Question: It’s expected that Christians people would believe the Bible, especially because it’s written by Christians. What sources are there outside the Bible to show that the biblical claims are true?
Answer: Before getting into extra-biblical (non-biblical) sources, I’d like to clarify a couple of things for you.
Point number one is that the Bible was not written by Christians, and is not a single book that was written all at once. The Bible is a collection of stories, biographies, poems, prophetic writings, letters, laws and history. Over a period of about 1,500 years, approximately 40 individuals, consisting of farmers, doctors, priests, government officials, kings, shepherds, and fishermen, wrote the material that comprises what is now known as “the Bible”.
Point number two is that whenever historical claims are investigated, the earliest sources are always the most reliable and trustworthy. Having earlier sources doesn’t automatically make the claims true, we still need to apply the proper tests in verifying the truth, but if we have multiple sources all stating the same thing(s), then the earliest should be treated with higher significance. In addition to this, if you can collect multiple individual attestations of the same event, the truth of the claims become evidently stronger if each source can corroborate the same story. The Bible is the best source of information regarding the claims about Messiah (Jesus/Yeshua) because it not only contains multiple individual attestations but contains the earliest writings of the events.
The main reason unbelievers ask for non-biblical sources is that they distrust the Bible, believing it is a biased religious book written specifically for Christians or other religious people. As mentioned above, this is not the case. Accepting later & extra-biblical sources as authoritative, rather than the accounts in the New Testament is poor methodology. When searching for evidence, we should always look to the earliest sources for reliability. Extra-biblical sources only serve to strengthen the claims of the New Testament.
Well with that being said, let’s look at what some non-Scriptural sources have to say.
1. Cornelius Tacitus (56-120AD)
Tacitus was a Roman senator and (arguably the best) Roman historian who despised Christians. His last major work titled the “Annals”, written in 116 CE, Tacitus describes Emperor Nero’s response to the great fire in Rome in 64AD:
The facts Tacitus provides about Messiah are:
- He existed and lived in Judea
- He was crucified under Pontius Pilate.
- He had followers who were persecuted for belief in Him.
- Christians derived their name from a historical person called Christus (from the Latin), or Christ.
2. Pliny the Younger (61-113AD)
Pliny was the Roman governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor. In one of his letters, dated around 112AD, he asks the Roman emperor Trajan for advice about the appropriate way to conduct legal proceedings against those accused of being Christians. At one point in his letter, he describes the lifestyles of early Christians:[content_box title=”Pliny wrote: ” icon=”” backgroundcolor=”#dd9d9d” color=”#000000″]“They (the Christians) were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food—but food of an ordinary and innocent kind.”[tooltip title=”Pliny, Letters, transl. by William Melmoth, rev. by W.M.L. Hutchinson (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1935), vol. II, X:96, cited in Habermas, The Historical Jesus, 199.” icon=”” backgroundcolor=”#dd9d9d”]⊕[/tooltip][/content_box]
The facts Pliny provides about the early Christians are:
- They regularly met on a certain fixed day for worship
- Their worship was directed to Messiah, demonstrating that they firmly believed in His divinity
- They held Messiah’s teachings in high esteem by upholding a high moral code
- They observed/partook in communion
3. Mara Bar-Serapion (70AD)
Mara was a Syrian philosopher, who sometime after 70AD but before the 3rd century, compared the life and persecution of Jesus with other philosophers who were persecuted for their ideas in his writings. Mara referred to Jesus as the “Wise King” and showed that Messiah was a person of great influence:[content_box title=”Mara Wrote:” icon=”” backgroundcolor=”#dd9d9d” color=”#000000″]“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.”[tooltip title=”Jesus outside the New Testament: an introduction to the ancient evidenceby Robert E. Van Voorst 2000 ISBN 0-8028-4368-9 pages 53-55″ icon=”” backgroundcolor=”#dd9d9d”]⊕[/tooltip][/content_box]
The facts Mara provides are:
- Messiah was a wise and influential man who died for His beliefs
- Jewish leadership was responsible for Messiah’s death
- Early Christians adopted His beliefs and lived their lives accordingly
4.Lucian of Samosata: (115-200AD)
Lucian was a second century Greek satirist, who spoke sarcastically of Christ and Christians. In the process of criticism, he did affirm that they were real people. Lucian wrote solely in Greek and there are more than eighty surviving works attributed to him.[content_box title=”Lucian Wrote:” icon=”” backgroundcolor=”#dd9d9d” color=”#000000″]“The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day—the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account….You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws. All this they take quite on faith, with the result that they despise all worldly goods alike, regarding them merely as common property.” (Lucian, The Death of Peregrine. 11-13)[tooltip title=”Lucian, The Death of Peregrine, 11-13, in The Works of Lucian of Samosata, transl. by H.W. Fowler and F.G. Fowler, 4 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1949), vol. 4., cited in Habermas, The Historical Jesus, 206.” icon=”” backgroundcolor=”#dd9d9d”]⊕[/tooltip][/content_box]
The facts about Messiah provided by Lucian are:
- He taught about repentance
- He taught about the family of God
- He was crucified
- Messiah’s teachings were quickly adopted by His followers
- His followers were willing to deny the Greek gods and worship Messiah
- His followers continued to worship Him, even after His death.
