In the movie "Zeitgeist", Peter Joseph says, "Furthermore, is there any non-Biblical historical evidence of any person, living with the name Jesus, the son of Mary, who traveled with 12 followers, healing people and the like?"
Actually, we have about forty references to Christ outside of the Bible from within 150 years of Jesus' time, including references by at least three (probably four) non-Christian historians, and evidence that a fifth historian also wrote about Jesus.
"There are numerous historians who lived in and around the Mediterranean either during or soon after the assumed life of Jesus. How many of these historians document this figure? Not one."
He shows a list of 23 names, but what's interesting is that the majority of the names on the list aren't historians. Only eight of the people on that list are actually historians (though two are the same person, listed under separate names), the rest being poets, orators, novelists, philosophers, etc.
Aulus Perseus (poet/satirist, 34-62 A.D.)
Columella (wrote about agriculture and trees, 4-70 A.D.)
Dio Chrysostom (orator, 40-120 A.D.)
Lucanus (poet, 39-65 A.D.)
Petronius (novelist, 27-66 A.D.)
Phaedrus (writer of fables, 15-50 A.D.)
Philo Judaeus (philosopher, 20-50 A.D.)
Pomponius Mela (geographer, ?-45 A.D.)
Quintillian (writer on oratory and rhetoric, 35-100 A.D.)
Seneca (scientist, 3-65 A.D.)
Silius Italicus (poet, ?-101 A.D.)
Statius Caelicius (poet, ?-?, but 1st century)
Theon of Smyrna (mathematician/astronomer, 70?-135 A.D.)
Valerius Flaccus (poet, ?-90 A.D.)
Valerius Maximus (orator, 20 B.C?.-50 A.D.?)
The usual response when I point this out to Christ-mythers is along the lines of, "okay, so maybe they aren't historians, but that doesn't mean that they couldn't have written about Jesus, right?". Sure, and they could have written about Julius Caesar, but I'm guessing that most of these people did not.
These are the eight (err...seven) actual historians:
Justus of Tiberius (birth and death dates unknown, but a contemporary of Josephus. We have only fragments of his writings, so we have no idea if he wrote about Jesus or not)
Livy (59 B.C. to 17 A.D., since he died before Jesus' ministry, he would not have had cause to write about Him)
Lucius Florus (70?-140? A.D., only wrote of times prior to Jesus')
Phlegon (80?-? A.D.) Most of he wrote is lost, but he did apparently write about Jesus. According to Origen, in his response to Celsus, "Phlegon, in the thirteenth or fourteenth book, I think, of his Chronicles, not only ascribed to Jesus a knowledge of future events...but also testified that the result corresponded to His predictions." See here)
Pliny the Elder (23-79 A.D., the only text in which he would likely have mentioned Jesus, "History of His Times", is mostly lost)
Plutarch (46-122 A.D., being Greco-Roman himself, wrote primarily of Greeks and Romans. He may have had cause to mention Jesus, but we have only about half of what he wrote, so we don't really know if he did or not).
The last two, Rufus Curtius and Quintus Curtius, are actually the same person, Quintus Curtius Rufus, whose only surviving work is a biography of Alexander the Great. His birth and death dates are unknown, but he wrote between 41 and 54 A.D.
Of these seven historians, only three of them, Phlegon, Pliny the Elder and Plutarch, would have had cause to mention Jesus, and one of them, Phlegon, reportedly did. We don't know if the other two did or not, since we've lost much of their work over time.
But think of it this way - there are seven historians who would have had cause to mention Jesus (Phlegon, Pliny the Elder, Plutarch, Josephus, Suetonius, Tacitus and Pliny the Younger). Of these seven, we know that at least three of them did, a fourth mentioned a "Chrestus" (that most scholars, even non-Christian ones, believe was a reference to Christ), and we have reason to believe that a fifth one, Phlegon, also did (though we no longer have the actual text). So, per the evidence, at least five out of seven of the historians who would have had cause to mention Jesus likely mentioned Him. There are only two historians who would have had cause to mention Jesus, but (as far as we know) did not. But since much of their work has been lost over time, we can't say for certain that they didn't mention Jesus.
"Four historians are typically referenced to justify Jesus' existence. Pliny the Younger, Suetonius, Tacitus are the first three. Each one of their entries consists of only a few sentences at best and only refer to Christus or the Christ, which is in fact not a name but a title. It means the anointed one."
