No serious historian doubts that Tiberius Caesar was the second emperor of the Roman Empire, ruling for 23 years, spanning the period of 14 A.D. to 37 A.D., after succeeding his stepfather, Caesar Augustus.
But how much historical evidence is there for the life of Tiberius, compared to that of his ultimately most famous and influential contemporary, Jesus of Nazareth?
It may surprise you but there are profound differences. And the emperor comes out on the short end of the comparison.
Dr. Sean McDowell of Biola University notes that what is known about Tiberius comes primarily from four secular sources, Tacitus, Seutonius, Velleius Paterculus, and Cassius Dio.
These four conflict with each other on major points about the life and acts of Tiberius, and they spanned several centuries. Nevertheless, historians agree that there was in fact an individual named Tiberius who was the emperor during that time period.
“This is exactly what we would expect for a person of [Tiberius’] influence and stature. Yet how does this compare to the sources for Jesus,” McDowell asks.
“Remember, unlike Tiberius, Jesus had no political position, military power, or governmental authority. He was an itinerant preacher who was largely rejected by his own people. His public ministry was 2-3 years long and he only traveled within Judea,” McDowell continues.
In fact, the evidence for Jesus includes the four Gospels, each written between three and seven decades after His death. There were many individuals still alive during that period who claimed to have seen the resurrected Jesus or to have heard Him speak before His death.
“Remember, unlike Tiberius, Jesus had no political position, military power, or governmental authority. He was an itinerant preacher who was largely rejected by his own people.”
There are also the seven New Testament letters written by Paul, who claimed to have seen and talked with the resurrected Jesus on the road to Damascus, and the epistles of Peter and James, who both knew Jesus.
Plus, there are secular sources that reference Jesus, including the Jewish historian Josephus, Tacitus, Seutonius and others.
Given their comparative positions, where they were born and resided, and how long they were at the height of their lives, one would likely expect far more contemporary or near-contemporary evidence for the emperor than for the itinerant preacher.
McDowell contends “the historical evidence for Jesus is remarkable when compared to Tiberius Caesar.” If you doubt that or are interested in pursuing this issue further, check out “Evidence that Demands a Verdict,” the amazing compilation by Sean McDowell and his dad, Josh McDowell of the incredible evidence for the life and miracles of Jesus.
Remember that the next time somebody says there really never was a Jesus as portrayed in the Gospels, that the evidence for his life is so sketchy as to be untrustworthy, or that most, if not all, of what is known about Jesus is myth and fable.