5. Josephus (37-101AD)
Josephus was a Jewish historian, born four years after the crucifixion and was an eye witness to majority of the events that he recorded in the first century. Josephus writes about Messiah in his “the Antiquities of the Jews” in 93AD.[content_box title=”Josephus Wrote:” icon=”” backgroundcolor=”#dd9d9d” color=”#000000″]Around this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who did surprising deeds, and a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing among us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who in the first place came to love him did not give up their affection for him, for on the third day, he appeared to them restored to life. The prophets of God had prophesied this and countless other marvelous things about him. And the tribe of Christians, so called after him, have still to this day not died out.[tooltip title=”Theissen and Merz, Historical Jesus, pp. 65–66″ icon=”” backgroundcolor=”#dd9d9d”]⊕[/tooltip][/content_box]
The above is how Josephus’ writings were found, but I’d like to point out that because Josephus was known to be hostile towards Christians, some skeptics think the core of the passage originated with Josephus, but that it was later altered by a Christian editor. It cannot be proven one way or another, but why must we automatically discount what was originally found, simply because Josephus was not a Christian? Why do we have to assume that only Christiasn would have made some of these statements? Because of this doubt, lets take a look at Josephus’ writings, without the Christian embellishments:[content_box title=”Josephus Wrote:” icon=”” backgroundcolor=”#dd9d9d” color=”#000000″]“Now around this time lived Jesus, a wise man. For he was a worker of amazing deeds and was a teacher of people who gladly accept the truth. He won over both many Jews and many Greeks. Pilate, when he heard him accused by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, (but) those who had first loved him did not cease (doing so). To this day the tribe of Christians named after him has not disappeared”[tooltip title=”This neutral reconstruction closely resembles the one proposed by John Meier in, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus: The Roots of the Problem and the Person” icon=”” backgroundcolor=”#dd9d9d”]⊕[/tooltip][/content_box]
Using the second version, we can conclude from Josephus that:
- Messiah lived in Palestine
- Messiah worked amazing deeds
- Messiah was a great teacher and wise man
- Messiah had followers called Christians
- Messiah was accused by the Jews
- Messiah was crucified under orders of Pilot
6. Babylonian Talmud (70-500AD)
The Babylonian Talmud is a collection of Jewish rabbinical writings, that has a small number of references to Messiah. Stretching to 500AD is obviously starting to get far historically from when the events actually happened, however the portion of writing I’ll quote below is dated between 70-200AD:[content_box title=”Babylonian Talmud Contains the passage:” icon=”” backgroundcolor=”#dd9d9d” color=”#000000″]On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald … cried, “He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy.”[tooltip title=”The Babylonian Talmud, transl. by I. Epstein (London: Soncino, 1935), vol. III, Sanhedrin 43a, 281, cited in Habermas, The Historical Jesus, 203. ” icon=”” backgroundcolor=”#dd9d9d”]⊕[/tooltip][/content_box]
Messiah’s name in Hebrew is Yeshua and Jesus in Greek. Out of respect, hyphenating (Y-shua) or abbreviating (Yeshu) Messiah’s name was common amongst the early Christians, to preserve God’s holiness.
