Category Archives: Testimonium Flavianum


O’Neill-Fitzgerald “Christ Myth” Debate, #10: Josephus as Evidence & the Arabic Version of the Testimonium

by Neil Godfrey


All posts in this series are archived in the O’Neill-Fitzgerald Debate


Tim O’Neill (TO) rightly says of some of the evidence for the historical existence of Jesus:

quote_begin After all, no-one except a fundamentalist apologist would pretend that the evidence about Jesus is not ambiguous and often difficult to interpret with any certainty, and that includes the evidence for his existence. (O’Neill, 2011) quote_end

Yet curiously not a single aspect of evidence addressed by either David Fitzgerald (DF) or himself in his reviews of DF’s work has hit on anything that he finds ambiguous or difficult to interpret. In every point of disagreement TO suggests DF is nothing but a liar or a fool.

The first unambiguous retort TO makes to DF’s treatment of Josephus is the dogmatic assertion that Josephus mentions Jesus twice. No argument. No ambiguity. No uncertainty.

Josephus does mention Jesus – twice.  So any Myther book or article [arguing the Christ Myth thesis] has to spill a lot of ink trying to explain these highly inconvenient mentions away.

Then again,

[T]he passage has Josephus saying things about Jesus that no Jewish non-Christian would say, such as “He was the Messiah” and “he appeared to them alive on the third day”.  So, not surprisingly, Fitzgerald takes the usual Myther [Christ Myth] tack and rejects the whole passage as a later addition and rejects the idea that Josephus mentioned Jesus here at all.

Interpolation a “mythicist” argument?

This is most curious. The actual fact is that most mainstream scholars until after the Second World War generally agreed that the entire passage was an interpolation. Or if not entirely an interpolation, the fact that it had been tampered with at all rendered it useless as historical evidence. I have quoted the evidence for the prevalence of these views in my post, What they used to say about Josephus as evidence for Jesus.

Today, however, it seems that “the majority of scholars” accept the contrary view, that Josephus did indeed say something about Jesus beneath the obvious Christian overlay. Given that most New Testament scholars are ideologically predisposed to belief in Jesus, and that Josephus’s testimony is the only non-biblical evidence we have from the first century for Jesus, I would not be surprised if a majority did think this. But so what? If a significant minority still leans towards the view that the entire Josephan passages is a forgery or useless as evidence, then it hardly seems reasonable to dismiss this view as the preserve of Christ Myth supporters.

Sociological explanation for the revised view of Josephus as evidence

The evidence is essentially the same. (Although in 1971 Arabic and Syriac versions of the Testimonium were also brought to light.) What has changed are the trends in interpretation of the evidence.

One sees a possible explanation for this new trend in Alice Whealey’s 2003 book, Josephus on Jesus, and again in her article, “The Testimonium Flavianum in Syriac and Arabic” in New Testament Studies, Vol. 54, Issue 4, Oct 2008, pp. 573-590. In the latter she explains:

In fact, much of the past impetus for labeling the textus receptus Testimonium a forgery has been based on earlier scholars’ anachronistic assumptions that, as a Jew, Josephus could not have written anything favorable about Jesus. Contemporary scholars of primitive Christianity are less inclined than past scholars to assume that most first-century Jews necessarily held hostile opinions of Jesus, and they are more aware that the line between Christians and non-Christian Jews in Josephus’ day was not as firm as it would later become. (p. 575)

This says loads. It is a virtual confession that the shift in interpretation has been motivated to a significant extent as a reaction against both real and perceived strains of anti-semitism in earlier scholarship. The error here is that the personal bias and values of Josephus himself are trumped by an impulse to undo an earlier generation’s sins of negative stereotyping. The context in which the passage occurs is also bypassed. Josephus personally loathed any movement that stood in opposition to the political and religious status quo under Roman rule. Taking seriously both the personal bias of Josephus and the context in which the Testimonium Flavianum is found (it is in a list of calamities befalling the Jews in which the TF fits as comfortably as a pimple on one’s nose), even the so-called “neutral” core of that TF is problematic. read more »


O’Neill-Fitzgerald “Christ Myth” Debate, #9: Josephus, 1 – Dave Fitzgerald on the Testimonium

by Neil Godfrey


All posts in this series are archived in the O’Neill-Fitzgerald Debate


Tim O’Neill (TO) expresses a most worthy ideal in an exchange with David Fitzgerald (DF):

quote_begin What a careful, honest or even just competent treatment of the subject would do would be to deal with all relevant positions throughout the analysis . . . . (O’Neill, 2013) quote_end

One would expect to find in TO’s review of DF’s book, Nailed!, therefore, at the very least, an honest acknowledgement of arguments in that book. Unfortunately anyone reading TO’s review would have no idea of DF’s overall argument on any point TO chooses to address.

