Monthly Archives: March 2009

Cuckoo in the nest (2) — Jesus in Josephus

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 [Link is no longer active. 3rd August 2015]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

Miraculous proof of the truth of the Moslem faith?

A current Newsweek story:

The Guard Who Found Islam

Terry Holdbrooks stood watch over prisoners at Gitmo. What he saw made him adopt their faith.

Many Christians — myself included when I was one — have at some time been inspired by the stories of early martyrs whose courage in the face of persecution led to the conversions and baptism even of the soldiers charged with escorting them to their fates.

The archetypes of this story are two biblical narratives: one of Paul almost appearing to almost convert his judge, king Agrippa by his testimony; and another of the Philippian jailor of Paul and Silas who was baptized after hearing how happily Paul and Silas sang in their prison cell, and subsequently on hearing them happily announce that they had not taken their chance to run away when an earthquake shattered open their cell door and shook off their chains.

Thereafter Christian writers inspired pride in the astonishing examples of other martyrs that likewise led at times to the conversions even of their prison guards. Polycarp’s military escort were so moved by Polycarp’s apparent piety and good character that they “repented” that they had had anything to do with his arrest:

After feasting the guards who apprehended him, he desired an hour in prayer, which being allowed, he prayed with such fervency, that his guards repented that they had been instrumental in taking him. He was, however, carried before the proconsul, condemned, and burnt in the market place. (Fox’s Book of Martyrs)

Some Christians look on stories like these as signs or evidence, even proofs, of the truly divine source of their faith.

So it is instructive to read in the current issue of Newsweek the story headlined as at the beginning of this post.

Interested readers can access the full story by Dan Ephron online

in WayBack Machine.

Jesus in Josephus, a cuckoo in the nest. 1

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.

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 »

Jesus in Josephus – “not extinct at this day”

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

Eusebius quotes a reference in Josephus to Jesus that survives today in all manuscripts:

Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


Jesus in Josephus — pts 5-12

Continued from my earlier post Jesus in Josephus – point 4

Eusebius quotes a reference in Josephus to Jesus that survives today in all manuscripts:

Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.

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

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

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

1. a wise man (sophos aner)

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

2. if it be lawful to call him a man

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

6. He was the Christ.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

8. Pilate condemned him to the cross

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

10. for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him

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

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

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

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

11. tribe of Christians

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

12. named after him

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

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

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

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

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







Jesus in Josephus — Eusebian clues — point 4

Continued from my earlier post Testimonium Flavianum: more clues from Eusebius

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 and see how much is truly Josephan and how much Eusebian, and if Josephan, in what Eusebian context. . . .

1 to 3 are summaries of the fuller explanations in the earlier post.

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

1. a wise man (sophos aner)

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

2. if it be lawful to call him a man

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

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

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

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

The truth” (talethe) is hardly the word Josephus would use to describe the teachings of Jesus.

Yet the same word is used very often by Eusebius to describe Christian doctrine. In Demonstratio Evangelica Bk 3 scroll to the last paragraphs of chapter 5  here to see how this word is found so usefully to suit Eusebius’s purpose to show that Christians from the first were not deceivers and wizards, but “lovers of truth”.

But “receive with pleasure” is a phrase typically to be expected in the writings of Josephus.

Ken Olson reasoned in his 1999 Catholic Biblical Quarterly article (I don’t know if he still holds the same view — maybe he can update if he reads this? ) that since this phrase first appears in the Historia (Church History) by Eusebius, and was not in his earlier Demonstratio (Proofs of the Gospel), that Eusebius had learned in the meantime to introduce a Josephan turn of phrase, and add the Josephan “receive with pleasure” to make his quotation sound more authentically Josephan. This “learning” was the outcome of Eusebius having “quoted extensively” Josephus in Historia so that we can assume a greater familiarity of Eusebius with the works of Josephus at this time. We can therefore conclude he opted to draw out a Josephan turn of phrase to add verisimilitude to his quotation of Josephus.

But all of this depends entirely on other arguments for Historia being written AFTER Demonstratio. Recall the commonly accepted sequence of the works of Eusebius:

  • Demonstratio Evangelica
  • History of the Church
  • Theophany

But the whole argument falls down if it can be reasonably suspected that this chronological sequence is insecure. Stephen Carlson argues just this (Hypotyposeis), that since other studies show that Historia did indeed precede Demonstratio, Olson has failed to establish that Eusebius created the TF in full as we have it.

There is a simpler and far weightier analysis.

  1. Observe that Josephus was writing for Roman imperial patronage, owed his life to his own personal subservience to Roman imperial patronage, and accordingly despised anything that stood contrary to Roman imperial patronage.
  2. Recall that Josephus despised any opposition to Rome that was expressed through would-be “messiahs” who attracted popular followings and had a reputation for miracle working.
  3. Recall that Josephus specifically claimed the Roman general Vespasian himself to be the very prophesied world saviour and ruler of Jewish prophetic expectation.
  4. Observe that early Christian sources point to a Jesus who was everything Rome despised – an opponent of the civic order (as when he denounced Jerusalem’s rulers and wreaked havoc in the Temple), a prophet of the end and overthrow of this cosmos and establishment of a new order to replace both Jews and Romans, a miracle-worker who offered hope of salvation by overthrowing demonic Legions and who had the power to call down Legions of angels.

