Ten Reasons to Reject the Apologetic 10/42 Source Slogan

[As of April 2nd, 2013, one of the authors of "The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus," Mike Licona, has acknowledged factual errors in the book's section dealing with the 10/42 apologetic (pg. 233). I have revised the article in places to modify some of my criticisms in light of Licona's respectful admission.]

[As of June 20th, 2013, I have just learned that apologist Cliffe Knecthle has acknowledged errors in the 10/42 apologetic. I apologize for not mentioning Cliffe's admission sooner, since he appears to have written it in 2012, but I just now learned of it. In his reply, Cliffe asks me a series of questions about the historical reliability of the Gospels, to which I reply.]

A couple of years ago I was having my annual argument with apologist Cliffe Knechtle when he visited the University of Arizona. Cliffe read some grand new “proof” of the “overwhelming historical evidence” for Jesus, claiming that 42 ancient sources record Jesus 150 years within his lifetime, whereas only 10 mention the contemporary Roman emperor Tiberius. Of course! Clearly more people knew about a Galilean rabbi in antiquity than their own emperor Tiberius! The bizarre argument, of course, immediately failed the smell test and I had no doubt that I was facing a skewed statistic. Nevertheless, the argument was of special interest to me: not only do I regularly engage in counter-apologetics, but as a Classics Ph.D. student the reign of the emperor Tiberius is one of my areas of academic research.

I asked Cliffe to name the “10 sources” he had for Tiberius, he pulled a list out of his pocket (that I had no doubt he had copied from someone else), and read them out. Having personally studied the sources for Tiberius’ reign, I immediately noticed that a number of the authors I was familiar with were missing from the role call. Cliffe’s list was inaccurate and incomplete, but more importantly the source he copied it from was. As with most apologetic street debate venues, the audience did not have the time or background to fully investigate Cliffe’s claim before the topic changed to another question. So Cliffe merely bombarded the audience with a blown up statistic, expecting people to gullibly accept his claim and to not do their homework on the matter. Unfortunately for Cliffe, this blog about that statistic is that very homework.

Comparing the source material for Jesus to Tiberius does raise an interesting challenge: Let’s see just how much more we know about a well-documented historical figure like Tiberius Caesar compared to a highly obscure and historically inaccessible figure like Jesus of Galilee.

I searched the “10/42” number on Google and quickly came across a brief CARM (Christian Apologetics & Research Ministry) webpage written by Ryan Turner, which included the list of authors that Cliffe had copied:


Even Turner really does not deserve credit for the research on the CARM page, since half of the article was merely a direct quote out of Gary Habermas and Mike Licona’s The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus from the appendix of the book (pg. 233). Finally, after some muckraking I had dug up the original source coming from some big name apologists! Habermas is regarded as an “expert” on the resurrection of Jesus and Licona is his apprentice in the Dark Side. [Star Wars joke aside, I am grateful since then that Licona has since acknowledged the error.]

Ryan Turner’s article is titled “Did Jesus Ever Exist?” and he gives the 10/42 statistic as proof that “If one is going to doubt the existence of Jesus, one must also reject the existence of Tiberius Caesar.” This is a typical apologetic fallacy of false alternatives. Nevertheless, I will be clear from the beginning that, while I do not regard mythicist scholars, who doubt Jesus’ existence, as “radical skeptics” like Turner, I personally take the position that Jesus was more likely an obscure historical figure.

So what? As we will see, the sources for Jesus are so late, so unreliable, and so sparse that we can scarcely construct anything reliable about his life. Nevertheless, the impression that Cliffe and Turner are trying to create by spouting grand numbers like “42 sources for Jesus, but only 10 for a famous emperor” is that the historical knowledge for Jesus is greater than that of other well-established historical figures. Taken to its extreme, it is a version of the wild claim: “We know more about Jesus than any other person from antiquity!” This statement, as we will see, is completely absurd (furthermore, if anyone, we know more about Marcus Tullius Cicero, who authored a massive Latin corpus that includes details of nearly every event in his life, than anyone else from antiquity, especially a most likely illiterate Galilean whom nobody even mentions until decades and centuries after his death).

I will provide TEN reasons why the 10/42 source comparison between Tiberius and Jesus is an inaccurate, skewed, and misleading statistic:

1. The 10/42 Is Misleading about the Literary Sources for Jesus

When Habermas and Licona list the 42 “accounts that now exist concerning Jesus” (pg. 233), they fail to specify that these are literary sources preserved through ancient narratives. Historians also consider epigraphical, papyrological, and numismatic evidence (all of which are far more abundant for Tiberius than Jesus), but we will cover that later. I only specify that these are “literary sources” to dispel the impression that these are the “only” sources.

Habermas and Licona first list the traditional authors of the New Testament:

“Matthew, Mark, Luke, John, Paul, Author of Hebrews, James, Peter, and Jude.”

What need only be said here is that all of the traditional attributions given above are inaccurate with the exception of Paul. Church leaders in the 2nd and 3rd centuries CE misattributed apostolic authorship to anonymous books like the Gospels, a few works like Revelation were written by a “John” but not John the apostle, and some of the letters like 1st and 2nd Peter are outright forgeries. Once the false attributions are laid aside, there are no writings about Jesus that can be traced either to an apostle or to an eye-witness. Paul is a near contemporary to Jesus’ life, however, he never saw or knew Jesus during his life and ministry. Moreover, Paul’s letters, while they deal with Jesus, are very sparse about the biographical details of his life and are primarily absorbed in theological concerns.

Next, Habermas and Licona provide a list of supposedly “early” Christian writers:

“Clement of Rome, 2 Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, Martyrdom of Polycarp, Didache, Barnabas, Shepherd of Hermas, Fragments of Papias, Justin Martyr, Aristides, Athenagoras, Theophilus of Antioch, Quadratus, Aristo of Pella, Melito of Sardis, Diognetus, Gospel of Peter, Apocalypse of Peter, and Epistula Apostolorum.”

A big number, but what Habermas and Licona fail to specify is that most of  these authors’ writings date to the 2nd century CE (around a century after Jesus’ death). They are so late that they provide little reliable and no contemporary information and mostly make use of the above 1st century sources (or even less reliable later traditions). Playing telephone with previously incorrect information does nothing to improve historical accuracy.

The next bit is a list of “heretical” authors who mention Jesus. I would prefer that Habermas and Licona use a more neutral term like “apocryphal.” Here are the four they give:

“Gospel of Thomas, Gospel of Truth, Apocryphon of John, and Treatise on Resurrection.”

Here we have four interesting sources that contradict (the already internally contradictory) authors of the New Testament. One thing that should be noted is that some scholars date the Gospel of Thomas to as early as 50 CE. If this is the case, the Gospel of Thomas actually dates earlier to Jesus than the majority of the New Testament. Maybe the Gnostics are the ones who got Jesus right after all!

So far we have only received a catalogue of late Christian authors, which Habermas and Licona misleadingly represent as early, reliable sources. But Habermas and Licona’s next list of 9 “secular” sources for Jesus is highly questionable. To start with, the term “secular” is misleading, since these are really just “Pagan” authors. But what is more noteworthy is that many of these authors never directly mention Jesus. Here is the list provided:

“Josephus (Jewish historian), Tacitus (Roman historian), Pliny the Younger (Roman politician), Phlegon (freed slave who wrote histories), Lucian (Greek satirist), Celsus (Roman philosopher), Mara Bar Serapion (prisoner awaiting execution), Suetonius, and Thallus.”

First off, Phlegon is an author who may have written in the 2nd century CE, most of whose works are lost. References to his lost works only survive in quotations of later authors, one of which is a quote from Julius Africanus (a lost 3rd century source), which itself is preserved in a second quote from the 9th century author Syncellus (that’s right, a quote of a quote seven centuries later!). After all this word of mouth Africanus claims that Phlegon wrote about the great darkness at Jesus’ execution. Phlegon’s quote, however, is preserved verbatim in Eusebius where no connection to Jesus is made, and instead Phlegon merely refers to an eclipse during Tiberius’ reign. There is another dubious quote in Origen (unrelated to the eclipse) where Phlegon supposedly wrote about Jesus, but his words are not preserved verbatim, so it is difficult to ascertain. Regardless, Phlegon cannot be used as a source for the darkness at Jesus’ execution and his quote may completely undermine Thallus as a source.

Thallus, like Phlegon, is a lost historian who only survives in later quotations and whose date is largely uncertain, but he probably wrote during the 2nd century CE. None of the later quotations of his works that include his own words mention Jesus. Instead another quote of Africanus, who does not record Thallus’ own words, claims that Thallus also wrote about the great darkness at Jesus’ execution, but once more this is only preserved by the 9th century author Syncellus. Given Africanus’ previous error, where he claimed that Phlegon wrote about Jesus, when his actual words did not, it is highly likely that Africanus misrepresented Thallus as well (there is also the possibility that Eusebius anonymously quotes Thallus in his Chronicle where no reference to Jesus is made in regard to the Tiberian eclipse). Lacking Thallus’ works or even a quotation of his own words that mentions Jesus, he cannot accurately be regarded as “an account that now exists concerning Jesus,” like Habermas and Licona claim, and thus including his name on the list is misleading.

For more information about how there is no outside corroboration of the darkness at Jesus’ execution, despite being an even that would have been documented worldwide, here is a valuable article from ancient historian Richard Carrier:


Next, Mara Bar Serapion was a stoic philosopher who may have written from the late 1st to the 3rd century CE (the latter of which dates would place him outside of the 150 year window). Serapion wrote a letter in Syriac that mentions in passing an anonymous “wise king of the Jews.” The letter does not refer to Jesus by name and can only be interpreted to allude to him. Dubiously enough to constitute Serapion as an “account.”

Suetonius’ passage, likewise, cannot be said to refer to Jesus with any certainty. The only mention that might plausibly allude to Jesus is a two word ablative absolute in his Life of Claudius which states: impulsore Chresto (“with a Chrestus instigating,” 25.4) the emperor Claudius banished Jews from Rome in 49 CE. “Chrestus” was not Jesus’ name, nor is it the Latin word for “Christ” which is “Christus.” Instead, it could very likely just be the name of another Jew. Moreover, this refers to an event nearly two decades after Jesus was dead, even though the passage implies that Chrestus was alive in 49 CE. Suetonius also explicitly refers to Christianity as a religion later in his Life of Nero (16.2) without drawing any connection between the Christians and this “Chrestus.” The passage is far too vague to be considered an “account” for Jesus, and thus it was rash to include it on the list.

Next we have Josephus from the late 1st century CE, who has one passage that may refer to Jesus and James, the sons of Damneus (which disputes its supposed reference to the Christian Jesus) and another passage that shows considerable signs of later forgery. Then there are Tacitus, Lucian, Pliny, and Celsus (all of whom are writing much, much later in the 2nd century CE). Pliny’s testimony can only dubiously be counted as an “account” for Jesus, since he only states that Christians worship a god named “Christ” and does not connect this figure to a historical person. Josephus (if his partially or fully forged passage can be trusted), Tacitus, and Lucian only mention Jesus in the context of Christianity as a contemporary religious movement and furnish very little biographical details about his life. Celsus (the man for whom this blog is named) is a hilarious author whose lost work survives in quotations of the 3rd century theologian Origen. Celsus barely makes the 150 year window by writing c. 177 CE. His work The True Word is the earliest known comprehensive attack on Christianity, which includes hysterical remarks such as Mary lying about her virginity and Jesus being the bastard son of the Roman solider Pantera. It is a great read that I recommend for Monty Python: Life of Brian movie nights.

Well, there you have the so called “42 sources for Jesus,” a list that includes 5 dubious names (Thallus, Josephus, Suetonius, Bar-Serapion, and Pliny) and merely records very late authors who furnish little to no reliable details about Jesus. I will let the dubious references slide, since we will see that even with these embellishments Tiberius still has more than 42 sources! Paul is the only source that can be said to be a near contemporary of Jesus, but he provides too few biographical details about Jesus to ascertain anything substantial. Much of what I have refuted in this section should be known to many skeptics already; however, in the next section I am going to demonstrate how Habermas and Licona fail to accurately record the available sources for Tiberius.

2. The 10/42 Is Flatly Inaccurate about the Literary Sources for Tiberius, which Actually Comes Out to 44/42

Not only does this apologetic fail to mention all the authors who write about Tiberius 150 years within his lifetime, but they fail to mention three quarters of them! Here is the very incomplete list that they provide:

“Josephus, Tacitus, Suetonius, Seneca, Paterculus, Plutarch, Pliny the Elder, Strabo, Valerius Maximus, and Luke.”

