Hi and welcome back! For a while now, we’ve been exploring the world of 1st-century writers in the Roman Empire. Our goal has been to see what those writers said — if anything at all — about Jesus, early Christians, or the goings-on in Judea during Jesus’ supposed lifetime. And now, we have come nearly to the end of our list. Today, let us go over that list to see how Christians are doing with their historical claims.
(Series tag. Also, I’m not sure why some of the coloring for links is showing up wrong in my preview. I’ve beaten the HTML for this post into shape on my end, but it might just be doing its own weird magic on browsers.)
(In 1st-Century Fridays, we meet the ancient contemporaries of Jesus. We’re using the real definition of the word “contemporaneous” here, not the one Biblical scholars have weaseled into use to give themselves some leeway with their utter lack of support for their claims.)
The List of the Usual Suspects.
When we look up lists of 1st-century authors, they tend to look like the one from John Remsberg’s 1994 book The Christ: A Critical Review and Analysis of the Evidence for His Existence. It’s a perfectly usable list. As Remsberg himself puts it, it’s just “a list of writers who lived and wrote during the time, or within a century after the time, that Christ is said to have lived and performed his wonderful works” (p. 18).
Some of the names on it are quite familiar. Others, far less so.
Now that we’ve had some time to work on this list, let’s arrange them in the order given by John Remsberg. If we’ve covered a name on the list, I’ll put a link to it. If it’s too minor of a person even to make the “didn’t make the cut” post, then I’ll include a brief biography here.
The Canonical List: In Order of Appearance.
KEY (full explanations in the next section):
Maybe just a bit early (died before 35 CE).
Jusssst at the right time (born before 1-5 CE).
Leaving it a bit on the late side (born between 15-34 CE; active well after 35 CE).
Too late to be considered contemporary (born on or > 35 CE).
* Not covering this name as they wrote nothing relevant/had nothing survive. They all get Ds in our grading system as we know who they are, but they’re just not relevant.
? No idea who this is.
@ Covering in a later post.
Material in parentheses is from me. Johns Remsberg included only the name, with no dates for birth or death or alternate names.
@ Josephus (37 CE – 100 CE). Romano-Jewish historian.
@ Arrian (Arrian of Nicomedia (86/89 CE – 146/160 CE). Greek historian.
* Petronius (Gaius Petronius Arbiter, 27 CE – 66 CE). Wrote The Satyricon during Nero’s reign (54-68 CE). Nero wanted him executed for treason, but he ended himself first — after indulging himself one last time in his favorite activities and writing a letter to the Emperor that contained some very serious trash talk. We don’t know much else that he’s written.
Seneca (if Younger, 4 BCE – 65 CE; if Elder, 54 BCE – 39 CE). Covered the Younger here. I’m not planning to do the Elder, his dad, because the only work of his that we have today is about fictitious lawsuits. He wrote a history of Rome that would have been quite useful, but we don’t have it.
* Dion Pruseus (assuming this is probably Dio Chrysostom, who was born at Prusa and sometimes was called Dion; if so, 40 CE – 115 CE; otherwise, I’ve got no clue who this is). If it’s Dio Chrysostom, he wrote orations and argued for various laws to be passed, including one allowing sex work.
* Suetonius (Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus; 69 CE – after 122 CE). Roman historian.
* Appian (of Alexandria; 95 CE – 165 CE). Wrote an extensive Roman history.
* Juvenal (late 1st-century CE – early 2nd-century CE). Roman poet famous for his satires. Coined the phrase “bread and circuses.”
* Theon of Smyrna (active around 100 CE maybe?). Greek mathematician.
* Martial (Marcus Valerius Martialis; 38-41 CE – 102-104 CE). Famous Roman poet. I love his work, but he’s really not relevant to our interests right here.
* Persius (Aulus Persius Flaccus; 34 CE – 62 CE). Roman poet and satirist.
* Pompon Mela (Pomponius Mela; died around 45 CE). Earliest Roman geographer.
@ Plutarch (46 CE- 119 CE). Philosopher and historian.
* Quintius Curtius (Rufus; mid-1st-century-ish). Wrote a history of Alexander the Great.