Ergo

  1. Josephus could not possibly have written anything suggesting that Jesus was a “wise man”, a teacher of “truth”, a miracle worker to be marvelled at as possibly “more than a man”.
  2. Nor could Josephus have possibly written anything “neutral” about such a figure.
  3. There never was a “Josephan original” of the TF.
  4. The TF is a coherent passage as a whole as we have it, and it is sheer pedantry to attempt to divine some portions of it as Josephan and other portions of it as Christian.
  5. Any argument that attempts to argue for a Josephan original on the grounds of verbal (not even syntactical or semantic) possibilities and in isolation from — even defiance of — the general tenor and tone and ideology of rest of the writings of Josephus, is purely pedantic and without any serious merit.

So when we look at the Josephan phrase, “received with pleasure”, in the TF, we are more sensible if we look for explanations from within the context of what we know of the confessional interests of both Josephus and Eusebius. If Josephus was writing Historia first, and was regularly quoting Josephus, then what problem is there in expecting him to drop in the odd Josephan phrase here and there in his own compositions? Over time, and when he came later to write Demonstratio, is it not reasonable to expect him to use his own wording more regularly than anything that had come to his mind in earlier days when closely engaged with another author?

We know there are Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics. The mere fact of a word appearing in both the TF and elsewhere in the writings of Josephus means, in and of itself, nothing. The mere fact of pulling out the statistics proves more about the scholar in the first instance than it necessarily does about the target authors. Even in a court of law (and I normally hate legal analogies), evidence needs to be evaluated against the motives, habits and character of the accused.

. . . . to  be continued etc etc . . . .



Do Bad Chimps Go to Hell?

Image from Mail Online

Loved this, yet one more story from animal kingdom demonstrating that other species are “people too”.

Chimp Planned Rock Attack on Zoo Visitors? (this title links to the full BBC/AFP/ABC article)

The above pic and others of Santino in action, and original story, and links to similar stories, are found in Mail Online’s Science & Tech section.

Mathias Osvath, a Lund University researcher, says Santino’s behaviour shows convincingly that our fellow apes consider the future in a very complex way. . . . . . . . . . .

“It implies that they have a highly developed consciousness, including lifelike mental simulations of potential events,” he said.

“They most probably have an inner world like we have when reviewing past episodes of our lives.”

So an ape has memory, and the ability to work with that memory to plan future events, and to plan actions now to prepare for those future events?

I loved many of the comments tagged on the end of this story. I’m reminded of what I’ve witnessed with both mice and various Australian birds, especially magpies and kookaburras. I’ll have to write up some stories here as soon as I get some real free time. But I have learned that they, too, clearly have self-awareness and love and other feelings for one another.

But back to this topic. How do Creation Scientists or Intelligent Designists explain this sort of behaviour among animals vis a vis the evidence they assert for some sort of divinely implanted human soul? We know from other studies that chimps not only plan “bad behaviour” (we know of their plans and group activity to go out on search and destroy their fellow-kind missions) but also of their loving and magnanimous gestures towards one another too.

And we know how humans can be so easily treated from bad propensities to “good” ones by the mere addition of a bit of sleep, change of diet or a chemical added to the brain.

Would this stone-throwing “hood” chimp also be changed to go out and offer bananas or gestures of friendship to visitors with an injection of seratonin?

I used to wonder, as a Christian, how God could possibly judge such cases of a child-beater repeating the pattern of parents vis a vis another reformed misfit who could attribute all their change to a good lie-down or kind word of assurance from a significant other.

Political context of the current Testimonium Flavianum “consensus”

Reading James Crossley’s Jesus in an Age of Terror I can’t help but wonder how his thesis applies to Jesus debates he fails to address.

Is it a coincidence that the shift in academic “consensus” that the Jesus passage in Jesus (the Testimonium Flavianum) is at least partly authentic appears to have roughly coincided with a shift to stress the “Jewishness” (at least in part) of Jesus?

This can only be speculative in the details, of course, but there can be no doubt that prevailing scholarly views in the social sciences and arts do shift with the prevailing historical political and social swings of their homelands. Crossley’s book is only one of the latest reminders of this simple fact when he demonstrates the scholarly shifts in Jesus studies with the shifts in prevailing cultural nationalisms and ideologies and social upheavals throughout the twentieth century.

The “emerging consensus” that Jesus was indeed an essentially Jewish religious figure only gained traction after the 1967 Israeli invasion and conquest of East Jerusalem, parts of Syria and the West Bank, aka as The Six Day War. I was old enough to recall the way this was reported in the media at the time: a hapless Jewish David gained a miraculous ascendancy over an overwhelming and deceitfully plotting Arab Goliath. This political propaganda was never questioned or critiqued by the media but consistently reported as fact, and more powerfully than fact, as a re-enactment of the biblical myth. Only ten years earlier the U.S. sided with Egypt against Israeli aggression and forced a retreat. But the 1967 war proved the secured usefulness of Israel to western interests. Now suddenly it was like deja vu all over again from the jingoistic days of the late nineteenth century. Preachers ensured that Western imperial expansionist interests of Gold and Glory went hand in glove with God.

