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Peeking into History: Ancient extra-Biblical references to Jesus Christ


A peek into the recorded history of mankind; historical references and evidence for existence of Lord Jesus Christ is available. Lord Jesus Christ is not only mentioned by The Holy Bible itself but the non-Christian historians have also made references to him. The primeval references to Jesus Christ; outside the New Testament can also be drawn from the Roman, Jewish, pre-New Testament, and post-New Testament writings. Few ancient records about Jesus Christ are cited here.

Ancient references to Jesus Christ

The first recorded non-Christian author to mention Jesus Christ was a Jewish historian Flavius Josephus in the pay of Flavian emperors Vespasian, Titus, and Domitian. Flavius Josephus ben Mattathias (born 37/38 A.D., died after 100 A.D.) was a supposed Pharisee and priestly politician who commanded the rebel troops in Galilee at the time of first Jewish revolt against Rome (66–73 A.D.) He captured the history of Judaism around AD 93.

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The Jewish historian on two occasions, in his Jewish Antiquities, made mention of Jesus Christ. On his, reference recorded the condemnation of “James” by the Jewish Sanhedrin. This James, was “the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ,” Josephus recorded.

20 years after Josephus, Tacitus — a Roman historian recorded that Jesus was executed while Pontius Pilate was the Roman prefect in charge of Judaea (AD26-36) and Tiberius was emperor (AD14-37). His reports fit with the timeframe of the Gospels.

Tacitus, more formally known as Caius/Gaius (or Publius) Cornelius Tacitus (55/56–c. 118 C.E.) was a Roman senator, orator and ethnographer. He mentioned Christ in his major work titled Annals. Reporting on Emperor Nero’s decision to blame the Christians for the fire that had destroyed Rome in A.D. 64, Tacitus wrote-(the excerpt provided below is translated from Latin by Robert Van Voorst)

[N]either human effort nor the emperor’s generosity nor the placating of the gods ended the scandalous belief that the fire had been ordered [by Nero]. Therefore, to put down the rumor, Nero substituted as culprits and punished in the most unusual ways those hated for their shameful acts … whom the crowd called “Chrestians.” The founder of this name, Christ [Christus in Latin], had been executed in the reign of Tiberius by the procurator Pontius Pilate … Suppressed for a time, the deadly superstition erupted again not only in Judea, the origin of this evil, but also in the city [Rome], where all things horrible and shameful from everywhere come together and become popular.5

Another important source of reference to Jesus and early Christianity can be found in the letters of Pliny the Younger to Emperor Trajan. He was Roman governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor, northern Turkey. In one of his letters, dated around A.D. 112, he wrote:

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.

Few references were made to Jesus Christ in the Babylonian Talmud (a collection of Jewish rabbinical writings compiled between approximately A.D. 70-500). A most significant reference said: On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged.

A second century Greek satirist Lucian of Samosata, wrote of the early Christians as below:

“The Christians … worship a man to this day – the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account…. [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.”

Ancient secular historian F.Suetonius made a statement regarding “Christ”recording that: “As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome.”

Suetonius – a Roman writer, lawyer and historian, recorded the riots in A.D. 49 among Jews in Rome which might have been about Christus but which he thought were incited by “the instigator Chrestus.”