2007-01-18

R.I.P. F.F.Bruce on Thallus

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by Neil Godfrey

I think I might have liked Bruce personally so please don’t take the title as anything but a response to those who should know better and who recommend his works for a purpose for which Bruce himself says they were not intended. (See my last post for the explanation of this.)

First, the comparative context:

Obscure references in obscure historians such as Thallus and Phlegon, to supposed eclipses which may or may not be identified with some tradition about the darkness at Jesus’ crucifixion, have in any case reached us exclusively through the filter of later Christian commentators. Origen and Julius Africanus may well have put their own spin on what historians actually said; Africanus comes to us only second-hand. No case can be made based on references like this, and it is a mark of how thin the evidence really is that they would be considered of any evidentiary value. (p.203 of Doherty’s The Jesus Puzzle)

Bruce writes:

[3rd century] Julius Africanus describes the earthquake and the preternatural darkness which accompanied the crucifixion of Christ, and says that Thallus, in his third book, explained this darkness as an eclipse of the sun . . . . We may wish that we had the actual passage from Thallus to compare with Julius Africanus’s account; but it is a reasonable inference that Thallus knew the Christian narrative of the crucifixion of Christ, and made some reference to it in his work. (p.30 of Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament)

Bruce continues by claiming that Suetonius’s description of Jewish riots over Chrestus “meant that some knowledge of Christianity was available in that city around the time when Thallus was writing.”

If anyone is wondering if Thallus can still be used as independent evidence for the historicity of Jesus I invite ‘anyone’ to have a look-see for themselves on what Thallus is said to have written:

The entire quoted line is found here:

A lengthier discussion and the second/third hand context surrounding that one line can be found here:

I think most would agree with Doherty’s concluding remark cited above:

“it is a mark of how thin the evidence really is that they would be considered of any evidentiary value.”


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Neil Godfrey

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