I was looking for some credible evidence for the historicity of Jesus. Two
main historians who wrote about Jesus, Thallus and Josephus, are
controversial. It is not clear if they wrote it and when they wrote it.
Are there records which date to the 1st century which we know where
scholars are sure that they refer to Jesus Christ?
The historicity of Jesus is about as well established as for any single
person in the ancient world. No serious scholar would even entertain the
claim that the existence of Jesus is a myth. In fact, you may assume that
anyone who does claim that Jesus is a myth does not know what they are
talking about at all! You refer to Josephus and Thallus being
controversial. Josephus was a Jewish historian who lived from about AD 35
to AD 100. He actually wrote for the emperors in Rome at the time. It is
not at all controversial that Josephus mentions Jesus in his work, The
Jewish Wars. He refers to Jesus and the Christians in a few places. He
also mentions specifics about the execution of the apostle James. There is
one passage in Josephus which is controversial. In this passage, some
scholars speculate that the sayings of Josephus were amplified by
Christian copiers during the second or third century BC. See my chapter on
the resurrection for more specifics on Josephus and the particular quote
which some doubt The Resurrection of Jesus. Also, see my article on the
claims of Jesus, which has a significant amount of information on those
who mention Jesus in the first century. The Claims of Jesus.
To summarize on Josephus, it is not controversial whether he mentioned
Jesus. What is controversial is the specific wording of one of the
passages in his writings whose authenticity some scholars question. As far
as Thallus goes, he is a Roman historian who mentions specifics about the
resurrection of Jesus. The problem here is that his writings are known
only by his being quoted by others. We do not have the originals in the
case of Thallus. I suppose one could claim that there is some possible
doubt about the references of Thallus to Jesus because we do not have the
original, but I believe in general scholars accept that he did in fact
refer to Jesus in his original writings.
You ask whether others in the first century mention Jesus. The answer is
definitely yes. For example, both Tacitus and Pliny the Elder, well-known
Roman historians of the first and second century AD mention Jesus. Tacitus
mentions his resurrection. Besides, a number of Jewish rabbis mention the
life of Jesus during the first three centuries. These writings can be
found in the Jewish Talmud. These Jewish writers mention the miracles of
Jesus, but of course do not acknowledge that he was the Messiah. They
claim that the miracles of Jesus were the work of Satan, which is
reminiscent of the sayings of Jesus’ accusers during his lifetime. Details
of these claims may be found in the references above.
You may be extremely well assured that Jesus was a real person who lived
in Palestine, who performed many public signs, who was crucified under
Pontius Pilate, and about whom it was claimed that he was resurrected from
the dead. These things are a matter of public record. You cannot prove all
the sayings and acts of Jesus from sources outside the New Testament, but
the facts mentioned above are without doubt true.
John Oakes, PhD
Why are the Dead Sea Scrolls important?
The Dead Sea Scrolls are a large number of manuscripts which have been
found in a series of caves in the general area site of the ruins of the
desert community of Qumran. Qumran was a settlement in the steep and arid
hills at the Northwest end of the Dead Sea. Although there is some
argument from scholars, most believe that Qumran was a community of
Essenes, an ascetic sect of Jews who were waiting for the Messiah and who
had rejected the priesthood in Jerusalem. It is believed that at least
partly due to the upheavals at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem in
AD 70, these manuscripts were carried to a number of caves in the general
area of Qumran and eventually abandoned there.
The “scrolls” are a number of complete scrolls as well as many fragments
and even some manuscripts on copper and other materials. They contain many
of the writings of the Essenes and other Jewish sects, including a number
of apocalyptic and theological treatises. Most significantly for
Christians, the scrolls include a large number of fragments and even some
complete scrolls of Old Testament. This is very significant because before
the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the oldest known manuscripts of the
Old Testament in Hebrew were from AD 900 and later. The oldest complete
manuscript was the Leningrad Old Testament manuscript form the eleventh
The Dead Sea Scrolls are manuscripts from about 250BC to around AD 50.
This moves the oldest manuscripts of the Old Testament back over one
thousand years, spanning as much as two-thirds of the time from when some
of the books were written and the oldest previous available manuscript.
