7

Did anyone write about Jesus at the time at which he was alive?

I can't find any sources from the time in which he was alive after a quick preliminary search.

6
  • 12
    No. And very long time after his death, no sources except Gospels mention him. The only "independent" ancient author who mentions his story at all is Josephus, but many speculate that this is a later interpolation.
    – Alex
    Oct 6 '17 at 21:16
  • 1
    @Alex Some suspect the passage is in part an interpolation, not the whole thing. Josephus mentions Christians and Jesus.
    – frеdsbend
    Oct 6 '17 at 22:21
  • 3
    Strictly speaking, no one whose writings survived wrote about Jesus. Oct 6 '17 at 23:02
  • 6
    Define "contemporary"? Sources while he was still alive? Sources of people who overlapped with him? Oct 7 '17 at 0:40
  • 4
    I copied the title of your question into google; there were several useful answers in the first five results.
    – MCW
    Dec 4 '17 at 19:42
16

No, nobody did. Despite the fact that literacy was relatively high amongst the Jews at that time. And we have several historians living there or in the area in those days. Jesus was mentioned outside the gospels a few times, but those lines are generally seen as either pious forgeries or out of context.

Josephus mentions Jesus, but it doesn't fit in the text and contradicts Josephus own religious ideas.

Pliny the Younger mentions Christians, as followers of a certain Crestos or Christos. He doesn't go into the existence of Jesus, merely asking the emperor what to do with his followers. Pliny lived a century later, by that time there were Christians. It doesn't prove Jesus lived, it proved Christians existed.

Now, since we're in the realm of religion here, I always wondered why nobody outside the bible mentions that the dead walked the streets of Jerusalem upon the death of Jesus. (Matt 27:50-54) You'd think this was something rather remarkable, worthy enough to write down for posterity or inform friends about. But nobody did. At least the governor should have informed his emperor about this rather unusual event. But even he didn't.

4
  • 13
    Concerning your third paragraph: As far as contemporary accounts are concerned, the eruption of the Vesuvius, to give just a very basic example, is only mentioned in two letters of Pliny, addressed to Tacitus.
    – Lucian
    Aug 16 '18 at 0:43
  • 3
    It would be more correct to say that the histories of Josephus contain a passage about Jesus, rather then "Josephus mentions Jesus".
    – John Dee
    Aug 21 '18 at 0:47
  • 9
    This would be a good answer, except for the red herring about "the dead walking the streets", which has nothing to do with the question that was asked.
    – Spencer
    Aug 21 '18 at 10:52
  • 1
    Given the reality of the time, it's not surprising nobody would write specifically about any particular rogue Jewish prophet or messiah. There were dozens, if not hundreds such wandering the land with little groups of devotees and followers. They were an eyesore on the established priesthood but little could be done about them unless they appeared to become too popular. Where Jesus (if he existed) seems to have been different is that he actively preached against the financial riches the temples harboured while the people at large remained poor. THAT got the priesthood angry enough.
    – jwenting
    Aug 16 at 6:57
10

None that we know of. And actually Jesus wasn't unique in that regard. There were a lot of ancient figures who we know existed, but nearly everything we have written about them was from after their deaths (Alexander the Great, for example).

I'm going to guess, though, that what you're really asking is whether or not Jesus existed. The short answer is yes. He did! Very few historians worth their salt would question that, Christian or otherwise. Evidence that someone named Jesus lived during the First Century in Judea, was crucified, and was the central figure of Christianity is so rampant as to be virtually indisputable. This evidence includes the written account of Tacitus, who mentions Jesus and who was so hostile towards Christians that his passage is almost certainly not a Christian alteration of the original text. Furthermore, the existence of Jesus is supported by models such as the Criterion of Multiple Attestation and the Criterion of Embarrassment.

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Criterion_of_embarrassment

http://www.npr.org/2012/04/01/149462376/did-jesus-exist-a-historian-makes-his-case

9

If the question is did anybody write about Jesus before his crucifixion then the answer is No.

If the question is are there Contemporary sources who wrote about Jesus then the answer is Yes.

While no sources are known who wrote of Jesus before the crucifixion there are writings by a contemporary of Jesus (4,6BCE–30CE) who talked with and wrote of people who knew Jesus. Also Josephus is not dismissed by most scholars as an independent verification of Jesus’s life.

Contemporary means living at the same time. The oldest books of the New Testament Romans, Corinthians, and Galatians take the form of letters from Saint Paul (4BCE–62CE) to early church leaders (dated 55, 56, 57 CE). And stories about St Paul’s experiences. St Paul was a contemporary of Jesus being about the same age as Jesus. Although Paul states he had never met Jesus before the crucifixion. He discusses meeting in his letters with St. Peter who was one of the apostles who knew and walked with Jesus.

The earliest letters of St. Paul predate Josephus by about 40 -50 years. But Josephus also contain two references to Jesus (books 18, 20) only one of which is contested. The contested verse is not thought to be entirely false insertion but to have been modified. The other verse from book 20 is not questioned for its authenticity.

