Archive for December, 2008

Other Voices – Tacitus


The other day I was exploring the subject of Jesus at the Wikipedia, and I was particularly interested in learning what personal accounts other than the four New Testament gospels there might have been about his life, and if any of those accounts had been written by his contemporaries. Apparently there is very little, two references in a work by Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, that I remembered seeing once before, and one other in the Annals by Tacitus.

There’s a Wikipedia article Josephus on Jesus that discusses in great depth the two references to Jesus in the Antiquities. One refers to Jesus himself, and the other is about his brother, James. Here is the first one:

“Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.”

This quote sounds very “biblical” to me, and it has come under very close scrutiny by biblical scholars, nor could it even reflect Josephus’ true belief, as a pharasaic Jew, a member of the same group that had Jesus crucified for blasphemy.

Knowing, from my own experience researching my father’s military history, how hard it can be to find written accounts of even famous personages that haven’t been censored by friends and relatives, I wasn’t very hopeful of finding much of interest in Tacitus’ Annals about Jesus either. But I was wrong. It’s only one paragraph, but I found his report, written as near as I can determine around 100 A.D., approximately 50 years after the death of Jesus, to be very stirring and personally involved, and very believable.

In this particular section of the Annals, Tacitus writes quite movingly about the great fire that consumed much of Rome during the reign of Nero and his treatment of the Christians, when he, Tacitus would have been just a young boy. I remembered myself as a boy of 10 or 12 at the time of the Civil Rights movement and the Kennedy Assassination, and I recalled especially how affected I was by that great tumultuous time in our history, and yet how ignorant I had been of all the particulars. I also remembered how easy it was then to choose sides. When you read this, bear in mind that Tacitus was a loyal Roman, with no reason to have been sympathetic toward Christians, who he had been told were responsible for all of Rome’s ills. In other words, “Si fueris Romae, Romano vivito more.”

Here, in its entirety, is Tacitus’ paragraph:
“[15.44] Such indeed were the precautions of human wisdom. The next thing was to seek means of propitiating the gods, and recourse was had to the Sibylline books, by the direction of which prayers were offered to Vulcanus, Ceres, and Proserpina. Juno, too, was entreated by the matrons, first, in the Capitol, then on the nearest part of the coast, whence water was procured to sprinkle the fane and image of the goddess. And there were sacred banquets and nightly vigils celebrated by married women. But all human efforts, all the lavish gifts of the emperor, and the propitiations of the gods, did not banish the sinister belief that the conflagration was the result of an order. Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures 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 one of our procurators, 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, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind. Mockery of every sort was added to their deaths. Covered with the skins of beasts, they were torn by dogs and perished, or were nailed to crosses, or were doomed to the flames and burnt, to serve as a nightly illumination, when daylight had expired. Nero offered his gardens for the spectacle, and was exhibiting a show in the circus, while he mingled with the people in the dress of a charioteer or stood aloft on a car. Hence, even for criminals who deserved extreme and exemplary punishment, there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man’s cruelty, that they were being destroyed.”

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Pink Floyd Redux

I recently discovered that I had never heard Pink Floyd’s “Dark Side of the Moon” album, at least not in its entirety. I found a five part tribute video to the album on Youtube, and loved it. You’ll find Part 1 here.

Check it out, and while you’re at it, check out some of their other albums. Dark Side is, appropriately enough, third from the left.



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Maxwell’s Equations


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Read the Fox News Story

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A Multiple Kill Vehicle

What every guy wants for Christmas this year…

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Very interesting discussion between Physicist Michio Kaku and Leo LePorte on The Screensavers on TechTV.

Moore’s Law

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The Original Star Wars

Archivists at a major motion picture studio in Hollywood recently discovered this rare print of the original silent-movie version of Star Wars.


I believe original credit for this great film is neonstz at Youtube, but I also saw the video on CollegeHumor.com with a later posting date.

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The Big Bang Theory


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Chainmail Bikini


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Zeno’s Paradox #1


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