Tiberius Caesar the Christian?

When I first started this blog, I debunked an egregious piece of apologetic misinformation claiming that there is more ancient literary evidence for Jesus than the contemporary Roman emperor Tiberius Caesar (see my refutation of the 10/42 apologetic). I was rather surprised when I saw apologist Cliffe Knechtle make this claim, because the reign of Tiberius is one of my areas of Classical research, and I was rather disturbed that Christian apologists were misrepresenting this period in order to create specious talking points for converting people to their religion. In doing some readings of the patristic Church Fathers last academic quarter, however, I realized that Christians spreading false information about the reign of Tiberius is apparently nothing new.

It started when I was reading the church father Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History (a devilishly clever piece of Constantinian propaganda), in which the Christian “historian” makes the following claim about Tiberius allegedly voicing early support for Christianity:

“And when the wonderful resurrection and ascension of our Saviour were already noised abroad, in accordance with an ancient custom which prevailed among the rulers of the provinces, of reporting to the emperor the novel occurrences which took place in them, in order that nothing might escape him, Pontius Pilate informed Tiberius of the reports which were noised abroad through all Palestine concerning the resurrection of our Saviour Jesus from the dead.

He gave an account also of other wonders which he had learned of him, and how, after his death, having risen from the dead, he was now believed by many to be a God. They say that Tiberius referred the matter to the Senate, but that they rejected it, ostensibly because they had not first examined into the matter (for an ancient law prevailed that no one should be made a God by the Romans except by a vote and decree of the Senate), but in reality because the saving teaching of the divine Gospel did not need the confirmation and recommendation of men.

mt-22-tiberius-caesar-coinBut although the Senate of the Romans rejected the proposition made in regard to our Saviour, Tiberius still retained the opinion which he had held at first, and contrived no hostile measures against Christ.

Book II, Chapter 2.1-3

Now, to be sure, Eusebius’ history is packed full of misinformation, in which he relies on a vast array of pseudepigraphal literature to relate a number of dubious stories about early Christian communities. The fact that Eusebius had inherited so many false traditions by the 4th century CE quite vividly illustrates just how much misinformation Christians had circulated in the preceding centuries about their origins (see Bart Ehrman’s Forged: Writing in the Name of God).

Today, professional historians have used a number of philological and historical-critical techniques to root out these false stories, so that we actually have a much clearer picture of Christianity’s real origins in the 1st-3rd centuries CE in modern times than even Eusebius had much closer to the event. A lot of these false stories are rejected even by orthodox Christians and apologists, despite credence from several Christians in antiquity. This story about Tiberius greatly interested me, however, and I want to say a bit more about Christian lies pertaining to the reign of the Tiberius, since this is hardly the only one.

Eusebius was not the first Christian to falsely claim that Tiberius supported Christianity only a couple years after the death of Jesus. In fact, Eusebius even states that he had inherited this tradition from the church father Tertullian, who was writing in the early 3rd century CE. We do not possess Tertullian’s actual words, since Eusebius was relying on a lost Greek translation of his Apology for the Faith. Eusebius quotes the translation, however, and here is what Tertullian relates:

“Tiberius, therefore, under whom the name of Christ made its entry into the world, when this doctrine was reported to him from Palestine, where it first began, communicated with the Senate, making it clear to them that he was pleased with the doctrine. But the Senate, since it had not itself proved the matter, rejected it. But Tiberius continued to hold his own opinion, and threatened death to the accusers of the Christians. Heavenly providence had wisely instilled this into his mind in order that the doctrine of the Gospel, unhindered at its beginning, might spread in all directions throughout the world.”

Ecclesiastical History, Book II, Chapter 2.6

This story is obviously false. The historians Velleius Paterculus, Tacitus, Suetonius, and Cassius Dio know nothing of it, and such a fabricated tale obviously serves Christian apologetic purposes.

Allegedly, according to Eusebius’ account, Pontius Pilate had communicated with Tiberius to discuss Jesus. We also possess a forged letter from Pilate to Tiberius about Jesus. And this is hardly the only Christian forgery about Pilate, since we also possess forged Acts of Pilate. Christians in the first several centuries CE likewise produced a number of other forgeries of this kind, which had allegedly been written by Pagans. Another example is a forged set of letters between the apostle Paul and the Stoic philosopher Seneca.

Modern apologists today will often try to brush off the lack of contemporary evidence or Pagan corroboration for the miracles of Jesus on the grounds that people in antiquity allegedly only wrote about historical events hundreds of years after the event. I have already discussed in my essay “When Do Contemporary or Early Sources Matter in Antiquity?” how apologists relying on this escape hatch frequently make multiple methodological and factual errors. I find it further amusing, however, how this apologetic rebuttal is, in fact, even refuted by the forged literature of Christians in antiquity.

If nobody back then wrote about historical events until hundreds of years later, why did Christians in antiquity go looking for such contemporary corroboration? Why did Julius Africanus have to falsely report that Thallus and Phlegon wrote about the midday darkness at Jesus’ execution (discussed further by ancient historian Richard Carrier in “Thallus and the Darkness at Christ’s Death”), if nobody in antiquity would have ever expected such evidence? Why did Tertullian feel the need to lie and claim that the emperor Marcus Aurelius created a whole Roman legion of Christian soldiers because of the miracles that they performed (discussed further by Carrier in “Beckwith on Historiography”)?

The fact that Christians felt the need to forge literature written by Pontius Pilate and Seneca, and also to make up false stories about the emperor Tiberius, illustrates that they did, indeed, expect there to be such evidence, if the miracles of Jesus were true. After all, the Jesus in the Gospels is a larger-than-life figure who could walk on water, darken the Sun in the sky, rip the curtain in the Jewish Temple, and fly into space in broad daylight. And yet not a single Pagan contemporary knew of these events. It would seem almost as if the real Jesus had been an unmiraculous nobody. Embarrassed by such an absence of evidence, Christians in antiquity felt the need to produce forgeries.

But Christian lies about Tiberius do not stop there. An even more colorful tale about Tiberius appears in a 7th century text, titled The Avenging of the Savior, in which Tiberius even converts to Christianity! The story contains multiple historical inaccuracies, such as claiming that the later emperor Titus (who lived from 39-81 CE) was a prince during the reign of Tiberius (14-37 CE). There is a particular claim made about Tiberius’ physical appearance in the text, however, that I want to flesh out in more detail.

Near the beginning of the text, the following description is made of Tiberius suffering from a flesh-eating illness:

“In those days Titus was a prince under Tiberius in the region of Equitania, in a city of Libia which is called Burgidalla. And Titus had a sore in his right nostril, on account of a cancer, and he had his face torn even to the eye. There went forth a certain man from Judaea, by name Nathan the son of Nahum; for he was an Ishmaelite who went from land to land, and from sea to sea, and in all the ends of the earth. Now Nathan was sent from Judaea to the Emperor Tiberius, to carry their treaty to the city of Rome. And Tiberius was ill, and full of ulcers and fevers, and had nine kinds of leprosy.

Nine kinds of leprosy! Where did that come from? Interestingly enough, this detail echoes a number of physical descriptions that are made of Tiberius in earlier sources. The biographer Suetonius Tranquillus (Life of Tiberius, chapter 68) records the following detail about Tiberius’ facial complexion:

“He was of fair complexion and wore his hair rather long at the back, so much so as even to cover the nape of his neck; which was apparently a family trait. His face was handsome, but would break out on a sudden with many pimples.

Likewise, the historian Tacitus metaphorically describes the appearance of Tiberius’ soul as being scarred and lacerated. Tacitus, of course, is notorious for being a staunch critic of Tiberius. In his Annals (6.6), Tacitus rather poetically describes the condition of Tiberius’ soul with the following details:

Tiberius Caligula

Tiberius, as he is depicted in the Penthouse film Caligula, played by Peter O’Toole.

“So completely had his crimes and infamies recoiled, as a penalty, on himself. With profound meaning was it often affirmed by the greatest teacher of philosophy that, could the minds of tyrants be laid bare, there would be seen gashes and wounds; for, as the body is lacerated by scourging, so is the spirit by brutality, by lust and by evil thoughts. Assuredly Tiberius was not saved by his elevation or his solitude from having to confess the anguish of his heart and his self-inflicted punishment.”

The later emperor Julian (4th century CE) appears to have even somewhat conflated these two descriptions, one about Tiberius’ facial complexion and the other about the condition of his soul. In his Caesars (309), Julian satirically describes a banquet, to which the souls of previous emperors are summoned. Tiberius is one of the shades to appear, and here is how Julian describes the appearance of Tiberius’ soul:

“The third to hasten in was Tiberius, with countenance solemn and grim, and an expression at once sober and martial. But as he turned to sit down his back was seen to be covered with countless scars, burns, and sores, painful welts and bruises, while ulcers and abscesses were as though branded thereon, the result of his self-indulgent and cruel life.”

