In all historical matters, we cannot ask for more than a _reasonable_ assurance concerning any question. In fact, absolute certainty in any branch of human knowledge, with the exception of mathematics, perhaps, is impossible. We are finite beings, limited in all our powers, and, hence, our conclusions are not only relative, but they should ever be held subject to correction. When our law courts send a man to the gallows, they can have no more than a reasonable assurance that he is guilty; when they acquit him, they can have no more than a reasonable assurance that he is innocent. Positive assurance is unattainable. The dogmatist is the only one who claims to possess absolute certainty. But his claim is no more than a groundless assumption. When, therefore, we learn that Josephus, for instance, who lived in the same country and about the same time as Jesus, and wrote an extensive history of the men and events of his day and country, does not mention Jesus, except by interpolation, which even a Christian clergyman, Bishop Warburton, calls "a rank forgery, and a very stupid one, too," we can be reasonably sure that no such Jesus as is described in the New Testament, lived about the same time and in the same country with Josephus. The failure of such a historian as Josephus to mention Jesus tends to make the existence of Jesus at least reasonably doubtful. Few Christians now place any reliance upon the evidence from Josephus. The early Fathers made this Jew admit that Jesus was the Son of God. Of course, the admission was a forgery. De Quincey says the passage is known to be "a forgery by all men not lunatics." Of one other supposed reference in Josephus, Canon Farrar says: "This passage was early tampered with by the Christians." The same writer says this of a third passage: "Respecting the third passage in Josephus, the only question is whether it be partly or entirely spurious." Lardner, the great English theologian, was the first man to prove that Josephus was a poor witness for Christ. In examining the evidence from profane writers we must remember that the silence of one contemporary author is more important than the supposed testimony of another. There was living in the same time with Jesus a great Jewish scholar by the name of Philo. He was an Alexandrian Jew, and he visited Jerusalem while Jesus was teaching and working miracles in the holy city. Yet Philo in all his works never once mentions Jesus. He does not seem to have heard of him. He could not have helped mentioning him if he had really seen him or heard of him. In one place in his works Philo is describing the difference between two Jewish names, Hosea and Jesus. Jesus, he says, means saviour of the people. What a fine opportunity for him to have added that, at that very time, there was living in Jerusalem a saviour by the name of Jesus, or one supposed to be, or claiming to be, a saviour. He could not have helped mentioning Jesus if he had ever seen or heard of him. We have elsewhere referred to the significant silence of the Pagan historians and miscellaneous writers on the wonderful events narrated in the New Testament. But a few remarks may be added here in explanation of the supposed testimony of Tacitus. The quotation from Tacitus is an important one. That part of the passage which concerns us is something like this:--"They have their denomination from _Chrestus,_ put to death as a criminal by Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius." I wish to say in the first place that this passage is not in the _History_ of Tacitus, known to the ancients, but in his _Annals,_ which is not quoted by any ancient writer. The _Annals_ of Tacitus were not known to be in existence until the year 1468. An English writer, Mr. Ross, has undertaken, in an interesting volume, to show that the _Annals_ were forged by an Italian, Bracciolini. I am not competent to say whether or not Mr. Ross proves his point. But is it conceivable that the early Christians would have ignored so valuable a testimony had they known of its existence, and would they not have known of it had it really existed? The Christian Fathers, who not only collected assiduously all that they could use to establish the reality of Jesus--but who did not hesitate even to forge passages, to invent documents, and also to destroy the testimony of witnesses unfavorable to their cause--would have certainly used the Tacitus passage had it been in existence in their day. _Not one of the Christian Fathers_ in his controversy with the unbelievers has quoted the passage from Tacitus, which passage is the church's strongest proof of the historicity of Jesus, outside the gospels. But, to begin with, this passage has the appearance, at least, of being penned by a Christian. It speaks of such persecutions of the Christians in Rome which contradict all that we know of Roman civilization. The abuse of Christians in the same passage may have been introduced purposely to cover up the identity of the writer. The terrible outrages against the Christians mentioned in the text from Tacitus are supposed to have taken place in the year 64 A. D. According to the New Testament, Paul was in Rome from the year 63 to the year 65, and must, therefore, have been an eye-witness of the persecution under Nero. Let me quote from the Bible to show that there could have been no such persecution as the Tacitus passage describes. The last verse in the book of Acts reads: "And he (Paul) abode two whole years in his own hired dwelling, and received all that went in unto him, preaching the kingdom of God, and teaching things concerning the Lord Jesus Christ with all boldness, _none forbidding him_." How is this picture of peace and tranquility to be reconciled with the charge that the Romans rolled up the Christians in straw mats and burned them to illuminate the streets at night, and also that the lions were let loose upon the disciples of Jesus? Moreover, it is generally known that the Romans were indifferent to religious propaganda, and never persecuted any sect or party in the name of religion. In Rome, the Jews were free to be Jews; why should the Jewish Christians--and the early Christians were Jews--have been thrown to the lions? In all probability the persecutions were much milder than the Tacitus passage describes, and politics was the real cause. Until not very long ago, it was universally believed that William Tell was a historical character. But it is now proven beyond any reasonable doubt, that Tell and his apple are altogether mythical. Notwithstanding that a great poet has made him the theme of a powerful drama, and a great composer devoted one of his operas to his heroic achievements; notwithstanding also that the Swiss show the crossbow with which he is supposed to have shot at the apple on his son's head--he is now admitted to be only a legendary hero. The principal arguments which have led the educated world to revise its views concerning William Tell are that, the Swiss historians, Faber and Hamurbin, who lived shortly after the "hero," and who wrote the history of their country, as Josephus did that of his, do not mention Tell. Had such a man existed before their time, they could not have failed to refer to him. Their complete silence is damaging beyond help to the historicity of Tell. Neither does the historian, who was an eye witness of the battle of Morgarten in 1315, mention the name of Tell. The Zurich Chronicle of 1497, also omits to refer to his story. In the accounts of the struggle of the Swiss against Austria, which drove the former into rebellion and ultimate independence, Tell's name cannot be found. Yet all these arguments are not half so damaging to the William Tell story, as the silence of Josephus is to the Jesus story. Jesus was supposed to have worked greater wonders and to have created a wider sensation than Tell; therefore, it is more difficult to explain the silence of historians like Josephus, Pliny and Quintilian; or of philosophers like Philo, Seneca and Epictetus, concerning Jesus, than to explain the silence of the Swiss chroniclers concerning Tell.