"Consider the following evidence.
I. Testimony of a Traitor: Josephus
Josephus was a first century historian. In his autobiography, he defended his behavior in the Jewish-Roman War. He surrendered to the Roman general Vespasian during the siege of Jopatata, even though most of his colleagues committed suicide rather than give up.
He decided to join and defend the Romans. He is most known for his ambitious work, The Antiquities, which was a history of the Jewish people up to his time. The Romans employed Josephus to record their history. His works are very easy to find and are well documented.
Josephus was hated by his fellow Jews for his collaboration with the Romans. His work mentions several references to Festus, a Roman governor who also is mentioned in the New Testament.
Josephus' words about Jesus appear in The Antiquities 18.63-64:
"About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvellous things about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared."
While some scholars argue over the content of Josephus' words above, virtually none dismiss it as a clear reference to a historical Jesus that was a martyred leader of the church in Jerusalem and that he established a wide following despite the fact that he was executed under Pilate at the investigation of some of the Jewish leaders.
II. Testimony of a Roman Historian: Tacitus
Tacitus recorded what is probably the most important reference to Jesus outside the New Testament in his Annals:
"Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name ["Christians"] had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty: then upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind."
In A.D. 115 he explicitly states that Nero persecuted the Christians as scapegoats to divert suspicion away from himself for the great fire that devastated Rome in AD 64. This is an important testimony by an unsympathetic witness to the success and spread of Christianity, based on a historical figure -- Jesus -- who was executed under Pontius Pilate. It is also significant that Tacitus reported that an "immense multitude" held so strongly to their beliefs that they were willing to die rather than recant their beliefs.
III. Testimony of an Historian: Thallus
Thallus wrote a history of the eastern Mediterranean world in AD 52. He writes of an eclipse that mirrors the Biblical account of the darkness surrounding the Crucifixion. While in no way proving Divinity, this reference does provide an independent corroboration of the biblical claim.
Julius Africanus discusses Thallus' historical account of the crucifixion:
"This darkness Thallus, in the third book of his History, calls, as appears to me without reason, an eclipse of the sun. For the Hebrews celebrate the Passover on the 14th day according to the moon, and the passion of our Saviour fails on the day before the Passover; but an eclipse of the sun takes place only when the moon comes under the sun. And it cannot happen at any other time but in the interval between the first day of the new moon and the last of the old, that is, at their junction: how then should an eclipse be supposed to happen when the moon is almost diametrically opposite the sun? Let that opinion pass however; let it carry the majority with it; and let this portent of the world be deemed an eclipse of the sun, like others a portent only to the eye. Phlegon records that, in the time of Tiberius Caesar, at full moon, there was a full eclipse of the sun from the sixth hour to the ninth--manifestly that one of which we speak."
Thallus notes there was darkness at the time of the crucifixion, and attributes it to an eclipse. Julius explains why an eclipse was an impossible conclusion. The focus here is not on the crucifixion, but is another source that validates the actual, physical, historical person of Jesus Christ.
IV. Testimony of a Roman Governor: Pliny the Younger
Pliny the Younger became the governor of Bithynia in Northwest Turkey. Much of his correspondence with his friend, Emperor Trajan, has been preserved. In book ten of his letters, he specifically refers to Christians he has arrested:
Pliny to the Emperor Trajan:
"It is my practice, my lord, to refer to you all matters concerning which I am in doubt. For who can better give guidance to my hesitation or inform my ignorance? I have never participated in trials of Christians. I therefore do not know what offenses it is the practice to punish or investigate, and to what extent. And I have been not a little hesitant as to whether there should be any distinction on account of age or no difference between the very young and the more mature; whether pardon is to be granted for repentance, or, if a man has once been a Christian, it does him no good to have ceased to be one; whether the name itself, even without offenses, or only the offenses associated with the name are to be punished.
Meanwhile, in the case of those who were denounced to me as Christians, I have observed the following procedure: I interrogated these as to whether they were Christians; those who confessed I interrogated a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; those who persisted I ordered executed. For I had no doubt that, whatever the nature of their creed, stubbornness and inflexible obstinacy surely deserve to be punished. There were others possessed of the same folly; but because they were Roman citizens, I signed an order for them to be transferred to Rome.
Soon accusations spread, as usually happens, because of the proceedings going on, and several incidents occurred. An anonymous document was published containing the names of many persons. Those who denied that they were or had been Christians, when they invoked the gods in words dictated by me, offered prayer with incense and wine to your image, which I had ordered to be brought for this purpose together with statues of the gods, and moreover cursed Christ--none of which those who are really Christians, it is said, can be forced to do--these I thought should be discharged. Others named by the informer declared that they were Christians, but then denied it, asserting that they had been but had ceased to be, some three years before, others many years, some as much as twenty-five years. They all worshipped your image and the statues of the gods, and cursed Christ.
They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food--but ordinary and innocent food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition.
I therefore postponed the investigation and hastened to consult you. For the matter seemed to me to warrant consulting you, especially because of the number involved. For many persons of every age, every rank, and also of both sexes are and will be endangered. For the contagion of this superstition has spread not only to the cities but also to the villages and farms. But it seems possible to check and cure it. It is certainly quite clear that the temples, which had been almost deserted, have begun to be frequented, that the established religious rites, long neglected, are being resumed, and that from everywhere sacrificial animals are coming, for which until now very few purchasers could be found. Hence it is easy to imagine what a multitude of people can be reformed if an opportunity for repentance is afforded."
Why is this letter important? It attests to the rapid growth of Christianity among every race and class of people, free and slave, including Roman citizens. It also shows the Christians had high moral standards and were not easily swayed from their beliefs."