Given these earlier descriptions, it is not surprising that The Avenging of the Saviour depicts Tiberius as suffering from ulcers and nine kinds of leprosy. The 7th century legend, from top to bottom, is obviously completely bunk, but I do find it to be an interesting example of the reception of Tiberius’ body. From Tacitus, to Suetonius, to Julian, to this 7th century text, Tiberius comes to be described in more and more hideous ways.

All of this physical description, however, perfectly sets the scene for Tiberius’ conversion. After being tormented by this flesh-eating condition, Tiberius’ conversion to Christianity cures him of his ailments. The Avenging of the Saviour describes Tiberius’ baptism and conversion as follows:

“Then said the Emperor Tiberius to Velosianus: Velosianus, hast thou seen any of those men who saw Christ? Velosianus answered: I have. He said: Didst thou ask how they baptize those who believed in Christ? Velosianus said: Here, my Lord, we have one of the disciples of Christ himself. Then he ordered Nathan to be summoned to come to him. Nathan therefore came and baptized him in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. Immediately the Emperor Tiberius, made whole from all his diseases, ascended upon his throne, and said: Blessed art Thou, O Lord God Almighty, and worthy to be praised, who hast freed me from the snare of death, and cleansed me from all mine iniquities; because I have greatly sinned before Thee, O Lord my God, and I am not worthy to see Thy face. And then the Emperor Tiberius was instructed in all the articles of the faith, fully, and with strong faith.”

There you have it, Tiberius Caesar the Christian! This is truly one of the most bizarre stories that I have read about Tiberius in my Classical research. It shouldn’t really be that bizarre of a story, since invented Pagan conversions are a common trope of Medieval literature, with Pontius Pilate, Seneca, and many other Pagans likewise (allegedly) converting to Christianity. I say that this story is “bizarre” though, because of how strongly it contrasts with Tiberius’ representation in Pagan literature.

In my essay “The Old Goat of Capri: Historical Uncertainty and Plausible Doubt,” I discuss some of the rumors that spread about Tiberius in the writings of Roman historians. They are of quite a different character, to say the least. Here is how the biographer Suetonius (Life of Tiberius, chapters 43-44) describes Tiberius’ behavior, during his retirement on the island of Capri:

“On retiring to Capreae he made himself a private sporting-house, where sexual extravagances were practiced for his secret pleasure. Bevies of girls and young men, whom he had collected from all over the Empire as adepts in unnatural practices, and known as spintriae, would copulate before him in groups of three, to excite his waning passions. A number of small rooms were furnished with the most indecent pictures and statuary obtainable, also certain erotic manuals from Elephantis in Egypt; the inmates of the establishment would know from these exactly what was expected of them. He furthermore devised little nooks of lechery in the woods and glades of the island, and had boys and girls dressed up as Pans and nymphs prostituting themselves in from of caverns or grottoes; so that the island was now openly and generally called ‘Caprineum.’ Some aspects of his criminal obscenity are almost too vile to discuss, much less believe. Imagine training little boys, whom he called his ‘minnows,’ to chase him while he went swimming and to get between his legs to lick and nibble him. Or letting babies not yet weaned from their mother’s breast suck at his breast or groin – such a filthy old man he had become!”

Yikes! Apparently between all of his sexual escapades, Tiberius found time to learn about Jesus Christ and convert to Christianity. Or, rather, the whole story is made up. That said, as I discuss in my essay above, we can’t even be sure if Suetonius’ stories about Tiberius’ perversion are true, due to all of the dubious details and the tendency among Roman historians to vilify past emperors. From child molester to Christian convert, the reception of Tiberius in the centuries after his death are both colorful and diverse.

In fact, the reception of Tiberius is one of the main reasons that I am interested in studying his reign. I actually first became interested in Classics when I read Suetonius’ Life of Tiberius (or, rather, listened to it on audiobook) in my junior year of college. I was so surprised by the graphic anecdotes about his life that I wanted to study his reign as emperor more thoroughly. Now, after studying Classics for some years, I also came upon this story about Tiberius converting to Christianity. There have, indeed, been a variety of interesting things said about Rome’s second emperor…

-Matthew Ferguson

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36 Responses to Tiberius Caesar the Christian?

  1. D says:

    Thank you for the article – very enlightening.

  2. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Reblogged this on James' Ramblings.

  3. Pofarmer says:

    Isn’t it around Eusebius time that the Testimonium Flavianum shows up in Josephus? It seems early Christians weren’t shy about manufacturing evidence.

    • The arguments for full forgery place it at that time. Peter Kirby (Early Christian Writings) has been discussing a lot of the issues recently relating to the Testimonium Flavianum on his blog:

      http://peterkirby.com/2015/05

      Interestingly enough, I learned from TAing a fall of the Roman Empire class last quarter that Eusebius had interest in Josephus for more reasons than just 1st century Palestine. He also had interest because Constantine was modeling himself as a second Vespasian. So, there is a lot of stuff going on with Eusebius’ use of Josephus. It has both religious and political elements (Eusebius was a sneaky kind of shyster that way).

  4. Beau Quilter says:

    Great to see you blogging again, I always enjoy your articles.

    I can’t help but notice that the passage from The Avenging of the Savior, unlike the other writings about Tiberius, is translated in what seems to be King James English grammar, with phrases like, “Blessed art Thou”, “hast thou seen”, “hast freed me”, “all mine iniquities”, and etc.

    Are you just using an old translation, or is the translator attempting to evoke a King James style?

    • This was the only translation that I could find online. It does seem outdated, but Classical and Medieval texts sometimes only have really old translations available for open-access.

  5. pete says:

    Knowing just a bit of how Eusebius welded 300 years or so of Patristic writings into basically the 1st Nicene Credal church, my brief period as a Catholic convert will never be repeated. If Eusebius is utterly discredited, so is Christian apologetics (already riddled with fatal stab wounds). Most likely the material exists, but somehow the Vatican still functions.

  6. SteamPress says:

    While it is true that either side have contentions, one to convey the story of Tiberius so called “conversion” and the other of exploding it utterly, the facts are probably somewhere in between. It is possible that Tiberius is not exactly a convert in the sense the apologists describe, nor, however, is the story simply made up in its entirety . We know from here and elsewhere that Tiberius and his relationship with the senate was complicated. It could well have been the story exists with these nuances:
    –reports from Pilate about Jesus and wonders associated with him
    –Tiberius making Jesus a god as some sort of political move in the senate
    –Tiberius respecting Christianity as some form of new Roman religion ( they already had a few); again as a political move
    This matter regarding the Tiberius and the senate was short, therefore historians Velleius Paterculus, Tacitus, Suetonius, and Cassius did not assign importance to it, and no writings found. Also it must be remembered is there any period information found ether denying the story Tertullian gave.
    Hence:
    –yes there is likely exaggeration of the story by proponents
    –however though, certain core elements of the story are true
    –the apologists would not like that version since Tiberius tentatively uses Christianity as a tool for some type of manipulation
    –the detractors don’t like it because the story exists in the first place.

    • I’ll get to this comment shortly, since I disagree with your interpretation above. But, I am super busy right now, and won’t have time to respond for a week or two. For now, I want to make sure your comment is approved, though.

    • Hi SteamPress,

      Here are some of the problems that I have with your interpretation above:

      First off, the report about Tiberius referring this alleged matter of making Jesus a god to the Roman Senate is preserved in the writings of Eusebius. Note that Eusebius was writing during the reign of Constantine, which was a time when elite Christians, like Eusebius, would have had access to the Roman archives and other public records, which would have been less available to them in the preceding centuries. Eusebius does not refer to state records, however, but instead to the writings of Tertullian. This is odd, and it suggests that Tertullian was Eusebius’ only source of information on this matter.

      Now, let’s consider the context in which Tertullian makes this claim. Tertullian was writing in the 3rd century CE, which is the same time that forged Acts of Pilate begin to appear in Christian literature (c. 150-255 CE). In these Acts, Pilate writes not only to Tiberius, but also to the emperor Claudius (suggesting a common literary trope of letters to the emperor, but no historically consistent emperor). It seems to have been a claim that was circulated by 2nd-3rd century CE Christians to argue that early Gentiles, like Pilate, recognized Jesus’ divinity before the Jews did. I think it is likely, therefore, that Tertullian picked up this claim from forged Christian literature, rather than an actual matter that had been referred to the Senate. At the very least, since we are dependent wholly on Tertullian for this claim, and since he was writing at the exact time that these Acts of Pilate were circulating, we cannot assume that it came from an actual matter that was referred to the Senate.

      Even F.F. Bruce (The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?, pg. 119) writes:

      “It would no doubt be pleasant if we could believe this story of Tertullian, which he manifestly believed to be true but a story so inherently improbable and inconsistent with what we know of Tiberius, related nearly 170 years after the event, does not commend itself to a historian’s judgment.”

