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Part 5 How did Cornelius Tacitus support the Biblical Jesus

Another notable ancient historian was Cornelius Tacitus.  Many consider Tacitus the most important Roman historian of the 1st century.  His writings actually lend support to the accuracy of Josephus which is important from a historical standpoint.

Quoting from Annals 15.44, Tacitus writes that Emperor Nero blamed Christians for Rome’s fire in 64 AD in order to draw attention away from him.  In this account Jesus is mentioned.

“But not all the relief that could come from man, not all the bounties that the prince could bestow, nor all the atonements which could be presented to the gods, availed to relieve Nero from the infamy of being believed to have ordered the conflagration, the fire of Rome. Hence to suppress the rumor, he falsely charged with the guilt, and punished Christians, who were hated for their enormitiesChristus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius: but the pernicious superstition, repressed for a time broke out again, not only through Judea, where the mischief originated, but through the city of Rome also, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center 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.” [1]

Tacitus turns out to be an extremely rich source of data that confirms important aspects of the history of Christianity.  He was an unsympathetic witness to the success and spread of Christianity.  What do we learn from him?

  1. He regards “Christus” (Jesus Christ) as the founder of the movement. This weighs heavily against the idea that some scholars hold, that Paul or some other person was the creator of Christianity.  Jesus founded Christianity according to Tacitus.
  2. He confirms the execution of Jesus under Pontius Pilate, during the reign of Tiberius.
  3. He indicates that Jesus’ death suppressed Christianity for a time. This would hint at the probability that Christianity was recognized to have had some status as a movement (not under the name “Christianity”) prior to the death of Jesus.
  4. He indicates that Christians in Rome in the mid-60s A.D. were hated and punished for their faith[2].

Tacitus unwittingly becomes another valuable non-Biblical source for information about Jesus.  Again the information supports and doesn’t contradict the Biblical accounts.

Go to part 6 here


[1] Holdings, J.P. “Jesus: Nero’s Scapegoat,” http://www.tektonics.org/tekton_01_01_01_TC.html

[2] Holdings, J.P. “Jesus: Nero’s Scapegoat,” http://www.tektonics.org/tekton_01_01_01_TC.html

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