Since I began these posts taking the trouble to expose TO’s bluff, ignorance and pretentious nonsense, the good man himself has responded by saying my posts are “nitpicking” and symptoms of a man “obsessed with him”. I can only smile with contentment over a job done reasonably well if that’s the best his vanity can muster in his defence.

Now it’s time to address TO’s criticism of DF’s discussion of the evidence of Josephus for the historicity of Jesus. This will take a few posts to complete. Let’s begin the way any honest reviewer of a work should always begin — that is, set out the arguments of the author one is reviewing. Since TO forgot this step I will outline the first of DF’s points here, and then we will compare TO’s initial critique.

I hope that these posts will have more value than they might if they were nothing more than responses to TO’s nonsense. Hopefully issues and arguments will be raised that some readers will find informative for their own sake.

DF’s chapter 3 is titled “Myth No. 3: Josephus Wrote About Jesus”. The first passage he addresses is the famous “Testimonium Flavianum” from book 18 of the Jewish historian’s Antiquities of the Jews. It translates as:

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. read more »


Making of a Mythicist — ch 17 . . . The Evidence of Josephus

by Neil Godfrey

Continuing the series on Thomas Brodie’s Beyond the Quest for the Historical Jesus: Memoir of a Discovery, archived here.

In chapter 17 Brodie is analysing John Meier’s work, A Marginal Jew, as representative of the best that has been produced by notable scholars on the historical Jesus.

Zemanta Related Posts ThumbnailWe saw from the opening post on Brodie’s seventeenth chapter that John Meier rests his case for the historicity of Jesus on the evidence of Josephus. Josephus is independent witness to the existence of the Jesus of the Gospels and therefore is decisive, or in Meier’s words, “of monumental importance.”

Brodie, “with a prayer to heaven, along with many saints and scholars, and also to Agatha Christie, Hercule Poirot, Sherlock Holmes, and Watson”, undertakes to examine how Meier came to this critical conclusion about the nature and significance of the evidence of Josephus.

Brodie sees two problems with the references to Jesus in Josephus:

  1. Authenticity: Do they really come from Josephus or from some later Christian writer/s?
  2. Independence: Even if the references are authentic, are they truly independent witnesses, of did Josephus get his information from other Christians or the Gospels?

The Question of Authenticity

Bypassing the Jesus reference in The Jewish War as spurious according to virtually all scholars, Brodie zeroes in on Meier’s case for the evidence in Antiquities of the Jews.

In Book 20, in a passage about a certain James, there is a passing reference to Jesus in order to identify this James: James was “the brother of Jesus who was called Christ”. Meier reasons that this passage appears to be referring to a Jesus mentioned earlier. It is very likely, then, that Josephus had earlier written about this Jesus.

And there is an earlier passage, in Book 18, known as the Testimonium Flavianum (the “Witness of Flavius (Josephus)”) that

  • summarizes the work and character of Jesus
  • tells us that Jesus was accused and crucified under Pilate
  • says Jesus still in Josephus’s own day maintained a following, the Christians

and in the course of that summary the same passage says

  • Jesus should perhaps be thought of as more than a man
  • that Jesus was the Christ
  • that Jesus appeared to his followers alive again three days after his crucifixion as the prophets had foretold.
For alternative views of the passage in Book 20, especially those arguing against its reference to “the Christ” being original, see the posts in the James Passage archive.

Some scholars still see the entirety of this passage as a total interpolation. But given the implication of the passing reference in Book 20 Meier believes it cannot be a complete forgery. Josephus must have said something about Jesus here.

We have, then, three possibilities to explain this passage:

  1. It is entirely original to Josephus
  2. It is entirely an insertion by a Christian hand
  3. It is a mixture of original and insertion.