Only this time the focal scriptures were not “go into all the world and make disciples of all the heathen” but “in the last days Zion will be a trembling to the nations” etc.

I won’t repeat here all the details Crossley (and others) have cited for the shift in historical Jesus scholarship to seeing Jesus as essentially Jewish. But the general idea is that from 1967 onwards it became more fashionable in society in general and academe in particular to see Jewishness as a long-overdue positive thing. The Jews of today, as seen through the prism of Israel, could be seen as acting out their biblical template. Their resettlement in Palestine really could be associated with a focus in Jerusalem, etc. It was not only a bad thing, post Holocaust, to dislike Jews; it was a good thing to praise and side with them now.

It was finally a “politically correct” thing to make Jesus as Jewish as possible. Anything less risked suspicions of anti-semitism. Only not “too Jewish” — a “marginal Jew” would do. Western values still necessarily prevailed over the semitic. Jesus must still be found to “transcend” his Jewishness.

(Another application of Crossley’s argument, I believe, relates to the establishment response to the mythical Jesus hypothesis. But I’ve discussed the political and cultural contexts of this elsewhere. Will revise and repeat here in a future post.)

So to cut to the chase, since I’ve been discussing Josephus and the Testimonium . . . .

I have no proof. Only questions, but no harm in asking and considering. And in one of my recent posts I referred to Earl Doherty’s observation that this shift in consensus view on the partial reliability of the TF is a latter second century phenomenon.

Might the trend in the latter half of the twentieth century to see the only candidate for the Jewish evidence for Jesus as containing true credibility and viability be culturally related to the broader societal trend to compensate for historic wrongs against the Jews, and to fully side with them post “miraculous” 1967?

After all, the actual arguments for believing the TF to have some degree of Josephan original have nothing in the rules of logic to sustain them. I recall one early twentieth century author writing that if there is any sign of contamination with evidence then in courts of law and schools of history it is necessary to throw the evidence out altogether as, well, contaminated and untrustworthy. And as Ken Olson has demonstrated more recently, by removing a pro-Jesus portions from a sermon by Peter in Acts one is left with a neutral passage about Jesus. That does not prove that the speech was originally neutral. Removing the X’s from a passage XY will always leave us with a Y passage. That, in itself, proves nothing about the nature of the original passage.

Not only is the logic of the key argument flawed, but the assumption that Josephus, one blatantly opposed to any would-be messianic claimant and supposed miracle worker who attracted a following, would ever speak even neutrally of Jesus, let alone positively, is simply untenable.

Yet such shallow arguments have apparently swept into the welcoming arms of the predominantly Christian and church affiliated biblical studies consensus.

But most of these academics are surely bright cookies.

So one is surely justified in asking if there is a more subtle cultural perspective at play here.

Maybe an explanation lies in the broader cultural trend to feel an obligation to compensate for past erroneous and misguided assumptions about Jews, coupled with a positive sense of the goodness of siding favourably with Jews post 1967.

If so, the irony would be that in the case of Josephus’s supposed testimony to Jesus, we have sided with the kind of Jew many moderns would condemn as a “self-hating Jew”. That is the rhetoric used by modern day Jews against their fellows who oppose the Zionist ideology underpinning the modern state of Israel. And Josephus further fulminated against anything in his day that came within a barge pole of supporting “end times” theologies and “Christian Zionism”.

New JOSEPHUS category

Have added a new category headed JOSEPHUS in my Categories list on right hand column of this page.

Finally realized I have posted several articles on relationships between texts in Josephus and gospels and Acts that could be brought together in a tidy collection box here.

Would love to update blogroll and other links too — but having hard enough time just doing this much with demands of a new job I’ve taken up as an expat.

top ten atheist blogs

how nice, my blog gets an entry among the top ten atheist blogs in common sense atheism! 🙂

The Testimonium Flavianum: more clues from Eusebius

I have updated my previous post’s timeline of the apparent birth of the passage about Jesus found in Josephus to include all known pre-Eusebian Christian references to Josephus.

In this post I begin to discuss the detailed evidence that this passage (the Testimony of Flavius Josephus, or the Testimonium Flavianum, or TF) was composed by Eusebius himself. While I draw heavily on Ken Olson, and on the augmentation of Olson’s arguments by Earl Doherty, I like to think I also add a few extra layers of evidence here and there. (Mike Duncan – of the Bad Rhetoric blog – argues for another contender, Pamphilus. See his comments dated 7 March at the end of my previous post for a summary.)

ca.324 CE
Eusebius quotes a reference in Josephus to Jesus that survives today in all manuscripts:

Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.

Eusebius in fact cites this passage three times — in three of his works — to assert a reputable Jewish support for the good character of Jesus:

  • Demonstratio Evangelica
  • History of the Church
  • Theophany

Some discussion has arisen over a difference in wording of the TF in these works, and over which was written first, and the implications these ideas have for whether or not Eusebius was necessarily the original fabricator of the TF. I will discuss these questions and my own views of the arguments in a future post.

To take the TF phrase by phrase and see how much is truly Josephan and how much Eusebian, and if Josephan, in what Eusebian context. . . .