In general, the Dead Sea Scrolls are very similar to the Masoretic Text,
which is the oldest previously available text. In most cases in which they
differ from the Masoretic Text, they bear similarity to the Septuagint, a
Greek translation of the Old Testament which was done in the third and
second centuries BC.
The significance of the Dead Sea Scrolls is that they provide strong
support for the belief that our present text of the Hebrew Old Testament
is very similar to the original writings, giving us even greater
confidence that we have the very words of God. For further reading go to
the article A Remarkable Collection in the article section of the web site.
John Oakes, PhD
If Jesus really did all the things that are recorded in the Bible, why
isn’t there more information about him outside the Bible?
Thousands must have seen or somehow heard from him. Is it maybe because
the written testimonies about Jesus were burned, destroyed by the enemies
in the 1st century ? Paul persecuted the church because he taught it was a
sect, but he never heard about Jesus before his calling. That seems a bit
strange because Paul was a Pharisee in Jerusalem and then he must have
heard about a guy who claims to be the son of god.
I have already essentially answered this question under question number
nine on the question page. This question is also addressed in an article
at the web site titled The Miracles of Jesus and one titled The
Resurrection of Jesus To give a quick summary, authors from the first and
second century who were not disciples of Jesus but who mentioned him and
referred to some specific facts about him which corroborate the New
Testament accounts include Flavius Josephus, a Jewish historian, as well
as Tacitus, Pliny and Seutonius, all very well-known Roman historians.
Also, some Jewish writers mention Jesus, his miracles and his
resurrection, although in derogatory terms. Other Roman historians mention
Jesus as well as the events surrounding the resurrection. One even
mentioned the period of darkness at the time of the resurrection. Specific
events which are mentioned include the crucifixion in Jesus in Jerusalem,
his resurrection, his miracles (in a general sense), the death of the
apostle James, and so forth. If you want to do some research, I suggest
Josh McDowell’s book New Evidence That Demands a Verdict and my book
Reasons for Belief: A Handbook of Christian Evidences.
There is no evidence that attempts to burn or destroy early Christian
manuscripts or the manuscripts of non-believers limited knowledge of the
works of Jesus. Paul clearly knew a lot about Jesus before he was
converted on the road to Damascus, as he was going to Damascus to
persecute the followers of Jesus. He was very well aware of the claims of
the early disciples concerning the miracles and resurrection of Jesus.
John Oakes, PhD
I saw your article on historical and archaelogical evidences for the bible
and I was intrigued. I have been reading about a guy you may have heard of
Bob Cornuke. His story is amazing. A former LA SWAT police officer he
joined up with a rich guy to pursue biblical archaeology. He believes the
bible is 100% historically accurate, and that the mountain of Sinai, as it
is referred to in the bible, is actually in Saudi Arabia – They actually
snuck into Saudi Arabia and went to see this mountain where they found
everything described in the bible. Moses cave, the altar, the rock that
was split with the water flowing out, markers at the base of the mountain,
etc. If you havent seen the pictures that they took it is really
astounding, they are on their website. I’d be very interested to know your
insights on this and have attached an excerpt below and their website
link. For centuries Bible scholars and religious pilgrims have been
seeking the location of the real Mt. evidence has been produced to verify
that what is traditionally designated at “Mount Sinai” in the south
central Sinai Peninsula is indeed verifiable reason that the traditional
site is designated “Mount Sinai” at all is because a Roman mystic
designated it and Helena, mother of century AD. (Helena also claimed she
discovered the true “holy sepulchre” in Jerusalem and the true cross of
Christ.). Several other proposed sites for the true Mount Sinai have been
suggested by biblical scholars, but thus we are ever to discern a correct
Exodus, it?s important to use the Scriptures as a guide, just as we would
use any other ancient documents that have proven reliable in the past. In
the New Testament, Paul wrote in Galatians 4:25, “Now Hagar stands for
Mount Sinai in Arabia…”Although some argue that here the Roman
designation of Arabia includes the Sinai Peninsula, Arabia in Paul?s day
encompassed a larger region that primarily designated the populated
regions of ancient Midian, or modern-day Saudi Arabia. As a “Hebrew of
Hebrews,” Paul?s understanding of Arabia would Kings 10:15, 2 Chronicles
9:14, clearly identified with the region east of the Gulf of Aqaba, where