      Bear in mind, too, that Eusebius relies on reports from a lot of other pseudepigrapha. Eusebius even quotes an alleged letter written by Jesus to Abgarus, ruler of Edessa, in Hist. eccl. 1.13.9, and yet I don’t know any historians who argues that this is an authentic text that Jesus wrote. Pilate’s alleged letter to Tiberius is probably in the same boat.

      Furthermore, let’s also bear in mind the historical context of what Tiberius was doing around 31 CE. He was residing at Capri at the time (and would not return to Rome again), and according to Tacitus and Suetonius he was neglectful of state matters. But likewise, he also executed his Praetorian prefect Sejanus that year and was engaging in purges of the Senate. Would the Senate really not have approved this matter, which Tiberius recommended, if they were already seeking to appease him and demonstrate their loyalty, not to be charged with treason and have their estates confiscated?

      Likewise, bear in mind that Tacitus and Suetonius also depict Tiberius negatively, and they also both mention Christianity. But, they make no statement to the effect that Tiberius favored Christianity (Suetonius even states that Tiberius had little regard for religion). If you are right that detractors wouldn’t have liked this story, why didn’t Tacitus and Suetonius attack Tiberius for this measure? Their complete silence is better explained because they didn’t know of the story at all.

      • SteamPress says:

        I think at last you explained the situation rather well, prompting my further investigation. It would seem various notable Christian sources also agree that the story as given by Tertullian regarding the Roman Emperor Tiberius suspect, coming from a source he believed to be true but probably was not, ie:

        http://biblehub.com/library/pamphilius/church_history/chapter_ii_how_tiberius_was_affected.htm#1
        http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/14717b.htm

        What is currently known:

        1–There is no mention of the story otherwise, either as a matter of fact or as a criticism in reference to the numerous other superstitions and cults Tiberius may have become involved in.
        2–The alleged sources to the story, the then existent Roman archives and the source Tertullian references, neither can be found /corroborated .
        3–The story is unchallenged by its contemporaries to Tertullian: and perhaps the ONLY mark in favor of the story.

        Another author had tackled the story back in 2007, exploring story for greater plausibility especially if decoupled from the contention Tiberius accepted the claims of Jesus.
        http://uperekperisou.blogspot.com/2007/01/first-news-of-jesus-tiberius-pilate-and.html

        The main issue working against the story is:
        –the nature and character of Tiberius seem inconstant with him engaging in the teachings of Christ as the enthusiasm of Eusebius suggests (Tertullian more “reserved” in relating the incident http://www.tertullian.org/articles/reeve_apology.htm Tertullian’s Apology for the Christians. 17).

        The issue would be solved once and for all if the period Roman archives covering the period in question were found intact. The story also refers to “received intelligence from Judea about the miracles of Christ” presumably the report Pontius Pilate made to his emperor. Yet another lost document. Helpful too would be to locate the source Tertullian consulted. Yes, the problem with ancient history so much is missing and what we know comes from a single source.

  7. mgb says:

    Adversus., I appreciate your historic acumen. However, there are some issues I would take with your presentation. 1) The forged acts of Pilot were not the only documents that were produced during that time frame. Making such a connection is deliberately inflammatory. Marcion’s cannon was likewise produced during that time. Dio Cassius wrote, Appian, Seutonius, Arrian, Irenaius, Justin Martyr, all and many, many more wrote during this time. You selected the acts of Pilot precisely because it fits your narrative rather than because you actually have evidence for any of your claims.

    2) You also forget that many spurious “heretical” documents were produced as well. Starting about 100 AD there is a virtual rash of interest in Jesus of Nazareth and all kinds of speculative literature was produced. It wasn’t simply the “orthodox” (although such a designation is anachronistic as such a party didn’t exist until at the least Nicea)

    3) christianity was a multi faceted belief and not a monolithic entity despite what Irenaius proclaimed for polemical purposes. Matthew’s gospel displays a community that is interested keenly in Jesus’ status as messiah and the document is decidedly jewish in character and target. Luke’s gospel, despite containing much of the same information is virtually unconcerned with Jesus status as a Jewish king and messiah and is concerned with the Lordship of Christ, a designation that carried some overtones of mystery religions. Paul’s letters display a Christ that is universalistic with universal salvation as its overtone the messiahship of Christ is not emphasized. The Revelation of John carries a decidedly anti-Roman depiction portraying the city as a whore sitting on many waters. The book of 1 Clement written virtually at the same time as Revelation talks about the Roman army as “our armies and our Generals.” The Shepherd of Hermas is decidedly anti-wealthy, and anti-establishment in rhetoric. Justin Marty calls Christianity the highest philosophy, while Tertullian proclaims “what has Athens to do with Jerusalem?” The point is that Christianity was incredibly diverse with ZERO central authority for it’s first 300 years.

    Your proclamation that Christians are guilty of manufacturing evidence is not very persuasive. PEOPLE are guilty of many things. The entirely ancient world was filled with speculative literature. Agamemnon is a “speculative” play written literally hundreds of years after the Illiad but is supposed to help people find closure on the “rest of the story” Was Pindar generating evidence for the Trojan war? Was it a vast conspiracy to make the ancient gullible people believe in the gods? No.
    Some of these stories were written for polemical purposes, some of them for religious purposes, some of them for entertainment purposes. It is an incredibly small minded person who confounds ancient speculative material with modern day bigotry towards “forgeries” and then blames a whole belief system for the conflation.

    That fact that you’re citing Richard Carrier demonstrates a whole lot about your willingness to dive into the “speculative.”

    Now, as to Tertullian’s proclamation about Tiberius.
    1) Your argument about Eusebius and royal archives cuts both ways. If he knew Tertullian’s account to be false, he simply needed to say nothing and leave the story out of his own record. It is as likely as that he was attempting to validate an earlier writer considering that’s who he was investigating. (Take for example: let say he read Tertullian first is 290 AD and researched it in 320 with access to the royal archives. He then is sitting down in 328 writing the opening book of his tome with Tertullian and the other fathers around him. Rather than put Tertullian away go to the archives and cite another source, Tertullian is right there os cite him.)

    2) As to 31 AD. It is unclear exactly when Jesus of Nazareth was executed between 30-33 Ad is a solid window and I’m pretty sure there is “time” in that window for other things to happen.

    3) “If you are right that detractors wouldn’t have liked this story, why didn’t Tacitus and Suetonius attack Tiberius for this measure? Their complete silence is better explained because they didn’t know of the story at all.” now this is a serious argument and I find this reasonable.

    • Dear MGB,

      I think you are imputing a number of things onto my statements above that are not implied by what I have written. Allow me to clarify my stance on the points that you raise:

      1. There were certainly other documents produced during the 2nd-3rd centuries CE, but the Acts of Pilate are the only major source that I am aware of which claim that Pilate wrote letters to Tiberius about Jesus (and to Claudius, for that matter). Marcion, Dio Cassius, Appian, Suetonius, Arrian, Irenaeus, and Justin Martyr don’t make that claim. It seems reasonable to see a connection between Tertullian’s statement and the Acts of Pilate, which were written around the same time period, since there appears to be no other viable source that Tertullian had for this information. (At least of the sources that survive. Perhaps Tertullian had some other source, but the Acts of Pilate are the only ones that we know of.) I don’t see why this is “inflammatory.” It’s simply analyzing a historical claim within its literary context.

      2. Of course “heretical” or “non-orthodox” sects also produced forgeries. Where did I claim otherwise? I’m happy acknowledging that Gnostics and other non-orthodox sects produced forgeries, alongside proto-orthodox Christians.

      3. Of course Christians (and I use that as an umbrella term for multiple sects that identified as Christian in one way or another, acknowledging its diversity) are not the only group in antiquity to produce forgeries. There were also forged letters of Alexander the Great and Plato, forged writings of Julius Caesar, and forged plays of the Athenian tragedians. Christians are only one group that produced forgeries. It was a common occurrence in antiquity. And you are right, it’s because “people” of all stripes produce forgeries, not just one group or religion.

      4. I cite Richard Carrier for the argument that Thallus and Phlegon cannot be shown to independently corroborate the alleged darkness at Jesus’ death, and for the fact that Marcus Aurelius probably did not create an entire legion of Christians soldiers. Do you disagree with this? It is small-minded to think that I agree with everything that Richard Carrier believes, just because I cite him on one point. I have written about how I disagree with Carrier on Christ Mythicism, and I have even criticized him for his polemical response to Bart Ehrman. Can you show any area in which I agree with Carrier that is fringe? As far as I am aware, I only agree with Carrier on issues that are otherwise in the scholarly mainstream.

      5. Eusebius only cites Tertullian, and he says nothing about independently corroborating this claim through other means. Likewise, there are other texts that Eusebius cites that modern scholars (including Christian scholars) acknowledge are pseudepigraphal (e.g. Jesus’ letter to Abgarus). As the evidence stands, we can only identify Tertullian as his source for this claim. Arguing that Eusebius had corroborated this claim through other sources, and then said nothing about this process, is speculation.

