|Why did contemporary writers not mention Jesus?|
There's a popular list circulated of writers supposedly contemporary with Jesus who are alleged to have been mysteriously silent about him. You'll find this list repeated on dozens of Skeptical sites, and in books like Freke and Gandy's Jesus Mysteries, but the ultimate source of the list is John Remsberg and his book, The Christ.
While this long list of names may seem impressive, once you look at this list closely, you find several problems. Some of these writers did indeed mention Jesus (which Remsberg disputes; but see our rebuttals linked below); most by far, though, would have no reason to mention Jesus (because of the sort of things they wrote), and also did not mention Christians, though they certainly existed in the time many of these writers lived, even by the admission of critics like Remsberg -- and many of them also make no mention of Jews.
As an aside Remsberg himself was equivocal in his commitment to a Christ-myth thesis, using words like "possibly" to allow that Jesus existed.
The question Remsberg never answers is, "Why should any of these people have mentioned Jesus?" The list is presented flat, as though it is obvious that merely by being in the same century as Jesus, something requires these writers to make mention of him. As a reminder, let's bring up again Meier's reasons why someone like Jesus would not make it into the typical Roman or Greek history:
Now let's explain what each of these writers did. Links are provided where we have discussion of a particular cite. I have used the online Columbia Encyclopedia at Bartleby.com as a source for most of these; that's really all that's necessary.
In closing: In almost all cases, Remsberg's writers are either the sort who would not mention Jesus anyway (being writers of either fiction, poetry, or on mundane and practical matters like oratory and agriculture, or historians or writers of another time or place). The few left over, like Plutarch or Tacitus, either did mention Jesus or else would be too bigoted to make the special diversion, unless (as with Tacitus) they had some corollary reason to look into the movement (Tacitus was trying to show Nero's cruelty).
My challenge to Skeptics: Show me why each of these writers should have mentioned Jesus. Remsberg's say-so isn't sufficient.
A response to this article was made by one who goes online as "Iasion." To some credit, Iasion admits that yes, this list is misused a lot; and yes, "some of the names on the list do not belong, because they just could not be expected to have mentioned Jesus" and as well, the list "is also without dates and subjects and places, and is unclear in identifying some authors."
Nevertheless, arguments are made that some of the names are valid. Iasion begins with some "factors which increase the expectation that Jesus would be mentioned in a work," some of questionable value. The first:
a large work (i.e. one which has large index of names)
"A large work" is no factor at all in this issue. There is no more reason to expect a 200 page work from Columella about agriculture to name Jesus than a 100 page work.
a work on an issue somehow related to Jesus or the Gospel events,
This one would be admissible, but we will see it is far too vague as applied. "Somehow related" is of such fogginess that it may as well be argued:
Indeed most or all of Iasion's points using this reasoning are of this nature, where he reaches for whatever tangent he can reach for to suppose that Jesus ought to have been mentioned. Let me add as well that Iasion ignores our precursorial data as provided by Meier and others, explaining why Jesus would not be mentioned.
a work whose genre tends to frequently mention or allude to many subjects and people,
In essence this is just another version of 1 and 2 put together. "Many subjects" is too vague; what is needed is evidence that the writer deals in specific subjects relevant to the person of Jesus.
In the end, Iasion ends up with a classification system of whether Jesus ought to be mentioned in various writers. We will exclude comment on those he admits would not mention Jesus. He ends up with:
Iasion also makes brief comments on writers who did mention Jesus, but which he dismisses for various reasons.
Some preliminaries to start. Iasion incorrectly summarizes my arguments:
In other words, JPHolding's argument assumes that no such writer ever mentions a minor figure in passing, that they never make an aside about other events or figures who are not specially related to the subject.
Of course, this is not true, as the evidence below shows that many of the writers mentioned make many references to many other minor figures and often make excurses about other subjects and events and people.
That is a mishandling of my argument, which is that one needs to provide adequate justification to argue that a writer should have mentioned someone or something; it is not enough to point to other minor figures mentioned, for two reasons:
Now let us begin with the list.