Meier excludes the first two options:

  1. It cannot be entirely by Josephus because it proclaims Jesus as the Christ
  2. It cannot be entirely inserted because Book 20 implies something was said earlier about Jesus

Therefore #3 is Meier’s conclusion. Josephus said something, but he would not have said Jesus was more than a man, that he was the Christ, or that he rose from the dead.

That is, omit the phrases that Josephus would not say and, presto, we are left with what Josephus would have said! And with these omissions “the flow of the thought is clear”, Meier adds.

Brodie is happy to provisionally accept Meier’s conclusion as “a reasonable working hypothesis”. So he moves on to the next question.

Thus Brodie presents Meier’s case for authenticity positively (if somewhat provisionally). In this Brodie argues a case that is unlike that of any other mythicist argument that I know of concerning the Testimonium. So his argument should be of special interest. read more »


6. Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism: Jewish Sources

by Earl Doherty


Earl Doherty’s Response to Bart Ehrman’s Case Against Mythicism – Pt.6

What Did Jews Have to Say?



  • Philo of Alexandria
  • Josephus
    • the Testimonium: entirely interpolation or an authentic residue?
    • is an authentic residue “neutral”?
    • is the Testimonium intrusive or a digression?
    • silence of Christian commentators on Testimonium before Eusebius
    • how could Josephus have felt ‘positive’ or even neutral toward Jesus?
    • is the Testimonium’s language the language of Eusebius?
    • changes to the Testimonium and its location
    • the case of Antiquities 20
  • The Jewish Talmud
    • why are there no traditions about Jesus going back to the 1st century?


* * * * *

Non-Christian References to Jesus

(Did Jesus Exist? pp. 56-68, Jewish Sources)


Philo of Alexandria


Deutsch: Philo(n) von Alexandria English: Phil...Bart Ehrman, in his survey of the non-Christian witness to Jesus, turns next to the Jewish category. He first dismisses the silence about Jesus in the writings of the philosopher Philo of Alexandria as something unsurprising, since by his death (probably by 50 CE), Christianity had not yet penetrated to Egypt. That may be the case, but this does not mean that a philosopher living in Egypt, just around the Mediterranean corner from Palestine, especially one whose philosophy about God and the mediator Logos was a close antecedent to that of Paul, was completely isolated from news of Judean events, or from new ideas being bandied about in the very field of thought Philo was engaged in.

What we do know from Philo’s writings

Moreover, we know from his writing that Philo was familiar with Pilate and his objectionable activities in Judea. He would not, of course, know about every rebel or criminal executed by the governor, but considering the developments which supposedly followed this particular execution, and considering his interest in the sect known as the Therapeutae to which the early Christian community in Judea would supposedly have borne a strong resemblance, it would not be infeasible for him to have noticed the latter and especially what was presumably being made out of its human founder.

We have writings of Philo up to the year 41 CE, but it could be argued (Ehrman does not) that, even had he taken notice, commenting on that notice was something he simply didn’t get around to doing. The silence in Philo is therefore not overly significant, it’s just another void to add to the overall picture.




The romanticized woodcut engraving of Flavius ...

The romanticized woodcut engraving of Flavius Josephus appearing in William Whiston’s translation of his works. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

But the most important Jewish historian of the era is another matter. Josephus has been a battleground in the ‘clash of titans’ and understandably so. The last half-century of scholarship has focused mainly on whether the passage known as the Testimonium Flavianum in Antiquities of the Jews, Bk.18 contains an authentic original by Josephus which Christians later only made additions to. This is a bandwagon which virtually every New Testament scholar these days has hopped onto, as though the maintenance of an authentic original is seen as crucial to Jesus’ existence.

What scholars used to say

It should be noted, however, that prior to the Second World War, many scholars were quite willing to postulate that Josephus made no reference to Jesus at all. See, for example, Maurice Goguel, Jesus the Nazarene: Myth or History?, p.35 (that both passages can be “suspected of interpolation”); or Charles Guignebert, Jesus, p.18 (“It seems probable that Josephus did not name Jesus anywhere”). The latter, in regarding the Testimonium as a complete forgery, suggested: “It may be admitted that the style of Josephus has been cleverly imitated, a not very difficult matter” (Ibid., p.17).

