Series - "Ancient Historical Evidence for Jesus of Nazareth" (pt.3)

We continue looking at the historical evidence for Jesus. In the last post we looked at the ancient historians Tacitus, Suetonius, Josephus and Thallus and saw a few exerts of their writings. In the next post we will be looking at the Government Officials, Pliny the Younger, Emperor Trajan and Emperor Hadrian.

Pliny the Younger

He was a Roman author and administrator who served as the governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor, Pliny the younger was the nephew and adopted son of a natural historian known as Pliny the Elder. The younger Pliny, is best known for his letter, and Bruce refers to him as "one of the world's great letter writers, whose letters...have attained the status of literary classics."

Ten books of Pliny's correspondence are extant today. The tenth book (, written around 112A.D. , speaks about Christianity in the province of Bithynia and also provides some facts about Jesus. Pliny found that the Christian influence was so strong that the pagan temples had been nearly deserted, pagan festivals severely decreased and the sacrificial animals had few buyers.
Pliny dealt with personally with the Christians who were turned over to him. He interrogated them, inquiring if they were believers. If the answered yes he asked them again two more times, threatening to kill them. If they continued firm in their believe, he ordered them to be executed.

Pliny also added in his letters that Christianity attracted persons of all social ranks, all ages, both sexes and from both city and the country. He also mentioned that true believers could not be forced to worship the gods of the emperor. While Pliny does not relate many facts about Jesus, he does provide a look at a very early example of Christian worship. Believers were meeting regularly and worshiping Jesus.

Emperor Trajan

Trajan responded to Pliny's letters ( and tells him that his actions were generally correct. If confessed Christians perish in their faith, they must be punished. However, three restrictions were place on Pliny. (1) Christians should not be sought out or tracked down. (2) Repentance coupled with worship of the gods sufficed to clear a person. (3) Pliny was not to honor any lists of Christians which were given to him if the accuser did not name himself.

These conditions imposed by emperor Trajan gives us some insight into early official roman views about Christianity. While persecution was certainly an issue and many Christians died without committing any actual crimes, it is interesting that, contrary to popular opinion, the first century was not the worst period of persecution for believers. Trajan's restrictions on Pliny at least indicate that it was not a wholesale slaughter. Nonetheless, the persecution was real and many died for their believe.

Emperor Hadrian

The existence of trials for Christians, such as those ones held in the time of Pliny, is confirmed by another historical reference to Christians. Serenius Granianus, proconsul of Asia, wrote to Emperor Hadrian (117-138 A.D.), also in reference to the treatment of believers. Hadrian replied to Minucius Fundanus (, the successor as Asian proconsul and issued a statement against those who could accuse Christians falsely or without due process. in the letter, preserved by third century church Historian Eusebius, Hadrian asserts:

"I do not wish, therefore, that the matter should be passed by without examination, so that these men may neither be harassed, not opportunity of malicious proceedings be offered to informers. If, therefore, the provincials can clearly evince their charges against the Christians, so as to answer before the tribunal, let them pursue this course only, but not by mere petitions, and mere outcries against Christians. For it is far more proper, if any one would bring an accusation, that you should examine it".

Hardian explains that, if Christians are found guilty, after an examination, they should be judged "according to the heinousness of the crime". Yet, if the accusers were only slandering the believers, then those who inaccurately made the charges were to be punished.

Here we see the persecution of the church as early as the first century and is still going on today, believers standing for their believe in Jesus Christ.

In the next post we will be looking at Other Jewish Sources: The Talmud and Toledoth Jesu.

Until next time, HAVE INTELLIGENT FAITH!!!

- Nelis