whilst Suetonius misunderstood the name as the one of some Jewish slave or freedman who provoked disorder in the Roman synagogues during the reign of Claudius». However, the American scholar rightly concluded that from Suetonius «we do not obtain any new information on the historical Jesus» (J.P. Meier, Un ebreo marginale. Ripensare il Gesù storico 1, Queriniana 2001, p. 91,92). Conclusion confirmed by B.D. Ehrman: «Although Suetonius refers to Jesus by mistaking the ortograph of the epithet, this is not of great help to our historical research of the non-Christian references […]. It is too ambiguous to be of some use» (B.D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?, HarperCollins 2012, p. 55, 58).

There is no new information, but we may notice two interesting things thanks to Suetonius: (1) in 49 AD (according to Orosius, it is the year of the decree that expelled the Jews from Rome) in the Capital of the Empire there was already a living Christian community and, (2) above-all, as written by Biblist R. Penna, «Suetonius gives us in this passage piece of information on Jesus Christ, become “sign of contradiction”, that is reason for dispute inside Roman Judaism. This Christ seems a living instigator contemporary to the facts» (R. Penna, L’ambiente storico-culturale delle origini cristiane: una documentazione ragionata, EDB 1986, p. 278). In other words, the Christian communities talked about Jesus as living, dead, resurrected, and still present. The Acts of the Apostles witness it when they report the thought of the Roman governor Festus on the denunciation of Paul by the Jews of Jerusalem: «They only had some contentions with him regarding their own religion and a certain Jesus who had died, but whom Paul affirmed to be alive» (Acts 25:19).


Famous Roman orator Marcus Cornelius Fronto (100-168 AD) was Emperor Marcus Aurelius’s teacher of rhetorics as well as senator and consul in 143 AD. In 162 (or 166) AD he wrote his speech Against the Christians, of which we only received some references quoted in the apology of Minucius Felix, Octavius: «Christians, having gathered together from the lowest dregs the more unskilled, and women, credulous and, by the facility of their sex, yielding, establish a herd of a profane conspiracy, which is leagued together by nightly meetings, and solemn fasts and inhuman meats–not by any sacred rite, but by that which requires expiation–a people skulking and shunning the light, silent in public, but garrulous in corners. They despise the temples as dead-houses, they reject the gods, they laugh at sacred things; wretched, they pity, if they are allowed, the priests; half naked themselves, they despise honours and purple robes. […]. Everywhere also there is mingled among them a certain religion of lust, and they call one another promiscuously brothers and sisters, that even a not unusual debauchery may by the intervention of that sacred name become incestuous. […] I hear that they adore the head of an ass, that basest of creatures, consecrated by I know not what silly persuasion […] Some say that they worship the virilia of their pontiff and priest […] and he who explains their ceremonies by reference to a man punished by extreme suffering for his wickedness, and to the deadly wood of the cross, appropriates fitting altars for reprobate and wicked men, that they may worship what they deserve. […] An infant covered over with meal, that it may deceive the unwary, is placed before him who is to be stained with their rites: this infant is slain. Thirstily – O horror! – they lick up its blood; eagerly they divide its limbs. By this victim they are pledged together […] And of their banqueting it is well known all men speak of it everywhere; even the speech of our Cirtensian testifies to it […] in the shameless darkness, the connections of abominable lust involve them in the uncertainty of fate» (Octavius VIII,4-IX,7).

There are no doubts about the authenticity of the passage, and, as easily noticeable, the description uses testimonies drawn from conversations with people, thus second-hand material. They are rough and confused accusations of scarce value (let us remember the words of Justin: «For the man is not worthy of the name of philosopher who publicly bears witness against us in matters which he does not understand, saying that the Christians are atheists and impious, and doing so to win favour with the deluded mob, and to please them», II Apology, VIII). Nevertheless, the information reported by Fronto are useful as a confirmation (1) of the death of Jesus on the cross, (2) of Christians calling each other brothers and sisters (teaching of Jesus), (3) and of the celebration of a sacred banquet (the Mass).


Lucian of Samosata (approximately, 115–200 AD) was a satirical, sceptical, and ironic author. In his book The Passing of Peregrinus, written around 170 AD, he made reference to Christians by narrating the story of a scoundrel (Proteus) who lives on deceiving and exploiting people, including Christians, whom he describes as foolish and ingenuous.

He also makes reference to Jesus: «It was then that he learned the wondrous lore of the Christians, by associating with their priests and scribes in Palestine.   And – how else could it be? – in a trice he made them all look like children, for he was prophet, cult-leader, head of the synagogue, and everything, all by himself. He inter preted and explained some of their books and even composed many, and they revered him as a god, made use of him as a lawgiver, and set him down as a protector, next after that other, to be sure, whom11 they still worship, the man who was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world. […] The poor wretches have convinced themselves, first and foremost, that they are going to be immortal and live for all time, in consequence of which they despise death and even willingly give themselves into custody; most of them. Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they are all brothers of one another after they have transgressed once, for all by denying the Greek gods and by worshipping that crucified sophist himself and living under his laws. Therefore they despise all things indiscriminately and consider them common property, receiving such doctrines traditionally without any definite evidence. So if any charlatan and trickster, able to profit by occasions, comes among them, he quickly acquires sudden wealth by imposing upon simple folk» (De morte Per. XI-XIII).

Some expressions of Lucian makes us think of a direct knowledge of certain Christian environments, so much so that not all scholars consider it a source independent of the Gospels (e.g., J.P. Meier), whilst others are in favour of its independece by indicating the use of words not contained in the New Testament (e.g., R.E. Van Voorst in Jesus outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence, William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company 2000, p. 20). The useful information is not much, though: (1) it confirms the collocation of the origin of Christianity in Palestine; (2) the crucifixion of Jesus on the part of the Romans (literally, the Greek text talks about an impaled man, the crucifixion being the an evolution of impalement, «but very probably the word chosen by him has a mocking nature», J.P. Meier, Un ebreo marginale. Ripensare il Gesù storico 1, Queriniana 2001, p. 92); (3) the belief of Christians in eternal life and in the brotherly love the have for each other (teaching of Jesus). Christ, never mentioned, is considered a sophist and the Christians’ “first lawgiver”, whose laws are followed by them.