What the Babylonian Talmud has to say about Messiah is:
- Messiah was crucified on the eve of Passover. (“Hanged” refers to [tooltip title=”Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree”]Galatians 3:13[/tooltip] and [tooltip title=”One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!”]Luke 23:39[/tooltip]
- Messiah performed miracles. (Talmud called it sorcery which is similar to the Pharisees’ accusation in [tooltip title=”But when the Pharisees heard it, they said, “It is only by Beelzebul, the prince of demons, that this man casts out demons.””]Matthew 12:24[/tooltip])
- Messiah was accused by the Jews ([tooltip title=” And they began to accuse him, saying, “We found this man misleading our nation and forbidding us to give tribute to Caesar, and saying that he himself is Christ, a king.””]Luke 23:2[/tooltip] & [tooltip title=”But they were urgent, saying, “He stirs up the people, teaching throughout all Judea, from Galilee even to this place.””]Luke 23:5[/tooltip]
7. Jewish Talmud (400-700AD)
The Jewish Talmud is another collection of Talmudic writings from Jewish Rabbis. The earliest writings themselves are from the 5th century, however the oral tradition of these Rabbinic authors indicates they accurately transmitted these teachings from the early “Tannaitic” period of the 1st Century BC to the 2nd Century AD.[content_box title=”b. Sanhedrin 43a; cf. t. Shabbat 11.15; b. Shabbat 104b” icon=”” backgroundcolor=”#dd9d9d” color=”#000000″]“Jesus practiced magic and led Israel astray“[/content_box]
[content_box title=”b. Sanhedrin 103a; cf. b. Berakhot 17b” icon=”” backgroundcolor=”#dd9d9d” color=”#000000″]‘What is that which is written, ‘No evil will befall you, nor shall any plague come near your house’? (Psalm 91:10)… ‘No evil will befall you’ (means) that evil dreams and evil thoughts will not tempt you; ‘nor shall any plague come near your house’ (means) that you will not have a son or a disciple who burns his food like Jesus of Nazareth.”“[/content_box]
[content_box title=”b. Sanhedrin 43a; the passage continues in a similar way for Nezer, Buni and Todah” icon=”” backgroundcolor=”#dd9d9d” color=”#000000″]“Our rabbis have taught that Jesus had five disciples: Matthai, Nakai, Nezer, Buni and Todah. They brought Matthai to (to trial). He said, ‘Must Matthai be killed? For it is written, ‘When (mathai) shall I come and appear before God?’” (Psalm 92:2) They said to him, “Yes Matthai must be killed, for it is written, ‘When (mathai) he dies his name will perish’” (Psalm 41:5). They brought Nakai. He said to them, “Must Nakai be killed? For it is written, “The innocent (naqi) and the righteous will not slay’” (Exodus 23:7). They said to him, “Yes, Nakai must be kille, for it is written, ‘In secret places he slays the innocent (naqi)’” (Psalm 10:8)“[/content_box]
[content_box title=”b. Sanhedrin 43a” icon=”” backgroundcolor=”#dd9d9d” color=”#000000″]“It was taught: On the day before the Passover they hanged Jesus. A herald went before him for forty days (proclaiming), “He will be stoned, because he practiced magic and enticed Israel to go astray. Let anyone who knows anything in his favor come forward and plead for him.” But nothing was found in his favor, and they hanged him on the day before the Passover.“[/content_box]
What we can conclude from these writings is:
- Messiah did miracles (Magical powers)
- Messiah led the Jews away from their beliefs
- Messiah had disciples who were martyred for their faith
- Messiah was executed on passover’s eve.