      6. I agree that we don’t know the exact year that Jesus died, but it would have been at the end of Tiberius’ reign around the time of the fall of his Praetorian prefect Sejanus. That was not a good time for the Roman Senate, with lots of trials, forced suicides, and executions. Would the Senate have really missed an opportunity to appease Tiberius, simply by approving his measure to make Jesus a god? I’m not saying that it is impossible that they wouldn’t but if you situate Tertullian’s claim within the actual timeframe that it would have allegedly occurred in Tiberius’ reign, it seems out of place. I think it is more likely that Tertullian is reporting a later story that was invented.

      I think that there is overall a pretty strong case to be made that this story in Eusebius about a correspondence between Pilate and Tiberius about Jesus, followed by a proposal to the Senate to make Jesus a god, is spurious, or at least cannot be substantiated. Even F.F. Bruce thinks so. Perhaps I was too verbose about “Christian lies” above, and for that I apologize if I created the impression that Christians were the only people lying or writing forgeries in antiquity. They certainly were not, but they were also no exception.

      • Actually, it appears that Justin Martyr also believed that Pilate sent a report about Jesus (though, that does not necessarily mean that Justin corroborates the claim that Tiberius put forward a proposal to the Senate to make Jesus a god). Here is what F.F. Bruce (The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable?, pp. 118-119) writes:

        “We should especially like to know if Pilate sent home to Rome any report of the trial and execution of Jesus, and, if so, what it contained. But it is not certain that he must have done so; and if he did, it has disappeared beyond trace.

        Certainly some ancient writers believed that Pilate did send in such a report, but there is no evidence that any of them had any real knowledge of it. About AD 150 Justin Martyr, addressing his Defence of Christianity to the Emperor Antoninus Pius, referred him to Pilate’s report, which Justin supposed must be preserved in the imperial archives. ‘But the words, “They pierced my hands and my feet,” ‘ he says, ‘are a description of the nails that were fixed in His hands and His feet on the cross; and after He was crucified, those who crucified Him cast lots for His garments, and divided them among themselves; and that these things were so, you may learn from the “Acts” which were recorded under Pontius Pilate.” Later he says: ‘That He performed these miracles you may easily be satisfied from the “Acts” of Pontius Pilate.”

        Then Tertullian, the great jurist-theologian of Carthage, addressing his Defence of Christianity to the man authorities in the province of Africa about AD 197, says: ‘Tiberius, in whose time the Christian name first made its appearance in the world, laid before the Senate tidings from Syria Palestina which had revealed to him the truth of the divinity there manifested, and supported the motion by his own vote to begin with. The Senate rejected it because it had not itself given its approval. Caesar held to his own opinion and threatened danger to the accusers of the Christians.”

        It would no doubt be pleasant if we could believe this story of Tertullian, which he manifestly believed to be true but a story so inherently improbable and inconsistent with what we know of Tiberius, related nearly 170 years after the event, does not commend itself to a historian’s judgment.”

        I will add that, since Justin Martyr even explicitly cites the Acts of Pilate, this bolsters the hypothesis that 2nd-3rd century CE Christians derived this claim about Pilate from this source, which probably included Tertullian after Justin.

        • M. A. P. says:

          Mr. Pusateri’s theory concerning this issue views this topic from a more mystical perspective, influenced by the accounts known to us in the Scriptures of the synoptics. I believe the anecdotes about Tiberius have some truths incorporated. Their memorability leads me to this conclusion. It is highly possible that the Mary mentioned in (ROM 16:6), is Mary of Magdala. I think she was evangelizing in Rome before St. Paul began. She may have worked as a servant in the emperor’s household. The legend of the red egg may have been somewhat true , if she was there at his birthday banquet as the story goes.

          • Well, Romans was written in the mid-50’s, long after Tiberius died, and there were a lot of women named Mary.

            But more importantly, Tiberius retired to Capri in 26 CE, before Jesus died, and he never returned to Rome. Mary would have had to go to Capri (or perhaps Southern Italy, when Tiberius would vacation there). I believe that the tradition also states that Mary met Tiberius in Rome, which would be historically inaccurate.

            I don’t think memory is the right way to look at these anecdotes. None of the Roman historians have any knowledge of them.

            The best way to view Tiberius’ alleged conversion, and knowledge of Jesus, is in light of other “pious” Pagans who were later Christianized, such as Seneca, Pontius Pilate, etc. Virtually all Classicists who I am aware of view these stories as spurious.

      • MGB says:

        “It seems reasonable to see a connection between Tertullian’s statement and the Acts of Pilate, which were written around the same time period, since there appears to be no other viable source that Tertullian had for this information.” This is kind of the main point of my response. The assumption here is that there COULD NOT be such a letter from Pilot to Tiberius nor such action by Tiberius with the Senate. Thus the only possible source for Tertullian’s error is the Acts of Pilot. In terms of logic this is called arguing from silence. Tacitus, Suetonius etc did not record Pilots report and Tiberius’ appeal to Rome’s Senate THEREFORE no such appeal was made. The point, as I said earlier is: to explain Tertullian’s account by appealing to the Acts of Pilot, and then CITE this as evidence of Christian “bad faith” in terms of history is unfair and problematic.

        I can agree with you in spirit that it is probable that Tertullian derived the letter and story from the Acts of Pilot, however, it is another thing entirely to impune Christian apologetics and theologians by using “evidence” of Tertullian’s “fabrication” of evidence as evidence of falsification. As historians we MUST make sure we are making distinctions between what we think is historically probable, and maligning motives for historians or their accounts. When you write things like “But Christian lies about Tiberius do not stop there. An even more colorful tale about Tiberius appears in a 7th century text, titled The Avenging of the Savior, in which Tiberius even converts to Christianity!” The blatant polemical nature of your viewpoint becomes obvious.

        Let’s argue for instance that Tertullian did in fact read the Acts of Pilot. Let’s say he did in fact obtain the entire story of Tiberius and the Senate from it. That does not indicate he lied. A lie is a deliberate misrepresentation of known facts for one’s benefit. As responsible historians we must say: Tertullian was either misinformed about the validity of the Acts of Pilot or he had access to information Velleius Paterculus, Tacitus, Suetonius, and Cassius Dio, either did not have or did not find interesting. IF indeed Pilot did sent information to Tiberius concerning the death of Christ it should not surprise any of us that Dio, Paterculus, Tacitus, Suetonius, did not find this worth retaining. Now this is NOT to argue that the account in Tertullian is accurate, It’s simply to keep things in their proper historical context.

        Arguing that Christians in the first few centuries were liars and manufacturers of stories is patently inflammatory; this is especially true when you make a persuasive case for Tertullian’s probable “misinformation” concerning Tiberius and then deliberately paint it in such a light that it was not “carelessness” nor lack of historical accuracy but deliberate fraud. Discussing the accuracy of Tertullian’s story is one thing. Using your conclusions of the accuracy of Tertullian’s account as EVIDENCE of Tertullians bad faith is quite another.

        This type of historical misrepresentation of how history is done does not help anyone. Eusebius retention of Tertullians account doesn’t demonstrate he’s a liar. He may be sloppy, he may be guilty of believing misinformation, but a lair is a VERY strong word and is designed to evoke a deliberate response: This Author is deliberately deceptive.
        This type of historical polemics does not help people understanding how history is done, nor how historians evaluate texts. Authors are not Liars or Truth tellers, historical authors are more nuanced than that, they are prone to believe things that confirm their biases and disbelieve things that confront them. I don’t have a problem with your questioning Tertullian’s account what I have a problem with is the conclusions you want your audience to draw from this analysis. Your analysis of Tertullians is acceptable but most CERTAINLY up for discussion. The question becomes: IF Jesus died under Pilot. ( a VERY likely historical certainty) and IF Jesus was resurrected as the Gospel accounts claim, it is PROBABLE (like Justin Martyr seems to assume) that Pilot would have been compelled to write some form of account to Rome. (Any responsible governor would have had such an obligation.) I find it unlikely that Tiberius would have proposed Jesus’ divinty to the Senate,(for your reasons are sound) but an account by Pilot seems reasonable GIVEN: Jesus resurrection within 3 days. Now it becomes MUCH LESS reasonable if Jesus resurrection was manufactured by Saul of Tarsus in the 50’s.(What cause would Pilot have to write about a dead Jewish rabbi? None) But ALL of this hinges upon your interpretation of the Synoptics and John. If they are fabrications than so is Pilot’s letter. IF NOT at the least Pilot’s letter becomes reasonable/plausible and Tiberius’ conversion is an exaggeration of Pilot’s letter.

        But all of this hinges upon historical probabilities that you are evaluating 2,000 years AFTER the events. A good historian notes and articulates such biases and interpretations.

