“Is This Not the Carpenter?” – References to Jesus outside the Christian Sources

Filed under: Thompson: Not the Carpenter? — Neil Godfrey @ 10:26 pm
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The third chapter of Is This Not the Carpenter? is by Lester L. Grabbe, “‘Jesus Who Is Called Christ’: References to Jesus outside the Christian Sources”. The first of these he addresses is Tacitus. (This is the sixth post in the series.)


Here is the passage from Annals 15:44, though Grabbe does not include the passages I have italicized here in his extract for discussion:

But neither human help, nor imperial munificence, nor all the modes of placating Heaven, could stifle scandal or dispel the belief that the fire had taken place by order.

Therefore, to scotch the rumour, Nero substituted as culprits, and punished with the utmost refinements of cruelty, a class of men, loathed for their vices, whom the crowd styled Christians [Chrestians]. Christus, the founder of the name, had undergone the death penalty in the reign of Tiberius, by sentence of the procurator Pontius Pilatus, and the pernicious superstition was checked for a moment, only to break out once more, not merely in Judaea, the home of the disease, but in the capital itself, where all things horrible or shameful in the world collect and find a vogue. First, then, the confessed members of the sect were arrested; next, on their disclosures, vast numbers were convicted, not so much on the count of arson as for hatred of the human race.

And derision accompanied their end: they were covered with wild beasts’ skins and torn to death by dogs; or they were fastened on crosses, and, when daylight failed were burned to serve as lamps by night. Nero had offered his Gardens for the spectacle, and gave an exhibition in his Circus, mixing with the crowd in the habit of a charioteer, or mounted on his car. Hence, in spite of a guilt which had earned the most exemplary punishment, there arose a sentiment of pity, due to the impression that they were being sacrificed not for the welfare of the state but to the ferocity of a single man.
(From LacusCurtius)

Lester Grabbe introduces this as “one of our most important references to Jesus” – though the name Jesus nowhere appears in it.

This passage appears in a work (The Annals) that is generally understood as being written almost a century after the supposed death of Jesus. Like many commentators, Grabbe sugests that Tacitus more than likely had access to imperial archives and accordingly argues the likelihood that Tacitus did indeed pore through those official documents to acquire his material, including the fact of Christ’s crucifixion under Pilate.

This makes no sense to me. The only detail that Tacitus gives us about the crucifixion is that Christ was crucified under Pilate. Full stop. (I leave aside the debates over the title Tacitus uses for Pilate.) Tacitus does not even mention the reason, the crime, for which this Christ was crucified which would surely appear within an official archive if any such record of a crucifixion of a far-off Jew really existed. Nor does he even bother to tell us the name of this victim. (more…)


Where did the Bible’s Jews come from? — Part 2

Filed under: Thompson: Mythic Past — Neil Godfrey @ 8:29 am
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Cover of "The Mythic Past: Biblical Archa...

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Over a week ago I posted Where did the Bible’s Jews come from? Part 1 — a discussion drawn principally from Thomas L. Thompson’s The Mythic Past: Biblical archaeology and the myth of Israel. That first post covered the evidence that “Jewishness” originated as a religious rather than an ethnic label:

  1. the origin myth of Israel being unlike any other national or ethnic origin myth in that it is an etiology of a religious cult
  2. the fact that there has been far more continuity of the population of Palestine than commonly understood
  3. the worship of Yahweh was not unique to any one people in the ancient Near East, nor was Yahweh the sort of god often depicted in the Bible
  4. Jewishness was not a concept that was limited to a particular ethnic group or even “the Jerusalem cult” exclusively, as witnessed by the surviving evidence from diaspora groups
  5. the concept of Israel in the Bible’s narrative is theological and not political or ethnic (prohibitions on mixed marriages were a safeguard for the preservation of the religious cult rather than an ethnic group)

Thompson argues that modern readers have tended to overlook the literary character of the biblical stories and traditions, and the fact that Israel in these stories is a theological (not historical) construct or metaphor. The same misreading applies to the New Testament, too.

This post addresses the second part of Thompson’s argument, the evidence from Josephus and to a lesser extent from Philo.

In book 12 of his Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus recounts an etiology of the Jews of Egypt from deportations under Ptolemy ‘from the mountains of Judea and from the places about Jerusalem, Samaria and near Mount Gerizim.‘ These he describes as ‘two groups’ — nevertheless Jews all — who dispute about whether they should send their tribute to Jerusalem of to Samaria (Ant. 12.1.1). (p. 259-60, The Mythic Past, my emphasis)

What is the significance of this? It shows that in Josephus’ mind it was quite acceptable to think of a single functioning Jewish community in the diaspora that was made up of Jews of disparate origins and loyalties. (Thompson, p. 260) (more…)


Socrates, Jesus and the broken reed of Josephus

Socrates in Nuremberg Chronicle LXXIIvPoor Josephus. He is made to bear such a burden of evidence for the sake of Jesus. Socrates’ burden on the other hand is very light. People who knew Socrates wrote about him and we can read their accounts today. Some of these people tell us they were his students and devoted followers. Another was a playwright who irreverently mocked Socrates as someone whose head was always “in the clouds”. None of this leaves us with absolutely ironclad certainty that such a figure was historical but it does give us reasonable confidence. Without the writings of followers of Socrates we would never be sure if Socrates was a fictional character. Without the mockery of Aristophanes we would have more reason to wonder if there was a real person behind the name Plato selected as a literary master-voice through whom to express his own thoughts. Even so, a few have voiced the possibility that Socrates was not historical. But most of us have been satisfied to think of him as a real figure who instigated controversy in Athenian society and won a devoted following of students.

Jesus, though, is known only from one source of tradition, Christianity itself, until we reach at the earliest the latter years of the first century (and even within that tradition itself there is not a single one who claims to have been an eyewitness of the Galilean healing-teacher. It is not insignificant that this same tradition, in all of its many variations, seeks to spread belief in this person. The very idea of the twelve disciples of Jesus is problematic for several reasons. (The links are to earlier discussions of the evidence for them.)

So it is very important for some people to hang on tightly to the passages in Josephus that mention Jesus. Josephus, even though he wrote near the end of the century, a good 60 years after Jesus was supposed to have died, is the only first century account independent of the Christian tradition and so the only non-Christian witness to the historicity of Jesus within a long generation of his death. One scholar has even gone on record as saying that because of Josephus the evidence for the existence for Jesus is comparable to that for Socrates! Now that is a desperate claim. Nothing about Josephus comes close to matching multiple eye-witness sources. (more…)


Popular Messianic(?) Movements Up To The Time Of Jesus and Beyond – Part 3

Filed under: Horsley: Bandits Proph Mess,Messianism — Neil Godfrey @ 1:33 pm
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Samaritan sanctuary, Mount Gerizim

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This continues from Part 2 where I continued discussing what Richard Horsley has to say about popular messianic movements in Israel up to the time of Jesus in Bandits, Prophets & Messiahs. In the last post I covered “social banditry” in Palestine (especially Galilee) and those who were looked upon as rightful kings in the early part of the first century.

What particularly interests me is the evidence that these movements represent popular messianism. Horsley is clear: there is no evidence of popular messianism before the time of Jesus. I have read many assertions that Josephus is describing messianic movements without explicitly describing them as such. But these assertions remind me of William Scott Green’s observation that many scholars have spent a lot of time studying messianism where the word is not found. The first clearest evidence we have of popular messianic hopes relates to the period after the fall of Jerusalem in 70 c.e. When we interpret movements before then as messianic are we guilty of reading later ideas back into an earlier period?

