Category Archives: Josephus


2011-05-27

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 »


2011-01-29

5 reasons to suspect John the Baptist was interpolated into Josephus

by Neil Godfrey
Said to be the part of the skull (de cranis) of John the Baptist, in reliquarium, Residenz, Munich

Image via Wikipedia

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. read more »


2010-11-05

“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 »


2010-03-04

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

by Neil Godfrey
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!

read more »


2010-02-13

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

by Neil Godfrey
The romanticized woodcut engraving of Flavius ...

Image via Wikipedia

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...

Image via Wikipedia

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2010-01-16

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 »


2009-05-16

Brother of Jesus called Christ / 2

by Neil Godfrey

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.


2009-05-15

“The brother of Jesus called Christ”: another Eusebian footprint in Josephus?

by Neil Godfrey

There are several reasons for thinking the Jesus reference in Book 18 of Antiquities by Jewish historian Josephus is a forgery (or at least related to a marginal gloss imported into the main text by a copyist), and most would agree that it is at least a partial forgery. Those who think that Josephus made at least some sort of reference to Jesus Christ in Book 18 often turn to Book 20 where there is another reference to Jesus Christ, and conclude that the latter reference supports at least partial authenticity of the former.

The question of this Book 20 reference to “the brother of Jesus called Christ” is less clear cut than the one over the better known earlier reference to Jesus in Book 18 of Antiquities discussed in an earlier series of posts. This is partly because of a larger array of possible explanations, although common to them all is the fate of at least three Greek words.

This post (two posts) will bring out the pre-Eusebian evidence for this particular phrase, the different contexts of these pre-Eusebian references, and leave the curious to ponder at the end why it was from Eusebius onwards that we have our first witness to the text we all read in Josephus today.

In other words, the evidence that exists strongly suggests that it was not known in Book 20 of Antiquities until Eusebius said it was there. The evidence also strongly suggests why Eusebius might have felt a need to scribble a word or two or three (maybe more) into this passage in Book 20.

But first things first: Most of what follows is not my own thoughts, but my own distillation of the much more detailed and thought-provoking discussion by Earl Doherty in his The Brother of Jesus, (the One) Called Christ, which is the second part of his article, Josephus on the Rocks. My post is entirely my own take from Doherty’s argument, and should not be seen as a summary of his. He discusses in much more detail many issues I only allude to, and others I do not take up at all — although I believe they are all essential reading for anyone seriously interested in an honest appraisal of this question.

Next essential point: Jesus and James were very common names. There is even another Jesus mentioned as the successor to Ananus as high priest after the latter executed James.

Back to the question of the Book 20 reference. “the brother of Jesus called Christ”: This reference to Jesus (Book 20) is very brief and many think its function is simply to remind readers of what was said about this Jesus earlier in Book 18. But this interpretation raises two questions:

Question 1. The original Book 18 passage did not (originally) say Jesus was the Christ, so it would be pointless in Book 20 to try to identify Jesus as the one called Christ. Josephus at no point had described any of his many Jesus’s this way before. (Some would argue that Josephus wrote something else in Book 18, such as a hostile remark indicating he was opposed to those who called Jesus the “Christ”. This is mere speculation, however. It should be noted, further, that Josephus never in any other instance of would-be Christs (e.g. those who promised to part the Jordan River, or bring down the walls of Jerusalem) dares to offend Rome or his own conservative views by declaring that anyone referred to them as would-be Christs or Messiahs, even though it seems obvious to us that this is how others must have seen them. If Josephus really referred to Jesus in either Book 20 or 18, then it would mean that of the many who claimed to be, or were known as, Christs, Josephus made an exception for Jesus by informing readers he was known as such.

Question 2. Whenever Josephus makes a second reference to a person after there have been quite some “pages” since the first mention, he recapitulates enough detail to remind readers whom he is talking about again. (See Earl Doherty’s article, linked above, for examples initially from Steven Carr.) Why, then, would Josephus not do more to remind readers who this Jesus, brother of James, really was if he had been last mentioned as far back as 2 books earlier?

On the other hand, Josephus does sometimes make an obscure sketchy reference to a person leaving readers to wait a few sentences before he clarifies in more detail that person’s identity. It is quite reasonable to think that Josephus might have done the same in this instance in Book 20. Here a few lines after mentioning Jesus, brother of James, he tells us that Jesus, son of Damneus, was made the next high priest (– after the murder of his brother, James?) If it were not for the “called Christ” words, we would assume that the Jesus brother of James reference was pointing to the Jesus who became the high priest after the judicial execution of his brother James.

The Brother of Jesus called Christ, James by name in Antiquities 20.9.1

Summary:

The Roman governor of Judea, Festus, had died, and his replacement, Albinus, was on his way to take over the governorship. Before Albinus arrived, a newly appointed high priest, the young Ananus, who had a reputation for arrogance, took advantage of the temporary absence of a Roman authority to

  1. illegally call a meeting of the Sanhedrin to judge and
  2. unjustly condemn an innocent man (a brother of Jesus, James by name) to death.

