Historical Jesus: Two Centuries Worth of Citations

The question as to how many early ancient texts there are which refer to Jesus is often proposed.

So, how many early references are there?

No one knows.

The logical question is: how many have been found and or how many do we know about? In other words, we do not know how many references there are since we may discover more manuscripts of ancient works tomorrow and do not know how many undiscovered or destroyed writings there actually have been. This seems like an obvious consideration but it seems particularly important to note considering that Jerusalem, the nexus of Jesus’ activity, was destroyed in 70 AD.

James H. Charlesworth, “Jesus did exist; and we know more about him than about almost any Palestinian Jew before 70 C.E.”1

Ed Parish Sanders, “We know a lot about Jesus, vastly more than about John the Baptist, Theudas, Judas the Galilean, or any of the other figures whose names we have from approximately the same date and place.”2

A. E. Harvey, commenting particularly on the crucifixion, “It would be no exaggeration to say that this event is better attested, and supported by a more impressive array of evidence, than any other event of comparable importance of which we have knowledge from the ancient world.”3

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How much do we know about anyone who lived 2,000 years ago or 1,000 or less even?

Consider Tiberius Caesar. He was the Roman Emperor from 14-37 AD. How many non-Christian references do we know of which mention him within 150 years of his life? Nine.

Let us consider from whence our knowledge of Alexander the Great comes. Alexander lived 356-323 BC and we only know about him from two sources written circa one century after his death. Most of what we claim to know about him dates to 300 to 500 years after his death.

Below I will present a list of the names of texts and range of dates that they were written. This is not a complete list. I am calling upon the assistance of anyone who may read this and is aware of any that I may have missed, please do inform me of any that you note. Also, I have, more or less, followed the date range as suggested by the website Early Christian Writings, if you can provide different of more definite dates, please do inform me.

The list below attempts to cover references to “Jesus,” “Christ,” “Jesus Christ,” or references to Jesus Christ which are obvious within the context by titles such as “Lord,” “Savior,” or “Son,” or “Son of God,” etc.

The list will cover a period spanning from pre 70 AD to 280 AD (this stopping point is arbitrary). Note also that the list totals 237 texts. This number refers to the texts themselves and not to the number of times that Jesus is referenced in each text. Counting each reference would take us well beyond the 237 total…


Historical Jesus: Two Centuries Worth of Citations | True Freethinker