8. Celsus (175AD)
Celsus was an extreme critic to the claims of the Gospels, but in his criticism he unknowingly affirms the Biblical authors and their content. He has alluded to 80 different Biblical quotes, confirming their early appearance in history, and admits the miracles of Messiah were generally believed in the early 2nd century:[content_box title=”Celsus Wrote:” icon=”” backgroundcolor=”#dd9d9d” color=”#000000″]“Jesus had come from a village in Judea, and was the son of a poor Jewess who gained her living by the work of her own hands. His mother had been turned out of doors by her husband, who was a carpenter by trade, on being convicted of adultery [with a soldier named Panthéra (i.32)]. Being thus driven away by her husband, and wandering about in disgrace, she gave birth to Jesus, a bastard. Jesus, on account of his poverty, was hired out to go to Egypt. While there he acquired certain (magical) powers which Egyptians pride themselves on possessing. He returned home highly elated at possessing these powers, and on the strength of them gave himself out to be a god.”[tooltip title=”Origen Against Celsus, Volume 2. Kessinger Publishing.” icon=”” backgroundcolor=”#dd9d9d”]⊕[/tooltip][/content_box]
Celsus admits Messiah was reportedly born of a virgin, but then borrowed from the early Jews who opposed Jesus at the time, and came up with an alternate explanation that Messiah was the illegitimate son of a soldier. What we can gather from Celsus’ writings are:
- Messiah claimed to be God
- Messiah had an earthly father who was a carpenter
- Messiah had unusual magical powers (could perform miracles)
9. Julius Africanus (160-240AD)
Julius Africanus was an ancient historian who in his writings, includes quotes from Thallus and Phlegon. The writings of these two men can no longer be found, so we don’t have any official copies to cross-examine.
9a. Thallus (52AD)
Around 221AD Julius quoted Thallus, who previously tried to explain away the darkness occurring at Messiah’s crucifixion:[content_box title=”Julius quotes Thallus:” icon=”” backgroundcolor=”#dd9d9d” color=”#000000″]“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.”[tooltip title=”Julius Africanus, Chronography, 18:1″ icon=”” backgroundcolor=”#dd9d9d”]⊕[/tooltip][/content_box]
It’s understandable to take Thallus’ quote lightly, on the grounds that we don’t have any copies of his writings, but what he’s quoted as confirming are:
- Messiah lived
- Messiah was crucified
- There was an earthquake & darkness at the point of His crucifixion
9b. Phlegon (80-140AD)
According to Julius, Phlegon wrote a chronicle of history around 140AD, where he [Phlegon] mentions the darkness surrounding the crucifixion, and tries to explain it:[content_box title=”Julius quotes Phlegon:” icon=”” backgroundcolor=”#dd9d9d” color=”#000000″]“Phlegon records that, in the time of Tiberius Caesar, at full moon, there was a full eclipse of the sun from the sixth to the ninth hour.”[tooltip title=”Africanus, Chronography, 18:1″ icon=”” backgroundcolor=”#dd9d9d”]⊕[/tooltip] [/content_box]
Again, we can take this quote lightly because of the lack of original manuscripts, but we can conclude that Phlegon claimed:
- There was an eclipse of the sun at the time of the crucifixion.
10. Origen (154-253AD)
Origen was an early church theologian and scholar, from Alexandria. Origen was born to Christian parents and was a prolific writer in many theological fields. Okay, Origen might not be a non-christian source, but he is a non-biblical source to end this list. Rather than provide samples of what Origen wrote, I actually wanted to point out that Origen is another source that actually quoted Plegon from example 9b above. Accodring to Origen, Plegon is reported to have written the following:
[content_box title=”Origen Against Celsus, Book 2, Chapter 14″ icon=”” backgroundcolor=”#dd9d9d” color=”#000000″]““Now Phlegon, in the thirteenth or fourteenth book, I think, of his Chronicles, not only ascribed to Jesus a knowledge of future events . . . but also testified that the result corresponded to His predictions.” ”[/content_box]
[content_box title=”Origen Against Celsus, Book 2, Chapter 33″ icon=”” backgroundcolor=”#dd9d9d” color=”#000000″]““And with regard to the eclipse in the time of Tiberius Caesar, in whose reign Jesus appears to have been crucified, and the great earthquakes which then took place … ” ”[/content_box]
[content_box title=”Origen Against Celsus, Book 2, Chapter 59″ icon=”” backgroundcolor=”#dd9d9d” color=”#000000″]““Jesus, while alive, was of no assistance to himself, but that he arose after death, and exhibited the marks of his punishment, and showed how his hands had been pierced by nails.” ”[/content_box]
According to Origen, we can also see that Phlegon confirmed the following points:
- Messiah could reliably predict the future
- Messiah was crucified under the reign of Tiberius Ceasar
- There was an earthquake and eclipse at the time of the crucifixion
- Messiah presented His wounds after the crucifixion, implying a resurrection.