Correct, but modern historians don't doubt that they refer to Jesus, who, outside of the Gospels, was most commonly referred to simply as "Christ", even by Paul. Tactitus writes of Christ being executed by Pontius Pilate and says that His followers were blamed for the Roman fire. Suetonius writes of the followers of "Chrestus" being expelled from Rome by Claudius, an event which is also mentioned in the Bible (Acts 18:2). Pliny writes of Christ's followers worshipping Christ instead of the emperor, and the persecution that followed because of this. Three historians mentioning a person is considered, by rational people, good evidence that the person existed. Even Suetonius' reference, the one that is considered most in doubt of these three, is considered a reference to Jesus by the Jewish Encyclopedia.
Christ-mythers sometimes try to argue that these passages are Christian interpolations or that they weren't talking about Jesus, but there's no good argument for either one. We don't declare something an interpolation unless there is some kind of evidence for it (such as the reference being in some copies but not others, or containing information the author couldn't have known, or the style of writing being out-of-character for that author), and there is none here. The Tacitus and Pliny passages are strongly anti-Christian and clearly not the work of a Christian. I even had one Christ-myther try to convince me that these passages were both"Christian interpolations" and "not about Jesus", in other words that Christians wrote these passages in order to provide fake evidence for Jesus, but weren't writing about Jesus when they did so.
"The fourth source is Josephus and this source has been proven to be a forgery for hundreds of years."
What Christ-mythers tend to ignore is the fact that there are two references to Jesus by Josephus, only one of which was interpolated, the other of which is genuine.
The reference in book 18 of "Antiquites of the Jews" is the one Joseph is referring to here, and most historians agree that the interpolation was only partial, that Josephus did write about Jesus, and a later scribe (probably Eusebius, or a contemporary of his) took offense to what Josephus had written and altered the passage to portray Jesus in a more positive light. There is strong evidence for this in the fact that the reference in book 18 seems to be arguing with itself, at one point calling Jesus a "man" and then saying "if it be lawful to call him a man".
The other Josephus reference is in book 20 of "Antiquities of the Jews", where Josephus writes that Jesus was the brother of James (whose trial Josephus is writing about) and that Jesus was called the Christ. This reference is not in doubt, showing no signs of interpolation. Some Christ-mythers say that the interpolation in book 18 automatically puts this one under suspicion, that if Eusebius altered one passage, he could well have altered the other. But this is impossible, since the passage in book 20 was referenced by Origen almost a century before Eusebius' time.
So, yes, we do have at least three, probably four or five, non-Christian historians who apparently wrote about Christ and cannot easily be dismissed as strong evidence for His existence. One thing I frequently ask Christ-mythers is if they can name a fictional character who was written about by a historian as if the historian believe that the person had existed within a century of their time. So far, none have been able to even come up with a single example. Yet they'd have us believe that at least three historians wrote about the "fictional" Jesus as if they believed He existed.
A common objection to these four historians is that, since none of them actually witnessed the events they wrote about (all were born after Jesus' crucifixion), we should dismiss them as "hearsay". But about 99% of ancient history is written by historians who didn't personally witness the events they describe. Most of what we know about Alexander the Great comes from historians writing about four centuries after he lived. None of the accounts of Julius Caesar's assassination were written by eyewitnesses. As far as we know, no contemporary historians wrote about Hannibal. We'd be tossing out practically everything we know about ancient times if we discarded everything written by historians who didn't personally witness the events. I've never heard of the preposterious idea that we should do this, except from Christ-mythers, and only when it comes to Jesus.
What's amusing is that of the "numerous historians" (not!) who Joseph says should have mentioned Jesus but didn't, most (if not all) of them would never have seen Jesus, either having been born too late or having lived in different locations. So even if they had mentioned Jesus, Joseph would be dismissing them as "hearsay", also.
"You would think that a guy who rose from the dead and ascended into Heaven for all eyes to see and performed the wealth of miracles acclaimed to him would have made it into the historical record."
He did. He was mentioned by at least three non-Christian historians. But I assume Joseph means that his miracles and resurrection themselves would have made it into the historical record. Again, it did. We have four Gospels, all written within the same century as the events themselves, which mention the miracles and resurrection. But, of course, Christ-mythers automatically reject this evidence as "biased". So, basically, you can't win with them. If the author mentions the miracles, then they're dismissed as being biased. If they didn't mention the miracles, then they're dismissed for not mentioning them.
They find ways to dismiss everything written about Jesus, just so they can declare that no evidence exists.
Of course, I recently had one skeptic argue to me that if we only had references to Jesus' miracles in non-Christian sources, he would be convinced. The problem is,we have that. We know that Josephus was a non-Christian, yet we have references to Jesus' miracles in Antiquities 18. But, of course, that passage is an interpolation. How do we know this? Because he's a non-Christian, yet mentions Jesus' miracles. So, basically, even though we have exactly what this skeptic says he wants, we have to dismiss it. If we had other examples of non-Christian writing about Jesus' miracles, we'd be dismissing them, as well.