Iasion missed my link on this subject. Philo is questionable as a reference; he may have died before Jesus did, and he certainly died before Christianity became a signficiant force.
But here especially the Gamaliel Challenge hurts Iasion's case. Note how it counters his reasons why Philo ought to mention Jesus:
So we conclude that Iasion is wrong to claim that "If Jesus had existed, Philo would almost certainly have written about him and his teachings." If anything, it is certain he would not have, for the very idea that the Logos could have become incarnate would have disgusted him.
Rating: SHOULD NOT have mentioned Jesus or his teachings, and did not.
Iasion vaguely begins, "His troubles with Nero did not stop him writing many works about many subjects (un-related to Nero), why on Earth would they would stop him writing about Jesus?"
Iasion fails to see that to write about Jesus would require Seneca to do some original research, on a subject far removed from him by geography, time, and interest. What Iasion needs to show is first, that these "many subjects" (whatever they were) would require the same or similar amounts of original research, and then explain why then Seneca would also not write about persons like Gamaliel, Hillel, Shammai, or other sages. Once again, Iasion's line of reasoning is so vague that it proves too much.
Seneca wrote a great deal on many subjects and mentioned many people. He was a Stoic, a school of thought considered sympathetic to Christian teachings.
That Stoicism was "sympathetic to Christian teachings" is neither shown nor explained. In addition, even if true, Iasion needs to then show that other schools of thought to which Stocism was sympathetic were also discussed by Seneca. But in fact Stoicism differed from Christianity in highly fundamental ways: it was materialistic and pantheistic. Nor does Iasion show that any Stoic source expressed "sympathy" with Christianity, much less at the crucial period.
In fact, early Christians seemed to have expected him to discuss Christianity - they FORGED letters between him and Paul. How else to explain these forgeries, except as Christian responses to a surprising VOID in Seneca's writings?
If indeed there was a "void" problem, it seems odd that in these materials (see here), Seneca and Paul nowhere mention Jesus or Christ as a person. Whatever the motive of these works, it was certainly not to fill a "void" with respect to a historical Jesus. (In all likelihood, it was intended as a fictitious "what if" dialogue comparing Stoic and Christian thought; see on this the May/June 2009 issue of the Tekton E-Block.) Thus:
Rating: PROBABLY SHOULD NOT have mentioned Jesus or his teachings, and did not.
JPHolding argues that Plutarch would not mention Jesus (in the roster of Greco-Roman heroes) because they didn't want to hear about superstitions from the Jews or Egyptians. Yet, Plutarch wrote a great deal more than a roster of heroes, and one of his works is on "Isis and Osiris" - an Egyptian myth - the very thing JPHolding suggests Plutarch would NOT write about.
This is yet another false characterization of my argument. Plutarch writes of Osiris and Isis not as historical personages, but about their religion. I do not say Plutarch would exclude discussion of religion, but that he would not include an Egyptian or Jewish person among those in a particular sort of work he composed (heroic biographies).
That said, since Plutarch does not mention Christians either, and barely mentions the Jews (and when he does, makes egregious errors about them, such as that, in "Quæstiones Conviviales," 4.5, Jews "abstained from eating the flesh of the hare because it resembled the ass, which is an animal worshiped by them."), and not even Iasion would deny that Christians existed in Plutarch's time, Iasion once again proves too much in his quest.
By the same token, Iasion gives us no reason why Plutarch would not mention Shammai, Hillel, or Gamaliel.
Plutarch's writings also include a fascinating piece known as the Vision of Aridaeus, a spiritual journey, or out of body experience, or religious fantasy -
That proves nothing whatsoever; and its relevance is not explained. More:
Plutarch wrote about influential Roman figures, including some contemporary to Jesus, --precisely my point: Influential Roman figures. Not Jewish or Christian ones. By this loose reasoning a lack of reference to Hillel, et al is just as mysterious.
Plutarch wrote on Oracles (prophesies) -- proving what? So why no references in Plutarch to the Jewish prophets by name?
