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Monday, February 06, 2006 

Jesus (Myth?): examining Suetonius

From Steven Harris' blog: "Suetonius, Claudius 25:4, approx. 120AD "He banished from Rome all the Jews, who were continually making disturbances at the instigation of one Chrestus" approx AD 49, according to Steven.

There must be a mistake! How is a group goaded on by a dead person? There should be a bigger story! Jews travelling to Rome spread oral (presumably) tales of what? Jesus walking on water? Turning the other cheek? Dying for sins? Which caused the Jews to agitate enough that the Romans threw them out, just here but not elsewhere in the Empire. Here is an ancient map showing the Roman Empire (and modern for orientation).

I have spent two days reading about Roman Emperor Claudius. Fascinating! I had no idea we knew so much! He became Emperor just after Jesus supposedly died. I could not find another reference to this Jewish Banishment that he (supposedly) ordered. The stuff we do know about is pretty neat, from his relationship with the Senate to his wives to his cause of death (mushrooms).

Just after becoming Emperor, Claudius in his 'famous' Letter to the Alexandrians didn't permit many Jewish families to move to Alexandria; if you read it you'll see he isn't the kindest towards Jews.

Still, Jewish historian Josephus records that Claudius "then reaffirmed the rights and freedoms of all the Jews in the empire" (quote is from wikipedia, I think referencing book 19 chapter 5 section 2). I don't know to find the date that book 19 refers to, anyone? Was it before or after the banishment? Josephus doesn't seem to notice the banishment. Should he have known about it?

It was in Roman historian Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus' book The Twelve Caesars that contains the reference to Chrestus. He section on Claudius was finished around 112 AD, sixty-ish years after the banishment. The original Latin with translation is available, if I knew Latin I would try to pin down "instigation". Where did he learn that Jews had been banished from Rome? Where are the "imperial records" that he supposedly worked from? One part of this wikipedia entry says he is very significant and a main source of work, but the last line says much is "gossip and factually unrealiable", with no data to back up either view. Annoying!

How many Jews were banished? How long did the banishment last, when did it end? Were there guards posted around Rome to keep out the Jews? How did Claudius know the name of their instigator (Christ the ghost?)? I think I could spend another two days on this and have more questions. Feedback, please...

Excellent synopsis Steven, reminded me a bit of mine at my site (Jesus, A man of history).

By the way, why is everyone so willing to accept other ancient writings and documents (like Claudius') and yet so completely unwilling to even consider the works of the Bible which is far more reliable and contains greater veracity than any other work of ancient antiquity that we have extant MSS of today!!

Look, a bunch of people are not going to run away and hide from the authorities (after their "God" has been crucified) only to return a few days later and be willing to be tortured and murdered for a fable and children's story.

I equate the 'Non-Newsworthy' status of Christ's time on earth by the Roman Government, with the same 'Non-Newsworthy' status that many, many, many Christians of today suffer under when they are tortured, murdered, kidnapped, and slaughtered in places like Indonesia, Africa, Laos, China, etc. You don't see any of these governments keeping records of the countless lives lost each day either. But it doesn't mean it didn't happen.

Lastly, have you ever seen an atom? And yet, if all of our abilities to actually see an atom (i.e. through an electron microscope) were destroyed, I'm guessing you'd still believe that atoms are real because of the 'testimony' or 'written record' of others who had seen them in the past; am I wrong?

What about all other men and women of history? Are we not believing that all these men and women of history actually existed because of the 'written records' left for us by those who either experienced it or heard about it?

How do we know Ghengis Khan was real? How do we know the Egyptian Pharoahs are real? How do we know the Babylonian Empire was real?

All I can say is this: when a document, or written fragment, or archaelogical item is discovered they are all brought under 'authentication scrutiny' by the particular experts in that field. For all of these 'items' we have to use the same 'tests' and 'standards' and the Bible (i.e. its extant MSS) is proven to be just as authentic, actually greater, and just as valuable as a reliable source document as any other work of antiquity.

Marcguyver wrote: "Lastly, have you ever seen an atom? And yet, if all of our abilities to actually see an atom (i e through an electron microscope) were destroyed, I'm guessing you'd still believe that atoms are real because of the 'testimony' or 'written record' of others who had seen them in the past; am I wrong?"