I do not deny that any of these pre-70 movements were messianic. They may have been. But what is the evidence? Are there alternative explanations that may fit the evidence (and the evidence for the origins of popular messianism) more economically?

This post addresses the Samaritan who led followers to Mount Gerazim, Theudas and “the Egyptian”. (more…)


How they used to debate the evidence of Josephus for the historical Jesus

Continuing from my previous two posts my little roll on Jesus Not A Myth by “anti-mythicist” A. D. Howell Smith (1942). . . .

I love reading those book reviews that introduce me to the arguments under review. I have read many worthless reviews that pique my interest in their subjects despite their efforts to turn me away. One was by a seasoned scholar who blasted George Athas’s publication of his thesis on the Tel Dan inscription. The reviewer spent most of his time attacking Athas personally (he was too much an academic novice to be attempting to discuss such a serious topic!) and appealing to the authority of traditional views. That sort of review raises my suspicions that there is something in a work by the likes of Athas that the reviewer cannot handle, so I am more curious to find out what it is.

Albert Schweitzer also outlines arguments of various mythicists of his day in order to explain what he believes are their weaknesses (and even strengths in some cases).

So it is with Howell Smith’s Jesus Not a Myth. It is not easy to track down older books on mythicism, but I was lucky to stumble across Jesus Not a Myth some years back and find it a valuable resource to catching glimpses of the contents of mythicist arguments early last century — and, of course, to compare rejoinders to those arguments.

Here is another excerpt, this time on the evidence of Josephus, pp. 15-18. (more…)


When neither the Gospel nor Josephus makes sense

Execution of John the Baptist

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The image we have from the Gospels of the death of John the Baptist belongs to the world of make-believe fantasy. A man out in the wilderness publicly complains that a king’s marriage is unlawful, so the king has him arrested and imprisoned. Later he is seduced by a dance into making an incautious promise so that he is honour-bound to deliver the head of John on a dinner plate to his new wife.

There’s another story in a historical work by Josephus about how John the Baptist met his death. John had a reputation for teaching people to be good towards one another and reverential before God. His teaching was so persuasive that Herod was frightened John might decide to tell all his followers to rise up and rebel against their king, so had him sent of to prison to be executed. (Antiquites 18.5.2)

Paula Fredriksen, author of Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, is one scholar who acknowledges that neither account makes much sense. (more…)


5 reasons to suspect John the Baptist was interpolated into Josephus

Filed under: John the Baptist,Josephus — Neil Godfrey @ 6:33 pm
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Said to be the part of the skull (de cranis) of John the Baptist, in reliquarium, Residenz, Munich

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Frank Zindler (The Jesus the Jews Never Knew) gives five reasons to think that Josephus said nothing at all about John the Baptist.

This is something that is not generally welcomed by those who are primarily interested in defending the possibility of any independent (non Christian) evidence at all for the historical background to the gospel narrative, but it is of interest to anyone who is interested in examining the evidence with an open mind.

Unlike the interpolation of the Jesus passage(s) into Josephus, Zindler suggests that the John the Baptist passage was inserted by a Jewish Christian or “an apologist for one of the myriad ‘heretical’ sects which are known to have existed from the earliest periods of Christian history.” (p. 96) One possibility he offers is even a pre-Christian Baptist of some sort.

Because there are details of John the Baptist in Josephus that are at odds with those we find in the Gospels many scholars, writes Zindler, have been persuaded the words about John the Baptist really were composed by Josephus. But Zindler reminds us that

many non-gospel views of the Baptist existed during the first three centuries (indeed, a decidedly non-gospel type of John the Baptist holds a very prominent place in the Mandaean religion to this day), and an unknown number of them might have held the opinion now supposed to have been that of Josephus. (p. 97)

Here are Zindler’s reasons for believing the passage in Josephus is a forgery. (more…)


“An important piece of non-Christian evidence” for the historicity of Jesus

Filed under: Casey: Jesus of Nazareth,Testimonium Flavianum — Neil Godfrey @ 12:35 am
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This post raises reasons to challenge “the usual scholarly view” most recently asserted by Maurice Casey in his new book, Jesus of Nazareth, that Josephus wrote a short passage about Jesus. I show that contrary to “the usual scholarly view” in general, and contrary to Casey’s assertions in particular, there is evidence to justify the view that Josephus wrote nothing about Jesus, and that the passage about Jesus in Josephus is a complete Christian forgery.

The passage about Jesus appears in a book by a Jewish historian written around 90 CE. The historian is Josephus, and his book, Antiquities of the Jews, is a history of the Jews from the beginnings of the biblical story right through to the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 CE.

The passage begins:

At this time there lived one Jesus, a wise man . . . .

It concludes:

And the tribe of the Christians . . . has not died out to this day. (more…)


The Myth and History of Masada and Jesus’ Passion

Filed under: Historiography,Jesus,New Testament — Neil Godfrey @ 9:17 pm
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מצדה מהאוויר, תמונה שצולמה על ידי אסף.צ. התמונ...

Masada. (Image via Wikipedia)

I was recently reading a historian’s discussion of the events of Masada that attempted to unravel the myth from the historical fact. The similarities and differences with the way biblical historians attempt to unravel the myth and history of the Passion of Jesus were unavoidable.


Josephus created the myth of Masada — 960 Jewish defenders mass-suicided when faced with defeat at the hands of the Romans. The historical facts can be uncovered by

  1. archaeological evidence, and
  2. adding a dash of common sense to literary criticism of the narrative of Josephus.

Not that we “need” archaeological evidence for every detail Josephus ever pens. Many details are not all that critical to our understanding of the basic outline of events associated with the Jewish war. But we do have external controls for enough of the narrative of Josephus to give us confidence that when he writes about the Jewish rebellion against Rome from around the mid 60’s to early 70’s ce, he is indeed tackling a real event — unlike when he paraphrases some of the early mythical biblical “history” such as the creation of Adam, Noah’s Flood and the Exodus. It may be that when Josephus is discussing externally verifiable events, his narrative is not always pristine accurate. But the historian of such ancient sources can attempt to weave her way through the narrative details with a mix of common sense and literary criticism and arrive at a “probability range” statement about what might or might not have occurred, (and still never be absolutely sure).

Historian Shayne Cohen‘s discussion of the Masada myth and event illustrates this perfectly.

External and primary evidence

Archaeological evidence confirms that there was indeed a historical conflict between Jews and Romans at Masada. We have remains of a Roman military camp, Jewish defensive structures, and evidence of violence. Unfortunately for the Josephan account, however, not all this evidence is so supportive. Josephus says the food reserves were not burned, that there was but one grand bon fire to consume all property chosen for destruction, that all agreed to suicide, and to do so in a palace area. The archaeological evidence tells us that:

  • food reserves were burnt
  • many disparate areas were burnt
  • remains of bodies have been uncovered in different locations, including in a hazardous-to-access-cave outside the defended area
  • the area where the 960 were said to have suicided was too small for such a number

Common sense

Common sense delivers its contribution to reality. Josephus informs us that at the moment the Romans finally breached the defensive wall, they decided to have a break and go and have a nap for the night. That defies common sense. The Romans were quite used to attacking at night. To retire after the breach only meant they would have to maintain a careful watch to ensure the Jewish rebels did not attack the Roman fortifications or camp.

Meanwhile, Romans were able to continue monitoring the situation within Masada from the heights of their siege engines. Despite all the goings on with the rebel encampment that Josephus relates, when the Romans did enter through the breach the next morning they were supposedly completely unprepared for what they discovered. Somehow the Roman observation posts had failed to detect anything unusual at all during the night, such as the inhabitants all retreating to a single Tardis like building (too small for all those Josephus says entered it) and suiciding.