11. The Toledot Yeshu (1000AD)
The Toledot Yeshu is written as a parody of the Christian gospels according to anti-Semites, and is often referred to as the anti-gospel. The Toledot Yeshu makes a strong effort to explain away the miracles and virgin birth of Messiah. While attempting to taint the name of Messiah, however, the Toledot Yeshu surprisingly supports many New Testament claims in the process. It’s quite lengthy, so be prepared. What the Toledot Yeshu has to say:[content_box title=”The Toledot Yeshu Reads:” icon=”” backgroundcolor=”#dd9d9d” color=”#000000″]“In the year 3671 (in Jewish reckonging, it being ca 90 B.C.) in the days of King Jannaeus, a great misfortune befell Israel, when there arose a certain disreputable man of the tribe of Judah, whose name was Joseph Pandera. He lived at Bethlehem, in Judah. Near his house dwelt a widow and her lovely and chaste daughter named Miriam. Miriam was betrothed to Yohanan, of the royal house of David, a man learned in the Torah and God-fearing. At the close of a certain Sabbath, Joseph Pandera, attractive and like a warrior in appearance, having gazed lustfully upon Miriam, knocked upon the door of her room and betrayed her by pretending that he was her betrothed husband, Yohanan. Even so, she was amazed at this improper conduct and submitted only against her will. Thereafter, when Yohanan came to her, Miriam expressed astonishment at behavior so foreign to his character. It was thus that they both came to know the crime of Joseph Pandera and the terrible mistake on the part of Miriam… Miriam gave birth to a son and named him Yehoshua, after her brother. This name later deteriorated to Yeshu (“Yeshu” is the Jewish “name” for Jesus. It means “May His Name Be Blotted Out”). On the eighth day he was circumcised. When he was old enough the lad was taken by Miriam to the house of study to be instructed in the Jewish tradition. One day Yeshu walked in front of the Sages with his head uncovered, showing shameful disrespect. At this, the discussion arose as to whether this behavior did not truly indicate that Yeshu was an illegitimate child and the son of a niddah. Moreover, the story tells that while the rabbis were discussing the Tractate Nezikin, he gave his own impudent interpretation of the law and in an ensuing debate he held that Moses could not be the greatest of the prophets if he had to receive counsel from Jethro. This led to further inquiry as to the antecedents of Yeshu, and it was discovered through Rabban Shimeon ben Shetah that he was the illegitimate son of Joseph Pandera. Miriam admitted it. After this became known, it was necessary for Yeshu to flee to Upper Galilee. After King Jannaeus, his wife Helene ruled over all Israel. In the Temple was to be found the Foundation Stone on which were engraven the letters of God’s Ineffable Name. Whoever learned the secret of the Name and its use would be able to do whatever he wished. Therefore, the Sages took measures so that no one should gain this knowledge. Lions of brass were bound to two iron pillars at the gate of the place of burnt offerings. Should anyone enter and learn the Name, when he left the lions would roar at him and immediately the valuable secret would be forgotten. Yeshu came and learned the letters of the Name; he wrote them upon the parchment which he placed in an open cut on his thigh and then drew the flesh over the parchment. As he left, the lions roared and he forgot the secret. But when he came to his house he reopened the cut in his flesh with a knife an lifted out the writing. Then he remembered and obtained the use of the letters. He gathered about himself three hundred and ten young men of Israel and accused those who spoke ill of his birth of being people who desired greatness and power for themselves. Yeshu proclaimed, “I am the Messiah; and concerning me Isaiah prophesied and said, ‘Behold, a virgin shall conceive, and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.’” He quoted other messianic texts, insisting, “David my ancestor prophesied concerning me: ‘The Lord said to me, thou art my son, this day have I begotten thee.’” The insurgents with him replied that if Yeshu was the Messiah he should give them a convincing sign. They therefore, brought to him a lame man, who had never walked. Yeshu spoke over the man the letters of the Ineffable Name, and the leper was