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Sources for the historicity of Jesus

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Title: Sources for the historicity of Jesus  
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Subject: Parable of the Budding Fig Tree, Healing the blind near Jericho, List of books about Jesus, Christ myth theory, Christ
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Sources for the historicity of Jesus

The sources for the historicity of Jesus are mainly Christian sources, but there are some mentions in non-Christian sources that are also relevant. The Christian sources, such as the New Testament books in the Christian Bible, include detailed stories about Jesus but scholars differ on the historicity of specific episodes described in the Biblical accounts of Jesus.[1] The only two events subject to "almost universal assent" are that Jesus was baptized by John the Baptist and was crucified by the order of the Roman Prefect Pontius Pilate.[2][3][4][4][5][6][7][8][9]

Non-Christian sources used to study and establish the historicity of Jesus include Jewish sources such as Josephus, and Roman sources such as Tacitus. These sources are compared to Christian sources such as the Pauline Letters and the Synoptic Gospels. These sources are usually independent of each other (e.g. Jewish sources do not draw upon Roman sources), and similarities and differences between them are used in the authentication process.[10][11]

In a review of the state of research Amy-Jill Levine stated that "no single picture of Jesus has convinced all, or even most scholars" and that all portraits of Jesus are subject to criticism by some group of scholars.[2]


  • Non-Christian sources 1
    • Key sources 1.1
      • Josephus 1.1.1
      • Tacitus 1.1.2
    • Relevant sources 1.2
      • Mara bar Sarapion 1.2.1
      • Suetonius 1.2.2
      • The Talmud 1.2.3
    • Others 1.3
      • James Ossuary 1.3.1
  • Christian sources 2
    • Pauline epistles 2.1
      • Overview 2.1.1
      • Specific references 2.1.2
      • Pre-Pauline creeds 2.1.3
    • Gospels 2.2
    • Early Church fathers 2.3
    • Gnostic and apocryphal texts 2.4
  • Summary of sources 3
  • See also 4
  • Notes 5
  • References 6

Non-Christian sources

Key sources


A page from a 1466 copy of Antiquities of the Jews

The writings of the 1st century Romano-Jewish historian Flavius Josephus include references to Jesus and the origins of Christianity.[12][13] Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews, written around 93–94 AD, includes two references to Jesus in Books 18 and 20.[12][14]

Of the two passages, the James passage in Book 20 is used by scholars to support the existence of Jesus, the Testimonium Flavianum in Book 18 his crucifixion.[10] Josephus' James passage attests to the existence of Jesus as a historical person and that some of his contemporaries considered him the Messiah.[10][15] According to Bart Ehrman, Josephus' passage about Jesus was altered by a Christian scribe, including the reference to Jesus as the Messiah.[16]

A textual argument against the authenticity of the James passage is that the use of the term "Christos" there seems unusual for Josephus.[17] An argument based on the flow of the text in the document is that, given that the mention of Jesus appears in the Antiquities before that of the John the Baptist, a Christian interpolator may have inserted it to place Jesus in the text before John.[17] A further argument against the authenticity of the James passage is that it would have read well even without a reference to Jesus.[17]

The passage deals with the death of "James the brother of Jesus" in Jerusalem. Whereas the works of Josephus refer to at least twenty different people with the name Jesus, this passage specifies that this Jesus was the one "who was called Christ".[18][19] Louis Feldman states that this passage, above others, indicates that Josephus did say something about Jesus.[20]

Modern scholarship has almost universally acknowledged the authenticity of the reference in Book 20, Chapter 9, 1 of the Antiquities to "the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James",[21] and considers it as having the highest level of authenticity among the references of Josephus to Christianity.[12][13][22][23][24][25]

The Testimonium Flavianum (meaning the testimony of Flavius [Josephus]) is the name given to the passage found in Book 18, Chapter 3, 3 of the Antiquities in which Josephus describes the condemnation and crucifixion of Jesus at the hands of the Roman authorities.[26][27] Scholars have differing opinions on the total or partial authenticity of the reference in the passage to the execution of Jesus by Pontius Pilate.[12][27] The general scholarly view is that while the Testimonium Flavianum is most likely not authentic in its entirety, it is broadly agreed upon that it originally consisted of an authentic nucleus with a reference to the execution of Jesus by Pilate which was then subject to Christian interpolation.[15][27][28][29][30] Although the exact nature and extent of the Christian redaction remains unclear,[31] there is broad consensus as to what the original text of the Testimonium by Josephus would have looked like.[30]

The references found in Antiquities have no parallel texts in the other work by Josephus such as the Jewish War, written twenty years earlier, but some scholars have provided explanations for their absence, such as that the Antiquities covers a longer time period and that during the twenty-year gap between the writing of the Jewish Wars (c. 70 AD) and Antiquities (after 90 AD) Christians had become more important in Rome and were hence given attention in the Antiquities.[32]

A number of variations exist between the statements by Josephus regarding the deaths of James and the New Testament accounts.[33] Scholars generally view these variations as indications that the Josephus passages are not interpolations, because a Christian interpolator would more likely have made them correspond to the Christian traditions.[18][33] Robert Eisenman provides numerous early Christian sources that confirm the Josephus testament, that James was the brother of Jesus.[34]


The title page of 1598 edition of the works of Tacitus, kept in Empoli, Italy.

The Roman historian and senator Tacitus referred to Christ, his execution by Pontius Pilate and the existence of early Christians in Rome in his final work, Annals (written ca. AD 116), book 15, chapter 44.[35][36][37] The relevant passage reads: "... 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 ..."

Scholars generally consider Tacitus's reference to the execution of Jesus by Pontius Pilate to be both authentic, and of historical value as an independent Roman source about early Christianity that is in unison with other historical records.[38][39][40][41][42] William L. Portier has stated that the consistency in the references by Tacitus, Josephus and the letters to Emperor Trajan by Pliny the Younger reaffirm the validity of all three accounts.[42]

Tacitus was a patriotic Roman senator and his writings shows no sympathy towards Christians.[39][43][43][44][45] Andreas Köstenberger and separately Robert E. Van Voorst state that the tone of the passage towards Christians is far too negative to have been authored by a Christian scribe - a conclusion shared by John P. Meier[38][46][47] Robert E. Van Voorst states that "of all Roman writers, Tacitus gives us the most precise information about Christ".[38]

John Dominic Crossan considers the passage important in establishing that Jesus existed and was crucified, and states: "That he was crucified is as sure as anything historical can ever be, since both Josephus and Tacitus... agree with the Christian accounts on at least that basic fact."[48] Bart D. Ehrman states: "Tacitus's report confirms what we know from other sources, that Jesus was executed by order of the Roman governor of Judea, Pontius Pilate, sometime during Tiberius's reign."[49] Eddy and Boyd state that it is now "firmly established" that Tacitus provides a non-Christian confirmation of the crucifixion of Jesus.[50]

Although the majority of scholars consider it to be genuine, a few scholars question the authenticity of the passage given that Tacitus was born 25 years after Jesus' death.[38]

Some scholars have debated the historical value of the passage given that Tacitus does not reveal the source of his information.[51] Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz argue that Tacitus at times had drawn on earlier historical works now lost to us, and he may have used official sources from a Roman archive in this case; however, if Tacitus had been copying from an official source, some scholars would expect him to have labeled Pilate correctly as a prefect rather than a procurator.[52] Theissen and Merz state that Tacitus gives us a description of widespread prejudices about Christianity and a few precise details about "Christus" and Christianity, the source of which remains unclear.[53] However, Paul R. Eddy has stated that given his position as a senator Tacitus was also likely to have had access to official Roman documents of the time and did not need other sources.[54]