Petronius was a literary advisor and teacher of style at the court of Roman Emperor Nero, by succeeding to Seneca in 62 AD. His main work is the novel Satyricon, written between 54 and 68 AD (more probably, in the years 64-65). In it there is a long description of the luxurious supper of the freedman Trimalchio, which incredibly resembles a passage of the Gospel of Mark. Trimalchio has his burial clothes brought to him by inviting the commensals to consider this meal as his funeral feast: «”Bring out also some ointment, and a snack from that wine-jar there from which I wish to have my bones washed” […] Then he opened a jar of ointment and anointed us all, saying as he did it: ” I hope that everything will please me as much when I ‘m dead as it does while I’m alive.” Then he ordered wine to be poured into a wine-cooler and observed: “Consider that you have received an invitation to my funeral”» (SatyriconLXXVII,7; LXXVIII, 3-4). A similar scene, as we were saying, is found in the Gospel of Mark, precisely in Mk 14:3-9: «While he was in Bethany, reclining at the table in the home of Simon the Leper, a woman came with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, made of pure nard. She broke the jar and poured the perfume on his head. […] Truly I tell you, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her.”» (Mk 14:3.9).

Here is another passage that seems to recall the evangelical narratives: «Just as he uttered these words, a cock crew. Trimalchio, much disquieted at the circumstance, ordered wine to be poured under the table, and some even to be sprinkled over the lamp; moreover he shifted a ring from his left hand to his right, saying, “‘Tis not for nothing chanticleer has soimded his note of warning; a fire is bound to happen, or some one’s going to die in the vicinity. Save us from ill! Anyone bringing me yonder prophet of evil, shall have a present for his pains.” No sooner said than done; a cock was instantly produced from somewhere near, which Trimalchio ordered to be killed and put in the pot to boil» (Sat. LXXIV, 1-4)10). Whilst in the rest of the Graeco-Roman tradition the cockcrow preannounced the day and victory but never death, here it «is, instead, deemed the announcement of a mortal disaster – the only case in the whole classical literature, together with the Gospels –, and the cock is called index, accuser» (I. Ramelli, Due testimoni della storicità dei Vangeli, Il Timone 2006, p. 28-29). Indeed, the Petronian definition of the cock as index, namely, in the juridical language, as denouncer, accuser, seems to remind the role played by the cock in Mark, that is to denounce the threefold betrayal by Peter (Mk 14:30).

Always in the Satyricon, even the episode of the widow of Ephesus seems to have evangelical reminiscences: «A certain matron of Ephesus […], when she had lost her husband, […] even followed the dead man into the tomb. […] In the mean time, he governor of the province ordered robbers to be fixed to crosses in the vicinity of that little dwelling in which the matron was bewailing the newly dead body. Thus, on the following night, when the soldier who was guarding the crosses to ensure that no one might drag a corpse off for burial had remarked upon a light shining quite brightly amid the tombs and had heard the groaning of the woman as she mourned, he desired […] to know who was doing this and what exactly they were up to. […] And so the two lay together not only on that night on which they celebrated their nuptials, but even on the next day and on the third, with the folding doors of the tomb shut fast, to be sure […] And so it was that the relatives of one of the crucified men, when they had seen that the watch had been relaxed, drew down at night the man who was hanging there and gave him over to his final obsequies. But the soldier […], when on the next day he sees one of the crosses lacking a corpse, fears his punishment and tells the woman what had happened […] She orders the corpse of her husband to be lifted out of its coffin and affixed to that cross which was empty. The soldier made use of the ingenious scheme of that most judicious woman, and the next day all the townspeople marveled at how the dead man had gone onto the cross» (Sat. CXI-CXII).

The mention of a provincial governor (Pilate?), of the crucified robbers, of the sepulchral guards, of the three days in the tomb, and finally of the stealing of the body (accusation often made against Christians since some time already) «would make us think of a parody of the narrative of Christ’s death and resurrection», as wrote Andrea Nicolotti, historian of Primitive Christianity and researcher at the Department of History of the University of Turin. Let us also remember the possible parody of the Eucharist both in Trimalchio’s allusions to wine, during the supper, and in statement by Eumolpus to possess a great treasure and to be willing to bequeath it to his friends «to this condition, to wit that they do cut up my body into pieces and eat the same before the eyes of the public there present […] I remind my friends of these facts, that they may not refuse to follow my directions, but rather consume my dead body with the same heartiness with which they prayed the living breath might leave it» (Sat, CXLI, 2). This caricatural allusion to Jesus’s last supper is evident and also recalls the accusation of cannibalism made against Christians for a long time. But there are other connections between Trimalchio and the story of Jesus: the protagonist of the Satyricon, for example, claims to have consulted an astrologist who would have predicted he would die after thirty years, with which he is persuaded. Thirty years is also the age when Jesus died. Even the very name of the protagonist, the rude, rustic, and enriched Trimalchio, might be seen as form of parody of the Christian Trinity: it is of Semitic origin and means “thrice king” (mlk means “king” in Hebrew and is the word which appeared in the writing put by Pilate on Jesus’s cross: “King of kings”).

Some time ago, theologian E. Preuschen, highlighting the evident similarities between the Gospel of Mark and the passages of the Satyricon, held (also because of the stage of the research on the dating of the Gospels at that time) Evangelist Mark had imitated Petronius (E. Preuschen, Die Salbung Jesu in Bethanien, in Zeitschrift für die neutestamentliche Wissenschaft III 1902, pp. 252-253). This thesis was soon rejected: it is impossible to think that a Christian author, resolved to witness the story of Jesus, copied from a very famous and diffused novel, without considering the desecrating satire not very compatible with the tragic death of Jesus. More recently, scholar Ilaria Ramelli refocused on the thesis of  E. Preusche, by overturning it: Petronius would have parodied the Gospel of Mark, and not viceversa (I. Ramelli, Petronio e i cristiani: allusioni al vangelo di Marco nel Satyricon?Aevum LXX 1996, p. 75-80). We should therefore date the redaction of the fourth Gospel earlier than 66 AD, year of the death of Petronius, whereas today most historians say 70 AD.

Scholar A. Nicolottiwrote: «The hypothesis of the evangelical narrative does not seem so far-fetched […]. Beside these absolutely innovative developments, even if a connection between the Gospels’ facts and the novel by Petronius were proved in the way explained above, we would be dealing with the first veiled non-Christian testimony to Jesus and to his Church at the time when the Apostles Peter and Paul preached and suffered martyrdom in the Capital of the Roman Empire. Until that moment, we can only consider this interpretative key as an interesting hypothesis which needs a further in-depth analysis». The testimony of Petronius is very useful to determine the dating of the Gospels, but it is not of great use in our path, since it does not tell us anything new, and the provided information is clearly dependent on the Gospels, in particular Mark’s.


We need finally remember the testimony of Roman historian Thallus, who, inside his Chronicle in Greek language, referenced a fact concerning the day of the death of Jesus, that is the crucifixion darkness the Gospels report («From noon until three in the afternoon darkness came over all the land», Mt 27:45/Lk 23:44, thus Q source).

