Robert Taylor's Diegesis: A Critique
Christus, the founder of the name, was put to death by Pontius Pilate, procurator of Judea in the reign of Tiberius (Annals xv.44)

If Ford Prefect was a reliable historian, and the Hitch-hiker's Guide to the Galaxy included rebuttals to critical books on history and religion, then the entry for Rev. Robert Taylor's Diegesis would read "Mostly Worthless". Acharya S, in her essay "The Origins of Christianity" uses this source as a footnote to the statement "Concerning the passage in the works of the historian Tacitus, who did not live during the purported time of Jesus but was born two decades after his purported death, this is also considered by competent scholars as an interpolation and forgery" [having already 'discussed' Josephus, in which she incorrectly claims all scholars have dismissed the Testimonium], which shows, in its double-whammies of word repetition and self-contradiction (a historian doesn't need to be living in the time of the subject, that is precisely why it is called history!) that she is not an impassioned writer, and none of those she cites can plausibly be called scholars. Indeed, Dr Alvin Kuhn whom she also cites was a student of Gerald Massey, and so referencing both (ftn 30, 30a) amounts to using one authority.

Kuhn, in his huge pseudo-Egyptology-cum-Christ-myth work "Who is this King of Glory?" uses Massey over 100 times, which says a lot for his "scholarship" (using many and varied writers is considered a more valid approach) and thinks the disproved Leo's line is a historical quote. The quote given suggests the average Christian hasn't the brains to look up historians regarding issues of history and that the tiny amounts of references in first century writings should suggest doubt in the mind of the reader, forgetting quality surpasses quantity and that among the first and second century witnesses we have that are relevant, all of which mention Christ. Of course, in quoting such non-experts, Acharya S is simply exposing her ignorance of the matter and, by using the term "historicizers" is actually suggesting historians, far from being objective, are in on the conspiracy! In this essay, I shall examine the claim that the passage in Tacitus (which Acharya does not even quote) is forged.

The discussion about the reference to Jesus in Tacitus' Annals 15.44 (Diegesis, chapter 45, pp 392-397) contains the argument that Tacitus did not mention Jesus because the passage was interpolated at a later date (15th century!) and the lack of quotations from the Church Fathers (though see below regarding Tertullian.)

Taylor wastes two paragraphs of unnecessary comments, asserting forgery everywhere among church writings, which suggests how much competency he has regarding this historian, i.e. none (indeed, he accuses Tacitus of being a liar!), and although he gives background information on Tacitus' life he entirely fails to discuss the issue of the reliability of its author, as noted by those in the proper field. As stated above, part of Taylor's argument is that "more accomplished scholars and infidels" later Christianized this section of the Annals, (doesn't he realize that is an oxymoron?) although he does admit that it appears in every copy we have. When discussing his ridiculous theory of who these are, he gives only one - Johannes de Spire, in 1468, without discussing this fellows' credentials, scholarship or accomplishments - that is, he commits the ad hominem fallacy. He aggrevates this by citing reasons of power, and illiteracy among the common folk which is an ad hominem circumstantial and still further, de Spire's sole possession of the manuscript (if he thinks that this suggests doubt on our passage, then, since Taylor does not cite contemporary scholarship in support of his argument the burden of proof sits on his shoulders alone.) This manuscript is identified (without explanation) as eighth century: I think he is confusing the two separate codices of the Annals, the other part of the work [the first six books] being of the ninth century. Today we only know of an 11th century manuscript, and our passage appears in that. Christ myther and classical scholar R P Oliver gives this information about this manuscript, which is referred to as M. II or 'second Medicean', to distinguish it from the unique codex of Annals 1-6:

"This MS is written in the difficult Beneventan hand. It was written at Monte Cassino, perhaps during the abbacy of Richer (1038-55AD). It derives from an ancestor written in Rustic Capitals, as it contains errors of transcription natural to that bookhand. There is some evidence that it was copied only once in about ten centuries, and that this copy was made from an original in rustic capitals of the 5th century or earlier (1), but other scholars believe that it was copied via at least one intermediate copy written in a minuscule hand.(2)" (Oliver's references are: (1). E.A. LOWE, The Unique Manuscript of Tacitus' Histories, Casinensia, Monte Cassino, 1929, vol. I pp. 257-272, and (2) C.W. MENDELL and S.A. IVES, Rycks's Manuscript of Tacitus, American Journal of Philology 72 (1951), pp.337-345.)

