Historical Reports Of Jesus

Greetings everyone !!Its my first time here ,and i have a question! Apart from Josephus and The Early Church Fathers we dont really have any more historical evidence about Jesus.Origen(or Tacitus) has speculated in some of his works that there were Roman Imperial reports of his crufixion in Rome sent by Pilate to the Emperor to adress the situation.Now this made me think.Since the Romans did held reports of various prisoners or such are there such evidence for Jesus Case?Maybe they have been lost to history?Thanks for your time to comment!!

2 Likes

welcome.

Curiosity questions:

Are there any that still exist with names?

A ton of things have been lost to history obviously. Is it helpful to imagine what they might be? Maybe only if archaeologists are still finding such items…

Do you have the quote from Origen?

1 Like

Welcome to PS, @Nick.

Yes, even in a dry climate like Palestine, only a tiny percentage of papyrus documents from the first century have survived for 2000 years. If a document was not important enough for later generations to make copies (e.g., Josephus), it could simply be forgotten and even recycled for some new document. (Look up palimpsests. Papyrus was expensive so it made sense to try and remove the original ink and give the sheet a new purpose.)

I remember when it was big news 1964 (??) when some ancient legal documents from the fourth century B.C. were found in a cave in Israel. I think they were mostly slave Bills of Sale and land deeds. I remember reading them when I was in grad school, thanks to Frank Cross who spent some fifteen years assembling the fragments and studying them for what they revealed about life in ancient Palestine. Anyway, the fact nobody had ever seen such legal documents from that region until 1964 helps illustrate just how rare is such a find. (I remembered them as “the Samaria papyri.” I don’t know if that is still the term today.)

Even if some ancient papyri managed to find long time storage, they soon were of zero value to most people. So it is not surprising that some got used for tinder and relieving a chill on a cold day. In any case, old records of prisoner hearings were unlikely to be preserved long-term.

2 Likes

And I should add that even when a society tries its best to preserve documents, many will eventually be destroyed by accidental fires. Until the first photomicrographs, even modern era documents had a high risk of loss if expensive copies were not maintained at other locations. Anyone who has done genealogical research runs into this frustration often. Various U.S. census records were lost to fires in government administrative buildings and large quantities of Irish records from the 1800’s suffered similar fates. Flammable materials don’t have great long-term survival prospects.

2 Likes

Thanks for the answer.THese documents though would have been in Rome right,and not in Palestine.
Because if we assume Pilate did wrote a report to the Emperor they would have arrived there

Sorry i dont but i had read it somewhere.It was either Origen or Tacitus(i corrected the op).

There are many but i cant post all of them.For example Spartacus.He was a leader of the rebelion against Rome.Althoug he got crucified eventually reports of him when held(even for a litle ammount of time )prisoner exist

(1) Copies would have been kept in Palestine for anything important enough to go to Rome. (Of course, most legal documents never left Palestine. They weren’t important enough to require the great expense of copying and being sent to Rome for further processing.)

(2) The climate for papyrus preservation in Rome is quite unfavorable. Too much humidity.

And that’s why the documents were important enough to be preserved.

Jesus was somewhat important as well though…I have heard multiple times the argument that he wasnt so much important but it is clear that the Jewish authories (and the people) were very interested in him.So he drew a lot of attention

What were the standards for governors reporting to Rome during that time period?

1 Like

I seem to recall that some apologists have made a not-very-convincing case to the effect that one of the Roman writers (can’t recall which – Tacitus, maybe?) might have had access to some official record or other. But that seems improbable, and in fact, I have some difficulty believing that the Romans even bothered to send the names of executed people back to Rome – who would need that information?

We have a tendency, living at a time when governments have a great deal of administrative complexity about them, to project that expectation back upon earlier times. But as impressive as the Roman Empire was, it was not terribly analogous to a modern state. The Department of Domusterra Security wouldn’t have needed a procurator to file a register of all the people whom he’d executed. He’d more likely have been given substantial leeway to get the job done locally, without that kind of detailed accountability.

3 Likes

This just came across my feed. @Nick The ancient propaganda war that led to the triumph of Christianity

Seems like decent evidence 300 years later documents were available that cited other documents that were specific to and witnessed the crucifixion.