  8. MGB says:

    “None of the Roman historians have any knowledge of them.” This, once again, is an argument from silence. The claim has to be evaluated in terms of its own validity, not simply in light of the failure of other historians to announce it. There are multiple reasons current historians could have had access to the information OTHER than its false. For example: Does Cassius Dio mention Emperors Yuan, Cheng, and Ai of the Han dynasty? Of course not, 1) was it relevant? 2) did they have access to information? Obviously not.
    I know that many historians discuss the death of Titus Flavius Celemens as an Athiest in Cassius Dio to the fact that he probably had become a Christian. This means that Christianity was probably introduced to the royal family prior to AD 95. Does this PROVE, Tiberius was a Christian HARDLY, however, it makes these things intricately interwoven. Separating probabilities from historical facts is very difficult indeed. What it means is that in probability someone, maybe not Mary Magdala, had introduced Christianity to the Flavius household slaves in the home, make it as likely as any. In the end your painting with a very broad bush and not helping real historians disclose the intricates of the issues involved with your invectives.

    • MGB,

      I sense frustration in your comments above and so I will work to reply in a irenic tone for why I disagree with some of your points.

      First off, the conclusion that I have drawn is not based solely on an argument from silence. Arguments from silence are frequently misunderstood in historical analysis (something I have discussed previously here and here). Rather, the silence among all extant Roman sources for this event establishes a *necessary condition* for the story perhaps emerging from a non-Roman source, which could have been spurious. Further arguments can then be supplied for why this story may have been spurious, after this necessary condition is established. These additional arguments provide more than just silence as a reason for doubting this event.

      But furthermore, it’s not just that the Roman historians are silent, but also that their testimony actually runs against the grain of this story. Tiberius is described in the last decade of his rule as having withdrawn from Rome, handed over his administrative affairs to his henchmen (such as Sejanus and Macro), and neglecting provincial concerns. Suetonius (Life of Tiberius, 69.1) also states that Tiberius was neglectful of the gods and religious affairs. Such a correspondence between Pilate and Tiberius, under these circumstances, at the very least seems out of place. Even F.F. Bruce argues that the story is “inherently improbable and inconsistent with what we know of Tiberius.”

      So where could have this story come from? Well, Justin Martyr, before Tertullian, explicitly cites the Acts of Pilate as his source for this story. Given that a previous Christian author seems to have been dependent on this source, I don’t think it is unlikely for a later Christian author to be dependent on it, as well. It’s not that it is “the only possible source,” but it is the only known source, and it fits well into context of when Tertullian was writing.

      Then there is the broader historical context of similar claims about “pious” Pagans converting to Christianity, such as Seneca, which are likewise doubted by almost all scholars as authentic. Such a context increases the probability that this story about Pilate and Tiberius corresponding is spurious. And likewise, some of the Christian Acts of Pilate may have even been written in response to a previous Pagan Acts of Pilate. As Bart Ehrman (Forgery and Counter-Forgery, pg. 353-354) explains, there is evidence of Pilate being depicted in a previous Pagan text condemning and making accusations against Jesus. The fact that, even among these late and problematic sources, we furthermore have contradictions and competing claims further casts doubt upon the historicity of this correspondence.

      Now when you say:

      “I can agree with you in spirit that it is probable that Tertullian derived the letter and story from the Acts of Pilot, however, it is another thing entirely to impune Christian apologetics and theologians by using “evidence” of Tertullian’s “fabrication” of evidence as evidence of falsification. As historians we MUST make sure we are making distinctions between what we think is historically probable, and maligning motives for historians or their accounts. When you write things like “But Christian lies about Tiberius do not stop there. An even more colorful tale about Tiberius appears in a 7th century text, titled The Avenging of the Savior, in which Tiberius even converts to Christianity!” The blatant polemical nature of your viewpoint becomes obvious.”

      First off, I acknowledged that I may have been too verbose about “Christian lies” above. But to accuse me of being polemical against apologists and theologians ignores just how often these camps are polemical. Take the following quotes for example:

      “I personally have never heard a single individual–who has honestly considered the evidence–deny that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of men. The evidence confirming the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ is overwhelmingly conclusive to any honest, objective seeker after truth. However, not all–not even the majority–of those to whom I have spoken have accepted Him as their Savior and Lord. This is not because they were unable to believe–they were simply unwilling to believe!”

      -Bill Bright (the president and founder of Campus Crusade for Christ International), quoted in Josh McDowell’s ETDAV (pg. iii)

      And:

      “I am convinced that the case for belief in God is inductively so much stronger than the case for unbelief that true philosophical atheism must be regarded as a superstition, often nurtured by an infantile wish to live in a world proportionate to one’s own hopes and conceptual limitations.”

      -David Hart (The Experience of God, pg. 16)

      The fact is that Christian apologetics and theology is frequently used to insult, malign, and bully atheists and non-believers who do not convert to the religion. The fact that I exposed a false story in Christian literature with some rather verbose language pales in comparison to the vitriolic statements that I have quoted above. Fair is fair, and regardless, I have worked to be more than polite in this discussion.

      Now, you say:

      “Let’s argue for instance that Tertullian did in fact read the Acts of Pilot. Let’s say he did in fact obtain the entire story of Tiberius and the Senate from it. That does not indicate he lied.”

      Was Tertullian himself being deceitful? He very well may not have been, if he had simply derived this story from a false source. But, whoever first circulated the story about this correspondence, assuming that it was spurious and that he/she did not actually have access to such a correspondence, would have probably been acting deceitfully, or at least imaginatively. I do think that it is a false story that was invented. Calling it a “lie” is not really a stretch, therefore, but I am willing to scale back that description to “spurious.”

      On your point:

      “IF indeed Pilot did sent information to Tiberius concerning the death of Christ it should not surprise any of us that Dio, Paterculus, Tacitus, Suetonius, did not find this worth retaining.”

      I’m not entirely sure that this would be true. Both Tacitus and Suetonius did not think very highly of Christians. They did not think highly of Tiberius either. What better way would there be to attack Tiberius than to accuse him of buying in to some obscure religious superstition from Judea? They accuse other emperors of bizarre superstitions and association with foreign religions (e.g., Nero and Syrian religion), so why not chastise Tiberius for this also? Instead, they say that Tiberius was neglectful of gods and religion. The story just doesn’t fit with their testimony.

      As for:

      “Discussing the accuracy of Tertullian’s story is one thing. Using your conclusions of the accuracy of Tertullian’s account as EVIDENCE of Tertullians bad faith is quite another.”

      Whether it was bad faith or not, Tertullian probably should have been more critical of his sources on this matter. Did his apologetic aim skew his better judgement? Probably. But as I said above, I don’t think we need to conclude that Tertullian was necessarily lying.

      And:

      “Eusebius retention of Tertullians account doesn’t demonstrate he’s a liar. He may be sloppy, he may be guilty of believing misinformation…”

      I am inclined to think that Eusebius probably did fudge things in some of his writings, such as his account of Constantine’s conversion, but ancient Pagan historians were prone to biases, as well, so this not a uniquely Christian phenomenon.

      Now when you say:

      “The question becomes: IF Jesus died under Pilot. ( a VERY likely historical certainty) and IF Jesus was resurrected as the Gospel accounts claim, it is PROBABLE (like Justin Martyr seems to assume) that Pilot would have been compelled to write some form of account to Rome. (Any responsible governor would have had such an obligation.)”

      I don’t believe that Jesus historically rose from the dead. But even if he did, the Gospels do not seem to depict Pilate as being aware of it. Matthew 28:13-14 even states that the chief priests intended to falsely report to Pilate why the body (allegedly) went missing. So would Pilate have even known? We can perhaps reframe this point as: “assuming that Pilate became aware that Christians were preaching about Jesus’ resurrection.” Would Pilate have really written to Tiberius about this, if he had heard such preaching? Did he write to Tiberius about every strange thing that the Jews believed in their religion? Even Pliny the Younger, who wrote to Trajan about Christians (whom he had met), didn’t elaborate much on what they believed. Pilate, in contrast, may have never even heard of the Christians.

      As for your point:

      “Does Cassius Dio mention Emperors Yuan, Cheng, and Ai of the Han dynasty? Of course not, 1) was it relevant? 2) did they have access to information? Obviously not.”

      Well, that’s a bit different. Roman historians would have had little available information about China. But both Tacitus and Suetonius were making use of Roman records, as well as personal documents written by Tiberius, including his letters. They also both knew of Christians, but drew no connection between them and a correspondence between Tiberius and Pilate. They may have not found or had access to that particular correspondence, but I think it is more likely that Justin and Tertullian derived their information from a later, spurious source.

      As for:

      “I know that many historians discuss the death of Titus Flavius Celemens as an Athiest in Cassius Dio to the fact that he probably had become a Christian. This means that Christianity was probably introduced to the royal family prior to AD 95. Does this PROVE, Tiberius was a Christian HARDLY, however, it makes these things intricately interwoven.”

