Ancient Secular Historians

C. Thallus(c. 50-75AD)

D.Phlegon (scroll to bottom)

1) Confirms Jesus' Story known to Romans of first century.

Jesus and History

"Thallus, a Samaritan-born historian who lived and worked in Rome about A.D. 52, wrote to offset the supernatural element which accompanied the crucifixion. Though the writings of Thallus are lost to us, Julius Africanus, a Christian chronographer of the late second century, was familiar with them and quotes from them. In a comment on the darkness that fell upon the land during the crucifixion (Mark 15:33), Africanus says that "Thallus, in the third book of his histories, explains away this darkness as an eclipse of the sun." [F.F. Bruce, The New Testament Documents, Eerdmens, p. 113.] Of course an eclipse of the sun can't happen in the time of a full moon, which Passover (and the crucifiction) were. The important point is not the darkness, which can't be proved but the fact that people in Rome in mid first century considered Jesus to be historical and flesh and blood. Will Durant observed that Thallus' "argument took the existence of Christ for granted." [Will Durant, Caesar and Christ, Simon and Schuster, p. 555.] Neither Jesus nor the darkness at his death were ever denied as factual. Durant summed up the matter of Christ's historical existence for himself by saying that it never occured to the early opponents of Christianity to deny the existence of Jesus. [Ibid]. Ironically, Thallus' efforts have been turned into the mainstream of historical proof for Jesus and for the reliability of Mark's account of the darkness at his death."

2) Africanus

Glenn Miller's Christian Think Tank

"What was the historical context for this remark? At the time of his writing, anti-Christians had already been explaining the darkness at the time of the crucifixion as a purely natural phenomenon--an eclipse. Origen, for example, had already hinted in his writings that this idea of it being an eclipse was an invention of the pagans to discredit the Gospels (DM:1040, n.17)."

"The passage in Africanus occurs in the discussion as to the darkness that accompanied the Crucifixion of Jesus. The phrase 'this darkness' indicates that Thallus was referring to (in HIS history) the events surrounding the death of Jesus. It is clear from this passage that both Julius AND Thallus took it for granted that Jesus died (and therefore existed!)."

"What I find interesting about the existence of this interchange is the context of Julius' purpose in writing. He is writing a HISTORY/CHRONOLOGY, not an APOLOGETIC per se. He is trying to anchor dates and merge biblical chronology with the chronologies of Greece, Rome, etc. In this effort, he is much more concerned about proving that the darkness was NOT an eclipse than that it was a supernatural event. The chronology needs to be consistent with astronomical data (as required for ALL good 'historia'). His concern is historical TRUTH, not theology."

Glenn Miller [Christiain Think Tank] What was the background of Julius Africanus?

Let's begin by noting some of the events and activities of his life (CTEC:103, Schaff:I.191; PAC:307):

* A native of Jerusalem (Aelia)

*Socialized with King Abgar IV the Great at Edessa

*Visited Ararat in search of Noah's ark

*Visited Dead Sea and Jacob's terebinth in Palestine

*Travelled to Rome as embassy from Emmaus

* "At Rome he so impressed the Emperor Alexander Severus (222-35) by his erudition that the emperor entrusted him with the building of his library at the Pantheon in Rome" (CTEC:103)--NOTICE: this is pre-Constantine!

* Wrote a miscellany, similar in content to Pliny's Natural History, dedicated to Severus.

*Did work in textual criticism of Homer's works: "he knew various manuscripts of Homer which lay in civic libraries from the old site of Jerusalem to that fine city Nysa in Caria" (PAC:307)

*"Africanus was the first Christian whose writings were not all concerned with his faith."

*"He was not an ecclesiastic, as far as we know, but a philosopher who pursued his favorite studies after conversion and made them useful to the church." (Schaff)

*He knew Hebrew, and of course Greek.

*The later Christian historian Socrates classes him for learning with Clement of Alexandria and Origen!

*His Chronicle is the foundation of medieval historiography of the world and the church.

* "He made the first attempt at a systematic chronicle of sacred and profane history" (Schaff)

* He had literary critical skills and was honest enough to use them (and confront others on even matters of 'sacred cows'!)--"He once attended a theological disputation during which Origen appealed to the History of Susanna, and afterwords wrote to Origen a fatherly rebuke for failing to notice that the pun, being only possible in Greek, proves the History of Susanna to be an addition to the original book of Daniel." (CTEC:103).

Robin Lane Fox cites him as an example of the best educated dual-culture products of his day--one in which the best of culture was expressed (PAC, op.cit.)

Atheists write this guy off because they don't like his documenting the faith but they have no reason not to take him seriously as he was a major historian and authority of the era.

