Is Jesus Mentioned Outside of the Bible? And Does it Matter?

It is very common to be asked by skeptics to provide evidence for the veracity and trustworthiness of the New Testament accounts by appealing to sources that are external to the Bible itself. This typically reflects a series of fundamental misunderstandings on the part of the skeptic, regarding both the New Testament and epistemology. First, it must be clarified that the New Testament does not constitute a single book, but rather a collection of twenty-seven books composed by as many as nine separate authors, which later came to be compiled into a single volume that we call the New Testament. It is thus possible in principle to adduce multiple attestation for an event even while limiting the scope of one’s analysis to the New Testament itself (though, of course, care must be taken here since multiple authors reporting the same information does not necessarily imply independent access to information [1]). Second, it is sometimes thought that, since the reliability of the New Testament is the item under question, to appeal to the New Testament itself while building the case is to beg the question in favor of what one is seeking to prove. However, such a concern is misguided. To see the folly of this thinking, consider a courtroom defendant who takes the witness stand and is cross-examined by the prosecuting attorney. Clearly it makes no sense to argue that the defendant’s own testimony is not admissible because it is the credibility of their own alibi that is under scrutiny. Marks of internal consistency, dovetailing with other witnesses in regards to incidental details, provision of unnecessary details, knowledge under cross-examination of information that is surprising on the falsehood of the testimony, as well as other characteristics, can be indicative of the credibility of the defendant’s alibi. Third, it is popular to allege that the New Testament cannot be admitted as evidence because its authors are biased in favor of the truth of the events that they report. However, this is not in itself a reason to discount witness testimony. Consider a survivor of the holocaust who gives her testimony of having survived a Nazi concentration camp. Clearly, in such a case, the witness is not dispassionate about the events he or she is reporting. But should that have a significant impact on our trust in the survivor’s testimony? Few would argue that it would. Thus, a witness’ testimony can still be admitted as evidence even if the witness has a relevant bias. In some cases, bias can even count in favor of a witness’ testimony, such as in cases where information is provided that the witness would have motivation not to disclose (for example, in the case of the holocaust survivor, if they were to note some act of kindness of one of the camp guards). This of course relates to the criterion of embarrassment, often used in gospel studies, where details that are counter-productive to the evangelist’s cause is taken as evidence supporting veracity precisely because of their bias.

In view of the considerations given above, it is therefore in principle unnecessary to adduce evidence from outside of the Biblical text in order to build a robust case for the substantial trustworthiness of the New Testament accounts. Nonetheless, it is possible for us to meet the skeptic’s challenge on its own terms, since there is in fact a great deal of extrabiblical testimony that confirms the truth of those accounts and, taken cumulatively, the substantial reliability of the gospels and Acts. This will be the subject of a series of forthcoming articles. However, before reviewing the extrabiblical data that confirms the reliability of the gospel accounts, it is necessary for me to say something about common arguments that I hear from apologists that, in my assessment, are too weak to warrant their use. This will be the subject of this essay.

Some may wonder why I have devoted so much time to responding to arguments, propounded by other Christians, that I believe to be flawed or over-stated, when my time would be better spent making a positive case for Christianity. This criticism would be well taken if appraisal of other Christians were my primary output (a cursory perusal of my website will reveal that this is certainly not the case). However, one of my goals as a Christian apologist is to encourage discernment of arguments that confirm our own views, as well as to help people become better informed about the evidence for and against Christianity, to enable them to make educated decisions about the veracity of the gospel. My considered opinion is that Christianity is true and well supported by evidence. However, one will do well to acknowledge that the mere fact that an argument lends support to a position we take to be true does not entail that the argument is sound. To my great regret, I have observed many cases of poor and unfounded arguments being copied uncritically from one apologist to another with little or no discussion of criticisms of those arguments that are mounted by skeptical nonbelievers (which in many cases are quite valid). This is not a uniquely Christian problem, of course (there are plenty of examples of this in atheist literature as well), but if we are to exercise intellectual integrity then we must subject the arguments on our own side to the same level of scrutiny to which we would subject arguments on the other side of the divide.

The Testimonium Flavianum

Perhaps the most common text that people have in mind when they talk about extrabiblical support for the gospel accounts is a passage known as the Testimonium Flavianum, a single paragraph composed by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus, in volume eighteen of his Antiquities of the Jews. The passage reads (Antiquities 18.63-64) [2],

“Now, there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, [if it be lawful to call him a man], for he was a doer of wonderful works—a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. [He was the Christ]; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, [for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him]; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.” 


Unfortunately, there are clear marks in this text that strongly suggest that elements of it are the product of interpolation by an over-zealous Christian scribe. For example, it is extremely unlikely that a Jew such as Josephus would have asserted that Jesus was the Messiah. The phrase “if it be lawful to call him a man” is also an unlikely statement by a Jew, since it implies that Jesus was more than a man. The statements affirming the resurrection and post-mortem appearances to the disciples and Jesus’ fulfilment of what was foretold by the divine prophets is also something that is very unlikely to have been composed by Josephus. Paul Maier has argued that the sections of the Testimonium that are bracketed in the text above – which are the only sections that explicitly present Jesus in a Christian light – represent the interpolations by a Christian scribe. The flow of the passage is not disrupted by the removal of those sections.

Another suspicious feature of the text is that it uses the Greek word ποιητής for “doer” (as part of the phrase, “doer of wonderful works”), whereas in other parts of his writing, Josephus uses this word to mean “poet”. [3] On the other hand, the use of ποιητής in the sense of “doer” is more consistent with the language of the fourth century church historian Eusebius. It is also suspicious that the second century church father Origen, though he explicitly names Josephus no fewer than eleven times, never once mentions the Testimonium. Origen even explicitly states, in contradiction to the Testimonium as it currently stands, that Josephus “did not accept Jesus as Christ” (Comm. Matt. 10.17). It may also be observed that no church father prior to Eusebius, in the fourth century, quotes the Testimonium. In response to the lack of use of the Testimonium in early Christian apologetics, it may be noted, as Bart Ehrman comments [4],

“The pared-down version of Josephus – the one that others have thought was original, without the Christian additions – contains very little that could have been used by the early Christian writers to defend Jesus and his followers from attacks by pagan intellectuals. It is a very neutral statement. The fact that Jesus is said to have been wise or to have done great deeds would not go far in the repertoire of the Christian apologists. We have no way of knowing if they were familiar with this passage from Josephus, but if they were, I don’t see that it would have seemed so striking to them that they would have used it to defend Jesus against pagan accusations. These accusations typically included such claims as that he was born out of wedlock to a peasant Jewish woman who was seduced by a Roman soldier; that he was an unskilled carpenter; that he could not control his temper; and that he died a shameful death on the cross. Nothing in the possibly original statement of Josephus seems relevant to any of these charges.” 