These acts roused strong opposition against Ananus and some reported Ananus’s illegal actions immediately to the Roman governor before he had yet arrived, and others reported him to the Jewish King Agrippa.

So Ananus was removed from the high priesthood, and replaced by Jesus.

The passage from ccel (I’ve paragraphed it to make it easier to skim read):

And now Caesar, upon hearing the death of Festus, sent Albinus into Judea, as procurator.

But the king deprived Joseph of the high priesthood, and bestowed the succession to that dignity on the son of Ananus, who was also himself called Ananus.

Now the report goes that this eldest Ananus proved a most fortunate man; for he had five sons who had all performed the office of a high priest to God, and who had himself enjoyed that dignity a long time formerly, which had never happened to any other of our high priests.

But this younger Ananus, who, as we have told you already, took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews, as we have already observed; when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority].

Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned:

but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king [Agrippa], desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified; nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a sanhedrim without his consent.

Whereupon Albinus complied with what they said, and wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest.

Earliest references to the phrase, brother of Jesus called Christ:

Origen, writing from around the 220’s, is our first “surviving” witness to this phrase. Three times Origen asserts that Josephus wrote that phrase, and that it was used as part of a narrative in which Josephus supposedly declared that many Jews believed Jerusalem and their Temple were destroyed as punishment for the murder of James.

That is significant. Origen thrice claimed that Josephus wrote that many Jews (even perhaps Josephus himself) believed their nation was destroyed as punishment for the murder of James, the brother of Jesus called Christ. Twice Origen also speaks of this James as “James the Just”.

Yet just as significantly, no such narrative appears in our copies of Josephus. Compare the James passage above. There Josephus merely says that there was a James who, with several companions, was murdered unjustly by the high priest. Nor is there any suggestion that this James was known as “the Just”.

In his 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.

In his Contra Celsum (1:47)

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, in seeking after the cause of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, whereas he ought to have said that the conspiracy against Jesus was the cause of these calamities befalling the people, since they put to death Christ, who was a prophet, says nevertheless— being, although against his will, not far from the truth— that these disasters happened to the Jews as a punishment for the death of James the Just, who was a brother of Jesus (called Christ),— the Jews having put him to death, although he was a man most distinguished for his justice.

And again book 2 of Contra C:

Now in these it is recorded, that “when you shall see Jerusalem compassed about with armies, then shall you know that the desolation thereof is nigh.”  But at that time there were no armies around Jerusalem, encompassing and enclosing and besieging it; for the siege began in the reign of Nero, and lasted till the government of Vespasian, whose son Titus destroyed Jerusalem, on account, as Josephus says, of James the Just, the brother of Jesus who was called Christ, but in reality, as the truth makes clear, on account of Jesus Christ the Son of God.

There are several reasons for believing that Origen’s passage was definitely not a part of the Josephan Book 20 passage cited earlier and that we find in today’s copy of Josephus. The Josephan passage is about how evil the high priest was and how outraged his Jewish populace were, yet Origen’s story of James the Just being martyred would require that all the Jews fully supported the high priest in the murder of James; 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?; 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?

We will have to look further for the source of Origen’s narrative of the martyrdom of a Christian James the Just, and to see whether Origen was possibly confusing Josephus with a similar sounding name. (Perhaps significantly, Origen never tells us where in Josephus this passage was located.)

Other early Fathers wrote of the same account about James the Just, brother of Jesus, being martyred, and whose martyrdom was the reason for the destruction of Jerusalem and its Temple, but attributed it to Hegessipus.

Will maybe complete next post tomorrow . . . .


2009-05-03

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 »


2009-05-02

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 »


2009-04-18

Politics of Josephus alive and well today

by Neil Godfrey

Josephus detested political dissidents. He saw nothing good in anyone going out of their way to protest against the government.

All sorts of misfortunes also sprang from these men, and the nation was infected with this doctrine to an incredible degree  . . . . This was done in pretense indeed for the public welfare, but in reality for the hopes of gain to themselves; . . . . (Antiquities, 18.1)

The same meme that equates politial protest with selfishness is, of course, alive and well today. From a Singapore newspaper:

The timely enactment of the Public Order Act will be an effective legal tool to check groups out to disrupt the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation Summit scheduled to be hosted in Singapore in November.

We should not allow others to hijack these pro-Singapore events to satisfy their own selfish political agendas.

and then again in a Malaysian newspaper:

He said it was only a tiny group of irresponsible and selfish individuals who had been pushing this line of civil disobedience in Singapore.

Of course the same meme is with us wherever — even whenever — we live.


2009-03-31

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.) [Link is no longer active. 3rd August 2015]

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 »


2009-03-17

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.) [Link no longer active. 3rd August 2015] read more »


2009-03-15

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.