First Century Jesus References
January 5, 2007 10:42 PM   Subscribe

I'm trying to find references to Jesus Christ in first century literature outside of the Bible. So far the only authors I've found who mention him are Thallus, Phlegon, and Josephus. Am I missing anyone else?
posted by sepsis to Writing & Language (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Here's a summary from a skeptical viewpoint.
posted by vacapinta at 10:51 PM on January 5, 2007

It's not entirely clear that Josephus actually wrote about Jesus. There is significant controversy regarding the passage i nquestion, which wikipedia does a predictably bland and uninsightful job of covering without significant bias.
posted by allen.spaulding at 10:52 PM on January 5, 2007

Best answer: Wikipedia also mentions Tacitus, Suetonius, and Pliny the Younger as having written 1st century, non-Christan accounts.
posted by lekvar at 11:14 PM on January 5, 2007

Tacitus mentions "Chrestus" in his Annals under the modern year AD 64. He calls Christianity a "deadly superstition" and its practitioners "notoriously depraved".
posted by watsondog at 3:54 AM on January 6, 2007

Sorry for the length. It may help to decide whether you're looking for mythical Jesus or just-a-guy Jesus.

There are more than a dozen savior figures (from about the same time to hundreds of years prior), with similar attributes as Jesus. If you're not specifically aiming for Jesus, you might expand your search.

1. His mother was a virgin woman: Jesus, Attis, Buddha, Dionysus, Krishna, Mithra, Zoroaster
2. He was born on December 25: Jesus, Attis, Buddha, Dionysus, Horus, Krishna, Mithra
3. His earthly (adopted) father was a carpenter: Jesus, Krishna
4. His birth was signaled by a heavenly star: Jesus, Buddha, Horus, Krishna
5. At his birth, shepherds presented him with gifts: Jesus, Buddha, Horus, Krishna, Mithra
6. He was born in a manger or a cave: Jesus, Dionysus, Mithra
7. As a baby, he is declared a king. Wise men present him with gifts of gold: Jesus, Buddha, Krishna
8. Angels or other good divine spirits sang songs or danced at his birth: Jesus, Buddha, Krishna
9. He was threatened by a king or tyrant who tried to kill him as an infant: Jesus, Buddha, Krishna, Moses
10. He was of royal lineage: Jesus, Buddha, Horus
11. He taught at the temple as a child and astounded all who heard him with his wisdom: Jesus, Buddha, Horus, Zoroaster
12. He was baptized at a river: Jesus, Buddha, Horus, Zoroaster
13. His hapless baptizer is later decapitated: Jesus, Horus
14. He was tempted in the wilderness by the devil: Jesus, Zoroaster
15. He was a traveling teacher of great wisdom: Jesus, Buddha, Dionysus, Mithra
16. His ministry preached a message of charity, peace and love. He lived in poverty and loved the poor: Jesus, Krishna
17. He taught of heaven and hell, revealed mysteries, resurrection, judgment, salvation and the apocalypse: Jesus, Zoroaster
18. He gave a famous sermon on a mountain: Jesus, Horus
19. He had 12 disciples: Jesus, Horus, Mithra
20. He gave his disciples the power to work miracles: Jesus, Krishna
21. He was transfigured in front of his disciples, sometimes described as shining as the sun: Jesus, Buddha, Horus, Krishna
22. He healed the sick and the injured: Jesus, Buddha, Horus, Krishna, Mithra, Serapis, Zoroaster
23. He cast out demons: Jesus, Horus, Zoroaster
24. He fed hundreds or thousands with magically generated food: Jesus, Buddha
25. He walked on water: Jesus, Buddha, Horus
26. He brought back the dead: Jesus, Horus
27. He turned water into wine: Jesus, Dionysus
28. His followers were admonished to take vows of poverty and renounce worldly desires: Jesus, Buddha
29. He was called such exalted titles as "Lord", "Master", "Light of the World", "Holy One", "Redeemer", "The Way", "The Truth", etc.: Jesus, Buddha, Dionysus, Horus, Krishna, Mithra
30. He is called "Logos" or "The Word": Jesus, Horus, Krishna, Mithra, Prometheus, Zoroaster
31. He was called "the anointed one" (how "Christ" translates): Jesus, Dionysus, Horus
32. He was known to his followers as a Shepherd of Humanity: Jesus, Buddha, Horus, Mithra, Serapis
33. He was known as a fisher, associated with the fish: Jesus, Horus
34. He's identified with the ram or lamb: Jesus, Dionysus, Horus, Mithra
35. He's identified with the lion: Jesus, Horus, Krishna, Mithra
36. He came not to destroy but to fulfill the law: Jesus, Buddha, Horus
37. He rode in a triumphal procession on a donkey: Jesus, Dionysus
38. He condemned the clergy for their ambition and hypocrisy. He would later fall victim to their scheming: Jesus, Krishna
39. He crushed a serpent's head: Jesus, Buddha, Krishna
40. Declared the savior of humanity, slain for our salvation: Jesus, Attis, Krishna, Mithra
41. He sometimes is known by a heart symbol: Jesus, Krishna
42. His body and/or blood is consumed through bread/wine in a symbolic ritual: Jesus, Attis, Dionysus, Mithra, Zoroaster
43. He had a sacred cup or grail: Jesus, Zoroaster
44. He died while hung from a cross or a tree: Jesus, Attis, Buddha, Dionysus, Horus, Krishna
45. His good friend, a fisherman named Peter/Petraeus, would desert him: Jesus, Prometheus
46. He was crucified between two thieves: Jesus, Horus, Krishna
47. He was around the age of 30 when he was crucified: Jesus, Krishna
48. At his death, the sun darkened or there were other grim supernatural signs: Jesus, Krishna
49. He went to the underworld for three days: Jesus, Attis, Mithra
50. He was resurrected: Jesus, Attis, Buddha, Dionysus, Horus, Krishna, Mithra
51. He was resurrected during the springtime, the date of which would become a day of celebration among his followers: Jesus, Attis, Dionysus, Mithra
52. His sacred day is Sunday: Jesus, Mithra
53. He is the second part of a divine trinity and/or considered to be one with his father god: Jesus, Attis, Krishna
54. He promises to return one day: Jesus, Buddha, Horus, Krishna, Zoroaster
55. When he comes again, he will ride on a white horse to do battle with the prince of evil: Jesus, Krishna

