Letters to the Dead in Ancient Egypt

Letters to the Dead in Ancient Egypt

In the biblical Book of Luke, the story is told of Lazarus and the Rich Man in which a man of wealth and the poorest beggar both die on the same day. The beggar, Lazarus, finds himself in paradise while the rich man is in torment. He looks up to see Father Abraham with Lazarus beside him and asks if Lazarus might bring him some water, but this is denied; there is a great chasm fixed between those in heaven and those in hell, and none may cross. The rich man then asks if Abraham could send Lazarus back to the world of the living to warn his family because, he says, he has five brothers who are all living the same self-indulgent lifestyle he enjoyed and he does not want them to suffer the same fate. When Abraham answers, saying "They have Moses and the prophets; let them listen to them," the rich man responds that his brothers will not listen to scripture, but if someone should come back from the dead, they would surely listen to him. Abraham then says, "If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead" (Luke 16:19-31).

This story has been interpreted in many different ways over the centuries in order to make various theological points, but its theme is timeless: what happens after death? The rich man thought he was living a good life but finds himself in the worst kind of afterlife while Lazarus, who suffered on earth, is welcomed to a reward in heaven. The request of the rich man to send Lazarus back to earth sounds reasonable in that if someone came back from the dead to tell what it was like, people would certainly listen and live their lives differently; Abraham, however, denies the request.

Abraham's response, however disappointing it might seem to the rich man, is an accurate assessment of the situation. In the present day, people's stories of Near Death Experiences are accepted by those who already believe in that kind of afterlife and are denied by those who do not. Even if someone should come back from the dead, if one cannot accept that kind of reality, one will not believe their story and, in this same way, will certainly not accept ancient stories regarding the same kind of event.

In ancient Egypt, however, the afterlife was a certainty throughout most of the civilization's history. When one died, one's soul went on to another plane, leaving the body behind, and hoped for justification by the gods and an eternal life in paradise. There was no doubt that this afterlife existed, save during the period of the Middle Kingdom (2040-1782 BCE), and even then the literature which expresses cynicism toward the next life could be interpreted as a literary device as easily as a serious theological challenge. The soul of a loved one did not cease to exist at death nor was there any danger of a surprise in the afterlife such as the rich man from Luke experiences.

An exception is in the fictional work from Roman Egypt (30 BCE - 646 CE) known as Setna II, which is the probable basis for the Luke tale. In one part of Setna II, Si-Osire leads his father Setna to the underworld and shows him how a rich man and a poor man experienced the afterlife. Contrary to Setna's earlier understanding that a wealthy man would be happier than the poor, the rich man suffers in the underworld and the poor man is elevated. Si-Osire leads his father to the afterlife to correct his misunderstanding, and their short trip there illustrates the closeness ancient Egyptians felt to the next world. The dead lived on and, if one wanted to, one could even communicate with them. These communications are known today as 'letters to the dead'.

The Egyptian Afterlife & the Dead

It was believed that, after one died and the proper mortuary rituals had been observed, one passed on to judgment before Osiris and his tribunal, and if one had lived a good life, one was justified and passed on to paradise. The question of 'What is a good life?' was answered through the recitation of the Negative Confession before the tribunal of Osiris and the weighing of the heart in the balance against the white feather of truth, but even before one's death, one would have a fairly good idea of one's chances in the Hall of Truth.

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The Egyptians did not rely on ancient texts to instruct them on moral behavior but on the principle of ma'at, harmony and balance, which encouraged them to live in peace with the earth and with their neighbors. Certainly, this principle was illustrated in religious stories, embodied in the goddess of the same name, invoked in written works such as medical texts and hymns, but it was a living concept which one could measure one's success in meeting daily. One would not need someone to come back from the dead with a warning; one's actions in life and their consequences would be enough - or should have been - to give a person a fairly good indication of what awaited them after death.

The justified dead, now in paradise, had the ear of the gods and could be persuaded to intercede on people's behalf in answering questions, predicting the future, or defending the petitioner against injustice. The gods had created a world of harmony, and all one needed to do in order to reach paradise in the next was to live a life worthy of eternity. If one made each day an exercise in creating a life one would wish to continue forever, founded on the concept of harmony and balance (which of course included consideration and kindness for one's neighbors), one could be confident of entry to paradise after death.

Still, there were supernatural forces at work in the universe which could cause one problems along life's path. Evil demons, angry gods, and the unhappy or vengeful spirits of the dead could all interfere with one's health and happiness at any time and for any reason. Simply because one was favored by a god, like Thoth, in one's life and career did not mean that another, like Set, could not bring one grief. Further, there were simply the natural difficulties of existence which troubled the soul and threw one off balance such as sickness, disappointment, heartbreak, and death of a loved one. When these kinds of troubles, or those more mysterious, came upon a person, there was something direct they could do about it: write a letter to the dead.

History & Purpose

Letters to the Dead date from the Old Kingdom (c. 2613 - 2181 BCE) through the Late Period of Ancient Egypt (525-332 BCE), essentially the entirety of Egyptian history. When a tomb was constructed, depending upon one's wealth and status, an offerings chapel was also built so that the soul could receive food and drink offerings on a daily basis. The letters to the dead, often written on an offering bowl, would be delivered to these chapels along with the food and drink and would then be read by the soul of the departed. Egyptologist David P. Silverman notes how "In most cases, however, interaction between the living and the dead would have been more casual, with spoken prayers that have left no trace" (142). It is for this reason that so few letters to the dead exist today but, even so, enough do to understand their intent and importance.

One would write a letter in the same way one wrote to a person still living. Silverman explains:

Whether inscribed on pottery bowls, linen, or papyrus, these documents take the form of standard letters, with notations of addressee and sender and, depending upon the tone of the letter, a salutation: "A communication by Merirtyfy to Nebetiotef: How are you? Is the West taking care of you as you desire?" (142)

The 'west', of course, is a reference to the land of the dead, which was thought to be located in that direction. Osiris was known as the 'First of the Westerners' in his position as Lord of the Dead. As Silverman and others note, a response was expected to these letters since Spell 148 and Spell 190 of The Egyptian Book of the Dead enabled a spirit to let the living know how it was doing in the afterlife.

Once salutations and pleasantries were expressed, the sender would get to the matter of the message and this was always a request for an intercession of some kind. Often, the writer reminds the recipient of some kindness they performed for them or the life they lived happily together on earth. Egyptologist Gay Robins cites one of these:

A man points out in a letter to his dead wife that he married her 'when I was a young man. I was with you when I was carrying out all sorts of offices. I was with you and I did not divorce you. I did not cause your heart to grieve. I did it when I was a youth and when I was carrying out all sorts of important offices for Pharaoh, life, propsperity, health, without divorcing you, saying "She has always been with me- so said I!"' In other words, as men climbed the bureaucratic ladder, it was probably not unknown for them to divorce the wives of their youth and remarry a woman more appropriate or advantageous to their higher rank. (63-64)

This husband reminds his wife of how faithful and dutiful he was to her prior to making his request for her help with his problem. Egyptologist Rosalie David notes how "requests found in the letters are varied: some sought help against dead or living enemies, particularly in family disputes; others asked for legal assistance in support of a petitioner who had to appear before the divine tribunal at the Day of Judgment; and some pleaded for special blessings or benefits" (282). The most often made requests, however, deal with fertility and birth through appeals for a healthy pregnancy and child, most often a son.

Letters & Responses from the Dead

A writer would receive a response from the dead in a number of different ways. One could hear from the deceased in a dream, receive some message or 'sign' in the course of a day, consult a seer, or simply find one's problem suddenly resolved. The dead, after all, were in the company of the gods, and the gods were known to exist and, further, to mean only the best for human beings. There was no reason to doubt that one's request had been heard and that one would receive an answer.

Osiris was the lord of justice, and it only made sense that a soul in his presence would have greater influence than one still in the body on earth. Should this seem strange or 'archaic' to a modern-day reader, it should be remembered that there are many who observe this same belief today. The souls of the departed, especially those considered holy, are still thought to have more pull with the divine than someone on earth. Silverman comments:

In all cases, the deceased is urged to take action on behalf of the writer, often against malignant spirits who have afflicted the author and his or her family. Such requests frequently refer to the underworld court and the role of the deceased within it: "you must instigate litigation with him since you have witnesses at hand in the same city of the dead". The principle is stated succinctly on a bowl in the Louvre in Paris: "As you were one who was excellent upon earth, so you are one who is in good standing in the necropolis". Despite this legalistic aspect, the letters are never formulaic but vary in content and length. (142)

Clearly, writing to someone in the afterlife was the same as writing to one in another city on earth. There is almost no difference between the two types of correspondence. A letter written in the 2nd century CE from a young woman named Sarapias to her father follows roughly the same model:

Sarapias to Ammonios, her father and lord, many greetings. I constantly pray that you are well and I make obeisance on your behalf before Philotera. I left Myos Hormos quickly after giving birth. I have taken nothing from Myos Hormos...Send me 1 small drinking cup and send your daughter a small pillow. (Bagnall & Cribiore, 166)

One would write a letter to the DEAD in the same way one wrote to a person still living.

The only difference between this letter and one a son writes to his deceased mother (c. First Intermediate Period of Egypt, 2181-2040 BCE) is that Sarapias asks for material objects to be sent while the son requests spiritual intervention. The son begins his letter with a similar salutation and then, just as Sarapias explains how she needs a cup and pillow sent, makes his request for aid. He also reminds his mother of how dutiful a son he was while she lived, writing, "You did say this to your son, 'Bring me quails that I may eat them', and this your son brought to you, seven quails, and you did eat them" (Robins, 107). Letters like this one also make clear to the deceased that the writer has not 'garbled a spell' in performing the necessary rituals. This would be most important in making sure that the soul of the deceased continued to be remembered so it could live well in the afterlife.

Once the soul had read the letter, the writer had only to be patient and wait for a response. If the writer had committed no sins and had performed all the rituals properly, they would receive a positive response in some fashion. After making their requests, the writers frequently promised gifts in return and assurances of good conduct. Robins comments on this:

In a First Intermediate Period letter to the dead, a husband tells his wife: 'I have not garbled a spell before you, while making your name to live upon the earth', and he promises to do more for her if she cures him of his illness: 'I shall lay down offerings for you when the sun's light has risen and I shall establish an altar for you'. The woman's brother also asks for help and he says, 'I have not garbled a spell before you; I have not taken offerings away from you'. (173)

Since the dead person retained their personal identity in the next world, one would write them using the same kinds of touches that had worked in life. If one had gotten their way through threats, then threats were used such as suggesting that, if one did not get one's wish, one would cut off offerings at the tomb. Offerings were made to the gods in their shrines and temples regularly, and the gods clearly heard and responded, and so it was thought the dead did the same. The problem with such threats would be that, if one stopped bringing offerings, one was more likely to be haunted by an angry spirit than have their request granted. Just as the gods frowned on petulant people's impiety in withholding offerings, so did the dead.


Every ancient culture had some concept regarding the afterlife, but Egypt's was the most comprehensive and certainly the most ideal. Egyptologist Jan Assman notes:

The widespread prejudice that theology is the exclusive achievement of biblical, if not Christian, religion is unfounded with regard to ancient Egypt. On the contrary, Egyptian theology is much more elaborate than anything that can be found in the Bible. (2)

The Egyptians left nothing to chance - as can be observed in the technical skill evident in the monuments and temples which still stand - and this was as true of their view of eternity as anything else. Every action in one's life had a consequence not only in the present but for eternity. Life on earth was only one part of an everlasting journey and one's behavior affected one's short-term and long-term future. One could feel assured of what awaited after life by measuring one's actions against the standard of harmonious existence and the example set by the gods and the natural world.

The Egyptian version of the story in Luke, though similar, is significantly different. The rich man in Setna II would expect to find punishment in the next life for ignoring the principle of ma'at. The beggar in the story would not have expected, nor been entitled to, a reward simply for suffering. Everyone suffered, after all, at one time or another, and the gods owed no one any special recognition for that.

In Setna II, the rich and poor man are punished and rewarded because their actions on earth either dishonored or honored ma'at, and, while others may have envied or pitied them, they could have expected what awaited them beyond death. In the Christianized version of Setna II which appears in Luke, neither the rich man nor Lazarus has any idea what is waiting for them. The Luke version of the story, in fact, would have probably been confusing to an ancient Egyptian who, if they had a question concerning the afterlife and what waited beyond, could simply write a letter and ask.

Ancient Egypt

Two ideas that prevailed in ancient Egypt came to exert great influence on the concept of death in other cultures. The first was the notion, epitomized in the Osirian myth, of a dying and rising saviour god who could confer on devotees the gift of immortality this afterlife was first sought by the pharaohs and then by millions of ordinary people. The second was the concept of a postmortem judgment, in which the quality of the deceased’s life would influence his ultimate fate. Egyptian society, it has been said, consisted of the dead, the gods, and the living. During all periods of their history, the ancient Egyptians seem to have spent much of their time thinking of death and making provisions for their afterlife. The vast size, awe-inspiring character, and the ubiquity of their funerary monuments bear testimony to this obsession.