Michael Martin notes that the authenticity of this passage of the Annals has also been disputed on the grounds that Tacitus would not have used the word “messiah” in an authentic Roman document.[55]

Weaver notes that Tacitus spoke of the persecution of Christians, but no other Christian author wrote of this persecution for a hundred years.[56]

Hotema notes that this passage was not quoted by any Church father up to the 15th century, although the passage would have been very useful to them in their work;[57] and that the passage refers to the Christians in Rome being a multitude, while at that time the Christian congregation in Rome would actually have been very small.[57]

Scholars have also debated the issue of hearsay in the reference by Tacitus. Charles Guignebert argued that "So long as there is that possibility [that Tacitus is merely echoing what Christians themselves were saying], the passage remains quite worthless".[58] R. T. France states that the Tacitus passage is at best just Tacitus repeating what he had heard through Christians.[59] However, Paul R. Eddy has stated that as Rome's preeminent historian, Tacitus was generally known for checking his sources and was not in the habit of reporting gossip.[54] Tacitus was a member of the Quindecimviri sacris faciundis, a council of priests whose duty it was to supervise foreign religious cults in Rome, which as Van Voorst points out, makes it reasonable to suppose that he would have acquired knowledge of Christian origins through his work with that body.[60]

It should be pointed out that some scholars consider the 'Christ, the author of this name, was executed by the procurator Pontius Pilate in the reign of Tiberius' line to be a Christian interpolation and Tacitus wrote about Chrestians not Christians.[61][62]

Relevant sources

Mara bar Sarapion

Mara (son of Sarapion) was a Stoic philosopher from the Roman province of Syria.[63][64] Sometime between 73 AD and the 3rd century, Mara wrote a letter to his son (also called Sarapion) which may contain an early non-Christian reference to the crucifixion of Jesus.[63][65][66]

The letter refers to the unjust treatment of "three wise men": the murder of Socrates, the burning of Pythagoras, and the execution of "the wise king" of the Jews.[63][64] The author explains that in all three cases the wrongdoing resulted in the future punishment of those responsible by God and that when the wise are oppressed, not only does their wisdom triumph in the end, but God punishes their oppressors.[66]

The letter includes no Christian themes and the author is presumed to be a pagan.[64][65] Some scholars see the reference to the execution of the "wise king" of the Jews as an early non-Christian reference to Jesus.[63][64][65] Criteria that support the non-Christian origin of the letter include the observation that "king of the Jews" was not a Christian title, and that the letter's premise that Jesus lives on based on the wisdom of his teachings is in contrast to the Christian concept that Jesus continues to live through his resurrection.[65][66]

Scholars such as Robert Van Voorst see little doubt that the reference to the execution of the "king of the Jews" is about the death of Jesus.[66] Others such as Craig A. Evans see less value in the letter, given its uncertain date, and the possible ambiguity in the reference.[67]


A 1540 copy of Lives of the Twelve Caesars by Suetonius

The Roman historian Suetonius made references to early Christians and their leader in his work Lives of the Twelve Caesars.[63][68][69][70] The references appear in Claudius 25 and Nero 16 which describe the lives of Roman Emperors Claudius and Nero.[68] The Nero 16 passage refers to the abuses by Nero and mentions how he inflicted punishment on Christians - which is generally dated to around AD 64.[71] This passage shows the clear contempt of Suetonius for Christians - the same contempt expressed by Tacitus and Pliny the younger in their writings, but does not refer to Jesus himself.[69]

The earlier passage in Claudius, may include a reference to Jesus, but is subject to debate among scholars.[70] In Claudius 25 Suetonius refers to the expulsion of Jews by Claudius and states:[68]

"Since the Jews constantly made disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome."

The reference in Claudius 25 involves the agitations in the Jewish community which led to the expulsion of some Jews from Rome by Claudius, and is likely the same event mentioned in the Acts of the Apostles (18:2).[63] Most historians date this expulsion to around AD 49-50.[63][72] Suetonius refers to the leader of the Christians as Chrestus (a term which may have also been used by Tacitus) and was also common at the time, particularly for slaves, meaning good or useful.[73] However, the wording used by Suetonius implies that Chrestus was alive at the time of the disturbance and was agitating the Jews in Rome.[30][63] This weakens the historical value of his reference as a whole, and there is no overall scholarly agreement about its value as a reference to Jesus.[30][70] However, the confusion of Suetonius also points to the lack of Christian interpolation, for a Christian scribe would not have confused the Jews with Christians.[30][70]

Most scholars assume that in the reference Jesus is meant and that the disturbances mentioned were due to the spread of Christianity in Rome.[70][74][75] However, scholars are divided on the value of the Suetonius' reference. Some scholars such as Craig A. Evans, John Meier and Craig S. Keener see it as a likely reference to Jesus.[76][77] Others such as Stephen Benko and H. Dixon Slingerland see it as having little or no historical value.[70]

Menahem Stern states Suetonius definitely was referring to Jesus; because he would have added " a certain " to Chrestus if he had meant some unknown agitator.[78]

The Talmud

A page from Sanhedrin in the 12th century Reuchlin Codex Talmud

The Babylonian Talmud in a few cases includes possible references to Jesus using the terms "Yeshu", "Yeshu ha-Notzri", "ben Stada", and "ben Pandera". Some of these references probably date back to the Tannaitic period (70–200 AD).[79][80] In some cases, it is not clear if the references are to Jesus, or other people, and scholars continue to debate their historical value, and exactly which references, if any, may be to Jesus.[81][82][83]

Robert Van Voorst states that the scarcity of Jewish references to Jesus is not surprising, given that Jesus was not a prominent issue for the Jews during the first century, and after the devastation caused by the Siege of Jerusalem in the year 70, Jewish scholars were focusing on preserving Judaism itself, rather than paying much attention to Christianity.[84]

Robert Eisenman argues that the derivation of Jesus of Nazareth from "ha-Notzri" is impossible on etymological grounds, as it would suggest rather "the Natzirite" rather than "the Nazarene".[85]

Van Voorst states that although the question of who was referred to in various points in the Talmud remains subject to debate among scholars, in the case of Sanhedrin 43a (generally considered the most important reference to Jesus in rabbinic literature), Jesus can be confirmed as the subject of the passage, not only from the reference itself, but from the context that surrounds it, and there is little doubt that it refers to the death of Jesus of Nazareth.[86][87] Christopher M. Tuckett states that if it is accepted that death narrative of Sanhedrin 43a refers to Jesus of Nazareth then it provides evidence of Jesus' existence and execution.[88]

Andreas Kostenberger states that the passage is a Tannaitic reference to the trial and death of Jesus at Passover and is most likely earlier than other references to Jesus in the Talmud.[80] The passage reflects hostility toward Jesus among the rabbis and includes this text:[79][80]

It is taught: On the eve of Passover they hung Yeshu and the crier went forth for forty days beforehand declaring that "[Yeshu] is going to be stoned for practicing witchcraft, for enticing and leading Israel astray. Anyone who knows something to clear him should come forth and exonerate him." But no one had anything exonerating for him and they hung him on the eve of Passover.[89]

Peter Schäfer states that there can be no doubt that the narrative of the execution of Jesus in the Talmud refers to Jesus of Nazareth, but states that the rabbinic literature in question are not Tannaitic but from a later Amoraic period and may have drawn on the Christian gospels, and may have been written as responses to them.[90] Bart Ehrman and separately Mark Allan Powell state that given that the Talmud references are quite late, they can give no historically reliable information about the teachings or actions of Jesus during his life.[91][92]

