Jesus and Roman Empire Documents

There was no lack of dedicated writers and historians in the Roman Empire at the time when Jesus is said to have lived.  In fact that is probably one of the most distinguished and documented periods in western man’s history.  It is logical, therefore, that genuine historians and literary commentators in that timeframe would help clear up any uncertainties that Gospels may present.  It is certain that any reports of a wonder-working savior in the Jewish populated region of the empire would have been of prime interest to any culture representatives of the empire.  Listed here are ten historians and writers who were of, or near the timeframe when the events of Jesus’ life are said to have occurred.

Seneca, Lucius Annaeus (4 BCE-65 CE), Roman statesman, philosopher and playwright, born in Spain, educated in Rome, and tutor to the youthful Nero.  He is credited with inspiring the moderation of Nero’s first five years of rule.  One of the most eminent writers in Latin literature.  With such credentials it seems unlikely that he would never have incorporated events of such a miraculous man into a dramatic play.  Perhaps that lack is because there were already various mystery-cult passion plays with similar plotlines in existence.  Seneca died by commanded suicide in 65  following participation in an insurgent plot, known in history as the Pisonian conspiracy, against Nero’s detrimental rule.

Livy, Titus Livius (59 BCE – 17 CE)  A Roman historian who sought to produce in his 142 books a lifelike and moving representation of the empire and time in which he lived.  But Livy never recorded any information on some miraculous star over a Palestinian region, nor of a virgin birth of a demigod.  If he heard of these things at all, he recognized them for what they were; mythology, not history.

Tacitus, Publius Cornelius (55?-117 CE)  The last twenty years of Tacitus’ life, from 97 on, were devoted chiefly to historical writings.  The great strength of Tacitus as a historian lies in his psychological perception and character portrayals.  His focus was more on the men who were active within some eventful time than in the event itself.  It is this writing strength that makes it peculiar that Tacitus never gave any space to some Jewish wonder-worker named Jesus.  (Tacitus was friend of Pliny the Younger, q.v.)

Plutarch (46-120 CE)  A Greek biographer and essayist who resided in Rome for a while during the reign of the emperor Vespasian (from 69 to 79).  In more than eighty essays Tacitus included treatises on subjects of ethics and religion, but strangely he had nothing to say concerning any spiritual leader named Jesus who followers spoke of as Christ.

Pliny the Elder (Gaius Plinius, 23-79 CE)  Roman statesman, soldier, author of numerous historical and scientific works, and a genuine contemporary of Jesus, yet Pliny never mentioned the man Jesus.  This is odd: as a soldier of rank and renown he would be seriously interested in any potential center of disruption in the empire that such a man might inspire.

Pliny the Younger (Gaius Plinius Caecilius Secundus, 62-113 CE)  He took the name of his adoptive father, Pliny the Elder.  Roman statesman, orator and master of the epistolary  style of writing.  There is an eerie correlation between Pliny’s letter writing style and the epistles of Paul given in the New Testament.  In his writings, Pliny the Younger never referred to any divine founder of some Christ cult, but commented only on their beliefs.  Oddly, Pliny never indicated that he even knew of the self-proclaimed apostle of Jesus named Paul either, although both had supposedly traveled in the same regions of the empire.

Philo Judaeus (late first century BCE and early first century CE)  A Jewish-Hellenist philosopher; he  had received a comprehensive education in Greek literature, especially the teachings of the Pythagoreans, Plato, and the Stoics.  Philo regarded the divinity of the Jewish law as the basis and test of true philosophy, so any rumor of the birth of a divine Jewish man would have reached him.  He provides no hint of any such awareness.  If any man in this list should certainly mention Jesus, it would be Philo; he was Jewish and he lived before and after this alleged Jewish wonder-worker.

Juvenal (Decimus Junius Juvenalis, c. 55-128 CE)  Roman satirist.  Having once been poor, his satires often skewered the rich and sympathized with the impoverished.  During the reign of Domitian (81-96), he described the conditions of life that existed in Rome.  Nowhere in his writings did he ever mention a gentle teacher named Jesus who was said to have blessed the poor, nor did he write of any injustices or impoverishment of “Christians” in Rome.

Martial (Marcus Valerius Martialis, first century CE)  Roman poet, writer of satiric epigrams.  He went to Rome Around 64 CE, and through his writings earned the favor and patronage of the Emperors Titus and Domitian.  His later epigrams, in twelve books, covered a great variety of subjects, so it is surprising that he never referred to Jesus’ miracles in his works.  This is especially noteworthy since his epigrams are a valuable source of information on the manners, morals and beliefs in the empire between the reigns of Nero and Trajan.

Epictetus (real name unknown, active in the first century CE.)  A freed Greek slave proficient in Stoic philosophy who went on to teach philosophy at Rome until the year 90.  His doctrines are preserved in two works which show that his primary concern was the problem of man’s morals and principles.  His teaching was that all men have moral weaknesses, so each person must strive to be tolerant of each other.  It is strange, therefore, that in his works he did not make use of the similar teachings attributed to Jesus if there was wide knowledge of such a divine man.

All these men were intellects and well-informed on vital concerns of the empire in their day.  The fact is that there is not a single legitimate reference to Jesus, historical or secular, that dates from the first century CE.  There is, however, one exception known as Flavius Josephus, who is claimed to have been born in the year 37 in Jerusalem.  In a work attributed to Josephus, Jewish Antiquities, it is implied that a son of God named Jesus the Christ was crucified.  One thing is certain; if Josephus, supposedly a faithful Jew, wrote this in the timeframe of the alleged happenings, he would have quickly met death by stoning.  The book credited to Josephus is not accepted today as legitimate by serious students or theologians.  It is a forgery by some second century Jesus-cult activist.

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