Is Good Friday a Myth? What 5 Ancient, Non-Christian Writings Reveal

Is Good Friday a Myth?

“Good Friday? What’s the difference between Good Friday and a fairytale?”

Imagine a skeptical relative asked you this question at a family gathering. I know–Awkward. But really, what would you say?

Something similar happened to me when I was a teenager. But what was odd about it was that this lady just threw out a challenge that seemed to come out of nowhere. Not sure if she even expected a response. I actually had no clue what to say.

Still, it got me thinking, “What should I have said?” What is the difference between the crucifixion of Jesus and a fairytale? I had to find some answers for myself.

For you, it might not be skeptical relatives. It might be a challenge from a Muslim coworker. Or an atheist student who saw something on YouTube about Good Friday being like a bunch of other mythological stories about crucified saviors. What can you say to that friend who starts to tune you out as soon as you reach for your Bible?

Unexpected Evidences

One strategy is to start with something unexpected. I discovered something interesting while I was teaching World Religion courses at a secular university: Even though Jesus’ death by crucifixion is recorded in the traditional gospels, I found most of my skeptical students seemed to perk up and get curious when I started talking about non-Christian sources that also mention this event.

Besides piquing their interest, leading into a topic in an unexpected way actually helps make your conversation more memorable.

In this post, I’ll share 5 ancient, non-Christian sources that mention Jesus’ death by crucifixion.

 “Minimal Facts”

I’ll never forget being introduced to this whole concept of studying the historical Jesus. A professor from Liberty University, Dr. Gary Habermas, was guest lecturing at a seminar series called “Defending the Faith” during my time in the M.A. Apologetics program at Biola. In his presentation, he laid out a number of what he called, “minimal facts;” Historical facts related to the resurrection reports. But what was interesting is that these were facts that most ancient historians—including non-Christians scholars—actually agreed on.

Look, when you have a set of facts that Christians and non-Christian scholars can actually agree on, I’m gonna get real interested in that.

And his point wasn’t so much that a bunch of scholars agree on something. The point is that there are probably some good reasons why people all over the spectrum–Guys on the left, the right and straight down the middle who publish professionally about this stuff can agree that certain facts, surrounding the Resurrection reports, really happened.

One of them is what Christians all over the world commemorate on Good Friday: Jesus’ death on the cross.

Did Jesus Die on the Cross?

Good FridayHistorians love to find a bunch of reports about something that happened—even if they’re coming from different perspectives. Why? Because if more than one independent source tells us about something, that’s a generally good sign that it probably happened.

For example, imagine if you and 5 of your coworkers saw a car accident in the parking lot after work. Even if you all couldn’t agree on whose fault it was, the police won’t think the accident itself didn’t happen, right?

In terms of studying the historical Jesus, virtually every critical scholar who publishes professionally on this stuff will agree that Jesus of Nazareth was a real person and that he was executed by crucifixion under the Roman government in 30 A.D.

What 5 Ancient, Non-Christian Writings Reveal

Jesus’ death by crucifixion is a historical event. Besides the Gospel reports in the New Testament, this fact is mentioned in passing by no less than 5, ancient, non-Christian sources:

1. Josephus, a Jewish historian, wrote:

 “When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified…” [1]

2. Tacitus, a Roman historian, wrote:

 “Nero fastened the guilt (of the burning of Rome) and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate.” [2]

3. Lucian of Samosata, a Greek satirist, wrote:

 “The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day—the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account.” [3]

4. Mara Bar-Serapion, a Syrian philosopher, wrote:

 “What advantage came to the Jews by the murder of their Wise King, seeing that from that very time their kingdom was driven away from them?” [4]

5. The Talmud, a Jewish Rabbinical text, includes this report:

“On the eve of the Passover, Yeshu was hanged.”[5]

New Testament Scholars Agree

Today, even agnostic scholars like Bart Ehrman–author of “Did Jesus Exist?”–agree that Jesus was real and he was, in fact, crucified. In an article on the Huffington Post, he wrote:

Aspects of the Jesus story simply would not have been invented by anyone wanting to make up a new Savior. The earliest followers of Jesus declared that he was a crucified messiah…because they believed specifically that Jesus was the Messiah. And they knew full well that he was crucified.

One may well choose to resonate with the concerns of our modern and post-modern cultural despisers of established religion (or not). But surely the best way to promote any such agenda is not to deny what virtually every sane historian on the planet — Christian, Jewish, Muslim, pagan, agnostic, atheist, what have you — has come to conclude based on a range of compelling historical evidence. Whether we like it or not, Jesus certainly existed.

Even John Dominic Crossan of the skeptical Jesus Seminar—a guy who says we can’t trust many of the sayings of Jesus and his teachings in the Bible–says this about the historical Jesus:

 “That he was crucified…is as sure as anything historical can ever be.” [6]

So there’s good evidence—even outside the New Testament— that Jesus’ death on the cross was a real, historical event.