However, a significant weakness of this rejoinder is that there are places in Origen’s writing where it would have been useful to quote the Testimonium. For instance, in Contra Celsus 1.47, Origen sets about showing, in response to a series of challenges offered by Celsus in 1.37-41, that the historicity of Jesus is attested to by people who were his contemporaries or near-contemporaries (c.f. Cont. Cels 1.42 where this task is set forth). However, Origen only cites texts from Josephus that concern John the Baptist (which actually occur in the same volume as the Testimonium) as well as the Lord’s brother James. Oddly, no allusion is made to the Testimonium. One should not repose too much confidence in this line of argument alone, being as it is an argument from silence. However, Origen’s surprising silence about the Testimonium does constitute some evidence that the Testimonium was not present in Origen’s copy of Josephus, and thus it may be marshalled as part of a cumulative case for its being a total interpolation.

A further argument that is sometimes advanced in favor of viewing the entire Testimonium as spurious is that the text interrupts the literary flow and, if one were to remove the Testimonium entirely from its larger context, the paragraphs immediately preceding and following it would flow seamlessly. [5] However, it is not unusual for writers of antiquity to digress from their primary points, and indeed other such digressions can be identified in the vicinity of the Testimonium. Therefore, this is a weak argument in support of the ‘total forgery’ view.

The majority of contemporary scholars argue that the Testimonium is partly interpolated and partly authentic. Though I think the case for Jesus’ historicity can be successfully made on other grounds, my own view is that the evidence bearing on the Testimonium is inconclusive, and it may well be that the Testimonium is in fact a total forgery, as a minority of scholars have suggested. [6] There is evidence that points in both directions. If I were to be asked which direction I am currently inclined to think is most probably the case, I would probably side, on balance of probabilities, with those who believe the text to be a total forgery, placing me in a minority among scholars who have remarked upon this subject (though this is a very tentative conclusion about which I am not at all certain). For this reason (as well as another, which I will get to), I do not advise apologists to use the Testimonium as part of their argument for Jesus’ historicity, much less the reliability of the gospel history. 

In support of partial-authenticity, it is sometimes noted that Origen complains on two occasions that Josephus did not recognize Jesus as the Christ, which is taken to suggest that Origen had seen the Testimonium in a more primitive form. [7] In one of these passages, Origen writes (Comm. Matt. 10.17) [8],

“And to so great a reputation among the people for righteousness did this James rise, that Flavius Josephus, who wrote the ‘Antiquities of the Jews’ in twenty books, when wishing to exhibit the cause why the people suffered so great misfortunes that even the temple was razed to the ground, said, that these things happened to them in accordance with the wrath of God in consequence of the things which they had dared to do against James the brother of Jesus who is called Christ. And the wonderful thing is, that, though he did not accept Jesus as Christ, he yet gave testimony that the righteousness of James was so great; and he says that the people thought that they had suffered these things because of James.” 


In a different volume, Origen comments along similar lines (Cont. Cels. 1.47) [9],

“For in the 18th book of his Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus bears witness to John as having been a Baptist, and as promising purification to those who underwent the rite. Now this writer, although not believing in Jesus as the Christ, in seeking after the cause of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, whereas he ought to have said that the conspiracy against Jesus was the cause of these calamities befalling the people, since they put to death Christ, who was a prophet, says nevertheless—being, although against his will, not far from the truth—that these disasters happened to the Jews as a punishment for the death of James the Just, who was a brother of Jesus (called Christ),—the Jews having put him to death, although he was a man most distinguished for his justice.” 


It is noteworthy that Origen in both of these texts alludes to a statement that is not in fact found in any of Josephus’ work. There is nothing in Josephus, whether in Antiquities or anywhere else, that says that “these disasters happened to the Jews as a punishment for the death of James the Just, who was the brother of Jesus.” Interestingly, the church historian Eusebius of Caesarea also refers to this text, asserting that “Josephus, at least, has not hesitated to testify this in his writings, where he says, ‘These things happened to the Jews to avenge James the Just, who was a brother of Jesus, that is called the Christ. For the Jews slew him, although he was a most just man.’” (Hist. eccl. 2.23.20). [10] We may conclude from this that either Eusebius drew this quotation from Origen, rather than from Josephus’ own work, or Eusebius had access to a manuscript of Josephus which, like that possessed by Origen, contained this text (even though it is not present in any extant manuscripts). Of those options, I consider it more likely that Eusebius drew upon Origen, because Eusebius in this text fails to cite which volume he is referring to, which is his usual practice when citing Josephus. Since the work of Josephus was largely preserved by Christian scribes, it seems difficult to envision such a statement having been removed by a scribe and thereby becoming the dominant textual reading. On the other hand, it is much easier to envision a Christian scribe willfully interpolating this text into Josephus’ work. Therefore, on balance of probabilities, it is reasonable to believe that the text quoted by Origen was not penned by Josephus. This already damages the credibility of Origen in his representation of what Josephus has to say concerning Jesus, since the manuscript he is reading from contains elements that almost certainly do not originate with Josephus’ own words.

Furthermore, in my view, the statements by Origen about Josephus’ rejection of Jesus as the Christ constitute only extremely weak evidence for the ‘partial authenticity’ view of the Testimonium. Josephus was well known to be a religious Jew, and there is no hint in his extant writings (or for that matter any other ancient sources) that he ever embraced Christianity. One may just as easily have stated that Philo of Alexandria did not accept Jesus as the Christ, though he does not give an explicit statement to this effect. It thus would not have been a difficult inference that Josephus was not a Christian, and it is therefore not necessary to posit that Origen had seen a more primitive form of the Testimonium.

