Do gods exist? 43 Jesus by Suetonius and Thallus

Image adapted from reconstruction of face of Jesus by Richard Neave

A fourth independent record of the possible existence of Jesus was written in about 120 AD by Gaius Suetonius, a Roman historian who worked for Pliny and various Emperors.

His many works ranged from the academic Grammatical Problems and Lives of the Grammarians to the more populist Greek Terms of Abuse and Lives of Famous Whores.

In about 120 ad, in his major work, Lives of the Caesars, he says of the Emperor Claudius that:

“As the Jews were making constant disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome.”

Now, Chrestus may be a misspelling of Christus, but it is also the correct Latin version of a different Greek name. So this passage means one of two things: either

  • There were Christians in Rome at the time of Claudius, causing trouble in the name of their Christ, whose name was misspelled by an expert in linguistics; or
  • There was a Jew in Rome called Chrestus, directly causing trouble.

Either way, the passage proves nothing about the historical accuracy of Jesus as a person.

Finally, the weakest claim by far came from George Syncellus, a ninth-century Christian, who was writing about the gospel story that the earth went dark when Jesus died.

He quoted Julian Africanus, a third-century Christian, as having written:

“Thallus calls this darkness an eclipse of the Sun in the third book of his Histories.”

Thallus was a pagan historian who lived in either the first or second century ad. But there are three problems with this claim:

  • The alleged original document does not exist.
  • Nobody else who quoted Thallus before the ninth century had ever mentioned this.
  • Even if Thallus had said this, his alleged quote does not even mention Jesus.

Surely an all-powerful God could have inspired his defenders to come up with a better argument than this?

In my next post I will summarise the records of Jesus by Josephus, Tacitus, Pliny, Suetonius, and Thallus.

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