Good Friday is No Fairytale

So, what’s the difference between Good Friday and a fairytale? Everything.

Far from being a vague, ethereal myth, virtually every critical scholar agrees: Good Friday is no fairytale. Jesus of Nazareth was a real person who was executed by crucifixion under the Roman government in 30 A.D.

[1] Josephus, Antiquities, 18.63-64. [2] Cornelius Tacitus, The Annals 15.44. [3] Lucian of Samosata, The Death of Peregrine 11-13.[4] Jesus of Nazareth is called a “wise king” in Josephus, Antiquities 18.3.3 §63-64. [5] Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a. Yeshu is “Joshua” in Hebrew, the equivalent is Iesous in Greek or “Jesus” in English. Being hung on a tree was a way Jews would talk about crucifixion (Luke 23:39 and Galatians 3:13). [6] John Dominic Crossan. Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, 145.

Apologetics Curriculum

Leaders: Want to Help Your Group Defend the Faith with Confidence?

Lesson 5 makes it easy to train your group to discuss the death and resurrection of Jesus. You’ll be ready to lead 5 engaging lessons–with teaching notes, handouts, PowerPoint presentations and more. Simplify your ministry, save time, and help your group defend the faith with confidence!

Get the FREE sample lesson now.

Tags:

9 Responses to “Is Good Friday a Myth? What 5 Ancient, Non-Christian Writings Reveal”

  1. Jo March 29, 2013 10:27 AM
    #

    Thanks for posting this, Apologeticsguy !

    • Apologetics Guy April 1, 2013 9:16 AM
      #

      You’re welcome. Please feel free to share this on your social networks. Thanks, Jo!

  2. Andrew April 10, 2013 8:35 PM
    #

    Now, why are there no such sources proclaiming His resurrection? I find that interesting… 500 people saw Him after He resurrected; surely someone wrote it down. Much as the gospels are more than sufficient to any person reading them, an extra biblical source would be interesting to explore

    • Apologetics Guy April 13, 2013 10:02 PM
      #

      Hey, Andrew. If you’re interested in this, check out the creed Paul quotes in 1 Corinthians 15. This is a report that existed way before the New Testament was written. Truly interesting stuff!

    • Timothy Mitchell April 20, 2013 1:28 PM
      #

      Andrew,
      Great question. Continue reading Tacitus just after the above quoted material;

      “and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular.”–Tacitus Annals 15:44 (http://www.sacred-texts.com/cla/tac/a15040.htm)

      I find a compelling case that Tacitus is actually recounting the resurrection here (although unwittingly). Why would a Jewish sect whose Messiah was cruelly executed in such a shameful way not continue being checked? Tacitus says that the Christian movement “again broke out.” This only makes sense if the early Christians at least believed their Messiah was not defeated, i.e. resurrected (remember what happened with the Bar kokhba Revolt). Tacitus also (though briefly) recounts some of the early Gospel and Acts details of the spread of Christianity too.
      Thank you for the great post and for the opportunity to comment!
      Tim

  3. oldcub April 11, 2013 8:38 AM
    #

    Even if the crucifixion was a historical event, the real “myth”–and I use that term in a good sense–is what people of faith have made of that death. Sacrifice, Martyr, Victim….Lamb of God who laid down his life for his friends, ransom, etc all atonement theories that Christianity has grappled with over the centuries speak to the power of this man’s death. His death carried (s) more freight than any other executed person in history–that says a lot.

    With that perspective, to my mind it seems less important that there was a historical execution of a historical figure. While there is anecdotal evidence to support that claim (on par with other historical testimonies of the ancients) it certainly is not irrefutable, and I would hesitate to label it as “fact.” As you can surmise from that statement, for me Jesus’ death is very much a “fairy-tale” that carries meanings not easily converted into concrete salvific doctrinal claims.

    • Apologetics Guy April 13, 2013 10:09 PM
      #

      Hi, oldcub. Thanks for your comment. Why are you hesitant to agree with virtually every critical historian on this one? For some, it’s not so much the historical conclusion, but the theological implications of a historical conclusion that they are hesitant to accept. Is this kind of where you’re coming from, or is there something more I’m missing here?

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Musings | Resurrected Living - March 29, 2013

    […] This article discusses why people on the left, right, and in the middle generally agree about the crucifixion of Jesus. Check out Is Good Friday a Myth? […]

  2. The April 2013 Edition of the Christian Carnival is Here! | On Planting Seeds... - April 3, 2013

    […] “Is Good Friday a Myth? What 5 Ancient, Non-Christian Writings Reveal,” Mikel Del Rosario (The Apologetics Guy), shows how these non-Christian sources can help you […]