The physical preservation of the body was central to all concerns about an afterlife the Egyptians were a practical people, and the notion of a disembodied existence would have been totally unacceptable to them. The components of the person were viewed as many, subtle, and complex moreover, they were thought to suffer different fates at the time of death. The physical body was a person’s khat, a term that implied inherent decay. The ka was the individual’s doppelgänger, or double it was endowed with all the person’s qualities and faults. It is uncertain where the ka resided during life, but “to go to one’s ka” was a euphemism for death. The ka denoted power and prosperity. After death it could eat, drink, and “enjoy the odour of incense.” It had to be fed, and this task was to devolve on a specific group of priests. The ka gave comfort and protection to the deceased: its hieroglyphic sign showed two arms outstretched upward, in an attitude of embrace.

The ba (often translated as “the soul”) conveyed notions of “the noble” and “the sublime.” It could enter the body or become incorporeal at will. It was represented as a human-headed falcon, presumably to emphasize its mobility. The ba remained sentimentally attached to the dead body, for whose well-being it was somehow responsible. It is often depicted flying about the portal of the tomb or perched on a nearby tree. Although its anatomical substratum was ill-defined, it could not survive without the preserved body.

Other important attributes were an individual’s khu (“spiritual intelligence”), sekhem (“power”), khaibit (“shadow”), and ren (“name”). In the pyramid of King Pepi I, who ruled during the 6th dynasty (c. 2345–c. 2182 bc ), it is recorded how the dead king had “walked through the iron which is the ceiling of heaven. With his panther skin upon him, Pepi passeth with his flesh, he is happy with his name, and he liveth with his double.” The depictions of the dead were blueprints for immortality. Conversely, to blot out a person’s name was to destroy that individual for all eternity, to eliminate him from the historical record. The Stalinist and Maoist regimes in the Soviet Union and China were later to resort to the same means, with the same end in mind. They also, however, invented the concept of “posthumous rehabilitation.”

The heart played a central part in how the Egyptians thought about the functioning of the body. Political and religious considerations probably lay behind the major role attributed to the heart. Many of the so-called facts reported in the Ebers papyrus (a kind of medical encyclopaedia dating from the early part of the 18th dynasty i.e., from about 1550 bc ) are really just speculations. This is surprising in view of how often bodies were opened during embalmment. A tubular system was rightly said to go from the heart “to all members” and the heart was said “to speak out of the vessels of every limb.” But the vessels were thought to convey a mixture of air, blood, tears, urine, saliva, nasal mucus, semen, and at times even feces. During the process of embalming, the heart was always left in situ or replaced in the thorax. According to the renowned Orientalist Sir Wallis Budge, the Egyptians saw the heart as the “source of life and being,” and any damage to it would have resulted in a “second death” in which everything (ka, ba, khu, and ren) would be destroyed. In some sarcophagi one can still read the pathetic plea “spare us a second death.”

The anatomical heart was the haty, the word ib referring to the heart as a metaphysical entity embodying not only thought, intelligence, memory, and wisdom, but also bravery, sadness, and love. It was the heart in its sense of ib that was weighed in the famous judgment scene depicted in the Ani papyrus and elsewhere. After the deceased had enumerated the many sins he had not committed (the so-called negative confession), the heart was weighed against the feather of Maʿat (i.e., against what was deemed right and true). It had to prove itself capable of achieving balance with the symbol of the law. The deceased who was judged pure was introduced to Osiris (in fact, became an Osiris). The deceased who failed was devoured by the monster Am-mit, the “eater of the dead.” It was never the physical body on earth that was resurrected, but a new entity (the Sahu) that “germinated” from it and into which the soul would slip.

The Egyptians were concerned that the dead should be able to breathe again. The Pyramid Texts describe the ceremony of the “opening of the mouth,” by which this was achieved. Immediately before the mummy was consigned to the sepulchral chamber, specially qualified priests placed it upright, touched the face with an adz, and proclaimed “thy mouth is opened by Horus with his little finger, with which he also opened the mouth of his father Osiris.” It has proved difficult to relate this ritual, in any meaningful way, to specific beliefs about the ka or ba.

The brain is not mentioned much in any of the extant medical papyruses from ancient Egypt. It is occasionally described as an organ producing mucus, which drained out through the nose or it is referred to by a generic term applicable to the viscera as a whole. Life and death were matters of the heart, although the suggested relationships were at times bizarre—for example, it was said that the “mind passed away” when the vessels of the heart were contaminated with feces. The only reference that might relate death to the brain stem is the strange statement in the Ebers papyrus (gloss 854f) to the effect that “life entered the body through the left ear, and departed through the right one.”

It is clear why the Egyptians never cremated their dead: to do so would have destroyed for the deceased all prospects of an afterlife. Fortunately, there was no question of organ transplantation in the prevailing cultural context, it would never have been tolerated. Whether the pharaohs would have been powerful enough—or rash enough—to transgress accepted norms had transplantation been feasible is quite another matter.

Step One: Purification

First, the body was washed with wine and spices by professional embalmers it was then rinsed with water from the Nile. After the body had been washed, all of the parts that might decay were removed.

The first organ to be removed was the brain. The embalmers used a long hook to smash the brain and pull it out through the nose! Then they cut open the left side of the body and removed the liver, lungs, stomach and intestines. The heart is not removed because it was believed to be the centre of intelligence and feeling: the dead will need this in the afterlife!

Preparation for death in ancient Egypt

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Why prepare for death?

The ancient Egyptians believed that when they died their spiritual body would continue to exist in an afterlife very similar to their living world. However, entry into this afterlife was not guaranteed. The dead had to negotiate a dangerous underworld journey and face the final judgment before they were granted access. If successful, they were required to provide eternal sustenance for their spirit. These things could be achieved if proper preparations were made during a person’s lifetime.


A variety of different preparations were required. These included:

1. Purchase of small funerary items

Funerary items for placement in the tomb were purchased from specialist shops or temples though wealthier people would commission items such as furniture, expensive coffins and jewellery.
Items could be divided into two classes:

  • those for protection and guidance on the underworld journey and in the afterlife, such as amulets, stelae and the Book of the Dead (or other funerary texts)
  • those for the provision of essential nourishment, leisure and comfort for their eternal spirit, such as food, clothing and shabtis (small funerary statuettes).

Shabtis: workers for the afterlife

The dead were granted a plot of land in the afterlife and were expected to maintain it, either by performing the labour themselves or getting their shabtis to work for them. Shabtis were small funerary statuettes inscribed with a spell that miraculously brought them to life, enabling the dead person to relax while the shabtis performed their physical duties.

Shabtis have a long history as funerary items for tombs. They first appear in the Middle Kingdom about 2100 BCE, replacing the servant statuettes that were common in tombs of the Old Kingdom. Individually sculpted, they were designed to represent the owner and only one or two were placed in a tomb. By about 1000 BCE shabtis became simplified in form, with the wealthy now having one for every day of the year and overseer shabtis to manage them. This was due mostly to an ideological shift – they now represented servants rather than the dead person. The last shabtis were used in the late Ptolemaic Period, as attitudes to death and the afterlife had changed.

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A statuette of Anubis, jackal-headed god of the dead in the form of a mummy. It is a historical replica and is made from wood and painted plaster. It is made in the style of ancient Egypt and probably related to the XIX dynasty from the New Kingdom (1550-1069 BCE).

Image: Abram Powell
© Australian Museum

Amulets: the magic of charms

Many cultures and individuals, including some today, have placed great faith in symbolic jewellery like amulets or charms. However, ancient Egyptians elevated the influence of jewellery to a greater level. They believed that amulets endowed the wearer with magical powers of protection and healing and also brought good fortune. From an early age, they would wear a variety of these charms around the neck, wrists, fingers and ankles. Most were symbols related to a god or goddess so placed the wearer under their specific protection.

Protection and healing, especially in the context of resurrection, were especially important in the afterlife so amulets were placed on various parts of the body during the wrapping process. Although there were hundreds of amulets that were available for use, the final selection would depend on the person’s wealth and individual choice. Many amulets were required to be placed in set positions on the mummy, usually relating to a certain part of the body or a position inside or outside the wrappings. Others had more flexibility in their placement. Priests performed rites and said prayers as these amulets were placed.

The heartscarab was the most widely used amulet. It was placed over the dead person’s heart to protect it from being separated from the body in the underworld. The heart, which contained a record of all the person’s actions in life, was essential for the ‘Weighing of the Heart Ceremony’ as it was weighed against the feather of the goddess Ma’at. If the scales were balanced, the person passed and entered the afterlife. For those who were concerned about this test, they could recite the spell inscribed on their heartscarab to prevent their heart from ‘betraying’ them.

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The quiet lives of an Egyptian family are disturbed when the father, Imhotep, returns from the north with his new concubine, Nofret, who begins to sow discontent amongst them. Once the deaths begin, fears are aroused of a curse upon the house, but is the killer closer to home?

The novel is primarily written from the perspective of Renisenb, a young widow reacquainting herself with her family when her father Imhotep, a successful but pompous and short-sighted mortuary priest, brings a new "wife", Nofret, into their lives. Nofret soon disrupts and antagonises Imhotep's sons - Yahmose, Sobek and Ipy - as well as their wives. Renisenb realises the housekeeper Henet, while feigning devotion, is full of hatred. She confronts Henet near the end of the story, who in a fit of pique admits she hates Renisenb and hated Renisenb's long-deceased mother.

After Imhotep is called away, Satipy and Kait, the elder sons' wives, try to bully Nofret with tricks, but the plan backfires when Nofret appeals to Imhotep and he threatens to disown his sons and their families upon his return. Suddenly everyone has a motive to kill Nofret and when she is found dead at the foot of a cliff, an accident seems unlikely, although no one will acknowledge anything else.

Next, Satipy falls to her death in terror from the same cliff while walking with Yahmose. Renisenb, and others, wonder if it was Nofret's vengeful spirit that she was looking at over Yahmose's shoulder moments before her death. This theory gathers force when Yahmose and Sobek drink poisoned wine. Sobek dies, but Yahmose lingers on, having drunk less of the wine. A slave boy who says he saw Nofret's ghost poisoning the wine dies of poison shortly afterwards.

The handsome scribe Kameni has fallen in love with Renisenb, and eventually asks her to marry him. Unsure whether she loves him or her father's advisor Hori, whom she has known since she was a child, she leaves the choice effectively in her father's hands and becomes engaged to Kameni. She realises, however, that his relationship with Nofret was closer than she had supposed, and that jealousy may have influenced Nofret's bitter hatred towards the family. Hori and Esa, the elderly mother of Imhotep (a clever woman who although almost completely blind sees things clearer than most others - especially her son) begin to investigate the possibility of a human murderer. Ipy, himself a likely suspect, starts to boast about his new, better position with his father he plots to get rid of housekeeper Henet and tells her so. The next morning, Ipy is found dead in the lake, drowned.

The field of suspects has been further narrowed. Esa attempts to flush out the murderer by dropping a hint about the death of Satipy, but is herself murdered by means of poisoned unguent, despite the presence of a food taster. Henet - who knows the murderer's identity and is momentarily powerful amid the chaos - is smothered by the linens used to wrap the ever-increasing number of victims.

On the same cliff path where Nofret and Satipy died, Renisenb, apparently summoned by Hori, hears footsteps behind her and turns to see Yahmose. She then sees the look of murderous hatred in her brother's eyes that Satipy saw before she was killed. As Renisenb is about to be killed, however, Hori slays Yahmose with an arrow and saves her. Hori explains to Renisenb that Satipy was not looking in fear at anything beyond Yahmose — she was looking straight at him. He had consumed a non-lethal dose of poison and pretended to recuperate while committing murders, both to make himself chief heir and to indulge his newfound love of violence. Renisenb's final choice is whom to marry: Kameni, a lively husband not unlike her first, or Hori, an older and more enigmatic figure. She makes her choice and falls into Hori's arms.