Another reference in early second century Rabbinic literature (Tosefta Hullin II 22) refers to Rabbi Eleazar ben Dama who was bitten by a snake, but was denied healing in the name of Jesus by another Rabbi for it was against the law, and thus died.[93] This passage reflects the attitude of Jesus' early Jewish opponents, i.e. that his miracles were based on evil powers.[93][94]

Eddy and Boyd, who question the value of several of the Talmudic references state that the significance of the Talmud to historical Jesus research is that it never denies the existence of Jesus, but accuses him of sorcery, thus indirectly confirming his existence.[81] R. T. France and separately Edgar V. McKnight state that the divergence of the Talmud statements from the Christian accounts and their negative nature indicate that they are about a person who existed.[95][96] Craig Blomberg states that the denial of the existence of Jesus was never part of the Jewish tradition, which instead accused him of being a sorcerer and magician, as also reflected in other sources such as Celsus.[79] Andreas Kostenberger states that the overall conclusion that can be drawn from the references in the Talmud is that Jesus was a historical person whose existence was never denied by the Jewish tradition, which instead focused on discrediting him.[80]


Pliny the Younger (c. 61 - c. 112), the provincial governor of Pontus and Bithynia, wrote to Emperor Trajan c. 112 concerning how to deal with Christians, who refused to worship the emperor, and instead worshiped "Christus". Charles Guignebert, who does not doubt that Jesus of the Gospels lived in Gallilee in the 1st century, nevertheless dismisses this letter as acceptable evidence for a historical Jesus.[97]

Lucian of Samosata (Born 115 AD) a well-known Greek satirist and traveling lecturer wrote mockingly of the followers of Jesus for their ignorance and credulity.[98][99] Given that Lucian's understanding of Christian traditions has significant gaps and errors, his writing is unlikely to have been influenced by Christians themselves, and he may provide an independent statement about the crucifixion of Jesus.[99] However, given the nature of the text as satire, Lucian may have embellished the stories he heard and his account cannot have a high degree of historical reliability.[98]

Thallus, of whom very little is known, and none of whose writings survive, wrote a history around the middle to late first century CE, to which Eusebius referred. Julius Africanus, writing c 221, links a reference in the third book of the History to the period of darkness described in the crucifixion accounts in three of the Gospels .[99][100] It is not known whether Thallus made any mention to the crucifixion accounts; if he did, it would be the earliest noncanonical reference to a gospel episode, but its usefulness in determining the historicity of Jesus is uncertain.[99]

Celsus writing late in the second century produced the first full-scale attack on Christianity.[99][101] Celsus' document has not survived but in the third century Origen replied to it, and what is known of Celsus' writing is through the responses of Origen.[99] According to Origen, Celsus accused Jesus of being a magician and a sorcerer. While the statements of Celsus may be seen as a confirmation of the miracles of Jesus, they have little historical value, given that the wording of the original writings can not be examined.[101]

The Dead Sea scrolls are first century or older writings that show the language and customs of some Jews of Jesus' time.[102] Scholars such as Henry Chadwick see the similar uses of languages and viewpoints recorded in the New Testament and the Dead Sea scrolls as valuable in showing that the New Testament portrays the first century period that it reports and is not a product of a later period.[103][104] However, the relationship between the Dead Sea scrolls and the historicity of Jesus has been the subject of highly controversial theories, and although new theories continue to appear, there is no overall scholarly agreement about their impact on the historicity of Jesus, despite the usefulness of the scrolls in shedding light on first-century Jewish traditions.[105][106]