@ Justus of Tiberius (Tiberias; 35 CE – 100 CE). Fought with Josephus; wrote a history of the Jewish War that was critical of the one by Josephus.
* Lucian (of Samosata; 125 CE – after 180 CE). Satirist and pamphleteer.
* Pausanias (110 CE – 180 CE). Greek geographer.
@ Pliny the Younger (61 CE – 113 CE). Nephew of Pliny the Elder. Lawyer who wrote hundreds of letters.
* Valerius Flaccus (Gaius Valerius Flaccus; d. 90 CE). Roman poet who wrote about a voyage to Britain.
@ Tacitus (Publius Cornelius Tacitus; 56 CE – 120 CE). Renowned Roman historian.
* Florus Lucius (probably Lucius Annaeus Florus; 74 CE – 130 CE). Roman historian. Just because so many questions exist about him, we probably won’t cover him.
* Quintilian (Marcus Fabius Quintilianus; 35 CE – 100 CE). Roman teacher of oratory.
* Favorinus (of Arelate; 80 CE – 160 CE). An intersex Roman philosopher.
* Lucanus (Marcus Annaeus Lucanus; 39 CE – 65 CE). Roman poet. Not sure if we’ll cover him or not.
* Epictetus (50 CE – 135 CE). Roman philosopher who taught Arrian (see above).
* Damis (no clue, but contemporary with Apollonius of Tyana). Left no writing that survived.
* Silius Italicus (Tiberius Catius Asconius Silius Italicus; 26 CE – 101 CE). A Roman consul and poet. His only surviving work is an epic poem about the Second Punic War (218 – 201 BCE).
* Aulus Gellius (125 CE – after 180 CE). Roman grammarian. Wrote the exceedingly-popular Attic Nights, which consisted of just him jotting down notes while traveling in Greece.
* Statius (Publius Papinius Statius; 45 CE – 96 CE). Greco-Roman poet.
* Ptolemy (Claudius Ptolemy; 100 CE – 170 CE). Amazingly prolific scientist.
* Dio Chrysostom (probable duplicate of Dion Pruseus; 40 CE – 115 CE). See above in this section.
? Hermogones (appears nowhere but in this list; suspect he means Hermagoras of Aquileia, sometimes called Hermenagoras or Hermogenes; active around 305 CE). Way way way out of range source. First bishop of Aquileia, possibly martyred around 304; Christians time-warped him to fit the myth that he was supposedly chosen to serve by Saint Mark himself around 70 CE.
Appion of Alexandria (probably a duplicate of Appian, above in list).
List 1: Probably Just a Bit Too Early.
On this list, we find writers who lived and died before Jesus even supposedly got executed. In my opinion, here we could reasonably expect to see mention of the miracles around Jesus’ birth, but not of his ministry or his death, and especially not of the earliest Christians (since the religion clearly only separated out from Judaism many decades later).
List 2: Right Smack Dab in the Middle.
These folks were born between 1-5 CE, ensuring they’d be adults by 35 CE.
Petronius (Gaius Petronius Arbiter, 27 CE – 66 CE).
Pliny the Elder (23/24 CE – 79 CE).
Persius (Aulus Persius Flaccus; 34 CE – 62 CE).
Apollonius (of Tyana; 3 BC – 97 CE).
Phaedrus (probably 15 BCE – 50ish CE).
Damis (no clue, but contemporary with Apollonius of Tyana).
Columella (Lucius Junius Moderatus Columella; 4 CE – 70 CE).
Valerius Maximus (active in the reign of Tiberius, 14 CE – 37 CE).
Claudius Lysias (appears in the Book of Acts).
List 3: Leaving It a Bit on the Late Side.
These folks were born sometime during Jesus’ adolescence or adulthood, or else were active well past 35 CE. They’re a bit young to have direct first-hand knowledge of the events we’re interested in, but it’s not inconceivable that they might have it.
Quintius Curtius (Rufus; mid-1st-century-ish).
Valerius Flaccus (Gaius Valerius Flaccus; d. 90 CE).
Silius Italicus (Tiberius Catius Asconius Silius Italicus; 26 CE – 101 CE).