Josephus on Jesus

- SOURCE
Modern scholarship has largely acknowledged the authenticity of the reference in Book 20, Chapter 9, 1 of the Antiquities to "the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James"[12] and considers it as having the highest level of authenticity among the references of Josephus to Christianity.


I also disagree with the above answer that literacy was wide spread in Jesus's time in Judea. I would also argue that literacy was less relevant than literacy in Greek or Latin which was even less common in the region. Extremely uncommon among Christians before Paul who is first credited with:

  • Spreading Christianity beyond it's Jewish roots outside Judea
  • Writing the earliest part of the Christian New Testament in Greek
  • Translating the Septuagint which we know today.

Mainly the Deuterocanonical books of the Old Testament:

  • Tobit
  • Judith
  • Wisdom (also called the Wisdom of Solomon)
  • Sirach (also called Ecclesiasticus)
  • Baruch, including the Letter of Jeremiah (Additions to Jeremiah in the Septuagint)1
  • 1 Maccabees
  • 2 Maccabees
  • Additions to Esther (Vulgate Esther 10:4 to 16:24)2
  • Additions to Daniel: Prayer of Azariah and Song of the Three Holy Children (Vulgate Daniel 3:24–90)
  • Susanna (Vulgate Daniel 13, Septuagint prologue)
  • Bel and the Dragon (Vulgate Daniel 14, Septuagint epilogue)

(Prior to Paul most of the old testament had been translated into Greek (mid-3rd BCE), a language consumable to non Jewish Roman Citizens.).

11
  • 1
    Not that St. Paul is his catholic name - for me a protestant he simply "Paul" or "Paul of Thrace".
    – Bregalad
    Dec 4 '17 at 19:25
  • 7
    @Bregalad - That's not a universal Protestant thing either though. Lutherans, Episcopalians, Presbyterians, and Methodists all have saints. There's a "St. Paul's Methodist Church" about 8 miles from my house.
    – T.E.D.
    Dec 4 '17 at 20:40
  • 1
    @JMS You answer the headline, but the body is different: "write about Jesus at the time at which he was alive". Alive=before Easter/Crucifixion. That is certainly not Paul! As you acknowledge. Not one person wrote about him, while he was still alive, that we know of. Debate about Historical Jesus aside, exact date aside, dead allegedly around 33 allegedly first surviving text about that mid-40*s the earliest = NO!. Aug 20 '18 at 21:06
  • 2
    Nice. But, hm, Paul "translating the Septuagint"? Into what? The LXX was already in Greek, 'complete(ly)', and he mostly used it for writing letters/preaching to the [Greeks, Romans, Pagans, Gentiles], thereby enhancing its popularity among pagan Christians, and the world/church, among other effects. The last para needs backup (& I guess there is a mixup of some sort?) Aug 20 '18 at 23:34
  • 2
    @LangLangC, you're kicking my ass tonight!!... I'll fix it, I'll fix it. What I was going for was the the Torah or Pentateuch were translated prior to Paul, but Paul completed the Septuagint that we know today.. which includes the deuterocanonical books. And thank you.
    – user27618
    Aug 20 '18 at 23:50
2

The first part of Joseph Klausner's Jesus of Nazareth: His Life, Times, and Teaching contains a rather thorough discussion of the existing sources, even though it has to be noted, that the book is several decades old, and some recent archeological findings or research are not reflected there (e.g., it dismisses tegerences to Jesus in Josephus' writings, mentioned in another answer).

More specifically, the first three books of the New Testament are retellings of the same Hebrew or Aramaic source, likely written by a Jesus' contemporary.

Jesus is also mentioned in many contemporary Jewish writings (Talmuds, etc.), although he often appears there under different names, so establishing his identity requires historical research. (And he is obviously not treated as a son of the Almighty, but as a sage/rabbi.)

Klausner's overall conclusion is that we have more evidence of Jesus' existence, than we have about Socrates, even though no one doubts the existence of the latter.

1

As a lot of people have said, there are many people who were mostly only written about after their death in the ancient world. However, there were people who wrote about Jesus around the time of his existence and his execution that were not Christian like Roman historian & senator Tacitus. One of the passage of his work Annals talks about the execution of Jesus:

"called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus."

Scholars generally say that it is authentic since many of the events mentioned in the book also match up with records of other events at the time. Historian William L. Portier even stated that there was consistency between the references by Tactitus, Josephus (a Jewish historian who wrote about Jesus), and letter from Pliny the Younger to the Emperor Trajan (where he wrote about "Christus", which makes since many historians like Charles Guignebert don't doubt that Jesus lived in or or near Gallilee in the first century). So historians generally agree with evidence like this that Jesus probably existed and wasn't just a myth: it is just simply a possibly that a popular Jewish teacher who was executed as a heretic was mythologized (which was pretty common in the era and even in times near common day, like how George Washington has been worshipped as god by Hawaiian Shintoists for years even though most of us see him as just a man).

2
  • 1
    Or Prince Philip, worshipped by people in Vanuatu.
    – RedSonja
    Aug 15 at 5:53
  • I rather thought the clumsy inserts in Josephus were not taken seriously by historians.
    – RedSonja
    Aug 15 at 5:55

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.