[#6 in a Series on Non-Biblical References to Jesus]
Read #1, on Josephus, here
#2, on Tacitus, here
#3, on Mara Bar Serapion, here
#4, on Suetonius, here
#5, on Pliny, here
A few ancient historians are sources for extra-biblical mentions of Jesus: the Jewish historian Josephus, the Roman historian Tacitus and the Roman biographer Suetonius. They all mention Christ in some way but here are two more obscure writers: Thallus and Phlegon.
Thallus was possibly a wealthy Samaritan-born freedman who lived and worked in Rome around 52 AD. He wrote a history beginning with the Trojan War and continuing on to his era, approximately 52 AD. His work is lost but a late 2nd-century Christian chronographer named Julius Africanus wrote of it in the early third century in his five-volume Chronographia (“Chronicles”), circa 217 AD. Julius refutes Thallus’ naturalistic explanation of the darkness surrounding the death of Jesus. Apparently, Thallus made a comment on the darkness that fell upon Judah during the crucifixion (cf. Mark 15:33). Thallus wrote to explain any perceived supernatural elements during the crucifixion. According to Julius Africanus, “Thallus, in his third book, explained the darkness as an eclipse of the sun” (Chronography, 18.1). The criticism that Thallus makes is simple: the narrative (or at least this part of it) that Christians believe about the death of Jesus is incorrect. Here we have an early – albeit, scant – criticism of the accuracy of the Passion account. Famous historian Will Durant noted Thallus’ “argument took the existence of Christ for granted” [Caesar and Christ, p 555].
For a more in-depth article on Thallus, check out Glen Miller’s work here
Phlegon of Tralles was a second century historian who was born about 80 AD. Two books are credited to him: Chronicles and Olympiads. The following quote was recorded by Origen as well as Philopon: “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”. Here’s another one: “Phlegon mentioned the eclipse which took place during the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus and no other; it is clear that he did not know from his sources about any eclipse in previous times . . . and this is shown by the historical account of Tiberius Caesar” (De. opif. mund. II21). And yet another by Origen in Against Celsus: “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 . . . ” (Book 2.33).
Did you know: it is possible the earliest non-NT reference to Jesus, on a bowl dated between late 2nd century B.C. and the early 1st century A.D., describes Christ as a ‘magician’? And that researchers are investigating the earthquakes in Palestine at the time still today? Read story here.