Plutarch wrote on moral issues, -- again, proving what? Iasion has now logically obligated Plutarch to mention countless moralists of his day, and has relegated them to non-existence simply because he has not mentioned them.
Plutarch wrote on spiritual and religious issues. -- the same point applies. All of this is simply making vague connections to broad subjects, as though this makes it obvious that Jesus ought to have been mentioned by virtue of these vague connections. But it "proves" too much.
Rating: PROBABLY SHOULD NOT have mentioned Jesus or his teachings, and did not.
I noted that we lack this fellow's works, and so have no way to judge appropriateness. Iasion replies:
As I pointed out in my post above, we know from Photius that Justus did NOT mention Jesus. His book was a history of the Jewish leaders.
Photius read Justus and notes that he did not mention anything: "He (Justus of Tiberias) makes not one mention of Jesus, of what happened to him, or of the wonderful works that he did."
This remains a non-answer, for without Justus' works we have no idea whether Photius was justified in his indignance at lack of mention of Jesus, or if he was merely demanding mentions based on loose and vague connections. But Iasion gives away the argument with his description: The title of Justus' work was A Chronicle of the Kings of the Jews, and Photius saus he begins his history with Moses and carries it down to the death of the seventh Agrippa of the family of Herod and the last of the Kings of the Jews.
In other words, it is clear that Photius is objecting to Justus not mentioning Jesus -- whom he, but not Justus, views as the King of the Jews -- in a work that is specifically about the kings of the Jews. Thus Photius' objection is unreasonable.
It is surprising that a contemporary writer from the very region of Jesus' alleged acts did not mention him.
In that case, we need to ask whether Justus also mentioned people like Shammai, Hillel, and Gamaliel. It would be just as "surprising" to a Jew if he did not -- if indeed they were to claim that mentions of these persons were required.
Rating: PROBABLY SHOULD NOT have mentioned Jesus, and did not.
I noted this is who wrote the biography of Apollonius of Tyana -- he lived in the second century and doesn't mention Jesus, most likely because he has his own man to promote. Iasion retorts with the odd observation that Apollonius "was a philospher and mystic exactly contemporary with Jesus" (false -- he was later in the first century) "and who was rather similar to Jesus - enough for some authors to argue they were one and the same person." (What authors these were is not said, much less are their arguments presented.)
And in conclusion: "If Damis/Apollonius had known of Jesus, he could have easily have been mentioned as a competitor. A story in which Apollonius bested Jesus in debate would not be un-expected." Since they were not at all contemporaries, that is of course false; but this is merely a bare denial of my point, that Jesus was a competitor to NOT be mentioned.
But even so, why not mention, let us say rather than Gamaliel, the Jewish/Galileean miracle worker Honi the Circle Drawer? He too was "similar to Jesus" (Galileean holy man and miracle worker) so why not from Damis also?
Rating: COULD easily have mentioned Jesus, as well as Gamaliel or Honi the Circle Drawer, but did not.
PLINY THE ELDER
Issues of MORALITY are not related to Christianity? How many Christians here would agree with JPHolding that morality is not related to Jesus' alleged teachings?
Very well, then, Iasion has just obligated Pliny to mention countless other prominent moral teachers of his day, including Hillel and Shammai. Where are they in his work? They are not there.
It could be further added that it would be simply false to argue (as some popular writers do) that Jesus' moral teachings were in any sense unique.
Pliny wrote a great deal - his Natural History mentions HUNDREDS of people, major & minor - writers, leaders, poets, artists - often with as much reason as mentioning Jesus. (Of course like many other writers he talks about astronomy too, but never mentions the Star of Bethlehem or the darkness.)
"Hundreds" of people? I doubt that. And by what means has he decided on who is "major" and "minor"? And in what chapters of NH would he find room for Jesus? Perhaps the one on Spain and Italy? The one on insects? (The section on bees certianly did not list dozens of people.) We'd like a list of those "hundreds" (a minimum of 200), please.