Another argument for the partial authenticity of the Testimonium is that a tenth century Arabic historian by the name of Agapius quoted a version of the Testimonium that differs from the Greek text and also makes much more reserved statements concerning Jesus. Here is the text [11]:

“For he says in the treatises that he has written in 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 their loyalty to him. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive. Accordingly they believed that he was the Messiah, concerning whom the Prophets have recounted wonders.’” 


This text lacks the most obvious Christian elements of the Testimonium and thus it has been suggested that Agapius may be quoting from an older manuscript that pre-dates the scribal interpolation. However, there is good reason to doubt this conclusion since it has been convincingly argued by Alice Whealey that this text was in fact copied from a Syriac quotation of a manuscript of Eusebius rather than of Josephus. [12] Her research documents compelling reason to believe that the text translated into Arabic by Agapius was derived from the Syriac Chronicle of Theophilus, composed in the eighth century. Unfortunately, this work is no longer extant, but this same text was also transcribed by Michael the Syrian in the twelfth century, in his own Syriac Chronicle. From Michael the Syrian, we can determine that the text of Theophilus was substantially the same as the Greek text of Eusebius, who quotes the Testimonium (in fact the first person in history to do so) (Hist. eccl. 1.11.7–8). It would seem, then, that the Testimonium was modified during transmission to make it sound more plausibly Jewish rather than Christian. In my view, therefore, Agapius’ quotation of the Testimonium should be viewed with suspicion.

There are, however, legitimate evidences that may be drawn upon in support of the contention that the Testimonium is partially authentic. For example, Henry St. John Thackeray years ago noted that, “The evidence of language, which, on the one hand, bears marks of the author’s style, and on the other is not such as a Christian would have used, appears to me decisive.” [13] More recently, Paul Maier has conducted a study that arrived at the same conclusion. [14] Meier notes that [15],

“…the vocabulary and grammar of the passage (after the clearly Christian material is removed) cohere well with Josephus’ style and language; the same cannot be said when the text’s vocabulary and grammar are compared with that of the NT. Indeed, many key words and phrases in the Testimonium are either absent from the NT or are used there in an entirely different sense; in contrast, almost every word in the core of the Testimonium is found elsewhere in Josephus—in fact, most of the vocabulary turns out to be characteristic of Josephus.” 


Meier also points out that the Testimonium does not overstate the role of the Jewish leaders in Jesus’ death. [16] Given the antipathy that was felt by many early Christians towards the Jewish people, a Christian interpolator might have been expected to have portrayed the Jewish religious leaders as the villains. In agreement with this assessment, Craig Evans notes that “The Testimonium reads the way we should expect it to, if it were authored by a Jew before the emergence of Jewish-Christian animosities.” [17] This, however, again is an argument from silence and one should not repose too much weight in this argument alone.

Another consideration that suggests that the Testimonium is partially authentic is that, supposing a scribe desired to insert into Josephus’ text a testimony concerning Jesus, one might have expected him to do so in a more elaborate and explicit way. Bart Ehrman comments that [18],

“Those who wrote apocryphal stories about Jesus are flamboyant both in what they relate (recounting lots of Jesus’s miracles, for example) and in how they say it (stressing his divine nature, not simply that he was the messiah). The Testimonium is so restrained, with only a couple of fairly reserved sentences here and there, that it does not read like a Christian apocryphal account of Jesus written for the occasion. It reads much more like what you get elsewhere throughout the manuscript tradition of ancient writings: a touch-up job that a scribe could easily do.” 

This argument, however, could be made in support of either conclusion. One may argue on the contrary that the Testimonium is in fact improbably brief compared to his discussion of other religious controversies, and that this suggests that it was not composed by Josephus. For example, in the section immediately following the Testimonium, Josephus discusses another religious controversy, much less significant, elaborating on it for close to 800 words in Greek, in contrast to the less than one hundred words he spends on Jesus and the Christian movement (Antiquities 18.65-80).

Often thought to be the strongest support for the ‘partial authenticity’ view is the incidental allusion to Jesus in volume twenty of Antiquities. This passage is primarily concerned with the martyrdom of Jesus’ brother, James, by stoning, and reads as follows (Antiquities 20.9.1) [19]:

“Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrin 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; but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king [Agrippa], desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified; nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a sanhedrin without his consent;— whereupon Albinus complied with what they said, and wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest.” 


Craig Evans notes concerning this text that “There are no compelling reasons for rejecting this passage as inauthentic. There is nothing Christian, or positive, in the reference to James and Jesus. The whole point seems to be to explain why Ananus was deposed as High Priest. Furthermore, the designation, ‘brother of Jesus,’ contrasts with Christian practice of referring to James as the ‘brother of the Lord’ (cf. Gal 1:19; Eusebius, Hist. Eccl. 2.23.4).” [20] Evans concludes, “It is not surprising, therefore, that, in the words of Louis Feldman, ‘few have doubted the genuineness of this passage on James.’” [21] If this conclusion holds, what are the implications of this second allusion to Jesus? The reference to James, “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ,” implies a prior allusion to Jesus and therefore supports the partial-authenticity of the Testimonium. As Paul Meier explains [22], 

“Significantly, in Ant. 20.9.1 Josephus thinks that, to explain who James is, it is sufficient to relate him to “Jesus-who-is-called-Messiah.” Josephus does not feel that he must stop to explain who this Jesus is; he is presumed to be the known fixed point that helps locate James on the map. None of this would make any sense to Josephus’ audience, which is basically Gentile, unless Josephus had previously introduced Jesus and explained something about him.” 


Though it is certainly true that the vast majority of textual critics believe this second reference to Jesus to be authentic, there are nonetheless scholarly dissenters from this opinion that I believe express valid arguments to the contrary. For example, Richard Carrier argues that the phrase “who was called Christ” is an unintentional interpolation (which entered the manuscripts of Josephus’ work in the late third century) and that the phrase was not original to Josephus. [23] This represents a more nuanced perspective, since most scholars who write in support of the authenticity of this text (e.g. Evans, quoted above) only interact with the much less plausible contention that the entire section is interpolated and that it was intentional rather than accidental.

