Jesus in Josephus — pts 5-12

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by Neil Godfrey

Continued from my earlier post Jesus in Josephus – point 4

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.

To take the TF phrase by phrase (using Ken Olson’s 13 phrase points) and see how much is truly Josephan and how much Eusebian, and if Josephan, in what Eusebian context. . . .

1 to 4 are summaries of the fuller explanations in the earlier posts.

(Thanks in particular to Ken Olson’s article and for some of his views expressed in academic discussion lists since, and also for additional inputs from Earl Doherty’s more recently posted online discussions.)

1. a wise man (sophos aner)

A typically Eusebian expression used here in the same way and for the same purpose Eusebius elsewhere uses it. Though Josephus uses the word as well, he does not do so elsewhere in the context of a miracle worker and/or wise teacher that we find here. See TF: more clues from Eusebius for details.

2. if it be lawful to call him a man

An expression typically used in one form or another among early Christian authors to qualify the human nature of Jesus. Many scholars argue for its removal from the original passage, reasoning that this passage is a Christian interpolation while other words around it are not. However the passage ties elements of the “original passage” together so well that this argument for it being a later addition is very stretched. See TF: more clues from Eusebius for details.

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

The Greek word for “doer/performer/maker” here is never used by Josephus with this meaning. Josephus always uses the word to mean “poet”. Similarly, Josephus never uses the Greek words for “wonderful/uncustomary/strange” “works” to mean miracles. But these words in the TF are used to convey the same meanings for which Eusebius uses them. See TF: more clues from Eusebius for details.

4. receive the truth with pleasure (hedone talethe dechomenon)

It is inconceivable that Josephus would have described the teachings of Jesus as “truth”, yet this is the word regularly used by Christian authors for his teachings. “Receive with pleasure” is a Josephan phrase, but it is not found in all of the citations of Eusebius’s TF. Where it is found, it can be explained plausibly as the result of Eusebius’s close working familiarity with Josephus’s writings as demonstrated throughout that particular book. See Jesus in Josephus, 4 for details.

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

It is commonly argued that a Christian interpolater would not have written this because it contradicts the gospel portrayal of Jesus preaching only to the Jews. And as Doherty mischievously notes, scholars who insist Josephus is drawing solely on factual sources for his core TF are contradicting themselves when they argue that Josephus wrote this, since the same scholars insist the factual records deny Jesus taught and won over both Jews and Gentiles.

That Eusebius was quite prepared to either fabricate or naively accept evidence to demonstrate Jesus’s following among the far away Gentiles cannot be questioned. Eusebius even “produced” letters of exchange between King Abgar of Edessa and Jesus. See Church History, chapter 13.

A Christian scribe could well have invented this claim in the TF, since the tendency of Church Fathers (and secular historians) to rewrite the past to suit or explain the present was well-known. Olson shows Eusebius himself said just this, that Jesus evangelized both Jews and Gentiles:

For it had been foretold that one who was at the same time man and God should come and dwell in the world, should perform wonderful works, and should show himself a teacher to all nations of the piety of the Father. (Church History, 1.2.23)

The divinity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ being noised abroad among all men on account of his wonder-working power, he attracted countless numbers from foreign countries lying far away from Judea, who had the hope of being cured of their diseases and of all kinds of sufferings. (Church History, 1.13.1)

If, then, even the historian’s evidence shews that He attracted to Himself not only the twelve Apostles, nor the seventy disciples, but had in addition many Jews and Greeks, He must evidently have had some extraordinary power beyond that of other men. For how otherwise could He have attracted many Jews and Greeks, except by wonderful miracles and unheard-of teaching? (Demonstratio 3)

So that thus the whole slander against His disciples is destroyed, when by their evidence, and apart also from their evidence, it has to be confessed that many myriads of Jews and Greeks were brought under His yoke by Jesus the Christ of God through the miracles that He performed. (Demonstratio 3)

For it is written that before His Passion He shewed Himself for the space of three-and-a-half years to His disciples and also to those who were not His disciples: while by teaching and miracles He revealed the powers of His Godhead to all equally whether Greeks or Jews. (Demonstratio 8)

Eusebius had a special interest in pairing Jews and Greeks and he was quite capable of retrojecting the conversion of both to Jesus himself. One may wonder how likely it would have been for Josephus to have noted “Jews and Greeks” as opposed to observing an undifferentiated following.

6. He was the Christ.

Josephus believed that the Roman emperor Vespasian was the prophesied world ruler (Jewish Messiah or Christ).