“kings” ruled and the “Dedanites” co-dwelt with other nomadic peoples. as
being in Midian: “Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his
father-in-law, the priest of Midian. And he led the flock to the back of
the desert, and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.” Here, there are two
important issues. First, the region of “Midian” referred to here is
undeniably the same as present-day Saudi Arabia. Second, at the
traditional cause it to be geographically identified with the “back” of a
desert, in distinction from its surroundings. By contrast, the site
proposed by BASE ancient Midian. However, can ancient Midian be identified
with the Sinai Peninsula, which in the time of Moses, was considered a
part of Egypt (although designated as the “wilderness” of Egypt)? It is
apparent from Exodus Moses fled Egypt for safer ground: “When Pharaoh
heard of this, he tried to kill Moses, but Moses fled from Pharaoh and
went to live in Midian.” Egypt and its holdings would not have been safe
for Moses under any circumstances. He would not have fled to multiple
mining interests and military. The Bible makes several references to Moses
returning to Egypt from Midian, including Exodus 4:19 where we read, “Now
the Lord had said to Moses in Midian, ?Go back to Egypt, for all the men
who wanted to kill you are dead.” All passages associated with Moses? stay
in Midian point toward present-day Saudi Arabia bush, and then returned
with the (or the lack of it) pointed away from the historical mountain of
Moses, a site found to support this theory. Saudi Arabia?s closed borders
made it impossible for a team of scholars and archaeologists to enter the
country. country, traced what appears to be the consider to be the true
Thanks for writing. I am glad you are thinking about the Bible and
Archaeology. Have you read my book “Reasons for Belief: A Handbook of
Christian Evidence”? It is available through www.ipibooks.com. It contains
a summary of archaeological evidence in support of the Bible, as well as a
lot of other general Christian evidences. If it is not available at your
book ministry, you could perhaps ask them to get it.
Anyway, yes I am well aware of the non-Mt Sinai theories. I think it is
fair to say that no one knows for sure where the Law was received. There
are hundreds of examples of local peoples in the Near East making very
dubious claims that a particular site is the location of Old Testament
events. There is nothing easier than finding a guide in Palestine to help
you visit the “true” site of particular biblical scenes.
As to the claims that the biblical Mt Sinai is actually in present-day
Saudi Arabia, I would say that this may in fact be true. However, the
biblical arguments above are not convincing to me at all. The author
claims that it is all but proved that Midian is beyond the Gulf of Aquaba.
It is easy to make such a claim, but his statement that the Sinai was
Egyptian territory, while generally true, does not convince me that the
Law could not have been received there or that parts of the Sinai could
not have been controlled by Bedoins such as the Midianites. The author
above claims that there is no physical evidence that the traditional Mt.
Sinai is the biblical one. I believe this is true. However, a very strong
dose of skepticism toward this particular person’s conclusions would be
wise. If one looks at a map and asks whether the Israelites may have
traveled all the way through the Sinai peninsula, around past Aquaba, out
into the Arabian peninsula before the events recorded in Exodus, I am a
bit skeptical of that, but would not rule it out. The author claims that
Helena was the first to designate the traditional Mt. Sinai. I do not
believe this is true. You may want to do your own research into this, but
I believe you will find that this is not accurate. The author also says
that Midian is present-day Saudi Arabia is not convincing. Certainly
Midian did not have the exact same borders as modern Saudi Arabia. “The
Bible is clear that Moses went out of Egypt, to the land of Midian east of
the gulf of Aqaba.” This is not clear from any biblical passage I can
think of. Does the author quote his sources for this claim? I find the
argument for some particular mountain on the Arabian peninsula at least as
unconvincing. The fact that the authors can point to some pictures does
not help. I guarantee that supporters of the traditional location will be
able to point to similar geological features etc.
In summary, I would not be surprised if the traditional Mt. Sinai was not
the site of the receipt of the Law. There is not direct evidence, other
than tradition and the fact that Mt. Sinai is the largest peak in the
Sinai Peninsula, as far as I know to support this site being the biblical
Sinai. To say that we do not know where Sinai is, is a far cry from saying
that a particular peak on the Arabian peninsula is the correct one unless
we have some sort of verifiable evidence.
