Tiberius Iulius Abdes Pantera
A historical connection from this soldier to Jesus of Nazareth has been hypothesized by James Tabor, based on the claim of the ancient Greek philosopher Celsus. Tiberius Pantera could have been serving in the region at the time of Jesus's conception. The hypothesis is considered extremely unlikely by mainstream scholars, given that there is no evidence to support it.
The tombstone in Germany
The 19th-century discovery
In October 1859, during the construction of a railroad in Bingerbrück in Germany, tombstones for nine Roman soldiers were accidentally discovered. One of the tombstones was that of Tiberius Iulius Abdes Pantera and is presently kept in the Römerhalle museum in Bad Kreuznach, Germany.
Analysis of the inscription
The name Pantera is Greek, although it appears in Latin in the inscription. It was perhaps his last name, and means panther. The names Tiberius Iulius are acquired names and were probably given to him as a former slave when in recognition of serving in the Roman army he obtained Roman citizenship. The name Abdes means "servant of God" and suggests that Pantera had a semitic or even Jewish background. Pantera was from Sidonia, which is identified with Sidon in Phoenicia, and joined the Cohors I Sagittariorum (first cohort of archers).
Pantera is not an unusual name, and its use goes back at least to the 2nd century. Prior to the end of the 19th century, at various times in history scholars had hypothesized that the name Pantera was an uncommon or even a fabricated name, but in 1891 French archeologist C. S. Clermont-Ganneau showed that it was a name that was in use in Iudaea by other people and Adolf Deissmann later showed with certainty that it was a common name at the time, and that it was specially common among Roman soldiers.
At that time Roman army enlistments were for 25 years and Pantera served 40 years in the army until his death at 62. The reign of emperor Tiberius was between 14 and 37 and the Cohors I Sagittariorum was stationed in Judaea and then in Bingen. Pantera was probably the standard bearer (signifer) of his cohort.
Historical context for the name Pantera
2nd-century usage by Celsus
In the 2nd century, Celsus, a Pagan anti-Christian Greek philosopher, wrote that Jesus's father was a Roman soldier named Panthera. The views of Celsus drew responses from Origen who considered it a fabricated story. Raymond E. Brown states that the story of Panthera is a fanciful explanation of the birth of Jesus which includes very little historical evidence.
Celsus' wide ranging criticism of Christianity included the assertions that Christians had forsaken the laws of their fathers, that their minds had been held captive by Jesus and that the teachings of Jesus included nothing new and were simply a repetition of the sayings of the Greek philosophers. Marcus J. Borg and John Dominic Crossan state that given the antagonism of Celsus towards Christianity, his suggestion of the Roman parentage of Jesus might derive from the memory of Roman military operations suppressing a revolt at Sepphoris near Nazareth around the time of Jesus' birth. The "common legionary name" Panthera could have arisen from a satirical connection between "Panther" and the Greek word "Parthenos" meaning virgin.
Jewish usage in the Middle Ages
The book Toledot Yeshu, which dates to the Middle Ages and appeared in Aramaic as well as Hebrew as an anti-Christian satirical chronicle of Jesus, also refers to the name Pantera, or Pandera. The book accuses Jesus of illegitimate birth as the son of Pandera, and of heretical and at times violent activities along with his followers during his ministry.
Throughout the centuries, both Christian and Jewish scholars have generally only paid minor attention to the Toledot Yeshu. Robert E. Van Voorst states that the literary origins of Toledot Yeshu can not be traced with any certainty, and given that it is unlikely to go before the 4th century, it is far too late to include authentic remembrances of Jesus. The nature of the Toledot Yeshu as a parody of the Christian gospels is manifested by the claim that Apostle Peter pretended to be Christian so he could separate them from the Jews and its portrayal of Judas Iscariot as a hero who posed as a disciple of Jesus in order to stop the Christians.
Bruce Chilton and Craig A. Evans state that the Toledot Yeshu consists primarily of fictitious anti-Christian stories based on the ongoing friction with the Jews, and that it offers no value to historical research on Jesus. The Blackwell Companion to Jesus states that the Toledot Yeshu has no historical facts as such, and was perhaps created as a tool for warding off conversions to Christianity.