But now, what did the most elevate them in undertaking this war, was an ambiguous oracle that was also found in their sacred writings, how,” about that time, one from their country should become governor of the habitable earth.” The Jews took this prediction to belong to themselves in particular, and many of the wise men were thereby deceived in their determination. Now this oracle certainly denoted the government of Vespasian, who was appointed emperor in Judea. (War 6.5.4)

Origen, about a century before Eusebius, referred to Josephus’s Antiquities, book 18 (where Eusebius found the TF), to establish that Josephus did not believe that Jesus was the Messiah.

For in the 18th book of his Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus bears witness to John as having been a Baptist, and as promising purification to those who underwent the rite. Now this writer, although not believing in Jesus as the Christ. . . . (Contra Celsus 1.47)

Accordingly, and quite reasonably, most scholars argue that this passage was not written by Josephus and that it should be removed. But there is a problem with removing it. Shortly afterwards the TF introduces “the tribe of Christians” and explains that they were so named after their founder. So without this passage, He was the Christ, another part of the TF does not make sense. It would have been meaningless to have written that Christians were so named after their leader unless it had been earlier explained that their leader was known as Christ. The passage is a coherent whole and this is yet another problem that arises when we try to chop bits that don’t suit our theories out of it.

Some try to get around this by drawing on later variations of the TF that modify this sentence to read “he was believed to be the Christ” (See Jerome’s passage in my earlier post). Some have argued on the strength of this that Josephus wrote something like that. But this is mere speculation, and is in defiance of the probabilities, given the strong interest in Christian authors discovering and making use of any such passage had it existed. A simpler explanation of Jerome’s variation is that Jerome realized the sentence in Eusebius was implausible coming from Josephus, and he modified it to what he imagined Josephus was more likely to have said.

7. first men among us (proton andron par hemin)

Olson observes that the Greek for “first men” here (proton andron), like the earlier Greek term for “receive with pleasure”,  is “a peculiarly Josephan term”. (Eusebius was more likely to employ words meaning “archons” and “revere”.) The same argument that applied to “receive with pleasure” applies here, too. See Jesus in Josephus, 4 for details.

Par hemin, among us, on the other hand, is “very common in Eusebius but somewhat unusual in Josephus”. Olson continues:

Josephus uses the first person plural to refer to the Jews only in the context of their common history and traditions. It is unlikely that Josephus would have attached a national significance to Jesus’ execution. Making the leaders of the Jewish nation as a whole the instigators of the crucifixion is the device of a later Christian apologist. (p.311, CBQ, 61, 1999)

8. Pilate condemned him to the cross

Olson rebuts suggestions that a Christian interpolater would have put more emphasis on the Jewish role in the crucifixion of Christ:

  1. from point 7 above, the passage does indeed reference Jewish culpability;
  2. a short passage cannot be expected to cover all details; compare the Nicene Crede, which cites only Pilate’s role, not being doubted as a Christian composition;
  3. the passage in the TF is very close to Luke 23:23-24

And they were instant with loud voices, requiring that he might be crucified. And the voices of them and of the chief priests prevailed. And Pilate gave sentence that it should be as they required.

9. those who loved him at first did not cease/forsake him

A favourite argument of Eusebius was to demonstrate that Jesus was the Christ by pointing to the honorable example of his disciples who remained loyal to him even after his dishonourable execution. He made this point in his attack on Hierocles, throughout his Church History, and again in his Demonstratio. It is in this context that Eusebius draws on the TF to verify his argument:

Why then after seeing His miserable end did they stand their ground? Why did they construct a theology about Him when He was dead? Did they desire to share His fate? No one surely on any reasonable ground would choose such a punishment with his eyes open.

And if it be supposed that they honoured Him, while He was still their comrade and companion, and as some might say their deceitful cozener, yet why was it that after His death they honoured Him far more than before? For while He was still with men they are said to have once deserted Him and denied Him, when the plot was engineered against Him, yet after He had departed from men, they chose willingly to die, rather than to depart from their good witness about Him. Surely if they recognized nothing that was good in their Master, in His life, or His teaching, or His actions—-no praiseworthy deed, nothing in which He had benefited them, but only wickedness and the leading astray of men, they could not possibly have witnessed eagerly by their deaths to His glory and holiness, when it was open to them all to live on untroubled, and to pass a life of safety by their own hearths with their dear ones. How could deceitful and shifty men have thought it desirable to die for some one else, especially, if one may say so, for a man who they knew had been of no service to them, but their teacher in all evil? For while a reasonable and honourable man for the sake of some good object may with good reason sometimes undergo a glorious death, yet surely men of vicious nature, slaves to passion and pleasure, pursuing only the life of the moment and the satisfactions which belong to it, are not the people to undergo punishment even for friends and relations, far less for those who have been condemned for crime. How then could His disciples, if He was really a deceiver and a wizard, recognized by them as such, with their own minds enthralled by still worse viciousness, undergo at the hands of their fellow-countrymen every insult and every form of punishment on account of the witness they delivered about Him?—-this is all quite foreign to the nature of scoundrels. . . .