  • Imhotep, a mortuary priest
  • Nofret, Imhotep's concubine from the north
  • Esa, Imhotep's mother
  • Yahmose, Imhotep's eldest son
  • Satipi, Yahmose's wife
  • Ipi, Imhotep's youngest son
  • Renisenb, Imhotep's daughter
  • Sobek, Imhotep's second son
  • Kait, Sobek's wife
  • Henet, woman who holds everything together
  • Hori, the family's scribe
  • Kameni, a scribe from the North
  • Teti, Renisenb's daughter
  • Khay, Renisenb's late husband, deceased

Maurice Willson Disher said in The Times Literary Supplement of 28 April 1945 that, "When a specialist acquires unerring skill there is a temptation to find tasks that are exceptionally difficult. The scenes of Death Comes as the End are laid out in Ancient Egypt. They are painted delicately. The household of the priest, who is depicted not as a sacred personage, but as a humdrum landowner, makes an instant appeal because its members are human. But while the author's skill can cause a stir over the death of an old woman some thousands of years ago, that length of time lessens curiosity concerning why or how she (and others) died." [8]

Maurice Richardson, a self-proclaimed admirer of Christie, wrote in the 8 April 1945 issue of The Observer, "One of the best weeks of the war for crime fiction. First, of course, the new Agatha Christie Death Comes as the End. And it really is startlingly new, with its ancient Egyptian setting in the country household of a mortuary priest who overstrains his already tense family by bringing home an ultra-tough live in concubine from Memphis. Result: a series of murders. With her special archaeological equipment, Mrs Christie makes you feel just as much at home on the Nile in 1945 B.C. as if she were bombarding you with false clues in a chintz-covered drawing room in Leamington Spa. But she has not merely changed scenes her reconstruction is vivid and she works really hard at her characters. My already insensate admiration for her leaps even higher." [9]

Robert Barnard: "Hercule Poirot's Christmas, transported to Egypt, ca 2000 B.C. Done with tact, yet the result is somehow skeletal - one realises how much the average Christie depends on trappings: clothes, furniture, the paraphernalia of bourgeois living. The culprit in this one is revealed less by detection than by a process of elimination." [10]

  • 1944, US, Dodd & Mead, October 1944, hardback (First US edition), 223 pp
  • 1945, UK, The Crime Club Collins, March 1945, hardback (First UK edition), 160 pp
  • 1947, Pocket Books (New York), Paperback, (Pocket number 465), 179 pp
  • 1953, Penguin Books, Paperback, (Penguin number 926), 188 pp
  • 1960, Fontana Books (Imprint of HarperCollins), Paperback, 191 pp
  • 1957, Pan Books, Paperback, 221 pp
  • 1975, Ulverscroft Large-print Edition, Hardcover, 334 pp

Screenwriter Gwyneth Hughes began adapting the book for the BBC in 2018. The adaptation was expected to air over Christmas 2019, but it is now unknown when or if it will air. [11]


Mafdet was the first known cat-headed deity in ancient Egypt. During the First Dynasty (c. 3100 BC – c. 2900 BC), she was regarded as protector of the pharaoh's chambers against snakes, scorpions and evil. She was often also depicted with a head of a leopard (Panthera pardus). [8] [9] She was particularly prominent during the reign of Den. [10]

The deity Bastet is known from at least the Second Dynasty (c. 2890 BC – c. 2686 BC) onwards. At the time, she was depicted with a lion (Panthera leo) head. Seals and stone vessels with her name were found in the tombs of the pharaohs Khafre and Nyuserre Ini, indicating that she was regarded as protector since the mid 30th century BC during the Fourth and Fifth Dynasties. [11] A wall painting in the Fifth Dynasty's burial ground at Saqqara shows a small cat with a collar, suggesting that tamed African wildcats were kept in the pharaonic quarters by the 26th century BC. [12]

Amulets with cat heads came into fashion in the 21st century BC during the 11th Dynasty. [4] A mural from this period in the tomb of Baqet III depicts a cat in a hunting scene confronting a rat-like rodent. [13]

A tomb at the necropolis Umm El Qa'ab contained 17 cat skeletons dating to the early 20th century BC. Next to the skeletons stood small pots that are thought to have contained milk for the cats. [15] Several tomb murals in the Theban Necropolis show cats in domestic scenes. These tombs belonged to nobles and high-ranking officials of the 18th Dynasty and were built in the 15th and 14th centuries BC. The murals show a cat sitting under a chair during a buffet, eating meat or fish some show it in the company of a goose or a monkey. A cat in hunting and fowling scenes is another recurring motif in murals of Theban tombs. [16]

The first known indication for the mummification of a cat was found in an elaborately carved limestone sarcophagus dated to about 1350 BC. This cat is assumed to have been Prince Thutmose’s beloved pet. [17]

From the 22nd Dynasty at around the mid 950s BC onwards, the deity Bastet and her temple in the city of Bubastis grew in popularity. She is now shown only with a small cat head. [2] [11] Domestic cats (Felis catus) were increasingly worshiped and considered sacred. When they died, they were embalmed, coffined and buried in cat cemeteries. [18] The domestic cat was regarded as living incarnation of Bastet who protects the household against granivores, whereas the lion-headed deity Sekhmet was worshipped as protector of the pharaohs. [19] During the reign of Pharaoh Osorkon II in the 9th century BC, the temple of Bastet was enlarged by a festival hall. [20] Cat statues and statuettes from this period exist in diverse sizes and materials, including solid and hollow cast bronze, alabaster and faïence. [21] [22]

Mummifying animals grew in popularity during the Late Period of ancient Egypt from 664 BC onwards. Mummies were used for votive offerings to the associated deity, mostly during festivals or by pilgrims. [7] Catacombs from the New Kingdom period in the Bubastis, Saqqara and Beni Hasan necropoli were reused as cemeteries for mummies offered to Bastet. [5]

In the mid 5th century BC, Herodotus described the annual festival at the Bubastis temple as the largest in the country, attended by several hundred thousand pilgrims. [23]

During the Hellenistic period between 323 and 30 BC, the goddess Isis became associated with Bastet and cats, as indicated by an inscription at the Temple of Edfu: “Isis is the soul of Bastet”. In this period, cats were systematically bred to be killed and to be mummified as sacrifices to the gods. [19]

As described by Diodorus Siculus, killing a cat was regarded a serious crime. In the years between 60 and 56 BC, outraged people lynched a Roman for killing a cat, although pharaoh Ptolemy XII Auletes tried to intervene. [24]

Cats and religion began to be disassociated after Egypt became a Roman province in 30 BC. [2] A series of decrees and edicts issued by Roman Emperors in the 4th and 5th centuries AD gradually curtailed the practice of paganism and pagan rituals in Egypt. Pagan temples were impounded and sacrifices prohibited by 380 AD. Three edicts issued between 391 and 392 prohibited pagan rituals and burial ceremonies at all cult sites. Death penalty for offenders was introduced in 395, and the destruction of pagan temples decreed in 399. By 415, the Christian church received all property that was formerly dedicated to paganism. Pagans were exiled by 423, and crosses replaced pagan symbols following a decree from 435. [25]

Egypt has since experienced a decline in the veneration once held for cats. [19] They were still respected in the 15th century, when Arnold von Harff travelled to Egypt and observed mamluk warriors treating cats with honour and empathy. [26] Gentle treatment of cats is part of Islamic tradition. [27]

In 1799, members of the French Commission des Sciences et des Arts surveyed the old city of Lycopolis near Asyut for the first time and found mummified cats and remains of other animals. [28] They also found mummified cats and cat skeletons in the Theban Necropolis. [29] [30] In the 1820s, the Louvre Museum exhibited cat statues made of wood, bronze, and enameled pottery that originated mostly in Bubastis. [31]

In 1830, Christian Gottfried Ehrenberg accounted of having observed three different small cat forms in Egypt: the jungle cat, the African wildcat, and a sacred cat that was intermediate in size between the jungle cat and the domestic cat. He called this cat Felis bubastis. [32]

The Egypt Exploration Society funded excavations in Bubastis in the late 1880s. Édouard Naville accounted of numerous cat statues already available in Cairo shops at the time. At the city's cemetery of cats, he and colleagues emptied several large pits up to a volume of 20 m 3 (720 cu ft) filled with cat and Egyptian mongoose (Herpestes ichneumon) bones. [33] Among the bones, some embalming material, porcelain and bronze objects, beads and ornaments, and statues of Bastet and Nefertem were also found. By 1889, the cemetery was considered exhausted. [34]

In the late 1880s, more than 200,000 mummified animals most of them cats, were found in the cemetery of Beni Hasan in central Egypt. [35] In 1890, William Martin Conway wrote about excavations in Speos Artemidos near Beni Hasan: "The plundering of the cemetery was a sight to see, but one had to stand well windward. The village children came from day to day and provided themselves with the most attractive mummies they could find. These they took down the river bank to sell for the smallest coin to passing travelers. The path became strewn with mummy cloth and bits of cats' skulls and bones and fur in horrid positions, and the wind blew the fragments about and carried the stink afar." [36] [37] In 1890, a shipment of thousands of animal mummies reached Liverpool. Most of them were cat mummies. A large part was sold as fertiliser, a small part was purchased by the zoological museum of the city's university college. [35]

The Museum of Fine Arts of Lyon received hundreds of cat mummies excavated by Gaston Maspero at Beni Hasan, Sakkara and Thebes. The cats were of all ages from adult to kittens with deciduous teeth. Some of them were contained in statues and sarcophagi. The larger ones were bandaged in cloth of different colours with decorated heads and ears formed of rubberized tissue. [38]

The Institut Français d'Archéologie Orientale funded excavations near Faiyum where Pierre Jouguet found a tomb full of cat mummies in 1901. It was located in the midst of tombs with crocodile mummies. [39]

In 1907, the British Museum received a collection of 192 mummified cats and 11 small carnivores excavated at Gizeh by Flinders Petrie. The mummies probably date to between 600 and 200 BC. [6] Two of these cat mummies were radiographed in 1980. The analysis revealed that they were deliberately strangulated before they reached the age of two years. They were probably used to supply the demand for mummified cats as votive offerings. [40]

Remains of 23 cats were found in the early 1980s in a small mastaba tomb at the archaeological site Balat in Dakhla Oasis. The tomb was established during the Old Kingdom of Egypt in the 25th century BC and reused later. The cats were probably mummified as tissue shreds were still stuck in their bones. [41]

Excavations in the Bubasteum area at Saqqara in the early 1980s yielded 200 cat mummies in the tomb of the Vizier Aperel. [42] Another 184 cat mummies were found in a different part of this tomb in the 1990s, comprising 11 packets with a few cat bones and 84 packets containing mud, clay and pebbles. Radiographic examination showed that mostly young cats were mummified most cats died of skull fractures and had dislocated spinal bones, indicating that they were beaten to death. In this site, the tomb of Tutankhamun's wet nurse Maia was discovered in 1996, which contained cat mummies next to human mummies. [5] In 2001, the skeleton of a male lion was found in this tomb that also showed signs of mummification. [43] It was about nine years old, probably lived in captivity for many years and showed signs of malnutrition. It had probably lived and died in the Ptolemaic period. [44] Mummified remains of 335 domestic and 29 jungle cats were excavated in the catacombs of Anubis at Saqqara during works started in 2009. [45]

In the 2nd century, Polyaenus accounted of a stratagem allegedly deployed by the Persian king Cambyses II during the Battle of Pelusium (525 BC): Cambyses II ordered placing of cats and other animals venerated by Egyptians before the Persian front lines. Egyptians purportedly stopped their defending operations, and the Persians then conquered Pelusium. [46]

Ancient Evidence for Jesus from Non-Christian Sources

Although there is overwhelming evidence that the New Testament is an accurate and trustworthy historical document, many people are still reluctant to believe what it says unless there is also some independent, non-biblical testimony that corroborates its statements. In the introduction to one of his books, F.F. Bruce tells about a Christian correspondent who was told by an agnostic friend that “apart from obscure references in Josephus and the like,” there was no historical evidence for the life of Jesus outside the Bible. This, he wrote to Bruce, had caused him “great concern and some little upset in [his] spiritual life.” He concludes his letter by asking, “Is such collateral proof available, and if not, are there reasons for the lack of it?” The answer to this question is, “Yes, such collateral proof is available,” and we will be looking at some of it in this article.

Let’s begin our inquiry with a passage that historian Edwin Yamauchi calls “probably the most important reference to Jesus outside the New Testament.” Reporting on Emperor Nero’s decision to blame the Christians for the fire that had destroyed Rome in A.D. 64, the Roman historian Tacitus wrote:

Nero fastened the guilt . . . on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of . . . Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judaea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome. . . .

What all can we learn from this ancient (and rather unsympathetic) reference to Jesus and the early Christians? Notice, first, that Tacitus reports Christians derived their name from a historical person called Christus (from the Latin), or Christ. He is said to have “suffered the extreme penalty,” obviously alluding to the Roman method of execution known as crucifixion. This is said to have occurred during the reign of Tiberius and by the sentence of Pontius Pilatus. This confirms much of what the Gospels tell us about the death of Jesus.

But what are we to make of Tacitus’ rather enigmatic statement that Christ’s death briefly checked “a most mischievous superstition,” which subsequently arose not only in Judaea, but also in Rome? One historian suggests that Tacitus is here “bearing indirect . . . testimony to the conviction of the early church that the Christ who had been crucified had risen from the grave.” While this interpretation is admittedly speculative, it does help explain the otherwise bizarre occurrence of a rapidly growing religion based on the worship of a man who had been crucified as a criminal. How else might one explain that?

Evidence from Pliny the Younger

Another important source of evidence about Jesus and early Christianity can be found in the letters of Pliny the Younger to Emperor Trajan. Pliny was the Roman governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor. In one of his letters, dated around A.D. 112, he asks Trajan’s advice about the appropriate way to conduct legal proceedings against those accused of being Christians. Pliny says that he needed to consult the emperor about this issue because a great multitude of every age, class, and sex stood accused of Christianity.

At one point in his letter, Pliny relates some of the information he has learned about these Christians:

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.

This passage provides us with a number of interesting insights into the beliefs and practices of early Christians. First, we see that Christians regularly met on a certain fixed day for worship. Second, their worship was directed to Christ, demonstrating that they firmly believed in His divinity. Furthermore, one scholar interprets Pliny’s statement that hymns were sung to Christ, as to a god, as a reference to the rather distinctive fact that, “unlike other gods who were worshipped, Christ was a person who had lived on earth.” If this interpretation is correct, Pliny understood that Christians were worshipping an actual historical person as God! Of course, this agrees perfectly with the New Testament doctrine that Jesus was both God and man.

Not only does Pliny’s letter help us understand what early Christians believed about Jesus’ person, it also reveals the high esteem to which they held His teachings. For instance, Pliny notes that Christians bound themselves by a solemn oath not to violate various moral standards, which find their source in the ethical teachings of Jesus. In addition, Pliny’s reference to the Christian custom of sharing a common meal likely alludes to their observance of communion and the “love feast.” This interpretation helps explain the Christian claim that the meal was merely food of an ordinary and innocent kind. They were attempting to counter the charge, sometimes made by non-Christians, of practicing “ritual cannibalism.” The Christians of that day humbly repudiated such slanderous attacks on Jesus’ teachings. We must sometimes do the same today.