Hypothesis about a Jesus connection
A possible connection between the two Panteras has been hypothesized by James Tabor, and hinges on the assumption that Celsus' information about Jesus' illegitimacy was correct, and a soldier with this name, living at the right period, might be the father. Tiberius Iulius Abdes Pantera's career would place him in Judea (present day Israel) as a young man around the time of Jesus' conception, and Tabor has hypothesized that as a connection.
Maurice Casey rejects Tabor's hypothesis on multiple grounds and states that Tabor has presented no evidence regarding the equality of the two. James Whitehead and Michael Burns state that the chances that Tiberius Iulius Abdes Pantera is the same soldier as that suggested by Celsus seem infinitesimal.
- The Bible Knowledge Background Commentary: Matthew-Luke, Volume 1 by Craig A. Evans 2003 ISBN 0-7814-3868-3 page 146
- The panther: posthumous poems By James Whitehead, Michael Burns 2009 ISBN 0-913785-12-1 pages 15-17
- Tabor, The Jesus Dynasty, pp. 64-72
- Jesus of Nazareth: An Independent Historian's Account of His Life and Teaching by Maurice Casey 2010 ISBN 0-567-64517-7 pages 153-154
- Jesus and his world: an archaeological and cultural dictionary by John J. Rousseau, Rami Arav 1995 ISBN 0-8006-2903-5page 225
- Light From the Ancient East Or The New Testament Illustrated by Recently Discovered Texts of the Graeco Roman World by Adolf Deissmann 2003 ISBN 0-7661-7406-9 pages 73-74
- The Roman army, 31 BC-AD 337: a sourcebook by J. B. Campbell 1994 ISBN 0-415-07173-9 page 37
- Tabor, James D. (2006). The Jesus Dynasty: A New Historical Investigation of Jesus, His Royal Family, and the Birth of Christianity. Simon & Schuster. p. 69. ISBN 0-7432-8723-1.
- Contra Celsum by Origen, Henry Chadwick 1980 ISBN 0-521-29576-9 page 32
- Patrick, John The Apology of Origen in Reply to Celsus 2009 ISBN 1-110-13388-X pages 22–24
- Mary in the New Testament by Raymond Edward Brown, et al. 1978 ISBN 0-8091-2168-9 page 262
- Origen, Contra Celsum I.32. "Let us return, however, to the words put into the mouth of the Jew, where 'the mother of Jesus' is described as having been 'turned out by the carpenter who was betrothed to her, as she had been convicted of adultery and had a child by a certain soldier named Panthera'." Given in J.Stevenson, A New Eusebius: Documents illustrating the history of the Church to AD 337, page 133 (new edition revised by W. H. C. Frend, SPCK, 1987). ISBN 0-281-04268-3
- Also cited  and 
- The Ante-nicene Fathers by Alexander Roberts 2007 ISBN 1-60206-476-8 page 682
- Religions of the Hellenistic-Roman age by Antonía Tripolitis 2001 ISBN 0-8028-4913-X page 100
- Marcus Borg, John Dominic Crossan (2007). The First Christmas: What the Gospels Really Teach About Jesus's Birth. HarperOne. p. 104. ISBN 0-06-143070-6.
- Studying the historical Jesus: evaluations of the state of current research by Bruce Chilton, Craig A. Evans 1998 ISBN 90-04-11142-5 page 450
- Princeton University
- William Horbury, The Depiction of Judeo-Christians in the Toledot Yeshu in "The image of the Judaeo-Christians in ancient Jewish and Christian literature" edited by by Doris Lambers-Petry 2003 ISBN 3-16-148094-5 pages 280-285
- Van Voorst, Robert E (2000). Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence WmB Eerdmans Publishing. ISBN 0-8028-4368-9 page 127
- Van Voorst, Robert E (2000). Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence WmB Eerdmans Publishing. ISBN 0-8028-4368-9 pp. 122 and 127
- The Jews in European history by Saul Friedländer 1994 ISBN 0-87820-212-9 page 31
- The Historical Jesus of the Gospels by Craig S. Keener 2009 ISBN 0-8028-6292-6 page 417
- Michael J. Cook "Jewish Perspectives on Jesus" Chapter 14 in the The Blackwell Companion to Jesus edited by Delbert Burkett, 2011 ISBN 978-1-4443-2794-6