It took me only a few minutes to track down authors that the apologetic had missed: The contemporary poet Horace (writing c. 21 BCE) mentions Tiberius multiple times and even writes to a military friend campaigning with Tiberius in the 3rd letter of book 1 of his Epistles. Another contemporary, Cornelius Nepos, also mentions Tiberius’ first marriage in his Life of Atticus. The poet Ovid (c. 13 CE) discusses Tiberius’ triumph in book 2 of his Epistulae Ex Ponto. Livy’s history of Rome, though the books dealing with the time of Tiberius are lost, still have book summaries preserved in later Periochae. A number of the later books, such as 138 dealing with Tiberius’ military campaigns under Augustus, provide yet another contemporary source for Tiberius. Habermas and Licona mention Seneca (presumably the Younger) on their list, but a reference survives to the contemporary Seneca the Elder’s (c. 39 CE) lost historical work in Sutonius’ Life of Tiberius where the Elder Seneca writes about Tiberius’ death. Philo of Alexandria (c. 39 CE) mentions Tiberius’s recent death multiple times in his Embassy to Gaius.

The list grows larger for later 1st century sources: The fabulist Phaedrus (c. 45 CE), who wrote Latin versions of Aesop’s fables, likewise writes a humorous tale about Tiberius and an attendant in his Aesopica. Columella (c. 65 CE) in book 11 of his De Re Rustica mentions Tiberius, as does Quintilian (95 CE) in book 3 of his Institutio Oratoria. Frontinus (c. 100 CE) makes an obscure, but nevertheless solid reference to Tiberius in book 1 of his On the Water Supply of Rome.

In the 2nd century authors are also missing from Habermas and Licona’s role call: the Roman satirist Juvenal (c. 120 CE) mentions Tiberius’ praetorian prefect Sejanus and a “Caesar on Capri” that indisputably refers to Tiberius in book 10 of his Satires. Likewise, the Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius (c. 167 CE) is missing who briefly mentions Tiberius in book 12 of his Meditations. Vettius Valens (c. 175 CE) also records astrological details about Tiberius’ reign in book 1 of his Anthology. Cornelius Fronto (c. 175 CE) likewise mentions the library in Tiberius’ palace in book 4 of his Epistles, and the grammarian Aulus Gellius also mentions Tiberius’ library in book 13 of his Attic Nights (horribly obscure references, but they still include Tiberius’ name!). There is also Caecilius Balbus’ De Nugis Philosophorum that mentions Tiberius, which, while the authorship is disputed, is still a valid 2nd century source.

Habermas and Licona include the Gospel of Luke in their list, since it refers to the 15th year of Tiberius Caesar’s reign as the beginning of Jesus’ ministry (3:1). However, apparently Habermas and Licona only counted his praenomen “Tiberius.” Tiberius had also received the adopted cognomen “Caesar.” Who is the Gospel of John is referring to when the Jews cry “We have no king but Caesar!” (19:15)? Whose face is on the coin when Mark and Matthew write, “render unto Caesar that which is Caesar’s” (Mk. 12:17; Mt. 22:21)? If a vague “Chrestus,” which was never Jesus’ name, can refer to Jesus, then surely these references to a “Caesar,” which is part of Tiberius’ name and clearly refer to Tiberius, count as sources for him. Therefore, the other gospels – Matthew, Mark, and John – also count as authors who mention Tiberius within 150 years of his life and ones whom Habermas and Licona fail to record.

There are a number of authors that this apologetic counts for Jesus, but fails to mention also wrote about Tiberius! The apologetic counts Pliny the Younger’s dubious reference to a “Christ,” but fail to mention that the Younger Pliny clearly mentions Tiberius in Book 5 of his Epistles in his letter to Titius Aristo. Lucian is listed as a source for Jesus, but it is ignored that he mentions Tiberius in his Macrobii. The apologetic even misses important Christian sources that mention Tiberius. Justin the Martyr is counted for Jesus, but it is not pointed out that he also mentions Tiberius in his First Apology. Likewise, Theophilus of Antioch is counted for Jesus, but his reference to Tiberius in book 3 of To Autolycus is not included. The apologetic even fails to connect the dots when Phlegon and Thallus are counted as sources for Jesus, because they mention an eclipse during the reign of Tiberius, that these references include Tiberius Caesar! So the apologetic is not even checking its own sources! Phlegon likewise records in book 13 of his On Marvels that Apollonius the Grammarian wrote about Tiberius, which is also not included.

What about Tiberius himself? Unlike Jesus, Tiberius was certainly literate and a number of his letters are preserved in fragments within the works of both Tacitus and Suetonius. In addition, Suetonius even makes clear in his Life of Tiberius that Tiberius wrote memoirs that he used when constructing his biography (61.1). Thus, Tiberius himself also counts as a source for his own life and existence. How about Tiberius’ stepfather Augustus? Suetonius likewise quotes a number of letters written by Augustus addressed to Tiberius, which likewise count as sources for Tiberius’ life. How about Tiberius’ nephew Germanicus? A little known poem, the Aratus, survives written by Germanicus that he dedicates to his adopted father [Tiberius]. A speech of Tiberius’ other nephew, the emperor Claudius, is likewise recorded in Tacitus and preserved on the bronze Lyon Tablet that mentions Tiberius. Thus, within Tiberius’ own family we have Augustus, Germanicus, and Claudius as sources for him, in addition to Tiberius himself.

A less certain source is the Latin astrologer Manilius (c. 14 CE) who dedicated his Astronomica to a “Caesar” who could either be Tiberius or Augustus. Even if it is Tiberius’ adopted father Augustus, imagine how ecstatic apologists would be if a poem survived dedicated to Jesus’ adopted father Joseph. Beyond the dedication, most scholars agree that book 5 of the Astronomica was finished in Tiberius’ reign and the “Caesar” mentioned there refers specifically to Tiberius. There is also the Greek geographer Pausanias (c. 170 CE) who mentions in book 8 of his Descriptions of Greece that a “Roman emperor” constructed a channel near Antioch, whom scholars speculate was probably Tiberius. The reference is not 100% solid, but Tiberius was a “Roman emperor,” which is far more reliable than Mara Bar-Serapion’s “Wise King of the Jews” being taken as a reference to Jesus, as Jesus was never a king.

Apart from these literary examples, two very extensive inscriptions survive (extensive enough to be considered their own narratives), the Res Gestae and the Senatus Consultum De Cn. Pisone, both of which were written during the reign of Tiberius and refer to Tiberius specifically. The Senatus Consultum even includes a section that was written by Tiberius’ sua manu (“own hand”). Apologists would kill for such extensive inscriptions to be recorded about Jesus during his lifetime, but yet Habermas and Licona fail to include these important sources.

All totaled, Habermas and Licona missed at least thirty-three sources for Tiberius within 150 years of his life:

Horace, Ovid, Cornelius Nepos, Livy, Seneca the Elder, Philo of Alexandria, Phaedrus, Columella, Quintilian, Frontinus, Juvenal, Marcus Aurelius, Vettius Valens, Cornelius Fronto, Aulus Gellius, Caecilius Balbus, the Gospels attributed to Matthew, Mark, and John, Pliny the Younger, Lucian, Justin the Martyr, Theophilus of Antioch, Phlegon, Thallus, Apollonius the Grammarian, Tiberius himself, Augustus, Germanicus, Claudius, Manilius, Pausanias, the Res Gestae, and the Senatus Consultum De Cn. Pisone.

I say “at least” because there very well could be even more sources that I missed. In light of the new sources presented who mention Tiberius within 150 years of his life, the apologetic only manages to only get 10 out of 44. This is an accuracy rate of only 23%. Once you add the 34 new authors to Tiberius’ list, we have 44 literary sources for Tiberius compared to a (possibly innacurate) count of 42 for Jesus. So even with literary sources alone Tiberius still wins!

3. The 10/42 Stretches the Window of Time to Skew the Results

One hundred and fifty years is a long time. Has anyone started to wonder at this point: why did Habermas and Licona choose such a large time span as 150 years for the window of authors? Would I writing this year (2012 CE) count as an independent “source” for Abraham Lincoln (1865 CE), just because I am within a 150 years of his life? The large window of time skews the results. Tiberius was a well-known politician in his own day, but as time goes on people forget old politicians in place of new ones. In contrast, Jesus became a religious figure who was revered and immortalized by a world religion. Consider an analogy with Joseph Smith. Most of us today are familiar with Joseph Smith 150 years after his death, but how many are familiar with his contemporary U.S. president John Tyler?

That being said, historians prefer early, eye-witness, and contemporary sources to later, second-hand, and dubious ones. Let’s readjust our window of time. How many authors mention Tiberius during his actual lifetime (42BCE – 37CE) compared to how many mention Jesus during his lifetime (4BCE or 7CE – 30CE or 33CE)? When you readjust the numbers to actual contemporary authors, there are at least 14 accounts that record Tiberius during his actual lifetime:

Horace, Ovid, Cornelius Nepos, Livy, Strabo, Vallerius Maximus, Paterculus, Seneca the Elder, Tiberius himself, Augustus, Germanicus, Manilius, the Res Gestae, and the Senatus Consultum De Cn. Pisone

Many of these are direct eye-witnesses, and Paterculus is an actual historian who fought under Tiberius and records his life and military campaigns at length. In contrast, what is the number of contemporary authors who mention Jesus? Absolutely zero. That’s right, when you readjust the number to actual contemporaries, it comes out to a 14/0 ratio in favor of Tiberius. So, skeptics, whenever you hear an apologist spout the “10/42” slogan, first remind them that the real number is 44/42, then remind them that the number for actual contemporaries is 14/0.

What about if we expand the window to near contemporaries? Say authors who wrote within 30 years of Tiberius and Jesus’ lifetime? For Tiberius, this adds:

Seneca, Pliny the Elder, Philo of Alexandria, Phaedrus, Claudius, and Columella.

For Jesus, this adds:

Paul and (possibly) the Gospel of Thomas.

Therefore, even for near contemporaries, the ratio comes out to 20/2 in favor of Tiberius, with Jesus being left with one source, who is not an eye-witness, and plausibly another gnostic source that contradicts the previous source’s message. Overwhelmingly, there is an abundance of either contemporary or early reliable sources for Tiberius, whereas Jesus has no contemporary sources and very little early attestation. Readjusting the window of time puts in perspective just how strong the source material is for Tiberius and how weak it is for Jesus.

It also never occurs to Cliffe, Turner, Habermas, or Licona to ask why so many late sources for Jesus survive. Was there really more written about Jesus later in antiquity than Tiberius? Hardly. What really has happened is that more sources for Jesus were preserved through the Christian-dominated Middle Ages. As Reynolds and Wilson, authors of Scribes & Scholars, explain about medieval textual transmission, “Education and the care of books were rapidly passing into the hands of the Church, and the Christians of this period had little time for Pagan literature” (79). Accordingly, the only reason that a large number of Christian texts survive is because of a sample bias and a bottleneck of Pagan texts during the Middle Ages. Despite this, an overwhelmingly larger number of early sources survive for Tiberius compared to a mere paucity for Jesus, and even in the stretched out 150 year window Tiberius is still more attested.

4. The 10/42 Ignores Epigraphical Evidence

Up until now I have been primarily focused on Habermas and Licona’s list of authors. I think it is safe to say at this point that their number has been utterly discredited. But let’s look further into Turner’s claim: “If one is going to doubt the existence of Jesus, one must also reject the existence of Tiberius Caesar.” Let’s consider some other types of historical evidence besides literary sources and see how much we would know about Tiberius even if all his literary sources disappeared.

Epigraphy is the study of ancient inscriptions in stone. I have already mentioned Claudius’ Lyon Tablet, the Res Gestae (seen below) and the Senatus Consultum De Cn. Pisone, which are inscriptions long enough to be considered their own narratives. However, there are countless other contemporary inscriptions that name Tiberius on dedications, plaques, and really more locations than I could ever possibly name. Current databases and collections for Greek and Latin inscriptions are incomplete and often difficult to access, but I ran a search for Latin inscriptions that include “Tiberius Caesar” on Epigraphik-Datenbank Clauss, which yielded 152 results. The vast majority of these inscriptions refer to the emperor Tiberius (I think I saw one that referred to his grandson Tiberius Gemellus) and date to within his reign and lifetime. Mind you, this is just the tip of the iceberg! This is not even a search that includes Greek inscriptions and there are other prosopographies, such as Victor Erenberg’s Documents Illustrating the Reigns of Augustus & Tiberius, which include even more documentary sources.

To my knowledge, there is not a single inscription that mentions Jesus during his lifetime. In epigraphy, the ratio that would come out for Tiberius versus Jesus would be well above the realm of 100+/0.