James Ossuary

There is a limestone burial box from the 1st century known as the

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  1. ^ Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee by Mark Allan Powell 1998 ISBN 0-664-25703-8 page 181
  2. ^ a b Amy-Jill Levine in the The Historical Jesus in Context edited by Amy-Jill Levine et al. 2006 Princeton Univ Press ISBN 978-0-691-00992-6 pages 1-2
  3. ^ a b Jesus Remembered by James D. G. Dunn 2003 ISBN 0-8028-3931-2 page 339 states of baptism and crucifixion that these "two facts in the life of Jesus command almost universal assent".
  4. ^ a b Prophet and Teacher: An Introduction to the Historical Jesus by William R. Herzog (4 Jul 2005) ISBN 0664225284 pages 1-6
  5. ^
  6. ^ Jesus and His Contemporaries: Comparative Studies by Craig A. Evans 2001 ISBN 0391041185 pages 2-5
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m Christopher M. Tuckett In The Cambridge Companion to Jesus edited by Markus N. A. Bockmuehl 2001 ISBN 0521796784 pages 122-126
  8. ^ Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium by Bart D. Ehrman (23 Sep 1999) ISBN 0195124731 Oxford University Press, pp. ix-xi
  9. ^ a b Authenticating the Activities of Jesus by Bruce Chilton and Craig A. Evans 2002 ISBN 0391041649 pages 3-7
  10. ^ a b c The Cambridge Companion to Jesus by Markus N. A. Bockmuehl 2001 ISBN 0521796784 pages 121-125
  11. ^ Studying the Historical Jesus: Evaluations of the State of Current Research by Bruce Chilton, Craig A. Evans 1998 ISBN 9004111425 pages 460-470
  12. ^ a b c d Feldman, Louis H.; Hata, Gōhei, eds. (1987). Josephus, Judaism and Christianity BRILL. ISBN 978-90-04-08554-1. pages 54-57
  13. ^ a b Maier, Paul L. (December 1995). Josephus, the essential works: a condensation of Jewish antiquities and The Jewish war. Kregel Academic. ISBN 978-0-8254-3260-6 pages 284-285
  14. ^ Maier, Paul L. (December 1995). Josephus, the essential works: a condensation of Jewish antiquities and The Jewish war. Kregel Academic. ISBN 978-0-8254-3260-6-page 12
  15. ^ a b c Kostenberger, Andreas J.; Kellum, L. Scott; Quarles, Charles L. (2009). The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament ISBN 0-8054-4365-7 pages 104-105
  16. ^ Bart Ehrman, Jesus Interrupted, pg 159, Harper Collins
  17. ^ a b c Eddy & Boyd 2007, pp. 128-130.
  18. ^ a b Eddy, Paul; Boyd, Gregory (2007). The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition. ISBN 0-8010-3114-1 page 129-130
  19. ^ Painter, John (2005). Just James: The Brother of Jesus in History and Tradition. ISBN 0-567-04191-3-page 137
  20. ^ Feldman, Louis H.; Hata, Gōhei. Josephus, Judaism and Christianity. BRILL. ISBN 90-04-08554-8. page 56
  21. ^ Louis Feldman (ISBN 90-04-08554-8 pages 55-57) states that the authenticity of the Josephus passage on James has been "almost universally acknowledged".
  22. ^ Van Voorst, Robert E. (2000). Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. ISBN 0-8028-4368-9-page 83
  23. ^ Richard Bauckham "FOR WHAT OFFENSE WAS JAMES PUT TO DEATH?" in James the Just and Christian origins by Bruce Chilton, Craig A. Evans 1999 ISBN 90-04-11550-1 pages 199-203
  24. ^ Painter, John (2005). Just James: The Brother of Jesus in History and Tradition. ISBN 0-567-04191-3 pages 134-141
  25. ^ Sample quotes from previous references: Van Voorst (ISBN 0-8028-4368-9-page 83) states that the overwhelming majority of scholars consider both the reference to "the brother of Jesus called Christ" and the entire passage that includes it as authentic." Bauckham (ISBN 90-04-11550-1 pages 199-203) states: "the vast majority have considered it to be authentic". Meir (ISBN 978-0-8254-3260-6 pages 108-109) agrees with Feldman that few have questioned the authenticity of the James passage. Setzer (ISBN 0-8006-2680-X pages 108-109) also states that few have questioned its authenticity.
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  27. ^ a b c Schreckenberg, Heinz; Schubert, Kurt (1992a). Jewish Traditions in Early Christian Literature. 2. ISBN 90-232-2653-4 pages 38-41
  28. ^ Evans, Craig A. (2001). Jesus and His Contemporaries: Comparative Studies ISBN 0-391-04118-5-page 316
  29. ^ Wansbrough, Henry (2004). Jesus and the oral Gospel tradition. ISBN 0-567-04090-9-page 185
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  32. ^ Feldman, Louis H. (1984). "Flavius Josephus Revisited: The Man, his Writings and his Significance". In Temporini, Hildegard; Haase, Wolfgang. Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt, Part 2. pp. 763–771. ISBN 3-11-009522-X page 826
  33. ^ a b Painter, John (2005). Just James: The Brother of Jesus in History and Tradition. ISBN 0-567-04191-3 pages 143-145
  34. ^ Eisenman, Robert (2002), "James the Brother of Jesus: the key to unlocking the secrets of Early Christianity and the Dead Sea Scrolls" (Watkins)
  35. ^ P.E. Easterling, E. J. Kenney (general editors), The Cambridge History of Latin Literature, page 892 (Cambridge University Press, 1982, reprinted 1996). ISBN 0-521-21043-7
  36. ^ A political history of early Christianity by Allen Brent 2009 ISBN 0-567-03175-6 pages 32-34
  37. ^ Robert Van Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence, Wm. B. Eerdmans, 2000. p 39- 53
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  43. ^ a b Ancient Rome by William E. Dunstan 2010 ISBN 0-7425-6833-4-page 293
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  49. ^ Ehrman p 212
  50. ^ Eddy, Paul; Boyd, Gregory (2007). The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition Baker Academic, ISBN 0-8010-3114-1 page 127
  51. ^ F.F. Bruce,Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament, (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1974) p. 23
  52. ^ Theissen and Merz p.83
  53. ^
  54. ^ a b The Jesus legend: a case for the historical reliability of the synoptic gospels by Paul R. Eddy, et al 2007 ISBN 0-8010-3114-1 pages 181-183
  55. ^ The Case Against Christianity, By Michael Martin, pg 50-51, at
  56. ^ The Historical Jesus in the Twentieth Century: 1900-1950, By Walter P. Weaver, pg 53, pg 57, at
  57. ^ a b Secret of Regeneration, By Hilton Hotema, pg 100, at
  58. ^ Jesus, University Books, New York, 1956, p.13
  59. ^
  60. ^
  61. ^ Carrier, Richard (2014) "The Prospect of a Christian Interpolation in Tacitus, Annals 15.44" Vigiliae Christianae, Volume 68, Issue 3, pages 264 – 283 (an earlier and more detailed version appears in Carrier's Hitler Homer Bible Christ)
  62. ^ Carrier, Richard (2014) On the Historicity of Jesus Sheffield Phoenix Press ISBN 978-1-909697-49-2 pg 344
  63. ^ a b c d e f g h The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament by Andreas J. Köstenberger, L. Scott Kellum 2009 ISBN 978-0-8054-4365-3-page 110
  64. ^ a b c d Evidence of Greek Philosophical Concepts in the Writings of Ephrem the Syrian by Ute Possekel 1999 ISBN 90-429-0759-2 pages 29-30
  65. ^ a b c d Studying the Historical Jesus: Evaluations of the State of Current Research edited by Bruce Chilton, Craig A. Evans 1998 ISBN 90-04-11142-5 pages 455-457
  66. ^ a b c d Jesus outside the New Testament: an introduction to the ancient evidence by Robert E. Van Voorst 2000 ISBN 0-8028-4368-9 pages 53-55
  67. ^ Jesus and His Contemporaries: Comparative Studies by Craig A. Evans 2001 ISBN 978-0-391-04118-9-page 41
  68. ^ a b c Lives of the Caesars by Suetonius, Catharine Edwards 2001 ISBN 0192832719 pages 184 and 203
  69. ^ a b Birth of Christianity by John Dominic Crossan 1999 ISBN 0567086682 pages 3-10
  70. ^ a b c d e f Robert E. Van Voorst, Jesus outside the New Testament: an introduction to the ancient evidence, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000. pp 29-39
  71. ^ Encyclopedia of the Roman Empire by Matthew Bunson 1994 ISBN 081602135X page 111
  72. ^ Christianity and the Roman Empire: background texts by Ralph Martin Novak 2001 ISBN 1-56338-347-0 pages 18-22
  73. ^ R. T. France. The Evidence for Jesus. (2006). Regent College Publishing ISBN 1-57383-370-3. p. 42
  74. ^ Louis H. Feldman, Jewish Life and Thought among Greeks and Romans (1 Oct 1996) ISBN 0567085252 p. 332
  75. ^
  76. ^ Eddy, Paul; Boyd, Gregory (2007). The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition. ISBN 0-8010-3114-1 pages 166
  77. ^ The Historical Jesus of the Gospels by Craig S. Keener 2012 ISBN 0802868886 page 66
  78. ^ Menahem Stern, 1980, Jerusalem, Greek and Latin Authors on Jews and Judaism Vol.2, p.116
  79. ^ a b c Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey by Craig L. Blomberg (1 Aug 2009) ISBN 0805444823 page 280
  80. ^ a b c d Kostenberger, Andreas J.; Kellum, L. Scott; Quarles, Charles L. (2009). The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament ISBN 0-8054-4365-7. pages 107-109
  81. ^ a b Eddy, Paul; Boyd, Gregory (2007). The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition ISBN 0-8010-3114-1 pages 170-174
  82. ^ Theissen, Gerd, Annette Merz, The historical Jesus: a comprehensive guide, Fortress Press, 1998 pages 72-76
  83. ^ The Blackwell Companion to Jesus by Delbert Burkett 2010 ISBN 140519362X page 220
  84. ^ Van Voorst, Robert E. (2000). Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. ISBN 0-8028-4368-9 pages 129-130
  85. ^ Einsenman, Robert (2002), "James; the Brother of Jesus" (Watkins)
  86. ^ In Jesus: The Complete Guide edited by J. L. Houlden (8 Feb 2006) ISBN 082648011X pages 693-694
  87. ^ Van Voorst, Robert E. (2000). Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. ISBN 0-8028-4368-9 pages 177-118
  88. ^ In The Cambridge Companion to Jesus by Markus N. A. Bockmuehl 2001 ISBN 0521796784 page 123
  89. ^ Sanhedrin 43a.
  90. ^ Jesus in the Talmud by Peter Schäfer (24 Aug 2009) ISBN 0691143188 page 141 and 9
  91. ^ Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium by Bart Ehrman 2001 ISBN 019512474X page 63
  92. ^ Jesus as a Figure in History: How Modern Historians View the Man from Galilee by Mark Allan Powell (1 Nov 1998) ISBN 0664257038 page 34
  93. ^ a b Jesus and the Politics of his Day by E. Bammel and C. F. D. Moule (30 Aug 1985) ISBN 0521313449 page 393
  94. ^ The Beginnings of Christianity by Howard Clark Kee (22 Nov 2005) ISBN 0567027414 page 71
  95. ^ R. T. France The Evidence for Jesus 2006 ISBN 1573833703 page 39
  96. ^ Jesus Christ in History and Scripture by Edgar V. McKnight 1999 ISBN 0865546770 pages 29-30
  97. ^ Jesus, by Ch. Gugnebert, Translated from the French by S. H. Hooke, University Book, New York, 1956, p. 14
  98. ^ a b Robert E. Van Voorst, Jesus outside the New Testament, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000. pp 58-64
  99. ^ a b c d e f Eddy, Paul; Boyd, Gregory (2007). The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition. ISBN 0-8010-3114-1 pages 122-126