As for not mentioning the darkness, we covered that before in the essay on Thallus (see link above).
So it is indeed completely unreasonable to demand that Pliny ought to have mentioned Jesus or the Gospels events. Indeed, why not mention Honi the Circle-Drawer and his ability to make rain in his sections on weather?
Rating: COULD easily have mentioned Jesus, and also could easily have mentioned Honi the Circle Drawer -- but had no reason to.
According to JPHolding, Roman satirists would NOT possibly be expected to mention Jesus or Christianity. But, Lucian the Roman satirist DID ridicule Christians (as gullible, easily lead fools) in mid 2nd century. This example proves such an argument false.
This is once again a misrepresentation of what I argue. Certainly, Christianity was ONE potential subject for satire. But it was hardly the ONLY subject; there were literally hundreds of possible political, social, or religious targets for a satrist like Juvenal. So why not also object that he does not satirize the Jewish leadership under Shammai and Hillel (especially since Jews were particular targets of disdain for Romans)? Again Iasion "proves too much" with his far too broad arguments.
Rating: COULD have mentioned Jesus, as well as Hillel, Shammai, and Gamaliel, but did not.
This one is a repeat of the one above with Juvenal, and requires no comment. Here again also Iasion lloks for vague parallels to events in Jesus' life:
Martial wrote a large body of poems about all sorts of things. He mentions many people, places, stories and issues - major and minor, within and without Rome, such as :
Stoic suffering of discomfort and death, -- so this requires a mention of Jesus' suffering of discomfort and death? Was Jesus the only person in antiquity otherwise to suffer so? Why then is Iasion not objecting to Martial offering full lists of every person who suffered so?
virgin's blood, -- not sure what the point here is, since there is no "virgin's blood" matter in Christianity.
Roman funerary practices, -- Was Jesus the only person otherwise to have been subjected to funerary practices (but Jewish, not Roman ones)?
the way accused men look in court, -- was Jesus the only person ever tried as well? And on it goes; we need not deal with each specific offered. The flaw remains the same.
Rating: COULD have mentioned Jesus, as well as thousands of other people who had been put on trial, anointed with oil, etc., but did not.
The answer here is much the same:
Petronius mentions all sorts of people and events in this large work, including :
a CRUCIFIXION ! -- Really? How many thousands of people did the Romans crucify? Why not mention the thousands of Pharisees crucified in the Maccabbean era?
a scene where guards are posted to stop a corpse being stolen, -- one would like a reference to where this is in the work; in a search of it here I find nothing of the sort. In any event, why this requires Petronius to make mention of Jesus' situation is not explained. I think further that Iasion is confused by this passage:
In the meantime there happening a trial of criminals, the condemn'd were order'd to be crucify'd near the vault in which the lady was weeping o're the corps of her late husband. The soldier that guarded the bodies lest any might be taken from the cross and bury'd, the night after observ'd a light in the vault, and hearing the groans of some afflicted person, prest with a curiosity common to mankind, he desired to know, who, or what it was? Upon which he enter'd the vault, and seeing a very beautiful woman, amaz'd at first, he fancy'd 'twas a spirit, but viewing the dead body, and considering her tears and torn face, he soon guest, as it was, that the lady cou'd not bear the loss of her husband: he brings his supper with him into the vault, and began to perswade the mournful lady not to continue her unnecessary grief, nor with vain complaints consume her health: That death was common to all men; and many other things he told her, that use to restore afflicted persons to that calmness they before enjoy'd: But she mov'd anew at the comfort a stranger offer'd, redoubl'd her grief, and tearing her hair, cast it on the body that lay before her.
The guard was placed not over the tomb, but (in line with standard Roman practice) over the crucified bodies, still on the cross. This is a a good place to ask what it isIasion expects this to have said. Perhaps something like this?
