Testimonia.

Ancient pagan and Jewish references to Jesus Christ or to the Christians.


A testimonium is, for my purposes, a passage written by an ancient Jewish or pagan author about Jesus of Nazareth, the apostles, or the early Christians. I take the term from the famed Testimonium Flavianum of Josephus.

Testimonia from the following authors are available on this site:

Also of interest, the connections between the relevant passages of Josephus, Tacitus, and Luke the evangelist; also, the supposed acts of Pilate as attested as early as Justin Martyr.

The Alexamenos graffito is akin to a pagan testimonium. There is also a suggested, but highly dubious, reference to Jesus in On Anger 1.2.2 by Seneca.

I place here a couple of items of interest that do not (yet?) merit their own separate pages.

First, the Stoic philosopher Epictetus, early century II, Dissertations 4.7.5-6 (Greek text from Daniel J. Theron, Evidence of Tradition, page 18; English translation slightly formatted from the same):

Αν τις... ουτως δε και ουτος τας μεν υλας παρ ουδεν η πεποιημενας, την παιδιαν δε την περι αυτας και αναστροφην ασπαζηται· ποιος ετι τουτω τυραννος φοβερος η ποιοι δορυφυροι η ποιαι μαχαιραι αυτων;

If a man... has reckoned the material things of life as nothing, but is glad to play with them and handle them, what kind of tyrant, or guards, or swords in the hands of guards can any more instil fear in the breast of such a man?

Ειτα υπο μανιας μεν δυναται τις ουτως διατεθηναι προς ταυτα και υπο εθους οι Γαλιλαιοι, υπο λογου δε και αποδειξεως ουδεις δυναται μαθειν, οτι ο θεος παντα πεποιηκεν τα εν τω κοσμω και αυτον τον κοσμον ολον μεν ακωλυτον και αυτοτελη, τα εν μερει δ αυτου προς χρειαν των ολων;

Therefore, if madness can produce this attitude of mind toward the things which have just been mentioned, and also habit, as with the Galileans, cannot reason and demonstration teach a man that God has made all things in the universe, and the universe itself, to be free from hindrance and to contain its end in itself, and the parts of it to serve the needs of the whole?

Wilmer Cave Wright writes:

Julian, like Epictetus, always calls the Christians Galilaeans because he wishes to emphasise that this was a local creed....

Wright cites Gregory Nazianzen, First Invective Against Julian 76 (115), as follows concerning Julian (the apostate) himself: Γαλιλαιους αντι Χριστιανων ονομασας και καλεισθαι νομοθετησας (he named the Christians Galileans and passed laws that they be so called). But were the Christians known as Galileans as early as Epictetus? Or was Epictetus referring to different Galileans, perhaps of the sort who had instigated revolts against Rome?

Second, at the end of the first Apology of Justin Martyr is a letter purportedly written by the emperor Hadrian to the governor of Asia, one Minucius Fundanus, circa 125. This epistle is called the rescript of Hadrian. Apology 1.68.4-10 (also preserved by Eusebius in History of the Church 4.9.1-3):

Υπεταξαμεν δε και της επιστολης Αδριανου το αντιγραφον, ινα και κατα τουτο αληθευειν ημας γνωριζητε. και εστι το αντιγραφον τουτο·

And we have ordered below also the copy of the epistle of Hadrian, so that you might also know that we are telling the truth about this. And this is the copy:

Αδριανου υπερ Χριστιανων επιστολη, Μινουκιω Φουνδανω.

The epistle of Hadrian on behalf of the Christians, to Minucius Fundanus.

Επιστολην εδεξαμην γραφεισαν μοι απο Σερηνιου Γρανιανου, λαμπροτατου ανδρος, οντινα συ διεδεξω. ου δοκει ουν μοι το πραγμα αζητητον καταλιπειν, ινα μητε οι ανθρωποι ταραττωνται και τοις συκοφανταις χορηγια κακουργιας παρασχεθη. αν ουν σαφως εις ταυτην την αξιωσιν οι επαρχιωται δυνωνται διισχυριζεσθαι κατα των Χριστιανων ως και προ βηματος αποκρινεσθαι, επι τουτο μονον τραπωσιν, αλλ ουκ αξιωσεσιν ουδε μοναις βοαις. πολλω γαρ μαλλον προσηκεν, ει τις κατηγορειν βουλοιτο, τουτο σε διαγινωσκειν. ει τις ουν κατηγορει και δεικνυσι τι παρα τους νομους πραττοντας, ουτως διοριζε κατα την δυναμιν του αμαρτηματος, ως μα τον Ηρακλεα, ει τις συκοφαντιας χαριν τουτο προτεινοι, διαλαμβανε υπερ της δεινοτητος και φροντιζε οπως αν εκδικησειας.