Thallus’s work went lost, but the quote was reproduced by writer Sextus Julius Africanus (160/170 – 240 AD) in his Chronographia, work having gone lost as well, unfortunately. We know it only because it was quoted, around 800 AD, by historian George Synkellos in his work Ecloga chronographica, where he claims to report a passage «from Africanus concerning the events associated with the passion». Africanus wrote, recalling the evangelical episode: «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 the third book of his ‘History’, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun» (Chronographia 18,1).

Julius Africanus seems to quarrel with Thallus and is deemed a usually reliable author; additionally, there is little doubt about the authenticity of his quote. We do not know, instead, the sources of historian Thallus: he might have learnt about the event from the Gospels, or he might have based himself on other sources. If Thallus is the Thallos samareus living in Rome in the middle of the Ist Century and quoted by Flavius Josephus, then his testimony is the oldest non-Christian reference on Jesus, as it would date back to approximately twenty years after His death (D.C. Allison, The Historical Jesus in Context, Princeton University Press 2006).



Amongst the Syro-Palestinian sources the only one that may be of some use is Mara Bar Serapion’s, about which we talk here below.


Mara Bar Serapion is the name of a person who writes a letter to his son to exhort him to pursue always wisdom; the letter is collected in a Syriac seventh-Century manuscript (conserved today at the British Museum). Anyway, we think that «the missive was written at the beginning of the 2nd Century or even at the end of the 1st. Very probably, it is to be collocated after the year 73 AD», given the historical circumstances to which it makes reference, like the escape of some citizens from Samosata (J.M. Garcia, Il protagonista della storia. Nascita e natura del cristianesimo, Rizzoli 2008, p. 31). The text in which we are now interested is the following one: «What else can we say, when the wise are forcibly dragged off by tyrants, their wisdom is captured by insults, and their minds are oppressed and without defense? What advantage did the Athenians gain from murdering Socrates? Famine and plague came upon them as a punishment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise king? It was just after that their kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men: the Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea and the Jews, desolate and driven from their own kingdom, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates is not dead, because of Plato; neither is Pythagoras, because of the statue of Juno; nor is the wise king, because of the “new law” he laid down» (Syriac MS. Addiotional, 14.658).

The author is certainly not Christian; otherwise he would not talk about «our gods» (as he does elsewhere in the text) or about Jesus’s being alive in these terms, and even less he could equate Christ and the Greek philosophers. Amidst researchers, there is strong consensus on identifying the “Wise king of the Jews” with Jesus (C.M. Chin, Rhetorical Practice in the Chreia Elaboration of Mara bar Serapion, Journal of Syriac Studies 2006). Biblist Romano Penna wrote: «the execution of a “wise king” cannot refer to someone else» other than Jesus, «because in history we do not know about any king of Israel put to death by the very Jews: nor of Davidic line, nor Hasmoneans, nor Herodians». Moreover, «the repeated title of “wise king” can refer pretty well to Jesus of Nazareth», since «it contains a double hint: at the official reason for his condemnation as “king of the Jews” (Mt 27:37//Mk 15:26//Lk 23:38, and Jn 19:19-21); and at the wisdom of his moral message» (R. Penna, L’ambiente storico-culturale delle origini cristiane: una documentazione ragionata, EDB 1986, p. 268).

The information provided about the reasons that caused Jesus’s death is meaningful, as it attributes His death sentence to the Jews rather than to the Romans. The chronology is, additionally, matching: the death of Jesus is followed after some decades by the fall of Jerusalem and by the end of the kingdom. The document might therefore represent one of the first, if not the first, historical testimony to Jesus outside the Christian or Jewish environment (and written forty years after Jesus’s death).



Scholars are divided on the importance of the Jewish sources in relation to the historicity of Christianity: apart from the important testimony of Flavius Josephus, the texts of the Talmud remain, one of the holy books of Judaism. Some historians completely deny the existence of any reference to Jesus in the rabbinic texts (e.g., J.P. Meier); others claim that the primitive rabbinic materials (including the Mishnah) do not talk about Jesus, even though they admit the existence of some hints in the late writings, to which they do not attribute any historical value, though. For example, J.P. Meier states: «contrary to other scholars, I do not think that the rabbinic material […] provides us with new reliable information or authentic sayings, independent of the New Testament» (Un ebreo marginale. Ripensare il Gesù storico 1, Queriniana 2001, p. 13). C.A. Evans thinks the same: «The serious problem with using these traditions is that probably none of them is independent of the Christian sources» (C.A. Evans, The Historical Jesus: Critical Concepts in Religious Studies, vol. 4, Taylor & Francis Group 2004, p.376). A third group of scholars, instead, recognise some brief hints at Jesus, albeit of little historical value as they have a strongly polemic and not very objective tone (for example, J. Klausner).


Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (37/38 AD – short after 100 AD) is the author of two big works: The Jewish War (begun after 70 AD) and The Antiquities of the Jews (written between 93-94 AD). L.H. Feldman, one of the most important experts of the Jewish historian, observed that, to find the sources for his works, he might have easily accessed the provincial administratos’ archives, kept in Rome at the Imperial Court (L. Feldman, The Testimonium Flavianum. The State of the Question, Christological Perspectives, p. 194-195). Both books contain passages mentioning Jesus.

The text about Jesus in The Jewish War is not recognised as authentic: it is a long interpolation that is only present in the ancient Russian (Slavic) version, preserved in many Russian and Romanian manuscripts. Few are the scholars who uphold its authenticity (amongst them, for example, R. Eisler or, more recently, G.A. Williamson in his The World of Josephus, Brown and Company 1964, p.308-309).

Things are different as far as the two interesting passages of The Antiquities of the Jews are concerned. The least discussed appears in the Book 20 and recounts an episode occurred in 62 AD, before the Jewish revolt: «When, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition [of cold-hearted Sadducee], he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority]. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned» (The Antiquities of the Jews, XX, 9,1). This passage is found in the main Greek manuscript tradition of the Antiquities, without any relevant variation; it briefly mentions Jesus to qualify James better, the latter’s name being very common in the Jewish environment and in the writings of Flavius Josephus. The reference to Jesus does not come from a Christian hand and not even from a Christian source; nor the New Testament nor from the first Christian writers, including Paul, talked about James as the “brother of Jesus”, but more solemnly as the “brother of the Saviour”. Without considering, then, that the report by Josephus of James’s martyrdom differs – as for the time and the way – from that of Hegesippus (who talks about the fall of the pinnacle of the Temple of Jerusalem before the siege of the city). L.H. Feldman, expert of Flavius of Josephus and Professor at the Yeshiva University, observed indeed that «few doubted the authenticity of this passage on James» (L.H. Feldman, Josephus and Modern Scholarship, Loeb Libray vol. 10, p. 108).