In the meantime there happening a trial of criminals, like that Jesus Christians worship was a criminal, the condemn'd were order'd to be crucify'd, like Jesus was, near the vault in which the lady was weeping o're the corps of her late husband, like Mary Magdalene at Jesus' own vault. The soldier that guarded the bodies lest any might be taken from the cross and bury'd, much the same way the guards watched Jesus' tomb, the night after observ'd a light in the vault, the one likes Jesus, and hearing the groans of some afflicted person, like Jesus on the cross, prest with a curiosity common to mankind, he desired to know, who, or what it was? Upon which he enter'd the vault, the one like Jesus', and seeing a very beautiful woman, kinda like Mary of Bethany, amaz'd at first, he fancy'd 'twas a spirit, but viewing the dead body, and considering her tears and torn face, he soon guest, as it was, that the lady cou'd not bear the loss of her husband: he brings his supper with him into the vault, the one like Jesus', and began to perswade the mournful lady not to continue her unnecessary grief, nor with vain complaints consume her health: just like Jesus comforted Mary Magdalene. That death was common to all men, even Jesus; and many other things he told her, that use to restore afflicted persons to that calmness they before enjoy'd, like Jesus to his disciples: But she mov'd anew at the comfort a stranger offer'd, redoubl'd her grief, and tearing her hair, which was like the hair Jesus' feets was wiped with, cast it on the body that lay before her, much as Jesus' body laid in his own tomb.
a tomb scene of someone mistaking a person for a supernatural vision, -- actually, quite common in the ancient world; so why not also mention the vision of Romulus appearing alive?
gods such as Bacchus and Ceres, -- is Yahweh mentioned in the Satyricon?
writers such as Sophocles and Euripides and Epicurus, -- and so on; there is no need to go further, as Iasion goes so far into vagueness as to include "baths, shipwrecks, meals," in his last entry, as if any of this ought to bring in Jesus. Once again he proves too much, and obligates Petronius to mention anything and everything.
Rating: COULD have mentioned Jesus, and by the logic used, also could have mentioned ants, crickets, dead animals, and old sandals, but did not.
Weight: negative 2
Iasion seems proud of himself on this one:
Pausanias' work is vast and the index covers over 70 pages of small print, I estimate a couple of THOUSAND names are mentioned. And guess what, JPHolding? He DOES in fact mention a Jewish prophetess - Phokis, Book X, 12,  "Then later than Demo there was a prophetic woman reared among the Jews beyond Palestine; her name was Sabbe." Not quite a "Jewish miracle worker", but almost - essentially unknown, mentioned by Pausanias, when Jesus is not. Hoist by his own petard :-)
Really? So where are Hillel, Gamaliel, Shammai, then? Beyond this Iasion evades the necessity of showing that Pausanius' mention of Sabbe is not germane to his purpose, and that Jesus would be. Sabbe was one of FOUR sibyls whom Pausanias lists from various parts of the world (such as Libya). It was not her "Jewishness" that got Sabbe her mention; it was her powers as one of four sibyllian oracles (not a "prophetess" in the least).
Pausanias also mentions the Jewish rebellion under Hadrian. And a huge number of minor figues from within and without Greece.
Since Jesus was not alive in the time of Hadrian, what this is supposed to signify is unknown. The second part once again ends up proving more than Iasion wants: No Hillel, no Shammai, no Gamaliel. Also, no Apollonious of Tyana. No Seneca. So now do they not exist?
Rating: COULD easily have mentioned Jesus, Hillel, Seneca, etc. but did not.
Weight: negative 6
Iasion objects that Jesus wrote nothing either, which is beside the point, which is that Remsberg misused him as a reference. Beyond this Iasion makes no effort to show that the person who wrote down Epictetus' material, Arrian, ought to have mentioned Jesus; his sole point is to note that Arrian mention "Galileeans" which means that Arrian is now obliged to list everyone who lived in Galilee, by this logic. And then, why not also mention Josephus, a famous historian who was appointed to govern Galilee?
Rating: COULD easily have mentioned Jesus, as well as Josephus, but did not.