In any case, this is fun and interesting stuff, and I encourage you to
continue your researches, but to also maintain a skeptical eye. Bear in
mind that as interesting as the search for the true Sinai is, in the end,
it really does not affect significantly our view of God or of the Old
John Oakes, PhD
The book of Jashar is one of the many books cited in the OT. Following is
a list (possibly incomplete) of sources cited in the O.T. books. The list
omits references to other O.T. books. These works are
“extrabiblical”-outside (extra, Latin) the Bible.
The Book of the Wars of the Lord-Numbers 21:14
The Poets-Numbers 21:27
The Book of the Annals of the Kings of Media and Persia-Esther 10:2
The Book of Jashar-Joshua 10:13, 2 Samuel 1:18
The Sayings of the Wise-Proverbs 22:17+
The Sayings of Agur-Proverbs 30
The Sayings of King Lemuel-Proverbs 31:1-9
The Book of the Annals of the Kings of Israel-1 Kings 14:19 etc.
The Book of the Annals of the Kings of Judah-1 Kings 14:29 etc.
The Book of the Kings of Judah and Israel-2 Chronicles 16:11
The Annotations of the Prophet Iddo-2 Chronicles 13:22
The Vision of the Prophet Isaiah-2 Chronicles 32:32
Genealogical records-Nehemiah 7, Ezra 2
The Book of the Annals of Solomon-1 Kings 11:41
The Book of the Annals of King David-1 Chronicles 27:24
The Records of Samuel the Seer-1 Chronicles 29:29
The Records of Nathan the Prophet-1 Chronicles 29:29
The Records of Gad the Seer-1 Chronicles 29:29
The Visions of Iddo the Seer-2 Chronicles 9:29
The Prophecy of Ahijah the Shilonite-2 Chronicles 9:29
The Annals of Jehu son of Hanani-2 Chronicles 20:34
The Letter of Elijah to Jehoram-2 Chronicles 21:12+
The Annotations of the Book of the Kings-2 Chronicles 24:27
The Laments of Jeremiah for Josiah-2 Chronicles 35:25
1. It is always possible that some of these sources may be identical to
other sources, although with a different name.
2. This is probably not a complete list.
3. This study makes it clear that the Bible frequently quotes sources,
without necessarily making those sources “inspired.”
Douglas Jacoby, from www.douglasjacoby.com
I have heard that the Old Testament was written by Jewish priests just a
couple of hundred years before Christ, and that it is totally unreliable
historically, with lots of religious fables and myths. How can I be sure
Two hundred years ago it would have been hard to produce hard evidence to
prove the skeptics who make such claims wrong. Before the discoveries of
modern archaeology, belief in the truly ancient character of the writings
in the Old Testament was based primarily on faith. This is certainly not
the case today. Since the mid nineteenth century there has been an
ever-increasing amount of material discovered in the Near East which
provides abundant and dramatic proof of the historical accuracy of the Old
Testament. At the same time, the historical reliability of the Old
Testament text has strongly supported belief that most of it was written
in a time frame close to the actual events described. In other words, the
historical reliability of books such as Exodus strongly support belief
that the book was written by an author who lived at a time close to the
events of the Exodus.
Hundreds of examples could be cited to support this claim. An article
which may be useful is Historical and Archaeological Evidence Which
Supports the Bible. We will list just a very small number here.
1. The Hittites.
As recently as the late nineteenth century, many scholars doubted the very
existence of these people known as the Hittites, despite the fact that
they figure so prominently in the Bible. Many considered the Hittites,
Horites, Jebusites, Amorites and so forth as simply historical fiction.
That was until 1906 when the German archaeologist Hugo Winkler began
excavating the site of the ancient city of Hattusha in present-day Turkey.
He excavated five large temples, as well as a citadel. Ten thousand clay
tablets containing what is now known to be the Hittite language were also
discovered. A great number of other cities which were once part of the
great Hittite Empire have since been excavated. The Hittites were the
dominant power in the Near East, along with Egypt and Assyria for well
over a thousand years. So much for the Bible being an historical fantasy.
