It may surprise Christians to learn that there are no contemporary historical documents for 'Jesus, the Christ'. While some apologists attempt to wave this problem away by claiming that "Jesus"would not have be en a noteworthy figure, this contradicts what the Gospels say about Jesus. Even the relatively sober account of Jesus found in the first gospel, The Gospel of 'Mark', gives an account of Jesus as someone who garnered quite a bit of attention. Consider for example, Mark 2:1-12, where the crowd coming to see Jesus is so great that a paralytic has to be lowered through the roof of a building Jesus is in, in order for Jesus to see him. Consider how the crowds so overflow that he has to lecture from a boat on the Sea of Galilee. Mark tells us of how Jesus performed miracles before thousands: on two different occasions Jesus feeds thousands through miracles (see for example, Mark 8:1). When Jesus travels from Bethany to Jerusalem, throngs of people line the roads to welcome him.
In short, 'Mark' gives us a 'Jesus' who is bigger than the Beatles, and I believe the Beatles analogy is a good one. We even have a nice parallel between the story of Jesus' lecture at Galilee, and the Beatles famous 'rooftop' audition, where they were forced to play an impromptu concert on a rooftop, lest the crowds that would rush to see them cause a riot. In both cases, the crowds had reached, hysterical, historically noteworthy,proportions. Yet, John E. Remsberg, in 'The Christ: A Critical Review and Analysis of the Evidence of His Existence' (The Truth Seeker Company, NY, no date, pp. 24-25) makes the curious observation that no one from this era wrote a single word about the Jesus Hysteria. Remsberg notes: "(While) Enough of the writings of the authors named in the foregoing list remains to form a library, (no where)... in this mass of Jewish and Pagan literature, aside from two forged brief passages in the works of a Jewish author (Josephus), and two disputed passages in the works of Roman writers, there is to be found no mention of Jesus Christ."
Let's take a look at the more notable names on his list, just to get an idea, again, of how glaring this silence is... We can call this list:
"They Would Have Noticed"
Philo (~20 BCE - ~40 CE) was a Hellenized Jew who lived in Alexandria, Egypt. He visited the Temple in Jerusalem, and corresponded with family there. He wrote a great many books on religion and philosophy which survive to this day, and mentioned many of his contemporaries. His main theological contribution was the development of the Logos, the "Word" that opens the Gospel of John. Yet Philo not once mentions Jesus, anybody who could be mistaken for Jesus, or any of the events of the New Testament. His last writings come from 40 CE, only a few years after the end of Pontius Pilate's reign, when he was part of an embassy sent by the Alexandrian Jews to the Roman Emperor Caligula.
Philo wrote an account of the Jews covering the entire time that Christ is said to have existed on earth. He was living in or near Jerusalem when Christ's miraculous birth and the Herodian massacre (which also has no independent corroboration) supposedly occurred. He was there when Christ supposedly would have made his triumphal entry in Jerusalem. He was there when the Crucifixion with its attendant earthquake, supernatural darkness, and resurrection of the dead would have taken place--when Christ himself supposedly would have rose from the dead. Yet, none of these events are ever mentioned by him.
It simply makes no sense that Philo would not have recorded something about the Markian conceptualization of Jesus.
Pliny the Elder (~23 CE - 79 CE) wrote a Natural History that mentions hundreds of people, major and minor; he even writes about the Essenes in Natural History, section V, 15 . Yet nowhere in his works is any mention of the Jesus phenomena described in Mark.
Pliny also provides us with a direct refutation of the Gospel claims of earthquakes and eclipses. Pliny collected data on all manner of natural and astronomical phenomena, even those which were legendary - which he himself did not necessarily regard as factual, yet he records no prodigies associated with the beliefs of Christians, such as an earthquake or darkening of the skies at a crucifixion, or any star of Bethlehem.
After Philo and Pliny the Elder one of the most damning omission would be in the works of Josephus.
Josephus (37-100 AD) was not a contemporary and could not have been a first hand eyewitness of "Jesus", however, as a Jewish historian who focused on Jewish history and religion, he would have been greatly interested in the appearance of the Jewish Messiah.
Josephus wrote The Antiquities of the Jews, See his works here. This is a work that focused on Jewish history from "Adam" to Josephus' time. Yet, while Josephus devotes a good deal of space ton John the Baptist and other historical figures mentioned in the Gospels (He gives a detailed account of Pontius Pilate in The Jewish Wars, http://www.inu.net/skeptic/gospels.html) he does not appear to have actually written anything at all concerning the life of Jesus the Christ! This is 'damning' considering that we would expect that the appearance of the Jewish Messiah ought to have dominated a work dedicated to Jewish history.
For this very reason, the claim that Josephus never mentions Jesus was a concern for early Christians. For this reason it is no surprise that there is a later interpolation into the Antiquities of a reference to Jesus. The infamous "Testimonium Flavium" appears to have been inserted into the Antiquities in the 4th century. A key proof for this comes from the fact that while early Christians cited Josephus, none of them ever cited the Testimonium, even in situations where they were striving to provide historical proof for Jesus:
- Justin Martyr (circa C.E. 100-165) never once quoted the passage -- even in the face of charges that Christians had "invented some sort of Christ for themselves" and that they had accepted "a futile rumor" (Dialogue with Trypho 8; circa C.E. 135).
- Origen (circa C.E. 185-254), who in his own writings relies extensively upon the works of Josephus, does not mention this passage or any other passage in Josephus that mentions Christ. Not even when he is in dialogue against Celsus' accusations!
