Category Archives: the James passage


2014-09-06

Why Historicist/Mythicist Arguments Often Fail — & a Test Case for a Better Way

by Neil Godfrey
Ananus [the high priest] . . . thought he had now a proper opportunity. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned. (Antiquities, Book 20 [9,1])

I’ve been thinking quite a bit about a recent comment by a reader taking an opposing position to a statement of mine:

I don’t think Carrier is non-falsifiable (in the looser sense we have to consider non-falsifiability in the social sciences) — in fact, I happen to think it is pretty much falsified by the James passage in Josephus (not, of course, simply taking the passage’s authenticity for granted but considering all the evidence for and against it). I realize my viewing the James passage in Josephus as authentic is not a popular opinion around here, but it isn’t a stupid or ill-considered opinion; I’ve read Carrier and Doherty on the matter and don’t find them convincing at all. (my bolding)

I’ve addressed this sort of response before. One finds such grounds for rejecting opposing views all too frequently in the scholarly literature of biblical scholars. In response to a point made by Emeritus Professor Larry Hurtado I wrote

Of course we are all aware that the passages are found to be of interest in the pre-Christian Jewish tradition, but Hurtado dismisses those inconveniences on the grounds that they are “not necessarily persuasive” and amount to “only a couple” of instances. So we are allowed to dismiss evidence to the contrary of our theories if we only see it “a couple of times” and can dismiss it as “not necessarily persuasive”. True believers are apparently permitted to accord themselves little perks like this in debates.

Then when Professor Hoffmann offered a bizarre argument that Paul was fighting against a rumour that Jesus was the illegitimate son of Mary I refused to play the same game:

It is easy to dismiss his explanation as “not persuasive” or “speculative” but it is also important, I think, to be able to put one’s finger on precisely why a proposition is “not persuasive” or insubstantial. The effort of thinking it through may even lead one to appreciate that perhaps there is more to the argument than first appears on the surface. But even if one finds nothing of value in it, the exercise of examining it methodically can only be a good thing. Scoffing, saying something is bunk or absurd, relying on a vague feeling that something is “not persuasive”, are cheap substitutes for argument.

If a professor can’t explain to you how we know evolution is true or how we know ancient claims that Alexander the Great really conquered the Persian empire are true or the reasons we should be suspicious of paranormal claims you would be right to think there is a problem somewhere.

Another form of proof-texting

Back to the statement about “the brother of Jesus, called Christ, whose name was James” that is found in the writings of Josephus. So often we find defenders of the historicity of Jesus using these words in Josephus the same way different religious sects use proof texts to prove they are right and others are wrong. One professor frequently uses this approach in an attempt to refute young-earth creationists. The professor adheres to an old-earth form of creationism (via evolution — an oxymoron to anyone who correctly understands that the scientific theory of evolution has no room for a divinity at all) and posts regular “proof texts” from the Bible as an “argument” that “proves” his rival religionists are wrong. (The most recent instance of this: Psalm 148:4 Disproves Young-Earth Creationism. It does? Not to a young earth creationist.) He uses the same basic technique to argue against mythicists. Among other arguments he proof-texts from the Bible references such as Paul’s claim to have met the “brother of the Lord” or that we read somewhere else that Jesus was “born of a woman”.

Proof-texting doesn’t work because different people have different ways of interpreting such “proof-texts”. read more »


2012-04-27

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

by Earl Doherty

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

What Did Jews Have to Say?

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COVERED IN THIS POST:

  • 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?

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Non-Christian References to Jesus

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

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Philo of Alexandria

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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.

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Josephus

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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 »


2011-11-06

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 »


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 »


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 . . . .


2007-04-06

That other suspect entry in Josephus

by Neil Godfrey

There are two passages in Josephus that refer to Jesus Christ. The first one in Book 18 of his “Antiquities of the Jews” is widely known as the Testimonium Flavianum (TF) (=the testimony of Flavius Josephus). Another, in Book 20, is a briefer reference but it is cited in major works as authentic to Josephus, and not the work of a Christian scribe. It’s this latter reference under discussion here. read more »