As for the second passage, known as Testimonium Flavianum, its authenticity has been subject to debate for centuries, as it contains typical expressions of Flavius Josephus, but also clearly Christian phrases. In the quotation of the following passage, we have underlined the controversial expressions: «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» (The Antiquities of the Jews, XVIII, 3.3).

The position of the scholars is various: some consider this passage essentially authentic (like L. von Ranke, F. K. Burkitt e A. von Harnack); others prefer, instead, to consider the whole passage as the interpolation of a Christian copyist, whilst a third group of scholars finally upholds the semi-authenticity of the passage by taking into account the undeniable presence of Christian interpolations (very ancient Christian glosses, since Eusebius of Caesarea transmits the Greek version, quoted in Hist. Eccl I, 11,7-8), which would not be, though, so crucial, as to invalidate Josephus’s authorship (scholar B.D. Ehrman explains that the Christian copyists «added some words here and there to make sure that the reader understood the sense» in Did Jesus Exist?, HarperCollins 2012, p. 62). These scholars have, indeed, reconstructed what might have been the original passage, by eliminating three interpolations: «About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man. He was said to perform surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly: he won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. 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, and the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared». The text is very similar to the one traditionally reported, also because the little Christian additions did not mean to modify Josephus’s thought, but rather to be clarifying supplements: «The Testimonium is so measured, with only a couple of cautious phrases inserted here and there, that it does not seem at all an apocryphal Christian narrative written for the occasion. Rather it is very similar to the interventions that can be found in the whole manuscript tradition of the ancient texts: the adjustment a copyist might have carried out with ease […]. The majority of the scholars of ancient Judaism and the experts of Flavius Josephus believe that one or more Christian copyists would have slightly “adjusted” the passage» (B.D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?, HarperCollins 2012, p. 63, 66).

Most scholars belong to the third group. Prof. L.H. Feldman has indeed found out that between 1937 and 1980, out of 52 scholars who studied the issue in depth, 39 judged the Testimonium Flavianum as authentic; 10 judged it completely or in great part authentic; 20 accepted it with some interpolations, 9 with several interpolations, and only 13 scholars considered it totally a Christian interpolation. (L. Feldman, The Testimonium Flavianum. The State of the Question, Christological Perspectives, p. 197). Amidst the supporters of the authenticity there are also several Jewish scholars like Paul Winter and Feldman himself, nondenominational Christians like S.G. Brandon and Morton Smith, non-believing scholar scholars like B.D. Ehrman, important Protestant scholars like J.H. Charlesworth, and Catholic scholars like J.P. Meier, C.M. Martini, W. Trilling, and A.M. Dubarle (beside Lane Fox, Michael Grant, Crossan, Borg, Tabor, Thiessen, Frederiksen, Flusser etc.). Amongst them there is also J.M. Garcia, who wrote: «This third hypothesis seems the most probable one for three reasons. Firstly, the text, with various adjustments, appears in all the Greek, Arabic, and Syriac manuscripts. Secondly, the style and language of the passage, once eliminated the evident Christian interpolations, are typical of Flavius Josephus. Finally, the conception of Christ it transmits is not Christian, as Jesus is considered a wise man, a preacher of success» (J.M. Garcia, Il protagonista della storia. Nascita e natura del cristianesimo, Rizzoli 2008, p. 36-40). Prof. A. Nicolotti wrote: «Modern critics now agree on the passage of the Testimonium being substantially authentic in its historical testimony to Jesus, althogh for many it must have undergone Christian interpolations before the 4th Century. And there is also who, explaining the so-called “Christian parts” differently, believes that these interpolations do not exist and that the text is entirely authentic (Étienne Nodet, for example). The important monograph by Serge Badet (favourable to the complete authenticity) addresses all these topics and is an indispensable reference».

American Biblist J.P. Meier studied this issue in depth, thereby concluding: «Is there a sufficient reason to hold that this passage comes from Flavius Josephus? The answer is affirmative» and is based on a series of arguments: (1) the Testimonium Flavianum is present in all the Greek and Latin manuscripts, and it is very difficult to imagine that the invention of a Christian scribe may appear identical on all the codices we received; (2) The confirmation of its authenticity derives from the above-mentioned passage on James’s martyrdom, as explained by Biblist J.M. Garcia: «Undoubtedly, all scholars consider the narrative of James’s martyrdom as authentic, and consequently [they consider as authentic] also the reference to Jesus, as that was not the Christian way of alluding to him. Thus, the fact that Flavius Josephus does not dwell on specifying that who this Jesus is makes us suppose that he has already done so in a precedent passage; the only one possible is that called Testimonium Flavianum» (J.M. Garcia, Il protagonista della storia. Nascita e natura del cristianesimo, Rizzoli 2008, p. 36-40); (3) The vocabulary and the grammar of the passage (without interpolations) is very coherent and typical of the style and of the language of Flavius Josephus, contrary to the New Testament language; (4) The description of Jesus, stripped of the three Christian passages, is conceivable on the mouth of a Jew who is not particularly hostile to Christianity, but not on the moth of an ancient or medieval Christian (it expresses an insufficient Christology, also in consideration of the three evidently Christian passages): «If a copyist had wanted to introduce into the writings a solid testimony to the qualities of Jesus (thereby making the Testimonium a late interpolation), he would have done it undoubtedly with more fervour in a more banal way» (B.D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?, HarperCollins 2012, p. 42). Also speaking about a “tribe” is not conceivable in the Christian language and suggests a disparaging tone; (5) Flavius Josephus seems to ignore the fundamental material and statements in the four canonical Gospels and even contradicts their information (according to Josephus, Jesus convinced many Jews and many pagans, contrary to what the Gospels say); he does not either reflect a Christian way of addressing the issue of the reason for Jesus’s condemnation to death. Another example is also the completely separate discussion of John the Baptist and Jesus, without putting the two in relation to each other, so as to contradict the New Testament framework of the Baptist as the precursor of Jesus. The definitive conclusion by J.P. Meier is that «a fundamental methodological rule is that, all things being equal, the simpler explanation, which also comprises the widest quantity of data, is to be preferred. Therefore, I maintain that the most probable explanation of the Testimonium is that, stripped of the three obviously Christian affirmations, it contains what Flavius Josephus wrote». Robert Van Voorst indeed wrote: «This is one of the many reasons why scholars deem the Flavius Josephus’s source as independent of the New Testament» (Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence, Grand Rapids 2000, p. 27).