5. The 10/42 Ignores Papyrological Evidence

I have already mentioned that the literary sources we have from antiquity come down primarily in medieval manuscripts. However, in more arid regions of the Mediterranean (particularly southern Egypt) documents from antiquity itself survive written on papyri. Papyrology is the study of such documents. I see no reason why medieval texts should count as sources in Habermas and Licona’s number but papyrological sources should not.

Most papyri are rough drafts of letters, scrap notes, receipts, accounting documents, and other incidentals. Nevertheless, as we previously saw in the Gospel of Luke, the conventional method of dating in antiquity was to list the year of the current emperor’s reign. Accordingly, many of the papyri that include dates mention Tiberius’ name. I ran a search on APIS (Advanced Papyrological Information System) for papyri dating to the years of Tiberius’ reign (14CE – 37CE) that include the name “Tiberius.” The search yielded 106 results. The vast majority of these papyrological references refer to the emperor Tiberius (granted, a few refer to other people named Tiberius). In fact, one of these papyri (seen below) may plausibly be a letter from Tiberius himself to Egyptian tax collectors.

Other valuable papyri about Tiberius can be found with even simple Google searches: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Papyrus_Oxyrhynchus_240.

To my knowledge there is not a single papyrus dating to Jesus’ lifetime that mentions him. Granted, we do have historically unreliable papyri that mention Jesus centuries later (and his twin brother). However, if we compare the ratio of solely contemporary papyrological sources it is ~100/0 in favor of Tiberius versus Jesus.

6. The 10/42 Ignores Numismatic Evidence

Numismatics is the study of ancient currency. During the Roman Empire, ancient coins were minted with the emperor’s name and face on them. Accordingly, there are countless coins (like the one below, dating to a period during Tiberius’ reign c. 16CE – 22CE) scattered throughout the Mediterranean that mention Tiberius’ name and brandish his face.

Now, to be fair, I would not expect an obscure Galilean like Jesus to have coins minted of him (granted Alexander of Abonoteichus, another prophetic figure, managed to pull it off). That being said, I only bring this up to address Turner’s claim: “If one is going to doubt the existence of Jesus, one must also reject the existence of Tiberius Caesar.” If all other evidence suddenly vanished and we were only left with ancient currency, we would know about Tiberius and not know anything about Jesus. One more point for Tiberius.

7. The 10/42 Ignores Archeological Evidence

There are a number of archeological sites around the Mediterranean that can be directly and reliably linked to Tiberius. Fortunately, I personally have had the opportunity to visit all of the ones below. There is Tiberius’ palace in the Roman forum (left), his villa at Sperlonga (middle), and one of his villas on Capri (right). Capri is the island featured at the top of this blog! Now, there are a number of traditional sites attributed to Jesus, but virtually all of these are just later fabrications. For example, Jesus has two locations in Jerusalem that are supposed to be his empty tomb: the Church of the Holy Sepulcher and the Garden Tomb (both of which I visited this past summer). However, I am not aware of any archeological site that can be directly connected to Jesus. That being said, Jesus is recorded to have visited general locations like the Mount of Olives and the Temple Mount, which is certainly plausible. I do not claim that this is the strongest argument, but there are archeological sites we can specifically connect with Tiberius but none for Jesus. So at the end of the day it is just another way that we know more about Tiberius than Jesus.

We also have artifacts that can be linked to Tiberius, such as the bust of his face below, which dates to within his lifetime (c. 10CE – 30CE). We have no such image for Jesus, nor do we even have a physical description of what he looks like. Admittedly, the countless statues we now have of Tiberius were idealized and are not fully accurate portraits, and simply because no physical description of Jesus exists does not prove his non-existence, but it is just yet another way we have more information about Tiberius than Jesus.

8. Not All Historical Sources Are Equal 

A point that should not be forgotten in stacking all these numbers is that not all pieces of evidence are equal. Merely providing lists of authors, like Habermas and Licona did, creates the illusion that all sources are equal. But would one expect 100 tweets on Twitter to be more reliable than a single history book? We have already seen that many of the sources for Tiberius were written either during or much closer to his life, whereas Jesus’ are distant second, third, and fourth generation accounts.

But beyond this, we also have more reliable sources for Tiberius that provide much more historical information about his life than what is available Jesus. Paterculus is a contemporary, eye-witness historian who records Tiberius’ military campaigns, Tacitus has 6 books in his Annales that document Tiberius’ reign on a chronological basis, and Suetonius wrote a historical biography of him. In contrast, no contemporary historian documents Jesus and the much later historians who do mention him only do so in tiny quips than furnish little to no details about his life. Instead, our primary source material for Jesus is Paul’s epistles, which treat theology rather than history, and the Gospels, which are ahistorical hagiographies comprised of symbolism and parables. To sum it up, we have earlier, fuller, and more reliable historical sources for Tiberius, whereas for Jesus we have late, ahistorical, and unreliable religious texts.

9. Chronologically, Whose Life Can We Reconstruct Better: Tiberius or Jesus?

To provide an illustration of just how much more we know about Tiberius than Jesus, I thought it would be helpful to map out their lives in a chronology. After all, if we have a lot of historical information, shouldn’t we be able to plot it out on a timeline?

Because of the conflicting accounts of Jesus’ birth between Matthew, where he is born before the death of Herod in 4BCE, and Luke, where he is born at the Census of Quirinius in 7CE, we cannot ascertain with accuracy the date of his birth. Likewise, because of the conflicted accounts about the length of Jesus’ ministry, where in the Synoptic Gospels it is one year, but in John it is three years, we have conflicting dates about Jesus’ crucifixion. These date contradictions are a problem even if we lend a high amount of credulity to the gospel accounts, but there are a number of other problems once these sources are examined more closely (See Jay Raskin’s and Paul Davidson’s comments below for a summary of further problems associated with these dates). The only precise, if not accurate, date we can link to Jesus is Luke’s claim that he began his ministry in the 15th year of Tiberius’ reign. Accordingly, even when lending a generous credence to the gospel accounts, Jesus’ chronology at best still furnishes this brief and sketchy estimate:

Chronology of Jesus:
4BCE – 7CE: Jesus is born
29CE: Jesus begins his ministry
30CE – 33CE: Jesus is crucified

In contrast, with Tiberius we have reliable historical sources that furnish not only accurate years, but even specific days! In fact, the amount of information we can know about, such as when Tiberius assumed specific offices, visited various provinces, and other precise details, is so abundant that I had to cut out a lot of material from his chronology. Here is a greatly abridged chronology taken from Robin Seager’s Tiberius (xiii – xvi):

Chronology of Tiberius:
November 16th, 42BCE: Tiberius is born
40BCE: The infant Tiberius escapes the siege of Perusia
33BCE: Tiberius’ father dies
27BCE: Tiberius assumes the toga virilis
20BCE: Tiberius marries Vipsania
11BCE: Tiberius divorces Vipsania
12BCE: Tiberius marries Julia
6BCE-2CE: Tiberius’ retirement at Rhodes
4CE: Tiberius is adopted by Augustus
September 17, 14CE: Tiberius assumes the principate
19CE: Death of Tiberius’ nephew and heir Germanicus
23CE: Death of Tiberius’ son Drusus
27CE: Tiberius retires to Capri
29CE: Death of Tiberius’ mother Livia
October 18th, 31CE: Tiberius executes his praetorian prefect Sejanus
March 16th, 37CE: Tiberius dies

The contrast between these two charts is drastic. For Jesus the few events we can even plot require broad date ranges, whereas for Tiberius we have not only a reliable year-by-year breakdown but even specific dates. Tiberius’ whole life is well documented in ancient sources and accessible chronologically, whereas Jesus’ is buried in obscurity. The two charts above speak for themselves on just how much more we know about Tiberius than Jesus.

10. At the End of the Day, Whom Do We Know More About?

Cliffe in spinning his “10/42” source slogan probably did not realize what a wasp’s hive he had stumbled upon. His argument raised an important question: how much can we historically know about Jesus versus well-known figures from antiquity?

Upon investigation of the “10/42” statistic, it is clear that Habermas and Licona exaggerated the number of authors who allegedly wrote about Jesus, including authors such as Mara Bar-Serapion and the Younger Pliny who make no direct reference to Jesus. Habermas and Licona missed at least 34 narrative accounts that mention Tiberius within 150 years of his life. When you re-crunch the numbers, the count for Tiberius versus Jesus comes out to 44/42. Furthermore, the flawed statistic had to stretch out the date range to an extreme 150 years in order to skew the numbers in favor of late Christian authors. When analyzing contemporary sources during Tiberius and Jesus’ own lifetime, 14 sources document Tiberius and a whopping 0 account for Jesus.

The total score card for contemporary written sources comes out to 14 literary, 100+ epigraphical, and ~100 papyrological for Tiberius in comparison to 0/0/0 for Jesus.

I reiterate that the paucity of sources does not necessarily imply Jesus’ non-existence. Tons of real, anonymous people lived in antiquity who receive no source attestation and are historically lost. Nevertheless, the scarcity of early, reliable sources for Jesus does make the details of his life obscure, embellished, and irretrievable to history. The Jesus that people believe in today, pray to, and discuss in church is a later theological fabrication, hopelessly divorced from the distant, ambiguous historical Jesus of the past.

Arguing, as Turner did, that Jesus is a more established historical figure than the emperor Tiberius is a catastrophically absurd comparison. Tiberius is attested by a mountain of evidence: multiple contemporary literary sources, countless inscriptions, dozens of papyri that date to his reign, coins bearing his face scattered throughout the Mediterranean, archeological remains, statues modeled during his lifetime, and a retrievable chronology that can document important events in nearly every year of his life. I am sure that many of my readers after reading this blog have probably learned way more about the emperor Tiberius than they ever knew before! The mountain of evidence for Tiberius eclipses the small anthill for Jesus by a ratio that is beyond quantifying in a trivial, over-simplified slogan of the sort that apologists are fond of.

Apologetic arguments of this sort often remind me of a tabloid newspaper described in Ayn Rand’s Fountainhead:

“The Banner was permitted to strain truth, taste and credibility, but not its readers’ brain power. Its enormous headlines, glaring pictures and oversimplified text hit the senses and entered men’s consciousness without any necessity for an intermediary process of reason, like food shot through the rectum, requiring no digestion.”

The rhetorical games that apologists likewise spin in an effort to buttress belief in their religion are no different. Apologists like Cliffe tout how they are out to discuss the “reasonableness” of Christianity, but then throw out oversimplified lines like the “10/42” source slogan in the hope that nobody will check their data. When analyzed, the arguments apologists use in ancient history are no more reliable than the 9/11 Conspiracy Theories are in the field of structural engineering or Monster Questing is in biology. People are free to believe in Christianity on the basis of faith, but pretending that this faith is rooted in historical evidence is a pernicious illusion spread by disingenuous apologetic salesmen. Correcting these misconceptions is part of the service I seek to provide as a genuine enthusiast for ancient history.

-Matthew Ferguson


29 thoughts on “Ten Reasons to Reject the Apologetic 10/42 Source Slogan

  1. Thanks for a great post- have had this same argument with Christians, but referring to Alexander the Great.

    Looking forward to reading this blog in the future.

  2. Hi Matthew,

    Nice refutation of the evangelical apologists.

    However, we should also be on guard against faulty propositions of the Christian Euhemerist apologists.

    Chronology of Jesus:
    4BCE – 7CE: Jesus is born
    29CE: Jesus begins his ministry
    30CE – 33CE: Jesus is crucified

    There is no reason to accept that Jesus was born in either 4BCE or 7CE.

    Herod the Great is mentioned in the account in the Matthew story. However, he is absurdly associated with the massacre of infants in Bethlehem. It is impossible to imagine that such a crime horrendous in both the eyes of Jews and Romans in the time period, would not have been recorded about Herod the Great in other sources. Also, at the age of 70, in a population where life expectancy was under 40, it is hard to imagine that a prophesy delivered by three magicians from the far East would be something he would care about. It was Rome who appointed him as King and he would have expected Rome to appoint another king afterwards. Since the story fits the mold of mythological stories about heroes born to great and immediate danger (Moses, Hercules), we cannot take it in any way as a history to establish a birthdate for Jesus.

    In the case of Luke, it appears obvious that the absurd world wide census by Quirinus is simply a plot device to explain how Jesus could be born in Bethlehem to fulfill a messianic prophesy and yet be from Nazareth. The story also relates this famous historical incident:

    8 And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9 An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10 But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. 11 Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. 12 This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

    13 Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,

    14 “Glory to God in the highest heaven,
    and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”

    15 When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.”

    Jesus being born in 7 CE is as likely to have happened as the angel and the heavenly host appearing to the Shepherds. In short, there is no historical evidence that Jesus of Nazareth or even anybody was born in Bethlehem in 4 BCE or 7 CE.