Besides, how could Josephus have had any idea of what transpired in Masada on that final night?

Common sense does not support the historicity of Josephus’s narrative.

Literary analysis

Now bring in literary criticism. Meanwhile, the Jewish rebel leader, Eleazar, delivers a long speech in which he lays the total blame for the failure of the Jewish rebellion on his own party, the Sicarii, and  in which he declares that the imminent fate of both himself and all his colleagues at the hands of the Romans was justly deserved. He once again delivers another lengthy discourse on the rationale for suicide and the nature of the soul. When we think of these two speeches alongside what we know of Josephus’s negative view of the Sicarii, and alongside Josephus’s own earlier reasonings for avoiding suicide (when it involved his own life), we begin to see authorial motives for the creation of these eloquent speeches.

Literary analysis further enables us to see how Josephus used the delay of a whole night to enhance the dramatic effect of the Roman entry the following morning. The Romans are depicted as entering cautiously and being mystified by the silence and emptiness of what they did encounter. It is all a most dramatic build up to the discovery of the “facts” that did eventually confront them. (more…)


Engaging E. P. Sanders point by point: John the Baptist

John the Baptist

Image by Sacred Destinations via Flickr

Of John the Baptist Professor E.P. Sanders (Jesus and Judaism) writes:

That John himself was an eschatological prophet of repentance is clearly implied in Josephus’s account. Further, the depiction of John and his message in the Gospels agrees with Josephus’s view: the preaching in the desert; the dress, which recalled Elijah; the message of repentance in preparation for the coming judgment. These features correctly pass unquestioned in New Testament scholarship. (p. 92)

Associate Professor James McGrath called on anyone sceptical of the historical Jesus to engage a scholar like Sanders point by point (and cited Jesus and Judaism specifically) and see if they can arrive at different conclusions for historicity.

I have already covered the point in Sanders’ own chapter 1, the Temple Action of Jesus. Here I look at just a small detail, but one about which Sanders makes some remarkably strong assertions about historicity and even external controlling evidence for historicity.

Compare what Sanders writes above with the actual account of Josephus that Sanders says supports everything he says. From Josephus.org:

Antiquities 18.5.2 116-119

Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and was a very just punishment for what he did against John called the baptist. For Herod had him killed, although he was a good man and had urged the Jews to exert themselves to virtue, both as to justice toward one another and reverence towards God, and having done so join together in washing. For immersion in water, it was clear to him, could not be used for the forgiveness of sins, but as a sanctification of the body, and only if the soul was already thoroughly purified by right actions. And when others massed about him, for they were very greatly moved by his words, Herod, who feared that such strong influence over the people might carry to a revolt — for they seemed ready to do any thing he should advise — believed it much better to move now than later have it raise a rebellion and engage him in actions he would regret.

And so John, out of Herod’s suspiciousness, was sent in chains to Machaerus, the fort previously mentioned, and there put to death; but it was the opinion of the Jews that out of retribution for John God willed the destruction of the army so as to afflict Herod.

How much of what Sanders’ says is “correctly unquestioned” really “agrees with Josephus”, as he clearly infers.

The evidence for John being an eschatalogical prophet?

Read the Antiquities passage again and you will see it is simply not there. There is not a breath of a hint that John was an eschatalogical prophet. But Sanders knows this, so why does he say “that John himself was an eschatological prophet of repentance is clearly implied in Josephus’s account”?

That John was an eschatological prophet is less clear in Josephus, who here as elsewhere probably downplays eschatalogical features. (p.371)

Sanders seems to miss the axial point here. The reason Josephus downplays eschatalogical features, if he does indeed do that here, is because he makes it clear elsewhere he is personally viscerally opposed to such rebellious notions. If he suspected as much of John the Baptist how could he possibly have spoken about him favourably, without a hint of censure at any point at all?

But what evidence is there here in Josephus that such expectations are played down at all? There is no hint of any such expectations in John’s teaching according to Josephus. In the Gospels scholars often claim that Matthew and Luke and John downplay the scene of the baptism of Jesus in Mark’s gospel by (a) having Jesus either apologize for it (Matthew) or (b) not linking Jesus’ baptism with John (Luke) or (c) not mentioning the baptism of Jesus (John). But in Josephus we have no evidence to suggest to us that Josephus had any notion of John being an eschatological prophet.

So why does Sanders claim that Josephus implies that he did preach an eschatological message? Answer:

[Josephus] writes that Herod had him executed because he feared that trouble would result. Baptism and piety do not account for that reaction, and a message of national redemption is thus made probable. (p.371)

Look at Sanders’ reasoning here. He rejects the narrative of Josephus as we have it because it is implausible. It reads, just like the gospels, as a fairy tale. The gospel narrative of John’s death is just as plausible as the reason we read in Josephus, and both reasons are quite similar to each other. Herod fears the very popular John denouncing him for his sins, so has him arrested.

Thus in Herod’s motive for arresting John, Josephus and the gospels closely agree. But Sanders does not find this reason plausible in either tale.

Rather than ask the question, then, about the veracity of Josephus’s portrait of John, Sanders seeks to save his historicity by conjuring up an element from the gospels: that John was preaching the end of the present age and a new age of judgment to come.

Sanders then claims, with dizzying circularity, that the Josephus account supports the Gospel narrative!



That ‘brother of Jesus who is called Christ’ storm in Josephus’s teacup

Filed under: Exchanges with McGrath,Josephus,the James passage — Neil Godfrey @ 10:14 pm
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The romanticized woodcut engraving of Flavius ...

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Much ado is made of this phrase about “Jesus who is called Christ” — that second reference in Josephus to Jesus. Many hang a lot of weight on it and even say it is the clinching evidence that proves Josephus knew of and spoke about Jesus in more detail elsewhere. By identifying James here as the brother of Jesus called Christ, it is logical to think that Josephus is referring back to an earlier discussion of his about that Jesus.

That might sound like an obvious explanation. But there are serious difficulties with it. And there are very good reasons for a quite different explanation.

(This post is a summary of more extensive ones I made some time ago. It recently posted this on another forum somewhere, and have decided to keep a record of it here as well.)

Some difficulties with the current phrase, “the brother of Jesus who is called Christ” in Josephus (Book 20 of Antiquities):

  1. The phrase does not identify which Jesus is the brother of James. Jesus was a common name, (there are 20 so named in Josephus), and few scholars believe Josephus ever wrote that any Jesus was “Christ”.
  2. It is inconsistent with the way Josephus normally re-introduced characters after their last mention being some time earlier
  3. It leaves unexplained why this James (supposedly renowned for his law-based life yet charged with breaking the law?) was murdered
  4. It is inconsistent with the other accounts of James being a Christian (the high priest would not have been so unpopular if James had been a Christian)
  5. It is inconsistent with the other non-Josephan accounts of the death of James. In other accounts, we read of a large gang of Jews collectively murdering him along with their leaders (with no reference to Ananus as in Josephus).
  6. It would be one of only 2 places in all of Josephus’s works where he says someone was said to be a Messiah or Christ — not even other clearly would-be messiahs were so described by Josephus
  7. It creates an unusual word order. Why would a passage about the wickedness of Ananus, with James as a target of his wickedness, be introduced by reference to a relative of that target, especially if Christ was not originally used in the book 18 passage earlier?

So the presumption that this phrase is original to Josephus encounters several difficulties.

Given these difficulties that arise with this phrase, and the history of other uses of this phrase as an identifier of James in early Christian literature, the case for interpolation is far from being ad hoc.

