It’s getting hilarious now.
N.T. Wright himself, that total hack with no history degrees everyone praises as a great historian (and by “everyone” I mean Christian fundamentalists), has now declared: “Jesus is as well established as a figure of history as is, say, the emperor Caligula, his near-contemporary.” Holy Lords of Kobol.
In a single sentence, Wright proves he is massively incompetent. In the very same comment in which he declares me, with an actual ivy league Ph.D. in ancient history, and Robert Price, with two Ph.D.’s, in Theology and New Testament Studies, to be “not well qualified” to evaluate the historicity of Jesus. So says the guy with no advanced degrees in history or NT studies…apart from a Doctorate of Divinity (which means learning how to be a pastor), his undergraduate work is in Theology and his only Ph.D. is in the UK equivalent of Liberal Arts. (I have demonstrated Wright’s incompetence before, e.g. in chapters 3 and 11 of Not the Impossible Faith; and for more telltale signs, see two separate notes in my Empty Tomb FAQ. As a historian, IMO, he sucks.)
So the guy who is unqualified, declares qualified historians unqualified, and then asserts with total confidence the wildly ridiculous claim that we have as much evidence for Jesus as we have for Caligula. As evidence of how much more qualified he is.
Yep. That’s right. That happened.
Time for some serious schooling people.
Here we go…
The Evidence for Caligula
Eighty years after Caligula’s death in 41 A.D., Suetonius wrote a Life of Caligula. In it, he uses, cites, and quotes eyewitness and contemporary documentation. He shows he was reading the correspondence and memoirs of Caligula’s own family, the books and poems of eyewitnesses who knew him, contemporary inscriptions and government documents. He not only tells us about them, and quotes or cites them, but even discusses their relative reliability. I fully describe this fact and its significance in Not the Impossible Faith (pp. 182-84). It is also discussed by classicist Matthew Ferguson. We have nothing whatsoever like this for Jesus.
I could drop the mic right now. But let’s just grind this Caligulan horse right into the ground, shall we?
All of the following can be confirmed in peer reviewed monographs about Caligula. I’ll cite popular sources simply because you can access them. But trust me, the same data is well confirmed in the real deal, including: Aloys Winterling, Caligula: A Biography (University of California Press, 2015); Sam Wilkinson, Caligula (Routledge, 2003); and Anthony Barrett, Caligula: The Corruption of Power (Yale University Press, 1990).
We have busts and statues of Caligula carved from life. Indeed, Wikipedia correctly says “Based on scientific reconstructions of his official painted busts, Caligula had brown hair, brown eyes, and fair skin” (source: The Smithsonian). Do we have anything like that for Jesus? No.
We have a huge number of coins minted by and naming and depicting Caligula as the extant emperor (numerous examples are also depicted and discussed at Wikipedia; here’s another; and another). Do we have anything like that for Jesus? No.
We have a huge number of papyri, actually written during Caligula’s life, mentioning him as the reigning emperor (e.g. as Gaius Caesar Germanicus Augustus). Because that was how documents were dated (example; example; example). Do we have anything like that for Jesus? No.
We have a huge number of contemporary inscriptions, erected by Caligula himself and eyewitnesses to his reign. Examples. Examples. Examples. Examples. Examples. Examples. Do we have anything like that for Jesus? No.
We have excavated several of Caligula’s most peculiar ships. Do we have anything like that for Jesus? No.
We have actual wine barrels from Caligula’s private vineyard, with his name on them. Do we have anything like that for Jesus? No.
We have his mother’s tombstone, declaring him her child. Do we have anything like that for Jesus? No.
Pliny the Elder, an eyewitness to Caligula, supplies us a great deal of information directly from his own observations, and from government records and other eyewitness and contemporary sources. Do we have anything like that for Jesus? No.
Other eyewitnesses and contemporaries who report on Caligula include Philo of Alexandria and Seneca, who both met with him personally, and record several things about him (e.g. Philo’s Flaccus and On [My] Embassy to Gaius [Caligula]; Seneca’s On Consolation to My Mother Helvia and On Rage and On the Constancy of the Wise).
We have extensive accounts of Caligula in Josephus (a historian born when Caligula reigned, discussing Caligula within only 35 years of his death, and more extensively only 52 years after his death), an account that is exactly in Josephan style and rich with realistic detail (Antiquities of the Jews 18-19, written c. 93 A.D.; and Jewish War 2.184-203, written c. 76 A.D.). Do we have anything like that for Jesus? No.
Not even the alleged Josephan mentions of Jesus qualify on any relevant point.