Evidence from Josephus

Perhaps the most remarkable reference to Jesus outside the Bible can be found in the writings of Josephus, a first century Jewish historian. On two occasions, in his Jewish Antiquities, he mentions Jesus. The second, less revealing, reference describes the condemnation of one “James” by the Jewish Sanhedrin. This James, says Josephus, was “the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ.” F.F. Bruce points out how this agrees with Paul’s description of James in Galatians 1:19 as “the Lord’s brother.” And Edwin Yamauchi informs us that “few scholars have questioned” that Josephus actually penned this passage.

As interesting as this brief reference is, there is an earlier one, which is truly astonishing. Called the “Testimonium Flavianum,” the relevant portion declares:

About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he . . . wrought surprising feats. . . . He was the Christ. When Pilate . . .condemned him to be crucified, those who had . . . come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared . . . restored to life. . . . And the tribe of Christians . . . has . . . not disappeared.

Did Josephus really write this? Most scholars think the core of the passage originated with Josephus, but that it was later altered by a Christian editor, possibly between the third and fourth century A.D. But why do they think it was altered? Josephus was not a Christian, and it is difficult to believe that anyone but a Christian would have made some of these statements.

For instance, the claim that Jesus was a wise man seems authentic, but the qualifying phrase, “if indeed one ought to call him a man,” is suspect. It implies that Jesus was more than human, and it is quite unlikely that Josephus would have said that! It is also difficult to believe he would have flatly asserted that Jesus was the Christ, especially when he later refers to Jesus as “the so-called” Christ. Finally, the claim that on the third day Jesus appeared to His disciples restored to life, inasmuch as it affirms Jesus’ resurrection, is quite unlikely to come from a non-Christian!

But even if we disregard the questionable parts of this passage, we are still left with a good deal of corroborating information about the biblical Jesus. We read that he was a wise man who performed surprising feats. And although He was crucified under Pilate, His followers continued their discipleship and became known as Christians. When we combine these statements with Josephus’ later reference to Jesus as “the so-called Christ,” a rather detailed picture emerges which harmonizes quite well with the biblical record. It increasingly appears that the “biblical Jesus” and the “historical Jesus” are one and the same!

Evidence from the Babylonian Talmud

There are only a few clear references to Jesus in the Babylonian Talmud, a collection of Jewish rabbinical writings compiled between approximately A.D. 70-500. Given this time frame, it is naturally supposed that earlier references to Jesus are more likely to be historically reliable than later ones. In the case of the Talmud, the earliest period of compilation occurred between A.D. 70-200. The most significant reference to Jesus from this period states:

On the eve of the Passover Yeshu was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald . . . cried, “He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy.”

Let’s examine this passage. You may have noticed that it refers to someone named “Yeshu.” So why do we think this is Jesus? Actually, “Yeshu” (or “Yeshua”) is how Jesus’ name is pronounced in Hebrew. But what does the passage mean by saying that Jesus “was hanged”? Doesn’t the New Testament say he was crucified? Indeed it does. But the term “hanged” can function as a synonym for “crucified.” For instance, Galatians 3:13 declares that Christ was “hanged”, and Luke 23:39 applies this term to the criminals who were crucified with Jesus. So the Talmud declares that Jesus was crucified on the eve of Passover. But what of the cry of the herald that Jesus was to be stoned? This may simply indicate what the Jewish leaders were planning to do. If so, Roman involvement changed their plans!

The passage also tells us why Jesus was crucified. It claims He practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy! Since this accusation comes from a rather hostile source, we should not be too surprised if Jesus is described somewhat differently than in the New Testament. But if we make allowances for this, what might such charges imply about Jesus?

Evidence from Lucian

Lucian of Samosata was a second century Greek satirist. In one of his works, he wrote of the early Christians as follows:

The Christians . . . worship a man to this day–the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account. . . . [It] was impressed on them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws.

Although Lucian is jesting here at the early Christians, he does make some significant comments about their founder. For instance, he says the Christians worshipped a man, “who introduced their novel rites.” And though this man’s followers clearly thought quite highly of Him, He so angered many of His contemporaries with His teaching that He “was crucified on that account.”

Although Lucian does not mention his name, he is clearly referring to Jesus. But what did Jesus teach to arouse such wrath? According to Lucian, he taught that all men are brothers from the moment of their conversion. That’s harmless enough. But what did this conversion involve? It involved denying the Greek gods, worshipping Jesus, and living according to His teachings. It’s not too difficult to imagine someone being killed for teaching that. Though Lucian doesn’t say so explicitly, the Christian denial of other gods combined with their worship of Jesus implies the belief that Jesus was more than human. Since they denied other gods in order to worship Him, they apparently thought Jesus a greater God than any that Greece had to offer!

Let’s summarize what we’ve learned about Jesus from this examination of ancient non-Christian sources. First, both Josephus and Lucian indicate that Jesus was regarded as wise. Second, Pliny, the Talmud, and Lucian imply He was a powerful and revered teacher. Third, both Josephus and the Talmud indicate He performed miraculous feats. Fourth, Tacitus, Josephus, the Talmud, and Lucian all mention that He was crucified. Tacitus and Josephus say this occurred under Pontius Pilate. And the Talmud declares it happened on the eve of Passover. Fifth, there are possible references to the Christian belief in Jesus’ resurrection in both Tacitus and Josephus. Sixth, Josephus records that Jesus’ followers believed He was the Christ, or Messiah. And finally, both Pliny and Lucian indicate that Christians worshipped Jesus as God!

I hope you see how this small selection of ancient non-Christian sources helps corroborate our knowledge of Jesus from the gospels. Of course, there are many ancient Christian sources of information about Jesus as well. But since the historical reliability of the canonical gospels is so well established, I invite you to read those for an authoritative “life of Jesus!”

1. F. F. Bruce, Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament (Grand Rapids, Michigan: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1974), 13.

4. Edwin Yamauchi, quoted in Lee Strobel, The Case for Christ (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1998), 82.

5. Tacitus, Annals 15.44, cited in Strobel, The Case for Christ, 82.

6. N.D. Anderson, Christianity: The Witness of History (London: Tyndale, 1969), 19, cited in Gary R. Habermas, The Historical Jesus (Joplin, Missouri: College Press Publishing Company, 1996), 189-190.

7. Edwin Yamauchi, cited in Strobel, The Case for Christ, 82.

8. Pliny, Epistles x. 96, cited in Bruce, Christian Origins, 25 Habermas, The Historical Jesus, 198.

10. Pliny, Letters, transl. by William Melmoth, rev. by W.M.L. Hutchinson (Cambridge: Harvard Univ. Press, 1935), vol. II, X:96, cited in Habermas, The Historical Jesus, 199.

11. M. Harris, “References to Jesus in Early Classical Authors,” in Gospel Perspectives V, 354-55, cited in E. Yamauchi, “Jesus Outside the New Testament: What is the Evidence?”, in Jesus Under Fire, ed. by Michael J. Wilkins and J.P. Moreland (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Zondervan Publishing House, 1995), p. 227, note 66.

12. Habermas, The Historical Jesus, 199.

13. Bruce, Christian Origins, 28.

14. Josephus, Antiquities xx. 200, cited in Bruce, Christian Origins, 36.

16. Yamauchi, “Jesus Outside the New Testament”, 212.

17. Josephus, Antiquities 18.63-64, cited in Yamauchi, “Jesus Outside the New Testament”, 212.

19. Although time would not permit me to mention it on the radio, another version of Josephus’ “Testimonium Flavianum” survives in a tenth-century Arabic version (Bruce, Christian Origins, 41). In 1971, Professor Schlomo Pines published a study on this passage. The passage is interesting because it lacks most of the questionable elements that many scholars believe to be Christian interpolations. Indeed, “as Schlomo Pines and David Flusser…stated, it is quite plausible that none of the arguments against Josephus writing the original words even applies to the Arabic text, especially since the latter would have had less chance of being censored by the church” (Habermas, The Historical Jesus, 194). The passage reads as follows: “At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. His conduct was good and (he) was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive accordingly he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.” (Quoted in James H. Charlesworth, Jesus Within Judaism, (Garden City: Doubleday, 1988), 95, cited in Habermas, The Historical Jesus, 194).

20. Habermas, The Historical Jesus, 202-03.

21. The Babylonian Talmud, transl. by I. Epstein (London: Soncino, 1935), vol. III, Sanhedrin 43a, 281, cited in Habermas, The Historical Jesus, 203.

22. Habermas, The Historical Jesus, 203.

23. See John 8:58-59 and 10:31-33.

24. Habermas, The Historical Jesus, 204. See also John 18:31-32.

25. Matt. 12:24. I gleaned this observation from Bruce, Christian Origins, 56.

27. Lucian, The Death of Peregrine, 11-13, in The Works of Lucian of Samosata, transl. by H.W. Fowler and F.G. Fowler, 4 vols. (Oxford: Clarendon, 1949), vol. 4., cited in Habermas, The Historical Jesus, 206.

Related Posts

I’m not a Christian but I have a great appreciation for a lot of the messages attributed to Jesus in the writings about him. The idea that Jesus was, in&hellip

Dr. Michael Gleghorn

Dr. Michael Gleghorn is both a research associate with Probe Ministries and an instructor in Christian Worldview at Grand Canyon University in Phoenix, Arizona.. He earned a B.A. in psychology from Baylor University, a Th.M. in systematic theology from Dallas Theological Seminary, and a Ph.D. in Theological Studies (also from Dallas Theological Seminary). Before coming on staff with Probe, Michael taught history and theology at Christway Academy in Duncanville, Texas. Michael and his wife Hannah have two children: Arianna and Josiah. His personal website is michaelgleghorn.com.

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Indeed, “as
Schlomo Pines and David Flusser…stated, it is quite plausible that none of the arguments against
Josephus writing the original words even applies to the Arabic text, especially since the latter
would have had less chance of being censored by the church” (Habermas, The Historical Jesus, 194).

If it was a 10th Century version, Would that mean a higher, not less chance of alteration?
Good article. thanks.

Thanks for your question. As a general rule, the greater the “time gap” between the original writing and a particular copy, the more potential there is for something to go wrong. But this is merely a “general rule” – and one always has to take into account the specific details and historical circumstances surrounding a particular manuscript copy. In this case, I am not aware of what date (if any) may have been assigned to the version of the “Testimonium” that appears in Agapius’s “Universal History”, a tenth-century work, written by a Christian in Arabic. See, for example, the discussion in Robert Van Voorst, “Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence,” (Eerdmans, 2000, pp. 97-8).

Hence, without in any way attempting to settle the issue of the authenticity of the version of the “Testimonium” that appears in Agapius (which is not something that I am personally competent to pass judgment on), I would simply note (as Pines and Flusser stated) that it is at least possible that this version was not subject to the interpolations that many scholars think infected the better-known passage (probably because of Christian copyists). Indeed, as cited by Agapius, the passage appears to be missing most of the questionable material that scholars typically worry about.

Of course, like virtually all historical judgments, this is somewhat conjectural. But I wanted to include the information in the footnote because it struck me as a plausible conjecture. But having said this, I want to make clear that I am simply relying on the information at my disposal. So if this conjecture is incorrect, I’m completely okay with that. It just appears to me that the 10th century version has some reasons to accept it as possibly authentic. Nevertheless, I must leave it to others to argue back and forth about the various merits (or lack thereof) of this version. But this is why I included it in the footnote.

Michael, I am an atheist, but I hope you answer my question seriously, as I will promise the same toward your answer.

Tacitus wrote the Annals approximately 30 years after Jesus’ crucifixion. Do we have any way to hypothesize on what he based that excerpt about Jesus? Do we think he spoke to eyewitnesses, do we think he consulted some other text, do we think he relied on secondary sources, or perhaps we don’t know what his sources were and we trust his statement because he is a trustworthy historian otherwise?

Thanks for your question. Tacitus’ Annals were published around 115 A.D. They thus date to approximately 85 years after the crucifixion of Jesus. There is much scholarly discussion about the issue of Tacitus’ source(s) in Annals 15:44.

J. J. Lowder has written, “The bottom line is this: given that Tacitus did not identify his source(s), we simply don’t know how Tacitus obtained his information.” You can read his full discussion of this issue here: http://infidels.org/library/modern/jeff_lowder/jury/chap5.html

Lowder’s article does a good job interacting with the available scholarly discussion of this issue from a skeptical perspective.

Another good discussion about this issue can be found here: http://www.earlychristianwritings.com/tacitus.html

The author of this second article concludes his discussion of the evidence with the following statement: “The present writer believes that the most persuasive case is made by those who maintain that Tacitus made use of a first century Roman document concerning the nature and status of the Christian religion. As to the reliability of that source, following normal historical practice, it is prudently assumed to be accurate until demonstrated otherwise. The reference from Tacitus constitutes prima facie evidence for the historicity of Jesus.”

I’m personally comfortable with both of these statements. But like Lowder, I must honestly confess that I simply don’t know for sure what sources Tacitus may have relied on in relating this information about Christ and the early Christians.