Carrier asserts that this text is, like the Testimonium, never quoted by Origen. He further argues that Origen “can be shown to have confused a story written by the Christian hagiographer Hegesippus…as being in Josephus. At that time, the original text of Josephus probably read either ‘the brother of Jesus, the name for whom was James, and some others’ or ‘the brother of Jesus the son of Damneus, the name for whom was James, and some others’, either way only later accidentally incorporating a Christian marginal or interlinear note…thereby eclipsing the original meaning of the passage…” [24] It is noted that Josephus, in this section, mentions that, following Ananus having been stripped of the high priesthood by king Agrippa (though he only occupied that office for three months), he was replaced by an individual called Jesus, the son of Damneus (Antiquities 20.203). It is thus argued that the Jesus in view in this text was in fact not our Jesus of Nazareth but instead Jesus the son of Damneus, who also happened to have a brother called James.

Carrier is certainly correct that Origen does not refer to the text in Josephus concerning James. As I noted earlier in this essay, though Origen states that Josephus refers to James the brother of Jesus, the statement he attributes to Josephus is nowhere to be found in Josephus’ work. Carrier conjectures, “Could Origen have mistakenly opened and read a scroll from Hegesippus’s Commentaries thinking he was reading a work by Josephus? Then, when he wanted to find the passage again to cite it, he was unable to do so because the passage was not from the AJ. Instead, he merely repeated what he thought he knew, without specific attribution.” [25] Carrier also points out that there is precedent for Origen making mistakes in memory, since Origen also mistakenly attributed the Protevangelium of James to Josephus. This may be found in an excerpt from a lost portion of Origen’s commentary on Matthew preserved in a catena dating to the twelfth century (fragment 25). [26] 

An alternative scenario is that Origen confused what Josephus said about John the Baptist, mistakenly transposing James into the narrative and ascribing to him what Josephus had actually said about John. Concerning Herod Antipas’ defeat by the armies of his former father-in-law, Aretas IV, Josephus remarks, “Now, some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist; for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism…” (Antiquities 18.116–117). [27] A difficulty with this proposal, however, is that, in his commentary on Matthew, Origen states that one of those calamitous events to which he refers was the razing to the ground of the Jewish temple in Jerusalem, which took place in A.D. 70, many decades after the wars between Antipas and Aretas IV. Thus, assuming this scenario, it seems that Origen (relying on memory) was very confused about the content and context of what he quotes from Josephus. Another difficulty here is that Origen, in Contra Celsus 1.47, also alludes to Josephus’ statements concerning John the Baptist in the eighteenth volume of Antiquities, so this would undermine the notion that Origen confused John the Baptist and James in his recollection of this text. 

On the other hand, according to Eusebius, Hegesippus wrote concerning James that “he suffered martyrdom. And they buried him on the spot, by the temple, and his monument still remains by the temple. He became a true witness, both to Jews and Greeks, that Jesus is the Christ. And immediately Vespasian besieged them,” (Hist. eccl. 2.23.18). [28] This may be taken to suggest that Vespasian’s besieging of Jerusalem was divine judgment on the Jews for having slain James. Hegesippus also identifies James in this same passage as “James the Just” (Eus., Hist. eccl. 2.23.16), a title also bestowed on him by Origen (Cont. Cels. 1.47). My assessment, therefore, is that there are sufficient grounds to believe Carrier’s conjecture to be the most likely account of how those texts in Origen arose. As Carrier rightly notes, other alternative hypotheses are quite implausible: “That Origen conflated the two passages is too complicated: such a theory requires us to assume that Origen forgot the Josephan passage in a way that contradicts and hardly illumines what Origen says, but accurately remembered the details in Hegesippus. The simpler explanation is that he is following Hegesippus.” [29] Thus, I would agree with Carrier that Origen does not refer to the passage in Josephus that speaks of the martyrdom of James, though again one should be careful not to place too much weight on an argument from silence alone. Carrier, however, also marshals other arguments in support of his contention. He notes that [30],

“…had he discussed the ‘Christ’ person elsewhere, or even mentioned him, he would more likely have provided a cross-reference. If he did not mention him, Josephus would have digressed to explain what this name meant or why he was bothering to mention it, as both Tacitus and Pliny did in their explanations of Christ as the personal name of a god or leader followed by Christians and why this led to their being executed. However, if ‘who was called Christ’ are not Josephus’s words, but rather an accidental interpolation, then all the inexplicable features of this passage vanish. We are left with the mere statement, ‘the brother of Jesus, the name for whom was James, and some others,’ and in that case, without a cross-reference or explanation as to who this Jesus was (who wasn’t being executed but whose brother was), readers would expect such a reference to be to a Jesus mentioned in the same story already being told. And indeed there is such a one: at the end of this very same narrative (AJ 20.203), Josephus discusses the man named high priest in 62 c.e., Jesus ben Damneus.” 


Carrier’s contention that Josephus ought to have digressed to explain what the title “Christ” meant, or provided a cross-reference is one of Carrier’s weaker arguments in his paper, since Josephus on other occasions also ascribes titles to individuals by which they were known (using the same participle, λεγόμενος) but does not offer an explanatory digression or cross-reference (c.f. Antiquities 14.342; 20.196). However, another argument that Carrier makes in his paper is that the context of the passage has to do with the high priest Ananus misusing his office and the ensuing outrage regarding his illegal execution of James. The response was to depose him and replace him with Jesus ben Damneus, which, Carrier argues, makes complete sense if Jesus ben Damneus is understood to be the brother of the James who had just been stoned. On the other hand, it would be surprising if Josephus did not designate the patronymic (“ben Damneus”) at his first introduction of a new individual by the name of Jesus, instead doing so only at his second mention (I am not aware of any other instance in which Josephus does this). However, Carrier proposes that the original text read “James the brother of Jesus ben Damneus”, and the copyist, believing this to be a dittographic error (since the following line contained “Jesus ben Damneus”) inserted a marginal note “the one called Christ”, mistakenly believing this to correct the text. In response to this, one may note that the name “Jesus” was quite common and Josephus could have readily used “the Christ” as the disambiguator for the first occurrence of the name “Jesus” and “ben Damneus” as the disambiguator in the other instance. There is no explicit indication in the text that these refer to the same Jesus.