One case (not mine) for it being an interpolation is as follows:

1. There was an early Christian legend that the fall of Jerusalem was the consequence of the Jews killing James the Just. This legend is always retold with the phrase that identifies James as “the brother of Jesus who is called Christ”

2. This legend is always said to have been located somewhere in Josephus (or much later in the similar sounding name of Hegesippus)

Origen’s Commentary on Matthew 10.17

And to so great a reputation among the people for righteousness did this James rise, that Flavius Josephus, who wrote the “Antiquities of the Jews” in twenty books, when wishing to exhibit the cause why the people suffered so great misfortunes that even the temple was razed to the ground, said, that these things happened to them in accordance with the wrath of God in consequence of the things which they had dared to do against James the brother of Jesus who is called Christ. And the wonderful thing is, that, though he did not accept Jesus as Christ, he yet gave testimony that the righteousness of James was so great; and he says that the people thought that they had suffered these things because of James.

Eusebius’ Church History 2.23.20

Josephus, at least, has not hesitated to testify this in his writings, where he says,”These things happened to the Jews to avenge James the Just, who was a brother of Jesus, that is called the Christ. For the Jews slew him, although he was a most just man.”

Jerome: On Illustrious Men Chapter 2

Hegesippus, who lived near the apostolic age, in the fifth book of his Commentaries, writing of James, says “After the apostles, James the brother of the Lord surnamed the Just was made head of the Church at Jerusalem . . .”

3. Despite this legend and its attribution to Josephus, we have no record of this tradition in any of the works of Josephus.

4. We do have in Josephus the identifying phrase that is always associated with this tradition, the construction of which is generally noted for its unusual word order.

5. This tradition attributing the fall of Jerusalem to the murdered James is not consistent with the orthodox Christian view that should have attributed the fall of Jerusalem to the death of Jesus.

6. According to many modern interpretations that this James in Josephus was a Christian leader, the narrative that we do find in Josephus would have us believe that Jews were so favourably disposed towards Christians and a Christian leader that they were all outraged over the persecution of one of them. This flies in the face of all our other evidence about the attitude of these Jews towards Christians.

Is there a single explanation that covers:

(a) the statements that the story of the murder of James who is always identified as “the brother of Jesus called Christ” was found in Josephus; and

(b) the fact that we have no such explanation in our copies of Josephus; and

(c) the unusual position of the story’s accompanying phrase “the brother of Jesus called Christ” in Josephus?

Yes, there is such an explanation.

Note that Jerome attributes the story to Hegesippus and not to Josephus, as had Eusebius and Origen before him.

(A fuller discussion on the possible confusion of Hegesippus and Josephus can be found here.)

Given the similar sounding names of Hegesippus and Josephus, it is not impossible that Origen confused the two names in his memory when attributing the explanation that Jerusalem was destroyed because of Jame’s murder to Josephus. Eusebius repeated Origen’s mistake.

An unorthodox Christian scribe at some point attempted to make up for the absence in Josephus of the story of James’ murder by inserting it into Josephus. Perhaps he believed, following Origen and Eusebius, that it should have been there, so put it there. Or maybe it was inserted for some other reason, even earlier, and Origen and Eusebius really did read it in their copies of Josephus. This scribe also, of course, included the identifying phrase “brother of Jesus called Christ” that had always accompanied the story.

Later, an orthodox Christian copyist who believed that Jerusalem would have fallen for its murder of Jesus, not James, removed the passage. He retained, however, the nice touch of the identifying phrase for James, “the brother of Jesus called Christ”.

This explanation has the advantage of being able to explain the following:

  1. how it is that there was an early Christian tradition about the story of James’ murder being found in Josephus, while none of our copies has such a story
  2. the unusual construction and position in Josephus of the phrase “brother of Jesus who is called Christ”

This explanation also has the advantage of consistency with the literary culture of interpolations of that era. I have discussed this in previous posts and more fully in A literary culture of interpolations and Forgery in the Ancient World and Was forgery treated seriously by the ancients.

The explanation has the further advantage of explaining why the phrase appears to be used as an identifier of James, when it in fact fails completely to do so. Josephus, after all, referred to several people by the name of Jesus, but not once to any by the label of Christ. At least this, I believe, has been the majority view, even at times the consensus, among scholars over the past hundred years and more.

It also explains why the phrase is positioned, unusually, before its subject, James.

It also has the advantage of explaining its curious echo in the most popular of all Christian gospels, that of Matthew — in Matt. 1:16, 27:17, 27:22. Also in John 4:25 and Justin Martyr First Apology 30.

Icon of James the Just, whose judgment was ado...

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Brother of Jesus called Christ / 2

Filed under: Josephus,the James passage — Neil Godfrey @ 1:09 pm
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(updated 2 hours after first posting)

Continued from “The Brother of Jesus called Christ”: another Eusebian footprint in Josephus? . . . . (arguing reasons to believe the “called Christ” reference in book 20 of Antiquities by Josephus was not original to Josephus)

Writing his commentary on Matthew around the 220’s, and in reference to James, Origen gives us our first extant reference to the phrase, “the brother of Jesus who is called Christ”. In later years he repeated it twice in his Contra Celsum. (See previous post for the translated extracts.) In each of these three passages Origen claims that Josephus tells us that the fall of Jerusalem was punishment for a Jewish mob murdering the Just James, the brother of Jesus called Christ.

Josephus, on the other hand, in Book 20, says nothing more than that James, with some companions, was unjustly executed by the high priest through an illegal calling of judges; the point of J’s story is to describe reasons for the fall and replacement of a wicked high priest, and there is no linkage to the destruction of Jerusalem.

There are two questions that the three passages in Origen raise:

Question 1: Origen said that the passage was in the writings of Josephus, but where in Josephus? It is not there in our copies.

Question 2: The phrase itself does appear, with an inverted twist, in Book 20 of Antiquities by Josephus, but the story about James there is not the same as the one Origen relates, and the context makes it extremely unlikely the story could ever have been there (see previous post for summary of reasons). Do we have a merely coincidental duplication of the phrase in contexts so alike and yet especially so unlike? Origen’s account could hardly have been part of the Book 20 reference we have in Josephus today for the following reasons:

  1. In the Josephan passage the villain is the high priest and the general public are so outraged by his actions (not only against James but also against his companions) that they initiate actions that force his removal and replacement by another (Jesus the son of Damneus); yet in Origen’s story of James the Just being martyred, the Jews fully support and participate in the murder of James.
  2. also Origen’s story of a Christian James does not make sense in the Josephan passage — why would murdering a despised Christian outrage the Jewish nation?
  3. and Origen’s James is also renowned for his scrupulous adherence to the law, so on what grounds would Ananias have had him murdered as a law-breaker?

Josephus confused with Hegesippus?

Eusebius gives us reasons for suspecting Origen had actually read or heard the story of the martyrdom of James from Hegesippus, but by the time he came to write about it, had confused Hegesippus with the similar sounding Josephus. This would explain why Origen did not say where in Josephus’s writings the account was to be found. From Book 2, chapter 23 of his Church History:

3. The manner of James’ death has been already indicated by the above-quoted words of Clement, who records that he was thrown from the pinnacle of the temple, and was beaten to death with a club.  But Hegesippus,  who lived immediately after the apostles, gives the most accurate account in the fifth book of his Memoirs. He writes as follows . . . .

19. These things are related at length by Hegesippus, who is in agreement with Clement.  James was so admirable a man and so celebrated among all for his justice, that the more sensible even of the Jews were of the opinion that this was the cause of the siege of Jerusalem, which happened to them immediately after his martyrdom for no other reason than their daring act against him.