Tacitus was certainly in a position to possess (as the second writer notes) “a first century Roman document concerning the nature and status of the Christian religion.” But even if he received this information from Christians (which is debatable), that would not, of course, mean that it was untrustworthy or historically unreliable.

So ultimately I do not know what sources Tacitus may have relied on in this passage. But it seems to me that a good case can be made for believing the passage to be at least generally trustworthy historically. And that’s primarily what I would be personally concerned about.

This is a useful summary of apologetic scholarship about the historic Jesus that is pretty much in line with Bart Ehrman’s findings about the existence of Jesus as a secular scholar. The article indicates that SOME of the information in the New Testament is likely corroborated by non Christian sources. The article, however, does NOT come even close to proving the author’s broad assertion in the opening sentence that “the New Testament is an accurate and trustworthy historical document.” The NT is a religious document with varying levels of history, oral tradition, later additions, and myth. Showing that Jesus most likely existed and that ancient followers believed certain thing about him doesn’t even come close to proving that the things that they believed about him were true.

Thanks for writing – and for your kind comments at the beginning of your letter. As the title of my article indicates, I was only intending to provide a bit of “Ancient Evidence for Jesus from Non-Christian Sources.” I was not intending to write an article dealing in detail with the historical reliability of the New Testament. Indeed, these articles begin as radio programs – and hence, we are extremely limited in what we can say by very strict time parameters.

It’s true, of course, that the New Testament is a collection of “religious” documents. But how does this impugn the historical reliability of these documents? It seems to me that the documents can be both historically reliable and religiously truthful.

I freely grant that there are some issues regarding the historicity of particular claims in these texts, which may not have been settled to everyone’s satisfaction. But personally, I think that the New Testament documents should be judged innocent until proven guilty – especially in light of their track record to date. And I’m not persuaded that anyone has proven any insuperable difficulties with affirming the historical reliability of these documents when properly interpreted.

You assert “there is overwhelming evidence that the New Testament is an accurate and trustworthy historical document.” What is that evidence?

How is this for a start. By the way with the finding of the dead sea scrolls it is proven these prophecies were not written after they happened.

Thanks for your question. This is a huge issue, but let me recommend a few resources which will lay out some of the reasons for making such a claim.

All this evidence proves is that these non-Christian sources believed that Jesus had existed. They do not provide any claim or mention of a resurrection! Josephus gives massive amounts of information about first century Palestine but never ONCE mentions an alleged resurrection of a messiah pretender.

Have you ever noticed that anytime you request the evidence for the Resurrection of Jesus from a Christian blogger or pastor, the first thing they do is refer you to some apologist’s book. Dear Christian friend, if it takes an entire book to prove that your first century miracle happened, it most probably didn’t.

Open your eyes, friends. You wouldn’t read a Mormon apologist’s book to decide whether or not to believe Joseph Smith’s supernatural claims. You wouldn’t read a Muslim apologist’s book to decide whether or not to believe Mohammad’s supernatural claims. And you wouldn’t read a Hindu apologist’s book to decide whether or not to believe the supernatural claims of the Hindu gods.

Nope. You would expect the person making the supernatural claim to give you sufficient evidence within a five minute conversation…unless that supernatural claim is YOUR supernatural claim…then you expect us all to read your apologist’s book to believe it.

It is an Experience of grace. That’s the prize,these things are spiritual. My only desire for you.

Sadducees and and Pharisees came to Jesus and ask for sign from heaven and He refused to give that they asked for, “A wicked and adulterous generation seeketh after a sign and there shall no sign be given unto it, but the sign of the prophet Jonas. And he left them, and departed.Matthew 16:4”, does it sound familiar this to you ?

Although it was not the purpose of my article to address, either specifically or in detail, the subject of Jesus’ resurrection, it is certainly possible to summarize the case for the historicity of this event.

The majority of New Testament historians (not just evangelicals) would agree on the following historical facts:

1. Jesus of Nazareth was put to death by crucifixion.

2. He was buried in a tomb (most likely by someone named Joseph of Arimathea).

3. The tomb was discovered empty early Sunday morning, probably by some of His women followers.

4. Afterward, Jesus’ disciples (and others, such as James and Paul) experienced appearances of Jesus alive from the dead.

5. The original disciples (along with James and Paul) were so convinced that God had raised Jesus from the dead that they were willing to suffer persecution and martyrdom for this belief.

I take these five facts from the work of William Lane Craig, in his book Reasonable Faith, although they can be found in other writers as well.

So here’s the question. What is the best explanation of these facts? Craig and others argue that these facts are best explained by the New Testament declaration that God did, in fact, raise Jesus from the dead! Personally, I think they are correct in claiming that the resurrection of Jesus is the best explanation of these facts.

Of course, if people doubt that these facts are as well-attested as I’ve claimed, and they want to look into the evidence for themselves, then I’m afraid that I must recommend a book. The fact is that when there’s a lot of evidence to discuss, and various alternative theories to weigh (as is the case with the resurrection of Jesus), one really cannot dispense with a book-length treatment of the topic. Granted, the author of the post above may not be happy about this, but I’m guessing that some of our other readers may like some recommendations.

So I would recommend the following books:

But for those, like our commentator above, who just can’t stomach the thought of reading a whole book on this subject, I would recommend William Lane Craig’s chapter on “The Resurrection of Jesus” in Reasonable Faith, 3rd edition (pp. 333 – 404) – – http://www.amazon.com/Reasonable-Faith-3rd-Christian-Apologetics-ebook/dp/B00G5M1BFK/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1426879338&sr=1-1&keywords=reasonable+faith+by+william+lane+craig

“I believe those witnesses who get their throats cut ” (Blaise Pascal ) me too Blaise me too . Paul gives a list of over 500 people who saw the resurrected Christ . That list of eyewitnesses would eventually become a hit list of people who died for the faith

The Talmud source you cited that talks about the failed attempt at stoning does seem to support the claims made in John 8:59, I must add. In that passage, the very writers of the Talmud ― the Jewish religious leaders ― react to “Before Abraham was, I AM” as a highly blasphemous claim and, as a result, attempt to stone Jesus, only for Jesus to escape before they even have a chance. The accusations of “leading Israel to apostasy” definitely are suggestive of claims like that one.

Does it make any sense that a man who supposedly healed lepers, turned water into wine, fed thousands with a few fishes, cured the sick, and raised the dead wouldn’t rate a mention of his accomplishments not just that he suffered an extreme penalty ( cruxifiction ) which was a very common Roman punishment? Obviously the Jesus myths are creations of the church a hundred years later trying to make him worship worthy.

Thanks for your comment. It’s a serious mistake not to regard the canonical gospels as (at the very least) generally reliable historical sources of information about the life and ministry of Jesus. Although we now have the four gospels in our New Testament canon, we must remember that these originally existed as separate sources for the life and ministry of Jesus. They were only combined (with the other New Testament documents) into our present New Testament canon much later.

The New Testament gospels, along with all the other New Testament writings, were not written 100 years after the ministry of Jesus, as you allege. Anyone who thinks this is relying on shoddy scholarship. All of the New Testament documents (including the four gospels) are products of the first century church. Although conservative scholars typically differ from their more moderate to liberal counterparts in the dates assigned to these documents, virtually everyone would regard the New Testament gospels as first century documents. Anyone desiring a careful, level-headed approach to all the issues concerning authorship, dating, and so forth of the New Testament documents should consult Donald Guthrie’s excellent, New Testament Introduction (Revised Edition).

Once one sees (and understands) the four canonical gospels (not to mention the other New Testament documents) for what they are, it is immediately evident that we have a great deal of evidence for Jesus from the first century (some of it dating to within just a few years of Jesus’ ministry). The non-Christian sources serve merely to add to (and confirm) the information we already had in the twenty-seven sources now comprising our New Testament.

Excellent written article. I came across it looking for any non biblical writings about the actual crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Nothing drives me more mad than when someone points to another passage in the bible to offer proof that the passage being questioned is true.

Even if the entire bible was written one year after Christ ascended, without any proof outside of the bible, all of the resurrection, miracles, and supernatural stories are very hard to believe.

With all the evidence and the fact that scholars agree on, it is not hard to believe that a group of people invented all of the supernatural divine stories, to gain power, and they were very good at convincing people that their story was true.

To me with current available facts about Jesus, both narratives could be true.

Many Christian apologists believe that Gary Habermas’ research found that 75% of scholars believe that the Empty Tomb is an historical fact. This is a false claim.

If you read Habermas’ research the truth is that his 75% claim is based on a literature search of articles in which scholars state an opinion on the historicity of the Empty Tomb. That’s it.

Let me ask you this:
Which group of scholars is going to be more motivated to write articles
on the Empty Tomb? I would bet good money that the answer is: evangelical
scholars. Why? Because without the Empty Tomb, the evidence
for a BODILY resurrection of Jesus is significantly weakened. Appearance claims by a small group of mostly uneducated, superstitious Galilean peasants is NOT strong evidence upon which to base your claims of the veracity of the foundational belief of the conservative/traditional Christian faith: that a three-day-dead corpse walked out of his sealed grave, spent forty days with his friends, and then levitated into outer space.

Check out this critical review of Habermas’ research:

You re so desperate to be intelligent but your effort is undermined by the mere fact you are an atheist.

Sir Anthony Flew an atheist hero of the 20th & 21th century realized there is A GOD after 50 years of atheistic lectures and many many books.

It only takes one rule. Follow the evidence where it leads. The more you understand science the more the possibility increases for A GOD.

Sir, I was just reading your research on the evidence for a historical Jesus. I was starting my research on the person of Jesus to develop a sermon message. Apparently you have already been there and done that. Perhaps I should seek an area that needs additional research. During your research did you find z such areas. I was especially interested in extra biblical data about Jesus in Egypt, his return and his life before his a first miracle. Can/would you mind suggesting some possible sources. I was considering the library of congress and SWBTts.

Thank you for any help you can provide.n

Thanks for writing. There is a lot more ancient evidence for Jesus than what was covered in this article. A great place to begin your research is with Gary Habermas’, The Historical Jesus: Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ – https://smile.amazon.com/Historical-Jesus-Ancient-Evidence-Christ/dp/0899007325/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1481661542&sr=1-1&keywords=the+historical+jesus

I am not aware of any historically reliable sources of information regarding Jesus’ childhood (other than the little recorded in the NT Gospels, of course). Beginning in the second-century, various “infancy gospels” arose, attempting to tell about this period of Jesus’ life (e.g. The Infancy Gospel of Thomas). But I am not aware of anyone who believes that these sources supply genuine historical information about the childhood of Jesus.

Best wishes in your research!

Sorry for the delay. Care to comment or ask questions, Rodney?

I hesitate to approve your post since you did not do so, but to show that we have nothing to hide or fear from alternative scholarship, I will.

What leads you to trust this source? Do you agree with it–in what ways?

No one asks you to have faith to believe the fact claims of history or science. They ask you to believe these claims based on the evidence. So why should we treat Christianity any differently? Asking you to believe the central claims of Christianity “by faith” is simply an appeal to emotions and superstition.

Thanks for your comment. Although I would question your claim that no amount of faith is required to believe the claims of history and science, and would also question your assumption that Christianity should not be treated any differently than purely secular history and science, nevertheless, on the Probe website (at any rate), we really aren’t treating Christianity much differently. Indeed, the whole purpose of the Probe website is to offer arguments and evidence for the truth claims of Christianity. We are not appealing to emotions or superstition, we are appealing to good philosophical arguments and sound scientific and historical evidence.

All that to say, I fear that your comment is not really relevant to the very purpose of this website, nor do I see its relevance to my article (which appeals to recognizable historical sources that anyone can investigate for themselves).

How are the group appearances of Jesus to the first Christians any different from the group appearances of the angel Moroni to the first Mormons?

Ron Rhodes, who has written several books on Mormonism, mentions only several alleged appearances of “Moroni” to Joseph Smith. He does not mention any group appearances (See The Challenge of the Cults and New Religions, 54).

He does mention a group appearance of an “unnamed angel” to Smith, Whitmer, Harris and Cowdery. The angel allegedly showed them the golden plates. But Harris later said he saw the plates only with the “eye of faith” – and not with his physical eyes. Rhodes writes, “Conflicting reports state that he and the other witnesses never saw the actual engraved plates, only something covered with a cloth.” He also states, “Whitmer, Harris, and Cowdery all ended up leaving the (Mormon) church.” He notes that Harris did return much later, but “in the interim he had said that several other churches were true” (See Rhodes, 55).

If this account is accurate, then there may have been no group appearances of Moroni. But suppose that Moroni was the one who appeared to Whitmer, Harris and Cowdery. Their later reports do not inspire much confidence in what they actually saw. Nor do any of them appear to have been intensely committed to Mormonism. Two left the church never to return the third left and returned much later (but he inspires little to no confidence in his actual commitment to Mormonism). Finally, given that Mormonism preaches a very different Christ than the Jesus of the N.T., its teachings regarding Jesus and the gospel would appear to fall under the anathema of the Apostle Paul recorded in Galatians 1:8-9.

