Jesus was a real person. While you may encounter those on the Internet or even people you know who claim that Jesus never existed, that a man named Jesus lived in first century Palestine is one of the most solidly attested and accepted facts of the ancient world. Critical scholars of the time period, both Christians and non-Christians, agree that Jesus was a real person.
While this fact is commonly accepted, where the debate arises is whether the Jesus described in the Bible is the real Jesus. Did he perform miracles? Was he crucified? Did he rise from the dead? Is he God?
Many non-Christians dismiss these claims and many Christians believe that they only have the Bible to rely on for evidence…the very evidence denied by many non-Christians. Christians should be encouraged that there is excellent evidence for the resurrection that does not need to rely on Scripture and thus is accepted by nearly all scholars, both Christians and non-Christians, who study this time period. These facts are what Gary Habermas and Michael Licona call “the minimal facts.” In their book, The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, Habermas and Licona explain that the “minimal facts” are those facts about Jesus’ death and resurrection that are both strongly evidenced and are accepted by nearly all scholars on the subject, even skeptical ones.
One of the minimal facts is that Jesus died by crucifixion. Some people who believe Jesus really lived do not believe that he was crucified. For example, Muslims do not believe that Jesus was crucified. But that fact that Jesus was crucified by the Romans is a fact accepted by virtually all scholars.
What evidence is there for Jesus’ crucifixion?
Of course, the Bible has several independent accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion? Remember that the Bible we have is actually a collection of different writing by different people whom Christians believe were inspired by the Holy Spirit. If we take the Bible as a piece of ancient literature, and treat it like we treat other pieces of ancient literature, then we already have several independent accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion. However, some skeptics will not allow this argument, even though it is historically sound. So, are there accounts of Jesus’ crucifixion from outside the Bible?
Yes, there are several! Let’s take a look at them.
- Josephus, a Jewish historian of the first century, writes in Jewish Antiquities, “Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified.” Josephus was a contemporary of many alive at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion and, as a Jew, he would have had no reason to write anything supporting the Christians.
- Cornelius Tacitus, a Roman historian and senator of the second century, in writing about the burning of Rome in Annals says, “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.” Clearly Tacitus does not have a favorable impression of the Christians!
- A Hellenized Syrian satirist named Lucian of Samosata writes in The Passing of Peregrinus, “The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day, the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account.”
- The Jewish Talmud also referenced the crucifixion of Jesus stating, “on the eve of the Passover, Yeshua was hanged.” Yeshua is the Hebrew translation of Jesus and hung on a tree was an ancient euphemism for crucifixion.
In terms of evidence for an event in ancient history, this is a treasure trove. Even discounting the several independent biblical sources, there are several non-Christian first and second century sources that all attest to Jesus’ crucifixion. The crucifixion of Jesus is as knowable and true as any fact of the ancient world which is why nearly all scholars accept that Jesus died by crucifixion at the hands of the Romans. We Christians should be encouraged that the truth of Jesus recorded by the biblical authors is corroborated by so many external sources! The next time someone tells you Jesus was just a myth or that he did not died by crucifixion, help them out by filling them in on historical nature of this fact.
For further reading about the resurrection of Jesus, read The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus. For a broader discussion about the evidence for Jesus be sure to check out Cold-Case Christianity and The Case for Christ.
Stay tuned for future posts about other evidence for the resurrection of Jesus!