Eusebius indicates here that the story of James’ death that we read in Origen was [also? really?] found in the 5th book of Memoirs by Hegesippus.

But we know Eusebius had also read Origen, and that Origen wrote that the account was found in Josephus, although he does not tell us where in Josephus. Is this why Eusebius continues his account of James from Hegesippus with the following:

20. Josephus, at least, has not hesitated to testify this in his writings, where he says,  “These things happened to the Jews to avenge James the Just, who was a brother of Jesus, that is called the Christ. For the Jews slew him, although he was a most just man.”

Again, Josephus is named as a source, but again, there is no indication of where in Josephus this account is to be found. It is possible that Eusebius was attempting here to add weight to the story by his reference to what he had read in Origen. It seems he was not referring to Josephus himself here, since he seems as ignorant as Origen re where Josephus wrote this.

This suspicion is reinforced by the very next words of Eusebius where he does tell us exactly where in Josephus to find the current passage we know about James, and quotes him:

21. And the same writer records his death also in the twentieth book of his Antiquities in the following words:  But the emperor, when he learned of the death of Festus, sent Albinus  to be procurator of Judea. But the younger Ananus,  who, as we have already said,  had obtained the high priesthood, was of an exceedingly bold and reckless disposition. He belonged, moreover, to the sect of the Sadducees, who are the most cruel of all the Jews in the execution of judgment, as we have already shown.

22. Ananus, therefore, being of this character, and supposing that he had a favorable opportunity on account of the fact that Festus was dead, and Albinus was still on the way, called together the Sanhedrin, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, the so-called Christ, James by name, together with some others, and accused them of violating the law, and condemned them to be stoned.

The earliest attestation of the Josephan “brother of Jesus called Christ” phrase

The pre-Eusebian silence on the James passage which refers to “Jesus called Christ” is not as strange as the silence regarding the fuller reference to Jesus in Book 18 (the Testimonium Flavianum), as I think Doherty remarks, but it does remain a question to be answered nonetheless.

What we do find are pre-Eusebian references to a very similar phrase, only found in a more natural word order, in connection with a story of the death of James (the Lord’s brother) that is by Origen attributed to Josephus and by Eusebius attributed to Hegesippus. (We also have Jerome’s even later testimony, but that is another story altogether. See Doherty’s discussion for an intro.) That story is not in our copies of Josephus, and we are not told by ancients where in Josephus it should be found. But we are given a detailed title and chapter/book number for a reference to the same story by Hegesippus, an author with a similar sounding name to Josephus.

Comparing the natural and unnatural word order

All the pre-Eusebian citations of the phrase about James present it in the natural order with James named first, with the explanation of who he is following:

James, the brother of Jesus called Christ

Only in Book 20 of Eusebius do we have the oddity of the high priest bringing charges against

the brother of Jesus called Christ, James by name . . . .

In my previous post I outlined the reasons why Josephus would have been unlikely to have attempted to remind readers who Jesus was by such a phrase.

But the Josephan phrase would not necessarily be unnatural at all, in fact would make good sense, if the words “called Christ” were omitted. It would be consistent with Josephus’s practice at other places to introduce a character without description until later in the narrative, as remarked by Shaye Cohen, David Hindley and Steve Mason:

Shaye Cohen (Josephus in Galilee and Rome) states: “The uneven method of introducing and re-introducing characters and places is particularly conspicuous in Vita (“Life”). Cestius Gallus, the governor of Syria is mentioned first in Vita 23 but his title does not appear until Vita 30….Jesus ben Sapphia is introduced in Vita 134 as if he were a new character although he appeared at least once before….We meet Ananias, a member of the delegation, in Vita 197, but Josephus describes him in Vita 290 as if for the first time….Any deductions about Josephus’ sources based on these inconsistencies are unreliable.”—quoted on an IIDB forum by D. C. Hindley, who comments: “Josephus, for the most part, does identify new characters (either by naming family relationships and/or significance for a particular location) at first introduction (at least those named Jesus), but also can be inconsistent in introducing and re-introducing characters. I can only propose that AJ 20.200 might represent such a case.” Steve Mason also had this to say in an email posted on the IIDB: “…The Iēsous in Tiberias (Life, 271) is the archon, or council-president ([not stated until] 278-79)—a case of mentioning the name shortly before giving the identification. That also happens occasionally in [Jewish] War. I have wondered whether it is not a deliberate narrative technique: provoking the reader to wonder who this guy is, and then supplying the identification after a few sentences…” (Footnote 23 in Josephus on the Rocks)

And if Jesus was not identified by “called Christ” in this passage in Josephus, he would most logically be the same Jesus who, after the execution of James, was made the new high priest.

21. And the same writer records his death also in the twentieth book of his Antiquities in the following words:  But the emperor, when he learned of the death of Festus, sent Albinus  to be procurator of Judea. But the younger Ananus,  who, as we have already said,  had obtained the high priesthood, was of an exceedingly bold and reckless disposition. He belonged, moreover, to the sect of the Sadducees, who are the most cruel of all the Jews in the execution of judgment, as we have already shown.

22. Ananus, therefore, being of this character, and supposing that he had a favorable opportunity on account of the fact that Festus was dead, and Albinus was still on the way, called together the Sanhedrin, and brought before them the brother of Jesus,   , James by name, together with some others, and accused them of violating the law, and condemned them to be stoned.

23. But those in the city who seemed most moderate and skilled in the law were very angry at this, and sent secretly to the king, requesting him to order Ananus to cease such proceedings. For he had not done right even this first time. And certain of them also went to meet Albinus, who was journeying from Alexandria, and reminded him that it was not lawful for Ananus to summon the Sanhedrin without his knowledge.

24. And Albinus, being persuaded by their representations, wrote in anger to Ananus, threatening him with punishment. And the king, Agrippa, in consequence, deprived him of the high priesthood, which he had held three months, and appointed Jesus, the son of Damnæus.

Eusebius, it appears, knew nothing more than the above passage (the quotation is from his Church History), and in his desire to make the extant copies of Josephus really say something about the death of the Christian leader and brother of Jesus Christ, inserted the phrase, called Christ, after Jesus.

Anomalies and Best Sense

This insertion created the following anomalies in the present text:

  1. it is a reference to Jesus Christ as unknown before Eusebius as the larger reference to Jesus in book 18 of Antiquities
  2. it is inconsistent with the way Josephus normally re-introduced characters after their last mention being some time earlier
  3. it leaves unexplained why this James (supposedly renowned for his law-based life yet charged with breaking the law?) was murdered
  4. it is inconsistent with the other accounts of James being a Christian (the high priest would not have been so unpopular if James had been a Christian)
  5. it is inconsistent with the other accounts of a large gang of Jews collectively murdering him along with their leaders (with no reference to Ananus either)
  6. it would be one of only 2 places in all of Josephus’s works where he says someone was said to be a Messiah or Christ — not even other clearly would-be messiahs were so described by Josephus
  7. it creates an unusual word order — why would a passage about the wickedness of Ananus, with James as a target of his wickedness, be introduced by reference to a relative of that target, especially if Christ was not originally used in the book 18 passage earlier

Without the phrase “called Christ” the passage (even its strange word-order placing the reference to Jesus first before his brother James) makes perfect sense, consistent with Josephan style elsewhere, of the background machinations to the murder of James; it was his brother, Jesus, who was ironically (and/or via some longstanding power game) who was made the new high priest. James was the “bit player” in the drama (a certain James by name — no need for further elaboration it seems), the unfortunate target that led to the fall of Ananus and his replacement by his brother, Jesus. But this was not the Jesus called Christ, but one of 20 other Jesus’s in Josephus.