    Jesus’ ministry beginning in 29 BCE is stated only in the Gospel of Luke. The writer of against Marcion, Tertullian, asks, “But now, how happens it that the Lord has been revealed since the twelfth year of Tiberius Cæsar, while no creation of His at all has been discovered up to the fifteenth of the Emperor Severus.” The fifteenth year of Severus is obviously the year that Tertullian would be 207. This was when Tertullian was writing. He believes that. The twelfth year of Tiberius’ reign would be the year 25 or 26 CE.

    The debate over if Marcion copied from Luke or Luke copied from Marcion is still on-going. There is no reason to believe that either Marcion or Luke had any direct knowledge of Jesus’ ministry. Therefore this date too is not substantiated by any significant historical evidence.

    Finally the date of Jesus’ death from 30 to 33 is equally uncertain. A date of 35 or 36 has also been proposed and championed by scholars and Eusebius tells us that attacks against Christians of his time claimed that he had died in 19 CE. Again, there is no significant historical evidence for this date.

    While Evangelical apologists falsify historical evidence for the supernatural Jesus of their imagination, Christian Euhemerist apologists falsify historical evidence for the historical Jesus of their imagination.

    • Thanks Jay! I really appreciate your analysis. Paul Davidson discussed some of these issues as well. I have revised the text to note that the chronology lends a very “generous credence” to the gospel dates. I agree that the whole dating of Jesus is riddled with problems, and the only reason I included it was to demonstrate how even taken with the highest credulity it measures up embarrassingly sparse compared to our far more certain chronology for Tiberius. I am going to add a further note in the blog for people to check your and Paul’s comments for further details about the problems of these dates.

  3. I think you’re being too generous on what we “know” about the chronology of Jesus. Our earliest source, Paul, gives no indication of when Jesus lived and died, assuming he even thought Jesus was a human being, and every source that dates Jesus’ death to the procuratorship of Pontius Pilate seems to be dependant on Mark, who could well be making it up just as Luke and Matthew did with their birth accounts. Heck, Irenaeus thought Jesus died under Claudius, and Jewish sources thought he died around 100 BCE.

  4. Thanks for the feedback, Paul! You are correct that I was less critical of the gospel dates than I could have been. Part of that was to show that even lending a generous credence still results in ambiguity and a much wider date range than for someone like Tiberius. I’ve changed the wording a bit to note the “generous credence” and to point out how this is merely an “estimate” under best circumstances. Irenaeus and the Jewish sources are pretty late, but it’s interesting how they offer such an egregiously varying chronology. It does cast even further doubt on the whole affair, especially given how apologists selectively place trust in Irenaeus’ authorial traditions, but ignore other wild assertions he makes. The same goes for Papias. I always get a kick when apologists defend his vague authorial traditions by asking them to likewise defend Papias’ claim that Judas Iscariot became a “My 600-lb Life” TLC story.

  5. You write: “It took me only a few minutes to track down authors that old Gary and Mike had missed…”

    May I ask how you went about finding these? The Realencyclopadie, perhaps? (I don’t have it to hand) For, I’m afraid that, sceptic that I am, I don’t believe that you were reading Vettius Valens, so I naturally infer the use of a reference source.

    It would be useful to know. More precise references would also be useful, you know, but I might look at some of these.

    It was certainly foolish of whoever came up with “only 10 sources for Tiberius” — they mean literary sources, as there’s no real purpose to refer to material not extant for the vast majority of ancient figures — to commit to that figure. But probably the original comment simply got worn down in transmission and stripped of whatever caveats it first had. My experience is that there is always another reference *somewhere*.

    • Hey Roger, I used a variety of resources to track down other authors. When I first mentioned that “It took me only a few minutes to track down authors that old Gary and Mike had missed,” it was because I was already familiar with previous sources from my earlier graduate work that I knew they had missed just off the top of my head. Quite honestly, I was most surprised that they missed Philo of Alexandria (they should at least be familiar with their Jewish sources).

      But for Greek sources, one resource I used was the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae (housed here at UCI):


      I did in fact read Vettius Valens, both the passage in Greek and in English. An online copy is available here:


      For every entry that I provided, I checked the context in English and the original language to make sure that it was a valid reference (but certainly notify me if I made any mistakes). For Latin sources, I used the Latin Libarary:


      I also used simple Guttenberg word searches for authors who I knew had written 150 years after Tiberius. Normally I am a stickler about keeping to the original Latin and Greek, but the English searches would also pull up notes that would catch references to Tiberius where they didn’t include his praenomen, but just “Caesar” (Juvenal, Book 10, for example).

      I’m sure that there are probably even more sources out there for Tiberius, so that’s why I noted that I may still have missed some (which Habermas and Licona did not note). However, I think the point has been solidly made that the original count was heavily skewed and inaccurate.

  6. Thank you very much for these notes: it’s always interesting to see how people attack these sorts of searches for data. I suspect that I would have tried the TLG. But how did you search the Latin Library site?

    I was aware of Mark Riley’s translation of Vettius Valens, but in truth I have always found ancient astrological texts more or less impenetrable. I suspect one has to have some technical knowledge in order to make much of them.

  7. You missed a large source of evidence for Tiberius and one might argue the strongest: the evidence of logical necessity. Somebody ruled Rome in that time period. Who could it possibly be? Every source we have anywhere listed above in great detail says Tiberius Caesar ruled Rome, and no sources (that I’m aware of) attest to a different leader of Rome during that time period, and somebody had to be the leader. In true Bayesian fashion, we need to not only count the evidence of what we have to attest to a fact, but what we should need in order to deny that fact, .

    • Thanks for the feedback, David. That is another dimension to look at the issue from, and perhaps the best final grounds for drawing a definitive conclusion. On the flip side, one could argue that the logical necessity of Christianity existing mandates that someone/something had to start it. However, negating a three hour darkness, an earthquake that ripped the veil in the Jewish Temple, and a supernatural resurrection accompanied by the ghosts of several saints appearing throughout Jerusalem, is an exponentially easier denial, especially in light of the compete contemporary silence on the matter, as discussed above. Nevertheless, logical necessity does demand that something had to start the Christian religion, whether it be an itinerant Jewish radical who later became embellished as a superhuman figure, or a mythical invention from the beginning. Even though I lean towards the former position, the case for Jesus’ non-existence is infinitely greater than that for Tiberius. People don’t generally make up the existence of a contemporary emperor, circulate coins and edicts about him, build palaces for his nonexistent person, and fabricate letters addressed to and from him, all on a scale spanning three continents. Whereas, the invention of a religious myth that is set in events taking place a couple decades before the present is certainly plausible.

      • Yes. Any fair argument should note the application of the alternative argument for the parallel. How necessary is a historical Jesus for Christianity to exist? Which is not an easy question. But, the parallel is just a parallel, it may be the case that a historical Jesus is the best explanation for Christianity origins. And Christianity itself might be reasonable evidence, for which alternative theories are not better as far as an explanation.

        On the flip side, rather than require that somebody wrote the Gospel of Mark as a backstory for their deity (using names for which a few overlap with Paul’s writings), we need to propose such an absurd conspiracy spanning space and time, for which there is no motive, and no connections, and which nobody noticed. Therefore, the evidence for Tiberius absolutely crushes the evidence for Jesus on these grounds as well.

        One might see it as a rejoinder for finishing up the argument, as in a great closing argument, as a sort of redundant way of reexamining the argument already stated in a different light. But, it is actually evidence in it’s own right, after all a better explanation of all the evidence can make a premise go from reasonable to obviously wrong simply by the proposing of the alternative. If one removed the supposition that the Salem Witch Trials might have been mass hysteria and lying. Then you are suddenly left with explaining why there were so many eye witnesses and clear and lucid testimony towards witchcraft and confessions to that effect. Unless such a powerful reason is found to tie together how all the evidence for Tiberius could be false, how a vast conspiracy would lead to the dating papyrus from the time with Tiberius’ name rather than the real emperor at that time, and all the other loose ends we face, then the proposition is very doubtful. Since this doesn’t need to be the case, and yet, never the less is the case, that makes for amazingly strong evidence in its own right.

        Logical necessity does provide some evidence for Christianity, but the point is that it provides order of magnitude more evidence for Tiberius. Even if the sources for Tiberius were a just ten, the claims are grand enough that sparring clearly contradictory evidence, it would be *still* be better than the claims for a secular historical Jesus. One could argue that real religious Jesus also makes great claims, and we would very likely notice if these claims were false. The problem is, as you noted, we did notice and those claims are false.

  8. I was directed here by Richard Carrier’s blog, and this is the first time I’ve read your work. I very much like what I see and your writing style is accessible. In fact I had no idea about the 10/42 apologetic before Richard mentioned it. I wonder why apologists don’t understand that people don’t actually expect for there to be mountains of evidence for Jesus. In fact, as a friend of mine pointed out, as soon as you try to prove a religion true, you’ve killed it. Just like observing a photon collapses its wave function, as I thought later. Legendicide and lumicide!

    In point 6. you show a coin with Tiberius’ head on it. How do you know it is of Tiberius? I could not make out the name Tiberius on either face of the coin.

    You made some comments which I would like to try to rebut, out of a spirit of devil’s advocacy. I’m always up for a challenge, even a rhetorical one, so I figure I’d give it a try. You wrote:

    “People don’t generally make up the existence of a contemporary emperor, circulate coins and edicts about him, build palaces for his nonexistent person, and fabricate letters addressed to and from him, all on a scale spanning three continents. Whereas, the invention of a religious myth that is set in events taking place a couple decades before the present is certainly plausible.”

    A. People of great stature are invented all the time. The heroine of the French Revolution, Marianne, is represented in paintings and busts. Never mind superheroes.

    B. As for coins, I only have to point to the ’80s toy, Pogs, on which completely fictional characters were depicted. Metal toy medallions of similar purpose also exist.

    C. There are rare instances of palaces existing for no apparent purpose, such as one building in North Korea which as far as outsiders know is completely uninhabited. The only reason these are rare is because they are expensive, not because the motivation is lacking.

    D. As for fabricated letters, I only need point the the ‘Adrian Mole’ diaries and similar constructs. There are also children’s books about ‘dragonology’ and so forth.

    E. As for inventing religious myths, perhaps religions have mythical elements, but we always know who the founders are. L. Ron Hubbard is known to be the originator of Scientology; and Joseph Smith is known to be the originator of the Church of Latter Day Saints. Perhaps universes arise from nowhere, but religions don’t.

    Anyway, Matthew, I had some fun and I thank you again for an illuminating article. :-)

    • Hi Karim,

      “In point 6. you show a coin with Tiberius’ head on it. How do you know it is of Tiberius? I could not make out the name Tiberius on either face of the coin.”

      The coin in the bottom left bears the words “Ti. Caesar.” Latin does not have many common male praenomina (only about 10 or so) and they all have abbreviations, so that we can know which precise praenomen they refer to. “Ti.” always serves as an abbreviated form of “Tiberius.” It only gets the “i” because “T.” stands for “Titus” and Tiberius is less common of a name.

      I think the best answer to the other points that you raised is that all of the contemporary evidence converges upon a distinct historical person, and thus, even if one pillar of evidence may be weak on its own, they are incredibly strong together.

      A. We know that Rome had emperors, so by logical necessity it had to be someone during those years. All the evidence suggests that someone was Tiberius, who fits the historical circumstance. In contrast, the existence of superheroes is not necessitated by any pertinent circumstance. Thus, even if a figure could have been invented of great stature, someone of great stature also had to actually exist during that time period, and all signs point to Tiberius.

      B. It is true that a coin need not depict a real person. After all, we have coins that depict Lady Liberty and many coins, in fact, from the Roman Republic era featured gods and goddesses. However, once more it is a convergence of evidence. Tiberius elsewhere is referred to as a historical emperor of Rome and the coins likewise bear his face and name. The coins validate the literary sources with physical remains and the literary sources explain the coin.

      C. Rare instances of such palaces that serve no apparent purpose, which is a strange thing I had never heard of before, are by your own admission “rare.” Thus, probability already makes it more likely that there was a purpose for serving a historical person. We likewise have sources that write about the palaces and discuss their use and the archeological remains match and converge upon what they write.

      D. It is true that letters can be fabricated (hell, half of Paul’s were), but the letters we have of Tiberius, particularly in Suetonius, would seem to serve little purpose as forgeries. Suetonius had a knack for collected obscure details about the emperors and, accordingly, many of the letters he preserves are merely odd incidentals and conversations. In contrast, the forged letters of Paul are designed to spread a theological message. We have a motive for forging one, but not the other.

      E. I’m not sure we do always know who the founders of religions are. Many Roman and Greek religious rituals date back far before we can link them to a historical person establishing them. However, even if I were to accept your premise, one could say that the founder was Paul or the disciples, who viewed Jesus as a god, but not a historical figure. That is not the position I take, but the necessity of a founder does not necessarily point towards a historical Jesus as that founder.

