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Tacitus on Jesus

The Roman historian Tacitus wrote, in AD 116:

From Annal 15:44

15.44.2. Sed non ope humana, non largitionibus principis aut deum placamentis decedebat infamia, quin iussum incendium crederetur. Ergo abolendo rumori Nero subdidit reos et quaesitissimis poenis adfecit, quos per flagitia invisos vulgus Christianos appellabat.
15.44.3. Auctor nominis eius Christus Tibero imperitante per procuratorem Pontium Pilatum supplicio adfectus erat; repressaque in praesens exitiabilis superstitio rursum erumpebat, non modo per Iudaeam, originem eius mali, sed per urbem etiam, quo cuncta mundique atrocia aut pudenda confluunt celebranturque.

The following is a public domain translation of the above Latin text:

15.44.2. But, despite kindly influence, despite the leader's generous handouts, despite appeasing the gods, the scandal did not subside, rather the blaze came to be believed to be an official act. So, in order to quash the rumour, Nero blamed it on, and applied the cruellest punishments to, those sinners, whom ordinary people call Christians, hating them for their shameful behaviour.
15.44.3. The originator of this name, Christ, was sentenced to torture by Procurator Pontius Pilate, during the reign of Tiberius, but although checked for a moment, the deadly cult erupted again, not just in Judaea, the source of its evil, but even in Rome, where all the sins and scandals of the world gather and are glorified.

The first section merely corroborates the presence of Christians in Rome in Nero's time, a documented historical fact. Only the second paragraph concerns Jesus as a historical figure.

Some scholars believe this could be a later textual interpolation by Christian scribes. Unlike the case with Josephus on Jesus, however, there is no clear evidence for doubting the authenticity of this text.

Tacitus is considered the most reliable scholar of his time. He had access to Roman archives, and his only mistakes arose from occasional reliance on secondary sources. In this case he could have been using either Christian sources or Roman archives. It is argued that if he had been using Roman archives, he should have identified Pontius Pilate as a "prefect" rather than a "procurator," but that is disputable. The more serious criticism is that the records would have identified Jesus by his given name rather than "Christus." Although Tacitus was Roman rather than Jewish and might have believed that was part of the name, it is extremely unlikely he would have selected it alone from the archives. In addition, Christian accounts were readily available while centuries of inquiry have turned up no Roman documents related to a historical Jesus. The conclusion is that the information must have been derived from Christian sources. Thus it offers no independent evidence for the existence of a historical Jesus.

Regarding the reliability of Tacitus, the Catholic Encyclopedia mentions "the credulity with which he accepted the absurd legends and calumnies about the origin of he Hebrew people (Hist., V, iii, iv)." (