      I agree that there is a good case to be made that Clemens may have been a Christian (in the 90’s), and Tacitus attests to Christians being present in Rome earlier during the reign of Nero (in the 60’s). Suetonius may reference Christians during the reign of Claudius, but I think that passage is more problematic. But regardless, all of these references are to events decades after the reign of Tiberius. If any Christians did travel to Rome between 30-37 CE, I doubt that almost anyone of prominence would have been aware of them.

      As for final your remark:

      “Separating probabilities from historical facts is very difficult indeed. What it means is that in probability someone, maybe not Mary Magdala, had introduced Christianity to the Flavius household slaves in the home, make it as likely as any. In the end your painting with a very broad bush and not helping real historians disclose the intricates of the issues involved with your invectives.”

      I agree that sorting out facts in ancient history is very difficult. But I am not just “biased” against Christian sources. I have also written at length on other rumors about Tiberius, recorded much earlier and among Roman historians, that I am agnostic on, due to the fact that they may have derived from spurious claims. See this essay below for other stories about Tiberius that I think are dubious, even regarding non-supernatural claims among Roman sources:

      https://adversusapologetica.wordpress.com/2013/09/22/the-old-goat-of-capri-historical-uncertainty-and-plausible-doubt/

      • MGB says:

        “I sense frustration in your comments above and so I will work to reply in an irenic tone for why I disagree with some of your points.” I appreciate it.

        ” Arguments from silence are frequently misunderstood in historical analysis (something I have discussed previously here and here). Rather, the silence among all extant Roman sources for this event establishes a *necessary condition* for the story perhaps emerging from a non-Roman source, which could have been spurious.”
        I understand the tentative nature of using arguments from silence. Yes, it is to be expected that someone would have recorded such a big thing as Tiberius pleading for Christianity before the Senate. I agree that there is an expectation that someone would have recorded something. I must first point out that in about 26-34 AD hardly anyone in Rome, other than jews, would have had the language to articulate what a Christian was: A non-Jewish (ethnic identity is at play here) person rejecting his previously family alignment and chooses to follow a different god which could “appear” very similar to atheism (As Dio points out about Clemens) The word strange superstition would certainly apply to such a person. Now, this is NOT to say I disagree with you but merely to point out that for the sake of clarity, that a source in(who ever Seutonius, Dio, etc would have used) the language of “Christian” would have been utterly unfamiliar to both 30 AD Christians, (they were called followers of The Way.(Didache, Acts)) and Romans as such entities didn’t exist until in all likelihood until the mid-early 40s. So whatever sources, Dio, Seutonius etc al used they would have had to describe followers of The Way which could easily have misrepresented or misunderstood. This is not to say that Tiberius was a Christian, the swimming things with boys is pretty reprehensible(Suetonius). This is simply to say such accusations must be kept in their full pagan and Christian context. BTW this is me making a half hearted plea concerning your argument that we should “expect” current historians to mention Pilots letters and Tiberius’ conversion. It’s half-hearted because I’m only even partially serious but I make it to point out why arguments from silence should be properly evaluated. Should we really expect Seutonius etc al to read 70-80 year old recitations about early christian beliefs and recognize them AS Christian beliefs? I’m not entirely convinced.

        “Then there is the broader historical context of similar claims about “pious” Pagans converting to Christianity, such as Seneca, which are likewise doubted by almost all scholars as authentic.” Yes, yes this is why I generally agree with your assessment, Tiberius conversion seems more likely to be a later Christian invention along the lines of Seneca. I can only muster a half hearted objection. Your reasoning seems persuasive.

        “First off, I acknowledged that I may have been too verbose about “Christian lies” above. But to accuse me of being polemical against apologists and theologians ignores just how often these camps are polemical. ”
        Thank you… But I think it’s easy to forget what polemics are. Polemics simply is the art of persuasion. Apologetics is the art of persuading people that Christian claims are not irrational, or in some case, that Christianty is the only rational view. The problem comes when the value of the polemical language supersedes the truth of the claim. In other words, polemics are fine, until one starts to make increasingly untrue statements. Calling ancient writers liars, I feel, is choosing to gain polemical points above the honest evaluation of the sources. I would say few historians would call Tertullian a liar as you chose to do. So let’s examine Bill Brights claim:

        “I personally have never heard a single individual” This is a claim about what HE has experienced or personally heard. This is not a claim about all humans.

        “–who has honestly considered the evidence–deny that Jesus Christ is the Son of God and the Savior of men.” What would Bill Bright say it means to honestly consider evidence? This is a very subjective word and hard to quantify objectively, one could argue either way. I would say that this is Bill Brights most “slippery” claim. What does it mean to “honestly” consider evidence?

        “The evidence confirming the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ is overwhelmingly conclusive to any honest, objective seeker after truth.” I will admit that this is a strong statement but there is sufficient evidence to back up such claims. People like Lee Stroble, C.S. Lewis, J. Warner Wallace, and many many others going back all the way to Saul of Tarsus were ardent opponents of Christianity not merely non-believers. These people were convinced by what they saw and understood and became followers. Strong language? Yes, patently untrue language? No, I’m not sure its obvious to everyone this is a false claim.

        “I don’t believe that Jesus historically rose from the dead. But even if he did, the Gospels do not seem to depict Pilate as being aware of it. Matthew 28:13-14 even states that the chief priests intended to falsely report to Pilate why the body (allegedly) went missing.” That’s your perspective, ok. The issue I was broaching was that it would not be irrational nor outside the possible that IF it had come to his attention that a crucified person in Jerusalem had not stayed dead, Rome might be obligated an account. This is neither to say it did or did not happen because a case could be made that Pilot could be persuaded such an admission would make him appear weak as well. Getting into the possible internal machinations of equestrian order officials becomes a difficult task for historical psychology, akin to reading tea leaves and entrails (not much different really).

        “I agree that there is a good case to be made that Clemens may have been a Christian (in the 90’s), and Tacitus attests to Christians being present in Rome earlier during the reign of Nero (in the 60’s). Suetonius may reference Christians during the reign of Claudius, but I think that passage is more problematic.”
        I’m glad you agree. I think it’s likely as well. As to Suetonius, that Chrestius line is very troublesome indeed. Looking at the trouble Paul experiences in say Ephesus, Philippi, or Corinth. A Jewish agitated response to someone like Paul making similar claims about a dead Jew might stir up trouble in Rome. I find it more probable than not that Chrestius is an obscure reference to Christ. But respect and see your divergence.

        “But I am not just “biased” against Christian sources.” I think your language is betraying your perspective, which is fine, but let’s be honest shall we? As to bullying and manipulation: Should we evaluate Bill Mahr’s Religulous. Or James Cameron the “Jesus tomb?” these so-called historical documentary are historical hack jobs at best. Need we point out Chris Hitchens, Richard Dawkins, Sam Harris, Richard Carrier? Let’s ask our selves what we would think if a historian claimed that “Muhammad never claimed to have a vision from Allah.” or “Buddha never claimed to discover the path to enlightenment. Or “Joseph Smith never claimed to have had an encounter with angels.” Yet we are constantly accosted with the accusations that historians 2,000 years later, without ANY documentary evidence other than a hypothetical Q, know that Jesus never made any such divine claims about himself. As a historian, I find this incredibly disrespectful, manipulative and just plain bad history. It’s one thing to “evaluate” a text, it’s another thing to play games with it. Both sides are quite “guilty” of using polemics in their attempt to influence people. Just don’t be surprised when your polemics get’s pointed out.

        • MGB,

          This thread has been continuing for a while, and so I think I will wrap up my own contribution with a brief concluding comment. When you state:

          “Apologetics is the art of persuading people that Christian claims are not irrational, or in some case, that Christianty is the only rational view.”

          The purpose of this blog is primarily to combat the latter approach (although I also disagree with the former), when apologetics is specifically used to target non-believers for not converting to Christianity. Since appeals are often made to the historical reliability of the New Testament and other ancient Christian literature as part of this rhetoric, I provide counter-arguments that call into question the claims being made by apologists. My hope is that when a college student, for example, is gifted with a copy of The Case for Christ by a family member or friend, he or she will also be able to find my website (and other secular resources) to see counter-arguments from a secular point of view. Since many informed experts in the field of Biblical Studies, and other related disciplines, hold these secular views, and disagree with the rhetoric of apologists like Strobel, I think it is worthwhile for the public to get equal access to them. From there, let the reader decide which side he or she finds more convincing.

          When it comes to Bill Bright, I think your following statement fits him nicely:

          “The problem comes when the value of the polemical language supersedes the truth of the claim.”