healed. Thereupon, they worshipped him as the Messiah, Son of the Highest. When word of these happenings came to Jerusalem, the Sanhedrin decided to bring about the capture of Yeshu. They sent messengers, Annanui and Ahaziah, who, pretending to be his disciples, said that they brought him an invitation from the leaders of Jerusalem to visit them. Yeshu consented on condition the members of the Sanhedrin receive him as a lord. He started out toward Jerusalem and, arriving at Knob, acquired an ass on which he rode into Jerusalem, as a fulfillment of the prophecy of Zechariah. The Sages bound him and led him before Queen Helene, with the accusation: “This man is a sorcerer and entices everyone.” Yeshu replied, “The prophets long ago prophesied my coming: ‘And there shall come forth a rod out of the stem of Jesse,’ and I am he; but as for them, Scripture says ‘Blessed is the man that walketh not in the counsel of the ungodly.’” Queen Helene asked the Sages: “What he says, is it in your Torah?” They replied: “It is in our Torah, but it is not applicable to him, for it is in Scripture: ‘And that prophet which shall presume to speak a word in my name, which I have not commanded him to speak or that shall speak in the name of other gods, even that prophet shall die.’ He has not fulfilled the signs and conditions of the Messiah.” Yeshu spoke up: “Madam, I am the Messiah and I revive the dead.” A dead body was brought in; he pronounced the letters of the Ineffable Name and the corpse came to life. The Queen was greatly moved and said: “This is a true sign.” She reprimanded the Sages and sent them humiliated from her presence. Yeshu’s dissident followers increased and there was controversy in Israel. Yeshu went to Upper Galilee. the Sages came before the Queen, complaining that Yeshu practiced sorcery and was leading everyone astray. Therefore she sent Annanui and Ahaziah to fetch him. The found him in Upper Galilee, proclaiming himself the Son of God. When they tried to take him there was a struggle, but Yeshu said to the men of Upper Galilee: “Wage no battle.” He would prove himself by the power which came to him from his Father in heaven. He spoke the Ineffable Name over the birds of clay and they flew into the air. He spoke the same letters over a millstone that had been placed upon the waters. He sat in it and it floated like a boat. When they saw this the people marveled. At the behest of Yeshu, the emissaries departed and reported these wonders to the Queen. She trembled with astonishment. Then the Sages selected a man named Judah Iskarioto and brought him to the Sanctuary where he learned the letters of the Ineffable Name as Yeshu had done. When Yeshu was summoned before the queen, this time there were present also the Sages and Judah Iskarioto. Yeshu said: “It is spoken of me, ‘I will ascend into heaven.’” He lifted his arms like the wings of an eagle and he flew between heaven and earth, to the amazement of everyone…Yeshu was seized. His head was covered with a garment and he was smitten with pomegranate staves; but he could do nothing, for he no longer had the Ineffable Name. Yeshu was taken prisoner to the synagogue of Tiberias, and they bound him to a pillar. To allay his thirst they gave him vinegar to drink. On his head they set a crown of thorns. There was strife and wrangling between the elders and the unrestrained followers of Yeshu, as a result of which the followers escaped with Yeshu to the region of Antioch; there Yeshu remained until the eve of the Passover. Yeshu then resolved to go the Temple to acquire again the secret of the Name. That year the Passover came on a Sabbath day. On the eve of the Passover, Yeshu, accompanied by his disciples, came to Jerusalem riding upon an ass. Many bowed down before him. He entered the Temple with his three hundred and ten followers. One of them, Judah Iskarioto apprised the Sages that Yeshu was to be found in the Temple, that the disciples had taken a vow by the Ten Commandments not to reveal his identity but that he would point him out by bowing to him. So it was done and Yeshu was seized. Asked his name, he replied to the question by several times giving the names Mattai, Nakki, Buni, Netzer, each time with a verse quoted by him and a counter-verse by the Sages. Yeshu was put to death on the sixth hour on the eve of the Passover and of the Sabbath. When they tried to