Extra-Biblical Historical Evidence for Christianity

Christianity is based on the historical reality of Jesus’ death and resurrection, and there’s a mountain of evidence outside the Bible for it…

Archaeological Evidence

1. Crucified Man Heel Bone

In 1968, an ossuary containing the skeletal remains of a man in his twenties, including his heel bone with a nail still embedded in it, was discovered in Jerusalem. Anthropologists determined that the man, called Jehohanan, had likely been crucified in the first century (ca. 7-66 A.D.)[5], with a leg on either side of the cross and the nail driven in sideways through his heel.[3] This discovery confirms the description of Jesus’ crucifixion in Scripture and that the method of crucifixion even existed, which had been disputed by many skeptics.

2. Pilate Stone

In 1961, a limestone block originating from a temple dating to 26-36 A.D., with the Latin inscription “Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea,” was discovered in a Roman city.[18] The Pilate stone confirms the Biblical description of Pontius Pilate, the man who sentenced Jesus to be crucified (Matt. 27:2).

3. Round Sealing Stones

Archaeology shows that in Jesus’ time, tombs with round sealing stones were extremely rare and could only be afforded by the wealthiest Jews.[9] This is consistent with the Gospel account, which states that Jesus was buried in Joseph’s own tomb (Matt. 27:57-61) and sealed with a stone that was “rolled” (Matt. 27:60, 28:2; Mark 16:2-4; Luke 24:2); Joseph was a “rich man” (Matt. 27:57).

4. Dead Sea Sediment Deposit & Ein Gedi Spa Beach Cores

According to the Institute of Creation Research, a thin layer of disturbed sediment within an outcrop of laminated Dead Sea sediment, located above the southwestern shore of the modern Dead Sea in Wadi Ze’elim, points to an earthquake having occurred around 33 A.D.[1] Secular geologists also confirmed the activity of two major earthquakes in the area, including one during the period between 26 and 36 A.D., after studying three cores from the Ein Gedi Spa beach.[6] This is perfectly consistent with the Bible’s record of a great earthquake, that shook Jerusalem, on the day of Jesus’ crucifixion, April 3, 33 A.D. (Matt. 27:51).

5. Nazareth Inscription

In 1878, a marble slab inscribed with an “edict of Caesar,” dating to the reign of Claudius (41-54 A.D.), was discovered in Nazareth; it pronounced the death penalty in Israel for anyone caught moving bodies from “sepulcher-sealing tombs” (like the one Jesus was buried in).[19] Considering that thieves only ever plundered tombs for valuables—not bodies, this is a strange pronouncement to make. Unless, of course, the lie that Jesus’ disciples had stolen the body, which Jewish leaders deliberately spread to explain the fact that the tomb was empty after Jesus’ resurrection (Matt. 28:13-15), had reached the Roman emperor…

6. Alexamenos Graffito

Alexamenos Graffito
In 1857, ancient graffiti was discovered on a wall in Rome, depicting Jesus as a man with an ass’s head being crucified. It also showed a man named Alexamenos standing before him with one arm raised, perhaps in worship or prayer, with the Greek caption: “Alexamenos worships [his] God.” Dating from 50 to 250 A.D.[10], this crude sketch, intended to mock Jesus and Christianity, not only confirms the crucifixion of Jesus but also the fact that early Christians worshipped Jesus as God—which would not have happened if Jesus was still dead and decaying in Jerusalem.

7. Megiddo Mosaic Inscription

In 2005, an inscription was discovered on part of a 54-square-meter mosaic floor within the Megiddo Complex in Israel, which reads: “The god-loving Akeptous has offered the table to God Jesus Christ as a memorial.”[17] Dating back to the third century, the Megiddo Mosaic, like the Alexamenos graffito, shows that Jesus was being worshipped as God by at least the third century A.D. Again, providing indirect evidence for the resurrection.

Ancient mosaic in Israel describing Jesus as God

Non-Christian Writings

The death and resurrection of Jesus Christ is also confirmed in the writings of numerous ancient secular historians, who simply tell the facts without any religious devotion to them…

8. Josephus (37-101 A.D.)

In his book “Antiquities of the Jews” (93 A.D.), Josephus wrote:
And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him [Jesus] to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him…And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.[7]

9. Tacitus (56-120 A.D.)

In his “Annals” of 116 A.D., Cornelius Tacitus wrote:
Christus…suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of…Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition [Christianity], thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome…[16]

10. Lucian of Samosata (115-200 A.D.)

In his work “The Death of Peregrine,” written around 170 A.D., Lucian wrote: 
The Christians…worship a man to this day – the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account…and worship the crucified sage…[11]

11. Mara Bar-Serapion (70 A.D.)

Questioning the benefit of persecuting Jesus, in around 70 A.D. Mara Bar-Serapion wrote:
Or the Jews by murdering their wise king?…After that their kingdom was abolished. God rightly avenged these men…The wise king…Lived on in the teachings he enacted.[2]

12. Suetonius (69-140 A.D.)

In his biography of Nero, written around 121 A.D., Suetonius wrote:
Punishment was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition [the resurrection].[14]