I received the epistle written to me by Serenius Granianus, a most illustrious man, whom you succeeded; it does not seem to me, therefore, that this matter should be left behind unsought out, lest men be troubled and means be given to the sycophants for evildoing. Therefore, if the provincials should be able to clearly support their petition against the Christians so as that they be judged before the court, I allow them to do this alone, but not with petitions and shouts alone. For how much fairer it is, if anyone wishes to accuse, that you investigate it. If, therefore, anyone accuses and shows that anything was practiced against the laws, you shall thus determine according to the power of the sin, as, by Hercules, if anyone exercises the gift of sycophancy, arrest him for this terror and consider how you should take vengeance.

That, at any rate, is the Greek as we find it in the manuscripts of Justin, and it agrees with the Greek of Eusebius. But Eusebius himself informs us in History of the Church 4.8.8 that his Greek is a translation of the original Latin rescript as he found it in Justin. In other words, the extant manuscripts have replaced the original Latin with none other than the Eusebian translation into Greek.

Daniel J. Theron offers the Latin of this rescript on page 18 of Evidence of Tradition. He does not tell us whence he got the Latin, but I presume it comes from the translation by Rufinus of Eusebius into Latin. It is debated whether Rufinus retranslated the Eusebian Greek back into Latin or used the original Latin still found at that time in Justin. I also add the translation offered in the Ante-Nicene Fathers (slightly formatted), as it reflects the Latin, not the Greek:

Accepi litteras ad me scriptas a decessore tuo Serennio Graniano clarissimo viro et non placet mihi relationem silentio praeterire, ne et innoxii perturbentur et calumniatoribus latrocinandi tribuatur occasio. itaque si evidenter provincialis huic petitioni sua adesse valent adversum Christianos, ut pro tribunali eos in aliquo arguant, hoc eis exequi non prohibeo. precibus autem in hoc solis et adclamationibus uti eis non permitto. etenim multo aequius est, si quis volet accusare, te cognoscere de obiectis. si quis igitur accusat et probat adversum leges quicquam agere memoratos homines, pro merito peccatorum etiam supplicia statues. illud mehercule magnopere curabis, ut si quis calumniae gratia quemquam horum postulaverit reum, in hunc pro sui nequitia suppliciis severioribus vindices.

I have received the letter addressed to me by your predecessor Serenius Granianus, a most illustrious man; and this communication I am unwilling to pass over in silence, lest innocent persons be disturbed, and occasion be given to the informers for practising villany. Accordingly, if the inhabitants of your province will so far sustain this petition of theirs as to accuse the Christians in some court of law, I do not prohibit them from doing so. But I will not suffer them to make use of mere entreaties and outcries. For it is far more just, if anyone desires to make an accusation, that you give judgment upon it. If, therefore, anyone makes the accusation, and furnishes proof that the said men do anything contrary to the laws, you shall adjudge punishments in proportion to the offences. And this, by Hercules, you shall give special heed to, that if any man shall, through mere calumny, bring an accusation against any of these persons, you shall award to him more severe punishments in proportion to his wickedness.

From Lactantius, Divine Institutes 5.3 (translation slightly modified from that of the ANF series):

Ipsum autem Christum affirmavit a Iudaeis fugatum, collecta nongentorum hominum manu, latrocinia fecisse. quis tantae auctoritati audeat repugnare? credamus hoc plane; nam fortasse hoc illi in somnis Apollo aliquis nuntiavit. tot semper latrones perierun, et quotidie pereunt; utique multos et ipse damnasti; quis eorum post crucem suam, non dicam deus, sed homo appellatus est? verum tu forsitan ex eo credidisti, quia vos homicidam Martem consecrastis ut deum, quod tamen non fecissetis si illum Areopagitae in crucem sustulissent.

But he* affirmed that Christ himself was put to flight by the Jews, and, having collected a band of nine hundred men, committed robberies. Who would venture to oppose so great an authority? We must certainly believe this, for perchance some Apollo announced it to him in his slumbers. So many robbers have at all times perished, and do perish daily, and you yourself have certainly condemned many. Which of them after his crucifixion was called, I will not say a God, but a man? But you perchance believed it from the circumstance of your having consecrated Mars, committer of homicide, as a god, though you would not have done this if the Areopagites had crucified him.

* Hierocles, referred to in chapter 2, who was proconsul of Bithynia at the turn of the fourth century and wrote a treatise attempting to demonstrate that Christ was inferior to Apollonius of Tyana.

Thanks to David Blocker for this reference.