- Jerome (circa C.E. 347-420) cites Josephus 90 times, but never once cites the Testimonium.
"Its brevity disproves its authenticity. Josephus' work is voluminous and exhaustive. It comprises twenty books. Whole pages are devoted to petty robbers and obscure seditious leaders. Nearly fourty chapters are devoted to the life of a single king. Yet this remarkable being, the greatest product of his race, a being of whom the prophets foretold ten thousand wonderful things, a being greater than any earthly king, is dismissed with a dozen lines."Logic also provides us with yet another powerful clue as to the falsity of the Testimonium:: Josephus lived and died a Jew, never converting to Christianity. Ergo we can say that Josephus is silent on the matter of the life of Jesus the Christ.
-- The Christ, by John E. Remsburg, reprinted by Prometheus Books, New York, 1994, pages 171-3.
It should also be noted that some argue that Antiquities section 20.9 makes an indirect reference to Jesus. This claim is examined here and also here There is good reason to believe that the reference to a "Jesus' here is actually a reference to Jesus, son of Damneus, and not 'Jesus, son of Joseph'. And again, the idea that a Historian would mention the Messiah, in passing, and not elswhere, in detail, is simply inane.
Plutarch (ca. 46 - 127), again, was not a contemporary, he wrote about the same time as Josephus, about contemporary Roman figures, oracles, prophesies, and moral, religious, and spiritual issues. A figure such as Jesus, whom the Gospels portray as interacting with Roman figures, making prophecies, and giving sermons on novel religious and spiritual issues to throngs of people, would have been of great interest to him. Yet we cannot find even a word about "Jesus" from Plutarch.
Seneca the Younger (ca. 4 BC–AD 65) philosopher and statesman, who wrote both philosophical works and papers on morality. He lived during the purported time of Jesus, in the general area of Jesus, and would have had contact with Roman authorities who in turn would have had contacts with Jesus. Yet, he does not take note of any of the miraculous events reported in the gospels.
Justus of Tiberius ( ? - 95 ?) Remsberg states that "Justus was a native of Christ's own country, Galilee. He was a contemporary and rival of Josephus. He wrote a history of Jewish people Kings (who the gospels state Jesus had interactions with) covering the time of Christ's reputed existence. This work perished, but Photius, a Christian scholar and critic of the 9th century, was acquainted with it and said, "He (Justus) makes not the least mention of the appearance of Christ, of what things happened to him, or of the wonderful works that he did." (Photius, Bibliotheca, Code 33)."
Dio Chrysostom (c. 40–c. 120) was a Greek orator, writer, philosopher and historian of the Roman Empire in the first century. Eighty of his Discourses remain in existence. While Chrysostom was not a contemporary of Jesus' purported time (He was a contemporary of Plutarch, Tacitus and Pliny the Younger) he was both a historian and a person with great interest in moral matters. His philosophy has been considered a moral parallel to that of Paul of Tarsus and indicates that the early Greek Christians drew upon the Cynic and Stoic philosophies when developing their Christian faith. So we again have an early writer who certainly would have had interest in Jesus as Mark or any of the other Gospels, present him.
Epictetus (55-130) Again, Epictetus was not born until sometime after the purported time of Jesus, however, his silence remains noteworthy. The best known Stoic was a slave, whose master was Nero’s secretary. A translator of Epictetus, Elizabeth Carter, was baffled that he was not a Christian. “There are so many of the sentiments and expressions of Christianity in it, that one should be strongly tempted to think that Epictetus was acquainted with the New Testament,..” [p. xxii] Well, he was not and never even so much as mentions Christians in passing. He lived in Rome and as a slave to Epaphroditus, a senior member of Nero’s government would have known of the fire and the Christian sacrifice in the aftermath. However, all he has to say about Nero is his persecution of some good men who refused to attend his performances.
They all should have noticed. It appears that none did.
All that is left for us is to sum up what this means for "Jesus" of the Gospels. The historian Edward Gibbons does this summing up for us:
"But how shall we excuse the supine inattention of the Pagan and philosophic world, to those evidences which were represented by the hand of Omnipotence, not to their reason, but to their senses? During the age of Christ, of his apostles, and of their first disciples, the doctrine which they preached was confirmed by innumerable prodigies. The lame walked, the blind saw, the sick were healed, the dead were raised, demons were expelled, and the laws of Nature were frequently suspended for the benefit of the church. But the sages of Greece and Rome turned aside from the awful spectacle, and, pursuing the ordinary occupations of life and study, appeared unconscious of any alterations in the moral or physical government of the world. Under the reign of Tiberius, the whole earth, or at least a celebrated province of the Roman empire, was involved in a preternatural darkness of three hours. Even this miraculous event, which ought to have excited the wonder, the curiosity, and the devotion of mankind, passed without notice in an age of science and history. It happened during the lifetime of Seneca and the elder Pliny, who must have experienced the immediate effects, or received the earliest intelligence of the prodigy. Each of these philosophers, in a laborious work, has recorded all the great phenomena of Nature, earthquakes, meteors comets, and eclipses, which his indefatigable curiosity could collect. Both the one and the other have omitted to mention the greatest phenomenon to which the mortal eye has been witness since the creation of the globe" (Rome, Vol. I, pp. 588-590).
Could the most amazing event ever go unnoticed? Only the intellectual dishonest can answer with a "yes".