Just another reach here, as Iasion says: Aelius Aristides the Greek Orator spoke and wrote a History of Rome and other subjects - he seems to refer to the Christians as "impious men from Palestine " (Orations 46.2) If he could mention people from Palestine, he could easily have mentioned Jesus. And Hillel, and Shammai, and everyone else in Palestine too. Jews were also considered impious by the Romans, after all.
Rating: COULD easily have mentioned Jesus, as well as Hillel and Shammai and Gamaliel, but did not.
Iasion adds now to Remsberg's list, referring to "Marcus Cornelius Fronto of Rome wrote [who] several letters in mid 2nd century," adding, "According to Minucius Felix, he scandalised rites practiced by Roman Christians - so he could easily have mentioned Jesus."
But Iasion does not explain which of Fronto's extant letters ought to have mentioned Jesus, much less explain why, and why they don't mention the likes of Hillel, etc. either.
Rating: COULD easily have mentioned Jesus, as well as Shammai, Hillel, etc. but did not.
Iasion merely repeats his argument about Juvenal and Martial.
Rating: COULD possibly have mentioned Jesus, as well as Hillel, Shammai, etc. but did not.
Iasion at this point as much as acknowledges that he cannot come up with reasons for people at this level to mention Jesus, appealing only to his "large number of works" as a reason. So why not Hillel, Shammai, Gamaliel then?
Rating: COULD possibly have mentioned Jesus, and the Jewish leaders, but did not.
Same as above; Iasion merely makes vague appeal to "a large work which covered many topics and mentioned many people" as a sole reason to mention Jesus.
Rating: COULD possibly have mentioned Jesus, and lots of other notable people, but did not.
MAXIMUS of TYRE
For all of these, Iasion's argument is the same: Largeness of their portfolio means they "could have" mentioned Jesus. But then why not dozens of other leading persons?
Rating: COULD possibly have mentioned Jesus, and dozens of other persons, but did not.
THEON of SMYRNA
In addition to the above excuse about largeness, a repeat of commentary re Pliny over the Star of Bethlehem and crucifixion darkness. In other words, nothing new, much less a show that Theon managed an exhaustive catalog of stellar phenonema of the day. Does he, for example, mention the appearances of Halley's Comet every century?
Rating: COULD possibly have mentioned Jesus, and Honi the Circle Drawer, but did not.
This is widely off the mark, as Iasion says, One of the things Jesus was allegedly noted for was his PUBLIC SPEECHES - e.g. the Sermon on the Mount, which supposedly drew and influenced large crowds. If Quintilian had heard of Jesus or the Gospels events, he could have mentioned the allegedly famous speeches of Jesus.
No, not at all -- Jesus' speeches were not examples of polished Greco-Roman rhetoric, which is what Quintilian was all about.
Rating: COULD possibly have mentioned Jesus, but had no reason to.
LUCIUS ANNAEUS FLORUS
Though he did write of times before Jesus, Iasion's sole argument is that because he "wrote a large work which mentions many names," Florus "could have mentioned Jesus if he had known of him." So where are Gamaliel and Shammai then?
Rating: COULD possibly have mentioned Jesus, or Shammai, or Gamaliel, but did not.
Admitting he wrote of the civil war only, Iasion resorts to idea that Lucan "mentions some events from later times, and he covers many different issues and people in passing" -- so again, why not Hillel, Gamaliel, and Shammai? Iasion needs to show a context for Jesus that matches contexts which suited Lucan when he (for example) "mentions an event from 56CE" or "places as far afield as Sicily and Kent" -- not just take difference in subjects generally as a reason to bring up Jesus specifically.
Rating: COULD possibly have mentioned Jesus, Hillel, Shammai, etc. but did not.
HERO of ALEXANDRIA
Nothing again but the appeal to having written a lot, or in the case of Albinus and those beneath him (we will not list them all), no reason at all other than "he could have."
Rating: COULD possibly have mentioned Jesus, Hillel, Shammai, etc. but did not.
Finally Iasion refers to WRITERS CLAIMED TO MENTION JESUS and here missed a link I gave explaining all of them: http://www.tektonics.org/jesusexisthub.html