      In summary, any of the categories of evidence I named might have weakness if used on its own. A figure may be invented, a coin may depict a fictional person, an obscure structure may exist for no reason, and a letter may be fabricated. However, when we have a convergence of all these items of evidence, all pointing to a distinct and consistently portrayed historical person, the evidence becomes exponentially stronger for his existence.

  9. Is the 42/10 argument intelectually dishonest because it is used by apologists or is it used by apologists because it is intelectually dishonest?

    • Sounds like a spin on the Euthyphro Dilemma. But I would say neither. The 10/42 argument is dishonest because it is based on a grossly inaccurate and skewed statistic. It would be dishonest regardless of who used it. That being said, because apologists lack real ammo in terms of historical evidence, I am not surprised that they have to resort to such dishonest dirty bombs.

      • I agree with your conclusion, but I ask this because I’ve never seen an intelectually honest argument trying to prove the existence of God or the historicity of Jesus.
        So, we can conclude that an argument is used by apologists because it is intelectually dishonest.

        PS: have you read “A Politically Incorrect Guide to the Bible” ?
        Some of the most dishonest apologetics I’ve ever seen.

  10. Matthew,
    I am a great fan of Richard Carrier and as a result of reading his blog he’s allowed me to discover your blog, and what a find it is. You have certainly been added to my ‘Favorites’ and will visit it as often as I can. I am passionate about the facts and the rationale for all things scientific and historical, and reading your demolition of Habermas and Licona was a true feast. Thanks for using your knowledge and expertise to shine the light in the darkest of apologetic corners. It is thanks to people like you and Richard Carrier who carry the torch for the rest of us to follow.
    Great stuff and thanks, Rob

  11. Clement of Rome, 2 Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp, Martyrdom of Polycarp, Didache, Barnabas, Shepherd of Hermas, Fragments of Papias, Justin Martyr, Aristides, Athenagoras, Theophilus of Antioch, Quadratus, Aristo of Pella, Melito of Sardis, Diognetus, Gospel of Peter, Apocalypse of Peter, and Epistula Apostolorum.”

    Alvar Ellegaard wants to date those to the 1st century as well. But he claims that they too make absolutely no reference to the life of an earthly Jesus.

  12. Matthew, beautiful job on systematically destroying an apologetic pseudo-argument! Looking forward to more posts from you!
    All the best,
    Dave Fitzgerald
    Speaker’s Bureaus, Secular Student Alliance and Center for Inquiry
    Steering Committee, San Francisco Atheists
    Co-Founder, Director – The Atheist Film Festival
    Founder, Director – Evolutionpalooza!
    Author of Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed At All
    and The Complete Heretic’s Guide to Western Religion

  13. Mr. Matthew Ferguson,

    I found your blog through Richard Carrier. Several of your points need to be addressed for accuracy sake.

    You spend a great amount of time refuting the “10/42” slogan, yet you agree with the same conclusion that the 10/42 slogan in essence promoted in the first place, namely, that Jesus of Nazareth was a historical, actual person. Was the “10/42” slogan correct? No, it was not. However, does it disprove the fact that Jesus of Nazareth lived or that we are lacking in historical data to prove such a proposition? No, and I appreciate the fact that you readily admit that. Furthermore, does refuting the “10/42” slogan somehow negate the proposition that Licona set out to prove that “the accounts that now exist concerning Jesus are impressive?” (The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, p. 233). ” No, it does not.

    I want to examine some evidence while at the same time expose just a few of the weaknesses and inaccuracies in your own response to the “10/42” slogan:

    You claim that “the sources for Jesus are so late, so unreliable and so sparse that we can scarcely construct anything reliable about his life.” After reading the below, I hope just like Licona admitted his inaccuracy regarding “10/42,” you will admit that this statement you made is inaccurate.

    Fact #1

    The New Testament documents are far more historically documented than any other ancient volume. Regardless of whether you believe they are from God or not do not matter in this particular discussion. The New Testament documents are the most authenticated documentation we have of antiquity. The following stats that I am about to state are from Daniel B. Wallace given in a public debate in 2012 when he debated Bart Ehrman. In Richard Carrier’s book: Proving History, he states one of the rules (Rule 2) of the historical method is “develop wide expertise in the period, topics, languages, and materials that you intend to blaze any trails in, or else base all your assumptions in these areas on the established (and properly cited) findings of those who have” (p.37). I am doing just that by stating what Daniel B. Wallace said (who is professor of New Testament Studies at Dallas Theological Seminary, founder and executive director of the Center for the Study of New Testament Manuscripts and who published his first edition of Greek Grammar Beyond The Basics in 1996. His scholarship in New Testament documents is recognized by all scholars).

    There are over 5,600 manuscripts of the New Testament. While many of the manuscripts we have are fragments, the average manuscript we have is 450 pages long. In fact, we currently have (as of 2012) over 2.5 million total pages of New Testament manuscripts. While we have less than 10% of these manuscripts before 900 A.D; 500 manuscripts come before 900 A.D. and approximately 124 come within the first 300 years (approx. 18 manuscripts in 2nd century, 64 in 3rd century and 48 in 4th century). Practically the whole NT is contained within the first 300 years of the autographs.

    To say that we do not have very many early manuscripts of the New Testament is only compared to the latter New Testament manuscripts and not compared to other writings of antiquity (end of stats from Wallace).

    Let’s take one of your historical “batters” you used for Tiberius to the plate and check out his stats compared to the New Testament. The first contemporary of Tiberius that you brought up was Horace, the poet. From my quick “research,” it appears that the earliest manuscripts we have today of Horace are not until the 9th century. Furthermore we only have a very small number of manuscripts from Horace. Please correct me if I am wrong. I would like to see the full list of writers that you used for Tiberius with each showing the time of writing with the earliest manuscript and the total number to date compared side by side with the New Testament. Also, I find it suspect that textual transmission is a subject that finds omission in your article. Finally, even if all we had were those 124 manuscripts of the NT within the first 300 years then that would still far surpass any other classical writings’ manuscript(s). The New Testament manuscripts are by far the best attested manuscripts without anything even coming close. In fact, we have 3 times more New Testament manuscripts written within the first 200 years of the autographs than the average Greco Roman writings have within 2000 years (Wallace/Ehrman debate). Within these New Testament writings, just the name “Jesus” alone is mentioned approx. 1,310 times in 26 books with the different gospel accounts giving great attention to Jesus including His purpose, birth, death and His detailed 3 year ministry (this does not even include words such as “Christ,” “Lord” or other necessary implications about Jesus contained within). The New Testament documents are the most powerful documents pertaining to the life, influence and purpose of Jesus Christ. Regardless of whether or not you believe Jesus is the Son of God, to call this information “so late, so unreliable and so sparse that we can scarcely construct anything reliable about his life” is simply false.

    Fact #2

    There are close to some 1 million quotations of the New Testament recorded primarily from the 2nd century and some even in the first century by what are commonly known as the “Church Fathers” in their commentaries. With no manuscripts at all, we could reconstruct the whole New Testament by simply the quotations of these “early Christian writers” (Wallace/Ehrman debate). You only briefly addressed these early “church father” writings by saying “they are so late that they provide no reliable, contemporary information and primarily make use of the above 1st century sources…Playing telephone with preciously incorrect information does nothing to improve historical accuracy.”

    I first find it interesting that you believe playing “telephone” within 100 years or so here becomes historically inaccurate, but when you want to play “telephone” within 600-700 years and beyond with Horace and his friends to talk about Tiberius, you don’t mind paying for the long distant charges. Furthermore, some of these “church fathers” were writing as early as the late first century (such as Clement of Rome 30-100 A.D; Ignatius 70-110 A.D. and Polycarp 70-156 A.D.). That means they were quoting from a source which had to come from a time earlier than their own (which makes these in fact very early sources). In fact, there are more outside “early” citations of the manuscripts of the New Testament than any other book or document in antiquity. According to Bruce Metzger, “Indeed, so extensive are these citations that if all other sources for our knowledge of the text of the New Testament were destroyed, they would be sufficient alone in reconstructing practically the entire New Testament” (The Text of the New Testament, 1968, p.86). I ask from an honest heart, can this be really be considered late and sparse?

    Fact #3

    The Talmud (Tannaitic period, 70-200 A.D.). The Talmud, as I am sure you are aware of, is a collection of writings by the Jewish Rabbis. The Jews were directly responsible for killing Jesus and they were historically documenting in the Talmud what happened to Jesus. Notice what the Talmud says: “On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, ‘He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Anyone can say anything in his favor, let him come forward and plead on his behalf.’ But since nothing was brought forward in his favor he was hanged on the eve of the Passover!” (The Babylonian Talmud, tansl. By I. Epstein (London: Soncino, 1935), vol. 111, Sanhedrin 43a, p. 281. This quotation was taken from the earliest period of compilation-A.D. 70 to 200, known as the Tannaitic period).

    Yeshu is the Hebrew spelling for Jesus. What makes this document so compelling is it is an antagonistic source. Meaning, the writers of the Talmud were Jewish Rabbis who believed Jesus was pulling Jews away from Moses into apostasy. How much sense would it make for these Jewish Rabbis to speak of an enemy who didn’t even exist? They are not trying to prove Jesus nor do they have any ulterior motives in their writing. In fact, enough time would not have elapsed for Jewish enemies to believe that Jesus existed, much less document it unless it really happened. This was written somewhere between 40-160 years of Jesus death. The enemies of Jesus would not have been writing about an event and a man who they knew did not even exist. If anything, you would have expected them to speak about how a group known as the Christians made up a story about a non-historical figure named Jesus; you would then expect this to be followed by a rebuttal to Christianity. Instead you find them documenting Jesus as a real historical man and you find them documenting His death by crucifixion as an actual event.

    Fact #4

    Josephus records the historicity of Jesus (37-101 A.D. ). I want to bring up a couple of quotations from Josephus in reference to the historicity of Jesus. “Ananus brought before the Sanhedrin “a man named James, the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ, and certain others. He accused them of having transgressed the law, and condemned them to be stoned to death” (Antiquities of the Jews, 20:9:1). In this passage, Josephus makes a passing reference to Jesus (who was called the Christ) by saying he was the brother of James. The New Testament also teaches that Jesus had a brother named James (Mark 6:3). Josephus lived close enough to the time of Jesus that if Jesus was just a made up character, Josephus certainly would have known about it and been informed by his contemporaries. Furthermore Josephus would have been discredited as a reliable historian if he was writing about a man who never existed. To top it off, Josephus was a Jew and was not writing to try to promote Christianity. He was simply a Jewish historian stating the fact that James had a brother who was named Jesus and He was called the Christ.

    In another quote from Josephus (which I am sure this is the one you have doubts about); Jesus is mentioned in greater detail: “And there arose about this time Jesus, a wise man, if indeed we should call him a man; for he was a doer of marvelous deeds, a teacher of men who receive the truth with pleasure . He led away many Jews, and also Greeks. He was the Christ. And when Pilate had condemned him to the cross on his impeachment by the chief men among us, those who had loved him at first did not cease; for he appeared to them on the third day alive again, the divine prophets having spoken these and thousands of other wonderful things about him: and even now the tribe of Christians, so named after him, has not yet died out.” (Antiquities of the Jews, 18:3:3). Some want to discredit this by saying parts of it had to be added in by Christians because it seems to be in favor of Christianity. However, saying “He led away many Jews, and also Greeks” doesn’t speak too favorable. In Fact Josephus was simply documenting what Jesus disciples believed about Jesus. While Josephus didn’t believe these things about Jesus himself, he did know that Jesus had really lived. Furthermore, these statements about Jesus are found in every surviving manuscript we currently have today. Therefore, there is no justifiable textual reason to leave anything out. There are no traces of textual addition or suspicious activity (nothing “erased” or “added”). Furthermore, Josephus mentions other “Bible Characters” as well in a positive light and no one has a problem with that. For example, Josephus wrote about John the Baptist: “Now, some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist; for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it…” (Antiquities of the Jews, 18:5:2). Finally, let’s even grant that some of the material about Jesus was added in that section by Christians (which I am not going to do because there is no textual reason for it); but even if I did, the fact remains that Josephus still mentions Jesus as being a real, historical figure in other parts of his writings (as seen in Antiquities of the Jews, 20:9:1).