.................................................... Objection:

J. P. Holding, Teckton Apologetics, Deals with one major objections by critics,

"This darkness was not recorded by the two greatest contemporary scientists of the time, Seneca and Pliny the Elder. These writers attempted to record all known contemporary geological and astronomical phenomenon, which makes their ommission of this event a serious deterrent to regarding it as historical."

"This objection is sometimes tendered, and I really wonder if those who make it have actually read the works of Seneca and Pliny in question - rather than simply, say, parroting Edward Gibbon's remarks on the subject! Pliny's work is entitled Natural History [Plin.NH] , and it is a multi-volumed work covering a wide variety of subjects - georgraphy, meteorology, mineralogy, zoology, and botany. Volume 2 of this work is concerned with cosmology and astronomy, and is the place we might expect Pliny to have recorded this event - if he indeed did intend to record ALL such events! However, there is absolutely no indication that this was Pliny's intent - he offers examples, he makes descriptions, but NOWHERE is there any indication that his work is intended to be an exhaustive catalog of all possible relevant data!" "More to the point, it is doubtful that Pliny would have recorded this event in any case, unless he had been there himself. The darkness at the crucifixion, as we see from Thallus, defied natural explanation, and had the character of a miracle; and this is precisely the sort of event that Pliny would pass over in disdain - for he was a skeptic and a rationalist of the highest order! Consider these words from Pliny's pen [ibid., 179, 183]:"
'I deem it a mark of human weakness to seek to discover the shape and form of God.'

'That that supreme being, whatever it be, pays heed to man's affairs is a ridiculous notion.'

"Given the above, what would this writer have made of reports of a miraculous and unexplained darkness? My guess is, he would turn up his nose and relegate the matter to the wastebasket! He would consider such reports unworthy of his attention and not worth recording.

What, then, of Seneca and his work, Naturales Questiones [Sen.NQ] ? There is even less cause to suppose mention of the darkness here. Seneca's work is mostly theoretical surveys of natural phenomena - by no means an attempt at an exhaustive catalog of events! - and Seneca is far more concerned with drawing morals from what he records that with listing events, of which he does very little.

Bottom line: For this objection to have any force, it must be shown WHY these writers should have included a reference to the darkness - but there is simply no evidence that they should have, or would have been interested in recording it."

.............................................................................. More to the point, however, J.P. This has nothing to do with the basic fact that Thallus knew of Jesus, his crucifixion and at least he Story ..of the Darkness at Noon, which demonstrates that it did circulate to Rome in the first century, hence putting the lie to the charges of Wells and Doherty that Jesus only gradually evolved from an abstract cosmic figure to a concete historical one by the Second century!

Robert E. Van Voorst sums up nicely the value of this evidence from Thallus:

"What can be gained from Thallus? Some fog of uncertainty still surrounds Thallos's statement: its extreme brevity, its third-hand citation, and the identity and date of the author. While this fog prevents us from claim in certainty, a tradition about Jesus' death is probably present. Like Christian tradition as found in the Synoptic Gospels, Thallus accepts a darkness at the death of Jesus. Against that tradition, he explains it as a natural eclipse of the sun. We can conclude that this element of Christian tradition was known outside of Christian circles and that Thallus felt it necessary to refute it, thus giving it even wider exposure. Thallos may have been knowledgeable about other elements of the Christian tradition of Jesus' death--it is unlikely that he knew only this small element of the story of Jesus' death apart from any wider context--but his literary remains cannot yield any certainty on this. His argument makes him (if our dating is correct) the first ancient writer known to us to express literary opposition to Christianity. Moreover, Thallos is also the only non-Christian to write about a Jesus tradition before that tradition was written in the canonical Gospels ."[Robert E. Van Voorst, Jesus Outside the New Testament,(Michigan: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000), p. 23]

Article by Holdoing comparing Miller's work on Thallus to that of Carrier. 3) Phlegon Confirms Jesus' story and Darkness at Noon

Phlegon Phlegon was a historian who was born in late first century (87?) and wrote in early second. There are two books credited to his name: Chronicles and the Olympiads. Little is known about Phlegon but he made reference to Christ. The first two quotes are unique to Origen and the last quote below is recorded by Origen and Philopon.

"Now Phlegon, in the thirteenth or fourteenth book, I think, of his Chronicles, not only ascribed to Jesus a knowledge of future events . . . but also testified that the result corresponded to His predictions."

Origen Against Celsus

"And 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 . . . " Origen Against Celsus

"Phlegon mentioned the eclipse which took place during the crucifixion of the Lord Jesus and no other (eclipse); it is clear that he did not know from his sources about any (similar) eclipse in previous times . . . and this is shown by the historical account of Tiberius Caesar." De. opif. mund. II21