Again American scholar Meier answered the main objection of those who deny the authenticity of the Testimonium, that is the strange silence on this passage by the Fathers of the Church before Eusebius. If they did not quote it – the critics say –, it is because no Christian had invented it and attributed it to Eusebius yet. The American Biblist points out: «The Fathers of the Church were not interested in quoting it; indeed, it does not minimally uphold the main content of the Christian faith in Jesus as the Son of God who rose from the dead. This would explain why in the third Century Origen stated that Josephus did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah. Origen’s text of the Testimonium was devoid of the interpolations and, without them, the Testimonium simply attested the incredulity of Flavius Josephus in the eyes of Christians. It was not therefore a useful apologetic tool to address pagans or a useful polemic tool in the Christologic controversies amongst Christians. In fact, if something like the text we have reconstructed was absent from the copy of Josephus possessed by Origen, we still have to ask ourselves what pushed Origen to state apodictically in the text that Flavius Josephus did not believe that Jesus was the Christ. The passage on James in Book 20 is not a sufficient reason». For this reason, «the detached, or ambiguous, or even quite contemptuous tone of the Testimonium is probably the reason why the first Christian writers (especially the apologists of the 2nd Century) remained silent about it, so that Origen complained that Flavius Josephus did not believe Jesus was the Christ, and therefore an (some) interpolator(s) added the Christian statements around the end of the 3rd Century». (J.P. Meier, Un ebreo marginale. Ripensare il Gesù storico 1, Queriniana 2001, p. 71,85). Even B.D. Ehrman used this counter-argument: «The brief version of Josephus – the one considered original by other scholars, without the Christian interpolations – contains very little information which the first Christian writers could have used to defend Jesus and his followers from the intellectual attacks from pagans. It is a very neutral exposition. The fact that Jesus was deemed wise or accomplished extraordinary deeds would not have been very successful in the repertoire of the Christian apologists». In any cases, «my opinion on the historicity of Jesus depends on the reliability of Josephus’s testimony, although I consider this passage as substantially authentic» (B.D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?, HarperCollins 2012, p. 64, 350). Louis H. Feldman (in Josephus, Judaism and Christianity, Brill Academic Pub 1997, p.55), Edwin M. Yamauchi from the Miami University (in “Josephus and the Scriptures” Fall 1980, pp. 213-14), and many others think in the same way as Meier and Ehrman.

Furthermore, a new discovery cast a new light on the debate: in 1972, Prof. Shlomo Pines – from the University of Jerusalem – upheld the authenticity of the Testamentum Flavianum in the version known from the ancient sources (even though with a few variations) by basing himself on an Arabic tenth-Century codex, which is found in the Kitab Al-Unwan (Universal history) by Agapius, Christian Bishop of Hierapolis (Syria), who reported the passage of the Antiquities of the Jews in the following form: «Similarly Josephus the Hebrew. For he says in the treatises that he has written on the governance of the Jews: “At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good, and [he] was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly he was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders”» (S. Pines, An Arabic version of the Testimonium Flavianum and its implications, Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities 1971). Although Agapius claims to base himself on a more ancient Syriac chronicle by Theophilus of Edessa (died in 785), gone lost, the text has been anyway recognised as reliable and devoid of interpolations. Most scholars consider it as the original one by Flavius Josephus or, however, as very close to he really wrote.

Synthetising the contribution from Flavius Josephus, we may say: «The mere existence of Jesus is already proved by the first reference to Jesus in the account of the death of James, in Book 20. The more extended Testimonium in Book 18 shows us that Flavius Josephus was informed about at least some salient facts of the life of Jesus. Independently of the four Gospels, but confirming their fundamental presentation: under Pontius Pilate – therefore between 26 and 36 AD – on the religious scene a man called Jesus appeared. His reputation derived from the wisdom he manifested while working miracles and teaching. He won over a wide following, but (for this?) the Jewish leaders accused him before Pilate. Pilate had him crucified, but his fervent followers refused to abandon their devotion to him, despite his very dishonourable death» (J.P. Meier, Un ebreo marginale. Ripensare il Gesù storico 1, Queriniana 2001, p. 83-85). Josephus – let us remember – was born in Jerusalem in 37 AD by a priestly family who made him part of the élite of the Temple during the public life, trial, and condemnation of Jesus: this means he had first-had information available on what he witnessed. We would expect from him a refutation of what Jesus’s followers affirmed, a denial of the miracles, and, if we judge Agapius’s version reliable, a sceptical comment on the news of the resurrection. Instead, the portrait of Jesus is characterised by the respect towards that man, by recognising realistically his exceptionality. «In sum, Josephus offers in these two passages something unique among all the ancient non-Christian testimonies to Jesus: a neutral, independent, and very reliable witness tells us that Jesus was a wise man and that his followers called him “the Christ”» – wrote Robert E. Van Voorst (R.E. Van Voorst, “Jesus Outside the New Testament”, B. Eerdmans Publishing 2000, p.103-104). Thus, we remind the importance of the data of the independence of Flavius Josephus of the Christian sources, as «there is no probative attestation that he knew any of the four Gospels» (J.P. Meier, Un ebreo marginale. Ripensare il Gesù storico 2, Queriniana 2003, p. 116).


A second-Century baraitha, contained in the treatise Sanhedrin of the Babylonian Talmud, reads so: «On the eve of the Passover Yeshu (the Nazarene) 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. Any one 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 the Passover! – Ulla retorted: ‘Do you suppose that he was one for whom a defence could be made? Was he not an enticer, concerning whom Scripture says, Neither shalt thou spare, neither shalt thou conceal him? With Yeshu however it was different, for he was connected with the government» (bSanhedrin 43a).

Some scholars, the most radical of whom is certainly J. Maier (see J. Maier, Jesus von Nazareth in der talmudischen Uberlieferung, Wissenschaftliche Buchgesellsschaft 1978, p. 263-275), refused to identify this guilty man with Jesus, as he thinks the name “Nazarene” as a subsequent addition. To their mind, these references would be about a certain Yeshu, disciple of a rabbi of 100 BCE, mentioned in Sanh. 107b, guilty of having practiced wizardry and of having exhorted Israel to sin. Others think differently, like Biblist J.M. Garcia, who explained, for example, that «the epithet “the Nazarene” is very well attested. Indeed, it would be very probable that originally the name Yeshu does not appear in the passage of bSanh 107b, having considered that the same information appears devoid of names in other two places (bSot 47a and bHag 77d)». Additionally, many are the coincidences with Jesus: «Analogous accusations against Jesus appear in the New Testament (Mt 12:24 and Lk 23:2); his being hanged has to be interpreted for sure in relation to the crucifixion since it is a well-known fact. It is very improbable that this term indicates here an exposition of the corpse after stoning. In fact, the text says nothing about the carrying out of stoning, which would be surprising if that had been precisely the method of execution. The coincidence relative to the day of the death of Jesus in this rabbinic text and in the Gospel of John (19:4) is singular» (J.M. Garcia, Il protagonista della storia. Nascita e natura del cristianesimo, Rizzoli 2008, p. 33-35).