Not being able to see an atom without a microscope is not evidence that an invisible god exists. If all microscopes were destroyed and we had written records about atoms we would do some scientific research all over again (only this time have something to go on with the writings left behind), and we would have to somehow rebuild a microscope all over again. Can your god be seen through a microscope? I don't see how the atom argument is relevant.

Just because we have not seen the Lochness monster and we have not seen an atom without a microscope, does not mean that the Lochness Monster does indeed exist.

"How do we know Ghengis Khan was real? How do we know the Egyptian Pharoahs are real? How do we know the Babylonian Empire was real?"

Mummies of some of the pharoahs have been dug up and are on display in museums all over the world. Archeaological and historical evidence has been found as evidence of Ghengis Khan. People don't worship Pharoahs or Genghis Khan in today's world...and least I should hope not!

I don't think we are disputing that the Bible contains historical data, it is the New Testament that we are examining and the evidence for a man called Jesus.

Marc, I wasn't sure if I should start with your references or Steve's :)

Also, did you follow the link to the Claudius page? To back up stardust's point, we have statues and coins with his picture, buildings and aqueducts with his name chiseled into their stone. Too bad no one had a nice phone camera to get some shots of our main man!

Do you think that archeologists finding copy after copy of Stephen King's book The Stand are going to start believing that Randall Flagg walked this earth?

You never referenced your sources for the 'authentication scrutiny' test that you posted about. Provide some data so we can look at it?

I'll blog to your atom question...

actually no scientist has ever actually SEEN an atom, under any microscope.


"Do you think that archeologists finding copy after copy of Stephen King's book The Stand are going to start believing that Randall Flagg walked this earth?"

strawman alert.

rule number 1. in straw man tactics. "Present the opponent's argument in weakened form, refute it, and pretend that the original has been refuted." -wikepedia


Seth, are you insinuating that Stephen King's stories are somehow "weaker" or not as good as the stories in the bible? Wait a minute, I'm the one that is supposed to be the heretic around here!

I think you need to retake science again Seth. Have you ever studied physics?

Here is a link to Fermilab and if you can ever make it to Illinois you can schedule a tour of the place and get some information about atomic accelerators. It's fascinating.

Also in addition to Freethoughtmom's most recent post, which is excellent by the way, the source you used for your strawman definition (Wikipedia) has an excellent entry and sources about ATOMS

It has been a while since i have cracked open the physics book stardust, but as i understand it, correct me if i am wrong, the Field ion microscopy (FIM) is an analytical technique used in materials science that works roughly like one of those "nail imaging" devices that you find at your local spencers.

"Atoms cannot be seen. they are much smaller than the wavelengths there are ways of detecting the positions of atoms on the surface of a solid or thin film so as to obtain images."-wikipedia

" the IMAGE formed from all the collected ions can be of sufficient resolution to image individual atoms...Atoms are much smaller than the wavelengths of light that human vision can detect, so atoms cannot be seen in any kind of optical microscope. However, there are ways of detecting the positions of atoms on the surface of a solid or a thin film so as to obtain images." -wikepedia

"what we get is a projected image of the actual unseen atom. However, because the surface of the specimen also is positively charged, the neon ion is repelled rapidly from the specimen toward the phosphor screen. When the neon ion strikes the phosphor screen, it produces a spot of light. This process occurs continuously all over the specimen surface, and the resulting picture on the phosphor screen is called the field ion image. Consider a field ion image of a nickel-molybdenum (Ni4Mo) intermetallic compound, shown above. Each of the individual dots is an individual atom."

So, while i do not in any way pretend to be a quantum physicist, so correct me if i am wrong, but this tells me that we are seeing the refracted shape of the atom.

apologies if i am misunderstanding this. help me out here.


no, certainly not. as far as entertainment, the King novels has the good book in spades. although david and bathsheba bit gets pretty saucy there.


Seth, thanks for the clarification. Physics was my nemesis in college, I even gave away my Halliday book because it made me squirm. I did say "see", for example on the Oak Ridge National Laboratory site, they have a page called "Seeing and Catching Atoms" that says 'The device enabled him to see atoms on a routine basis.' But if "refracted shape" is more correct, I can fix my post.

