Several facts here are of interest. As F.F. Bruce has noted, Tacitus had to receive his information from some source and this may have been an official record. It may even have been contained in one of Pilate’s reports to the emperor, to which Tacitus would probably have had access because of his standing with the government.^5 Of course, we cannot be sure at this point, but a couple of early writers do claim to know the contents of such a report, as we will perceive later.
Also of interest is the historical context for Jesus’ death, as he is linked with both Pilate and Tiberius. Additionally, J.N.D. Anderson sees implications in Tacitus’ quote concerning Jesus’ resurrection. It is scarcely fanciful to suggest that when he adds that “A most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out” he is bearing indirect and unconscious testimony to the conviction of the early church that the Christ who had been crucified had risen from the grave.^6 Although we must be careful not to press this implication too far, the possibility remains that Tacitus may have indirectly referred to the Christians’ belief in Jesus’ resurrection, since his teachings “again broke out” after his death.
Also interesting is the mode of torture employed against the early Christians. Besides burning, a number were crucified by being “nailed to crosses.”
3 Tacitus, 15.44.
5 F.F. Bruce, Christian Origins, p. 23.
6 J.N.D. Anderson, Christianity: The Witness of History(London: Tyndale, 1969), p. 19.
Not only is this the method used with Jesus, but tradition reports that Nero was responsible for crucifying Peter as well, but upside down. The compassion aroused in the Roman people is also noteworthy.