Who proofread this book? I

Curiously, Ehrman says he will deal with Josephus’ two references to Jesus “in reverse order,” gives us a brief description of the Antiquities 20 passage, then “before dealing with” the mythicist claim that it’s an interpolation, he switches over to the Testimonium in Antiquities 18, calling it the “second passage.” One gets an impression more than once in this book that Ehrman simply went with his first draft, and without benefit of editor.

The suspicious passages

Though most of the present readers will know this passage like the back of their hands, I’ll give Ehrman’s rendition of it according to “the best manuscripts”:

At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one should call him a man. For he was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who receive the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin. He was the messiah. And when Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so. For he appeared to them on the third day, living again, just as the divine prophets had spoken of these and countless other wondrous things about him. And up until this very day the tribe of Christians, named after him, has not died out. (Antiquities 18.3.3) [DJE?, p. 59]

The problem parts of this passage, as Ehrman recounts them, are well known: read more »


Socrates, Jesus and the broken reed of Josephus

by Neil Godfrey

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. read more »


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

by Neil Godfrey

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. read more »


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

by Neil Godfrey

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. read more »


What they used to say about Josephus as evidence for Jesus

by Neil Godfrey

Whenever someone says Josephus is evidence for Jesus, a misperception of the facts is at work. The fact is that people express opinions about the evidence we read in Josephus. It is someone’s opinion that what is found in Josephus can or should be interpreted as a reference to the historical Jesus. There is no clear evidence at all in Josephus — only passages that have recently been interpreted that way.

The claim that Josephus said anything at all about Jesus is a relatively new one to the field of “modern” (post enlightenment) historical enquiry. The “rational claim” used to be that, since the key passage (the “Testimonium Flavianum” in book 18 of Antiquities) was clearly doctored or contaminated with some obvious interpolation, it was worthless as evidence. read more »


cuckoo postscript — a more plausible Josephan “reconstruction”

by Neil Godfrey

I do not at all think, for reasons given in my previous posts, that Josephus wrote anything about Jesus. But if he had done so, I have fabricated the sort of thing one might expect him to have written, given the themes and interests that he uses to thread his episodes together. My point is to illustrate just how wide of the mark the various “reconstructions” of the TF are, given the context of the TF discussed in my previous two posts.

Now there was about this time Jesus, a mad man, who pretended to perform wonderful works, to persuade the base sort of men who follow their own lusts to despise the customs of their fathers, and teach against Moses and the Temple. For he taught men to disregard the sabbath, and even ransacked a quarter of the Temple to prevent the daily sacrifice. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. And when Pilate, resisting the principal men amongst us, refused at first to condemn him to the cross, released, out of spite, a murderer to cause further suffering among the Jews. Though Pilate was eventually persuaded to crucify him, those who thought him to be something at the first did not forsake him, but pretended he had been raised from the dead, and even blasphemously declared this wicked man to be a God and one to be worshipped. And this was the most blasphemous of the mad distempers that arose in our midst, and added to our miseries. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, for they also called him the Christ, infest the earth to this day.

The sections underlined highlight key points that make this fabrication more reliably “Josephan” in theme and purpose, while the underlined section also in italics is a necessary addition given what the real-world experience of Christians would have been towards the end of the first century.

Lest anyone go mad with base distemper over this, and take it as in any way expressing something like a Josephan original, one would need to explain why the contextual passages were so completely excised.

See Posts 1, 2, 3 for details.

Or, to paraphrase Groucho Marx, if you don’t like that “reconstruction” because you prefer a Jesus who observed and taught the law meticulously, I have another:

read more »


Cuckoo in the nest, 3 — why ALL proposed TFs are unJosephan

by Neil Godfrey

Back into Josephus and the TF.

I think my original draft really began at the heading Continuing the context of TF in Book 18 below — that is probably the best place to start for continuity with my previous post.

I can scarcely recall where I left off now, and the first part of this post might be repeating some of what I wrote earlier, be disjointed, etc. And feel guilty enough taking the time to even do this post.

Skip down to Continuing the context of TF in Book 18 for my original planned start and better continuity with previous post.

Before resuming the TF’s conflict with the ideological and literary context of the TF in Antiquities, I’ll hit on one point that I have not seen addressed in any of the discussions of this passage.

read more »


Cuckoo in the nest (2) — Jesus in Josephus

by Neil Godfrey

continuing from jesus in josephus/cuckoo in the nest 1 . . .