Or, if you're looking for info about a more mundane bloke who had some good ideas but ran afoul of the constabulary and lawyers and got killed for it, you might have some luck also. But, the Romans tortured and murdered thousands, and didn't keep very good records, mostly because of the sheer volume.
posted by cmiller at 7:07 AM on January 6, 2007 [9 favorites]

I believe that portions of the Nag Hammadi (especially the Gospel of Thomas which is estimated around 150 AD) would come close, if not fulfill your requirements.

Basilides wrote between 120 and 130 AD (claiming the crucifixion was a fake).

The 'Secret Gospel of Mark' was supposidly censored by the Bishop of Clement .
posted by iurodivii at 8:58 AM on January 6, 2007

Best answer: Lecture 15 deals with this from a conservative, apologist's perspective. It mentions Josephus, Pliny, Tacitus, and Suetonius.
posted by ibmcginty at 8:59 AM on January 6, 2007

The 'Secret Gospel of Mark' is a forgery from the mid 20th century. And furthermore a completely obvious one that should have never fooled anyone. Beyone the content (which is a rather sophmoric gay joke) only one person claims to have seen the orignal which itself was supposed to have neen a 18th century manuscript (IIRC) written on and with materiels which are fairly easy to come by even today.

Honestly, any "historian" that credits it with authenticity should probably be discounted on the subject as they are obviously incapable of basic reason.

If one credits some of the existing sources with authenticity (eg: Josephus) it is quite interesting what they have to say on the subject of Jesus and his relations. I highly recomend giving a few different translations a read. While there are doubts about the authenticity of any document of that age for which the originals no longer exist (or are at least not known to) they are no more suspect than any of the new testiment.
posted by Riemann at 1:21 PM on January 6, 2007

Best answer: Just also wanted to say that its a bit of a stretch to call the new testiment first century. The gospels may indeed have been written sometime in the first century after 70 (at the earliest). And the epistles of Saul, if the half or so of them that seem authentic are, were written sometimes in between the 30s and late 50s.

But the thing is none of those still exist (if they ever did). The earliest bits of the written new testiment that do are some papyrus fragments from the 2nd century. The earliest mostly complete works that still exist date to the 400s. There was a hell of a lot of political and religious change in the various christian communities during that time.

Hopefully someday a find equivalent to Qumran will turn up some documents from the early 100s but nothing has been found yet. Indeed, the "holy grail" as it were would be to discover outside the epistles of Saul that dates prior to the destruction of the Temple in 70. That would probably turn some dogma on its head! But alas, right now nothing of the sort exists.
posted by Riemann at 1:49 PM on January 6, 2007

There are none, which is the so-called "deafening silence" among the dozens of historians who failed to mention him, including the Dead Sea scrolls. Consider that because the Messiah was late in coming, his persona was literally written into history, the awaited second-coming taking on the importance of the first no-show. As a result, the debate is open as to his human existence, complicated by both mythical aspects and theoretical human amalgams. Nevertheless, there is a recent eroding of confidence in the widely accepted minor Josephus reference, suggesting that it was also forged by Eusebius (see KA Olsen, "Eusebius and the Testimonium Flavianum"). A new Homeric mimesis theory is emerging, coming from New Testament scholar Dennis R. MacDonald.

The religious problem is that Jesus is both soteriologically dependent on Osiris and Dionysus, but historically claimed as a man in order to be the Messiah. It is highly plausible that when the classical religion made contact with Judea, it naturally salvaged the Messiah concept, and by default became an ad hoc pseudo-history with a lot of forgery to accomplish this. A fascinating topic. The idea of a human founder is not only philosophically Western in its approach, it helped defeat co-existing competitors such as Mithraism.
posted by Brian B. at 2:52 PM on January 6, 2007 [1 favorite]

Here's a link to resources for New Testament Apocrypha.

Though the infancy gospel of Thomas is second century, it's worth checking out just for the anecdotes of the young Jesus striking down other children in anger. It's like "what if 5 year olds had godly powers"?
posted by perpetualstroll at 4:44 PM on January 6, 2007

Response by poster: Wow, thanks everyone. You've definitely provided me with what I was looking for.

@cmiller, your comment didn't really address what I was asking, but I appreciate the information anyway, it should be helpful to me.
posted by sepsis at 11:10 PM on January 7, 2007

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