Citations from Lost Documents.
Citations in writings of the early church Fathers reveal that there were references to Jesus in other secular works that are now lost to us.
The Acts of Pilate
Justin Martyr, in about AD 150, wrote in defense of the Christian faith to the Roman Emperor Antonius Pius:
‘And after he was crucified they cast lots upon his vesture, and they that crucified Him parted it among them. And that these things did happen you can ascertain from the Acts of Pontius Pilate.’
And in another place he says:
‘That he performed these miracles you may easily satisfy yourself from the “Acts” of Pontius Pilate.’
These ‘acts’ were official chronicles submitted to Rome by provincial governors. Justin would have been pretty stupid to write something like this to the Emperor if he was not sure of his facts: but he was a very gifted scholar and certainly no fool. Sadly, however, these chronicles have not survived to the present day (a 4th-century document of this name is an acknowledged forgery.)
Opponents try to suggest they were deliberately destroyed: but the simple fact is that there are no surviving documents of this type from any Roman province of that period.
Thallus and Phlegon
Julius Africanus (c.221 AD) tells us that the first century historian Thallus, in the third volume of his Histories, attempted to explain the darkness at the time of Jesus’ death in terms of a solar eclipse. Africanus quite rightly points out that Thallus’ explanation is invalid. He also mentions that another historian, Phlegon, refers to a similar ‘eclipse’ at about the same time. As is often the case with such old histories, only fragments of Africanus’ original five-volume work survive. His writings on this subject are preserved in a chronology of world history compiled by George Syncellus in about 800AD:
“From Africanus concerning the events associated with the passion of the Saviour and the life-bringing Resurrection
“Concerning each of his deeds and his cures, both of bodies and souls, and the secrets of his knowledge, and his Resurrection from the dead, this has been explained with complete adequacy by his disciples and the apostles before us. A most terrible darkness fell over all the world, the rocks were torn apart by an earthquake, and many places both in Judaea and the rest of the world were thrown down.
“In the third book of his Histories, Thallos dismisses this darkness as a solar eclipse. In my opinion, this is nonsense. For the Hebrews celebrate the Passover on Luna 14, and what happened to the Saviour occurred one day before the Passover. But an eclipse of the sun takes place when the moon passes under the sun. The only time when this can happen is in the interval between the first day of the new moon and the last day of the old moon, when they are in conjunction. How then could one believe an eclipse took place when the moon was almost in opposition to the sun? So be it. Let what had happened beguile the masses, and let this wonderful sign to the world be considered a solar eclipse through an optical (illusion).
“Phlegon records that during the reign of Tiberius Caesar there was a complete solar eclipse at full moon from the sixth to the ninth hour; it is clear that this is the one. But what have eclipses to do with an earthquake, rocks breaking apart, resurrection of the dead, and a universal disturbance of this nature?
“Certainly an event of such magnitude has not been recalled for a long time. But it was a darkness created by God, because it happened that the Lord experienced his passion at that time.” (George Syncellus, quoting Africanus, in
Excerpts from “The Chronography”.* )
* From “The Chronography of George Synkellos: A Byzantine Chronicle of Universal History from the Creation”, by William Adler & Paul Tuffin, Oxford University Press (2002).
Some commentators have criticised Africanus for identifying Phlegon’s ‘eclipse’ with that of Thallus. However, if either statement attributed to Phlegon regarding the duration or the state of the moon is correct, he is not describing a solar eclipse. The maximum period of darkness for a solar eclipse is about 7.5 minutes: not 3 hours.
Phlegon wrote his chronicles (known as the ‘Olympiads’) about 140 AD. He is also cited by Origen in 248 AD, as follows:
“Now Phlegon, in the thirteenth or fourteenth book, I think, of his Chronicles, not only ascribed to Jesus a knowledge of future events (although falling into confusion about some things which refer to Peter, as if they referred to Jesus), but also testified that the result corresponded to his predictions. So that, he also, by these very admissions regarding foreknowledge, as if against his will, expressed his opinion that the doctrines taught by the fathers of our system were not devoid of divine power.” (“Against Celsus” Book 2, Chapter 14.)
“And with regard to the eclipse in the time of Tiberius Caesar, in whose reign Jesus appears to have been crucified, and the great earthquakes which then took place, Phlegon too, I think, has written in the thirteenth or fourteenth book of his Chronicles.” (“Against Celsus” Book 2, Chapter 33.)
“Regarding these we have in the preceding pages made our defence, according to our ability, adducing the testimony of Phlegon, who relates that these events took place at the time when our Saviour suffered.” (“Against Celsus” Book 2, Chapter 59.)