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The Testimonium Flavianum: more clues from Eusebius

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.