BTW, I agree that the passage is admissible prima facie evidence that somebody claiming to be the Messiah was executed in Palestine under Pilate and that early Christians some 30 years later claimed to be his followers. How far this goes toward a historical Jesus is another question.
This is the point I was trying to make. And yes, I would expect that Tacitus understood greek well enough to know that “Christus” or “Chrestus” meant “the anointed one”.
My understanding (from Ehrman, etc.) is that he would have used the greek name because the most dominant strains of Christianity among roman circles were greek speaking Jews, in particular in roman Egypt. E.g., Paul.
Re. supersition: this depends on how you think the sentence should be translated, no? The context is “exitiabilis superstitio”. As well, the romans did not agree with the Christians’ assertion that they could not pray to roman gods, nor to deified roman emperors. This was, to them, a form of false religious practice. And yes, being able to tell the truth vs. a lie assumes that they understand the distinction between truth and falsity.
Re. whether the Jewish cult of Christianity was a “major Jewish cult” in Tacitus’s time, fair enough, but contextually irrelevant. Compared to the dominant roman religion of the day, they were still a fringe group of a small religion in a distant part of roman territory.