On the pagan side there were two key propagandists: one was the rabidly anti-Christian Roman ruler of Syria, Palestine and Cyprus, a Roman soldier called Maximinus Daza, who became co-emperor between AD310 and 313.

He was the promoter of the main pro-pagan book, entitled Memoirs of Pilate , which sought to justify Pontius Pilate’s decision to crucify Jesus. He claimed that the book was based on Pilate’s own (now long-lost) account of Jesus’s trial, an account which had apparently been sitting in an imperial library for the preceding 270 years.

And the article mentions maybe 10% Christians in the empire at this time. A number that high was surprising to me.

I’ve never studied that specific topic. I always had the impression (from general topic texts from Roman historians et al) that Rome mostly just wanted know tax revenues, expenses, military strength and readiness, and the current insurrection mood. Roman governors often felt an uneasy rock-and-a-hard-place position. For example, if they said, “This month we executed seven revolutionaries” and they had executed three the month before, it could look like they were losing control of their territory and insurrections were growing. On the other hand, if they downplayed their strict policies and swift “justice” with reports of rebels executed, they worried that Rome might think them soft. Of course, every appointed governor was also a politician and bound to be deeply mired in Senate politics, regional politics, and whatever else. There was no limit to things which could lead to recall to Rome or worse.

Yes, Tacitus is very topical in this context. And, yes, scholars have struggled to determine Tacitus’ sources. (If I recall correctly, he was just out of pre-school at the time of the Great Fire of Rome, for example, one of his more interesting topics.) But it is often difficult to figure out what ancient historians are actually working from—and we even sometimes have to take their claims of sources with a grain of salt. (Modern day journalistic standards and academic norms did not apply in the ancient world. Liberties were common, even reckless, to say the least.)

I just now did a quick look at Wikipedia and they do a reasonable job of a relevant overview: Tacitus on Christ - Wikipedia

My thoughts as well.

Amen.

I agree.

Certainly Tacitus is generally respected by historians and his comments about Christ carry weight. That said, some “pop apologists” confuse the atmosphere decades later when there were so many Christians in Rome such that the government had plenty of reasons to keep track of them and talk about them. That wasn’t the case in Jesus day. “Messiahs” were a dime-a-dozen and to the bureaucracy, Jesus was just one more.

This cuts two ways, I think.

  1. Jesus was important enough that records were preserved, or …
  1. Jesus was important enough that records were redacted.

Boy am I ever glad not to be a historian! :wink:

1 Like

I think they might have been expected to, if the execution might cause problems for their masters in Rome – if the person executed was a prominent Roman citizen, had powerful sponsors, etc. But I don’t see any of these circumstances being likely to apply to a politically friendless mendicant Jewish preacher.

I likewise find the claim less than convincing (particularly lacking any supporting information on what level of reporting was normal practice for Roman governors). However the claim seems to be made by relatively respectable New Testament scholars, as well as outright “apologists”.

But it wasn’t the Jewish authorities or the people keeping the records. The first question is whether the Roman authorities in Palestine thought him important enough, at the time, to record. And even if records were kept of him, there’s a good chance that they would have been destroyed in the First Jewish–Roman War. The question then becomes was he likely to be important enough to Emperor Tiberius and his bureaucracy that Pontius Pilate thought it necessary to report on the matter to them.

This would also mean a degree of disinclination to write a dispatch admitting I was foolish enough to let myself get rolled by the Sanhedrin into executing some random guy.

3 Likes

By the way, we are truly lucky to have Tacitus’ writings at all. (And that can be said for a lot of the Roman historians.) Benedictine monks at Monte Cassino (which the Allies blew up during WWII while chasing the Germans out of Italy) produced our best copy of Tacitus’ Annals about a thousand years ago. If not for Islamic and Christian scribes/scholars of long ago, we would have very limited knowledge of the ancient world.

Thats not a usuall thing Romans were doing though.Even to their worst candiate enemies they never did them that dirty on their works

1 Like

Of course it was.Why wouldnt he?People were following him and the Jewish authorities were concerned enough to notice the Roman Governor.