How then can the claim be maintained that Tacitus originates from the 15th century?

There are other problems with Taylor's account, the most notable being the date of the work, and a confusion of codices (implication by ambiguity.) In a book published in 1827, (An introduction to the knowledge of rare and valuable editions of the Greek and Latin classics, p.466, 4th edn., London vol II, by Thomas Frognall Dibdin), that is, a contemporary work then, which is probably the (unmentioned!) source he is using or would have had access to, the de Spire printing is undated, and the 1468 (or 1470) date is conjectured. The arguments offered today regarding the Tacitaean manuscripts being forged are for precisely the opposite reasons than those given by Taylor, that of Poggio Bracciolini (see here for a response) who was practically destitute! And, since this was 43 years earlier, it refutes the suspicions of the Reverand's argument. What is really amusing is that one of the other sources Acharya uses, "The Truth about Jesus", by M M Mangasarian, a 19th century ex-pastor, plumbs for the Bracciolini view for the origins of the Annals, while at the same time, claiming the de Spire date (huh?) and using an anonymously published volume by W R Ross as his source - and regarding the arguments of which he says "I am not competent to say whether or not Mr. Ross proves his point." (!) Nobody has then or since taken Ross seriously. What's that? Acharya says Mangasarian is a competent scholar, and her source admits that he is not. Someone is assuming their work will be simply believed and not checked up on, so that the wool can be pulled over unwitting eyes!

What can be said here is, it is possible that Taylor is using contemporary scholarship (if only regarding the date of the MSS), even if he misuses it, which if true, is far more than can be said for today's Christ mythers. (Though typically, even here Taylor is inconsistent, and also uses old works elsewhere, one from 1695! And speaking of inconsistency, if he thinks that only Christians should "run first in the dangerous business of analysing the evidences of the Christian religion" (!) [387], and the book as a whole can only be described as an anti-Christian diatribe, then why did he write it in the first place - since he has here disqualified himself?)

Taylor believes that he alone is able to give (from prison!) the "facts of the case", asserting without any discussion the supposed interpolation of the passage - schizophrenically separating these from those who "may have good and probably better reasons" to accept the quote as genuine are not, (why on earth would they have better reasons without the facts?!?) and that the reader should have the concluding decision - never mind whether said reader has the relevant historical training to make such decisions! (this is the second time in this chapter he pulled this one, the other is regarding the less-known inscription to Nero viz. "To Claudius Cæsar Nero Augustus Supreme Pontiff. In honour of the province having been purged from thieves, and from those who were endeavouring to teach the human race a new superstition.", which he claims should stand or fall together with the Tacitus' passage simultaneously, even though the word "superstition" appears to be the only 'link' as such, and he assumes up front that this is a Christian forgery - how do you forge an inscription? - and a further seven points without footnotes or quotations from historians other than Edward Gibbon's condemnation of it, and John de Ferreras, who he quotes after giving his opinions why it should be rejected, i.e. he begs the question by not quoting authorities in his reasons, and sets himself up as an authority while all the time not being an historian himself. Of the points themselves, he supposes the Christians devalued themselves to the point of losing their integrity, and of their religion being indiscriminate from paganism, which directly contradicts Pliny's testimony which Taylor admits might be genuine but is decried as worthless without being prepared to critically evaluate the various positions he admits exists! How can this be genuine AND worthless??? Finally, how can we plausibly consider Taylor objective since he is clearly demanding we reject Tacitus before quoting or discussing the passage?)

Uh, run that through me again, please: why does Taylor bother at all with his argument, since he admits the possibility that better arguments exist [for the unquestioning genuineness of the passage], which he does not give, and does not refute?

Thus our study could end here - a "straw man" being a fallacious argument - so from now on this study will be sent to the undertakers for post-mortem. (I think the study of fallacious argumentation in the Diegesis is the only valid reason for reading this book. Further examples from the chapter under study are: irrelevant source-texts (Leslie's Short and Easy Method with Deists!), argument by pity, meaning he appeals to his prison conditions while composing the work instead of focussing on the subject - the objective existence of Jesus Christ as a man - he does this four times in the first 12 pages of the chapter(!), and finally, a remarkable number of ad hominems, mostly against Eusebius and St. Paul, which shows that our subject is out-of-control.)