    Fact #5

    Tacitus and Lucian are downplayed in your blog. You said: “Tacitus and Lucian only mention Jesus in the context of Christianity as a contemporary religious movement and furnish virtually no biographical details about his life.” In saying this, you admit that both Tacitus and Lucian speak of Jesus as a real historical figure. Just because they don’t furnish any biographical details about his life doesn’t mean we should discredit the historical documentation. However, both Tacitus and Lucian do provide biographical information about Jesus. It is interesting how you want to use different criteria for Jesus than Tiberius. For example, you are quick to reference sources about Tiberius that you claim are obscure. In defending the historicity of Tiberius you said: “Frontinus (c.100 CE) makes an obscure, but nevertheless solid reference to Tiberius…” Consider this: if an historical writing about Jesus seems somewhat “obscured” why should we dismiss it as invalid, but when an obscured reference to Tiberius comes up, it can be a “solid reference?” I have to wonder, who is refereeing this game? The fact remains that the references to Jesus in both Tacitus and Lucian are solid references with biographical details.

    Let’s actually take a look at both Tacitus and Lucian’s quote about Jesus and Christianity and see what details we can find: Tacitus, a Roman Historian wrote (A.D. 55-117): “Nero fabricated scapegoats, and punished with every refinement the notoriously depraved Christians (as they were popularly called). Their originator, Christ, had been executed in Tiberius’ reign by the governor of Judea, Pontius Pilatus. But in spite of this temporary setback the deadly superstition had broken out afresh, not only in Judea (where the mischief had started) but even in Rome.” (Annals, 15:44). What we can learn from Tacitus is that: (1) Christians were punished; (2) Christ was the originator of Christianity; (3) Christ had been executed; (4) Christ was executed in Tiberius’ reign; (5) Pontius Pilate was governor; (6) Christianity had spread to Jews and Romans alike. This source quote in and of itself gives much more information to Christ than it does Tiberius and lays forth biographical facts regarding Christ. To say this is “obscured” is just not being honest with the information (a claim you accuse others of regularly)!

    Now, let’s notice Lucian’s quote: Lucian (A.D. 120-180), a Greek writer who opposed Christianity said: “The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day-the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account …”You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws.” (Lucian, The Death of Peregrine, pp. 11-13, in The Works of Lucian of Samosata, translated by H.W. Fowler and F.G. Fowler, 1949, vol. 4). Lucian provides these biographical details: (1) There was a group called Christians who worshiped on a fixed day; (2) These Christians worshipped a man who was crucified; (3) This man gave them a law; (4) This man told them they were all brothers and they lived after that crucified man’s laws. Once again, we see Jesus as an historical figure and the fact is asserted that he was crucified. Wouldn’t you say that when someone tells how someone else died that is certainly considered a biographical detail?

    Fact #6

    Mara Bar Serapion mentions more than just a wise man. From reading your review on Mara Bar Serapion, I was so shocked by what you left out that I have to wonder if either you purposefully ignored the context and content of the rest of the letter or if you just simply didn’t research it out yourself. Since it is written in Syriac, I will give two different translations:

    #1: What are we to say when the wise are forcibly dragged by the hands of tyrants and their wisdom is deprived of its freedom by slander, and they are plundered for their superior intelligence without the opportunity of making a defence? They are not wholly to be pitied. What advantage did the Athenians gain from putting Socrates to death? Famine and plague came upon them as a judgment for their crime. What advantage did the men of Samos gain from burning Pythagoras? In a moment their land was covered with sand. What advantage did the Jews gain from executing their wise king? It was just after that that their kingdom was abolished. God justly avenged these three wise men. The Athenians died of hunger; the Samians were overwhelmed by the sea; the Jews, ruined and driven from their land, live in complete dispersion. But Socrates did not die; he lived on in the teaching of Plato. Pythagoras did not die; he lived on in the statue of Hera. Nor did the wise king die; he lived on in the teaching which he had given.

    #2: What are we to say, when the wise are dragged by force by the hands of tyrants, and their wisdom is deprived of its freedom by slander, and they are plundered for their superior intelligence, without the opportunity of making a defense? They are not wholly to be pitied. For what benefit did the Athenians obtain by putting Socrates to death, seeing that they received as retribution for it famine and pestilence? Or the people of Samos by the burning of Pythagoras, seeing that in one hour the whole of their country was covered with sand? Or the Jews by the murder of their wise king, seeing that from that very time their kingdom was driven away from them? For with justice did God grant a recompense to the wisdom of all three of them. For the Athenians died by famine; and the people of Samos were covered by the sea without remedy; and the Jews, brought to desolation and expelled from their kingdom, are driven away into every land. Nay, Socrates did not die, because of Plato; nor yet Pythagoras, because of the statue of Hera; nor yet the wise king, because of the new laws which he enacted.

    You claimed this letter does not mention Jesus by name. However, the conclusion of who this is speaking about is inescapable! Notice what it does mention: (1) A man who was Jewish; (2) A Jewish man who was a king; (3) A Jewish man who was a wise king; (4) A Jewish man who was a wise king who enacted new laws or teaching. The fact that this king enacted new laws and taught others to follow and teach them shows he was not the normal “Jewish” king (like Herod, who was a client king under Rome)—this man was something unique and special; (5) He was killed by the Jews; (6) The Jewish kingdom fell because of his death.

    Here is a summary of what Mara Bar Serapion records: There was a man who was Jewish who was wise who was looked at as a king who was put to death by the Jews and then shortly after desolation came upon Jerusalem. A far stretch? My arms must just be longer than yours.


    Jesus of Nazareth lived and there is more than ample testimony and documentation to clearly prove the case. Licona may have been wrong on the “10/42” number, but he was not wrong when he said: “the accounts that now exist concerning Jesus are impressive.” I have Richard Carrier’s book on Proving History and I am going to get his new book on the historicity of Jesus. Unless he unearths something in this book that has never been seen before, he will be greatly discredited as a scholar to conclude that Jesus probably never even existed. I ask that you go back and correct your erroneous statement that “the sources for Jesus are so late, so unreliable and so sparse that we can scarcely construct anything reliable about his life.”

    Kevin Pendergrass

    • Well, I read through your comment thoroughly and did not find anything that would qualify as an “inaccuracy.” You mostly just disagree with my conclusion, but things like “impressive” or “unreliable” are matters of evaluation rather than facts.

      Licona attempted to show that the amount of historical information we have for Jesus is equal or greater than that of a famous historical figure like Tiberius. I demonstrated how we have thoroughly better information for Tiberius, so much so that it was really quite embarrassing that Licona would make this comparison. Your response, rather than defend this comparison, instead mostly just presents the argument that Jesus existed. Since you realized that I was not arguing against Jesus’ existence, this reaction is odd, but not a surprising tangent that would easily suit typical parroting of apologetic misconceptions.

      So we have old assertions long since answered. Of the “facts” you presented, 1-3 are irrelevant to the purposes of my article and 4-6 are already sufficiently addressed within the article, and none of the points you raised change this. Nevertheless, I will correct these misconceptions to clarify how none of the information you presented alters any of the conclusions of my article.

      “Fact 1”

      You start off with a common apologetic misconception:

      “The New Testament documents are far more historically documented than any other ancient volume.”

      This should read that the New Testament documents are more “textually” documented. It is likewise true that Virgil’s Aeneid is more textually documented, with more copies and earlier copies, than Tacitus’ Annals. Does this make the Aeneid more historical? Not at all, because historical accuracy is not determined by best sellers.

      I already correct this apologetic misconception in another blog:


      Early manuscripts can help for “textual” accuracy, but it is irrelevant to the question of historical accuracy beyond whether a text has been corrupted. If a text is already unreliable, preserving its words accurately does nothing to save it. Making 10,000 early copies of the National Enquirer would not make it more accurate. Hence why I did not deal with the issue of textual criticism in more detail. This was deliberate since the issue is largely irrelevant.

      What really matters is when the autographs date to and who wrote them. Hence why the Horace comparison is flawed. It doesn’t matter that our earliest “copy” of Horace dates later, since the original document dated to Tiberius’ lifetime. We have no contemporary written documents for Jesus, and more later textual copies does not alter this fact.

      Furthermore, you apparently ignored my prompt for people to look into Reynolds and Wilson’s “Scribes and Scholars.” The primary reason we have so many NT texts is because Christians in Europe dominated the apparatus of textual transmission for about a millennium. Accordingly, more Christian works were copied and Pagan texts were neglected. Hence the numerical disparity, but this is irrelevant to the question of historical accuracy.

      You state: “Regardless of whether or not you believe Jesus is the Son of God, to call this information “so late, so unreliable and so sparse that we can scarcely construct anything reliable about his life” is simply false.”

      This is not false, because I am referring to the autograph writings and historical, not textual, unreliability. Accordingly, nothing in you first “fact” alters any of the conclusions of this article.

      “Fact 2”

      You make the same conceptual error in this section. Having early quotations of the NT again only helps with textual accuracy. Although his works have been lost, we likewise have many quotations of the comedian Menander. We have so many quotations that we have almost entirely reconstructed his comedy “Dyskolos.” Does this make Menander’s comedies more “historically” reliable? Not at all. So your claim about reconstructing the NT through quotations is likewise irrelevant.

      I do not play “telephone” with Horace, since that is a textual gap, not one pertaining to the autograph. Horace was a contemporary witness writing about Tiberius, of the sort that we have none for Jesus.

      You ask: “from an honest heart, can this be really be considered late and sparse?” Historically, yes.

      We have no contemporary writings that mention Jesus and by your own admission most of our information about him comes from the NT (mostly the 7 non-forged letters of Paul and the Synoptic Gospels). I consider the NT books to be historically unreliable, legendary, and to date after a time gap from Jesus’ life with no contemporary documents during the time of Jesus. I discuss this issue further in another blog:


      In contrast, we have 14 contemporary literary records of Tiberius, 100+ epigraphical, and ~100 papyrological. This is a mountain of contemporary records compared to 0 for Jesus. Once more, this section alters none of the conclusions of the article.

      “Fact 3”

      Your last four points are merely elaborations on non-Christian texts that reference Jesus. Beyond the textual problems for some of these works, even if all of the references are textually valid, very little to none of them “independently” corroborate Jesus, as they are all responding to Christian traditions. Here is a brief article that summarizes some of the main points long recognized by scholars:


      I do not dispute Jesus’ existence, so even if they did “independently” corroborate Jesus, that would not alter any of the main conclusions in my blog.

      I didn’t mention the Talmud in part because Licona did not. He doesn’t because the Mishnah was finished at around 200 CE and the Gemara around 500 CE, which places the Talmud outside of the 150 year window. You are correct to observe that there were earlier sources and stages of composition, but this was not something scored in the article. If so, I could also have counted Cassius Dio (150-235 CE) for Tiberius. Dio relied on sources that dated much earlier than his history’s publication date in the early 3rd century, but that does not include him in the window, since the sources were scored by their autograph’s approximate publication/completion date.

      There are a slew of textual and source issues relating to the Talmud and the references to Jesus. However, even if these problems didn’t exist, it would still offer very little strength to your case. You are correct that the passage you presented form the Talmud is a hostile witness, but more so to Christianity than Jesus. The Talmud was responding to what was deemed a heretical sect. They are speaking to a religious sect that did exist, not primarily to a historical person who did/didn’t exist. Accordingly, they accused this sect’s idol figure of being a false prophet and a sorcerer. That was the popular way to do polemics in antiquity. Saying Jesus didn’t exist would merely mean that the Christians worshiped a non-historical figure. That wasn’t the sexy way to condemn people. Instead, it was far more compelling to accuse enemy groups of being immoral, engaging in sorcery, and demonic. That’s what the supernaturalist Jews (not secular skeptics) did in response.

      The passage corroborates very little but that Jesus was executed and that an apostatizing sect followed him. Since I do not dispute this, nothing is altered by raising this issue.

      “Fact 4”

      Josephus likewise is referring to the “tribe of Christians” and responding to later traditions. The first passage is very disputable in it’s reference to Jesus, since it may be referring to Jesus and James, the sons of Damneus. As Robert Price (The Case Against the Case for Christ, 114) explains:

      “Recently some have suggested that this incident, originally related by Josephus, intended no reference to James the Just, the “brother of the Lord.” It would make a lot of sense if the ambushed James was James, son of Damneus, the brother of Jesus, son of Damneus. The implied scenario would be one in which Ananus arranged to have a rival of the priesthood eliminated on trumped-up charges but did not get away with it. Once his crime was known, he was thrown out of office, and the brother of the murdered James was awarded the office Ananus had sought to render secure for himself. In this way, the slain James was avenged at least insofar as his surviving brother, Jesus, recieved the office James had been cheated out of. The reference we now read to “Jesus called Christ” might originally have read (or denoted, even if it read as it does now) “Jesus, called/considered high priest.” In both Daniel 9:26 and in the Dead Sea Scrolls, ‘an anointed one’ (which is what Josephus has here, no definite article denoting “the Messiah”) means ‘high priest.’”