A Christian phrase

The Greek phrase for “called Christ” tou legomenou Christou — furthermore, ‘just happens’ to be used in the canonical gospels of Jesus, in particular that most popular of all gospels in the second century, Matthew, and in Justin Martyr’s writings.

Matthew 1:16

And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ (ho legomenos Christos).

Matthew 27:17

Therefore, when they had gathered together, Pilate said to them, “Whom do you want me to release to you? Barabbas, or Jesus who is called Christ?”

Matthew 27:22

Pilate said to them, “What then shall I do with Jesus who is called Christ?” They all said to him, “Let Him be crucified!”

John 4:25

The woman said to Him, “I know that Messiah is coming” (who is called Christ). “When He comes, He will tell us all things.”

Justin Martyr, First Apology, 30:

But lest any one should meet us with the question, What should prevent that He whom we call Christ (ton par’ hēmin legomenon Christon), being a man born of men, performed what we call His mighty works by magical art, and by this appeared to be the Son of God? we will now offer proof . . .

As Doherty points out, the latter two occasions here (John and Justin) indicate the phrase had become a formula of some kind. (See his online discussion for details.)

And if the phrase was used by Hegesippus, then we have yet another instance of its Christian usage.

All this, of course, increases the likelihood that the phrase was something more likely to have been inserted by a Christian into Josephus.


The Testimonium Flavianum: more clues from Eusebius

Filed under: Josephus,Testimonium Flavianum — Neil Godfrey @ 2:26 am
Tags: ,

I have updated my previous post’s timeline of the apparent birth of the passage about Jesus found in Josephus to include all known pre-Eusebian Christian references to Josephus.

In this post I begin to discuss the detailed evidence that this passage (the Testimony of Flavius Josephus, or the Testimonium Flavianum, or TF) was composed by Eusebius himself. While I draw heavily on Ken Olson, and on the augmentation of Olson’s arguments by Earl Doherty, I like to think I also add a few extra layers of evidence here and there. (Mike Duncan – of the Bad Rhetoric blog – argues for another contender, Pamphilus. See his comments dated 7 March at the end of my previous post for a summary.)

ca.324 CE
Eusebius quotes a reference in Josephus to Jesus that survives today in all manuscripts:

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.

Eusebius in fact cites this passage three times — in three of his works — to assert a reputable Jewish support for the good character of Jesus:

  • Demonstratio Evangelica
  • History of the Church
  • Theophany

Some discussion has arisen over a difference in wording of the TF in these works, and over which was written first, and the implications these ideas have for whether or not Eusebius was necessarily the original fabricator of the TF. I will discuss these questions and my own views of the arguments in a future post.

To take the TF phrase by phrase and see how much is truly Josephan and how much Eusebian, and if Josephan, in what Eusebian context. . . .

1. a wise man (sophos aner)

Josephus uses this descriptor of Solomon and Daniel; he does not associate it with miracle-working or special teaching.

Eusebius uses sophos, a sage, as the opposite of a goes, a charlatan, several times throughout his works.

  1. In Adversus Hieroclem Eusebius challenged Hierocles for describing another miracle worker, Apollonius of Tyre, as a “sophos” on a par with Jesus, yet who is not worshipped as a god. His point appears to have been to demonstrate the excessive credulity of the Christians. Apollonius, like Jesus, performed miracles, but his followers never esteemed him higher than as one beloved by gods.
  2. In Demonstratio Evangelica, Bk 3, ch 5 (Olson) Eusebius is at pains to counter the charge that Jesus is a goes (charlatan, wizard) and pulls out the TF to demonstrate that he was, in fact, a sophos (sage, truly wise man).

Earl Doherty (in Josephus on the Rocks) faults Ken Olson for not pushing his argument far enough:

The question which Olson does not ask is this: why, in this earliest work in which he was concerned to cast Jesus in a favorable light, did Eusebius not appeal to the Testimonium, as he was to do in similar circumstances in two later works? We can hardly presume that he only discovered Josephus in the interim. There is no reason why the Testimonium could not have served his purpose in Adversus Hieroclem. What we may very well presume is that in the interim Eusebius decided it would be a good idea to fabricate something by Josephus to serve this purpose.

This takes us beyond the study of how “Josephan” or “Eusebian” the “sophos aner” description is. But to stick with this digression for a moment – – –

There is a closely related passage by Eusebius in Adversus Hieroclem (chapter IV) that reads to me as if it is a very template of the TF. The words in black type are those of Eusebius, and those in the blue-green are from the TF:

IF then we may be permitted to contrast the reckless and easy credulity which he goes out of his way to accuse us of, with the accurate and well-founded judgment on particular points of the Lover of Truth, let us ask at once,

not which of them was the more divine nor in what capacity one worked more wondrous and numerous miracles than the other ;

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,

nor let us lay stress on the point that our Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ was the only man of whom it was prophesied, thanks to their divine inspiration, by Hebrew sages who lived far back thousands of years ago, that he should once come among mankind ;

He was the Christ . . . . as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him.

nor on the fact that he converted to his own scheme of divine teaching so many people ; nor that he formed a group of genuine and really sincere disciples, of whom almost without exaggeration it can be said that they were prepared to lay down their lives for his teaching at a moment’s call ;

a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. . . . those that loved him at the first did not forsake him

nor that he alone established a school of sober and chaste living which has survived him all along ;

And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.

nor that by his peculiar divinity and virtue he saved the whole inhabited world, and still rallies to his divine teaching races from all sides by tens of thousands ;

He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles.

nor that he is the only example of a teacher who, after being treated as an enemy for so many years, I might almost say, by all men, subjects and rulers alike, has at last triumphed and shown himself far mightier, thanks to his divine and mysterious power, than the infidels who persecuted him so bitterly, those who in their time rebelled against his divine teaching being now easily won over by him, while the divine doctrine which he firmly laid down and handed on has come to prevail for ages without end all over the inhabited world ; nor that even now he displays the virtue of his godlike might in the expulsion, by the mere invocation of his mysterious name, of sundry troublesome and evil demons which beset men’s bodies and souls, as from our own experience we know to be the case.

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; And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.

To look for such results in the case of Apollonius, or even to ask about them, is absurd.

Note the similarities of theme and close relationship even sequence:

  • a divine man,
  • a worker of miracles (though Eusebius complains that those of Apollonius are wizardry, not genuine),
  • prophesied from old by Hebrew prophets,
  • persuaded many who loved the truth, were sincere, and remained loyal even after his death
  • and who have continued even to the present day
  • from all mankind, Jews and Gentiles,
  • condemned by rulers, yet he has overcome through his powers and the devotion and continuation of his followers

This comparison, I propose, suggests that Eusebius was either totally absent minded or possibly had not yet constructed the TF at the time he wrote against Hierocles. It also strongly suggests that the thought pattern in Eusebius’ mind at the time he was rebutting Hierocles was sustained and survived to become the framework for his subsequent decision to craft the TF.

Comparing this passage in Adversus Hieroclem almost begs for a revision of the references to the TF in Eusebius:

  • [Adversus Hieroclem . . . paraphrased/proto TF]
  • Demonstratio Evangelica
  • History of the Church
  • Theophany

2. if it be lawful to call him a man

Eusebius and other Christian authors are known to have added a qualifier like this after referencing Jesus as a man. This phrase is widely regarded as in interpolation because it presupposes the divinity of Jesus. But there is no logical reason to remove it from the original passage. It fits well with its context. It logically joins the phrases either side of it. After calling Jesus a “man” it explains that he is “more than a man” on the grounds of his ability to perform so many miracles:

. . . a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works . . .

