Rethinking Our Apologetics: 2 Historical Jesus Sources

By Carey Bryant

In an effort to provide evidence for the historical Jesus, many apologists rightly go for extra-biblical sources to make their case. However, it’s also very easy to overstate the evidence. Personally, I think there are some really good extra-biblical references to Jesus (like Josephus and Tacitus), but I also think there are some questionable ones too!

There are two extra-biblical references to Jesus that I no longer use when discussing the historical Jesus. I am sure many will disagree with me on these and still view them as stronger evidence than I do. The two sources are Thallus and Phlegon.

(1) Thallus (52 AD)

Thallus was a Greek historian in the first century. Previously, I would cite Thallus as a source for the historical Jesus. Here is the reference:

“On the whole world there pressed a most fearful darkness; and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down. This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun.” (Julius Africanus, Chronography 18:1)

So what is the best case scenario for this quotation? Even if this is a reliable source, Thallus doesn’t seem to specifically mention Jesus as a historical person. In fact, all this would provide evidence for is a secondary detail in the Gospels concerning Jesus’ crucifixion: “Now from the sixth hour there was darkness over all the land until the ninth hour” (Matthew 27:45).

Unfortunately, the best case scenario doesn’t apply. In my opinion, this source doesn’t pass the test of transmission. Thallus’ original work was lost. All we have is the Christian historian, Julius Africanus (160-240 AD), referencing Thallus’ lost work. The section of Africanus’ text in question was preserved by George Syncellus, a monk in the 9th century. In other words, it’s earliest manuscript copy is several centuries after the death of Jesus…

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