2. The Tel el-Amarna letters.
The Tel el-Amarna tablets were discovered in the ruins of the Egyptian
city el-Amarna. This was the capital city of Pharaoh Akhnaton, ruler of
Egypt from 1387 to 1366 BC. The tablets are letters from local officials
in Palestine and Syria, describing the situation in their provinces,
requesting supplies and so forth. The letters in general describe a state
of near anarchy in the outlying reaches of the Egyptian realms.
Most interestingly, the Amarna letters appear to mention events recorded
in the book of Joshua. A number of the letters mention cities falling to
an invading group. Specifically, they mention the fall of Gezer, Ashkelon
and Lachish. All three of these cities are mentioned in the list of
conquered cities in Joshua. This is quite significant, because the book of
Joshua clearly implies that not all the cities of Canaan were conquered.
Megiddo and Jerusalem were notable hold-outs. These cities are not
mentioned in the el-Amarna letters as being conquered. One of the letters
found at el-Amarna is from a certain Abdi-Hiba, governor of Jebus (later
known as Jerusalem). The letter is addressed to Akhnaton, which implies it
was written somewhere between 1387 and 1366 BC. This fits well with an
approximate date of the exodus of 1420 BC. In the letter, Abdi-Hiba
pleaded for military aid from Pharaoh Akhnaton;
?The Habiru plunder all lands of the king. If archers are here this year,
then the lands of the king, the lord, will remain; but if the archers are
not here, then the lands of the king, my lord, are lost.?
Could the Habiru (or Apiru) of this letter be the armies of the Hebrews,
conquering large parts of Canaan from the native dynasties, as described
in Joshua? Some archaeologists have denied this contention. Many do so
because they like to date the conquest to some time around 1270 BC. The
obvious similarity of the spelling, combined with the perfect
correspondence with the list of conquered cities makes the identification
of the Habiru of the Tel el-Amarna letters with the Hebrews in the Bible
seem almost certain. At some point, archaeologists will have to consider
the possibility that the Old Testament is the most accurate and useful
primary source of historical evidence for the Near East we have.
3. The Sennacherib Cylinder.
This “cylinder” is actually in the shape of a prism. It is also known as
the Taylor prism. It was found in Nineveh. Events recorded on the prism
imply that it was carved in 686 BC. It reports the attack and siege of
Jerusalem by Sennacherib. These events are related in detail in 2 Kings
18:17-19:37. The writer of 2 Kings states that Jerusalem was put under
siege by Sennacherib?s army. After preparing the defenses of the city,
King Hezekiah prayed to God for deliverance. As described in 2 Kings, that
night the army of Sennacherib was slain by an angel of God, and
Sennacherib retreated back to Assyria. The account of the siege as
recorded on the Sennacherib cylinder is as follows:
As to Hezekiah, the Jew, he did not submit to my yoke. I laid siege to 46
of his strong cities, walled forts, and to the countless small villages in
their vicinity. I drove out of them 200,150 people, young and old, male
and female, horses, mules, donkeys, camels, big and small cattle beyond
counting and considered [them] booty. Himself I made a prisoner in
Jerusalem, his royal residence, like a bird in a cage.
Surely if Sennacherib had actually defeated and captured Hezekiah, it
would have been mentioned on the cylinder. Apparently, both 2 Kings and
those who recorded Sennacherib?s accomplishments agree that he put siege
to Jerusalem, but that he left Canaan without overcoming Jerusalem.
The great volume of archaeological evidence has made it clear that the
Bible is the most accurate ancient historical document in existence today.
Those who claim it is was written hundreds of years after the supposed
events and those who claim it is full of fables and unreliable history are
either misinformed or are not willing to consider the obvious evidence
revealed by archaeology. The fact is that the more we learn, the more we
become confident that the Bible is an extremely reliable historical
account of the events which affected God’s people throughout their history.
If so, was it a world-wide flood, or just a local phenomenon in
Mesopotamia? Is there any evidence for the flood happening?
This question has certainly brought about a lot of debate over the years.