          For a lot of Christian apologists, their goal is to depict atheists and non-believers as irrational, misinformed, or dishonest. They seek to do so because (their interpretation of) their religion teaches that outsiders will be punished and sent to Hell. They have a rhetorical need to demonstrate the “truth” of their religion, therefore, in order to intimidate and overwhelm people to the point of converting to it.

          The problem is that such apologists, in my opinion, grotesquely exaggerate (and often misrepresent) the evidence for their religion in the fields of history, science, and philosophy. They do so because their primary agenda is to attack non-believers and to keep existing converts behind the fence, not to objectively analyze the evidence. This problem becomes exacerbated when there are whole Christian universities and research institutions dedicated to apologetics (like Biola), when there is nothing similar on the atheist side of the debate. There are atheist publishers, but not whole atheist universities. As such, I specifically work to counter apologetic arguments, because I think there is currently an asymmetrical dispersion of this information.

          I should note, however, that while I consider a great deal of Christian apologists to fit your description above, there are exceptions. I do think that scholars like Craig Evans offer a far more nuanced and fair treatment of the evidence than what is found in the writings of Strobel, Lewis, or Wallace (none of whom are biblical scholars, by the way). I also find much common ground with liberal Christians, such as James McGrath, whose views I also discuss here.

          When it comes to New Atheists, such as Dawkins, Hitchens, and Harris, you may notice that I seldom discuss them on this blog. I agree with some of their views, but they aren’t experts in the subjects of history and philosophy of religion that I deal with here. It is also true that some New Atheists have made mistakes in the field of history, and I do think that the large majority of Christ Mythicists do not advance serious arguments. Richard Carrier is an exception, since his arguments have been subjected to peer review, but I also don’t agree with his (minority) view on the historicity of Jesus, either. Most of the atheist writers you have discussed have little relevance, therefore, to the material on my blog, with the exception of Carrier, whom I often quote on areas unrelated to Mythicism, where his arguments are more mainstream (e.g., his denial that Thallus mentioned the darkness at Jesus’ crucifixion).

          But Bill Bright is wrong, however, to suggest that there are no honest people who have examined the evidence, and walked away unconvinced of Christianity. My mentor, Dr. Christine Thomas at UCSB, is one example. She started out as a Christian and even did work in apologetics, before she studied the historical Jesus at the university level, and deconverted from Christianity. Other secular scholars, such as Bart Ehrman and Hector Avalos, have had similar experiences, regardless of what Bill Bright (who has a rhetorical need to demonstrate the exclusive truth of his religion) claims.

          I wrote this specific blog on Tiberius’ alleged conversion over a year ago, and I’ve worked since then to be less verbose and bellicose in how I write. I don’t think it is a stretch to say that there were Christians in antiquity who “lied” about Tiberius (although Tertullian may have only been passing along false information, rather than intentionally lying on his own part), but I will work to give proper nuance when discussing these matters, henceforth, to avoid the impression of painting with a broad brush.

          • MGB says:

            Thanks for your irenic approach it makes conversations like these much easier. 1) I enjoy your education level and would seriously consider a further dialogue with you concerning these issues. 2) I think you under estimate the secularization of our society, I cite a quick reference: Newsweek, The Bible: so misunderstood its a sin; Kurt Eichenwald 12/23/14. As a historian, this article was frighteningly appalling. Most universities for the last 50 years have been cranking out atheists left and right, you don’t HAVE to have institutions, secularists HAVE the majority of institutions including the government. Hence the deliberate sidelining and minimalizing of religious views. I don’t say this to be combative, but merely to point out that from our perspectives, we are not “in control.” You may view us as a powerful “bloc” but we feel VERY much isolated, deliberately misunderstood and maligned. Read the article by Newsweek and see what you mean. 4) Enough for now; but if you are interested I’m interested in continuing the dialogue.

          • Well, I am simply coming from my own (limited) point of view. At the University of Arizona I encountered a large amount of Christian clubs, who would sponsor apologists like Cliffe Knechtle to come to campus, in order to criticize atheism and other religions. I did not see many secular clubs or speakers do the same. Then again, those are also private, student-organized activities, which do not necessarily reflect the views of the professors or the material taught in classrooms. My girlfriend did take a course there on God and suffering, which she thought was overly skewed toward defending theism. I also knew a university chaplain and Religious Studies professor, who (despite being on university payroll) spent much of his time trying to evangelize to atheists.

            UofA seemed to have endless resources for trying to convert people to Christianity (even if most were student-organized), but the overall effect still seemed to be negative. More and more students did seem to become atheist during the years that I was there. Perhaps all the apologetics had an opposite effect of making people resentful toward Christianity. Perhaps secular education simply has the effect of making people less interested in practicing religion. A lack of apologetics was never the problem, though. We had that in abundance at UofA, and far less counter-apologetic resources. That’s why I started this blog, in order to help people get access to scholars with secular views in history, science, and philosophy.

  9. MGB says:

    I can appreciate your perspective. I could understand how you would feel that way. I think the important thing is that we open up dialogue honestly admitting our biases and perspectives. I’m sorry you have felt so “under siege” by Christian apologists. I could see how that would frustrate you. I read through your response to “comparing” Taticus to the Gospel writers. I would like to ask some clarifying questions.

    • Hey MGB,

      I wouldn’t say “under siege” as much as “outnumbered” and “with less resources.” Counter-apologetics is sort of a freelance enterprise. In contrast, there are whole seminaries and Christians universities that specifically train people to defend the religion (and pay the faculty members who teach them to defend it). In contrast, there is no place where you can get an MA or PhD in “Religious Skepticism” that I am aware of. Some professors at secular universities venture into counter-apologetics (e.g. Bart Ehrman), but it is generally speaking a secondary part of their academic work. Faith-based professors like William Craig, in contrast, basically spend their primary career seeking to defend an exclusive religious faith (and functioning as a sort of professional debater, as part of the job). I think it is hard to find the equivalent of that kind of career in secular academia.

    • I am currently quite busy with dissertation work, and so I am hesitant to get into a lengthy online exchanges answering questions at the moment. To give some perspective, I usually charge about $35 for 1 hour of tutoring. When I spend multiple hours of the day engaging in online comments (for free), therefore, I sometimes wonder if it is the best use of my time.

      I don’t say this to sound haughty or anything, it’s just that when you are a graduate student professionally studying this stuff, your time and energy is limited. Some comments require specialized knowledge, resources, and thoughtful consideration to give good answers to. When this process takes multiple hours of time, I like to space it out over several weeks, so that I am limiting my time engaging in comments.

      If you want to talk more, perhaps you can come back sometime after September 26th? I’m preparing for the new school year right now, and I need to focus on academic work. But I’ll have more time then for discussing other matters (at a gradual pace). Hope this makes sense.

      • MGB says:

        I too am in the midst of my PhD work, that is why I was interested in continuing the conversation as two professionals one to another. For example, as I was looking over your comparison of Tiberius and Jesus of Nazareth you failed to mention that Suetonius nor Dio were not living at the same time of Tiberius. Were these historians contemporaries or eyewitnesses of these events? No. Therefore, does it automatically follow that the Pauline accounts are legendary accretions simply because of the time that has lapsed between the Christ event in 26-35 AD and 55 AD with Saul of Tarsus? Moreover, Saul considers himself to be an eyewitness to Jesus. Now this is NOT to say your interpretation is patently wrong it’s simply to say that you’re conducting some polemics yourself in what you’re simply failing to acknowledge.

        ” I think it is hard to find the equivalent of that kind of career in secular academia.” You wouldn’t call Carl Sagan an apologist for secularism? You wouldn’t call Richard Dawkins a paid apologist for secularism and atheism? How about Stephen Hawkins? The guy just wrote a book about how philosophy is dead and the universe doesn’t need a creator because gravity exists the universe can and will create itself? You seriously don’t think that’s defending an athiest and secular perspective?

        I understand your reluctance to engage in a discussion I think, however, it’s pretty to easy conduct your research by only reading people who agree with your perspective. I’m interested in broading my interactions but I understand…

        thanks for the opportunity

        • MGB,

          I waited a good while before responding to this comment, and I think for good reason. First, when you state:

          “I too am in the midst of my PhD work, that is why I was interested in continuing the conversation as two professionals one to another.”

          Commenting on my blog under the name “MGB” and the email address “stonewall1012” is hardly the appropriate way to establish such a connection. Any consultation between scholars should be handled over email, and you should likewise send both your real name and institutional affiliation, from the first moment that you contact me.

          Instead, you have been periodically commenting on this same post over a several month period, raising complaints about my “bias,” whenever someone posts (yet another) far-fetched defense of this spurious tradition regarding Tiberius, and I respond to them. I have been very patient in responding to you, even when your tone has often been confrontational, and even when answering your comments has required line-by-line clarifications and elucidations to explain why the *vast* majority of scholars (including Christians) consider this tradition to be false.