On the other hand, the evidence for the historicity of the resurrection appearances of Jesus is quite good. Consider, for example, that Paul claims (in 1 Cor. 15:3-8) that Jesus appeared to Peter, the twelve, over 500 brethren, James, all the apostles, and finally Paul himself. The appearances to James and Paul are particularly interesting because neither man believed that Jesus was anyone special until actually witnessing an appearance of Jesus alive from the dead. Paul was a persecutor of the church James was one of Jesus’ brothers. W. L. Craig asks, “What would it take to convince you that your brother was the Lord, so that you would be willing to die for that belief?” But this is precisely what happened to James! Paul also, though once a persecutor of the church, eventually died for his faith in Jesus as Israel’s promised Messiah and risen Lord. Unlike the commitment of Whitmer, Harris and Cowdery to Mormonism, both Paul and James were willing to seal their testimony to the truth and lordship of Jesus Christ with their blood.

Concerning group appearances, let’s consider two. First, the appearance to over 500 brethren at one time. Although not recorded elsewhere in the N.T., there is good reason to regard this appearance as historical. Think about it. Paul tells the Corinthians that most of the witnesses to this event are still alive (1 Cor. 15:6). But he could hardly have done this if it were not true, for this would have easily exposed him to the Corinthians as a liar. As the Cambridge N.T. scholar, C. H. Dodd observed, Paul’s remark that most of the witnesses to this appearance are still alive, is essentially telling the Corinthians that they are still available for questioning. So this provides good reason to think that this appearance really took place.

Second, consider the appearance(s) to all the apostles. Such appearances are multiply and independently attested in Luke and John. This lends credibility to their historicity. Additionally, Paul had contact with at least some of these people and would have heard of their experiences first-hand. Also, since many of them were still alive, the witnesses were (once again) still available for questioning. Finally, according to church tradition, most of these witnesses ended up dying for their faith in Jesus as Messiah and Lord. Once again, this shows the utter sincerity of their commitment to Jesus, a sincerity and commitment best explained (as the earliest records indicate) by the fact that they were witnesses to appearances of the resurrected Christ.

Although some people will die for a lie that they sincerely believe (or at least suspect) is true, they will not die for a lie that they know to be a lie. But the apostles were willing to die for their faith in Jesus—and no one else on the planet was in a better position than themselves to know if Jesus had really appeared to them alive after his crucifixion and death.

In light of the foregoing arguments and evidence, then, it seems to me that we have good reasons for regarding the resurrection appearances of Jesus as historically genuine. On the other hand, we do not appear to have comparably good reasons for so regarding the appearances of the angel Moroni. But if an angel did appear to Smith (and I am genuinely open to that possibility), then in light of Paul’s declared anathema on any angels preaching another gospel than the one he initially preached to the Galatians, I would be inclined to regard such an angel as a demonic imposter.

Gary …your replies are being put to sleep! LOL Excellent work Gleghorn!

With all do respect the writings of Josephus have been shown to be fraudulent at best. And the majority of the other “evidence” you site are individuals reflecting on what they have been told be practicing christians. So virtually none of the “evidence” you provide are historical evidence regarding the existence of an actual person. I leave you with two interesting questions, both derived from the same promoted religious truth. First, if in fact Jesus was the son of god, a member of the christian trinity and thus he and the father are one, then why would christians feel a need to change his date of birth? Seriously, if they truly believed he was god wouldn’t his true birth date be rather special and important? Second, if indeed he was the son of god and he and the father were one… there would be a rather large historical record of huge gatherings to hear him speak and no doubt numerous writers of the time who would want to interview him. We have extended written records from Egypt that predate Jesus by over a thousand years, including the book of the dead that contain among other things the 10 commandments… and the book of the dead predates Mosses by 1,500 years. Please explains these obvious shortcomings in the historical and religious record without bailing out to the “except it on faith” argument. Thanks

It is not true that the writings of Josephus have been shown to be fraudulent. This is (at best) a rather egregious overstatement. You probably intend to refer to the “Testimonium Flavianum” which I deal with (and take account of) in my article and notes. How do you know that the evidence from Tacitus, Josephus and the Babylonian Talmud comes from practicing Christians? And even if it does, how would that show the evidence to be historically unreliable or untrustworthy? Can practicing Christians not tell the truth? Or can they not record history reliably? I would want to see a really strong argument for an assertion like that!

Concerning your questions: 1. When, precisely, was Jesus born? Wouldn’t we have to first know the date of his birth in order to change it? As the church historian, Philip Schaff observes, “the day and month of the birth of Christ are nowhere stated in the gospel history, and cannot be certainly determined.” The New Testament has not left us precise information regarding the date of Jesus’ birth. Hence, we cannot be certain about when (precisely) this event occurred. But this does nothing to prove that Christianity is false, or that Jesus was never born, or that he wasn’t the promised Messiah, etc. Indeed, anyone who denies that there was a historical Jesus of Nazareth is far outside the scholarly consensus on Jesus. For regardless of one’s theological position, scarcely any reputable scholar at all denies the historicity of Jesus. Finally, I am a committed Christian and (presumably like the Gospel writers themselves) it matters not a bit to me that I do not know the precise date of Jesus’ birth. Indeed, I could not tell you the precise birthday of most of the people (through history and in the present) that (for one reason or another) I love, admire and/or respect (including most of my relatives). The fact that I do not know the precise date of their birth hardly means that I do not love and admire them. What I love and admire about them only requires that they were born it does not require me to know precisely when.

2. The New Testament documents (including the four Gospels) are our earliest and best historical sources of information about Jesus. The Gospels, in fact, have weathered more critical scrutiny than probably any other historical sources whatever. And the fact remains that, whatever one’s theological beliefs, they are generally regarded by scholars as relatively reliable historical sources of information about Jesus. Indeed, if anything, scholarly appreciation for the Gospels as historically reliable sources of information about Jesus has increased in recent years. These days, if someone wants to challenge the historicity of something in the Gospels, they need to present some reasons (i.e. arguments and evidence) as to why a particular saying, person, or event recorded should be rejected as historically untrustworthy. The burden of proof is on the person who wants to challenge the historicity of a gospel narrative, for the fact of the matter is that the Gospels are considered to be (at least) generally reliable historical sources for the life and ministry of Jesus.

I am sorry to say but these references are after the gospel was written.
there is no evidence of jesus christ before the Gospel was written. There were 126 roman and jewish writers that wrote about everything in the daily life of that era and no one mentioned jesus chrisst who destroyed the temple, who was crucified the day before the passover..
check even the the bibile, there are paragraphs copied verbatum from the original Mark.
how did mark know what jesus said when he was by himself on the mountain praying to God?
This is a fiction story, based on 5% reality, like a Cinderella story. Yes, Jesus was born from a virgin and had exactly 12 apostoles like the the sign of the zodiac and other deities before him.
Lastly, studies have shown that prayers do not get answered no matter what, please check Templeton study in the US. If, your son gets meningitis, please pray to God and take him to church so God’s will be done and he can die.

Although I do believe that there are prophecies of the Messiah, given hundreds of years before his birth (e.g. Isaiah 53, etc.), nevertheless I am quite willing to grant that our earliest and best written historical sources concerning the birth, life, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus are to be found in the New Testament documents. It is, however, probably false to claim that there was no (written) evidence of Christ before the Gospels, for the writings of Paul (which mention Jesus) are likely earlier than the Gospels (the Thessalonian epistles, for example, probably date to around 51 A.D.). Although it is possible that Mark is earlier than Paul’s earliest epistles, most scholars would not date Mark so early.

Concerning passages in Mark which also appear in Matthew and Luke, this is well-known. If Mark is the earliest Gospel (as most NT scholars believe), then Matthew and Luke probably made use of Mark in composing their own Gospels. Indeed, Luke speaks to this issue directly in the first few verses of his Gospel: “Inasmuch as many have undertaken to compile an account of the things accomplished among us . . . it seemed fitting for me as well, having investigated everything carefully from the beginning, to write it out for you in consecutive order, most excellent Theophilus” (Luke 1:1, 3). Luke explicitly tells us that many others before him had composed written accounts of the events of Jesus’ life. But this does nothing whatever to cast doubt on the credibility of Mark’s account. And if Mark’s account is accurate, then so are Matthew and Luke (insofar as they rely on him).

How did Mark know what Jesus said when he was by himself praying on the mountain? Clearly, Jesus told his disciples what he was doing.

Your assertion that the Gospels are fictional accounts cannot stand up under scrutiny – and indeed, it reveals a gross level of ignorance concerning historical scholarship on the Gospels. The fact is, all Jesus scholars recognize the Gospels as our earliest and best historical sources of information about Jesus. And most Jesus scholars, speaking strictly as historians (without any regard for whether the Gospels are divinely inspired or not) believe that the Gospels contain significant historical information regarding the life, ministry and death of Jesus. This has nothing to do with any sort of faith commitment either. They believe the Gospels are generally reliable historical sources of information about Jesus in precisely the same way that scholars think that Tacitus or Josephus are relatively reliable historical sources (and for the same sorts of reasons).

Concerning prayer, I will make only two comments. First, I have seen dramatic answers to prayer in my own life (and also heard of dramatic answers to prayer from others). Second, sociological studies of prayer typically have major flaws. Any time one sets out to test prayer in the ways such studies do, the participants are generally no longer “praying” (in any genuine sense). As C. S. Lewis observed, such persons are not sincerely going before God with their heartfelt concerns and pleading with Him for help and resolution. Rather, they are putting God to the test, attempting merely to find out what might happen – – and this the true God will certainly not stand for. “You shall not put the Lord your God to the test” (Deut. 6:16).

Does space, without the universe of stars, planet, comets, etc., go on forever?

I asked my husband, Dr. Ray Bohlin, who says that space is finite, and the universe has a boundary. At the Big Bang, it’s not just matter that was flung out into an ever-expanding set of dimensions, but the limits of space itself continue to expand.

I asked him, “So what’s on the other side of the edges of the universe?”

He said, “Nothing nothing. We can’t know.”

Dear Sue, I so “get that,” what your husband said. It is like a cup of coffee that spills. The spill is defined with a border, so it is finite yet, that spill keeps flowing/growing, still finite because it has a border, but expanding!

It’s not clear whether this is a scientific question or a theological one. My understanding is that the Hebrews didn’t have a word for empty space, as the idea exists in the English language. What gets translated “heavens” in Genesis 1:1 means everything you see when you look up in the sky, day or night. With this in mind, then what we think of as creation in a modern since, all happened in the first verse of the bible. The days of creation then would be perfecting the broad pallet. Both Dr. John Lennox and Dr. Hugh Ross have a lot to say about this point.

There might be open-minded interest to know of another source of information about Jesus/Yehoshua, he being a non-named fourth-density incarnate on Earth, known as a Wanderer, who incarnated into an entity on Earth that was named Jesus/Yehoshua, his sole desire to incarnate on Earth to become a martyr, as he was teaching, after doing much learning of Yahudism and other “religions,” the true concept of love of which he know is the entire source of creation, that creation coming from the One, the Source, the Infinite Creator, not the god of the bible which is known as “The Lord” by Christians or, if paying attention to the Hebrew, the YHWH aka Yahowah, a war god coming from a group of entities of a “negative” realm, that of service to self and, thus, promotion of slavery based on commands aka orders.
There are two sources which can be much helpful in learning more about the role of Jesus, who his father is — who is all of creations father — that being the One aka Infinite Source, the One who created the finite universe, such as described by Sue up ^ above. We are “ALL ONE WITH SOURCE,” such as what Jesus said, that he is One with his father. We all come from Source. Source is the “light” and we all are the colors of the prism from the One Source. This is what Jesus was teaching. Unfortunately man created a religion out of his teachings based on using the Torah which is based on slavery/bloody sin-sacrificing ideology and mass killings of creation who do not know or accept this negative entity known as Yah aka YHWH who used his “godly” power to usurp the loving aspect of One/Source.

This link will show excerpts of the sessions regarding Jesus in the Law of One material. The whole Law of One material will help make much sense of the universe and who we as humans are and who we are to be — that of service to others and love — and our purpose to gain densities/dimensions through incarnating, like Jesus did, or reincarnating for purposes of continued learning to how to lose self so as to become lights of love and serve others based on love. Thank you for reading this and for accepting some material that might sound weird or controversial but still is in line with the topic of this main article: Jesus from Non-Christian Sources.

I believe that traditional Christianity can be proven false in just five minutes by knocking out the three pillars of the Christian Faith (belief system):

1. The Bodily Resurrection of Jesus
2. The Accuracy of Old Testament Prophecy
3. The Witness of the Holy Spirit

And here is the evidence that destroys these three superstition-based claims:

1. Based on cumulative human experience, it is much more probable that the early Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus was due to one disciple’s bereavement hallucination (probably Simon Peter’s) than a once in history reanimation of a three-day-brain-dead corpse. Persons who experience hallucinations believe them to be real life experiences. If Paul was able to convince first century Jews in Asia Minor that he had seen a resurrected Jesus based on a “heavenly vision”, then Simon Peter was surely capable of convincing first century Jews (including the other disciples) in Palestine that he had seen the resurrected Jesus, even though his experience had really been an hallucination. The remainder of the “appearances” of Jesus listed in the Early Creed of First Corinthians 15 could simply have been static images (illusions) something we see today with alleged group sightings of the Virgin Mary. The Early Creed gives no details whatsoever of these appearances. The detailed appearances in the four Gospels may well be literary embellishments, very common in Greco-Roman biographies, the genre of literature in which most New Testament scholars, including many conservative Christian scholars, believe the authors of the Gospels were writing.