One may argue that Carrier’s thesis regarding this text also makes sense of the fact that Hegesippus’ second century account of James’ death (not still extant but preserved in a quotation by Eusebius), according to which James was thrown from the temple mount (which he survived) and stoned to death, differs from Josephus’ account. They even appear, at least at first blush, to contradict each other on the date of James’ death. Whereas Josephus would imply that James was executed in around 62 A.D. (shortly before the deposition of Ananus the high priest, and between the death of the procurator Porcius Festus and the accession of Lucceius Albinus, which happened in 62 A.D.), Hegesippus indicates that it was shortly before the siege of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 A.D., though it is not clear to me whether an eight year timeframe (between 62 and 70) would be ruled out by Hegesippus’ use of the word “immediately” in this context. If Hegesippus is using the term “immediately” more loosely then the time references may be harmonizable.

It is no secret that I have many strong disagreements with Richard Carrier. I was deeply unimpressed with his interaction with the New Testament in his book On the Historicity of Jesus (see my review of it here). However, having carefully reviewed Carrier’s arguments pertaining to the references to Jesus in Josephus, I think that Carrier (and the other scholars who have weighed in on the authenticity of the Testimonium, discussed in the foregoing) do succeed in making the case that it is not unreasonable to believe that the Testimonium did not come from the pen of Josephus (though I do not deem the arguments for this position to be conclusive). It is certainly a very complex debate with evidence that may be marshalled in support of both conclusions (partial authenticity vs. total forgery). At the very least, the evidence is not sufficiently strong to be able to assert with a high degree of confidence that the Testimonium is authentic. As for the authenticity of the phrase τοῦ λεγομένου Χριστοῦ in Antiquities 20.200, it is possible that Carrier is correct and that this is in fact an accidental scribal interpolation into the text. However, I am not persuaded that Carrier has marshalled sufficient evidence to support this conclusion, and it is probably not the simplest explanation. I therefore still tend to favor the authenticity of this second reference to Jesus in Josephus’ Antiquities.

Even supposing, though, that the Testimonium Flavianum is partially or (very implausibly) completely authentic, there is still a major challenge to its use in discussions about the historical Jesus: Josephus was not himself a contemporary witness to Jesus’ ministry (he was born a few years after Jesus’ death and wrote his Antiquities some sixty years following Jesus’ death) and the source for the things that he says concerning Jesus is very probably his Christian contemporaries. There is no reason to believe that Josephus had done his own primary research. Therefore, at best, this text serves to confirm what Christians in the first century believed about Jesus. However, we already know this (in far greater detail) from the New Testament. Thus, the evidential value contributed by the Testimonium is, in my assessment, negligible. It does not inform us about any first century Christian beliefs that we do not already know about from the New Testament. At best, one might argue that it is significant that Josephus does not contest Jesus’ historicity or show knowledge of any dissenting opinion. However, this is a weak argument from silence. Jesus of Nazareth does not seem to have been of particular interest to Josephus (as demonstrated by the fact that Josephus only devotes a single short paragraph to Jesus and only mentions His ministry in very broad outline). Furthermore, even if Josephus does confirm the historical existence of Jesus, this is a fact that the vast majority of historians believe to be sufficiently established by the New Testament sources alone, and the New Testament authors are much closer up to the facts than Josephus. For these reasons, the Testimonium makes, at best, only a very minor contribution to the evidence for Jesus.

Pliny the Younger on Jesus

Pliny the Younger was the nephew of the natural scientist Pliny the Elder, and the governor of the Roman province of Bithynia-Pontus in Asia Minor. Pliny the Younger wrote a series of letters to the Roman emperor Trajan, asking him for advice on governing his province. In 112 A.D., Pliny wrote a letter to Trajan asking for advice on dealing with Christians who had been illegally assembling. In this context, he makes a passing allusion to Christ. This passage is our first extant reference to Jesus by a non-Christian, non-Jewish writer. Pliny writes (Ep. 10.96) [31],

“It is a rule, Sir, which I inviolably observe, to refer myself to you in all my doubts; for who is more capable of guiding my uncertainty or informing my ignorance? Having never been present at any trials of the Christians, I am unacquainted with the method and limits to be observed either in examining or punishing them. Whether any difference is to be made on account of age, or no distinction allowed between the youngest and the adult; whether repentance admits to a pardon, or if a man has been once a Christian it avails him nothing to recant; whether the mere profession of Christianity, albeit without crimes, or only the crimes associated there-with are punishable—in all these points I am greatly doubtful. In the meanwhile, the method I have observed towards those who have been denounced to me as Christians is this: I interrogated them whether they were Christians; if they confessed it I repeated the question twice again, adding the threat of capital punishment; if they still persevered, I ordered them to be executed. For whatever the nature of their creed might be, I could at least feel no doubt that contumacy and inflexible obstinacy deserved chastisement. There were others also possessed with the same infatuation, but being citizens of Rome, I directed them to be carried thither. These accusations spread (as is usually the case) from the mere fact of the matter being investigated and several forms of the mischief came to light. A placard was put up, without any signature, accusing a large number of persons by name. Those who denied they were, or had ever been, Christians, who repeated after me an invocation to the Gods, and offered adoration, with wine and frankincense, to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for that purpose, together with those of the Gods, and who finally cursed Christ—none of which acts, it is said, those who are really Christians can be forced into performing—these I thought it proper to discharge. Others who were named by that informer at first confessed themselves Christians, and then denied it; true, they had been of that persuasion but they had quitted it, some three years, others many years, and a few as much as twenty-five years ago. They all worshipped your statue and the images of the Gods, and cursed Christ. They affirmed, however, the whole of their guilt, or their error, was, that they were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food—but food of an ordinary and innocent kind. Even this practice, however, they had abandoned after the publication of my edict, by which, according to your orders, I had forbidden political associations. I judged it so much the more necessary to extract the real truth, with the assistance of torture, from two female slaves, who were styled deaconesses: but I could discover nothing more than depraved and excessive superstition.” 