Many scholars have gone along with the idea that by removing this phrase from the passage leaves a less Christian sounding paragraph, something closer to what a Jew like Josephus might have written about Jesus. The logical fallacy here is as astonishing as it is naive and one wonders how it could appear to be so glibly repeated for so long in the discussion. Of course the removal of any red passage from a larger one looking purple will leave it totally blue. Ken Olson, who surely could not have been the first to point such a fallacy, demonstrates this most clearly by showing how a passage from a sermon in Acts can be changed from pro Jesus to neutral Jesus.

3. a doer of wonderful works (paradoxon ergon poietes)

The Greek word here for “doer” or “maker” is “poietes”, which can also be translated as “poet”. Doherty notes that Ken Olson, Robert Eisler and Josephan specialist Steve Mason all confirm that Josephus only ever uses this word to mean “poet”. Its use for the sense of “doer” or “perpetrator” is common among Christian authors, however.

Olson also remarks that Josephus never associates forms of the word paradoxon/s and poietes/poieo to mean the sense of “miracle making”. Eusebius, on the other hand, uses such a combination, and variants of the phrase paradoxon ergon poietes in Demonstratio Evangelica 3.5 — see sections 115, 123, 125 on that page; and History of the Church 1.2.23 — see paragraph 23 there.

This post is taking way way longer than I anticipated — I have an obsession with checking footnotes and other references as far back as I can go before putting keyboard to monitor. Going to have to complete it in spits and spurts.


The Jesus reference in Josephus: its ad hoc doctoring and various manuscript lines

The following time line of the evidence for Josephus’s mention of Jesus (The Testimonium Flavianum) was prompted as part of my preparation to address the discussion by Eddy and Boyd in The Jesus Legend. I will save my comments on how this timeline reflects on their evaluation of the evidence of Josephus till I next address their work.

Meanwhile, the following chronological overview of the extant references, variations and omissions may tell their own story for those interested in exploring this topic.

I have taken portions of the dateline from The Flavius Josephus Home Page. But since that only referred to a few of the relevant citations, most of the remainder is from my distillation of Earl Doherty’s comprehensive 2008 discussion of the manuscript and textual evidence, Josephus On the Rocks. (But since my revision on 7th March I have added quite a few more notes to highlight knowledge of Josephus among Church Fathers prior to Eusebius, but without any apparent knowledge of the Testimonium.)

For those new to this topic, the Testimonium Flavianum is the scholarly name given to the passage about Jesus in the writings of the first century Jewish historian, Josephus. Josephus was a famous for his recording of the history of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE and the events leading to that event, as well as for writing a comprehensive history of the Jewish people with which to impress his Roman patron and audience.

Prior to the latter half of the twentieth century it was widely held by scholars (e.g. Charles Guignebert, Maurice Goguel) that this passage was a complete forgery (but see comment below by Ken Olson here), and that Josephus made no reference to Jesus in any of his works. Since then, there has been a near universal tendency to suggest that at least part of the current passage about Jesus was original to Josephus, and that it had been tampered with by later scribes. I am not convinced that these more recent arguments have overturned the substance of the earlier arguments, but details of the arguments will come in future posts. Those posts will refer back to the timeline below.

93 CE
: The book Jewish Antiquities by Josephus is published in Rome. . . Manuscripts surviving today also contain a description of Jesus. But was this description present in the year 93? Josephus, in deference to the sensibilities of his Roman protectors, is at pains to avoid any mention of Jewish Messianic hopes. The only reference to a Messiah is in the description of Jesus and Christians which first appear with Eusebius.

ca.140’s CE
Justin Martyr
writes lengthy polemics against the unbelief of Jews and pagans and arguments for Christianity. No reference to Josephus. Had Josephus written about Jesus, positive or negative, could such works have remained unknown to Justin?

ca.170’s CE
Theophilus, Patriarch of Antioch
writes lengthy polemics against pagan refusal to believe in Christianity. No reference to Jesus in Josephus, although he cites Josephus in his Apology to Autolycus, Bk 3, ch. 23.

ca.180’s CE
writes at length against unbelief without any reference to a work by Josephus. “[I]t is clear that Irenaeus was unfamiliar with Book 18 of ‘Antiquities’ since he wrongly claims that Jesus was executed by Pilate in the reign of Claudius (Dem. ev. ap. 74), while Antiquities 18.89 indicates that Pilate was deposed during the reign of Tiberius, before Claudius” (Wikipedia’s citation of Whealey’s ‘Josephus on Jesus’). Had Josephus discussed Jesus how could Irenaeus have been ignorant of the fact? Surely some knowledge of such a passage in the famous Jewish historian would have reached Irenaeus and others.

Fragment XXXII from the lost writings of Irenaeus, however, does know Josephus — see 32:53.

ca.190’s CE
Clement of Alexandria
wrote extensively in defence of Christianity against pagan hostility. He knew Josephus’ works — see Stromata Book 1 Chater 21. No reference to any mention of Jesus by Josephus.

ca.200’s CE
wrote lengthy apolegetics against unbelief and in justification of Christianity. No reference to a passage about Jesus by Josephus. But he elsewhere knows Josephus’ works — see Apologeticum ch.19.

ca.200’s CE
Minucius Felix
, another apologist, no references to Jesus from Josephus, although he knows and cites Josephus — see chapter 33.

ca.210’s CE
wrote volumes of apologetics but appears to know nothing of a reference to Jesus by Josephus. Fragments of his works — see On Jeremiah and Ezekiel.145 — show he knows Josephus.

ca.220’s CE
Sextus Julius Africanus was a Christian historian who is not known to cite Josephus’s passage on Jesus although he did know of Josephus‘s works — see Chatper 17.38 of his Chronography.

ca.230’s CE
Origen knows Josephus
: four citations of Josephus are found here, but none reference a Jesus passage in Josephus.

  1. cites a passage in Josephus on the death of James “the brother of Jesus” (Book 20 of the Antiquities);
  2. states Josephus did not believe in Jesus (Origen in fact notes that Josephus proclaimed the Roman emperor Vespasian as the long awaited world ruler of biblical prophecy).
  3. summarized what Josephus said about John the Baptist in Book 18.
  4. said Josephus attributed destruction of Jerusalem to murder of James the Just (something not found in our copies of the works of Josephus) — (Josephus actually implies the destruction of Jerusalem was punishment for the murder of Ananias).
  5. does not cite any reference to Jesus from Josephus.

ca.240’s CE
(North Africa) prolific apologist with no reference to Jesus in Josephus.

ca.270’s CE
Anatolius, demonstrates his knowledge of Josephus in his Paschal Canon, chapter 3. No reference to Jesus in Josephus.

ca.290’s CE
Arnobius (North Africa) prolific apologist with no reference to Jesus in Josephus.

ca.300’s CE
Methodius, a Church Father who opposed Origen, and cites Josephus (see On the Resurrection — the citation is misplaced at the bottom of the page) but makes no reference to a Jesus passage in Josephus.

ca.300’s CE
(North Africa) prolific apologist with no reference to Jesus in Josephus.

ca.324 CE
Eusebius quotes a reference in Josephus to Jesus that survives today in all manuscripts:

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.

Some expressions in the above are Josephan, but used in a way contrary to how Josephus uses them elsewhere. Some expressions are characteristic of those found in other writings of Eusebius. More on this in a future post.