2. The Book of Daniel is a blatant fraud. The book very accurately portrays the events in the Greek Empire down to abstract minutia but makes major errors regarding the Babylonian and Persian empires, the empires during which the book’s author infers the book was written. Jesus quotes from this fraudulent book. Jesus, who was not a scholar, was fooled by the author. Modern scholars are not fooled.

3. The “witness of the Holy Spirit” is a joke. Christians can no more prove that the voice that allegedly speaks to them is their god than can the Muslims, Hindus, Mormons, Jews, and others prove that the voice that speaks to them is their god. Watch this powerful video for proof:

Michael Gleghorn keep it up , may god bless you more, you are doing a good job in providing the truth to the darkest part of the world.how dare are they to ask the existence of their creator? but to believe about the theory of universe which no one has reached or seen its edge ?

The veracity of the Christian religion rises or falls on the veracity of the Resurrection and the veracity of the Resurrection rises or falls on the historicity of the alleged post-death appearances of Jesus to his followers. Christians believe that the appearance stories in the Gospels and in the Early Creed are historical facts based primarily on the following:

1. There were so many alleged eyewitnesses to these appearances, sometimes in large groups.
2. These alleged appearances had a dramatic effect on the character of those who witnessed them.
3. These alleged appearances were the impetus for many early Christians to be willing to be tortured and painfully executed for their belief in the veracity of these appearances.
4. These Resurrection appearances were the primary reason for the rapid growth of Christianity.

Question: Are these facts sufficient evidence to believe that a three-day-brain-dead first century corpse really did come back to life possessing supernatural powers supernatural powers which allowed him to teleport between cities, walk through locked doors, and levitate into space? Before you answer that question I ask you to watch this Youtube video:

In this video, HUNDREDS of very devout, sincere people of faith believe that a woman who has been dead for 20 centuries is appearing to them. I have no doubt that at least some of these “eyewitnesses” would be willing to suffer great persecution and even death defending their belief that this event really happened.

Based on the very large number of eyewitnesses to this event and upon their very intense, sincere belief that this very extra-ordinary event really occurred…should we believe them?

Why? These people are very obviously experiencing an illusion. There is no dead woman to be seen anywhere in the video. Collective human experience would suggest that this is very likely what happened in the first century with the early Christians. The appearance stories in the Early Creed of First Corinthians 15, the earliest description we have of these alleged events, make no mention of a talking, walking, broiled-fish-eating Jesus. If the detailed appearance stories in the Gospels are literary embellishments, perfectly acceptable in a Greco-Roman biography as evangelical Christian New Testament scholar Michael Licona has demonstrated in his recent book, Why are There Differences in the Gospels?, it is quite possible that the actual early Christian appearance claims were based on illusions, similar to the one seen in the Youtube video above.

Interesting, I find it strange the two largest cults in the world, acknowledge Jesus in some form or another. It appears to me a lot of people are looking for a excuse to excuse their life style. Is there any way to get the documentation from Roman history containing the minutes of the trial under Pontius Palate?

“One can no longer speak of a consensus against Johannine dependence on the Synoptics or, at least, on Mark. The reasons for the revival of interest in favor of John’s dependence are varied.”

—New Testament scholar, Raymond Brown, in his book, The Death of the Messiah (1994), p. 76

Gary: How many times have you heard conservative Christian apologists say that even if the authors of Luke and Matthew were dependent on Mark, the author of John was not. “Scholarship demonstrates that the Gospel of John is not dependent on the Synoptics, therefore we have at least two independent sources (Mark and John) for the Arrest, Trial, Crucifixion, and Resurrection stories found in the Gospels.”

Scholars are currently divided on this issue. No one can claim either side of this argument as fact. We might have two independent sources for these stories, but it is also possible that the core story came from just one source: the author of the Gospel of Mark. If the core details of the Jesus’ Passion Story came solely from the anonymous author of the Gospel of Mark, whom the majority of scholars do not believe was an eyewitness or the associate of an eyewitness (ie., not John Mark), it is then possible that much or all of the Arrest scene, Trial scene, Crucifixion scene, and Resurrection scene are literary inventions, perfectly acceptable in Greco-Roman biographies!

As long as the core story remained intact…that Jesus of Nazareth had been arrested by the Romans tried and convicted of treason against Caesar executed by crucifixion buried in some manner and shortly thereafter, his disciples believed that he appeared to them, in some fashion…the other details found in the Passion Narrative may be literary invention (fiction)!
Think of that! It would certainly answer a lot of questions. Why does (the original) Resurrection Story in Mark have zero appearance stories? Why does the Gospel of Matthew, written a decade or so later, have appearances to the male disciples in Galilee, while the Gospel of Luke, also written a decade or so after Mark (whose author most scholars believe was not aware of Matthew’s gospel), has appearances only in Jerusalem and Judea? And why does the last Gospel written, John, have appearances in Jerusalem and Galilee as if the author had combined Matthew and Luke’s stories. My, my, my. The evidence for a fantastical, never-heard-of-before-or-since Resurrection is much, much weaker than the average Christian layperson sitting in the pew on Sunday realizes!

An excellent article and commentary following. One item I would like to mention about absolute proof seemingly demanded by unbelievers. There is absolute proof available, but it takes just a mustard seed sized bit of faith for it to be revealed. God does not force Himself on anyone, so it is that faith which opens a door, opens eyes and ears to allow the blind to see and deaf to hear. God has a plan, specifically “timed”, to create His family and it will become abundantly clear to even those unbelievers, when Jesus returns, that He is real.

In the quote of the Babylonian Talmud the name Yeshu is used. Why is that Jesus, our beloved Saviour. The early Jews have changed the adorable Name Jeshua, as He was originally called in Hebrew, in Yeshu. And under that name he is known up to now by most Jews, which is an acronym for “Yimmach Shemo Ve-zikro”, which means “May his name and memory be blotted out”. (Jer. 11:18)

Excellent article! Keep up the research and search for truth! Thanks for sharing.

No eye witnesses in the Bible. “All four Gospels are anonymous texts. The familiar attributions of the Gospels to Matthew, Mark, Luke and John come from the mid 2nd century, and later, and we have no good historical reason to accept these attributions.”

Prof. Steve Mason, professor of classics, history and religious studies at York University in Toronto, Bible Review, Feb. 2000, p. 36.

“The Gospels are not eye witness accounts.”

Allen D. Callahan, Associate Professor of New Testament, Harvard Divinity School.

Jesus did not die on the cross, hence, no Resurrection as written by Saint Irenaeus, “Now, that the first stage of early life embraces thirty years, and that this extends onwards to the fortieth year, everyone will admit but from the fortieth and fiftieth year a man begins to decline towards old age, which our Lord possessed while He still fulfilled the office of a Teacher, as the Gospel and all the elders testify. Those elders who were conversant in Asia with John, the disciple of the Lord, affirming that John conveyed to them that information. And he remained among them up to the times of Trajan [98 C.E.]”

Bishop Irenaeus, Early Church Father, Against Heresies, 180 C.E.

Edward has given us three quotations to consider. The first two concern the New Testament Gospels, claiming that they are 1) Anonymous documents, and 2) Not written by eyewitnesses.

Let’s consider that first quotation. It’s true, of course, that all four Gospels are technically anonymous. No one disputes this. The quotation continues, however, by noting that the earliest external testimony to the authorship of the documents dates to the mid-second century (note: some would put this as early as 125 A.D.) and claims that “we have no good historical reason to accept these attributions.” But surely we have at least some historical basis for accepting these attributions. So far as I know, no other names have ever been associated with these documents than those of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. That this unanimous testimony dates from the early second century must also be regarded to have at least some historical significance.

Furthermore, consider just a few points in favor of these authors. Let’s first consider Matthew. According to Donald Guthrie, in his magisterial New Testament Introduction: “The earliest description of this gospel of which we have any evidence attributes it to Matthew. This is testified by strong tradition. It was indisputably acknowledged before the close of the second century and there is no positive evidence that the book ever circulated without this title. Indeed it may reasonably be claimed that the title was affixed at least as early as AD 125” (43).

Internal evidence also plausibly points to Matthean authorship. As Paul Weaver notes, “Several internal details point to Matthew. (1) Not all the accounts of the twelve disciples are recorded in this gospel, only those of Peter, James, John, and Matthew. (2) The calling of Matthew is an abrupt parenthesis in the midst of a series of miracles, and is its own independent account. (3) Only this gospel refers to Matthew as a tax collector (9: 9 10: 3), which was not a positive profession to hold, but rather a profession which would cause Jews to regard him as a traitor and to be hated by His own people. (4) The gospel of Matthew includes nine different words for money, more than any other gospel, and three of these terms are found in no other canonical book. (5) It is the only gospel which references the temple tax (17: 24-27). This internal evidence points to Matthean authorship” (Paul Weaver, Introducing the New Testament Books).

Finally, consider Merrill Tenney’s remarks in his New Testament Survey, “Since Matthew was a comparatively obscure member of the apostolic band, there seems to be no good reason for making him the author of a spurious work. Any forger who sought fame for his production would have chosen to publish it under the name of a more renowned apostle” (142).

Needless to say, what is true of Matthew’s authorship (in this regard) would be equally true of those books attributed to Mark and Luke (neither of whom were even apostles). There doesn’t seem to be much reason to attribute these books to such authors – – unless these were the men who actually wrote them.

Notice, also, that if Matthew really was the author of the Gospel attributed to him, then it is simply false to assert that these documents are not based on eyewitness testimony. For Matthew would have been an eyewitness of many of these events. And if the apostle John authored the gospel attributed to him, then he also was an eyewitness.

What, then, might we say about the fourth gospel? The author appears to claim to have been an eyewitness of Jesus’ words and works: “And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld his glory, glory as of the only begotten from the Father, full of grace and truth” (John 1:14). Notice that the author claims, “we beheld his glory” (apparently identifying himself as an eyewitness).

Paul Weaver writes, “Many other clues point to Johannine authorship. A disciple is mentioned without name as, “the one whom Jesus loved” (13: 23 19: 26 21: 7)” (Introducing the New Testament Books). Carson and Moo claim that this “beloved disciple” is the apostle John: “the beloved disciple is none other than John, and he deliberately avoids using his personal name. This becomes more likely when we remember that the beloved disciple is constantly in the company of Peter, while the Synoptics (Mark 5: 37 9: 2 14: 33 par.) and Acts (3: 1– 4: 23 8: 15– 25), not to mention Paul (Gal. 2: 9), link Peter and John in friendship and shared experience. It has also been noted that in this gospel most of the important characters are designated with rather full expressions: Simon Peter Thomas Didymus Judas son of Simon Iscariot Caiaphas, the high priest that year. Strangely, however, John the Baptist is simply called John, even when he is first introduced (1: 6 cf. Mark 1: 4 par.). The simplest explanation is that John the son of Zebedee is the one person who would not feel it necessary to distinguish the other John from himself” (Carson and Moo, An Introduction to the New Testament, 237).

Much more could be said in defense of the traditional authorship of the four New Testament Gospels. It is clear, however, that the matter is not so patently obvious as the scholars cited by Edward imply. There is vigorous debate and discussion about these issues and no one has succeeded in proving that the four traditional ascriptions are false. Moreover, there is the historical weight of church tradition in their favor, along with internal evidence as well. At the very least, the matter cannot be dismissed with a couple scholarly citations and a wave of the hand (as Edward seems content to do).

What, then, might be said about Edward’s third and final quotation, from the Church Father, Irenaeus? It must be said from the outset that he has taken this citation out of context, not properly understood it, and drawn a false conclusion from it.

The citation he give us comes from Irenaeus, Against Heresies 2.22.5. In the section immediately prior to this one (i.e. 2.22.4), we see that Irenaeus’ theology of recapitulation is in view here. That is, Irenaeus viewed Christ as recapitulating in his life and ministry all the stages of human life (in order to redeem human beings at whatever life stage they were/are at).

Here is what Irenaeus says in Against Heresies 2.22.4: “Being thirty years old when He came to be baptized, and then possessing the full age of a Master, He came to Jerusalem, so that He might be properly acknowledged by all as a Master. For He did not seem one thing while He was another, as those affirm who describe Him as being man only in appearance but what He was, that He also appeared to be. Being a Master, therefore, He also possessed the age of a Master, not despising or evading any condition of humanity, nor setting aside in Himself that law which He had appointed for the human race, but sanctifying every age, by that period corresponding to it which belonged to Himself. For He came to save all through means of Himself— all, I say, who through Him are born again to God— infants, and children, and boys, and youths, and old men. He therefore passed through every age, becoming an infant for infants, thus sanctifying infants a child for children, thus sanctifying those who are of this age, being at the same time made to them an example of piety, righteousness, and submission a youth for youths, becoming an example to youths, and thus sanctifying them for the Lord. So likewise He was an old man for old men, that He might be a perfect Master for all, not merely as respects the setting forth of the truth, but also as regards age, sanctifying at the same time the aged also, and becoming an example to them likewise. Then, at last, He came on to death itself, that He might be “the first-born from the dead, that in all things He might have the pre-eminence,” the Prince of life, existing before all, and going before all.”

One can see from this quotation that Irenaeus is concerned to stress that Jesus recapitulated every stage of human life in order to redeem human beings at any (and every) stage of life. Although I don’t share Irenaeus’ view of how old Jesus was when he was crucified (i.e. apparently around 50), it will shortly become clear that Irenaeus certainly believed in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus! Indeed, one can see evidence for Irenaeus’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection at the end of the previous quotation.