  100. ^ Julius Africanus, Extant Writings XVIII in Ante-Nicene Fathers, ed. A. Roberts and J. Donaldson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973) vol. VI, p. 130
  101. ^ a b Van Voorst, Robert E. (2000). Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. ISBN 0-8028-4368-9 pages 65-68
  102. ^
  103. ^
  104. ^
  105. ^ Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey by Craig L. Blomberg 2009 ISBN 0805444823 pages 53-54
  106. ^ Van Voorst, Robert E (2000). Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence. Eerdmans Publishing. ISBN 0-8028-4368-9 pages 75-78
  107. ^
  108. ^
  109. ^
  110. ^ Geoffrey Blainey; A Short History of Christianity; Viking; 2011; pp.xix-xx & pp.46-47
  111. ^ Mack, Burton L. (1996)"Who Wrote the New Testament: the making of a Christian Myth"(Harper One)
  112. ^ Geoffrey Blainey; A Short History of Christianity; Viking; 2011; pp. pp.46-47
  113. ^ Buetz, Jeffrey J.(2005), "The Brother of Jesus and the Lost Teachings of Christianity".(Inner Traditions)
  114. ^ Ehrman, Bart D. (2010), "Jesus, Interrupted: Revealing the Hidden Contradictions in the Bible (And Why We Don't Know About Them)" (Harper One 1 Reprint edition (2 February 2010)).pg 143-144
  115. ^ Einsenman, Robert (2002), "james, the Brother of Jesus: The Key to Unlocking the Secrets of Early Christianity and the Dead Sea Scrolls" (Watkins)
  116. ^ a b c d e Jesus Christ in History and Scripture by Edgar V. McKnight 1999 ISBN 0865546770 page 38
  117. ^ a b Victor Furnish in Paul and Jesus edited by Alexander J. M. Wedderburn 2004 (Academic Paperback) ISBN 0567083969 pages 43-44
  118. ^ From Jesus to Christianity, San Francisco: HarperCollins, 2004 pg 4
  119. ^ a b Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible by James D. G. Dunn (19 Nov 2003) ISBN 0802837115 page 1274 "There is general scholarly agreement that seven of the thirteen letters beariing Pau's name are authentic, but his authorship of the other six cannot be taken for granted... Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians and Philomen are certainly Paul's own."
  120. ^ a b The Blackwell Companion to The New Testament by David E. Aune ISBN 1405108258 page 9 "... seven of the letters attributed to Paul are almost universally accepted as authentic (Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Philippians, 1 Thessalonians, Philomen)..."
  121. ^ a b Pheme Perkins, Reading the New Testament: An Introduction (Paulist Press, 1988), ISBN 0809129396 pp. 4-7.
  122. ^ a b c d e f g h Edward Adams "Paul, Jesus and Christ" in The Blackwell Companion to Jesus edited by Delbert Burkett 2010 ISBN 140519362X pages 94-96
  123. ^ Peter Gorday in Eusebius, Christianity, and Judaism by Harold W. Attridge 1992 ISBN 0814323618 pages 139-141
  124. ^ Buetz, Jeffrey (op cit)
  125. ^ Eisenman, Robert (op cit)
  126. ^ a b c Jesus Remembered: Christianity in the Making by James D. G. Dunn (29 Jul 2003) ISBN 0802839312 page 143
  127. ^ a b c d James D. G. Dunn "Paul's understanding of the death of Jesus" in Sacrifice and Redemption edited by S. W. Sykes (3 Dec 2007) Cambridge University Press ISBN 052104460X pages 35-36
  128. ^ Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey by Craig L. Blomberg 2009 ISBN 0805444823 pages 441-442
  129. ^ Encyclopedia of Theology: A Concise Sacramentum Mundi by Karl Rahner 2004 ISBN 0860120066 page 31
  130. ^ a b c d e f g Jesus according to Paul by Victor Paul Furnish 1994 ISBN 0521458242 pages 19-20
  131. ^ Jesus & the Rise of Early Christianity: A History of New Testament Times by Paul Barnett 2002 ISBN 0830826998 pages 95-96
  132. ^ Paul and Scripture by Steve Moyise (1 Jul 2010) ISBN 080103924X page 5
  133. ^ Paul, Antioch and Jerusalem by Nicholas Taylor 1991 ISBN 1850753318 page 177
  134. ^ The Tapestry of Early Christian Discourse by Vernon K. Robbins (10 Oct 1996) ISBN 0415139988 pages 74-75
  135. ^ Jesus Remembered: Christianity in the Making by James D. G. Dunn (29 Jul 2003) ISBN 0802839312 page 507
  136. ^ Galatians by Frank J. Matera 2007 ISBN 0814659721 Pages 65-66
  137. ^ Galatians by Martinus C. de Boer 2011 ISBN 0664221238 page 121
  138. ^ The Jesus legend: a case for the historical reliability of the synoptic gospels' by Paul R. Eddy, Gregory A. Boyd 2007 ISBN 0-8010-3114-1 pages 46-47
  139. ^ 1 Corinthians by Richard Oster 1995 ISBN 0899006337 page 353
  140. ^ Apostle Paul: His Life and Theology by Udo Schnelle (1 Nov 2005) ISBN 0801027969 pages 329-330
  141. ^ a b c Can We Trust the New Testament? by George Albert Wells 2003 ISBN 0812695674 pages 49-50
  142. ^ a b 'Jesus of Nazareth: An independent historian's account of his life and teaching by Maurice Casey page 39-40
  143. ^ a b The Evidence for Jesus by James D. G. Dunn (1 Jan 1986) ISBN 0664246982 page 29
  144. ^ a b c Paul's Letter to the Romans by Colin G. Kruse (1 Jul 2012) ISBN 0802837433 pages 41-42
  145. ^ a b c The Blackwell Companion to The New Testament edited by David E. Aune 2010 ISBN 1405108258 page 424
  146. ^ a b c Worship in the Early Church by Ralph P. Martin 1975 ISBN 0802816134 pages 57-58
  147. ^ Jesus Remembered: Christianity in the Making, Volume 1 by James D. G. Dunn (29 Jul 2003) ISBN 0802839312 pages 142-143
  148. ^ Neufeld, The Earliest Christian Confessions (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1964) p. 47
    • Reginald H. Fuller, The Formation of the Resurrection Narratives (New York: Macmillan, 1971) p. 10
    • Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus – God and Man translated Lewis Wilkins and Duane Pribe (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1968) p. 90
    • Oscar Cullmann, The Earlychurch: Studies in Early Christian History and Theology, ed. A. J. B. Higgins (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1966) p. 64
    • Hans Conzelmann, 1 Corinthians, translated James W. Leitch (Philadelphia: Fortress 1969) p. 251
    • Bultmann, Theology of the New Testament vol. 1 pp. 45, 80–82, 293
    • R. E. Brown, The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus (New York: Paulist Press, 1973) pp. 81, 92
  149. ^ see Wolfhart Pannenberg, Jesus – God and Man translated Lewis Wilkins and Duane Pribe (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1968)p. 90; Oscar Cullmann, The Early church: Studies in Early Christian History and Theology, ed. A. J. B. Higgins (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1966) p. 66–66; R. E. Brown, The Virginal Conception and Bodily Resurrection of Jesus (New York: Paulist Press, 1973) pp. 81; Thomas Sheehan, First Coming: How the Kingdom of God Became Christianity (New York: Random House, 1986 pp. 110, 118; Ulrich Wilckens, Resurrection translated A. M. Stewart (Edinburgh: Saint Andrew, 1977) p. 2; Hans Grass, Ostergeschen und Osterberichte, Second Edition (Göttingen: Vandenhoeck und Ruprecht, 1962) p96; Grass favors the origin in Damascus.
  150. ^ Hans von Campenhausen, "The Events of Easter and the Empty Tomb," in Tradition and Life in the Church (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1968) p. 44
  151. ^ Archibald Hunter, Works and Words of Jesus (1973) p. 100
  152. ^ a b Creeds of the Churches, Third Edition by John H. Leith (1 Jan 1982) ISBN 0804205264 page 12
  153. ^ Jesus and the Gospels: An Introduction and Survey by Craig L. Blomberg 2009 ISBN 0-8054-4482-3 pages 441-442
  154. ^ The encyclopedia of Christianity, Volume 4 by Erwin Fahlbusch, 2005 ISBN 978-0-8028-2416-5 pages 52-56
  155. ^ The Bible Knowledge Background Commentary by Craig A. Evans 2003 ISBN 0-7814-3868-3 pages 465-477
  156. ^ New Testament Theology by Paul Haffner 2008 ISBN 88-902268-0-3-page 135
  157. ^ A Guide to the Gospels by W. Graham Scroggie 1995 ISBN 0-8254-3744-X page 128
  158. ^ a b The Gospel of John by Francis J. Moloney, Daniel J. Harrington 1998 ISBN 0-8146-5806-7-page 3
  159. ^ a b Encyclopedia of theology: a concise Sacramentum mundi by Karl Rahner 2004 ISBN 0-86012-006-6 pages 730-731
  160. ^ a b Interpreting Gospel Narratives: Scenes, People, and Theology by Timothy Wiarda 2010 ISBN 0-8054-4843-8 pages 75-78
  161. ^ Matthew by David L. Turner 2008 ISBN 0-8010-2684-9-page 613
  162. ^ Sanders, E. P. The historical figure of Jesus ISBN 0140144994 Penguin, 1993. p. 3
  163. ^ Christology: A Biblical, Historical, and Systematic Study of Jesus by Gerald O'Collins 2009 ISBN 0-19-955787-X pages 1-3
  164. ^ Eerdmans Commentary on the Bible edited by James D. G. Dunn (19 Nov 2003) ISBN 0802837115 pages 1064-1065
  165. ^
  166. ^ Harris, Stephen L., Understanding the Bible. Palo Alto: Mayfield. 1985. "The Gospels" p. 266-268
  167. ^ The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia: Q-Z by Geoffrey W. Bromiley (31 Jan 1995) ISBN 0802837840 pages 1-3
  168. ^ The New Testament: History, Literature, Religion by Gerd Theissen 2003 ISBN page 31
  169. ^ Three Views on the Origins of the Synoptic Gospels by Robert L. Thomas 2002 ISBN 0825438381 page 35
  170. ^ The New Testament: History, Literature, Religion by Gerd Theissen 2003 ISBN page x
  171. ^ Van Voorst, Robert E. (2000). Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence. Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.. ISBN 0-8028-4368-9-page 7
  172. ^ a b c Richard Bauckham Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Eerdmans, 2006), ISBN 0802831621 pp. 15–21.
  173. ^ a b The Early Christian Church: Volume 2, The Second Christian Century by Philip Carrington (11 Aug 2011) ISBN 0521157382 pages 22-23
  174. ^ The archeology of the New Testament by Jack Finegan (1 Jan 1981) ISBN 0709910061 pages 42-43
  175. ^ Interpreting the Gospel of John by Gary M. Burge (1 Sep 1998) ISBN 0801010217 pages 52-53
  176. ^ Eusebius: The Church History by Eusebius and Paul L. Maier (31 May 2007) ISBN 082543307X page 119
  177. ^ a b Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2006), pp. 53-54
  178. ^ Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses (Cambridge: Eerdmans, 2006), pp. 53l.
  179. ^ a b Van Voorst, Robert E (2000). Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence. Eerdmans Publishing. ISBN 0-8028-4368-9-page 215-217
  180. ^ a b c The Historical Jesus of the Gospels by Craig S. Keener 2012 ISBN 0802868886 pages 52-54
  181. ^ a b c Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium by Bart D. Ehrman 2001 ISBN 019512474X pages 72-78
  182. ^ The Book of Revelation by Robert H. Mounce 1997 ISBN 0802825370 page 11
  183. ^ The Symbolic Jesus by William Edward Arnal 2005 ISBN 1845530071 pages 60-70
  184. ^ a b c Van Voorst, Robert E (2000). Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence. Eerdmans Publishing. ISBN 0-8028-4368-9-page 183
  185. ^ a b c d Sanders, E. P. The historical figure of Jesus. Penguin, 1993.
  186. ^ a b c d The Myth about Jesus, Allvar Ellegard 1992