          Considering this context, I have considerable problems with your following remark:

          “I understand your reluctance to engage in a discussion I think, however, it’s pretty to easy conduct your research by only reading people who agree with your perspective. I’m interested in broading my interactions but I understand…”

          First off, where are you even getting this from? Are you aware that the majority of scholars that I have been doing work with on my dissertation are Christian? In particular, my research overlaps most heavily with Justin Marc Smith, who teaches at Azusa Pacific University (a Christian institution near my house in SoCal), whom I have been in regular contact with. He is also a colleague of Adam Winn, who got his PhD at Fuller Theological Seminary (a very conservative institution), whom I have also been collaborating with. Do you think that when I am already working with Christian scholars, face to face, I need advice from anonymous people online?

          And in any case, the purpose of scholarly dialogue is to share new ideas that someone might not be familiar with. You have not told me anything that I did not already know about this tradition regarding Tiberius. Instead, you have made me spend considerable time, again and again, having to explain all of the implausibilities wound up in this spurious tradition, whenever you post a new comment. Since most Classicists already know the things that I have been discussing, this isn’t creating any new information, and creating new information (not rehearsing mainstream views) is what I need to focus on at this point of my graduate studies.

          But furthermore, my dissertation doesn’t deal with either Tiberius or Tertullian, specifically, and so discussing this issue any further is (at best) a side project. That is the main reason why I am not interested in continuing it. It’s simply a distraction when I have other historical issues to study that are more pertinent to my current research.

          Another problem is that I also have to spend time making corrections when you post innacurate things about my website, such as the following:

          “For example, as I was looking over your comparison of Tiberius and Jesus of Nazareth you failed to mention that Suetonius nor Dio were not living at the same time of Tiberius. Were these historians contemporaries or eyewitnesses of these events? No.”

          I don’t know what passage you are talking about, but I have actually provided a diachronic survey of every literary source that we have for Tiberius within 150 years of his life! That survey clearly specifies that Suetonius is a 2nd century author, who did not live during Tiberius’ lifetime (even though we possess over 200 documentary sources for Tiberius that *do date* to his lifetime, and 0 for Jesus). Here is a table listing all of the sources for Tiberius vs. Jesus that I wrote years ago:

          Now, stop and think for a moment: how many people just walk around with information like this? Really, do you think if you had asked anyone else for statistics like this, they could just provide it to you, offhand? And provide it to you for free (even when it took me several hours to produce it)? Consider that before accusing me of not appreciating a historical nuance, when I have actually written extensively on this issue before.

          “Now this is NOT to say your interpretation is patently wrong it’s simply to say that you’re conducting some polemics yourself in what you’re simply failing to acknowledge.”

          Once more, are you even familiar with the history on this? Let’s give a recap. First off, I generated the information above when apologist Cliffe Knechtle was (falsely) claiming at the University of Arizona (my old home campus) that only 10 authors wrote about Tiberius within 150 years of his life. Knechtle actually plagiarized his information from apologist Mike Licona, but did not admit to doing so, when pressed on the matter. I tried to correct Knechtle’s false information, but he then put up an edited video of me online, presenting our dialogue out of context, in order to make me look stupid. I then had to produce an extensive analysis documenting all of his (abundant) inaccuracies and post a second video exposing his dishonesty online, in order to finally muscle him into admitting he was wrong (still while making several misrepresentations of my actual arguments). How am I the one engaging in polemics here? For defending myself against blatant falsehoods about me online?

          That’s not to mention the fact that no less than 5 Christian publishers (Kregel Publications, Crossway, Harvest House Publishers, Zondervan, and InterVarsity Press) had repeated this false information without fact-checking it. That is an *egregious* oversight, and it shows just how low some of the publishing standards are in Christian apologetics. And, while all of the authors spreading this misinformation are no doubt still drawing royalties, I am the one spending my time, as a grad student, correcting it, simply so that the public can have access to accurate information (for free). If anything, that is academic charity, not polemics.

          On this point, let’s turn now to your statement:

          “You wouldn’t call Carl Sagan an apologist for secularism? You wouldn’t call Richard Dawkins a paid apologist for secularism and atheism? How about Stephen Hawkins? The guy just wrote a book about how philosophy is dead and the universe doesn’t need a creator because gravity exists the universe can and will create itself? You seriously don’t think that’s defending an athiest and secular perspective?”

          I don’t think any of the authors you have listed are professional apologists, like William Lane Craig. First off, all of their primary careers are in physics and biology, on topics unrelated to religion. Sagan, Dawkins, and Hawking did not get their academic appointments by attacking religion. They have only published, as a side project, trade books that deal with science and religion. I’ve already made it clear above, too, that I don’t primarily rely on such authors when doing research, since they aren’t experts in philosophy of religion or history.

          William Craig, in contrast, got to where he is now by exclusively defending his religion and working at faith-based universities. Does Richard Dawkins work at a university with a doctrinal statement saying that atheism is the only correct view of religion? Nope. There are no such universities. And yet, there are tons of seminaries and faith-based schools around the country that pay for full-time Christian apologists to do nothing but defend their religion. There is no secular equivalent of that, and it shows just how much of a double-standard Christians get away with in higher education.

          As for your point:

          “Therefore, does it automatically follow that the Pauline accounts are legendary accretions simply because of the time that has lapsed between the Christ event in 26-35 AD and 55 AD with Saul of Tarsus? Moreover, Saul considers himself to be an eyewitness to Jesus.”

          This is off-topic, since the post you have commented on doesn’t deal with Paul or the pace of legendary development. Instead, I deal with that issue here:

          https://adversusapologetica.wordpress.com/2015/01/05/when-do-contemporary-sources-matter/

          I also explain in that essay how classical history is not as simplistic as the comparison you have made. It does not follow that simply because Suetonius wrote a century after Tiberius, whereas Paul wrote only a couple decades about Jesus, that Paul must not be reporting legendary developments. Classicists do not merely crunch numbers like that. What is far more important is the quality of information that each provides, the sources that they used, and the critical issues that are involved in reconstructing the histories behind their texts. Suetonius may be writing later than Paul, but he provides far more biographical information about his subjects than the few brief remarks that Paul makes about the historical Jesus, and he also cites far more of his sources of information. A later source like Suetonius can still be more reliable than an early source like Paul, depending on the historical nuances that are involved.

          Now, I have spent over an hour writing this comment to you. I could have used that same amount of time to make more than $35 tutoring a student. Or I could have simply been working on my dissertation. As such, I ask that you respect my time and not ask that I continue this conversation, especially when much of what I have been doing is correcting inaccuracies (e.g., your claim I did not state that Suetonius lived long after Tiberius, when I have in fact provided a diachronic analysis of when every literary source for Tiberius within 150 years of his life).

          I find this dialogue to be frustrating, particularly because I have tried to be irenic, whereas you have continued to steer the conversation toward my “polemics” or the notion that I only read people who agree with me. I’m not going to continue a conversation that contains insinuations like that, even beyond the fact that I think this topic of conversation has been exhausted.

  10. mpusateri says:

    The point one of the participants made, concerning the policy of silence of the early Christians, gives one a impression that information was kept from the early chroniclers of the day. This gives a reason for their ignorance concerning the personal events, which very well may have occurred with the important members of the government. Their private lives where kept confidential, especially with regard to conscience. Only the desire to accept the Physician from Galilee would be needed to start them on the road to salvation. If there was a strong human need for help, it was known only by a very few individuals within the household. The psychological health of the one needing His help is what brings light to these apochryphal writings. m.a.p.

  11. Gilbert De Bruycker says:

    “We do not possess Tertullian’s actual words”

    The Apology of Tertullian,
    tr. and annotated by W. Reeve [1889.]

    http://www.tertullian.org/articles/reeve_apology.htm

    Is this a forgery?

  12. Gilbert De Bruycker says:

    What is the interpretation of this absence of testimony from Pilate concerning the punishment of Jesus?

    For M. Salomon Reinach it is decisive:

    “There was no official report, whilst there ought to have been one,” he says. “The conclusion which is forced upon one is assuredly not favourable to the historicity of the Passion.” [A propos de la curiosité de Tibère]

    Because an official document has not been produced, no one is authorized to conclude that it could not have existed. But, even if it were proved that no report was made by Pilate to Tiberius, what would be the significance of this fact?

    Is it to be supposed that in each particular case he (Pilate) considered it necessary to send a report to the Emperor, and in so doing furnish arms to his enemies by allowing them to accuse him of cruelty and injustice?

    No more than the almost complete silence of Josephus, or the rarity and paucity of the details furnished by the Latin historians, does the absence of any report from Pilate to the Emperor constitute an objection against the historical character of Jesus.

    http://www.christianorigins.com/goguel/ch2.html

    • Celsus says:

      Pilate must have executed several people in Palestine during his time of office, and it is highly doubtful that he made a report to the emperor about each one of them. I don’t think that the lack of (an authentic) report is a factor at all in assessing the evidence for Jesus’ existence.

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