      Even if it did refer to the Christian Jesus and James, it says that they are brothers. Since I do not dispute this, the passage is irrelevant.

      The second passage is more problematic and long recognized to show signs of corruption by scholars, including many apologists. Josephus was not a Christian, so claiming that Jesus was the messiah doesn’t fit. Likewise, Origen reading a much earlier copy than our current ones noted that Josephus didn’t accept Jesus as Christ. Accordingly, there are textual reasons for being suspicious of the passage. Scholars debate the degree to which there was corruption, but this is largely irrelevant for my purposes.

      People often get into long and wasteful digressions about Josephus, which is why I intentionally mentioned him only briefly in the blog. Let’s assume the passage is authentic. Josephus merely corroborates that Jesus lived, gathered a following, was executed, and that Christians later worshiped him. I do not dispute these claims, so they are irrelevant for the purposes of the article. The passage’s claim about Jesus resurrecting is almost certainly an interpolation, but even if it was not, it would merely mean that Josephus believed what the Christians were claiming. Nothing new provided.

      Also, I do not dispute John the Baptist’s probable existence and relation to Jesus, so that passage likewise contests none of my main points. At most I consider Josephus to be “dubious” in places, but I did not remove him from the final tally.

      “Fact 5”

      Tacitus and Lucian are not downplayed, but appropriately recognized as brief references that add nothing new. I correctly noted that Frontinus’ reference was brief, as Licona should have noted for all of the “secular” references for Jesus. However, I did not dismiss Tacitus and Lucian as “invalid,” as they were both included in the final tally just like Frontinus.

      I am glad that you quoted the two passages, so that readers can see how sparse they are. As can be seen, both passages are in response to Christians and their beliefs and are not exclusively interested in the historicity of Jesus. Jesus is referenced to provide parenthetical information on what these people believed. Thus, Tacitus and Lucian are really more of sources for early Christianity. Since both of their knowledge about Jesus appears to derive from what Christians were saying about him, they could very likely not provide “independent” attestation of Jesus.

      All of this is irrelevant, however. I did not say that they provided no information. You correctly noted that the passages do provide a couple biographical details about him. These are just brief remarks from Pagan authors writing a century later. Hence I called them “obscure,” which I don’t believe is dishonest. They provide late and minimal biographical details. The ones you listed, I do not dispute in the article, so they in no way alter any conclusions.

      “Fact 6”

      I did read the passage in Mar Bar Serapion and stand by what I said. I wrote:

      “Serapion wrote a letter in Syriac that mentions in passing an anonymous “wise king of the Jews.” The letter does not refer to Jesus by name and can only be interpreted to allude to him.”

      Now please read the passages you quoted. It refers to a “wise king” of the Jews. It does not say Jesus’ name. You interpret it to be Jesus. Jesus was not a king, by the way. Scholars disagree about this ambiguous reference, but none of this matters for my purposes.

      I list the source as “dubious,” but still include it in the final tally. Even if the passage is a reference to Jesus, it still disputes none of the points in my article. It is a late and brief reference that provides no new information on Jesus. Accordingly, raising his passage in no way alters the article’s conclusions.


      For a Gish Gallop comment there is very little substantive material to address above. Your first two points were irrelevant, since this is an article about historical and not textual reliability. The Talmud’s reference wasn’t mentioned by Licona, so I didn’t respond to it, and the passage contributes very little to information about Jesus except perhaps giving conflicting details about his execution. I already addressed the references in Josephus, Tacitus, Lucian, and Mara Bar Serapion. While Josephus and Serapion are dubious, I still included them in the tally for Jesus. All of these references are late and brief, as your quotations of them demonstrate, so they in no way impact the conclusion of the blog.

      Licona set out to demonstrate that we have historical material for Jesus that is comparable to a well-documented figure like Tiberius. I demonstrated that there are no contemporary sources for Jesus’ life, that the sources we have date to decades and centuries later, that the primary sources are biased Christian sources, that a chronology of Jesus’ life is brief and sketchy at best, and that secular sources offer very little new information. In contrast for Tiberius we have 14 contemporary literary sources, 100+ epigraphical, and ~100 papyrological, in addition to numismatic and archeological evidence. Furthermore, these sources are more extensive and reliable, so that we can accurately describe almost every year in Tiberius’ life. Accordingly, the 10/42 was inaccurate (as you acknowledged) and when unpacked in context reveals that we have a mountain of evidence for Tiberius that immensely eclipses that of Jesus. Apologists who are attempting to claim that Jesus is as well-attested as such historical figures, accordingly, are wrong and misleading their readers.

      Since this is what I sought to demonstrate in the blog, I have nothing to retract in light of your comment.

  14. Mr. Matthew Ferguson,

    Thank you for your response. It seems for the most part that we agree on the references, but as you pointed out, we come away with different conclusions. I would like to explore that a little further if you don’t mind. However, I want to make a quick remark to something you said about my reply to your article. You said: “Since you realized that I was not arguing against Jesus’ existence, this reaction is odd, but not a surprising tangent that would easily suit typical parroting of apologetic misconceptions.” I was replying so that those reading your article could see how refuting the “10/42” slogan does nothing to change the outcome of Licona’s original point which is in essence: Jesus historically existed. The whole point of Licona’s “10/42” slogan was to set forth the idea that we have a significant amount of information regarding the historicity of Jesus to prove His existence (which we do). Therefore, the bucket holding the fish may have been a different color, but we are concerned with the fish, not the color of the bucket.

    Fact #1
    I first want to point out something I said that you overlooked regarding the New Testament manuscripts.

    As Dr. Carrier pointed out: when studying historical accuracy, “first is textual analysis” (Proving History, p.17). While I agree that history is not determined by best sellers, this doesn’t dismiss the importance and necessity of textual accuracy and transmission in determining what the autographs said and if it is historically accurate or if it even contains historical accuracy. I read your article “Leveling a Mountain of Manuscripts with a Small Scoop of Context.” While it is not in the scope of this response to deal with that article in depth, your first point ignores what I already wrote to you. You said: “When analyzed in context, the paucity of Pagan texts is due to the fact that the main apparatus of textual transmission during the medieval period was Christian monks and the church.” I already dealt with this by saying that: “While we have less than 10% of these manuscripts before 900 A.D; 500 manuscripts come before 900 A.D. and approximately 124 come within the first 300 years (approx. 18 manuscripts in 2nd century, 64 in 3rd century and 48 in 4th century). Practically the whole NT is contained within the first 300 years of the autographs.” Furthermore, I said: “even if all we had were those 124 manuscripts of the NT within the first 300 years then that would still far surpass any other classical writings’ manuscript(s).” Finally I said: “In fact, we have 3 times more New Testament manuscripts written within the first 200 years of the autographs than the average Greco Roman writings have within 2000 years (Wallace/Ehrman debate).” If Wallace is correct, then throwing the “medieval period” card out does nothing in this case for this was before the medieval period. To say that we do not have very many early manuscripts of the New Testament before that time is only compared to the latter New Testament manuscripts and not compared to other writings of antiquity. The New Testament wins superiority in this category when compared to other writings of antiquity.

    You said that “making 10,000 early copies of the National Enquirer would not make it more accurate,” but making 6 or 7 late copies of the National Enquirer certainly wouldn’t make it accurate either. From reading your blog, it seems that you define contemporary writing as something that was written about an individual when the individual was alive. If my grandmother died and 40 years later I wrote a book about her life, would that mean that I was not a contemporary with my grandmother? No. So while it is true that we currently have no copies of writings dating back to when Jesus lived, we have individuals in the New Testament who were contemporaries of Jesus when Jesus lived or they knew of individuals who were contemporaries when He lived. Recording these things years later does not necessitate inaccurate history (John 21:24; Luke 1:1-4; Acts 1:1-3; 1 Corinthians 15:1-9; Galatians 2:3-9; etc.). On the contrary just because somebody wrote something about my grandmother when she lived doesn’t necessitate that to be accurate history.

    Fact #2

    The New Testament quotes that we have of the “early church fathers” in the writings provide more sources that were before the medieval period thus further refuting your medieval idea.
    Whether it is a textual gap or an autograph gap, the game telephone is being played and that is my point. You cannot divorce the two as you are trying to do. If the earliest copy I have of the original is 700 years later and I only have a handful of those, then that means that telephone was played for 700 years textually. Therefore, how can you be “certain” that the copies of the copies of the copies 700 years later that claim it dates back to a certain time actually do go back to that certain time, much less have accuracy to what was said during that time if it is not strongly textually attested to? Either way, we both have to pick up the telephone which is why textual accuracy is vital and cannot be dismissed.

    I read your article you posted on here entitled: “Methodological Approaches to Ancient History” and did not find it surprising that it was the normal assumption built upon assertion and assertion built upon assumption style argumentation which of course led to the whole I can’t accept this as history because I can’t believe a man did miracles. I figured you would at least bring up something like Luke 2:2 and Quirinius. You even left scholarship and went to belief and feelings. You went as far to say that: “If Jesus can do anything (Matthew 19:26), then bring him here today and have him demonstrate under scientific observation that he is, in fact, performing miracles. Then I would believe them.” This statement is very telling of your bias. Are you saying that no matter what historical documentation may be unearthed in the future, you would still not believe Jesus is the Son of God no matter what unless He personally appeared to you and performed a miracle today? If you answer no, then explain what historical documentation you would need to have today in order for you to believe. If you answer yes, then what is the purpose of anyone having a conversation on historicity with you pertaining to Jesus and the Bible if you will always deny Jesus as the Son of God unless He appears and performs a miracle under scientific observation? Either tell me how much historical evidence it would take for you to believe in the miracles of Jesus or admit that your issue is not so much with history as it is theology and philosophy.


    You said: “There are a slew of textual and source issues relating to the Talmud and the references to Jesus.” What are they and what resources would you recommend for further study?

    You also said: “You are correct that the passage you presented form the Talmud is a hostile witness, but more so to Christianity than Jesus. The Talmud was responding to what was deemed a heretical sect. They are speaking to a religious sect that did exist, not primarily to a historical person who did/didn’t exist.” This is a foolish statement and you have what the Talmud says reversed. The Talmud is speaking of a historical person, who did exist, not primarily to a religious sect that was started by Yeshu. The Talmud is referring specifically to a factual person who lived and died by crucifixion. It speaks of how they believed Jesus led Israel to apostasy. While “Christianity” is never specifically named, the Talmud does however specifically mention the name “Yeshu.” Of course, just because it doesn’t mention Christians, does not mean that we can’t infer that this is speaking of Christianity (I guess inferring things isn’t all that bad after all). Since you believe that Jesus did live, do you believe that He did die by crucifixion?

    Fact #4

    You said: “Josephus merely corroborates that Jesus lived, gathered a following, was executed, and that Christians later worshiped him. I do not dispute these claims, so they are irrelevant for the purposes of the article.” Since you have nothing to dispute, there is nothing really here to reply to.


    You said: “As can be seen, both passages are in response to Christians and their beliefs and are not exclusively interested in the historicity of Jesus.”

    No, they are not exclusively interested in the historicity of Jesus and I never claimed they were, but I did respond by showing that Tacitus and Lucian do speak more than that of just Christianity. We gather from both of these sources that they believed Jesus: (1) Lived; (2) Was Executed; (2) was Executed in Tiberius reign and that (3) Jesus was a lawgiver.


    The reason why I said that you needed to be corrected on Mara Bar Serapion is because you only said that this mentions just a wise king of the Jews in passing. I pointed out that there is more to the context than what you actually stated. You failed to mention that this wise king enacted new laws, which as I stated: “The fact that this king enacted new laws and taught others to follow and teach them shows he was not the normal “Jewish” king (like Herod, who was a client king under Rome)—this man was something unique and special.” You said that Jesus was not a king, however many Jews viewed Him that way (Matthew 2:2; Luke 23:2; John 1:49; Matthew 27:11; Mark 15:9, 12; etc.). You also neglected to speak of the reference(s) regarding how this man was killed by the Jews and how Israel fell after this man’s death. Wouldn’t you say those are important details you neglected to add since in other documents Jesus is seen as a Jewish King enacting new laws who was killed by the Jews and shortly after destruction came upon Jerusalem?


    Jesus was a public figure for only a very short time (approx. 3 years) in a small region of Judea. He was not a worldwide recognized figure until the Christian movement so it only follows that the life of Jesus wouldn’t start getting attention until Christianity did. Therefore it is only logical that the world emperor at that time would have more writings about him than a man that was only known in a small region for a brief period of 3 years. This however does not negate or diminish the reliability of the New Testament documents of Jesus. I understand that your personal bias will not lend your mind to the possibility of a man who lived that performed miracles, but do not disguise it under the guile of history.