After giving the passage in English - probably due to Taylor himself as it contains oddities of translation (for example, it is highly unlikely that 'nominis' means "denomination"!) - and the Latin in a footnote as if to give the impression he is properly dealing with the evidence, we have the following points laid out on the slab: (renumbered according to sentence structure):

  1. This passage, which would have served the purpose of Christian quotation better than any other in all the writings of Tacitus, or of any Pagan writer whatever, is not quoted by any of the Christian Fathers.
  2. It is not quoted by Tertullian, though he had read and largely quotes the works of Tacitus; and though his argument immediately called for the use of this quotation with so loud a voice, that his omission of it, if it had really existed, amounts to a violent improbability. This Father has spoken of Tacitus in a way that it is absolutely impossible that he should have spoken of him, had his writings contained such a passage.
  3. It is not quoted by Clemens Alexandrinus, who set himself entirely to the work of adducing and bringing together all the admissions and recognitions which Pagan authors had made of the existence of Christ or Christians before his time.
  4. It has been no where stumbled on by the laborious and all-seeking Eusebius, who could by no possibility have missed of it, and whom it would have saved from the labour and infamy of forging the passage of Josephus : of adducing the correspondence of Christ and Abgarus, and the Sibylline verses ; of forging a divine revelation from the God Apollo, in attestation of Christ’s ascension into heaven ; and innumerable other of his pious and holy cheats.
  5. There is no vestige nor trace of its existence any where in the world before the 15th century.
  6. It rests then entirely upon the fidelity of a single individual ; and he, having the ability, the opportunity, and the strongest possible incitement of interest to induce him to introduce the interpolation.
  7. The passage itself, though unquestionably the work of a master, and entitled to be pronounced the chef d’œuvre of the art : betrays the penchant of that delight in blood and in descriptions of bloody horrors, as peculiarly characteristic of the Christian disposition, as it was abhorrent to the mild and gentle mind and highly cultivated taste of Tacitus.
  8. It bears a character of exaggeration, and trenches on the laws of rational probability, which the writings of Tacitus are rarely found to do.
  9. It may be met and overthrown by the concussion of directly conflicting evidence of equal weight of challenge ; a shock to which no statements of Tacitus besides are liable.
  10. It is not conceivable that Nero, who, with all his crimes, was at least not safe in the commission of crime ; and paid at last the forfeit of his life, not to private revenge, but to public justice, for less heinous enormities ; should have been so ludibund in cruelty, and wanton in wickedness, as this passage would represent him.
  11. It is not conceivable, that such good and innocent people as the primitive Christians must be supposed to be, should have provoked so great a degree of hostility, or that they should not sufficiently have endeared themselves to their fellow-citizens, to prevent the possibility of their being so treated.
  12. It is not conceivable, that so just a man as Tacitus unquestionably was, could have spoken of the professors of a purer religion than the world before had seen, as really criminal, and deserving exemplary punishment.
  13. The whole account is falsified by the text of the New Testament, in which Nero is spoken of as the Minister of God for good; and the Christians have the assurance of God himself, that so long as they were followers of that which was good, there was none that would harm them. --- See 1 Peter iii. 13.
  14. It is falsified by the apology of Tertullian, and the far more respectable testimony of Melito, Bishop of Sardis, who explicitly states that the Christians, up to his time, the third century, had never been victims of persecution : and that it was in provinces lying beyond the boundaries of the Roman Empire, and not in Judea, that Christianity originated. --- See their testimonies in this DIEGESIS.
  15. Not a disposition to reject Christianity, but an eagerness and promptness to run after and embrace it, has in all ages been the constitutional cacoethes of the human mind.
  16. Tacitus has in no other part of his writings made the least allusion to Christ or Christians.
  17. The use of this passage as a part of the Evidences of the Christian Religion, is absolutely modern.

