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1 - What Can We Learn from Sources Outside the New Testament?

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  05 June 2012

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Summary

The historical writings dealing with the Roman world in the first century of our era contain very few references to Jesus. This should not be surprising. It was only after the Christian movement had grown in numbers and significance to become an important factor in Roman politics and society that mention of it appeared in the historical sources. Although Acts reports the numbers of converts to Christianity in Jerusalem in the thousands (Acts 2:41; 4:4), the fact that the gatherings of Christians took place in private homes (1 Cor 16:19; Rom 16:23) suggests that participants in the Jesus movement in gentile cities during the first generation probably numbered in the dozens, or scores at the most. The majority of these people were of simple backgrounds, so that their role in society would not have drawn public attention to them. It is precisely those events connected with Jesus and his followers involving encounters with the Roman authorities that appear as the rare allusions to Christianity in sources outside the New Testament.

Evidence from Josephus

The most striking of these references to Jesus appears in the monumental work, Antiquities of the Jews, written by the Jewish historian Josephus, who lived from the mid-thirties to the end of the first century A.D. Originally a champion of Jewish national independence, he turned to the role of collaborator with the Romans when they invaded Palestine in A.D. 67–70.

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Publisher: Cambridge University Press
Print publication year: 1990

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