1. As it stands, then, the statement by Tacitus is strong independent evidence for the existence of Jesus. G. H. R. Horsley, in his important discussion of these inscriptions, points out “the linguistic fact that there is a nearly complete overlapping of the sounds represented by ι, ει, η [i, ei, ē] in koine.”10 He provides several examples and cites earlier studies that document the point in great detail. I have discussed the theory that Jesus never existed in another article.2 Here we will consider the two arguments just mentioned for setting aside Tacitus’s reference to Christ as evidence for his historical existence. Tacitus’s statement that the movement began in Judea is correct if one understands Christianity to begin with the reports of Jesus’ resurrection (even though Jesus began his ministry in Galilee, something most Christians would know but one would not expect Tacitus to know). Contrary to mythicist Richard Carrier, then, who claims that “the text flows logically and well with the line removed,”5 the flow of the text is disrupted by removing the line.
Mythicists have often contended that the reference to Christ here, “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,” was a later Christian interpolation.3 Four considerations, taken together, prove the authenticity of the statement almost beyond a reasonable doubt: the textual evidence, style, point of view, and context. 11. In effect, we have more reason to advocate “Chrestus mythicism” than “Christ mythicism.” The Jesus mythicists would have us believe that Jesus Christ did not exist, but that during roughly the same time period there was a Jewish leader who stirred controversy among the Jews and whose name coincidentally happened to be Chrestus. The Bottom Line Guide to Jesus, Part 1” (Cedar Springs, MI: Institute for Religious Research, 2017).
This flow of thought obviously corresponds to the origin of Christianity: it began with Jesus’ ministry in Judea, was seemingly checked briefly by his execution, started up again in Judea with the ministry of the apostles, and was spread abroad and reached Rome. He was executed during the reign of the Roman emperor Tiberius (AD 14–37). The historicity of Jesus was not an issue at any time during the first millennium, so there was simply no motivation for a Christian to insert a line in Tacitus’s Annals attesting to the bare fact of Christ’s existence and execution. In saying that the Jews caused disturbances “at the instigation of Christ,” Suetonius may have mistakenly thought that Christ was in Rome during the reign of Claudius, which would be the wrong place and the wrong time. Tacitus gets the timing of Christ’s execution correct and correctly identifies Pontius Pilate as the local governor who made the decision. This still leaves the problem, though, of what Suetonius said about Christ. This possibility becomes the likeliest explanation in light of the additional fact that in the Greco-Roman culture Christus was virtually unknown as a name whereas Chrestus was a common pagan name—but not a common Jewish name.11, We have no evidence independent of Suetonius’s use of this form that a Jewish revolutionary by the name of Chrestus existed in the middle of the first century. Fourth, the context of the statement provides decisive evidence in favor of its authenticity. First, there is no manuscript evidence supporting the suggestion that the line about Christ was an interpolation.
Perhaps the main argument for viewing the reference to Christ as an interpolation focuses on the term used in the preceding sentence for his followers, which is spelled Chrestianos rather than Christianos. All rights reserved.
On the other hand, we have abundant evidence for the existence of a controversial Jewish teacher during that period known as Christus (Christ). Tacitus does not, however, use the term “governor” for Pilate, as the New Testament consistently does, but instead calls him the “procurator.”. See especially Richard Carrier, “The Prospect of a Christian Interpolation in Tacitus, Annals 15.44,” Vigiliae Christianae 68 (2014): 264-83. Most of the debate about the passage has focused on whether Tacitus’s information about Jesus was dependent solely on Christian claims or whether he had access to an independent source or sources, such as official Roman records. Much of Carrier’s article attempts to weaken the authenticity of references to Christ by the Roman writers Pliny and Suetonius (266–72) before even turning to Tacitus. 8. 13.
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