Contrary to what some religious believers think, faith does not preclude critical questioning of the fundamentals of belief. It is not out of place to ask if there really was a Jesus Christ in history. Is the Jesus Christ of the Bible a historical being? Is he a figment of the imagination or are there non-Biblical, non-Christian records to corroborate the Biblical account?
Perhaps another non-Biblical, non-Christian record worth investigating on this subject is Pontinus Pilate’s report to Emperor Tiberius Caesar on the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus Christ. This document was among manuscripts in the mosque of St. Sofia, Constantinople in Turkey. For the uninitiated: as the wave of Islam swept from Arabia after the death of Prophet Mohammed in A.D. 632, Europe and other parts of the world hitherto regarded as bastions of Christianity were taken over by Islam. Records about the faith that bear the name of Jesus Christ were buried in these centres and only came to light much later.
The report (of which a copy is in this writer’s possession) has a foreword based on the notes of Valleus Paterculus, a Roman historian whose works were referenced by two other notable historians, namely Tacitus and Prisician. According to the report, Valleus, a widely travelled Roman who was apparently connected to Caesar, was nineteen years old when Jesus Christ was born. His work is titled Historia Romania.
Valleus reports that while in Judaea he met Jesus of Nazareth. Of Jesus he wrote that ‘he was more afraid of Jesus than of a whole army for he cured all manner of diseases and raised the dead, and when he cursed the orchids or fruit trees for their barrenness, they instantly withered to their roots.’
Pilate’s report is a detailed account worth reading and it provides perspectives about the historical Jesus Christ that corroborate the Biblical reports about the last days of Jesus Christ. It should be pointed out that reports from governors/procurators/prefects posted by the Roman government to different provinces of their vast empire was not unusual. Such reports/letters to the emperors or other organs of the empire such as the senate or even felloe officials go a long way in providing information about the Roman Empire and its place in the history of humanity.
I will highlight and quote verbatim portions of Pilate’s account from which the reader can draw his conclusions about the historicity of Jesus Christ:
1. Pilate’s initial encounter with Jesus Christ shortly after he (Pilate) was posted to Judaea as governor:
‘Among the various rumours that came to my ears there was one in particular that attracted my attention. One young man, it was said, had appeared in Galilee preaching with a noble unction a new law in the name of the God that had sent him. At first I was apprehensive that his design was to stir up the people against the Romans but my fears were soon dispelled.
‘Jesus of Nazareth spoke rather as friend of the Romans than the Jews. One day in passing by the place of Silloe, where there was a great concourse of people, I observed in the midst of the group a young man who was leaning against a tree, calmly addressing the multitude. I was told it was Jesus (Hebrew: Yahshua).
‘This I could easily have suspected, so great was the difference between him and those listening to him. He appeared to be about thirty years of age. Never have I seen a sweeter or more serene countenance. What a contrast between him and his hearers, with their black beards and tawny complexions! Unwilling to interrupt him by my presence I continued my walk but signified my secretary to join the group and listen.
‘My secretary’s name is Manlius. He is the grandson of the chief of the conspirators who camped in Etruria waiting for Cataline. Manlius had been for a long time an inhabitant of Judaea and is well acquainted with the Hebrew language. He was devoted to me, and worthy of my confidence.
‘On entering the praterorium I found Manlius who related to me the words Jesus had pronounced at Siloe. Never have I read in the works of the philosophers anything that can compare to the maxims of Yahshua. One of the rebellious Jews, so numerous in Jerusalem, having asked him if it was lawful to give tribute to Caesar he replied: ‘Render unto Caesar the things that belong to Caesar and unto God the things that belong to God.
‘It was on account of the wisdom of his sayings that I granted so much liberty to the Nazarene; for it was in my power to have him arrested and exiled to Pontius but that would have been contrary to the justice which has always characterized the Roman government in all its dealings with men; this man was neither seditious nor rebellious; I extended to him my protection, unknown perhaps to himself. He was at liberty to act, to speak, to assemble and address the people, and to choose disciples, unrestrained by any praterorium mandate.’
TO BE CONTINUED
(In part 3 read the gripping account of Pilate’s interview with Jesus Christ. The final part of the series will give insight into some of my research for this series).
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Henry Chukwuemeka Onyema 2017
Henry Onyema is a Lagos-based historian and writer. Email: [email protected]