1. a wise man (sophos aner)

Josephus uses this descriptor of Solomon and Daniel; he does not associate it with miracle-working or special teaching.

Eusebius uses sophos, a sage, as the opposite of a goes, a charlatan, several times throughout his works.

  1. In Adversus Hieroclem Eusebius challenged Hierocles for describing another miracle worker, Apollonius of Tyre, as a “sophos” on a par with Jesus, yet who is not worshipped as a god. His point appears to have been to demonstrate the excessive credulity of the Christians. Apollonius, like Jesus, performed miracles, but his followers never esteemed him higher than as one beloved by gods.
  2. In Demonstratio Evangelica, Bk 3, ch 5 (Olson) Eusebius is at pains to counter the charge that Jesus is a goes (charlatan, wizard) and pulls out the TF to demonstrate that he was, in fact, a sophos (sage, truly wise man).

Earl Doherty (in Josephus on the Rocks) faults Ken Olson for not pushing his argument far enough:

The question which Olson does not ask is this: why, in this earliest work in which he was concerned to cast Jesus in a favorable light, did Eusebius not appeal to the Testimonium, as he was to do in similar circumstances in two later works? We can hardly presume that he only discovered Josephus in the interim. There is no reason why the Testimonium could not have served his purpose in Adversus Hieroclem. What we may very well presume is that in the interim Eusebius decided it would be a good idea to fabricate something by Josephus to serve this purpose.

This takes us beyond the study of how “Josephan” or “Eusebian” the “sophos aner” description is. But to stick with this digression for a moment – – –

There is a closely related passage by Eusebius in Adversus Hieroclem (chapter IV) that reads to me as if it is a very template of the TF. The words in black type are those of Eusebius, and those in the blue-green are from the TF:

IF then we may be permitted to contrast the reckless and easy credulity which he goes out of his way to accuse us of, with the accurate and well-founded judgment on particular points of the Lover of Truth, let us ask at once,

not which of them was the more divine nor in what capacity one worked more wondrous and numerous miracles than the other ;

Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works,

nor let us lay stress on the point that our Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ was the only man of whom it was prophesied, thanks to their divine inspiration, by Hebrew sages who lived far back thousands of years ago, that he should once come among mankind ;

He was the Christ . . . . as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him.

nor on the fact that he converted to his own scheme of divine teaching so many people ; nor that he formed a group of genuine and really sincere disciples, of whom almost without exaggeration it can be said that they were prepared to lay down their lives for his teaching at a moment’s call ;

a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. . . . those that loved him at the first did not forsake him

nor that he alone established a school of sober and chaste living which has survived him all along ;

And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.

nor that by his peculiar divinity and virtue he saved the whole inhabited world, and still rallies to his divine teaching races from all sides by tens of thousands ;

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

nor that he is the only example of a teacher who, after being treated as an enemy for so many years, I might almost say, by all men, subjects and rulers alike, has at last triumphed and shown himself far mightier, thanks to his divine and mysterious power, than the infidels who persecuted him so bitterly, those who in their time rebelled against his divine teaching being now easily won over by him, while the divine doctrine which he firmly laid down and handed on has come to prevail for ages without end all over the inhabited world ; nor that even now he displays the virtue of his godlike might in the expulsion, by the mere invocation of his mysterious name, of sundry troublesome and evil demons which beset men’s bodies and souls, as from our own experience we know to be the case.

He was the Christ . . . And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.

To look for such results in the case of Apollonius, or even to ask about them, is absurd.

Note the similarities of theme and close relationship even sequence:

  • a divine man,
  • a worker of miracles (though Eusebius complains that those of Apollonius are wizardry, not genuine),
  • prophesied from old by Hebrew prophets,
  • persuaded many who loved the truth, were sincere, and remained loyal even after his death
  • and who have continued even to the present day
  • from all mankind, Jews and Gentiles,
  • condemned by rulers, yet he has overcome through his powers and the devotion and continuation of his followers

This comparison, I propose, suggests that Eusebius was either totally absent minded or possibly had not yet constructed the TF at the time he wrote against Hierocles. It also strongly suggests that the thought pattern in Eusebius’ mind at the time he was rebutting Hierocles was sustained and survived to become the framework for his subsequent decision to craft the TF.

Comparing this passage in Adversus Hieroclem almost begs for a revision of the references to the TF in Eusebius:

  • [Adversus Hieroclem . . . paraphrased/proto TF]
  • Demonstratio Evangelica
  • History of the Church
  • Theophany

2. if it be lawful to call him a man

Eusebius and other Christian authors are known to have added a qualifier like this after referencing Jesus as a man. This phrase is widely regarded as in interpolation because it presupposes the divinity of Jesus. But there is no logical reason to remove it from the original passage. It fits well with its context. It logically joins the phrases either side of it. After calling Jesus a “man” it explains that he is “more than a man” on the grounds of his ability to perform so many miracles:

. . . a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works . . .

Many scholars have gone along with the idea that by removing this phrase from the passage leaves a less Christian sounding paragraph, something closer to what a Jew like Josephus might have written about Jesus. The logical fallacy here is as astonishing as it is naive and one wonders how it could appear to be so glibly repeated for so long in the discussion. Of course the removal of any red passage from a larger one looking purple will leave it totally blue. Ken Olson, who surely could not have been the first to point such a fallacy, demonstrates this most clearly by showing how a passage from a sermon in Acts can be changed from pro Jesus to neutral Jesus.