The Nest — Book 18 of Antiquities

(The Greek and English can be seen side by side on this PACE page.)

v. back to the native Josephus

Josephus opens Book 18 with the theme of interaction between Roman rulers and the Jewish nation, and the beginnings of the all the calamities that befell the Jewish nation. These calamities were the direct consequence of foolish and self-seeking heads infecting the populace. He reminds readers, however, that the Jewish people were more justly to be recognized as following “philosophies” (religious ideas) that were pious, of outstanding character and that reverently preserved ancient customs. The significance of these themes should become obvious when we come to the TF passage. read more »


Jesus in Josephus, a cuckoo in the nest. 1

by Neil Godfrey

Some of the words in the Testimonium (TF) are characteristically Josephan, but when we step back and

  • look at the thematic sequence in Book 18 of Antiquities from the beginning,
  • and compare the Jesus TF with Eusebius’s various wordings of it,
  • and compare the images each of the two authors deployed to express their respective agendas,

then an interesting possibility of how Eusebius (or a closely related scribe) manipulated the wording and story flow found in Josephus to create the TF.

Cuckoo in the nest

To start at the beginning

The TF (Testimonium Flavianum or Testimony of Flavius Josephus) is a passage about Jesus that is found in the 18th book of Antiquities, a history of the Jewish people by Josephus written near the end of the first century c.e.

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.

There is debate over whether it is in part or in whole an interpolation of a later Christian scribe. This series of posts (see the TF archive) is presenting, and in a few places slightly augmenting or modifying, arguments that the entire passage was forged by Eusebius.

The Nest — Book 18 of Antiquities

Next, a look at where the TF is found, Book 18 of Antiquities.

(The Greek and English can be seen side by side on this PACE page.) read more »


Jesus in Josephus – “not extinct at this day”

by Neil Godfrey

Continued from the previous post, Jesus in Josephus, pts 5-12.

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 (based on Ken Olson’s 13 phrase points) and see how much is truly Josephan and how much Eusebian, and if Josephan, in what Eusebian context. . . .

13. has not failed to this day / up until now

Josephus does not use this phrase, eis eti te nun, but he does use similar phrasing (e.g. eti nun, kai nun eti) to express a similar idea.

However, Josephus nowhere uses this idea of “up until now” to convey a meaning of something being proven to be true and “of God” because it has survived “even until now, today”.

Such a meaning, however, is conveyed every time Eusebius uses this phrase, and he uses it very often. Doherty cites Jay Raskin’s observation that this phrase is a veritable signature phrase of Eusebius.

Raskin quotes several passages from the Theophany, Adversus Hieroclem, the Demonstratio and History of the Church, all of which use this characteristic [signature phrase]. It is extremely important for Eusebius, as a proof of their veracity and divine nature, that things of the past have survived to this day and continue to be strong. He uses phrases such as “to our times,” “even to the present day,” “even until now.” For example, in the Theophany, in discussing Jesus’ miracles:

“Nor was it only that He impressed on the souls of those who immediately followed Him such power . . . but also . . . on those who came afterwards; and on those even to this present, and (who live) in our own times. How does this not transcent every sort of miracle? [i.e., by other alleged miracle workers]“

Olson notes the same Eusebian usage in Contra Hieroclem 4, the book in which Eusebius seems to narrate a blueprint for what later emerged in the Testimonium Flavianum:

He alone established a school of sober and chaste living that has survived him . . . and even now wins over to his divine teaching multitudes from all sides by the myriad.

Compare my earlier discussion on Contra Hieroclem 4 and how it has the appearance of being a template for the Testimonium.

Many attempt to claim that this passage in the TF conveys a derogatory tone, as would be appropriate from the pen of Josephus. It does not — unless one reads such a tone into it. It is a neutral statement, in and of itself, if ever there was one. To suggest it does convey anything negative is wishful thinking. It is also thinking in isolation from the rest of the passage. It continues the thought begun with the implied praise for the followers of Jesus when they did not forsake him even at his death. Linked in thought to this earlier passage, this claim that the Christians are still around even up till now is, if anything, a positive claim.

Next post will look at how Josephus uses digressions and footnotes and whether the Testimonium Flavianum conforms to type. Also another look at the likelihood of Josephus having said anything mildly positive or neutral about Jesus.

Jesus in Josephus — pts 5-12

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. . . . . . .