What are the views of Tacitus on Jesus? Can his writings help prove whether or not Jesus was real?
Tacitus was a historian and politician of ancient Rome. He wrote extensively about many subjects. The writings of Tacitus on Jesus also exist. Many scholars point to the writings as proof Jesus existed, since Tacitus serves as a reliable record for other topics.
Keep reading to find out the views of Tacitus on Jesus, and why his writings matter.
The Writings of Tacitus on Jesus
The oldest surviving copies of the gospels were made comparatively soon after the originals were written. Whereas the surviving copies of many ancient texts were made hundreds of years after the original—for example, Tacitus’s Annals of Imperial Rome was written in the second century AD, but our oldest copy dates to 850 AD—there are fragments of the New Testament preserved on papyrus dating to the second century AD. (The earliest copy of the New Testament that survives is a small fragment of the gospel of John dating to between 100 and 150 AD.)
Nevertheless, those that insist Jesus never existed are willfully distorting—or ignoring—the record. Josephus’s bona fides as a historian are well known: His accounts have been supported by archeological findings as well as the accounts of Tacitus, arguably the most important Roman historian of the period. The views of Tacitus can help establish Jesus’s existence.
The Tacitus histories, too, mentions Jesus in his writings. In his account of Nero’s persecution of Christians in 115 AD, he explicitly references a “Christus,” who was crucified by Pontius Pilate and inspired an “immense multitude” to adhere to his teachings. The reason the Tacitus histories is especially trustworthy are (1) he was generally unsympathetic to Christians, and so would have no reason to fabricate Christ’s existence, and (2) he establishes that Jesus attracted a large group of followers. Given that Jesus was executed using the most disgraceful method of the time—and so, under normal circumstances, would have been forgotten or disowned—the fact that he commanded a massive following of adherents who would rather die than renounce him at least implies his resurrection. The writings of Tacitus on Jesus mention Jesus specifically.
Josephus and Tacitus the historian are merely the most famous of the ancient historians to corroborate Jesus’s existence.
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