Let me conclude, then, with a few citations from Irenaeus, which will easily dispel what Edward has alleged in his comment:

1. “It is not possible to name the number of the gifts which the Church, [scattered] throughout the whole world, has received from God, in the name of Jesus Christ, who was crucified under Pontius Pilate” (Against Heresies 2:32.4). Clearly Irenaeus affirmed (consistent with the New Testament) that Jesus “was crucified under Pontius Pilate.”

2. “Thus the apostles did not preach another God, or another Fulness nor, that the Christ who suffered and rose again was one, while he who flew off on high was another, and remained impassible but that there was one and the same God the Father, and Christ Jesus who rose from the dead and they preached faith in Him, to those who did not believe on the Son of God, and exhorted them out of the prophets, that the Christ whom God promised to send, He sent in Jesus, whom they crucified and God raised up” (Against Heresies 3.12.2). What could be clearer? Here Irenaeus affirms both the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.

3. “Thus the apostles did not change God, but preached to the people that Christ was Jesus the crucified One, whom the same God that had sent the prophets, being God Himself, raised up, and gave in Him salvation to men” (Against Heresies 3.12.4).

These citations from Irenaeus are sufficient, I think, to show that Edward has erred in claiming that Irenaeus rejected the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Indeed, he embraced both, just as the New Testament teaches.

Based on cumulative human experience, it is much more probable that the early Christian belief in the resurrection of Jesus was due to one disciple’s bereavement hallucination (probably Simon Peter’s) than a once in history reanimation of a three-day-brain-dead corpse. Persons who experience hallucinations believe them to be real life experiences. If Paul was able to convince first century Jews in Asia Minor that he had seen a resurrected Jesus based on a “heavenly vision”, then Simon Peter was surely capable of convincing first century Jews (including the other disciples) in Palestine that he had seen the resurrected Jesus, even though his experience had really been an hallucination. The remainder of the “appearances” of Jesus listed in the Early Creed of First Corinthians 15 could simply have been static images (illusions) something we see today with alleged group sightings of the Virgin Mary. The Early Creed gives no details whatsoever of these appearances. The detailed appearances in the four Gospels may well be literary embellishments, very common in Greco-Roman biographies, the genre of literature in which most New Testament scholars, including many conservative Christian scholars, believe the authors of the Gospels were writing.

So Gary, I guess we should just not believe in the apparitions of saints, ignore medical miracles that
are backed up by medical doctors and disbelieve the accounts of people who were clinically dead just
because you want to pass them off as illusions? There are doctors who basically put there reputations
on the line in these accounts. Believe what you want, but I can see there’s no getting through to you.

Dear atheists, all the Jewish leaders had to do to destroy the credibility of Jesus was produce the dead corpse of Jesus. That would not have been hard to do (unless there wasn’t one). As Christians, we have evidence to point to the historicity and Divinity of Jesus. It convinced notable atheists like William Greenleaf and Lee Strobel to abandon their atheism and become Christians. All I’ve seen on these comments is “you Christians can’t prove……..” So here’s my challenge to you, prove atheism.

Very few today consider the great difficulty in finding and maintaining manuscript evidence for almost 2000 years. It is not as if there was pencil and paper everywhere or in every home. Most of us think there should have been plenty of parchment available with notes saying things like, “Going shopping and afterwards will try to locate Jesus since he is in Capernaum today.” Circumcision records held in the Temple libraries in Jerusalem for the purpose of maintaining genealogy were likely destroyed when Jerusalem was destroyed many times over. Census records for various locations in Rome were likely held for a certain number of years once taxes were collected. Those who had the means (the parchment and ink) had to maintain that in safe ways. Notice the records that were maintained, through all the difficulties of time are only 22 or more documents of substantial length and they were maintained by people who actually cared. Should we not have hundreds of thousands of manuscripts from First century Rome’s Caesars and governors? The same goes for the Jews and the Greeks. But we don’t. Further It’s not as if Rome or the Jewish Sanhedrin had to write extensively about a so-called Messiah doing lots of miracles. Remember after all that upon the existence of an empty tomb they tried to cover it up. Who among the Jews or Romans are going to write about an empty tomb which would by any interpretation have a nefarious effect on the political purposes of Rome and the Jewish leadership. To write with accolades that someone honored or wondered about the miraculous life that Jesus led with Twelve disciples would have already cast you into the role of a believer, a cast you may not want to write about particularly if you were of the Jewish nobility or a Roman leader of influence.

I am a Jesus’ follower from Indonesia, the biggest Moslem country, my question is do the atheists in Western have their evidence from primary resources to prove that Jesus never exists historically? The fact is non-Christians historians and writers in the 1-2 century had written about Jesus and Christians during the Roman Empire era. So far, I haven’t found any evidence from 1-2 century who denied the existence of Jesus Christ historically. Atheists just want to say what they want to say. They have faith to not believe in Jesus Christ as I have faith to believe in Him completely, Historically and wholeheartedly.

High Heels in Ancient History: Egyptian butchers wore them to walk above the blood from dead animals

Today, it’s a $40 billion dollars industry it serves as a marker of style, taste, and class. Some call them the ” jewelry of feet”, others, ” feet’s worst nightmare”.

High heeled shoes have reserved their place in the modern world as an inevitable part of every woman’s wardrobe – according to the Spine Health Institute, 72% of women will wear high heels at some point.

While today they are exclusively worn by women, going back 2000 years both male and female wore high heels for different purposes.

In ancient Egypt people, from the lower class usually walked and worked barefoot, while there are murals from 3500 B.C depicting the higher class wearing early versions of high heeled shoes.

The shoes, made from flexible leather pieces held together with lacing, were designed to resemble the symbol “Ankh” – the ancient Egyptian hieroglyph which represents the concept of life.

Both females and males from the upper class wore high heeled shoes only for ceremonial purposes. However, history records show that butchers in ancient Egypt wore high heels as well, but not as a class statement or for ceremonial purposes, but for a practical reason.

Egyptian butchers wore high-heeled shoes in order to walk above the blood of the slaughtered death animals.

In the Middle East, high heels were also perceived as an object of functionality. Persian horse riders wore high heels because they helped hold the foot in stirrups and keep them still when they needed to stand up and shoot arrows. This kind of footwear is shown on a 9th-cenutry ceramic bowl from Persia.

Ancient Roman and Greeks, both men and women, wore platform sandals called Kothorni or buskins, but unlike Persian horse riders or Egyptian butchers, high heels were worn to separate the social classes.

In ancient Rome, where prostitution was legal, high heels were used to identify those within the trade to clients.

Ancient Egypt A-Z

Abu Simbel The site where two huge temples, ordered by Rameses II, are built into a rock wall. Outside the temple are seated statues of the king. The smaller temple is dedicated to Queen Nefertari.

Akh The part of a person’s soul that would live on in the Afterlife. The life of the akh was only possible if the proper funeral rites were performed. The akh was represented as a crested bird called an ibis.

AkhenatenKing of Egypt from 1348 to 1338 BC. He tried to make people abandon their many gods and worship only Aten, the Sun in the sky. He was probably the father of Tutankhamun.

Akhet One of the three seasons in ancient Egypt. It was the season when the Nile flooded, spreading tons of mud and silt across its floodplain. This occurred between July and November. Akhet was also known as the “season of the inundation”.

Amulet A charm worn like jewellery or placed between the bandages on a mummy. Amulets were thought to protect against evil. They came in the shapes of hieroglyphs, gods and animals.

Amun-Re King of all the Egyptian gods, considered the father of the pharaohs.

Anubis The Egyptian god of the dead, mummies and embalming. He is depicted with the head of a dog called a jackal.

Ba The part of a person’s soul that was their personality. The ba was represented as a human-headed bird.

Book of the Dead A book of spells and hymns that were thought to help the dead through the Afterlife. It was written on papyrus and placed in the coffin or burial chamber of the dead person.

Burial chamber The room in a tomb or pyramid where a mummy was placed. It was filled with objects that would be needed in the Afterlife.

Canopic jar Decorated jars inside which a mummy’s internal organs were stored. In the New Kingdom they took the form of the four sons of Horus: a man, a falcon, a jackal, and a baboon.

Capstone The pyramid-shaped stone at the top of a pyramid, also called a pyramidion.

Cartouche An oblong shape that symbolized eternity. Pharaohs believed that their name would live on for ever if it was written inside a cartouche.

Casing stones The outer layer of a pyramid, mostly made from limestone blocks. Casing stones would be highly polished.

Causeway The covered way that led from a pyramid’s valley temple to the pyramid itself.

Cleopatra VIIQueen of Egypt from 51 to 30 BC and the last pharaoh before Egypt was conquered by the Romans.

Crook A gold-plated shepherd’s crook carried by the pharaoh during religious ceremonies. It was a symbol of his duty to protect his people.

Death mask A highly-decorated mask placed on a mummy to guard the soul from evil on its journey to the Afterlife.

Demotic The normal, everyday writing used by the Egyptians in the later years of their civilization.

Deshret The ancient Egyptian name for the desert. The name means “the red land”, referring to the colour of the sand.

Embalm To preserve a body from decay.

Emmer A type of wheat grown in ancient Egypt. It was used for making bread.

Flail A gold, whip-like farming tool, carried by the pharaoh during ceremonies. It was a symbol of his power to punish enemies.

Giza A famous pyramid site, made up of three large pyramids. These are: the Great Pyramid of Khufu, the Pyramid of Khafre and the Pyramid of Menkaure.

Great Pyramid of Khufu The largest of the pyramids at Giza. It was 147 metres (482 feet) high. It is the only one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World still standing today.

Hathor The Egyptian goddess of love, music, joy and beauty.

HatshepsutQueen of Egypt from 1478 to 1458 BC. When her husband Thutmose II died, she took power and was made pharaoh . She wore the traditional clothing of a male pharaoh, including a false beard.

Heb sed An ancient Egyptian festival held to celebrate the rule of the pharaoh. It was celebrated after 30 years of a pharaoh’s reign and then every three years afterwards. The pharaoh would have to perform physical activities to prove that he was still fit enough to rule Egypt.

Hieratic The normal, everyday form of writing used by ancient Egyptians. It was a simplified form of hieroglyphics and was much quicker to use.

Hieroglyphics A form of Egyptian writing, using signs that resemble pictures. The signs themselves are known as hieroglyphs. They were used only for inscription on tombs and other official or ceremonial purposes.

Horus The Egyptian god of the sky, war and protection. He was depicted with the head of a falcon and was believed to enter a pharaoh’s body when he was crowned.

Inundation The annual flooding of the Nile. Each summer, rains upstream caused the Nile to burst its banks, laying down a fresh layer of rich, fertile earth across the floodplain on both sides. The Egyptians learned to irrigate the land so that it was not too dry or too sodden after the floods. They dug channels between the fields to take water to fields that were further away from the river.

Isis The Egyptian goddess of women, mothers and children.

Ka The part of a person’s soul that needed food and drink to survive. On death, it was thought to leave the body. The ka was represented as a pair of upraised hands.

Karnak The site of a huge temple built to honour the god Amun-Re. The temple complex had ceremonial halls and avenues where processions took place.

Kemet The ancient Egyptian name for the floodplain surrounding the Nile. The name means “the black land”, referring to the dark colour of the floodplain’s fertile soil. It is sometimes called the Nile Valley.

Lower Egypt The northern area of Egypt.

Ma’at The principle of truth, justice and morality that was strictly followed by the ancient Egyptians. The principle was embodied by the goddess Ma’at.

Mastaba A rectangular, flat-topped tomb made from mud-bricks and stone. Mastabas were used for the burial of high-ranking individuals.

Menes Probably the first pharaoh to rule both Upper and Lower Egypt. He is believed to have conquered Lower Egypt in about 3100 BC and brought the two kingdoms together.

Middle Kingdom A period of time in ancient Egypt’s history from about 2040 to 1640 BC. During this period, Egypt traded widely and conquered Nubia.

Mortuary temple A temple built alongside a pyramid. Priests went there each day to make offerings to the spirits of the dead.

Mummification The process of preserving a body. It was carried out by people called embalmers. First they removed all the inner organs except for the heart, placing them in canopic jars (except for the brain, which was discarded). Next, they packed the body with salt, sand and spices and rubbed it with oils and resin, before wrapping it in layers of long linen bandages. It took about two months to mummify a body.

Mummy A body that has been preserved after death and then wrapped in cloth.

Mut Queen of the Egyptian gods. She was shown as a vulture or a crowned woman.

Natron A natural salt used to dry out bodies during mummification.

Nefertiti Queen of Egypt, she ruled beside her husband Akhenaten. After her husband’s death, some scholars believe Nefertiti may have ruled as pharaoh in her own right for a short time. She died around 1334 BC.

Nemes cloth A striped headdress worn by the pharaoh as a symbol of his royalty.

New Kingdom A period of time in ancient Egypt’s history from about 1560 to 1070 BC. During this period, the “Golden Age” of Egypt, the pharaohs conquered much land and made their kingdom prosperous. New Kingdom pharaohs were buried in underground tombs instead of in pyramids.

Nile The river that flows through the centre of Egypt. The river flooded every year, providing fertile soil for farming. The Nile was also vital for travelling from place to place and for transporting heavy goods.

Watch the video: The Egyptian Book of the Dead: A guidebook for the underworld - Tejal Gala