    Kevin Pendergrass

    • Again, I read through your reply and did not find any material that affects the conclusion of this article. You mostly just repeat irrelevant or trivial objections that were answered in my previous reply, and then at the end go onto an extraneous tangent about miracles, which this specific article is not about. Since these lengthy comments are tedious I will summarize the main points below and conclude this conversation.

      Textual Criticism:

      You apparently did not grasp the point of my other article that I directed you to. Textual accuracy is a necessary condition for historical accuracy, but it is not a sufficient one. Hence why I pointed out in my previous reply why the issue is only relevant if there is a question over whether a text has been corrupted. If the text hasn’t been corrupted, it passes the necessary test for being textually reliable, but it does that still does not mean that it is sufficiently historical.

      To my knowledge, no scholar specializing in the textual criticism of Horace and the other authors I listed for Tiberius doubts the textual reliability of the manuscripts we have in the passages that mention Tiberius. Accordingly, all of the works I mention for Tiberius pass the necessary condition of being textually reliable. While there are certain passages in the NT that are doubted for their textual accuracy, it is fair to say that all of the NT books have textually accurate passages that refer to Jesus. Accordingly, the NT books pass the necessary condition of being textually reliable.

      From this point onwards the criteria become different. Even if a work is textually reliable, who wrote it? At what distance were they from the event? How reliable are they as a source? As was demonstrated, we have exponentially more reliable sources for Tiberius with only a small paucity of sources for Jesus within a couple decades of his lifetime (practically only Paul). Accordingly, we have far better sufficient historical evidence for Tiberius compared to much less sufficient historical evidence for Jesus.

      Notice that I did not “divorce” textual reliability from historical reliability, but I did put it in the appropriate context. My primary objection to the evidence for Jesus was not textual, but historical, which is why I did not raise the issue in the article. In fact, I gave the NT a free pass on the textual issue, so I was being generous in that respect.

      Likewise, Licona did not base his claim on textual copies, but on the original works and their dates. When analyzing those sources, I do not consider the evidence for Jesus to be “impressive” nor very reliable, even if we do have a large amount of later textual copies.

      The Comparison of Sources:

      Licona set out to confirm a historical Jesus, but he did so very poorly. He made a very bad comparison with Tiberius that was demonstrably wrong and then stretched out the window of authors to skew the results in favor of later, less reliable sources. I corrected this poor comparison to show that for Tiberius we have 14 contemporary literary, 100+ epigraphical, and ~100 papyrological sources for Tiberius compared to 0/0/0 for Jesus.

      While I do think that Jesus existed, our sources for him are nowhere near as good, considering that our earliest source for Jesus is the 7 non-forged letters of Paul, who was not an eyewitness of Jesus, is relatively sparse in discussing biographical details about him, and who was also writing in a different language from what Jesus spoke (Koine Greek, as opposed to Aramaic). Apart from that, the other primary sources are four anonymous hagiographies, of which the Synoptics copy from each other and are not independent. As I explained in the article, scholars have long recognized that the authorial traditions ascribed to many of the books of NT are not reliable. Accordingly, we do not have the writings of a single eyewitness of Jesus, and apart from Paul, we likewise have little to no grounds to believe that the other authors of the NT had access to the testimonies of eyewitnesses of Jesus (Luke 1:1 refers to an anonymous and unknown group of previous writers not known to be witnesses of Jesus, although we can tell he was copying the author of Mark who was a non-witness, and John 21:24 is very likely an invention of the author to make up an anonymous “disciple whom Jesus loved” in order to justify why he has a bunch of stories not found in the earlier Synoptic Gospels). They primarily rely on oral traditions, rife with legendary developments, in addition to the pure inventions of the authors themselves.

      Writing about events half a century later, in the genre of legendary hagiographies, in different lands, in different languages, without witnessing the events or having access to the testimonies of people who did witness the events, does damage historical accuracy. In contrast with Tiberius we have contemporary eyewitness sources, many historians, in the same region, in the same language, and also a mountain of contemporary documentary evidence to show that, even when authors like Tacitus didn’t witness Tiberius first-hand, they had access to the eyewitness testimony of others. All of these more reliable sources are furthermore also more abundant for Tiberius.

      Accordingly, we have a mountain of better evidence for Tiberius, so Licona made a very poor comparison in exaggerating the sources for Jesus and thus misled his readers.

      Non-Christian Sources for Jesus:

      All of the non-Christian sources we have for Jesus date to much later, are very sparse in their information, and are primarily written in response to what Christians were saying about Jesus. Accordingly, these sources contribute very little to our knowledge of Jesus and are largely insignificant for my purposes.

      With regard to the Talmud references, there are textual issues dealing with later interpolations and redactions written in response to Christians in the Talmudic manuscripts. This issue is largely irrelevant to the purposes of my blog. Wikipedia has a decent basic summary that is easy to link (obviously more resources could be provided, but it would be an irrelevant tangent) and highlights the main issues:


      All of this does not matter for my blog. As I explained previously, the Talmud dates to after the 150 year window, was not addressed by Licona, and thus is extraneous to my article. I am willing to entertain a fortiori that the passage you presented is an authentic reference to Jesus. It does not provide much.

      There is nothing “foolish” about what I said and your acerbic tone is part of why I am concluding this conversation. The concern the Talmud has for Jesus is that he allegedly led others to apostasy. This is a clear reference to the fact that the Jews opposed another sect (i.e. the Christians) and were bashing their religious figure. The Talmud source does accept Jesus as historical, but as I explained earlier, the primary concern is responding to the later stories about Jesus, so it is doubtful over whether it can be called “independent” information about Jesus. This doesn’t matter much for me, however, since I do not doubt Jesus’ historicity.

      The same problem applies to other non-Christian sources that mention Jesus. Tacitus and Lucian are writing about the Christians and only discuss Jesus in parenthetical statements about the figure this group worshiped. Since their knowledge about Jesus appears to come from the Christians themselves, it is doubtful whether these sources count as “independent” references. Since I accept the few details they provide, however, (namely that Jesus lived and was executed), they are irrelevant to the purposes of the article.

      Your objection about Serapion is really quite petty and insignificant. I pointed out that in making brief and passing references to Socrates and Pythagoras, he also made a passing reference to a “wise king of the Jews.” Your response was to nit pick a couple more details in the reference, but this is largely trivial since my main point was that the reference is brief, which it is. Scholars debate whether it references Jesus, but this is irrelevant for the purposes of my article, since even if it is a reference to Jesus, it provides no new information about him and is very late.


      The ending of your “Fact 2” section and conclusion went off onto an irrelevant digression about miracles. You addressed very little in my “Methodological Approaches to Ancient History” article and instead asserted yourself that it was only “assertion.” This reflects a very shallow engagement of the material I provided you with.

      You discussed only one (out of seven) criterion that I provided in the article, which was not exclusively about miracles, but instead about events that are implausible or very improbable. There are many non-miraculous events in ancient history that can be doubted for implausibility. For example, Tactius (Ann. 6.28) claims that a phoenix visited Egypt in 37 CE. I immediately have grounds for being suspicious of this claim, since in my background knowledge phoenixes are not known to exist, so a greater amount of evidence would need to be provided for such a claim.

      History is a method that we use in the present to assess what “probably” occurred in the past. To do so, historians have to factor in various forms of likelihood and evidence before reaching a historical conclusion. Reading Richard Carrier, you should know that Bayes’ Theorem is a probability formula for doing this.

      I discuss miracles in relation to probability extensively in another article:


      Historians must consider both the “prior probability” of an event and the “expected evidence” when assessing the probability of a claim. In the phoenix example, there is a very low prior probability, since phoenixes are not known to exist. The same goes for miracles. A miracle has never been demonstrated with scientific instruments under observation and no “bench mark” miracle has ever been confirmed to boost the prior probability of a miracle in a historical event. Accordingly, the prior probability of Jesus’ miracles are very, very low.

      This is why I said that all of this could change if a miracle were presented today. If god gave us a miracle today, that would change our background knowledge and prior probability for a miracle occurring in the past. That is why I presented the challenge in the article about demonstrating a miracle today. This was not about “feelings,” but a very clear and methodological issue about probability. Hence why I provided the example of the mule being demonstrated under scientific observation to have given birth as an example of an instance when my prior probability estimate was changed for the past event of Herodotus claiming that a mule gave birth. If someone could do the same for miracles, my prior probability estimates would likewise change, but apologists are unable to provide such evidence.

      Even apart from prior probability, however, the miracles of Jesus likewise fail in terms of their “expected evidence.” I have written another article to demonstrate this issue:


      Part of the article discusses how the Gospels are fundamentally irrational. If Jesus had really put out the sun, caused the saints to rise from the dead, and caused an earthquake that had torn the temple veil, Pilate would not have to station guards at his tomb in the event that an empty tomb would cause people to think a miracle had happened. Everyone would already know that multiple miracles had just taken place! The story is not even internally logical, which is a sign of it being mythological in genre.

      In contrast, I also show that even if we do presuppose that supernatural events sometimes happen, there are other miracles that have far more evidence than the miracles of Jesus. For example, we have a mountain of better historical evidence for people performing witchcraft at Salem in the late 17th century.

      As Matt McCormick discusses in “The End of Christianity” (208-9) there is incredible eyewitness and courtroom evidence for witchcraft occurring in Salem:

      “First, hundreds of people were involved in concluding that the accused were witches. They testified in court, signed sworn affidavits, and demonstrated their utter conviction that the accused were witches. Furthermore, the people attesting to the witchcraft charge came from diverse backgrounds and social strata. They included magistrates, judges, the governor of Massachusetts, respected members of the community … The trials were a part of thorough, careful, exhaustive investigations. They deliberately gathered evidence and made a substantial attempt to objectively sort out truth from falsity … We have hundreds of the actual documents that were part of the evidence. We have the signed, sworn testimonies of the very eyewitnesses claiming to have seen the magic performed – again, not as it was repeated and relayed for decades to unknown others, but from the eyewitnesses themselves immediately after it occurred … How much evidence do we have? Enough to fill a truck … We have nothing like this for the resurrection of Jesus.”

      Furthermore, the Salem witch trials, unlike Pilate putting guards at the tomb, would be a rational reaction to witchcraft taking place. If witchcraft had occurred at Salem, one would expect that the community would be concerned and that legal action would be taken. This is exactly what we have in mountains of better evidence than Jesus’ miracles.

      I, of course, do not think that witchcraft took place in Salem, due to the incredibly low probability that witchcraft exists, just as I doubt Jesus’ miracles, only in part, due to the incredibly low probability of miracles existing. There are more probable natural explanations of the witchcraft stories at Salem (e.g. hallucinations, hysteria, etc.), just as there are plenty of more probable natural explanations for the stories of Jesus’ miracles (e.g. ancient superstitions, legendary development, etc.).

      I provide the Salem example to show that I doubt supernatural claims with better evidence than the miracles of Jesus, which reflects no special “bias” against Christianity. My criteria are the same in assessing the history of Christianity as they are in any other past event when I dismiss claims that are improbable and have poor evidence.


      I follow the work of scholars from Albert Schweitzer to Bart Ehrman in thinking that Jesus was most likely an itinerant, apocalyptic Jewish prophet in the early 1st century CE. I do not believe that Jesus was the Son of God, who performed miracles before whole crowds, caused a worldwide midday darkness, caused an earthquake that tore the veil in the Jewish temple, eluded the Roman government in rising from the dead and escaping from the tomb, and then flew into space in broad daylight.

      These are two competing hypotheses about Jesus. If Jesus really had done the miracles listed above, I would expect that multiple contemporaries would have recorded them, particularly the literate Greeks and Romans in the area. Instead, there is not a single writer who records Jesus during his lifetime.

      If Jesus was a non-miraculous, itinerant Jewish prophet who was crucified and later caused an apocalyptic cult to spring up after his death (which I do accept), then I would expect that he would be an obscure figure in his own time, have no contemporary writings made about him, and would only be told to perform miracles in later, legendary writings composed as religious propaganda. This is the evidence that we do have, which leads me to believe in a historical, but non-miraculous Jesus.

      I have answered all of these issues, most of which were either irrelevant or already addressed in the article or other posts that I have written. You appear to have been disgruntled at how seriously inaccurate Licona was and thus to have raised a number of red herrings or trivial objections to distract from the conclusions of my article. As I have demonstrated, however, the conclusions remain entirely unchanged.

      Since very few relevant objections have been put forth (most just repetitions of the ones I already addressed in the previous comment) and all have been answered, and since writing these lengthy (12 double-spaced page) comments is tedious, I will now respectfully close this conversation.

  15. Would love to see your explanation of the countless preformed traditions in Paul, showing an early church who did, in fact, think of Jesus as more than a rabbi. vis-a-vis E. E. Ellis

Leave a Reply