Pliny the Younger Doesn’t Prove Jesus Existed
Today we are going to talk about whether or not Pliny the Younger is independent evidence that Jesus actually existed. We will look at who Pliny was, what he said, and why he doesn’t actually count as historical evidence for a Jesus Christ.
Pliny the Younger is regularly used to say that there are external sources for Jesus Christ. In the video above and in this article, I will show how wrong that sentiment is.
Who Was Pliny The Younger?
Pliny the Younger is another example of a historical figure mentioning Christians or what Christians believed and not attesting to an actual person called Jesus. Pliny lived between 62 CE – 113 CE. In 111 or 112 he wrote to Trajan about the trials of Christians.
What Did He Say?
He describes how the trials are performed. He would ask them 3 times whether they were a Christian. If they confessed each time, they were killed. He talks about what the Christians believed as well.
They affirmed, however, the whole of their guilt, or their error, was, that they were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to any wicked deeds, but never to commit any fraud, theft, or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to deliver it up; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food–but food of an ordinary and innocent kind.
So as you can tell, they didn’t elaborate a lot on what they believed but it was the basics of the faith. He also mentions the resurgence of temples and a demand for sacrificial animals.
For this contagious superstition is not confined to the cities only, but has spread through the villages and rural districts; it seems possible, however, to check and cure it. ‘Tis certain at least that the temples, which had been almost deserted, begin now to be frequented; and the sacred festivals, after a long intermission, are again revived; while there is a general demand for sacrificial animals, which for some time past have met with but few purchasers.
When was this written?
These texts are well attested and are written in the same manner as pliny’s other works. Tertullian knows of this writing by 196 CE so there is no reason to question any kind of interpolation by later scribes or anything. Some key indicators that no interpolation occurred are the disparaging and negative tone towards Christians in his letters surrounding this entry and the fact that it describes most Christians as returning back to Greco-Roman god belief.
Why This Isn’t Proof
That said, Pliny doesn’t prove that Jesus existed. Being that he wrote this in 111 / 112 CE it’s more likely that he got his information from Christians themselves. He says so having tried them in court to being a Christian. I would hope he knew what it meant to be called a Christian including their beliefs. Pliny describes the beliefs of Christians in the most basic way and does not mention any kind of evidence of a historical Jesus. He also talks about how Christianity was sweeping through the rural areas. It seems like Christianity reinvigorated some in the community at least to the point of Pliny noticing it.
Pliny the Elder
Pliny the Elder is the Uncle of the Younger and he actually could have recorded Jesus. He never did though. Pliny the Elder had no idea about Christians or an executed Jew in the manner of Jesus. This doesn’t support their argument so they won’t mention the Elder.
Pliny the Elder is just one name in a long list of people that should have recorded Jesus . Pliny the elder wrote a work called Natural History where he talks about technology, science, and other historical things during the first century. Among those things was Astronomy and geography. Pliny the elder doesn’t record any of the natural events that occurred in the Gospels.
The gospels have a couple of natural events happening that Pliny would have noticed like the Earthquake or the pop-up eclipse. Also, he doesn’t record the Christians being blamed for the burning of Rome which Tacitus has Nero blaming the Christians for. The earliest hard date we have for Natural History is 77 CE, which is a good 40 years prior to Tacitus and considering he was a Roman citizen who was an eyewitness to the event. So, Pliny the Elder is a perfect example of evidence against the Biblical and some historical evidence for Jesus.
Pliny the Younger was only regurgitating what he had learned about Christians from Christians themselves. By the time Pliny was writing, the theology of Christians already included the Gospel narratives. Robert Van Voorst verifies that this means Pliny the Younger was not an independent source for Jesus Christ. If he had been independent, it doesn’t explain why Pliny the Elder never mentioned the Christians to Pliny the Younger.
For more information on Mythicism, see the CHRESTUS app for peer-reviewed scholarship.