Historical References to Christ From Non-Biblical Authors
by Tim Stratton
1. Thallus, the Samaritan-born historian
One of the first Gentile writers who mention Christ is Thallus, who wrote in A.D. 52. He wrote a history of the Eastern Mediterranean from the time of the Trojan War to his own time. However, his writings have disappeared, and we only know of them from fragments cited by other writers. One such writer is Julius Africanus, a Christian writer about A.D. 221 One very interesting passage relates to a comment from Thallus about the darkness during the last 3 hours Jesus was on the cross. Julius Africanus writes:
Thallus, in the third book of his histories, explains away this darkness as an eclipse of the sun-unreasonably, as it seems to me (unreasonably, of course, because a solar eclipse could not take place at the time of the full moon, and it was at the season of the Paschal full moon that Christ died).
Thus, from this reference we see that the gospel account of the darkness which fell upon the land during Christ’s crucifixion was well-known and required a naturalistic explanation from those non-believers who witnessed it.
2. Phlegon, Chronicles.
His history—Chronicles—has disappeared, and we only know of it from the following fragment cited by other writers. One such writer is Julius Africanus:
During the time of Tiberius Caesar an eclipse of the sun from the sixth hour to the ninth occurred during the full moon.
Phlegon is also noted by Origen:
“But,” continues Celsus… “although we are able to show the striking and miraculous character of the events which befell Him, yet from what other source can we furnish an answer than from the Gospel narratives, which state that “there was an earthquake, and that the rocks were split asunder, and the tombs opened, and the veil of the temple rent in twain from top to bottom, and that darkness prevailed in the day-time, the sun failing to give light?”
Answer: “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, Phlegon too, I think, has written in the thirteenth or fourteenth book of his Chronicles” (Origen, Against Celsus, 2.33)…. He (Celsus) imagines also that both the earthquake and the darkness were an invention; but regarding these, we have in the preceding pages, made our defense, according to our ability, adducing the testimony of Phlegon, who relates that these events took place at the time when our Saviour suffered. (Origen, Against Celsus, 2.59)
Phlegon is also noted by a six-century writer named Philopon…
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