See also

Document Author Year of writing Claim Support references Rejection references
Gospel of Matthew Anonymous 80-90 Confirms [185] [186]
Gospel of Mark Anonymous 66-70 Confirms [185] [186]
Gospel of Luke Anonymous 80-100 Confirms [185] [186]
Gospel of John Anonymous 90-100 Confirms [185] [186]
Antiquities of the Jews Titus Flavius Josephus 93-94 Confirms
Annals Publius Cornelius Tacitus 116 Confirms

The following table lists sources, their authors, and year of writing. The 4th column tells us whether the document confirms or denies the existence of jesus. The 5th column lists references that support the claim by the document, while the 6th column lists references that reject the claim.

Summary of sources

There is overlap between the sayings of Jesus in the apocryphal texts and canonical Christian writings, and those not present in the canonical texts are called agrapha. There are at least 225 agrapha but most scholars who have studied them have drawn negative conclusions about the authenticity of most of them and see little value in using them for historical Jesus research.[184] Robert Van Voorst states that the vast majority of the agrapha are certainly inauthentic.[184] Scholars differ on the number of authentic agrapha, some estimating as low as seven as authentic, others as high as 18 among the more than 200, rendering them of little value altogether.[184] While research on apocryphal texts continues, the general scholarly opinion holds that they have little to offer to the study of the historicity of Jesus given that they are often of uncertain origin, and almost always later documents of lower value.[179]

As an example, Bart Ehrman states that gnostic writings of the Gospel of Thomas (part of the Nag Hammadi library) have very little value in historical Jesus research, because the author of that gospel placed no importance on the physical experiences of Jesus (e.g. his crucifixion) or the physical existence of believers, and was only interested in the secret teachings of Jesus rather than any physical events.[181] Similarly, the Apocryphon of John (also part of the Nag Hammadi library) has been useful in studying the prevailing attitudes in the second century, and questions of authorship regarding the Book of revelation, given that it refers to Revelation 1:19, but is mostly about the post ascension teachings of Jesus in a vision, not a narrative of his life.[182] Some scholars such as Edward Arnal contend that the Gospel of Thomas continues to remain useful for understanding how the teachings of Jesus were transmitted among early Christians, and sheds light on the development of early Christianity.[183]