All that this passage says concerning Jesus, however, is that the Christians “sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god.” It is unclear from this text how much Pliny knew about Jesus – he does not even call Him by His name but by the popular epithet, Christ. The text does not even indicate whether Pliny knew that Jesus had lived on earth as a man. All that this text can be used to show is that there were Christians in Asia Minor in the second century who worshipped someone called Christ. But we did not need Pliny’s testimony to tell us this. Much like Josephus, Pliny is receiving his very limited information regarding Jesus from Christians. There is no reason to believe that Pliny had independent access to information about Jesus. It is therefore of negligible evidential value.

Cornelius Tacitus on Jesus

A third text that is very frequently cited in presentations of extra-Biblical evidence for an historical Jesus is to be found in the work of Cornelius Tacitus, a historian and a member of the Roman senate. In his Annals of Imperial Rome, Tacitus writes of the fire that broke out and consumed a large portion of Rome during the reign of the emperor Nero. According to Tacitus, there was a rumor that the conflagrations were the result of an order by Nero himself. According to Tacitus, Nero thus shifted the blame to the Christians, resulting in a fierce persecution against them. He writes (Annales 15.44) [32],

“But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. 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. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.” 


Thus, Tacitus’ account of the fire of Rome and Nero’s fastening the blame on the Christians also features an incidental mention of Jesus (though he is named in this passage only as Christus) and discloses a few basic facts about Him. Again, it is important for us to determine Tacitus’ source of information concerning Jesus and whether he had any sort of independent access to the facts. However, Tacitus was writing some eighty-five years after Jesus’ death. It seems that Tacitus is basing his remark concerning Christ on hearsay rather than his own primary research into the facts. Had he conducted his own research, one might expect him to write more about Jesus than he does (as it stands, he only gives a single very incidental allusion). It is sometimes asserted Tacitus is incorrect in identifying Pontius Pilate as a Roman procurator, when in fact Pilate held the rank of prefect. Bart Ehrman, for example, states, “[Tacitus] calls Pilate the ‘procurator’ of Judea. We now know from the inscription discovered in 1961 at Caesarea that as governor, Pilate had the title and rank, not of procurator (one who dealt principally with revenue collection), but of prefect (one who also had military forces at his command).” [33] This is taken to suggest that Tacitus did not consult an official record concerning Jesus, assuming one existed, but is merely reporting what he had heard, presumably from Christians. This argument too is problematic, since Pilate is also identified as a procurator by Josephus (Wars of the Jews 2.170) and it is therefore likely that Pilate held both titles. Nonetheless, it is quite plausible that Tacitus received this information from his friend Pliny the Younger who himself had heard about Jesus from the Christians he had put on trial (see above). There is therefore an insufficient basis to conclude that Tacitus had independent access to information concerning Jesus and thus his testimony is, again, of only very weak evidential value in making a case for the historical Jesus.

Suetonius on Jesus

Another Roman source who is often thought to have mentioned Jesus is the Roman biographer Suetonius, best known for his twelve biographies of the Roman emperors, known as his Lives of the Caesars, composed in around 115 A.D. In his Life of Claudius, Suetonius writes of how the emperor Claudius “banished from Rome all the Jews, who were continually making disturbances at the instigation of one Chrestus,” (Claudius 25). [34] This event is also alluded to in Acts 18:2, and is said to be the reason why Aquilla and Priscilla are in Corinth, though they are from Rome. It is not conclusive, however, that the “Chrestus” in view here refers to Jesus. If it is our Jesus of Nazareth, then Suetonius has misspelled Christus. Such Roman misspellings, however, were common. The allusion in this text is so obscure though that it could simply refer to a Jew with the name Chrestus who caused a disturbance leading to Jewish riots. Moreover, even if this is in fact an allusion to Jesus, at best this only confirms the existence of Jewish Christians in Rome sometime between 41 and 53 A.D., but this is uncontroversial and is already sufficiently demonstrated by the New Testament. We thus learn nothing new.

Mara Bar Serapion on Jesus

There is an extant letter, composed in Syriac, that was written by a man who had been imprisoned in Rome, by the name of Mara bar Serapion. The letter includes a possible allusion to Jesus. He writes [35],

“What are we to say, when the wise are dragged by force by the hands of tyrants, and their wisdom is deprived of its freedom by slander, and they are plundered for their superior intelligence, without the opportunity of making a defence? They are not wholly to be pitied. For what benefit did the Athenians obtain by putting Socrates to death, seeing that they received as retribution for it famine and pestilence? Or the people of Samos by the burning of Pythagoras, seeing that in one hour the whole of their country was covered with sand? Or the Jews by the murder of their Wise King, seeing that from that very time their kingdom was driven away from them? For with justice did God grant a recompense to the wisdom of all three of them. For the Athenians died by famine; and the people of Samos were covered by the sea without remedy; and the Jews, brought to desolation and expelled from their kingdom, are driven away into every land. Nay, Socrates did “not” die, because of Plato; nor yet Pythagoras, because of the statue of Hera; nor yet the Wise King, because of the new laws which he enacted.” 


The wise king of this text is often, quite plausibly, interpreted to refer to Jesus of Nazareth. The chief difficulty here, however, is that the date of this letter’s composition is unknown, and it may have been written any time between 70 A.D. and the third century. Thus, without information on the date of composition and Mara’s sources about this “wise king,” this text is of very limited evidential value.

Lucian on Jesus

Lucian of Somosata (125 – after 180 A.D.) was a Greek satirist and rhetorician. In his Death of Penegrine, Lucian writes of the Christian movement (The Death of Peregrine, 11-13) [36]:

“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.”


The problem with using this text as evidence for Jesus is that Lucian lived a century after Jesus’ death, and again it is not new information that in the second century there were Christians who worshipped Christ. There is no indication that Lucian had any independent access to information regarding Jesus’ ministry.

