27 Ibid.; Anderson, Witness of History, p. 19.

28 Julius Africanus, Extant Writings, XVIII in the Ante–Nicene Fathers, ed. by Alexander Roberts and James Donaldson (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1973), vol. VI, p. 130.

29 See the discussion below on the Talmud (Sanhedrin43a).

30 Wells, Did Jesus Exist?, pp. 12–13. Wells’ overall thesis is examined in detail in Chapter 2.

Government Officials

Pliny the Younger

A Roman author and administrator who served as the governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor, Pliny the Younger was the nephew and adopted son of a natural historian known as Pliny the Elder. The younger Pliny is best known for his letters, and Bruce refers to him as “one of the world’s great letter writers, whose letters . . . have attained the status of literary classics.”^31

Ten books of Pliny’s correspondence are extant today. The tenth book, written around AD 112, speaks about Christianity in the province of Bithynia and also provides some facts about Jesus.^32 Pliny found that the Christian influence was so strong that the pagan temples had been nearly deserted, pagan festivals severely decreased and the sacrificial animals had few buyers. Because of the inflexibility of the Christians and the emperor’s prohibition against political association, governor Pliny took action against the Christians. Yet, because he was unsure how to deal with believers, if there should be any distinctions in treatment or if repentance made any difference, he wrote to Emperor Trajan to explain his approach.

Pliny dealt personally with the Christians who were turned over to him. He interrogated them, inquiring if they were believers. If they answered in the affirmative he asked them two more times, under the threat of death. If they continued firm in their belief, he ordered them to be executed. Sometimes the punishment included torture to obtain desired information, as in the case of two female slaves who were deaconesses in the church. If the person was a Roman citizen, they were sent to the emperor in Rome for trial. If they denied being Christians or had disavowed their faith in the past, they “repeated after me an invocation to the Gods, and offered adoration . . . to your [Trajan’s] image.” Afterwards they “finally cursed Christ.” Pliny explained that his purpose in all this was that “multitudes may be reclaimed from error.”^33

Since Pliny’s letter is rather lengthy, we will quote the portion which pertains directly to an account of early Christian worship of Christ: They (the Christians) 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.