Seth, "refracted shape of the atom."

Can you see the "refracted shape" of your invisible god or particles it is made of? NO. Can we put your god into an atomic accelerator? NO. You cannot try to prove your god by trying to disprove PROVEN science. This is a ridiculous argument.

Check out the Fermilab site. Fermilab is the U.S. Department of Energy national laboratory specializing in high-energy particle physics, operated for the Department of Energy by the Universities Research Association (URA). URA is a consortium of 90 leading research oriented universities primarily in the United States, with members also in Canada, Japan, and Italy. http://www.fnal.gov/

Here is a simple site to check out and refresh yourself about atoms. http://www.howstuffworks.com/atom.htm

I must say we're all getting a bit sidetracked from the topic of this post.

Does anyone have answers to Freethoughmom's questions...How many Jews were banished? How long did the banishment last, when did it end? Were there guards posted around Rome to keep out the Jews? How did Claudius know the name of their instigator (Christ the ghost?)? I think I could spend another two days on this and have more questions. Feedback, please...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

Freethought mom..this if off topic again, but just want to say there is no need for you to correct your post because you are not wrong. There are several different types of electron microscopes and not all work the same way. Seth mentioned only one type of electron microscope (Reflection Electron Microscope). Wikipedia describes the various kinds and how they work.

Now back to our original discussion. :-)
Where are those cookies?! ;-)

Thanks for your responses Freethought and Stardust,

freethought, Physics was also a major thorn in my rear (not side) in highschool. Even now i pretty much rely on my two genius friends and bro-in-law who work for NASA for any questions involving the slightest bit of math. I woke up to physics recently with the "elegant universe" series on string theory.

stardust asked:
"Can you see the "refracted shape" of your invisible god or particles it is made of?"

Only because you asked, actually, as a Xian we believe that Jesus was the image of the invisible God. (Colossians 1:15, John 1, if intersted.) But of course, that is a theological issue.

but anywho, i was simply pointing out that we still cannot "see" directly an atom.

and concerning your "God in an atomic accelerator" bit. i thought Macguyver was arguing for fair historical investigation of the Historical Jesus. I did not think this had gone into a theist vs. atheist arguement. This kind of rhetoric makes me wonder if the investigation is not a bit emotionally charged. Considering the claim (Italy case) is being made by an angry Atheist wanting to deal the "final blow to Christianity". It is a valid historical question though certainly not a new one, and one that i respect, but all that anyone could hope for in researching a Historical figure is a fair and unbiased assesment, meaning, making judgements by the same criteria you would for a non-religious figure or event. taking all things into account, not just the things that would simply prove ones point for the purpose of a anti-relgious agenda, or pass the atomic generator test for that matter.

(i feel your giving it a fair go here freethought, by the way)



Marcguyver originally brought up atoms, pharoahs and Genghis Khan in response to the original post and I merely responded to those comments and guess we got off track.

That is why I suggested getting back on track by addressing Freethoughtmom's questions that no one has answered yet.
I think that we ARE trying to explore this in an unbiased way, with the same criteria as any other claimed non-religious historical figure.

I finally found time to look up the "david and bathsheba" story Seth refers to. He calls it saucy, I call it frightening! Advance warning!

In 2 Samuel, David gets one his man Uriah's wife Bathsheba pregnant and has him killed to cover up his little indiscretion. God gets angry and has his other wives all raped while everyone could watch AND kills the baby. Notice how the ones being raped and murdered are not David. Wow.

It's funny...when me and my sister and brothers were kids (we grew up German Lutheran-Baptist-back to German Lutheran)
my father was very strict...however, we found the juicy parts of the bible VERY entertaining! We would sit in the corner with it and find the "nasty" parts. This was after we overheard our parents joking about it and it roused our curiosity. We were especially shocked by the part in Genesis where Lot and his daughters camp out in a cave for a while. The daughters get their "just and righteous" father drunk, and have sexual intercourse with him, and each conceives and bears a son (wouldn't you know it!). Just another wholesome family values Bible story!

For those who would demand evidence about the story about Lot and his daughters or say my interpretation is wrong read Genesis 19:30-38
(And Lot's wife was the one god turned into a pillar of salt!)

