Posted by: CeCe | March 14, 2012

Addressing Jesus-mythicism

One topic that I constantly encounter in religious debate is the existence of Jesus.  While the many arguments are far too vast to cover in just one post, I do want to address one.  Some time ago, someone brought up a link that had a list of people who did not write about Jesus.  It is found here:

Please ignore how awkwardly they list all these people; some of the rows include three or four different people, and other times include two names for the same person (like Pompon Mela, for example).  So I went through and looked each of them up, because if true, this is rather devastating to the case for Jesus’ existence.  It would bring up the question of why there were so many people who decided that He was not important enough to mention.  However, things aren’t always as they appear.  What follows is a brief description of who the people were, what kind of things they wrote, and why they would be dismissed by Jesus-mythicists even if they had written about Him.  Please bear with me, as this is quite long, since there were so many names to cover.

Apollonius was a Sophist, of whom only one work survives (the Homeric lexicon). Somehow I doubt Jesus would have been recorded in there.

With Appian, I assume that they’re referring to Appian of Alexandria. Two problems: 1) He wasn’t born until 95 CE, which means he was not contemporaneous; 2) He lived in Alexandria, which means he wouldn’t have been an eyewitness of any kind even if he had lived at the right time. Jesus-mythicists wouldn’t have allowed him to count even if he HAD mentioned Jesus. And anyway, his main surviving work is Historia Romana (Roman History), which was about main events of the Empire. Christianity was a much maligned cult that people were trying to quash at the time of his writing, so why would he have written about something to do with Christianity?  All Roman history books absolutely had to promote the Roman religion.  He would have been very foolish had he chosen to mention Christianity.

I assume they’re referring to Lucius Flavius Arrianus, rather than just Arrian. Arrian was indeed a Roman historian, who unfortunately was not born until 86 CE, which again, means that he’s not contemporaneous (so even if he had written books on Jesus, he could not count, as far as most Jesus-mythicists are concerned). He wrote a history of Alexander the Great, called Anabasis of Alexander, a book containing quotes from the philosopher Epictetus called Discourses of Epictetus, and Indica, which was about Nearchus’ journey from India to the Persian Gulf after Alexander the Great’s conquests of the Indus Valley. I see nowhere in any of those three works where Jesus *could* have been mentioned.

Aulus Gellius was born in 125 CE, so would not count. His only surviving work is Noctes Atticae (Attic Nights), which involves notes on grammar, geometry, history, and philosophy, amongst other subjects. It is by no means a comprehensive work. And there’s nowhere within it where Jesus would have been mentioned.

Columellus was a Roman writer, who lived just at the right time, between 4 and 70 CE. Problem: Both of his surviving works are on Roman agriculture (De Re Rustica and De Arboribus). Where exactly would Jesus have fit into those?

Damis was a student of Apollonius of Tyana, and none of his works survive. Even if he had written about Jesus, we wouldn’t know it.

Dio Chrysostom lived close to the right time, but none of his works on history have survived. All that have survived are various orations on philosophy, none of which would have had anything to do with Jesus.

None of the works of Dion of Naples have survived.

Epictetus never wrote anything. His teachings were preserved by Arrian.

Favorinus of Arelata was born around 80 CE (so not contemporaneous). Only a few fragments of his works survive, none of which would have included anything about Jesus.

Julius Florus wrote a work entitled Epitome de T. Livio Bellorum omnium annorum DCC Libri duo (that’s a mouthful, eh?), which follows the history of Rome from the foundation of the city up to 25 BCE. Where exactly would Jesus have fit into that?

I’m not sure which Hermogenes they’re meaning: Hermogenes of Tarsus or Saint Hermagoras of Aquileia… I’m assuming it’s the former. If so, keep in mind that Hermogenes of Tarsus quit writing at the age of 25, when he contracted something like meningitis. Up to that point, he wrote books on legal issues, speaking in public, the invention of arguments, style, and rhetorical exercises. Where would Jesus have fit into that? Further, he lived in the late 2nd century, which means… not contemporaneous enough.

Justus of Tiberius has no works that survive to today, and all that we know of him we know from his enemy, none other than Josephus. I’m not sure why he would even be included on the list!

Juvenal was a poet, not an historian. Even if he had mentioned Jesus, it wouldn’t prove anything.

Marcus Annaeus Lucanus was a Roman poet. His only surviving work is Bellum Civile, which is about the war between Julius Caesar and Pompey Magnus. Where would Jesus have fit into that, exactly?

Lucian the satirist did mention Jesus. I’m not sure why he’s on the list. So did Josephus, Suetonius, and Tacitus, who are also on the list.  Of course, they are all dismissed by mythicists because they are not contemporaneous enough.

I can find no reference to a Lysias, apart from someone who lived long before Jesus was born (4th to 3rd centuries BCE), but Theon of Smyrna (whose name is right next to Lysias) only had one surviving work: On Mathematics Useful for the Understanding of Plato. Yes, I suppose I can see where Jesus would be mentioned in that? Um?

Martial was a poet, whose subjects usually included city life and gossip about his acquaintances. Not so sure where Jesus would have fit into that. And anyway, he wasn’t born until after Jesus died, which means that according to most Jesus-mythicists, he couldn’t have been considered contemporaneous even if he had mentioned Jesus.