13. Pliny the Younger (61-113 A.D.)

In a letter to the emperor Trajan, written around 111 A.D., Pliny wrote:
…they had met regularly before dawn on a fixed day [Sunday in remembrance of Jesus’ resurrection] to chant verses alternately amongst themselves in honor of Christ as if to a god.[13]

14. Phlegon (80-140 A.D.)

In his chronicle of history, written around 140 A.D., Phlegon wrote:
Jesus, while alive, was of no assistance to himself, but that he arose after death, and exhibited the marks of his punishment, and showed how his hands had been pierced by nails.[12]
Phlegon also identified the exact year and time of day of the darkness and earthquake at Christ’s crucifixion:
In the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad (i.e., AD 33) there was ‘the greatest eclipse of the sun’ and that ‘it became night in the sixth hour of the day [i.e., noon] so that stars even appeared in the heavens. There was a great earthquake in Bithynia, and many things were overturned in Nicaea.’[4]

15. Thallus (52 A.D.)

Before the Gospels were even written, Thallus also wrote of the darkness at Jesus’ crucifixion; however, he is so ancient his writings don’t exist anymore. Julius Africanus, writing around 221 A.D., quoted:
This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun.[8]

Conclusion

In addition to the above, Jesus’ death/resurrection is mentioned in the later, completely anti-Christian writings from the Toledot Yeshu (1000 A.D.), the Babylonian Talmud (70-200 A.D.) and dozens of ancient Christian writings.

Ultimately, the historicity of Jesus’ death and resurrection does not rest on archaeology or extra-Biblical testimonies, as our faith is based on eyewitness accounts written in the inspired, inerrant New Testament. After all, if we were to stack New Testament manuscripts on top of each other, they would reach more than a mile high! Compare this to the average Greek author whose works would only be about four feet tall.[15] 



References:

1 Austin, S. A. (2010). Greatest Earthquakes of the Bible. Institute for Creation Research (ICR). https://www.icr.org/article/greatest-earthquakes-bible/
2 British Museum, Syrian MS, add. 14, 658, cited in Habermas, “The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ”, 208.
3 Davis, J. J. (2009). Rethinking The Crucified Man From Giv'at Ha-Mivtar. Associates for Biblical Research. https://biblearchaeology.org/new-testament-era-list/4185-rethinking-the-crucified-man-from-givat-hamivtar
4 Fragment from the 13th book of Phlegon, Olympiades he Chronika, ed. Otto Keller, Rerum Naturalium Scriptores Graeci Minores, I (Leipzig: Teubner, 1877), p. 101., cited in Maier, “Pontius Pilate”, 366.
5 Haas, N. (1970). Anthropological Observations on the Skeletal Remains from Giv’at ha-Mivtar. Israel Exploration Journal, 20(1), 38–59.
6 Hooda, S. (2012). Jesus' Crucifixion Date Possibly Friday April 3, 33 A.D., According To Earthquake Study. The Huffington Post. https://www.huffpost.com/entry/jesus-crucifixion-date-possible_n_1546351
7 Josephus, Antiquities 18:3, cited in Habermas, “The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ”, 192.
8 Julius Africanus, Extant Writings, XVIII in The Ante–Nicene Fathers, ed. by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973), vol. VI, p. 130, cited in Habermas, “The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ”, 197.
9 Kloner, A. (1999). Did a Rolling Stone Close Jesus’ Tomb?. Biblical Archaeology Review, 25(5), 24-25. https://www.baslibrary.org/biblical-archaeology-review/25/5/1
10 Liberatore, S. (2021). Is this the earliest drawing of the crucifixion? 1,970-year old carving made at ancient Roman slave school lampoons worshipper of human figure with the head of the donkey that could be anti-Christian graffiti. The Daily Mail. https://www.dailymail.co.uk/sciencetech/article-9431585/Graffiti-carved-ancient-Roman-building-1-900-years-ago-Crucifixion.html
11 Lucian, The Death of Peregrine, 11-13, in The Works of Lucian of Samosata, transl. by H.W. Fowler and F.G. Fowler, 4 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1949), vol. 4., cited in Habermas, “The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ”, 206.
12 Origen. (1660). Origen Against Celsus (Complete). Library of Alexandria.
13 Pliny, Letters, transl. by William Melmoth, rev. by W.M.L. Hutchinson (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1935), vol. II, X:96, cited in Habermas, “The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ”, 199.
14 Suetonius, Nero, 16, cited in Habermas, “The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ”, 191.
15 Strobel, L. (2009). Finding the Real Jesus: A Guide for Curious Christians and Skeptical Seekers. Zondervan.
16 Tacitus, 15.44, cited in Habermas, “The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ”, 188.
17 Tepper, Y., & Segni, L. D. (2006). A Christian Prayer Hall of the Third Century CE at Kefar O֫thnay (Legio): Excavations at the Megiddo Prison 2005. Jerusalem, Israel: Israel Antiquities Authority.
18 Wikipedia. (2021). Pilate stone. Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pilate_stone
19 Windle, B. (2021). Top Ten Discoveries Related to Jesus. Bible Archaeology Report. https://biblearchaeologyreport.com/2021/04/02/top-ten-discoveries-related-to-jesus/