And WHAT is it we are supposed to learn from this??? That Lot's daughters were "bad" ...the bad evil women again!

Hi, been reading your blog, tumbled across this 1.
Interesting. I'd always understood that 'Chrestus' was a Roman/Greek name, meaning 'honored one', an honorific for released slaves.
Suetonius actually gave an account of a birth of a Phoenix in his accounts, & traditionally has been looked upon as a piggy-backer for Tacitus.
If memory serves.

RA, I was wondering about his connection to Tacitus ... this is one of my research projects ... :)

Steven Harris has been a bit economical with the truth there

SUETONIUS:"Chrestus" is not Jesus nor "Christ". "Chrestus" was a popular latin slave name, meaning "good/useful", and Suetonius is discussing a slave revolt in Rome. So, we have a slave revolt, in Rome, lead by a slave with a common slave name, or a slave revolt, in Rome, lead by Jesus. The majority of scholars happen to choose the first option, but which is the more obvious of the two?.

TACITUS:Christus isn't a name, its a description, meaning "anointed". Its basically the best Greek translation of the hebrew term "mosiach" ("messiah"), which multiple people were given in the era by various cults, including most significantly Simon bar Kochba (who wasn't Jesus). Also, if it actually referred to Jesus, its odd how Tacitus noticably doesn't use Jesus' actual name, i.e. Jesus, but a Christian term 'Christus', almost as if he'd used a Christian document (e.g. a gospel) as his reference, rather than had a reliable independant account.

AFRICANUS:The idea of an eclipse on Jesus' death has been thoroughly discredited by pretty much everyone. It ultimately derives from an apocryphal tradition (in the New Testament Apocrypa) that even the church condemned as heresy.

LUCIAN:Impaling is not the same thing as crucifixion, whatsoever. Crucifixion does not derive from impaling - it was designed specifically to cause a prolongued and agonising death (which is eventually caused by asphyxiation), which is really very different from impaling. Lucian does not mention Jesus, and seems to be describing someone else, so either it isn't Jesus, or his testimony is unreliable (due to it being impaling not crucifixion), and based on hearsay of the era.

MARA BAR SARAPION:Killing their wise king could easily refer to John the Baptist, a figure far far more likely to be genuine, and attested in a significant number of ancient sources. The (present day) Mandaeans are a non-Christian group which claim to be the same religion as John the Baptist founded, and their claim certainly has a large degree of merit. And the wise king could also refer to Solomon, well known for wisdom, whose wisdom allegedly is the source of the book "Wisdom of Solomon" in the bible, as well as Ecclesiastes, and whom the Jews killed.

RABBINIC SOURCES: Yeshu is placed in several different time-frames, so much so that he would have to have lived from something like 100BC to 100AD, or be multiple people. Most rabbinic scholars view Yeshu as a cipher for evangelicals of all religions who attempt to convert Jews, particularly as "Yeshu" is also the acronym of the Hebrew phrase (which I've translated) "Erased be his name and memory". In addition, Yeshu is portrayed as a fool and imbecile, not at all like the Jesus of the gospels. If accounts of Yeshu is evidence for Jesus, then Jesus really isn't worth bothering about at all.

P.s. the non-newsworthyness of Jesus basically disproves the resurrection. People rising from the dead is quite notable by most people's reckoning.

Wife:Darling how was work today
Husband:It was Ok, we crucified another 50 or so traitors, a man rose from the dead, one of the soldiers got into a fight with a fish seller, and claudius cracked a joke about the greeks.
Wife:That's nice dear.

WOW! I actually came here looking for the answer to which this post orignally started. It appears nobody can answer the questions as posted. When did the Jews return to Rome? Who invited them back? When? In Acts 18:2 we have verification of their banishment by Claudius and in Romans 16:3 Aqilla and Priscilla are back. Was it Nero who allowed them back? Does anybody know?

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  • I'm the freethoughtmom from New England. Welcome!
  • The word rational means having the ability to reason. Reasoning takes time. Giving yourself the space to think is practically a luxury in our society.

    My father is a logical engineer, my mother a caring nurturer. My handwriting with my dominate hand resembles that of my father, the other, my mother. I feel lucky to have both sides to draw from.
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