Eusebius in fact cites this passage three times — in three of his works — to assert a reputable Jewish support for the good character of Jesus:

  1. Demonstratio Evangelica
  2. History of the Church
  3. Theophany

ca.370’s CE
cites Josephus 90 times but cites the Testimonium (the Josephan passage about Jesus) only the once, and that in his Illustrious Men, 13. “It is likely that Jerome knew of the Testimonium from the copy of Eusebius available to him.” (Eddy and Boyd). The silence on the Testimonium outside De Viris Illustribus 13 may well relate to the period prior to his attaining access to the Eusebian text of Josephus.

The one reference of Jerome’s is nearly identical to that of Eusebius except that where Eusebius had “He was the Christ”, Jerome cited Josephus as saying, “He was believed to be the Christ.” From CCEL:

In this same time was Jesus, a wise man, if indeed it be lawful to call him man. For he was a worker of wonderful miracles, and a teacher of those who freely receive the truth. He had very many adherents also, both of the Jews and of the Gentiles, and was believed to be Christ, and when through the envy of our chief men Pilate had crucified him, nevertheless those who had loved him at first continued to the end, for he appeared to them the third day alive. Many things, both these and other wonderful things are in the songs of the prophets who prophesied concerning him and the sect of Christians, so named from Him, exists to the present day.

Jerome, like Origen earlier, also wrote that Josephus interpreted the fall of Jerusalem as punishment for the stoning of James the Just, an interpretation not found in our copies of Josephus.

ca.380’s CE
St John Chrysostom

  1. In his Homily 76 he writes that Jerusalem was destroyed as a punishment for the crucifixion of Jesus.
  2. He discusses Josephus, but makes no reference to any passage about Jesus in Josephus.
  3. In his Homily 13 he writes that Josephus attributed the destruction of Jerusalem to death of John the Baptist.

ca.370’s CE
Latin Pseudo-Hegesippus and the Hebrew Josippon dependent on Ps-Hegesippus, cite free paraphrases of the Josephan reference to Jesus first cited in Eusebius. From Stephen Carlson’s Hypotyposeis:

About which the Jews themselves bear witness, Josephus a writer of histories saying, that there was in that time a wise man, if it is proper however, he said, to call a man the creator of marvelous works, who appeared living to his disciples after three days of his death in accordance with the writings of the prophets, who prophesied both this and innumerable other things full of miracles about him. from which began the community of Christians and penetrated into every tribe of men nor has any nation of the Roman world remained, which was left without worship of him. If the Jews don’t believe us, they should believe their own people. Josephus said this, whom they themselves think very great, but it is so that he was in his own self who spoke the truth otherwise in mind, so that he did not believe his own words. But he spoke because of loyalty to history, because he thought it a sin to deceive, he did not believe because of stubbornness of heart and the intention of treachery. He does not however prejudge the truth because he did not believe but he added more to his testimony, because although disbelieving and unwilling he did not refuse.

ca.400’s CE
(North Africa), another prolific apologist, apparently knew nothing of any reference to Jesus by Josephus.

fifth century CE
Tables of Contents of the works of Josephus were attached to Greek manuscripts, “and there is evidence that such tables were already attached to Latin manuscripts of the work as early as the 5th century.” H. Thackeray as cited, in part, by Doherty:

. . . the chapter headings “are ostensibly written by a Jew,” and “though it is improbable that these more elaborate chapter headings are the production of his [Josephus’] pen, they may well be not far removed from him in date.” The Table of Contents for Book 18 lists 20 topics dealt with in the book, but there is no mention of the Testimonium among them. . . .

ca.870’s CE
Photios, Patriarch of Constantinople, citing Earl Doherty’s Josephus On the Rocks:

[Photius] in compiling his Library (a review of several hundred ancient books, including treatises on the works of Josephus) apparently possessed a copy of Josephus which contained no Testimonium, nor even those interpolations we conclude were introduced to make Josephus say that the destruction of Jerusalem was due to the death of James the Just, or of John the Baptist. As Zindler says,

“Since Photius was highly motivated to report ancient attestations to the beginnings of Christianity, his silence here argues strongly that neither the Testimonium nor any variant thereof was present in the manuscript he read. This also argues against the notion that the Testimonium was created to supplant an originally hostile comment in the authentic text of Josephus. Had a negative notice of a false messiah been present in the text read by Photius, it is inconceivable he could have restrained himself from comment thereon.”

Photius does discuss the Antiquities 18 passage on John the Baptist. To think that he would do so yet pass up one about Christ himself—no matter what its nature—is, as Zindler says, quite inconceivable. Photius at a number of points also seems to quote marginal notes from his copy of Josephus, giving evidence of the ease with which such things could have found their way into the original text and given rise to debates about what was authentic to Josephus’ own writings.

10th Century
The Arab Christian historian Agapius quotes a version of the Testimonium that differs from that of Eusebius.

At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good and his learning outstanding. And many people from among  the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon their discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after the crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders. (translation of Shlomo Pines)

11th-12th centuries
Slavonic Josephus
cites another free paraphrase of the Josephan reference to Jesus first cited in Eusebius. This contains the same variant (He was believed to be the Christ) found in Jerome. The passage below is from Solomon Zeitlin:

At that time also a man came forward—if even it is fitting to call him man (simply).  His nature as well as his form were a man’s; but his showing forth was more than (that) of a man.  His works, that is to say, were godly and he wrought wonder deeds amazing and full of power.  Therefore it is not possible for me to call him a man (simply).  But again looking at the existence he shared with all, I would also not call him an angel.  And all that he wrought through some kind of invisible power, he wrought by word and command.  Some said of him that ‘our first Law-giver has risen from the dead and shows forth many cures and arts’.  But others supposed (less definitely) that he is sent by God.  Now he opposed himself in much to the Law, and did not observe the Sabbath according to ancestral custom.  Yet, on the other hand, he did nothing reprehensible nor any crime, but by word solely he effected everything.  And many from the folk followed him and received his teachings.  And many souls became wavering, supposing that thereby the Jewish tribes would free themselves from the Romans’ hands.  Now it was his custom often to stop on the Mount of Olives, facing the city.  And there also be avouched his curse to the people.

And he gathered themselves to him of servants a hundred and fifty, but of the folk a multitude.  But when they saw his power, that he accomplished everything that he would by word, they urged him that he should enter the city and cut down the Roman soldiers and Pilate, and rule over us.  But that one scorned it.  And thereafter when knowledge of it came to the Jewish leaders, they gathered together with the high priest and spoke: ‘We are powerless and weak to withstand the Romans.  But as withal the bow is bent, we will go and tell Pilate what we have heard, and we will be without distress, lest if he hear it from others, we be robbed of our substance and ourselves be put to the sword and our children ruined.’  And they went and told it to Pilate.

And he sent and had many of the people cut down.  And he had that wonder-doer brought up.  And when he had instituted a trial concerning him he perceived that he is a doer of good, but not an evil-doer, nor a revolutionary, nor one who aimed at power, and let him free.  He had, you should know, healed his dying wife.  And he went to his accustomed place and wrought his accustomed works.  And as again more folk gathered themselves together round him, then did he win glory through his works more than all.

The teachers of the law were (therefore) envenomed with envy and gave thirty talents to Pilate, in order that he should put him to death.  And he, after he had taken the money, gave consent that they should themselves carry out their purpose, and they took and crucified him according to the ancestral law.

For more extracts from the Slavonic Josephus see Mead’s citations on the Sacred Texts website.


What Josephus might have said about the Gospels

Filed under: Historiography,Josephus,New Testament,Religion — Neil Godfrey @ 5:37 pm
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The Jewish historian Josephus had a bit to say about the nature of historiography, and why he believed his historical writings were more truthful than those of Greek historians. His criticisms of Greek histories have some interest when compared with modern questions about the historical reliability of the Gospels. . . . (more…)

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