Posts Tagged ‘history’

Historicity of Jesus: Lucian of Samasota

February 5th, 2016

By Kyle Larson

Lucian the SatiristIn the last of our non Jewish writers who mention Jesus, we will look at Lucian of Samasota. Lucian was born in 125 AD in Samosota, a region which today lies in modern day southern Turkey. As a young man, Lucian studied law and Greek literature. As an adult, he became a well know rhetorician, someone who argues cases in the Roman court system. He was also a widely known and popular satirist, speaker, and writer of his day. His most popular writings include:

  1. A True Story – A take off on the stories found in the Odyssey written by the Greek author Homer several centuries earlier.
  2. The Passing of Peregrinas – A pagan’s contact with the earliest Christians.
  3. The Symposium – A satirical look at one of Plato’s writings

Lucian, in his writings on the Christians, views them with disdain. There are probably a few reasons for this. First, Lucian had a habit of satire; It’s not a surprise that he approached Christianity that way. Second, Christianity was still so new that, apparently, Lucian didn’t take the time to investigate Christianity for himself. Despite this, Lucian gives one of the earliest description of Jesus and the Christians by a non Christian:

“The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day — the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account … You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws. All this they take quite on faith, with the result that they despise all worldly goods alike, regarding them merely as common property.”

It is human nature that when a person does not understand something and has no further interest in checking it out, it is easier to make fun of the thing than to try and discredit it, especially if the person has little or no knowledge about it. This is what Lucian is doing here. He mocks Jesus and the early Christians. Yet for all the mocking that he does, Lucian does not deny the existence of the Christians “lawgiver”, Jesus. He also gives us evidence that early Christians worshiped Jesus as a divinity. So this is again, very early testimony that confirms the existence of Jesus by a non Christian writer

Next week, we will begin looking at Jewish authors who affirm the existence of Jesus as a historical figure.

Historicity of Jesus: Pliny the Younger

January 25th, 2016

by Kyle Larson

Pliny the YoungerPliny the Younger was a well educated Roman lawyer who prosecuted and defended Provincial governors throughout the late first century and early second century Roman Empire. In a series of letters written to Emperor Trajan in the early second century, Pliny the Younger described how he would identify and punish those who refused to offer sacrifices to Emperor Trajan. In particular, these letters included his dealings with Christians.

Pliny the Younger born in Italy around 61 AD. To put that in perspective, Paul and Peter were executed by Nero in 64 AD. Pliny’s father died when he was young, and he was raised by his step-father. His step-father was an imperial official well known for putting down a revolt against the Emperor Nero in 68 AD.  Pliny the Younger was also very close to his uncle, Pliny the Elder, who was a close friend to Emperor Vespasian and notable scholar of the first century.

While still young, both Plinys were witness to the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. Both lived opposite the town of Pompeii when it erupted. Pliny the Younger vividly describes the horror that the people of Pompeii felt as a result. His uncle, Pliny the elder, died trying to rescue people caught in the volcanic eruption. As you can imagine, this was very difficult for Pliny the Younger to deal with.

Despite this, Pliny the Younger received an excellent Roman education which included studying rhetoric under Quintilian, the most famous Roman rhetorician of his day and a friend of the Emperor. After completing his education, Pliny entered the imperial service of the Roman Empire. In 110 AD, he became the Roman Governor of Bithynia, the area that covers modern day Turkey. As Governor, he had to deal with a small religious group known as Christians. There was no empire wide persecution, so Pliny was not sure how to deal with the Christians. He decided to write to the Emperor Trajan and share with him what his current policy was in dealing with the Christians.

Emperor TrajanEmperor Trajan stated that merely being a Christian was crime enough for judicial action. In response, Pliny explained his method of interrogation and the punishments awarded. First, he would give the accused three attempts to either confirm or deny the charge that they were Christians. If it was made clear to him that the accused were Christians, Pliny would then give them the opportunity to deny Jesus and offer burnt sacrifices to the Roman Emperor. If the Christians persistently and stubbornly refused to sacrifice to the Emperor, Pliny would pass judgement. Roman citizens would be sent to Rome for trial. Those not fortunate enough to be citizens were executed.

The Emperor Trajan responded to Pliny and said he had no problem with this procedure. Because the Christians were still a small group, the Emperor wrote that no special effort should be made to actively hunt down the Christians. No anonymous accusations should be accepted. Only accusations by officials and interrogations were sufficient. However, once a person was identified as a Christian, Pliny should then follow the procedure that he outlined in his original letter to the Emperor Trajan.

Pliny, in another place, talks about the high ethical and moral standards that the early Christians received from their teacher Jesus and which they sought to put into practice. He also mentions that Christians sang worship songs to Jesus as “a god”. Both of these confirm the traditional view of what early Christians believed.

Because of his position and connections, we can confidently say that Pliny the Younger was in a good place to give accurate information on the early Christians he encountered. We can believe his descriptions of their moral behavior and how it had been shaped by the ethical teachings of the Jewish teacher named Jesus. So Pliny the Younger offers testimony that a Jewish teacher named Jesus existed, was a great moral teacher, and was worshiped as God at the end of the first century by a group called Christians.

