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The Witness of the Roman Historian Tactitus To Jesus Christ

 Publius Cornelius Tacitus, or Gaius Cornelius Tacitus   (born ad 56—died c. 120), Roman orator and public official, has been described as “Probably Rome’s greatest historian.”

 

In his book Annals, 15, Chapter 44, which was written between 110 AD and 120, Tactitus refers to Nero's attempt to place the blame onto Christians for his burning of Rome. He inflicted all sorts of tortures on the believers, including burning them on poles for nightly illumination, covered them in the skins of wild beasts so that dogs would attack them, and even nailed others to the cross.

 

Tactitus speaks disparagingly of the Christians, and their leader Christus, which is the Latin equivalent of the Greek Christos.. Clearly, he has Jesus Christ of Nazareth in mind, because he refers to the death penalty, which was inflicted by Pontius Pilate. Tactitus does make one mistake in referring to Pilate as a procurator, when in fact he was the Roman prefect under Emperor Tiberius. Prior to the year 44 the governors in Jude were prefects. This is confirmed by the Pilate Stone that was unearthed in Caesarea Maritima in 1961. There the stone refers to Pontius Pilatus, Praefectus Judaea.

 

See Tactitus’s excerpt below:

 

“Such indeed were the precautions of human wisdom. The next thing was to seek means of propitiating the gods, and recourse was had to the Sibylline books, by the direction of which prayers were offered to Vulcanus, Ceres, and Proserpina. Juno, too, was entreated by the matrons, first, in the Capitol, then on the nearest part of the coast, whence water was procured to sprinkle the fane and image of the goddess. And there were sacred banquets and nightly vigils celebrated by married women. But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, 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 had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their

CHRISTIANS ACCUSED OF INCENDIARISM

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. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired.

 

Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man's cruelty, that they were being destroyed.

 

Complete Works of Tacitus. Tacitus. Alfred John Church. William Jackson Brodribb. Sara Bryant. edited for Perseus. New York. : Random House, Inc. Random House, Inc. reprinted 1942. ‘

 

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