Prof. Jaqueline Genot-Bismuth, teaching Ancient Judaism at the University of Paris, highlighted how the reference to Yeshu (=Jesus) agrees with the chronology of the passion of the fourth Gospel: «Thus the two texts somehow authenticate each other and make us deduce that the tradition to which they belong dates well back to some eyewitnesses» (J. Genot-Bismuth, Un homme nommé Salut: genèse d’une “hérésie” a Jérusalem, O.E.I.L 1986, p. 267). Even J. Klausner, important Israeli historian, accepted that this reference was to Jesus of Nazareth (J. Klausner, Jesus of Nazareth. His Life, Times and Teaching, Macmillan 1925, p. 23), whereas J.P. Meier did not deem it a passage independent of the Gospels: «here there is nothing that we do not know from the Gospels and very probably the Talmudic text is simply a reaction to the evangelical tradition» (J.P. Meier, Un ebreo marginale. Ripensare il Gesù storico 1, Queriniana 2001, p. 101).


Another possible reference is contained in the treatise on fasting, which says: «Abbahu said: “If a man says: ‘I am God,’ he is a liar. [If he says:] ‘I am a son of man,’ in the end people will laugh at him. [If he says:] ‘I will go up to heaven,’ he says but does not perform”».

A polemic seems here to appear about what was claimed by Jesus before the Synedrion, as referred in Mk 14:62. Taking into consideration the information provided by Celsus according to which the false prophets used similar expressions, the text might also refer to these false prophets and messiahs and not necessarily to Jesus.


BABYLONIAN TALMUD (bAvodah Zarah 17a)
In the treatise dedicated to idolatry and to idols, we read: «Rabbi Eliezer said: “I was once walking in the upper-market of Sepphoris when I came across one [of the disciples of Jesus the Nazarene] Jacob of Kefar-Sekaniah by name, who said to me: It is written in your Torah, Thou shalt not bring the hire of a harlot … into the house of the Lord thy God. May such money be applied to the erection of a retiring place for the High Priest? To which I made no reply. Said he to me: Thus was I taught [by Jesus the Nazarene], For of the hire of a harlot hath she gathered them and unto the hire of a harlot shall they return.’ they came from a place of filth, let them go to a place of filth. Those words pleased me very much, and that is why I was arrested for apostacy”»

Rabbi Eliezer is one of the most quoted teachers of the rabbinic tradition; the text does not report an authentic saying of Jesus, but rather it reflects the coexistence of Jews and Christians in Palestine. According to some scholars (e.g. J. Jeremias), the most ancient versions of the account talk about a heretical saying attributed to this disciple of Jesus without specifying its content; the saying would have been invented afterwards to satisfy the readers’ curiosity and to discredit Jesus. Even J.P. Meier declares himself sceptical about the authenticity of the passage and believes that it is «a polemical invention to ridicule Jesus» (J.P. Meier, Un ebreo marginale. Ripensare il Gesù storico 1, Queriniana 2001, p. 103). Jewish scholar J. Klausner, instead, upheld the reliability of the passage (J. Klausner, Jesus of Nazareth. His Life, Times and Teaching, Macmillan 1925, p. 37-44).


BABYLONIAN TALMUD (bSanhedrin 67a)
In the Talmud, precisely in Sanhedrin 67a, we read: «And this they did to Ben Stada in Lydda, and they hung him on the eve of Passover. Ben Stada was Ben Padira. R. Hisda said: ‘The husband was Stada, the paramour Pandira. But was nor the husband Pappos b. Judah? — His mother’s name was Stada. But his mother was Miriam, a dresser of woman’s hair?».

As written by B.D. Ehrman, «since some time, scholars have admitted that this tradition seems to represent an ingenious attack against the Christian idea of the birth of Jesus as “son of a virgin”. The Greek term translating the word virgin is parthenos, whose pronunciation is very similar to that of Pandira» (B.D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?, HarperCollins 2012, p. 69). Very probably, it is not a passage independent of the Gospels.



The final result of the study of the various non-Christian sources is quite scarce; above-all the rabbinic sources emerge as controversial. About the latter, in particular, it needs highlighting «the general tendency of the ancient Jewish sources, which do not deny the existence and the execution of Jesus. As a matter of fact, not even miracles are denied, but they are rather interpreted as acts of wizardry». However, «when we can really these references in the later rabbinic literature, they are very probably reactions to Christian claims, oral or written»; therefore, they are not independent sources. In any cases, «even if we accepted all the statements as true, these would not add anything new to the information we already have from the New Testament» (J.P. Meier, Un ebreo marginale. Ripensare il Gesù storico 1, Queriniana 2001, p. 101, 104, 105).

As far as the other types of non-Christian sources are concerned, we must recognise that we do not have new information, but, if anything, the historical existence of Jesus and several events of his public life reported by the Christian sources are confirmed – in the greatest part in an independent way (that is to say without using Christian documents). It is not little to ascertain there are no great differences or contradictions with the Gospels (and the Christian sources in general, which we shall see afterwards). Thanks to this work, though, we can evaluate the contribution of the non-Christian sources: «These sources categorically oppose any past or present attempt to reduce Jesus of Nazareth to a mere fiction. Jesus is not the result of the fantasy of some forgers, who created this character by fusing together mythical accounts and information deriving from pagan religions. Unlike myths, the information on Jesus and early Christianity specify times and places and talk about historical events. It must be therefore deduced that the pagan conceptions are not at the basis of the Christian faith» (J.M. Garcia, Il protagonista della storia. Nascita e natura del cristianesimo, Rizzoli 2008, p. 40).

To sum up, we can so list chronologically the main testimonies of the non-Christian authors:

50 AD. Testimony of Thallus: known through secondary sources, it is an attempt to explain naturally the crucifixion darkness, episode also mentioned in the Gospels. This passage’s independence of the Gospels is nor proved nor confirmed.

64-65 AD. Testimony of Petronius: parody of the Christian writings; it is not an independent source.

After 73 AD. Testimony of Mara Bar Serapion: authentic and independent; it confirms the killing of Jesus (called “king”) by attributing it to the Jews.

93-94 AD. Testimony of Flavius Josephus: the Testimonium Flavianum, in particular, purified from the little interpolations, is an authentic and independent confirmation of several salient facts of Jesus’s life.

112 AD. Testimony of Pliny the Younger: authentic and independent, it confirms that around the end of the Ist Century Christians worshipped Christ «as though he were a god».

115 AD. Testimony of Suetonius: authentic and independent, it reveals in the middle of the Ist Century that Christians talk about Christ as still living amongst them.

115-117 AD. Testimony of Tacitus: authentic and independent, it confirms the death of Jesus as described by the Gospels.