A number of later Christian texts, usually dating to the second century or later, exist as New Testament apocrypha, among which the gnostic gospels have been of major recent interest among scholars.[179] The 1945 discovery of the Nag Hammadi library created a significant amount of scholarly interest and many modern scholars have since studied the gnostic gospels and written about them.[180] However, the trend among the 21st century scholars has been to accept that while the gnostic gospels may shed light on the progression of early Christian beliefs, they offer very little to contribute to the study of the historicity of Jesus, in that they are rather late writings, usually consisting of sayings (rather than narrative, similar to the hypothesised Q documents), their authenticity and authorship remain questionable, and various parts of them rely on components of the New Testament.[180][181] The focus of modern research into the historical Jesus has been away from gnostic writings and towards the comparison of Jewish, Greco-Roman and canonical Christian sources.[180][181]

Gnostic and apocryphal texts

By "our Savior" Quadratus means Jesus and the letter is most likely written before AD 124.[173] Bauckham states that by "our times" he may refer to his early life, rather than when he wrote (117–124), which would be a reference contemporary with Papias.[178] Bauckham states that the importance of the statement attributed to Quadratus is that he emphasizes the "eye witness" nature of the testimonies to interaction with Jesus.[177] Such "eye witness statements" abound in early Christian writings, particularly the pseudonymous Christian Apocrypha, Gospels and Letters, in order to give them credibility.

"The words of our Savior were always present, for they were true: those who were healed, those who rose from the dead, those who were not only seen in the act of being healed or raised, but were also always present, not merely when the Savior was living on earth, but also for a considerable time after his departure, so that some of them survived even to our own times."[177]

The letter of Quadratus (possibly the first Christian apologist) to emperor Hadrian (who reigned 117 – 138) is likely to have an early date and is reported by Eusebius in his Ecclesiastical History 4.3.2 to have stated:[176]

Richard Bauckham states that while Papias was collecting his information (c. 90), Aristion and the elder John (who were Jesus' disciples) were still alive and teaching in Asia minor, and Papias gathered information from people who had known them.[172] However, the exact identity of the "elder John" is wound up in the debate on the authorship of the Gospel of John, and scholars have differing opinions on that, e.g. Jack Finegan states that Eusebius may have misunderstood what Papias wrote, and the elder John may be a different person from the author of the fourth gospel, yet still a disciple of Jesus.[174] Gary Burge, on the other hand sees confusion on the part of Eusebius and holds the elder John to be different person from the apostle John.[175]

"…if by chance anyone who had been in attendance on the elders should come my way, I inquired about the words of the elders – that is, what according to the elders Andrew or Peter said, or Philip, or Thomas or James, or John or Matthew or any other of the Lord’s disciples, and whatever Aristion and the elder John, the Lord’s disciples, were saying."

The works of Papias have not survived, but Eusebius quotes him as saying:[172]

Two possible patristic sources that may refer to eye witness encounters with Jesus are the early references of Papias and Quadratus, reported by Eusebius of Caesarea in the 4th century.[172][173]

Early Church fathers

The gospels can be seen as having three separate lines: A literary line which looks at it from a textual perspective, secondly a historical line which observes how Christianity started as a renewal movement within Judaism and eventually separated from it, and finally a theological line which analyzes Christian teachings.[170] Within the historical perspective, the gospels are not simply used to establish the existence of Jesus as sources in their own right alone, but their content is compared and contrasted to non-Christian sources, and the historical context, to draw conclusions about the historicity of Jesus.[7][15][171]

Ever since the Augustinian hypothesis, scholars continue to debate the order in which the gospels were written, and how they may have influenced each other, and several hypothesis exist in that regard, e.g. the Markan priority hypothesis holds that the Gospel of Mark was written first c. 70 AD/CE.[164][165] In this approach, Matthew is placed at being sometime after this date and Luke is thought to have been written between 70 and 100 AD/CE.[166] However, according to the competing, and more popular, Q source hypothesis, the gospels were not independently written, but were derived from a common source called Q.[167][168] The two-source hypothesis then proposes that the authors of Matthew and Luke drew on the Gospel of Mark as well as on Q.[169]

Scholars have varying degrees of certainty about the historical reliability of the accounts in the gospels, and the only two events whose historicity is the subject of almost universal agreement among scholars are the baptism and crucifixion of Jesus.[3] Scholars such as E.P. Sanders and separately Craig A. Evans go further and assume that two other events in the gospels are historically certain, namely that Jesus called disciples, and caused a controversy at the Temple.[9]

The authors of the New Testament generally showed little interest in an absolute chronology of Jesus or in synchronizing the episodes of his life with the secular history of the age.[159] The gospels were primarily written as theological documents in the context of early Christianity with the chronological timelines as a secondary consideration.[160] One manifestation of the gospels being theological documents rather than historical chronicles is that they devote about one third of their text to just seven days, namely the last week of the life of Jesus in Jerusalem.[161] Although the gospels do not provide enough details to satisfy the demands of modern historians regarding exact dates, scholars have used them to reconstruct a number of portraits of Jesus.[159][160][162] However, as stated in John 21:25 the gospels do not claim to provide an exhaustive list of the events in the life of Jesus.[163]

The four canonical gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, are the main sources for the biography of Jesus' life, the teachings and actions attributed to him.[153][154][155] Three of these namely Matthew, Mark, and Luke, are known as the synoptic Gospels, from the Greek σύν (syn "together") and ὄψις (opsis "view"), given that they display a high degree of similarity in content, narrative arrangement, language and paragraph structure.[156][157] The presentation in the fourth canonical gospel, i.e. John, differs from these three in that it has more of a thematic nature rather than a narrative format.[158] Scholars generally agree that it is impossible to find any direct literary relationship between the synoptic gospels and the Gospel of John.[158]

P52, a papyrus fragment from a codex (c. 90–160), one of the earliest known New Testament manuscripts.


These creeds date to within a few years of Jesus' death, and developed within the Christian community in Jerusalem.[152] Although embedded within the texts of the New Testament, these creeds are a distinct source for Early Christianity.[145] This indicates that existence and death of Jesus was part of Christian belief a few years after his death and over a decade before the writing of the Pauline epistles.[152]

The Pauline letters thus contain Christian creed elements of pre-Pauline origin.[148] The antiquity of the creed has been located by many Biblical scholars to less than a decade after Jesus' death, originating from the Jerusalem apostolic community.[149] Concerning this creed, Campenhausen wrote, "This account meets all the demands of historical reliability that could possibly be made of such a text,"[150] whilst A. M. Hunter said, "The passage therefore preserves uniquely early and verifiable testimony. It meets every reasonable demand of historical reliability."[151]

Here Paul refers to others before him who preached the creed.[146] James Dunn states that 1 Corinthians 15:3 indicates that in the 30s Paul was taught about the death of Jesus a few years earlier.[147]

Whether then [it be] I or they, so we preach, and so ye believed.