What a confused mess! (I have recently found a website that claims that these are cogent reasons!) When giving us the background information for Tacitus' life, he says that "probable conjecture" places the writing of Tacitus' Annals at 107 AD, but when discussing whether any early historians quoted the passage soon afterwards, it is all "violent improbability" and "absolutely impossible" and that a 3rd century church historian fails to live up to a non-historians' expectations sixteen centuries later with a "just the facts" attitude. What sort of historical method is this? It isn't. (Besides, if it is "probable" that Tacitus wrote the Annals in 107, then what's all this about the de Spire manuscript?!?) Together with his complete lack of quotation from relevant historians of his day, unnecessary rhetoric, emotional manipulation ("delight in blood" - what is he thinking of?!), and literary pretense - (his being trained in the wrong field i.e. as a surgeon, and the modus operandi of orator sticks out like a sore thumb - as his claim about Tacitus' character and the misrepresentation of Nero would send Taciteans into laughing fits!) - out of the points he brings against the passage he gives just TWO footnotes. That is, 90% of these assertions and opinions have no backing! And since the subtitle of the Diegesis is "Being A Discovery of the Origin, Evidences, and Early History of Christianity, Never yet Before or Elsewhere so Fully and Faithfully set Forth" - one wonders if Taylor knows the meaning of the word "faithful"! And if it is always the disposition of man not to reject Christianity, then the entireity of Taylor's book is unnatural.

Robert Van Voorst comments on the question of authenticity (Jesus Outside the New Testament, pp. 42-43):

But there are good reasons for concluding with the vast majority of scholars that this passage is fundamentally sound, despite difficulties which result in no small measure from Tacitus' own compressed style. The overall style and content of this chapter are typically Tacitean. The passage fits well in its context and is the necessary conclusion to the entire discussion of the burning of Rome. Sulpicius Severus's Chronicle 2.29 attests to much of it in the early fifth century, so most suggested interpolations would have to have come in the second through fourth centuries. As Norma Miller delightfully remarks, "The well-intentioned pagan glossers of ancient texts do not normally express themselves in Tacitean Latin," and the same could be said of Christian interpolators. Finally, no Christian forgers would have made such disparaging remarks about Christianity as we have in Annals 15.44, and they probably would not have been so merely descriptive in adding the material about Christ in 15.44.3.

Further, even skeptics admit the passage is anti-Christian, which would explain why the Church Fathers ignored it! (Jeffery Jay Lowder's reply to Josh McDowell, in reply to Gordon Stein.) Taylor has to redefine the word "Christian" to make his point (see #7 for example, my numbering.)

#5 falls by noting that a similar quotation (the description of Christian persecution) from Severus, a Latin Historian (that is, he perhaps had reason to rely on Tacitus) exists, which Taylor dates to AD 401 in the Appendix - which proves that neither our subject nor Acharya S can be bothered to provide their readership with the whole facts!

About one-third of the argument is derived from Tertullian's Apology. So we will use that as our source:

(purpose. writing to the Roman leaders regarding injustice dealt to the Christians) We find our church historian referring to Pliny the Younger's letter to Trajan asking for guidance regarding how to deal with these folk who refused to offer sacrifices, and who gave worship to Christ and God, and who refused to commit crimes. Trajan replied with, in effect, "do not seek them out, but punish them if they are brought to you". Tertullian then bemoans this self-contradiction that Christians are considered guilty and innocent simultaneously. And why would they be punished? Because of a law passed that defined what a deity is: "an old decree that no god should be consecrated by the emperor till first approved by the senate", and gives an example: Marcus AEmilius' god Alburnus.

In the same chapter of external evidences for Christianity, Taylor states that in the whole corpus of Roman law there was not a single word against the Christians. Well, not by name perhaps: but will the above do? And where do we find this quotation? Chapter 5 of the apology, the same place where Taylor's footnote gives the "Consult your histories..." report for #2 in the list. He so rushes about like a mad thing, that he is blind to the evidence in front of him. Although it is admitted Tertullian does not quote our passage, he certainly cites it, (an implied reference) in that he says the Christian multitudes existed in Rome, and that Nero brought the imperial sword against them, and Taylor states this is where Tacitus mentions Christians, and nowhere else (p397, Taylor's numbering, point #19, bottom of page 411)! Why would Trajan command them to be punished, if not over worshipping a god that the Senate had not approved of? And if the Senate had not approved of it, then why would Tacitus think of this religion as pure? And nowhere does Taylor offer examples of what Roman government did, merely his own interpretation by assertion. The entire argument that the Church Fathers did not know of this reference, and that it was a later forgery, falls in on itself. (We will add that Tertullian's letter would not have been read if the references to Tacitus and Pliny - themselves Romans - were incorrect.)

