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January 15, 2014 / compassioninpolitics

Historical Jesus and Josephus

Accordingly, Josephus has always been deemed a crucial extrabiblical resource, since his writings not only correlate well with the Old and New Testaments, but often provide additional evidence on such personalities as Herod the Great and his dynasty, John the Baptist, Jesus’ half-brother James, the high priests Annas and Caiaphas and their clan, Pontius Pilate, and others.

Against this background, we should certainly expect that he would refer to Jesus of Nazareth, and he does—twice in fact. In Antiquities 18:63—in the middle of information on Pontius Pilate (A.D., 26-36)—Josephus provides the longest secular reference to Jesus in any first-century source. Later, when he reports events from the administration of the Roman governor Albinus (A.D. 62-64) in Antiquities 20:200, he again mentions Jesus in connection with the death of Jesus’ half-brother, James the Just of Jerusalem. These passages, along with other non-biblical, non-Christian references to Jesus in secular first-century sources—among them Tacitus (Annals 15:44), Suetonius (Claudius 25), and Pliny the Younger (Letter to Trajan)—prove conclusively that any denial of Jesus’ historicity is maundering sensationalism by the uninformed and/or the dishonest.

By Paul L. Maier, The Russell H. Seibert Professor of Ancient History, Western Michigan University

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