One of the keys to identifying a pre-Pauline tradition is given in 1 Corinthians 15:11[146]

The Pauline letters sometimes refer to creeds, or confessions of faith, that predate their writings.[144][145][146] For instance 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 reads: "For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures."[144] Romans 1:3-4 refers to Romans 1:2 just before it which mentions an existing gospel, and in effect may be treating it as an earlier creed.[144][145]

Pre-Pauline creeds

While Wells no longer denies the existence of Jesus, he has responded to Dunn, stating that his arguments from silence not only apply to Paul but all early Christian authors, and that he still has a low opinion of early Christian texts, maintaining that for Paul Jesus may have existed a good number of decades before.[141]

James D. G. Dunn addressed Wells' statement and stated that he knew of no other scholar that shared that view, and most other scholars had other and more plausible explanations for the fact that Paul did not include a narrative of the life of Jesus in his letters, which were primarily written as religious documents rather than historical chronicles at a time when the life story of Jesus could have been well known within the early Church.[143] Dunn states that despite Wells' arguments, the theories of the non-existence of Jesus are a "thoroughly dead thesis".[127]

The existence of only these references to Jesus in the Pauline epistles has given rise to criticism of them by G. A. Wells, who is generally accepted as a leader of the movement to deny the historicity of Jesus.[141][142] When Wells was still denying the existence of Jesus, he criticized the Pauline epistles for not mentioning items such as John the Baptist or Judas or the trial of Jesus and used that argument to conclude that Jesus was not a historical figure.[141][142][143]

  • Burial: 1 Corinthians 15:4 and Romans 6:4 state that following his death Jesus was buried (but does not mention a tomb).[130] This reference is then used by Paul to build on the theology of resurrection, but reflects the common belief at the time that Jesus was buried after his death.[139][140]
  • Crucifixion: The Pauline letters include several references to the crucifixion of Jesus e.g. 1 Corinthians 11:23, 1 Corinthians 2:2 and Galatians 3:1 among others.[7][130] The death of Jesus forms a central element of the Pauline letters.[127] 1 Thessalonians 2:15 places the responsibility for the death of Jesus on some Jews.[7][130] Moeover the statement in 1 Thessalonians 2:14-16 about the Jews "who both killed the Lord Jesus" and "drove out us" indicates that the death of Jesus was within the same time frame as the persecution of Paul.[138]
  • Betrayal and rituals: That Jesus was betrayed and established some traditions such as the Eucharist are derived from 1 Corinthians 11:23-25 which states: "The Lord Jesus in the night in which he was betrayed took bread; and when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, This is my body, which is for you: this do in remembrance of me.".[7][130]
  • Disciples and brothers: 1 Corinthians 15:5 states that Paul knew that Jesus had 12 disciples, and considers Peter as one of them.[7][130][132] 1 Corinthians 1:12 further indicates that Peter was known in Corinth before the writing of 1 Corinthians, for it assumes that they were familiar with Cephas/Peter.[133][134] The statement in 1 Corinthians 15:5 indicates that "the twelve" as a reference to the twelve apostles was a generally known notion within the early Christian Church in Corinth and required no further explanation from Paul.[135] Galatians 1:18 further states that Paul personally knew Peter and stayed with him in Jerusalem for fifteen days, about three years after his conversion.[136] It also implies that Peter was already known to the Galatians and required no introduction.[137] 1 Corinthians 9:5 and Galatians 1:19 state that Jesus had brothers, one being called James, whom Paul met or "saw."[7][7][117][130] James was claimed by early Christian writers as Origen and Eusebius to have been the leader of the followers of Jesus, after his brother's death, and to have been the first bishop, or bishop of bishops in Jerusalem.
  • Existence of Jesus: That in Paul's view Jesus existed and was a Jew is based on Galatians 4:4 which states that he was "born of a woman" and Romans 1:3 that he was "born under the law".[7][116][130] Some scholars such as Paul Barnett hold that this indicates that Paul had some familiarity with the circumstances of the birth of Jesus, but that is not shared among scholars in general.[126][131] However, the statement does indicate that Paul had some knowledge of and interest in Jesus' life before his crucifixion.[126]
Early 3rd century copy of Epistle to the Romans from Papyrus 27

The seven Pauline epistles that are widely regarded as authentic include the following information that along with other historical elements are used to study the historicity of Jesus:[7][116]

Specific references

The references by Paul to Jesus do not in themselves prove the existence of Jesus, but they do establish that the existence of Jesus was the accepted norm within the early Christians (including the Christian community in Jerusalem, given the references to collections there) twenty to thirty years after the death of Jesus, at a time when those who could have been acquainted with him could still be alive.[128][129]

The Pauline letters were not intended to provide a narrative of the life of Jesus, but were written as expositions of Christian teachings.[122][126] In Paul's view, the earthly life of Jesus was of a lower importance than the theology of his death and resurrection,a theme that permeates Pauline writings.[127] However, the Pauline letters clearly indicate that for Paul Jesus was a real person (born of a woman as in Gal 4.4) who had disciples (1 Corinthians 15.5), who was crucified (as in 1 Corinthians 2.2 and Galatians 3.1) and who resurrected from the dead (1 Corinthians 15.20, Romans 1.4 and 6.5, Philippians 3:10-11).[7][116][122][127] And the letters reflect the general concept within the early Gentillic Christian Church that Jesus existed, was crucified and was raised from the dead.[7][122]

Given that the Pauline epistles are generally dated to AD 50 to AD 60, they are the earliest surviving Christian texts that include information about Jesus.[122] These letters were written approximately twenty to thirty years after the generally accepted time period for the death of Jesus, around AD 30-36.[122] The letters were written during a time when Paul recorded encounters with the disciples of Jesus, e.g. Galatians 1:18 states that several years after his conversion Paul went to Jerusalem and stayed with Apostle Peter for fifteen days.[122] During this time, Paul disputed the nature of Jesus' message with Jesus's brother James, concerning the importance of adhering to kosher food restrictions and circumcision, important features of determining Jewish identity.[124][125]

Of the thirteen letters that bear Paul's name, seven are considered authentic by almost all scholars, and the others are generally considered pseudepigraphic.[119][120][121][122] The 7 undisputed letters (and their approximate dates) are: 1 Thessalonians (c. 51 AD), Philippians (c. 52-54 AD), Philemon (c. 52-54 AD), 1 Corinthians (c. 53-54 AD), Galatians (c. 55 AD), 2 Corinthians (c. 55-56 AD) and Romans (c. 55-58 AD).[119][121][122] The authenticity of these letters is accepted by almost all scholars, and they have been referenced and interpreted by early authors such as Origen and Eusebius.[120][123]

In the context of Christian sources, even if all other texts are ignored, the Pauline epistles can provide some information regarding Jesus.[7][116] This information does not include a narrative of the life of Jesus, and refers to his existence as a person, but adds few specific items apart from his death by crucifixion.[117] This information comes from those letters of Paul whose authenticity is not disputed.[116] Paul was not a companion of Jesus and claims his information comes from the holy spirit acquired after Jesus' death.[118]

A page from 2 Corinthians in Papyrus 46, c. AD 200


Pauline epistles

Bart Ehrman, Robert Eisenman and others critical of traditional Christian views, in assessing the problems involved in conducting historical Jesus research, say the Gospels are full of discrepancies, were written decades after Jesus' death, by authors who had not witnessed any events in Jesus' life. They go on to say the Gospels were authored not by eyewitnesses who were contemporary with the events that they narrate but rather by people who did not know Jesus, see anything he did, or hear anything he taught, and that the authors did not even share a language with Jesus. The accounts they produced are not disinterested; they are narratives produced by Christians who actually believed in Jesus, and were not immune from slanting the stories in light of their biases. Ehrman points out that the texts are widely inconsistent, full of discrepancies and contradictions in both details and larger portraits of who Jesus was.[114][115]

Various books, memoirs and stories were written about Jesus by the early Christians. The most famous are the gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. All but one of these are believed to have been written within 50–70 years of the death of Jesus, with the Gospel of Mark believed to be the earliest, and the last the Gospel of John.[110][111] Blainey writes that the oldest surviving record written by an early Christian is a short letter by St Paul: the First Epistle to the Thessalonians, which appeared about 25 years after the death of Jesus.[112] This letter, while important in describing issues for the development of Gentilic Christianity, contains little of significance for understanding the life of the historic Jesus.[113]

Christian sources


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