Marcus Velleius Paterculus was a Roman historian who died in 31 CE. His sole surviving work is Compendium of Roman History, which covers from about 146 BCE to 29 CE. He probably died before news of Jesus would have even reached him, and even if he didn’t, he died so soon after Jesus’ crucifixion that he probably wouldn’t have had time to write about it anyway. So I’m not sure why they included him.

Pausanias was a geographer. His sole surviving work is Description of Greece. I guess I could see why his not mentioning Jesus would be valid, since Jesus had to do with the geography of Greece. Wait, what?

Persius was a Roman poet and satirist who was born after Jesus died. Even if he had written about Jesus, there’s no way that anything he wrote could be taken as evidence, since he was not a non-fiction writer.

Petronius was a satirist whose only surviving work is Satyricon, a satirical novel. Yes, I suppose Jesus would have fit in there somewhere?

Phaedrus Latinized Aesop’s fables by retelling them in iambic meter. I’m not sure exactly where Jesus would have fit into that.

The only history that Pliny the Elder is found to have written was around 30 chapters or so of the period between Nero and Vespasian. Everything else was on nature.

Plutarch wasn’t born until 46 CE, which makes him not a contemporary of Jesus by Jesus-mythicists’ standards. And anyway, his only surviving works are two biographies of Roman emperors (Galba and Otho), Parallel Lives, and the Life of Alexander… none of which would have had anything to do with Jesus.

Pompon Mela was a Roman geographer who lived sometime in the first half of the 1st century. Only one geographical work of his survives to this day.

Ptolemy was not born until 90 CE, which makes him… come on, I’m sure you know by now, not contemporaneous by Jesus-mythicists’ standards. He wrote various books on astronomy, geography, music, astrology, and optics. I’m not sure where Jesus would have fit into them.

Quintilian was a Roman rhetorician who was born after Jesus’ crucifixion (c. 35 CE), whose only surviving work is Institutio Oratoria, which is both an exposition on rhetoric and an autobiography of sorts.

Quintius Curtius Rufus was a Roman historian, whose only surviving work is a biography on Alexander the Great.

To which Seneca are they referring, I wonder? The Younger or the Elder? No matter. If it was the Younger, his works include a dozen philosophical essays, 124 letters dealing with moral issues, 9 tragedies, a satire, and a meteorological essay. I’m not too sure where Jesus would have fit into those. If it was the Elder, his only surviving work is a book containing imaginary court cases. He did write a history of Rome, but it’s been lost.

Silius Italicus was a Roman poet whose only surviving work is about the Second Punic War. AND he wasn’t born until 45 CE.

Gaius Valerius Flaccus has one surviving work: Argonautica, which was an epic poem about Jason’s search for the Golden Fleece. I’m pretty sure if that had mentioned Jesus, it wouldn’t count anyway.

 My point is, of the few who could have written about Jesus, who could be considered contemporaneous, no works by them survive, or they wrote on different subjects completely. I don’t know about you, but if I was reading a book about trees, and there was a short sentence or two about, say, Abraham Lincoln, I would find it highly suspect and immediately dismiss it as an obvious forgery.  So in conclusion, this argumentum e silentio is utterly invalid.





  1. It was really interesting to read about the reasons why each of these authors would not have written about Jesus, but I think there’s a much simpler way to counter the argument. When Jesus was executed, he had spoken before a fair number of people, but had only a small coterie of followers. His ministry and teachings altered their lives permanently, but they were nobodies. The religion others fostered decades later in the name of Jesus was at first an illegal, underground cult. Why would any author of note be writing about a not particularly famous rabble-rousing healer who was summarily dispatched by those in power? Who among those you’ve listed could have had any notion that the religion would become a big deal?

    The best evidence to me that he lived is that people kept volunteering to die in support of his name and teachings, including the companions who said they had known and traveled with him. People don’t achieve that level of commitment that fast from a myth.

    • I like the way you think! Thanks for stopping by and commenting! 🙂

  2. There is always gonna be those who WANT to deny it, saying that what ever proof there is, is in fact not proof, and there will always be those who have faith.

    I just think there are to many religions out there for them ALL to be wrong. Someone has to be right… right? I read recently on one of the news sites that scientists concluded that the shroud can not be made during the 1500’s and in fact is a miracle of existence… I don’t know… I never feel completely alone… someone is always watching…

    • Thank you for stopping by! And yes, I think you’re right, that there will always be people for whom any evidence is not enough, and other people who fill in the gaps with faith.

  3. I just spent my Sunday afternoon doing research on this same list when I came across your analysis. Awesome! When I saw that intimidating list I decided to get to the bottom of it. I got down to Plutarch before I found you. Thank you for doing the work and sharing it. I’m in a heated debate with a group of atheists who don’t believe Jesus existed. This information gives me a sense of relief, because I came to the same conclusions as you. 🙂

    My list also included Phlegon. Perhaps they removed him from your list because he testified to the sun being darkened in 33 ad. Thallus mentioned this too.

    Blessings, Diana

    • Thank you very much Diana!

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