The Nazareth Inscription

The Nazareth Inscription is a marble tablet, inscribed in Greek, that contains a decree from the emperor prescribing the death penalty for anyone found guilty of disturbing tombs and graves. It is called the Nazareth Inscription because a French antiquities collector acquired the tablet from Nazareth, and, based on epigraphy (the study of the language and style of the writing), the inscription has been dated to the first half of the first century A.D. Unfortunately, since the tablet was acquired through the antiquities market, the specific region where it was discovered is not known, though it has been confirmed as an authentic artifact. The inscription reads as follows [37]:

“Edict of Caesar: It is my decision [concerning] graves and tombs—whoever has made them for the religious observances of parents, or children, or household members—that these remain undisturbed forever. But if anyone legally charges that another person has destroyed, or has in any manner extracted those who have been buried, or has moved with wicked intent those who have been buried to other places, committing a crime against them, or has moved sepulcher-sealing stones, against such a person, I order that a judicial tribunal be created, just as [is done] concerning the gods in human religious observances, even more so will it be obligatory to treat with honor those who have been entombed. You are absolutely not to allow anyone to move [those who have been entombed]. But if [someone does], I wish that [violator] to suffer capital punishment under the title of tomb-breaker.” 


For reasons that should be obvious, many have interpreted this text to be a response to the Christian proclamation that Jesus had risen from the dead and that His tomb was empty. Archaeologist Titus Kennedy writes [38],

“According to Matthew, the false story that the disciples stole the body of Jesus was spread by the religious leaders of Judaism via the Roman soldiers, and this rumor apparently reached the ears of the emperor. Therefore, the edict recorded on the Nazareth Inscription was probably a reaction to stories about the resurrection of Jesus Christ, and in particular the version that the Roman soldiers guarding the tomb were paid to say that the disciples of Jesus stole His body while they were asleep. By the time of Claudius, knowledge of Christianity and the story of the resurrection of Jesus had spread throughout many areas of the Roman Empire, beginning to cause problems in the realms of religion, politics, and society, and Claudius seems to have attempted to prevent any future claims of the resurrection of the dead.” 


My own view is that this constitutes only relatively weak evidence for the empty tomb of Jesus. While the inscription may have been a response to the proclamation of Jesus’ empty tomb, it could also have been prompted by any number of other things. In 2020, a team of researchers took a sample from the tablet and used laser ablation in an attempt to discern the stone’s isotope ratio. [39] The tablet’s marble was determined to derive from the Greek island of Kos. The researchers suggested that the edict may have been issued by the emperor Augustus following the desecration of tomb of Nikias, a tyrannical ruler of the island of Kos. This event is mentioned in a poem by Crinagoras of Mytilene [40]:

“Tell me not that death is the end of life. The dead, like the living, have their own causes of suffering. Look at the fate of Nicias of Cos. He had gone to rest in Hades, and now his dead body has come again into the light of day. For his fellow-citizens, forcing the bolts of his tomb, dragged out the poor hard-dying wretch to punishment.” 


This interpretation of the Nazareth Inscription has its own problems. For one thing, the inscription says nothing about abusing a corpse but only about maliciously moving corpses from one location to another. Furthermore, it bears mention that there is no marble in Israel, and thus the marble would necessarily have to be brought in from elsewhere. The poor Greek of the inscription also renders it improbable that the inscription was made in a native Greek-speaking region.

Thus, though the association of the Nazareth Inscription with the empty tomb of Jesus is plausible, it is also not implausible that this edict was prompted by some other event, even one concerning which we have no surviving documentary sources. The Nazareth Inscription is therefore only relatively weak evidence for Jesus’ empty tomb and its significance should not be over-stated.


In conclusion, though the arguments reviewed above are all popular when extrabiblical evidence for Jesus and for the reliability of the New Testament is being discussed, these arguments are all, in my assessment, too weak to warrant their use. Even aside from the issues and problems discussed in this essay, it is clear that the absolute strongest conclusion one can conceivably draw from these sources is that they attest to ministry of Jesus in broad outline. Indeed, we cannot reasonably expect more than this from ancient secular writers who lacked a special interest in Christian origins. In future articles, I will explore an alternative way of building a case from extrabiblical testimony, through appeal to indirect confirmations of incidental details in the gospel accounts. I believe this form of argument to be significantly stronger.


[1] Lydia McGrew, “Finessing Independent Attestation: A Study of Interdisciplinary Biblical Criticism, Themelios 44, no. 1 (2019): 89-102.

[2] Flavius Josephus and William Whiston, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987), 480.

[3] Steve Mason, Josephus and the New Testament (Michigan: Baker Academic), 231.

[4] Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (California: HarperOne: 2012), 62.

[5] Earl Doherty, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man — The Case for a Mythical Jesus (Age of Reason Publications, 2009), 535.

[6] James C. Paget, “Some observations on Josephus and Christianity.” The Journal of Theological Studies 52, no. 10 (2001).

[7] Lester Grabbe (2013). “3. Jesus Who is Called the Christ: References to Jesus Outside Christian Sources”. In Verenna, Thomas S.; Thompson, Thomas L. (eds.). “Is This Not The Carpenter?”: The Question of The Historicity of the Figure of Jesus. pp. 61–7.

[8] Origen, “Origen’s Commentary on the Gospel of Matthew,” in The Gospel of Peter, the Diatessaron of Tatian, the Apocalypse of Peter, the Visio Pauli, the Apocalypses of the Virgil and Sedrach, the Testament of Abraham, the Acts of Xanthippe and Polyxena, the Narrative of Zosimus, the Apology of Aristides, the Epistles of Clement (Complete Text), Origen’s Commentary on John, Books I-X, and Commentary on Matthew, Books I, II, and X-XIV, ed. Allan Menzies, trans. John Patrick, vol. 9, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1897), 424.

[9] Origen, “Origen against Celsus,” in Fathers of the Third Century: Tertullian, Part Fourth; Minucius Felix; Commodian; Origen, Parts First and Second, ed. Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, trans. Frederick Crombie, vol. 4, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1885), 416.

[10] Eusebius of Caesaria, “The Church History of Eusebius,” in Eusebius: Church History, Life of Constantine the Great, and Oration in Praise of Constantine, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Arthur Cushman McGiffert, vol. 1, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1890), 127.

[11] Shlomo Pines, An Arabic Version of the Testimonium Flavianum and its Implications (Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, 1971).

