Is anyone in the Bible real?

Right. Just in case anyone got the impression that Plutarch is the only source for Alcibiades or Pericles: Thucydides and Plato aren’t exactly chopped liver, for starters.

I think that the point Little Nemo was making is that just because a writer wrote well after the time of the alleged occurrence; does not-on its own; make him unreliable.

In his lifetime, his influence was faff-all. He didn’t intersect with any major historical events or figures. And for all the good things one might say about the Gospels, good history they ain’t.

Anyway, as an aside, I’ve never really understood the attraction in denying the historicity of Jesus, unless it’s to annoy people on the internet. Much like Paul’s writings mentioned upthread, the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth didn’t grow on a tree either. I mean, maybe I’m not buying the miracle stuff, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

Also, I tend to find the criterion of embarrassment rather convincing.

I think the point could be made that at the time Jesus of Nazareth lived, his impact (from a historian’s perspective) was indeed negligible. That’s different from, let’s say, a famed poet or philosopher, the King of Judea or a high-ranking Roman official. It was only in the decades and centuries after his death that he rose to such colossal importance.

If a Doper were to phrase a question for GQ something like: “Historical persons: (virtually) unknown during lifetime, later immensely famous?”, Jesus of Nazareth would be top of the list.

Yes, of course. But I was responding to a point made about the historicity of Josephus, and Josephus was not writing during the lifetime of Jesus; he was only born about the time of the (putative) death of Jesus and by the time he was writing, decades later, the Jesus movement was at least somewhat notable, the object of attention from both the Roman authorities and the Jewish establishment.

You can’t reject the reliability of Josephus on the basis that he was not a contemporary of Jesus and at the same time reject his reliablity on the grounds that Jesus wasn’t widely notable in Jesus’ own lifetime. Precisely because Josephus was writing after Jesus, his decision to write about Jesus will have been influenced by Jesus’ perceived signficance at the time Josephus was writing, and not at the time that Jesus himself lived.

No it doesn’t make him unreliable, it makes his report unreliable. He’s reporting hearsay.

If being a contemporary eyewitness is your criterion for considering an ancient historian reliable, then you’re throwing out most of ancient history. If you want to do that, I guess that’s your choice, but I think you’ll find yourself very alone.

A more relevant point is that if Christianity never caught on, we didn’t have the Gospels, and *all *we were left with was Josephus, then Jesus wouldn’t even warrant a footnote in history.

I don’t feel the least bit alone. Rational people don’t rely on rumors as confirmation of fact. You can certainly weigh such hearsay in arriving at a historical opinion, but it’s not proof, and not reliable.

I’m rejecting the comparison between Josephus writing about Jesus and Plutarch writing about notable historical figures. Josephus is, to the extent the references aren’t later insertions, of course evidence that the Christ cult was significant at the time and considered Jesus to have been an actual person, but “originator of a cult” as Jesus is in Josephus and “significant historical presence” as Little Nemo’s examples are in Plutarch are very different when estimating likelihood of actual existence.

Hang on. Are we on an open-minded search for truth here, or do we have agendas? 'Cause if it’s the latter, I don’t even have a dog in the fight. A mention in Josephus, indirect or not, is worth noting, is all. For whatever it’s worth, or isn’t worth.

One the one hand: It’s flimsy, but it’s something.
One the other hand: It’s something, but it’s flimsy.

These are the types of argument I was trying to make in the other thread. I didn’t know the criterion had its own name and webpage. :cool: There is much in the Gospels that is “embarassing” in this sense.

There are a few even more embarassing passages that were apparently excised from the early Gospel (of Mark?). (I hope some experts follow up on this – my bookcase is wantonly disorganized and my Google-fu is weak.)

No agenda. I’m only referring to the definition of ‘reliable’. I don’t consider contemporary eyewitness accounts all that reliable either.

I agree with that. Maybe I have valued ‘something’ lower than you have. It’s going to be tough to maintain an argument with our positions being so close though.

I agree. Let’s take an iconic historical event like the assassination of Julius Caesar which occurred, as everyone knows, on March 15th, 44 BC. Caesar, according to the sources, was stabbed exactly 23 times.

There is a Wikipedia article about the event that has 42 footnotes (note: I’m not saying Wikipedia is the gold standard of historical scholarship, it’s just to illustrate a point).

Some of the footnotes reference modern authors. The ancient sources/authors that are mentioned in the footnotes are as follows:

Cassius Dio, born c. 155 AD
Suetonius, born c. 69 AD
Plutarch, born c. 46 AD
Appian, born c. 95 AD
Virgil, born 70 AD
Florus, born c. 74 AD

All of these authors lived > 100 years after the event occurred. What does that say about the historicity of Julius Caesar’s assassination?

Jospephus worked with Titus for the longest time; he would have had access to records, reports and information.

Tacitus was a Senator and more importantly, a member of the body which regulated foreign cults and therefore, would have known if any Roman actually thought of the whole thing as made up.

There is actually a contemporary reference:

Nicolaus of Damascus (born c. 64 BC)

I always wondered, what was it that made Pilate so Pontius anyway? Was he full of himself? Did he have a tummy? Why the adjective? Was it an adjective? Were there other Pilates around that he might be confused with? Was it his first name? And if so, why is he the only guy that gets two names (besides Jesus the Christ)? Whole thing seems kinda suspicious to me the more I think about it.

This Wikipedia article doesn’t say it, but the Israeli king Jehu isn’t merely mentioned on The Black Obelisk, he’s actually depicted on it.

I think it’s the only contemporary image we have of any Old Testament figure who wasn’t a ruler of Egypt or Mesopotamia.

I take it you haven’t met his friend, Biggus Dickus?

I thought Pontius was his first name, and Pilate his family name.

Assuming this is serious, Jesus’ name wasn’t Jesus the Christ. Christ is a Greek appellation, which means chosen, or anointed.

There is a lot of that in the Bible and during NT times. Caesar Augustus was born Gaius Octavius. Caligula was Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus.

Technically, Jesus’ name was Yeshua Emmanuel bar Joseph, but Jews of the time were fairly casual about names. Yeshua is like Joshua or Isaiah - different variants on the same name. And people had different names at different times - Saul became Paul, Simon became Peter, Levi became Matthew.

As to the OP, AFAICT David is the earliest OT figure for whom there is extra-Biblical evidence - the Tel Dan stela.


Well, the two midwives; Shiphrah and Puah might existed; both names are in a list of slaves in a Pharoah’s household.

Of course it just means that the names were ones which were actually in use at the time; but these are Canaanite rather than Egyptian names; which shows that teh Egytians did enslave Canaanites.