Many have scoffed at the “myth” of the flood in the time of Noah. The
principle reason for intellectuals to scoff at the story of the flood is a
predisposition to assume that supernatural events cannot and do not
happen. It is easy to see that if one assumes before even examining the
question that miraculous, supernatural events do not happen, one will end
by assuming that the flood never happened.
However, the flood is an inescapable part of the inspired word of God–the
Bible. Jesus did not hesitate to accept it as a literal event which
actually happened (Matthew 24:38). Neither did Peter (2 Peter 2:5) or the
writer of Hebrews (Hebrews 11:7). Should we?
Well, yes, we should at least be open-minded enough to check out the
evidence. If the world-wide flood recorded in Genesis actually happened,
there might be some evidence of the event which one could point to. If one
were to search for evidence for the flood, what could one expect to find?
Some would claim that the flood created most of the sedimentary layers on
the earth–up to twenty-five thousand feet thick in places. They would
claim, for example that all the layers which can be observed at the Grand
Canyon were laid down in a single, universal flood, and that the canyon
itself was carved out as the waters of that single flood receded. This
claim is not credible at all. If fact, if a universal flood occurred, it
would at most redistribute a significant part of the top soil, sand and
gravel at the surface of the earth, leaving perhaps as much as a few dozen
feet of mud in some places, and eroded top soil in others. Therefore the
physical signs of a great, world-wide flood would be similar to those of a
major local flood. In Mesopotamia, for example, flood layers up to 15 feet
thick have been discovered, which some have attributed to the flood in the
days of Noah. This may well be, but it is difficult to prove, as major
floods occur naturally in Mesopotamia from time to time.
If physical evidence may be unconvincing, what evidence can one look for,
to confirm the flood described in Genesis? One significant fact is that
nearly every very ancient culture has a record of a great flood.
Traditions of a singularly massive flood are found in cultures in
Australia, China, Egypt, Sub-Saharan Africa, Mesopotamia, North, Central
and South America and Europe. No other ancient event is remembered in
every part of the globe. This fact is very strongly suggestive that some
sort of great, world-wide flood actually happened. Due to their
presupposition against the possibility of a supernatural event, most
intellectuals are extremely unlikely to accept this hypothesis.
Although the common record of a great flood from every region of the globe
is quite suggestive, it is worth remembering that ultimately, for the
Bible believer, faith in the account of the flood in Genesis is based
primarily on belief that the entire Bible is inspired by God. The Old
Testament has every conceivable mark of inspiration by the creator. Peter
reminded his readers, in 2 Peter 3:5-7 that the grounds for belief in the
return of Jesus is the same as for belief in the flood. Both are based on
the Word of God.
Another common question about the flood is whether it was truly
world-wide. One answer is that the account in Genesis certainly implies
that it was. In Genesis seven one can find the words every and all
throughout. Besides, as already pointed out, there is a similar record of
a great flood found in every part of the globe, lending credence to its
being world-wide in its effect. Some have proposed the “Local Flood
Theory” to explain the Genesis flood account. The idea is that the flood
of Noah was a massive flood in the Mesopotamian area only. The problem
with this theory is that there is no way the water could rise so high for
one hundred and fifty days, just in Mesopotamia, without spreading to
surrounding areas. Others have proposed pseudo-naturalistic explanations
of the flood such as the “Canopy Theory.” This is the theory that in the
early earth there was a massive canopy of water in the upper atmosphere
which was released in the flood. This theory is easily dismissed as it
defies several well-known physical laws.
In the final analysis, the flood described in Genesis is clearly a
miraculous event. It is plainly described as a judgment for mankind’s
sins. Any attempt to find some sort of “natural” explanation is bound to
fail. Exactly how God did it we do not know. Unfortunately, many possible
questions about the flood will probably remain unanswered. Did literally
every kind of animal come to the ark? What happened to the water? Could
the flood have been world-wide in effect, but leave at least some
creatures behind in various parts of the world? Did God recreate certain
species after the flood? Because the Bible does not provide specific
answers to some of these questions, one can speculate, but it is unwise to
be dogmatic about one specific opinion.
A more thorough treatment of this question is found in the article at this
web site entitled, “Will it Be Fire Next Time??