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

The Greek word here for “doer” or “maker” is “poietes”, which can also be translated as “poet”. Doherty notes that Ken Olson, Robert Eisler and Josephan specialist Steve Mason all confirm that Josephus only ever uses this word to mean “poet”. Its use for the sense of “doer” or “perpetrator” is common among Christian authors, however.

Olson also remarks that Josephus never associates forms of the word paradoxon/s and poietes/poieo to mean the sense of “miracle making”. Eusebius, on the other hand, uses such a combination, and variants of the phrase paradoxon ergon poietes in Demonstratio Evangelica 3.5 — see sections 115, 123, 125 on that page; and History of the Church 1.2.23 — see paragraph 23 there.

This post is taking way way longer than I anticipated — I have an obsession with checking footnotes and other references as far back as I can go before putting keyboard to monitor. Going to have to complete it in spits and spurts.


The Jesus reference in Josephus: its ad hoc doctoring and various manuscript lines

The following time line of the evidence for Josephus’s mention of Jesus (The Testimonium Flavianum) was prompted as part of my preparation to address the discussion by Eddy and Boyd in The Jesus Legend. I will save my comments on how this timeline reflects on their evaluation of the evidence of Josephus till I next address their work.

Meanwhile, the following chronological overview of the extant references, variations and omissions may tell their own story for those interested in exploring this topic.

I have taken portions of the dateline from The Flavius Josephus Home Page. But since that only referred to a few of the relevant citations, most of the remainder is from my distillation of Earl Doherty’s comprehensive 2008 discussion of the manuscript and textual evidence, Josephus On the Rocks. (But since my revision on 7th March I have added quite a few more notes to highlight knowledge of Josephus among Church Fathers prior to Eusebius, but without any apparent knowledge of the Testimonium.)

For those new to this topic, the Testimonium Flavianum is the scholarly name given to the passage about Jesus in the writings of the first century Jewish historian, Josephus. Josephus was a famous for his recording of the history of the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE and the events leading to that event, as well as for writing a comprehensive history of the Jewish people with which to impress his Roman patron and audience.

Prior to the latter half of the twentieth century it was widely held by scholars (e.g. Charles Guignebert, Maurice Goguel) that this passage was a complete forgery (but see comment below by Ken Olson here), and that Josephus made no reference to Jesus in any of his works. Since then, there has been a near universal tendency to suggest that at least part of the current passage about Jesus was original to Josephus, and that it had been tampered with by later scribes. I am not convinced that these more recent arguments have overturned the substance of the earlier arguments, but details of the arguments will come in future posts. Those posts will refer back to the timeline below.

93 CE
Josephus
: The book Jewish Antiquities by Josephus is published in Rome. . . Manuscripts surviving today also contain a description of Jesus. But was this description present in the year 93? Josephus, in deference to the sensibilities of his Roman protectors, is at pains to avoid any mention of Jewish Messianic hopes. The only reference to a Messiah is in the description of Jesus and Christians which first appear with Eusebius.

ca.140’s CE
Justin Martyr
writes lengthy polemics against the unbelief of Jews and pagans and arguments for Christianity. No reference to Josephus. Had Josephus written about Jesus, positive or negative, could such works have remained unknown to Justin?

ca.170’s CE
Theophilus, Patriarch of Antioch
writes lengthy polemics against pagan refusal to believe in Christianity. No reference to Jesus in Josephus, although he cites Josephus in his Apology to Autolycus, Bk 3, ch. 23.

ca.180’s CE
Irenaeus
writes at length against unbelief without any reference to a work by Josephus. “[I]t is clear that Irenaeus was unfamiliar with Book 18 of ‘Antiquities’ since he wrongly claims that Jesus was executed by Pilate in the reign of Claudius (Dem. ev. ap. 74), while Antiquities 18.89 indicates that Pilate was deposed during the reign of Tiberius, before Claudius” (Wikipedia’s citation of Whealey’s ‘Josephus on Jesus’). Had Josephus discussed Jesus how could Irenaeus have been ignorant of the fact? Surely some knowledge of such a passage in the famous Jewish historian would have reached Irenaeus and others.

Fragment XXXII from the lost writings of Irenaeus, however, does know Josephus — see 32:53.

ca.190’s CE
Clement of Alexandria
wrote extensively in defence of Christianity against pagan hostility. He knew Josephus’ works — see Stromata Book 1 Chater 21. No reference to any mention of Jesus by Josephus.

ca.200’s CE
Tertullian
wrote lengthy apolegetics against unbelief and in justification of Christianity. No reference to a passage about Jesus by Josephus. But he elsewhere knows Josephus’ works — see Apologeticum ch.19.

ca.200’s CE
Minucius Felix
, another apologist, no references to Jesus from Josephus, although he knows and cites Josephus — see chapter 33.

ca.210’s CE
Hippolytus
wrote volumes of apologetics but appears to know nothing of a reference to Jesus by Josephus. Fragments of his works — see On Jeremiah and Ezekiel.145 — show he knows Josephus.

ca.220’s CE
Sextus Julius Africanus was a Christian historian who is not known to cite Josephus’s passage on Jesus although he did know of Josephus‘s works — see Chatper 17.38 of his Chronography.

ca.230’s CE
Origen knows Josephus
: four citations of Josephus are found here, but none reference a Jesus passage in Josephus.

