Don't Trust The Bible? Check out these Books!
In 2007 at the beginning of my conversion, I decided that I would find highly reliable, the accounts of Jesus Christ as written by purely secular sources. I began reading up on Jesus and whether I could believe a lot of the Christian claims from an 'historical perspective'. What began to blow my mind was that...even when I completely ignored Christian scripture and the writings of the early church fathers, the ancient secular historians and authors still painted a picture of Jesus as God.
Of course, the early Church Fathers wrote about Christ all the time...so much in fact, that if all the Christian Bibles disappeared from the face of the planet we could completely reconstruct the good book from their quotes alone. Origen for example quoted it in his letters and writings over 17,992 times. But my mission in '07 consisted of ignoring the writings of the early fathers to avoid any kind of idealogical bias or motive. I was more interested in what the enemies and the uninterested Roman historians said about Jesus.
Here's what I found:
First Century Roman Historian: Wrote of the 'Christus' execution at the hands of the Roman Procurator Pontius Pilate. And a 'mischevius superstition' that broke out after his death. (See Tacitus. Annals. Can be found in: Great Books of the Western World Vol.15 - Hutchins or The Annals and the Histories. Tacitus. 1952)
Chief Secretary to Emporer Hadrian: Confirms Acts 18:2 (The Twelve Ceasers. Trans. Robert Graves. Revised by Michael Grant 1979)
Jewish Historian working under Roman Authority. Wrote between 70-90 AD. Makes statements that verify, either generally or in great detail the historical nature of the old and new testaments. (So you don't have to flip through his massive volumes, I'd highly reccomend: F.F. Bruce'sThe New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?
Wrote around 52 AD. Don't know a lot aout this guy...except that he is quoted by a lot of early writers. Julius Africanus is one of them that quoted his writings in 221 AD. Thallus wrote of a darkness that descended after the crucifiction: "On the whole of the world there was pressed a most fearful darkness, and the rocks were rent by an earthquake, and many places in Judea and other districts were thrown down." (See Julius Africanus, Chronology.) Good luck finding that one...I have it cited in Evidence for Christianity pg 86 by Josh McDowell.
Pliny the Younger:
Roman author and administrator. In a letter to Emperor Trajan AD 112, describes the worship practices of Christians. Establishes that Christ was, at this early date, worshiped as God. Description portrays a very similar one to todays' worship. (Find in Pliny The Elder. Natural History. Rackham & Jones. 1951 OR Pliny The Younger. Letters. which is quoted in Norman Geisler's Baker's Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics. 1998)
Emperor Trajan: In a reply to Pliny's letter, discusses how to deal with the Christians. (See above for references.)
Compiled between 70 and 200 AD during the so called 'Tannaitic Period'. Refers to the Rabbi Yeshu as being hanged, for practicing sorcery and enticing Israel to Apostasy. Says he was Hanged on the eve of Passover. Of course, this confirms the date, and that the Jews of that time acknowledged that Jesus performed Miracles. Which the N.T. also states. (The most significant bit is found in the Sanhedrin 43a of theBabylonian Talmud)
Lucian of Samosata:
A 2nd century Greek writer whose works contained sarcastic critiques of Christianity, but confirmed many N.T. claims in doing so. (see The Works of Lucian of Samosata. Fowler & Fowler. 1949. Found inside that book in Lucians' "Death of Pelegrine". OR for an easier find...see Gary Habermas' "The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the life of Christ. pg. 206-7.1996)
A Syrian, in a letter to his son compares the Greek killing of Socrates to the Jewish Killing of Christ, and that Christ lives on in his teaching...(You'd have to go to the British Museum and read this in Syriac...or you can check it out in Habermas' Hist. of Jesus...pg.200)
"The Gospel of Truth" is a book written midway through the 1st century. Perhaps by a Gnostic named Valetinas. "Jesus was patient in accepting sufferings since he knows that his death is life for many..." (See A New Quest for the Historical Jesus by James M. Robinson 1959)
The Acts of Pontius Pilate:
This is a famous history book that has been lost. However it is referred to by Justin Martyr in AD 150 and Tertullian in AD 200. Martyr says that it describes the miracles of Jesus, the piercing of the hands and feet, the casting of lots for the clothing...which were prophecied in the O.T. of course. (See Justin Martyr. Apology. found in Ante-Nicene Fathers by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson. Pages 35 & 48 should be helpful.)
In essence, these non religious/secular writings demonstrated that:
1) Jesus was from Nazareth.
2) He lived a wise and virtuous life.
3) Crucified under Pilate at Passover, a 'Jewish King'.
4) Disciples believed he was raised from the dead.
5) Enemies acknowledged his sorcery. (Miracles...)
6) Small band of disciples multiplied rapidly.
7) From the beginning, his disciples denied Polytheism, and worshiped Christ as Divine.
That's really exciting. Because it indicates that I believe what the early Christians believed. My worship service is similar to that of the first believers. I believe Christ was divine, and so did they.
For me, the next logical step lie in questioning and testing the veracity of holy scripture. It really didn't take long to uncover the fact that the Bible is by far the most historically accurate manuscript to come out of the ancient world. Twenty five thousand hand written copies in a bunch of languages compared to 650 for the second most accurate...'Homer's Iliad'. (No one ever questions who wrote the Iliad...even though the first full handwritten copy was penned 600 years after Homer first set the story to parchment in 800 B.C.) To keep this post relatively manageable, it will have to suffice to say that I began to feel very reassured that an amazing case could be made for the reliability of the Bible. And HAD been made time and time again by men much more brilliant than I'd ever be. Ever since, I have done my best to develop an open heart towards Christ...and I daily ask that he becomes more and more a part of my identity.
A lawyer once asked Jesus 'Whats the most important commandment?' Jesus said 'Love the Lord your God with all your Heart, Soul, and Mind." We are supposed to use our Minds. As a new Christian, I feel it's important to arm myself with the knowledge to defend my faith. Be vigilant. Christ is the way and the truth. There is no question that can't be answered through him.