List 4: Too Late to Be Contemporary.
AKA the sea of orange. They were born too late to be considered contemporaries of Jesus, and there’s no way they’d have first-hand knowledge of his life. Early entrants to this section might instead have first-hand knowledge of the earliest Christians, if born early enough, so they do belong on the kind of list we’re making. They also fit John Remsberg’s stated criteria, of course.
Josephus (37 CE – 100 CE).
Arrian (Arrian of Nicomedia (86/89 CE – 146/160 CE).
Dion Pruseus (assuming this is probably Dio Chrysostom, who was born at Prusa and sometimes was called Dion; if so, 40 CE – 115 CE; otherwise, I’ve got no clue who this is).
Suetonius (Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus; 69 CE – after 122 CE).
Appian (of Alexandria; 95 CE – 165 CE).
Juvenal (late 1st-century CE – early 2nd-century CE).
Theon of Smyrna (active around 100 CE maybe?).
Martial (Marcus Valerius Martialis; 38-41 CE – 102-104 CE).
Phlegon (of Tralles; 2nd century CE).
Plutarch (46 CE- 119 CE).
Justus of Tiberius (Tiberias; 35 CE – 100 CE).
Lucian (of Samosata; 125 CE – after 180 CE).
Pausanias (110 CE – 180 CE).
Pliny the Younger (61 CE – 113 CE)
Tacitus (Publius Cornelius Tacitus; 56 CE – 120 CE).
Florus Lucius (probably Lucius Annaeus Florus; 74 CE – 130 CE).
Quintilian (Marcus Fabius Quintilianus; 35 CE – 100 CE).
Favorinus (of Arelate; 80 CE – 160 CE).
Lucanus (Marcus Annaeus Lucanus; 39 CE – 65 CE).
Epictetus (50 CE – 135 CE).
Aulus Gellius (125 CE – after 180 CE).
Statius (Publius Papinius Statius; 45 CE – 96 CE).
Ptolemy (Claudius Ptolemy; 100 CE – 170 CE).
Dio Chrysostom (probable duplicate of Dion Pruseus; 40 CE – 115 CE).
Hermogones (appears nowhere but in this list; suspect he means Hermagoras of Aquileia, sometimes called Hermenagoras or Hermogenes; active around 305 CE).
Appion of Alexandria (probably a duplicate of Appian, above in list).
Making a List; Checking It Twice.
So now, we have two different looks at the classic list of 1st-century authors. I wanted to show you first, how few authors in this list are truly contemporary with Jesus and could have possibly had first-hand knowledge about his doings.
Because of that dearth of names, even John Remsberg had to refit his definition as Christians themselves do, by allowing for “contemporary” to mean up to a century past the date of Jesus’ supposed death. (Using this definition, a Gen Xer would be considered a contemporary of Queen Victoria!)
And Remsberg, accordingly, ended up with oodles of names — as appropriate for the kind of list he was making.
I’m not criticizing Remsberg at all and hope that’s clear here. We might have learned a few things since 1994, but I’m only too happy to acknowledge the debt that skeptics of all kinds owe Remsberg for assembling this list for us to use as a guide.
Deafening Silence: Why I Made This List.
Our 1st-century list is a lot smaller and only takes inspiration from Remsberg’s list. Indeed, you might have noticed that our 1st-Century series hasn’t stuck to this list. Probably half our names don’t appear on Remsberg’s list.
My goal today was purely to show you the list itself, then to run down the names on it and show you why some made the cut and others didn’t. To put it mildly, if Jesus had really existed in anything close to rockstar fame (as Christians think he did), we really should have a lot of ancient names attesting to that fame. But we don’t.
As far as the early 1st-century world was concerned, Jesus did not even exist. He either never lived at all and was simply an example of historicized mythology, or else he lived but was utterly irrelevant to literally everybody who could write.
And y’all, either answer destroys quite a few beloved Christian myths.
NEXT UP: Once right, always right, or so the authoritarians say. On that note, we’ll check out a heartbreaking illustration of exactly why evangelicals prey on children and teens like they do. See you tomorrow!
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