  1. cites a passage in Josephus on the death of James “the brother of Jesus” (Book 20 of the Antiquities);
  2. states Josephus did not believe in Jesus (Origen in fact notes that Josephus proclaimed the Roman emperor Vespasian as the long awaited world ruler of biblical prophecy).
  3. summarized what Josephus said about John the Baptist in Book 18.
  4. said Josephus attributed destruction of Jerusalem to murder of James the Just (something not found in our copies of the works of Josephus) — (Josephus actually implies the destruction of Jerusalem was punishment for the murder of Ananias).
  5. does not cite any reference to Jesus from Josephus.

ca.240’s CE
Cyprian
(North Africa) prolific apologist with no reference to Jesus in Josephus.

ca.270’s CE
Anatolius, demonstrates his knowledge of Josephus in his Paschal Canon, chapter 3. No reference to Jesus in Josephus.

ca.290’s CE
Arnobius (North Africa) prolific apologist with no reference to Jesus in Josephus.

ca.300’s CE
Methodius, a Church Father who opposed Origen, and cites Josephus (see On the Resurrection — the citation is misplaced at the bottom of the page) but makes no reference to a Jesus passage in Josephus.

ca.300’s CE
Lactantius
(North Africa) prolific apologist with no reference to Jesus in Josephus.

ca.324 CE
Eusebius quotes a reference in Josephus to Jesus that survives today in all manuscripts:

Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.

Some expressions in the above are Josephan, but used in a way contrary to how Josephus uses them elsewhere. Some expressions are characteristic of those found in other writings of Eusebius. More on this in a future post.

Eusebius in fact cites this passage three times — in three of his works — to assert a reputable Jewish support for the good character of Jesus:

  1. Demonstratio Evangelica
  2. History of the Church
  3. Theophany

ca.370’s CE
Jerome
cites Josephus 90 times but cites the Testimonium (the Josephan passage about Jesus) only the once, and that in his Illustrious Men, 13. “It is likely that Jerome knew of the Testimonium from the copy of Eusebius available to him.” (Eddy and Boyd). The silence on the Testimonium outside De Viris Illustribus 13 may well relate to the period prior to his attaining access to the Eusebian text of Josephus.

The one reference of Jerome’s is nearly identical to that of Eusebius except that where Eusebius had “He was the Christ”, Jerome cited Josephus as saying, “He was believed to be the Christ.” From CCEL:

In this same time was Jesus, a wise man, if indeed it be lawful to call him man. For he was a worker of wonderful miracles, and a teacher of those who freely receive the truth. He had very many adherents also, both of the Jews and of the Gentiles, and was believed to be Christ, and when through the envy of our chief men Pilate had crucified him, nevertheless those who had loved him at first continued to the end, for he appeared to them the third day alive. Many things, both these and other wonderful things are in the songs of the prophets who prophesied concerning him and the sect of Christians, so named from Him, exists to the present day.

Jerome, like Origen earlier, also wrote that Josephus interpreted the fall of Jerusalem as punishment for the stoning of James the Just, an interpretation not found in our copies of Josephus.

ca.380’s CE
St John Chrysostom

  1. In his Homily 76 he writes that Jerusalem was destroyed as a punishment for the crucifixion of Jesus.
  2. He discusses Josephus, but makes no reference to any passage about Jesus in Josephus.
  3. In his Homily 13 he writes that Josephus attributed the destruction of Jerusalem to death of John the Baptist.

ca.370’s CE
Latin Pseudo-Hegesippus and the Hebrew Josippon dependent on Ps-Hegesippus, cite free paraphrases of the Josephan reference to Jesus first cited in Eusebius. From Stephen Carlson’s Hypotyposeis:

About which the Jews themselves bear witness, Josephus a writer of histories saying, that there was in that time a wise man, if it is proper however, he said, to call a man the creator of marvelous works, who appeared living to his disciples after three days of his death in accordance with the writings of the prophets, who prophesied both this and innumerable other things full of miracles about him. from which began the community of Christians and penetrated into every tribe of men nor has any nation of the Roman world remained, which was left without worship of him. If the Jews don’t believe us, they should believe their own people. Josephus said this, whom they themselves think very great, but it is so that he was in his own self who spoke the truth otherwise in mind, so that he did not believe his own words. But he spoke because of loyalty to history, because he thought it a sin to deceive, he did not believe because of stubbornness of heart and the intention of treachery. He does not however prejudge the truth because he did not believe but he added more to his testimony, because although disbelieving and unwilling he did not refuse.

ca.400’s CE
Augustine
(North Africa), another prolific apologist, apparently knew nothing of any reference to Jesus by Josephus.

fifth century CE
Tables of Contents of the works of Josephus were attached to Greek manuscripts, “and there is evidence that such tables were already attached to Latin manuscripts of the work as early as the 5th century.” H. Thackeray as cited, in part, by Doherty:

. . . the chapter headings “are ostensibly written by a Jew,” and “though it is improbable that these more elaborate chapter headings are the production of his [Josephus’] pen, they may well be not far removed from him in date.” The Table of Contents for Book 18 lists 20 topics dealt with in the book, but there is no mention of the Testimonium among them. . . .

ca.870’s CE
Photios, Patriarch of Constantinople, citing Earl Doherty’s Josephus On the Rocks:

[Photius] in compiling his Library (a review of several hundred ancient books, including treatises on the works of Josephus) apparently possessed a copy of Josephus which contained no Testimonium, nor even those interpolations we conclude were introduced to make Josephus say that the destruction of Jerusalem was due to the death of James the Just, or of John the Baptist. As Zindler says,

“Since Photius was highly motivated to report ancient attestations to the beginnings of Christianity, his silence here argues strongly that neither the Testimonium nor any variant thereof was present in the manuscript he read. This also argues against the notion that the Testimonium was created to supplant an originally hostile comment in the authentic text of Josephus. Had a negative notice of a false messiah been present in the text read by Photius, it is inconceivable he could have restrained himself from comment thereon.”

Photius does discuss the Antiquities 18 passage on John the Baptist. To think that he would do so yet pass up one about Christ himself—no matter what its nature—is, as Zindler says, quite inconceivable. Photius at a number of points also seems to quote marginal notes from his copy of Josephus, giving evidence of the ease with which such things could have found their way into the original text and given rise to debates about what was authentic to Josephus’ own writings.

10th Century
The Arab Christian historian Agapius quotes a version of the Testimonium that differs from that of Eusebius.

At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good and his learning outstanding. And many people from among  the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon their discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after the crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders. (translation of Shlomo Pines)

11th-12th centuries
Slavonic Josephus
cites another free paraphrase of the Josephan reference to Jesus first cited in Eusebius. This contains the same variant (He was believed to be the Christ) found in Jerome. The passage below is from Solomon Zeitlin:

At that time also a man came forward—if even it is fitting to call him man (simply).  His nature as well as his form were a man’s; but his showing forth was more than (that) of a man.  His works, that is to say, were godly and he wrought wonder deeds amazing and full of power.  Therefore it is not possible for me to call him a man (simply).  But again looking at the existence he shared with all, I would also not call him an angel.  And all that he wrought through some kind of invisible power, he wrought by word and command.  Some said of him that ‘our first Law-giver has risen from the dead and shows forth many cures and arts’.  But others supposed (less definitely) that he is sent by God.  Now he opposed himself in much to the Law, and did not observe the Sabbath according to ancestral custom.  Yet, on the other hand, he did nothing reprehensible nor any crime, but by word solely he effected everything.  And many from the folk followed him and received his teachings.  And many souls became wavering, supposing that thereby the Jewish tribes would free themselves from the Romans’ hands.  Now it was his custom often to stop on the Mount of Olives, facing the city.  And there also be avouched his curse to the people.

And he gathered themselves to him of servants a hundred and fifty, but of the folk a multitude.  But when they saw his power, that he accomplished everything that he would by word, they urged him that he should enter the city and cut down the Roman soldiers and Pilate, and rule over us.  But that one scorned it.  And thereafter when knowledge of it came to the Jewish leaders, they gathered together with the high priest and spoke: ‘We are powerless and weak to withstand the Romans.  But as withal the bow is bent, we will go and tell Pilate what we have heard, and we will be without distress, lest if he hear it from others, we be robbed of our substance and ourselves be put to the sword and our children ruined.’  And they went and told it to Pilate.

And he sent and had many of the people cut down.  And he had that wonder-doer brought up.  And when he had instituted a trial concerning him he perceived that he is a doer of good, but not an evil-doer, nor a revolutionary, nor one who aimed at power, and let him free.  He had, you should know, healed his dying wife.  And he went to his accustomed place and wrought his accustomed works.  And as again more folk gathered themselves together round him, then did he win glory through his works more than all.

The teachers of the law were (therefore) envenomed with envy and gave thirty talents to Pilate, in order that he should put him to death.  And he, after he had taken the money, gave consent that they should themselves carry out their purpose, and they took and crucified him according to the ancestral law.

For more extracts from the Slavonic Josephus see Mead’s citations on the Sacred Texts website.

Eddy and Boyd – miracles and global human experience

Continuing from previous post’s notes on Eddy’s and Boyd’s The Jesus Legend: A Case for the Historical Reliability of the Synoptic Jesus Tradition . . . .

Comparing the world views of ancients and moderns

It is difficult to get a clear handle on exactly what Eddy and Boyd are arguing against when they complain that “modern Western academics” are misguided over the differences between ancient and modern worldviews and beliefs in miracles.

They charge “modern Western academics” with falsely believing that there is a huge divide between ancient and modern worldviews.

A False Dichotomy

. . . We are told that the reason people in the past could believe in and claim to experience miracles, while modern Western people supposedly cannot, is because, unlike us, ancient people were “naive and mythologically minded.” Ancient people supposedly had little or no awareness of the laws of nature . . . (p.64)

Ancient people “supposedly had little or no awareness of the laws of nature . . .”? I would have been interested in reading how E and B might have explained exactly what they meant here.