hang him on a tree it broke, for when he had possessed the power he had pronounced by the Ineffable Name that no tree should hold him. He had failed to pronounce the prohibition over the carob-stalk, for it was a plant more than a tree, and on it he was hanged until the hour for afternoon prayer, for it is written in Scripture, “His body shall not remain all night upon the tree.” They buried him outside the city. On the first day of the week his bold followers came to Queen Helene with the report that he who was slain was truly the Messiah and that he was not in his grave; he had ascended to heaven as he prophesied. Diligent search was made and he was not found in the grave where he had been buried. A gardener had taken him from the grave and had brought him into his garden and buried him in the sand over which the waters flowed into the garden. Queen Helene demanded, on threat of a severe penalty, that the body of Yeshu be shown to her within a period of three days. There was a great distress. When the keeper of the garden saw Rabbi Tanhuma walking in the field and lamenting over the ultimatum of the Queen, the gardener related what he had done, in order that Yeshu’s followers should not steal the body and then claim that he had ascended into heaven. The Sages removed the body, tied it to the tail of a horse and transported it to the Queen, with the words, “This is Yeshu who is said to have ascended to heaven.” Realizing that Yeshu was a false prophet who enticed the people and led them astray, she mocked the followers but praised the Sages.[/content_box]
The claims confirmed by the Toledot Yeshu are:
- Messiah claimed to be God
- He was arrested by the Jews
- He was beaten with rods
- He was given vinegar to drink
- He was worshipped as God
- He wore a crown of thorns
- He healed the lame
- He rode a donkey into Jerusalem
- He was betrayed by a man named Judah Iskarioto
- He was buried in a tomb
- The tomb was later found empty
- His followers claimed He was resurrected and ascended
Well there you have it, a list of 11, hostile pagan, Jewish and non-biblical sources that have something to say about Messiah. Let’s review all the facts listed above and see what we have. What we’ve learned about Messiah:
- He existed
- He was, reportedly, born to a virgin
- He had an earthly father who was a carpenter
- He was a teacher/Rabbi that taught about repentance
- He lead the Jews away from their beliefs
- He was a wise man who claimed to be God and the Savior
- He could perform miraculous deeds through magical powers
- He healed the lame
- His disciples upheld a moral code
- He could accurately predict the future
- He was persecuted by the Jews for His claims to deity
- He was betrayed by a man named Judah Iskarioto
- He was crucified on the eve of passover
- He was crucified under Pontius Pilot during the time of Tiberius
- There was an eclipse and earthquake at the time of the crucifiction
- He was beaten with rods, forced to drink vinegar and wear a crown of thorns
- He was buried in a tomb, which was found empty shortly afterwards
- He appeared to his disciples after his death and showed His wounds
- The disciples spread the word about His resurrection and ascension into Heaven
- After His death, the disciples continued to meet regularly to worship Him
- His disciples were martyred for their faith
This is a pretty remarkable bit of information from non-biblical sources, especially coming from sources that are hostile to the New Testament records. Hopefully you’ll be able to see how this list helps corroborate some of the Gospel’s claims about Messiah. Keep in mind that there are also numerous ancient Christian sources that can confirm the life of Messiah as well, however the most authoritative and earliest sources are still the canonized pages of the Bible. It is understandable why skeptics and non-believers that don’t want the New Testament claims to be true, dismiss the Bible as authoritative. But I believe the numerous sources that corroborate the life of Messiah, hold enough weight to show that Yeshua the Messiah, is someone special.
Lastly and shortly, if you are curious why this whole answer was about Messiah and the claims surrounding Him, rather than the entire New Testament, the answer is simple. Messiah IS the New Testament. If you’d like to know if the New Testament is reliable, then please refer to Q&A #4