Bible Review 7:3, June 1991

The Testimonium

Evidence for Jesus outside the Bible

By John P. Meier

Over the years, when editors and journalists have asked me to write about the historical Jesus, almost invariably the first question they raise is: Can you really prove he existed? The implication is that the biblical evidence for Jesus is biased because it is encased in a theological text written by committed believers.

What they really want to know is: Is there extra-biblical evidence from the first century A.D. for Jesus’ existence?

Although most people are unaware of it, the answer is yes. Moreover, in all probability this extra-biblical evidence not only provides evidence of Jesus’ existence, but, as I shall try to show, includes a number of salient facts about his life that confirm the basic outlines of the four canonical Gospels.

The author of this extra-biblical evidence is Flavius Josephus, a fascinating figure in his own right. Josephus ben Mattathias (born 37/38 A.D., died after 100 A.D.) was by turns a Jewish aristocrat, a priestly politician, a not-so-eager commander of rebel troops in Galilee during the First Jewish Revolt against Rome (66–73 A.D.), a tricky turncoat, a Jewish historian in the pay of the Flavian emperors and a supposed Pharisee. Captured by Vespasian in 67, he served the Romans as mediator and interpreter during the rest of the revolt. Brought to Rome, he composed there two great works: The Jewish War, written in the early 70s, and the much longer Jewish Antiquities, finished about 93–94.

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