And now we take on the claim that there was no Christian persecution in Tertullian's day, according to the Apology. After referencing Nero in Roman histories, he goes on to mention "Domitian, too, a man of Nero's type in cruelty, tried his hand at persecution". Taylor himself lists Tacitus, Suetonius (Life of Nero, "The Christians, a race of men of a new and villainous, wicked or magical superstition, were visited with punishment" Diegesis p.411 - Taylor's ridiculous and self-defeating comment on this being that he hopes this does not relate to Christians! [398]) and Pliny (see above, and Trajan's reply) as places where Roman authors mention the Christians - after stating in the section on Pliny, "I have no doubt at all of the forgery of the passage of Tacitus" (??? if Tacitus is a forgery, why go on to say that Christians are mentioned in that passage? And later on, among the comments on the satirist Lucian, we find that he thinks if Tacitus is genuine, then the Christians told him the information!), and in every place says that they were persecuted (from the Christian point of view). Why do we need more?

As for Taylor's charge of Tacitus lying, we point out that Tertullian clearly states that the Roman historian is theorizing about the origin of the Jews - how did Taylor miss that one? Or is he trying to find any and every excuse to commit ad hominem, regardless of evidence? Tertullian is merely doing a pun on Tacitus' name: "Cornelius Tacitus (the very opposite of tacit in telling lies) informs us in the work already mentioned, that when Cneius Pompeius captured Jerusalem, he entered the temple to see the arcana of the Jewish religion, but found no image there." (Apology, chapter 16)

#14 chapter 41, in which Taylor merely quotes two paragraphs from Bishop Melito via Eusebius via Lardner (that is, third-hand!) without giving any reference whatsoever, nor does he list this in the works cited in the Appendix! One wonders why, since this would be a fairly important reference and is the basis for several of his points about Christian persecution? He also gets the date wrong, Melito lived in the second century. There are two other places in the work where Taylor uses Melito, and it is from here we get the relevant quotes (though contradictory to his argument re: Tacitus! That is why he doesn't reference it!) and here they are:

"MELITO, bishop of Sardis, in which, in an apology delivered to the emperor Marcus Antoninus, in the year 170, he complains of certain annoyances and vexations which Christians were at that time subjected to, and for which he claims redress from the justice and piety of that emperor : first, on the score that none of his ancestors had ever persecuted the professors of the Christian faith, Nero and Domitian only", chapter 37 p.248, (emphasis his) and,

"Only Nero and Domitian, through the persuasion of certain envious and malicious persons, were disposed to bring our doctrine into hatred", chapter 41 p. 320 So what we find is, Melito admits Nero persecuted the Christians and brought about hatred of their religion to the populace, as stated by Tacitus, and Taylor, in order to bring about his argument of rejecting our passage omits this fact while citing Melito as a source! What, is the circus in town? This shameless manipulation of evidence gets Taylor the slap in the face, not only for failure to proofread his book for consistency, but for trying to impose a deception on his readers in the name of truth-seeking examination of Christian evidence for Jesus Christ (the conclusion to the book contains the sentence "If thou believest there is any God at all, at any rate, thou should also believe that he is a God of truth", italics his.) In fact, this inconsistency is not the only time I've caught him at it: one other famous occasion is where he claims that if you are seeking to discover the names of the authors of the gospels you are chasing fantasy, while all the time he knows about Papias' identification of the Mark and Matthew gospels, and also of Marcion's modified version of Luke!

Conclusion - Taylor deserves no credit for such a ridiculous and self-contradictory argument, and is clearly unworthy of the title "scholar". Christ-mythers: Take this work outside and bury it - it is merely skeptical ideology over against truth. Acharya S really needs to give this fellow up!


Works cited:

  • The Diegesis, Rev Robert Taylor (1829), Kessinger publishing (reprint, it costs $27 !)
  • An introduction to the knowledge of rare and valuable editions of the Greek and Latin classics, 4th edn., London (1827), vol II. p.466 by Thomas Frognall Dibdin
  • Roger Pearse's page on Tertullian,
  • Tertullian's Apology, Translated by Rev S Thelwall, Christ's College, Cantab.