162 AD. Testimony of Marcus Cornelius Fronto: authentic and independent (of the Gospels), it confirms the death of Jesus as described by the Gospels.

170 AD. Testimony of Lucian of Samosata: authentic but maybe not independent of the Christian sources, it confirms especially the death of Jesus.



Beside the non-Christian sources, beside the four canonical Gospels (Mark, Matthew, Luke, and John and their relative sources: Q, L, and M), there are also other Christian sources – prior or subsequent to the canonical Gospels – which confirm several pieces of information in an independent way. Some of these appear inside the New Testament (extra-canonical sources) while others not (extra-testamentary sources). They are not always taken into consideration, because one falls into the trap of the lack of impartiality; nevertheless, as explained by agnostic Prof. B.D. Ehrman «the majority of sources is partial: if the authors had not had any opinion about the topic, they would not talk about it» (B.D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?, HarperCollins 2012, p. 42). Who reasons in this way should then discard the accounts of the War of Independence as they were written by the Americans; he should criticise the chronicles contemporary to George Washington as they were written by his followers; we should doubt Socrates’s biographic data, transmitted by his disciples Xenophon and Plato, or the truthfulness of the deeds of Caesar, narrated by himself. «Everything is written from a certain point of view. The rejection of a traditional position of faith does not mean neutrality, but it simply means a different philosophical perspective which is itself a “position of faith”, in the wide sense of the expression. Whoever writes about the historical Jesus writes from an ideological point of view; no critic is free from it» (J.P. Meier, Un ebreo marginale. Ripensare il Gesù storico 1, Queriniana 2001, p. 56,57).


The extra-canonical sources correspond to the books of the New Testament that do not contain an actual biography of Jesus; they do not aim to be a chronicle, but to serve to announce faith. We shall describe them very synthetically.


The Acts of the Apostles recount the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire in the years following Jesus’s death. Scholars consider this work as independent of the Gospels and written by the same author of the Gospel of Luke, but the Acts «do not a represent a redactional variation of Luke, but another tradition», an independent one (J.P. Meier, Un ebreo marginale. Ripensare il Gesù storico 2, Queriniana 2003, p. 63,64,71). According to B.D Ehrman, «the Acts of the Apostles is written by the author of the Gospel of Luke and keeps some traditions on the life of Jesus independently of what is reported in the Gospels, and, according to the evaluation of almost all the exponents historical criticism, it is based on traditions that circulated before the Gospel was written […]. The book of Acts offers another demonstration, independent of the Gospels, that the early Christians were persuaded that Jesus had been a Jew and a teacher of morality, killed in Jerusalem after having been betrayed Judas, one of his followers» (B.D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?, HarperCollins 2012, p. 106-109). The dating of the redaction of the Acts is collocated by Ehrman around the Eighties of the Ist Century AD, although «they conserve primitive traditions that seem to date back to the very first years of the Christian movement» (p. 173). Many other scholars, however, considered other aspects (with which we shall not deal here) and date the redaction of the Acts much earlier, around the Sixties of the Ist Century AD (cfr. J. Carmignac, La nascita dei vangeli sinottici, Edizioni Paoline 1985, p. 94).


The majority of Paul’s letters is authentic and written by him (almost certainly the Letter to the Hebrews is pseudoepigraphic): we start from the earliest one, the First Letter to the Thessalonians, written in 49 AD, until the last one, the Letter to the Romans, written in 61-62 AD (B.D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?, HarperCollins 2012, p. 118).

Beside confirming the data on the life and death of Jesus, Paul confirms in his letters also the teachings he, moreover, personally received from Peter and James in 35-36 AD, after his conversion, thereby inheriting the traditions that «dated back probably to two approximately a couple of years after the death of Jesus». The information provided by Paul «perfectly coincide with the data provided by the evangelical traditions, whose oral sources almost certainly date back to the Roman Palestine of the Thirties of 1st Century» (B.D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?, cit p. 132, 133). According to J.P. Meier, several passages of the Pauline epistles «offer an independent source to check the Synoptics», but they do not add anything to what we already know: «They are parallel to the material also present in the Synoptics; at the most, they might be useful to check the synoptic tradition, but not as sources of new information»; they may inform us by telling us that «these facts concerning Jesus were teachings also in distant churches not founded by Paul (Rome!), during the first Christian generation»  (J.P. Meier, Un ebreo marginale. Ripensare il Gesù storico 1, Queriniana 2001, p. 54,55).


By now there is scientific consensus on the fact that Paul is not the real author of this epistle, who is, instead, «an anonymous very learned Christian of the 1st Century» (J.P. Meier, Un ebreo marginale. Ripensare il Gesù storico 1, Queriniana 2001, p. 348). The source of the writing, dated not beyond 69 AD, is based on oral independent traditions (B.D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?, HarperCollins 2012, p. 117), which confirm several statements contained in the New Testament.


Concerning these two epistles, there is an academic debate on the fact that they were written by Peter or not. Be that as it may, «we are dealing with an independent testimony to the life of Jesus and his death» (B.D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?, HarperCollins 2012, p. 115). The first letter, almost certainly authentic, was probably short before Peter’s death (64 AD), whilst the second (almost certainly pseudoepigraphic) was composed at the beginning of the IInd Century (100-160 AD).


The book of Revelation is deemed another independent source concerning the Christian tradition and Jesus’s life and dates back to the 90s of the Ist Century AD. Probably, it was not written by John and certainly it did not draw material from the Gospel of John (B.D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?, HarperCollins 2012, p. 116).


The Letter of Jude is usually dated between 80 and 90 AD and traditionally attributed to Apostle Jude Thaddeus. Even this letter shows not to draw information from the Gospels and proves to be an independent Christian source.



In the Ist and IInd Centuries we have several Christian authors, whose works are outside the New Testament and transmit information about the historical Jesus, thereby attesting his existence and confirming the canonical Gospels. They are recognised as independent sources (that is to say they do not draw information from the evangelical sources).


Papias was a Father of the Church at the beginning of the IInd Century and authored five volumes titled “Exposition of the oracles of the Lord”, written between 120 e il 130 AD, whose existence is known thanks to the quotations of this work reported by later Christian authors (E. Novelli, “Esposizione degli oracoli del Signore. I frammenti”, Edizioni Paoline 2005). He is considered an important witness, since he «was personally in touch with people who had known the apostles or their companions. When they went to the city of Hierapolis in Asia Minor, Papias, as head of the Church, asked them what they knew about Jesus and his apostles […]. It is an testimony independent of the Gospels themselves and a testimony that relis on the disciples of Jesus in an explicit, credible, and direct way» (B.D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?, HarperCollins 2012, p. 97-101).