[12] Alice Whealey, “The Testimonium Flavianum in Syriac and Arabic,” New Testament Studies 54 (2008), 573-590.

[13] St. John Thackeray, Josephus: The Man and the Historian (Kessinger Publishing, 2010), 137.

[14] John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew, Rethinking the Historical Jesus: Volume One, The Roots of the Problem and the Person (New Haven;  London: Yale University Press, 1991), 56–69.

[15] Ibid., 62–63.

[16] Ibid., 65-66.

[17] Craig A. Evans, “Jesus in non-Christian sources” in The Historical Jesus, Vol. 4, ed. Craig A. Evans (London and New York: Routledge), 391.

[18] Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (California: HarperOne: 2012), 64.

[19] Flavius Josephus and William Whiston, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987), 538.

[20] Craig A. Evans, “Jesus in non-Christian sources” in The Historical Jesus, Vol. 4, ed. Craig A. Evans (London and New York: Routledge), 392.

[21] Ibid.

[22] John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew, Rethinking the Historical Jesus: Volume One, The Roots of the Problem and the Person (New Haven;  London: Yale University Press, 1991), 62.

[23] Richard Carrier, “Origen, Eusebius, and the Accidental Interpolation in Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.200.” Journal of Early Christian Studies 20, no. 4 (Winter 2012): 489-514.

[24] Richard Carrier, On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We Might Have Reason for Doubt (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2014), 384.

[25] Richard Carrier, “Origen, Eusebius, and the Accidental Interpolation in Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.200,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 20, no. 4 (Winter 2012), 489-514.

[26] Panayiotis Tzamalikos, Origen: New Fragments from the Commentary on Matthew: Codices Sabaiticus 232 & Holy Cross 104, Jerusalem (Brill U Schoningh, 2020).

[27] Flavius Josephus and William Whiston, The Works of Josephus: Complete and Unabridged (Peabody: Hendrickson, 1987), 484.

[28] Eusebius of Caesaria, “The Church History of Eusebius,” in Eusebius: Church History, Life of Constantine the Great, and Oration in Praise of Constantine, ed. Philip Schaff and Henry Wace, trans. Arthur Cushman McGiffert, vol. 1, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, Second Series (New York: Christian Literature Company, 1890), 127.

[29] Richard Carrier, “Origen, Eusebius, and the Accidental Interpolation in Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.200,” Journal of Early Christian Studies 20, no. 4 (Winter 2012), 489-514.

[30] Ibid.

[31] Pliny, Letters, Vols. 1 & 2, ed. T. E. Page et al., trans. William Melmoth, vol. 2, The Loeb Classical Library (London; New York: William Heinemann; The Macmillan Co., 1931), 401–405.

[32] Tacitus, The Annals and The Histories, ed. Mortimer J. Adler, Second Edition., vol. 14, Great Books of the Western World (Chicago; Auckland; Geneva; London; Madrid; Manila; Paris; Rome; Seoul; Sydney; Tokyo; Toronto: Robert P. Gwinn; Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc., 1990), 168.

[33] Bart D. Ehrman, Did Jesus Exist? The Historical Argument for Jesus of Nazareth (California: HarperOne: 2012), 56.

[34] C. Suetonius Tranquillus, Suetonius: The Lives of the Twelve Caesars; An English Translation, Augmented with the Biographies of Contemporary Statesmen, Orators, Poets, and Other Associates, ed. Alexander Thomson (Medford, MA: Gebbie & Co., 1889).

[35] Alexander Roberts, James Donaldson, and A. Cleveland Coxe, eds., “A Letter of Mara, Son of Serapion,” in Fathers of the Third and Fourth Centuries: The Twelve Patriarchs, Excerpts and Epistles, the Clementina, Apocrypha, Decretals, Memoirs of Edessa and Syriac Documents, Remains of the First Ages, trans. B. P. Pratten, vol. 8, The Ante-Nicene Fathers (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1886), 737.

[36] “Lucian of Samosata: The Passing of Penegrinus,” Roger Pearse’s Pages, accessed 13 August 2021,

[37] Billington, Clyde E. “The Nazareth Inscription: Proof of the Resurrection of Christ?”. Artifax (Spring 2005).

[38] Titus M Kennedy, Unearthing the Bible: 101 Archaeological Discoveries That Bring the Bible to Life (Eugene, OR: Harvest House Publishers, 2020), 201.

[39] Kyle Harper et al., “Establishing the provenance of the Nazareth Inscription: Using stable isotopes to resolve a historic controversy and trace ancient marble production”, Journal of Archaeological Science: Reports. 30 (April 2020): 102228.

[40] Crinagoras of Mytilene. “Epigrams”. Translated by William Roger Paton. Accessed 12 August 2021.

6 thoughts on “Is Jesus Mentioned Outside of the Bible? And Does it Matter?”

  1. Another of my relied-upon arguments debunked by Dr. McLatchie! Oh well—I’d rather use strong arguments than weak ones, even if it requires abandoning a common line of reasoning.

    I’m curious about Thallus’ supposed reference to Jesus. Obviously we don’t have any of Thallus’ writings preserved, but it seems there’s a case to be made that he mentioned the darkness during Jesus’ crucifixion. This was supposedly from 50-60 AD, making it early enough to count as good extrabiblical corroboration. Erik Manning (Testify on YouTube) had a video defending it. What are your thoughts on this? Does the fact that we lack the original writing render the argument weak enough to make its usage inadvisable?

  2. You have given Carrier far too much credit for his argument regarding the reference to Jesus in book 20 of the Antiquities. In the case of the Testimonium Flavianum there are good reasons for thinking that Josephus could not have written the passage in its current form. That does not apply to the book 20 reference. Instead we have a very weak attempt to show that Josephus couldn’t have written it and a lot of speculation as to how the phrase “called Christ” was accidentally interpolated. There is no independent evidence that Jesus ben Damneus was the brother of James and no reason to consider this possibility unless a much stronger argument can be made against the authenticity of the passage in question.

    1. I agree with your assessment of the book 20 reference, which is why I conclude in the article that his thesis in this regard has not been sufficiently supported.


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