We know eyewitnesses and contemporaries of Caligula wrote works about him that are lost but that are discussed and used by later writers. These include Seneca’s own friend Fabius Rusticus; Cluvius Rufus, a senator actually involved in the assassination of Caligula (very likely these were the sources employed by Josephus, who even mentions and quotes Cluvius); the memoirs of Claudius (Caligula’s successor); the published correspondence of Augustus; and various poets (e.g. Gaetulicus). Even Caligula’s sister, Nero’s mother, Agrippina the Younger, wrote up her own memoirs that were cited and used as a source for Caligula by several later historians. Do we have anything like any of this for Jesus? No.
We have several later critical historians writing about Caligula who name, cite and quote eyewitness, documentary, and contemporary sources for Caligula: e.g. besides Suetonius (whose example of this I already discussed), also Tacitus, Life of Agricola 10 (written c. 98 A.D.), and Annals 13.20 (written c. 116 A.D.), and even Dio Cassius (not even two hundred years after the fact). Do we have anything like that for Jesus? No.
We even have government documents that do this: for example, we have unearthed a bronze tablet copy (dating c. 168 A.D.) of a letter personally written by Emperor Marcus Aurelius (Journal of Roman Studies 1973.63) that mentions him consulting the extant register of those granted citizenship by Caligula (in a list of such registers from other emperors as well). Do we have anything like that for Jesus? No.
Oh…and we have Caligula him-fracking-self! An inscription recording his own letter, in his own words, to the Achaean League, dated 19 August 37 A.D. (Inscriptiones Graecae 7.2711, ll. 21-43). Do we have anything like that for Jesus? No.
We also have declarations of alliance and celebration from many localities at the accession to power of Caligila. For example, the Oath declared by the Aritensians, inscribed on stone shortly after 11 May 37 A.D., elaborately asserting they shall ally with Caligula and declare his enemies their enemies; similarly the Cyzicans as well; and the Oath and Decree of Celebration of the Assians of the same year, which says they are sending an embassy “to seek an audience with and congratulate him, and beg him to remember” their city “as he personally promised when together with his father Germanicus he first set foot in our city’s province” (see Lewis & Reinhold, Vol. 2, § 3 and 9). So here we have the eyewitness, original autograph testimony, of an entire city of people. Caligula was with his father at the age of six when he visited their region (so they are trucking rather hard on the utterance of a toddler). But you don’t say this of, or send embassies to, a guy who doesn’t exist. Do we have anything like that for Jesus? Hell to the no.
Let’s Stop This Nonsense. Please? Can We?
All these jokers want to come up with some person we are sure existed, that my standards would unbelievably force us to doubt. I’ve recently analyzed why they will never come up with a usable example of that, in my discussion of Hannibal. Any person we definitely agree existed, has way more evidence for them than we have for Jesus (that’s why we definitely agree they existed—imagine that!); and any person we have evidence for similar to Jesus, is genuinely doubtable.
There is a middle category of mundane people, mid-level functionaries, minor generals, random folks at a dinner party, people who get maybe a single mention somewhere, who just aren’t the sort of people anyone makes up. But even they—those mundane, once-mentioned people—often are better attested (we have a stated contemporary or eyewitness source, or even have that contemporary or eyewitness source); and they are too mundane to be analogous to Jesus (who falls instead into the category of worshiped supermen, who are far more typically mythical rather than historical); and on top of all that, we actually don’t hold all that much certainty in their existence, when we have any reason to doubt it or suspect they’ve been contrived for a narrative purpose. As for example the “old man” Justin Martyr claims he had an hours long conversation with that converted him to Christianity, or indeed even Trypho the Jew, whom Justin records a book-length debate with that we can reasonably suspect never really happened outside Justin’s mind.
So the argument never works.
This attempt to find someone, anyone, whom we’d have to regrettably doubt the existence of if we applied the same standard to them as I do to Jesus, never turns up a single example. We either already doubt them without regret; or they actually satisfy the standard I apply to Jesus. Ooops.
Even grown up professors are making fantastically stupid claims about the evidence for Jesus like this. That it’s better than we have even for Alexander the Great? Holy balls…that boner comes from E.P. Sanders. Or Julius Caesar or Socrates, Hannibal or Spartacus? Nope and nope, nope and nope. I provide links debunking all these in the first paragraph of my debunking of the claim for Spartacus.
All that this shows is how incompetent and irrational defenders of historicity are. Incompetent, because a real historian would know these claims weren’t true, or know they’d better check first (and thus would discover they aren’t true, before saying they are). And irrational, because they have no grasp of how evidence works or that they should check, yet feel the desperate need to hyperbolically assert total confidence in completely ridiculous things. Like that Jesus is as well attested as Caligula. Which leaves us in no confidence of their judgment in the matter. If you think Jesus is as well attested as Caligula…or Spartacus or Socrates or Alexander the Great…you are not qualified to have an opinion on the historicity of Jesus. And if that’s you, you had better go and get qualified. Or give up the game.