Historicity of Jesus: Suetonius

January 18th, 2016

by Kyle Larson

Jesus was real. He existed in a time and lived in a place. History has provided for us numerous sources for his life, his death, and the effect he had on the ancient world. This week, we are going to take a brief look at the Roman scholar and historian Suetonius. He left a short, but telling, account of a strange people causing an uproar in Rome.

SuetoniusSuetonius was a Roman scholar who wrote a notable history of the Roman emperors around the end of the first century AD. He was born in north Africa (modern Algeria) sometime between 67-72 AD. Raised in an upper class family, Suetonius received an excellent classical education by Roman standards, including time spent studying Greek literature and art. He also learned the political and economic aspects of the first century Roman Empire.

Like Tacitus, Suetonius studied Roman Law. He was a close friend of Pliny the Younger, the Roman Governor of what is modern day Turkey. He also had access to vast amounts of Roman historical and archival records once he was appointed to serve as the Director of the Imperial Library as well as other related posts.

His historical writings are many. He wrote on many aspects of Greco-Roman culture. This included such topics as the Greek games, physical disabilities, clothing, Roman festivals and customs. With all these credentials behind him, as we did with Tacitus, we can confidently assert that he was well connected, had access to Roman records, and thus could speak confidently on Jesus and the early Christians.

Lives of the Twelve CaesarsHis major historical work was entitled Lives of the Twelve Caesars. In it, Suetonius chronicles the major Roman Emperors from Julius Caesar to Domitian. When he gets to the reign of the Emperor Claudius, he makes a brief mention of Jesus and the early Christians:

“Because the Jews at Rome caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from the city.”

Bart Ehrman is uncertain if “Chrestus” refers to Jesus or not. Other historians point out that the name “Chrestus” is the same Latin Spelling that Tacitus uses when referring to Jesus.

And we know, Tacitus was an accurate Roman historian. This passage explains that the Jewish population in Rome caused problems for Roman officials because of the growing number of Christians in Rome. As a result, the Emperor Claudius expelled the Jews from Rome. Even Bart Ehrman admits that this historical incident in Suetonius is confirmed by Luke in Acts 18:2.

Both Tacitus and Suetonius confirm that the Christians in Rome followed a Jewish teacher named Jesus who lived in Judea, taught the people, and was ultimately killed under Governor Pontius Pilate of Judea while Tiberius was the Roman Emperor. It is possible that Pilate filed a formal report in Rome that both Tacitus and Suetonius may have had access to.

Now that we have looked at two of the top Gentile writers who mention Jesus, next week, we will look at what the first century Jewish historian Josephus had to say about Jesus.

Hijacking The Historical Jesus: Opening

August 30th, 2012

On September 11th, 2001, Islamic extremists hijacked American commercial airplanes and flew them into the twin towers and the Pentagon. Another hijacked plane crashed in a field in Pennsylvania. Many commentators claimed that these terrorists had “hijacked” the Islamic faith. In reality, these Muslim terrorists seemed to take the violent commands of the Koran very seriously. They had not hijacked the Islamic faith; instead, they passionately obeyed the unethical commands uttered by Muhammad in the Koran.

However, the past few generations have witnessed a real hijacking: the hijacking of the historical Jesus. The historically reliable New Testament portrait of Jesus has been replaced with varieties of a politically-correct Jesus, New Age Christs, and other false Christs. In most cases, these false Christs were created in the image of the people who promote them.

Was Jesus married to Mary Magdalene and did He appoint her to lead His church? Or, was Jesus merely a man who never claimed to be God? Maybe Jesus was merely a legend or myth—He never really existed? In short, is traditional, biblical Christianity a perversion of first century Christianity? Today the traditional view of Jesus has been replaced by a myriad of false conceptions of Christ that look nothing like the true Jesus of the Bible. The traditional view of Jesus has been hijacked, and the Christian church needs to respond. We need to defend the true Jesus of history—the true Jesus of the Bible.

Today, two of the leading false pictures of Jesus in the Western world are being proclaimed by Dan Brown, author of the best-selling novel The DaVinci Code, and by the radical left-wing scholars who comprise the Jesus Seminar—a think tank dedicated to presenting an alternative, politically correct Jesus to the world. The next two chapters will examine their work and refute the false Jesuses they promote. Other false portraits of Jesus will be refuted as well.

In this chapter, we will examine ancient Christological heresies (i.e., ancient false views of Jesus), the liberal “Christian” view of Jesus, the cultic views of Jesus, and the mistaken views of Jesus found in the world religions as well as in postmodern circles. We will then briefly discuss the true biblical view of Jesus. In later chapters, after refuting the work of the DaVinci Code, the Jesus Seminar, and other recent attacks on the historical Jesus, we will build a strong case that the true Jesus of the Bible is identical with the real Jesus of history.

The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus is fully God and fully man. He always existed as God the second Person of the Trinity, but at a point in time He added a human nature. Throughout the history of the church there have been those who have rejected this biblical view of Jesus and have instead promoted false Christs who cannot save.

An excerpt from “The True Jesus of the Bible”, chapter one in the Institute’s latest book: Hijacking the Historical Jesus.

Is Jesus a Legend?

August 11th, 2010

That’s right. Back up from the grave in a miraculous resurrection comes the Jesus-was-a-myth argument. It has reemerged from the depths of obscurity to plague the world of both Christians and true biblical researchers alike. Dr. Fernandes looks this issue square in the eye and tackles the people, places and events used in the failed attempts to discredit Jesus.