Ignatius was one of the most important authors of early Christianity and lived from 35 AD (approximately) to 107 AD (approximately). His works do not appear in the New Testament. He was the Bishop of the important community of Antioch (Syria) and the author of innumerable letters, dating back to the first years of the IInd Century and many of which «contest the Christians convinced that Jesus not a human being in the flash» (B.D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?, HarperCollins 2012, p. 102). In his epistles he confirms several facts of Jesus’s life. Here is an example: «He was truly of the seed of David according to the flesh, and the Son of God according to the will and power of God; that He was truly born of a virgin, was baptized by John, in order that all righteousness might be fulfilled by Him; and was truly, under Pontius Pilate and Herod the tetrarch, nailed [to the cross] for us in His flesh […], that He might set up a standard for all ages through his resurrection. […] For I know that after His resurrection also He was still possessed of flesh» (Ignatius of Antioch, Letter to the Smyrnaeans I-III). It must be pointed out that «nothing suggests that Ignatius drew his ideas from the books the would become part of the New Testament […] therefore it constitutes the umpteenth independent testimony to the life of Jesus. Even in his case, we cannot object that his writings are too late to be of some use in our research. We cannot demonstrate that he relied on the Gospels. And he was the Bishop of Antioch, the city where Peter and Paul had spent much time, as Paul himself tells us in the Second Letter to the Galatians» (B.D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?, HarperCollins 2012 pp. 103-104).


The First Letter to the Corinthians was written around 95 AD by the Christians of Rome to the ecclesiastical community of Corinth to solve a difficult situation. The epistle is «traditionally attributed to the fourth Bishop of Rome, Clement, although the missive does not support his authorship. There are very good reasons to believe that it was written in the last decade of the 1st Century» (B.D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?, HarperCollins 2012, p. 104). In the letter, the First Letter to the Corinthians by Paul is explicitly quoted, whereas no reference is made to the Gospels and it does not claim to have drawn any saying of Jesus from any written text. According to B.D. Ehrman it is the «umpteenth independent testimony not only to the life of Jesus as a historical figure, but also to some of his actions and teachings» (B.D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?, HarperCollins 2012, p. 104,105).


The Didache is a Christian text dating back to the end of the Ist Century, precisely around 70 AD (E. Prinzivalli e M. Simonetti, “Seguendo Gesù”, Fondazione Lorenzo Valla, 2010, p.10). Its redaction «is probably independent of the canonical Gospels» (M. Pesce, “Inchiesta su Gesù”, Mondadori 2006, p. 47), even though it often quotes directly a pre-existing «Gospel», thereby confirming some information of the canonical ones.



We have observed that historians, when dealing with the issue of the historical Jesus, do not rely only on the four Gospels (plus the pre-synoptic sources: Q, M, L, and others), but also on 8 non-Christian testimonies, coming from the Jewish, pagan, and Roman world. They are recognised as authentic; as we have seen, many of them are independent of the Christian sources whilst others are not; anyway, they all confirm the information contained in the Gospels without any contradiction or attempt to belie the salient data of the life of Jesus of Nazareth. In addition to them, we have also listed 10 independent Christian sources (Acts of the Apostles, the thirteen Pauline Letters, the Letter to the Hebrews, the two Letters of Peter, Revelation, the Letter of Jude, the writings of Papias and of Ignatius, the First Letter of Clement to the Corinthians, and the Didache), which «provide a wide variety of sources that confirm many accounts on Jesus without showing to have collaborated. Without considering all the oral traditions circulating before the written texts we have received» (B.D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?, HarperCollins 2012, p. 142).

Synthetising, we can list the Christian and non-Christian sources in chronological order:

50 AD. Testimony of Thallus: known through secondary sources, it is an attempt to explain naturally the crucifixion darkness, episode also mentioned in the Gospels. This passage’s independence of the Gospels is nor proved nor confirmed.

49-62 AD. Testimony of Saint Paul: the thirteen Letters of Paul (almost all) authentic and certainly independent of the Gospels and confirm the life of Jesus and his teachings.

60-80 AD. Testimony of the Acts of the Apostles: Christian book independent of the Gospels which confirms many pieces of information and reports early traditions about the life of Jesus (thirties).

68 AD. Testimony of the Letter to the Hebrews: it is based on oral independent Christian traditions which confirm the Gospels.

70 AD. Testimony of the Didache: Christian source independent of the Gospels on Jesus’s life.

After 73 AD. Testimony of Mara Bar Serapion: authentic and independent; it confirms the killing of Jesus (called “king”) by attributing it to the Jews.

80-90 AD. Testimony of the Letter of Jude: Christian source independent of the Gospels on Jesus’s life.

90 AD. Testimony of Revelation: Christian source independent of the Gospels which confirms several aspects of Jesus’s life.

93-94 AD. Testimony of Flavius Josephus: the Testimonium Flavianum, in particular, purified from the little interpolations, is an authentic and independent confirmation of several salient facts of Jesus’s life.

95 AD. Testimony of the First Letter to the Corinthians by Clement of Rome: Christian source independent of the Gospels which confirms the life of Jesus and his teachings.

100 AD. Testimony of the Second Letter of Peter: doubts about its authenticity; however, it is certainly a Christian independent source and the life and death of Jesus.

100-107 AD. Testimony of Ignatius of Antioch: Christian source independent of the Gospels; it confirms several facts of Jesus’s life.

112 AD. Testimony of Pliny the Younger: authentic and independent, it confirms that around the end of the Ist Century Christians worshipped Christ «as though he were a god».

115 AD. Testimony of Suetonius: authentic and independent, it reveals in the middle of the Ist Century that Christians talk about Christ as still living amongst them.

115-117 AD. Testimony of Tacitus: authentic and independent, it confirms the death of Jesus as described by the Gospels.

120-130 AD. Testimony of Papias: Christian source independent of the Gospels.

162 AD. Testimony of Marcus Cornelius Fronto: authentic and independent (of the Gospels), it confirms the death of Jesus as described by the Gospels.

170 AD. Testimony of Lucian of Samosata: authentic but maybe not independent of the Christian sources, it confirms especially the death of Jesus.

Of course, Jesus of Nazareth was, for the reasons we have explained, a marginal figure amongst his contemporaries. However, the salient data of his life left innumerable records in several documents, both Christian and non-Christian ones. All these data, consequently, «provide the historian with an unusual abundance of materials on which to work, a quite unusual fact for the testimonies to the life of whoever, literally whoever, lived in the ancient world» (B.D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist?, HarperCollins 2012, p. 79). Not only, therefore, is it impossible to question the historicity of Jesus anymore (and nobody does it anymore), but it is also imperative to consider the Gospels – the most complete sources we have about Jesus’s life – as historical documents, whose reliability is confirmed by almost 20 independent Christian and non-Christian documents, dating back to the first two Centuries of the Christian Era.

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