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The majority of the eyewitness accounts we have of Jesus come from the Gospel. However, there are also many secular and non-Christian writings from extra-biblical sources from just shortly after His Ascension all the way to the fifth century that describes the Earthly Life of Jesus.
What do these writings have to offer to us? Here are five of the earliest non-Biblical references to Jesus Christ.
Thallus in 52 A.D.
Thallus was an early historian who wrote in Koine Greek. He is perhaps the earliest secular writer to mention Jesus; in fact, he is so ancient his complete volume of works does not even exist anymore. However, Julius Africanus writing around 221 A.D. quotes Thallus who provides an explanation for the darkness that occurred at the Crucifixion.
“On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun.” – (Julius Africanus, Chronography, 18:1)
Mara Bar-Serapion in 73 A.D.
Mara bar-Serapion was a Syrian stoic philosopher who wrote a letter of encouragement to his son, comparing the life and persecution of Jesus to that of the philosophers who were persecuted for their ideas. He refers to Him as the “Wise King” that was an influential man who died for His beliefs at the hands of the Jewish leadership, and whose followers adopted His beliefs and lived their lives accordingly.
“What benefit did the Athenians obtain by putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as judgment for their crime. Or, the people of Samos for burning Pythagoras? In one moment their country was covered with sand. Or the Jews by murdering their wise king? … After that their kingdom was abolished. God rightly avenged these men … The wise king … Lived on in the teachings he enacted.” – (A Letter of Mara, Son of Serapion)
Pliny the Younger in 112 A.D.
Pliny the Younger was a Roman lawyer, historian, magistrate, and governor. Around 112 A.D., he wrote to the Roman emperor Trajan, who had asked for advice whether or not to continue executing Christians.
“The sum total of their guilt or error was no more than the following. They had met regularly before dawn on a determined day, and sung antiphonally a hymn to Christ as to a god. They also took an oath not for any crime, but to keep from theft, robbery and adultery, and not to break any promise.” – (Pliny’s letter to Trajan)
Tacitus in 116 A.D.
Tacitus was a senator of the Roman Empire and considered one of their greatest historians. In his Annals of 116 A.D., he talks about Emperor Nero’s response to great fire in Rome and how the emperor blamed the Christians.
“Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus.” – (Annals of 116 A.D.)
Suetonius in 121 A.D.
Suetonius was a Roman historian who wrote during the early Imperial era of Rome. In his set of biographies called The Twelve Caesars, he wrote about the treatment of Christians under Emperor Claudius.
“Because the Jews at Rome caused constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus (Christ), he (Claudius) expelled them from the city (Rome).” – (Life of Claudius, 25:4)
This same expulsion of the followers of Christ by Emperor Claudius is mentioned in the Bible in the Acts of the Apostles.
“There he met a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla because Claudius had ordered all the Jews to leave Rome. He went to visit them” – Acts 18:2