And here it will not be inappropriate for me to make use of the evidence of the Hebrew Josephus as well, who in the eighteenth chapter of The Archaeology of the Jews, in his record of the times of Pilate, mentions our Saviour in these words: . . . . (Demonstratio 3.5)

In the time of Josephus, the Christian followers of Jesus wrote, taught and preached that Jesus was coming again soon to overthrow the kingdoms of the world, that Jesus had violently disrupted the Temple of Jerusalem, and taught his followers to willingly die for him. Again, it is inconceivable that Josephus, who despised all such type of teaching and extremist behaviour, could have written a passage that praises the loyalty of his followers, even in defiance of seeing their leader executed as a criminal by Rome. Even if one insists on a neutral meaning for the passage, could Josephus have possibly been neutral about this sort of thing?

10. 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

This is another portion of the TF that most consider to be a Christian interpolation. Olson notes how it conveniently coheres with the intention of Eusebius stated from the beginning of his Church History to show that Jesus and these works of his were the fulfilment of prophecies.

Then, finally, at the time of the origin of the Roman Empire, there appeared again to all men and nations throughout the world, who had been, as it were, previously assisted, and were now fitted to receive the knowledge of the Father, that same teacher of virtue, the minister of the Father in all good things, the divine and heavenly Word of God, in a human body not at all differing in substance from our own. He did and suffered the things which had been prophesied. For it had been foretold that one who was at the same time man and God should come and dwell in the world, should perform wonderful works, and should show himself a teacher to all nations of the piety of the Father. The marvelous nature of his birth, and his new teaching, and his wonderful works had also been foretold; so likewise the manner of his death, his resurrection from the dead, and, finally, his divine ascension into heaven. (Historia. 1.2.23)

Doherty perceptively observes, however, that had Josephus written anything about Jesus and his followers, it is hard to imagine him ignoring their central claim that Jesus had died and was believed to have been resurrected.

So removing this passage from the TF in attempts to locate an “original core” really gets us nowhere.

11. tribe of Christians

While Josephus uses the word for “tribe”, phylon, the word is used here in an un-Josephan manner. For Josephus, a “tribe” was a race or nation, not a religious group.

Three observations may be thought to point to Eusebius being the originator of this phrase:

1. Eusebius twice uses the expression “tribe or race of Christians” in his Church History when discussing the letters of the governor Pliny:

In reply to this Trajan made the following decree: that the race of Christians should not be sought after (found in both Historia, 3.33.2 and 4)

2. This is not the only place where Eusebius demonstrates creativity in his use of his word for “tribe”. In his Preparation for the Gospel, book 7 paras 15 and 22:

Thus then after those first luminaries which are reckoned among incorporal powers, and excel in power and essence of intellectual light, there are countless tribes and families of stars and a vast difference incomprehensible to us, but not to the Maker of the universe. . . . .

‘If however any one shall say that matter is in God, it is equally necessary to inquire whether it is by God’s being separated from Himself, just as tribes of living creatures subsist in the air, by its being divided and parted for the reception of the creatures that arise in it . . . . . .

3. The desciption of Christians as a tribe is nowhere found before Eusebius. After Eusebius, however, some Christian authors did speak of Christians as “a third race”. (Doherty citing Mason, Josephus On the Rocks) “That latter thinking is another pointer to the thought being from Eusebius himself.

12. named after him

See the notes on point 6 above. This statement depends on the existence of the earlier claim that Jesus was the Christ. To remove that statement (as many acknowledge is not from Josephus) causes problems for the coherence of this passage here.

Another argument of Eusebius for the authenticity of Jesus the Christ is that of all the others who were christs, only the followers of Jesus took the name of Christ for themselves by being called Christians.

And a proof of this is that no one of those who were of old symbolically anointed, whether priests, or kings, or prophets, possessed so great a power of inspired virtue as was exhibited by our Saviour and Lord Jesus, the true and only Christ.

None of them at least, however superior in dignity and honor they may have been for many generations among their own people, ever gave to their followers the name of Christians from their own typical name of Christ. Neither was divine honor ever rendered to any one of them by their subjects; nor after their death was the disposition of their followers such that they were ready to die for the one whom they honored. And never did so great a commotion arise among all the nations of the earth in respect to any one of that age; for the mere symbol could not act with such power among them as the truth itself which was exhibited by our Saviour. (Historia 1.3.9-10)

. . . .  . point 13 to follow in next post. . . . . . .

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