It is through generalized statements like this that E and B are actually the ones who are constructing “a false dichotomy”. Many major academic studies have been dedicated to understanding the minds and worldviews of both ancient and present day peoples. It is simply nonsense to suggest that when someone speaks generally of a modern worldview based on a scientific paradigm contrasting with worldviews from a pre-scientific era, they are to be somehow blamed for failing to understand the extents and nuances of human experiences. The former claim is a generic claim about social norms in a modern western culture, while the latter is a statement about actual behaviours and beliefs at an experiential level. The fact that social institutions (not just a narrow slice of academia) legitimize the scientific world view for social educational purposes is a separate issue from the personal beliefs of many individuals and sub-groups of society.

From the same “modern Western academics” about whom Eddy and Boyd complain are out of touch with “global human experience” come sociological and anthropological studies demonstrating the universality of beliefs in the supernatural. (See Human Universals compiled by Donald E Brown.)

So the studies of “modern Western academics” belie E and B’s sweeping generalization about “modern Western academics”.

Is present human experience on a global scale saturated with experiences of the supernatural?

Of course not. Unless one defines an experience of the supernatural to be whatever one believes to be a supernatural experience.

I can say that present human experience on a global scale is saturated with untimely tragic deaths, with weddings, with buying and selling, with home-building. Such experiences are open for all to see and witness. And we can all read and hear of people reporting supernatural experiences and fulfillments of astrological or other occult predictions. But of course the latter category merely represents beliefs about experiences.

Eddy and Boyd obviously know this, and concede that most such reports can be explained naturally.

Thus, a recovery from an illness or a pay-rise can be both be “experiences of the supernatural” to one who believes they are answers to prayer. The same people often, I think, also consider failure to recover from an illness as a negative answer to prayer, so even that may be defined as a supernatural experience, too. Or even a calamity, like a car crash, as a message or punishment from the supernatural.

And in Asia countless people offer prayers before Buddhist and other shrines, presumably very often in thanksgiving for “supernatural” favours.

And many people believe that their gambling wins and losses are the results of omens, charms or little rituals. I suppose they could also be defined as “supernatural experiences”.

So Eddy and Boyd don’t put the proposition quite like that, but rather as:

. . . present human experience on a global scale is saturated with reported experiences of the supernatural.

Well, of course. And they cite no “modern Western academic” who disagrees with THAT claim, despite their laboured efforts to give  just that impression.

And of course the difference between reported experiences of the supernatural and actual experiences of the supernatural is the same as difference between those believing a cure from an illness was an answer to prayer and those believing it was a natural or medically assisted process. In other words, the issue at stake is not the experience itself, but the belief about the experience.

Eddy and Boyd are in fact asserting nothing more than that present human experience on a global scale is saturated with supernatural interpretations of experiences.

Are academics really out of touch when they assign different interpretations to such experiences? One presumes that levels of education would correspond with levels of understanding about how the world works.

Eddy and Boyd are not really arguing about experiences, but interpretations of experiences. Their choice of words is misleading or confusing, however. Consider their complaints against “secular academics”. E and B charge them with defining “‘present human experience’ too narrowly” (p.67). But instead of pointing to the vast areas of human experience that their “narrow definitions” exclude, they can only bring themselves to point to what is “commonly reported” across cultures. So it seems the bottom line of Eddy and Boyd’s complaint is that “modern secular academics” do not include “common reports” or interpretations of experiences on the same level as common experiences themselves. It was once commonly reported that left handed people and eccentric women were in league with evil powers. It was once commonly reported that the earth was flat.

A demon haunted world

Eddy and Boyd don’t cite cross cultural experiences with good angelic beings, nor even cross cultural experiences of a single deity. I would have found such a discussion more interesting than the one they do cite. They cite instead the “cross-cultural” report of “demonization” as evidence that the vast bulk of humanity experience the supernatural. (I thought demonization means to actually turn something or someone into a demon, literally or figuratively, and that the more appropriate term for what E&B are describing is “demon possession”. But I’ll use E and B’s term, assuming they know the literature on this topic better than I do.)

E and B list some of the “cross-cultural characteristics” of this “demonization” (p.68):

  • being seized by a demon so that they fall into a trance or seizure
  • frequent outbursts of violent behaviour, sometimes exhibiting strength beyond the normal
  • the ability to recite information that the one demonized is not expected to know
  • the ability to speak some words of a language they did not learn
  • the ability to contort ones muscles and limbs in an unnatural way
  • objects move and fly near the demonized person

There is nothing new here, and these characteristics might have been more persuasive if E&B had taken the trouble to actually cite the details of just one report of the several they footnote that actually defy possible natural explanation. Disappointingly, on page 70 they write:

We do not wish to dispute that some, if not the majority, of these reports may be explained in naturalistic terms.

They continue:

But what justification is there for assuming that all such reports of the supernatural can be explained in naturalistic terms?

Firstly, there are no “reports of the supernatural” in any of this. There are only reports of bizarre and seemingly inexplicable human experiences that are interpreted by some observers as being caused by demons. In a pre-scientific age lightning and earthquakes and illness and even accidents were interpreted in many quarters as being caused by supernatural forces. Many people even today still interpret them the same way.

In our scientific age we still have much to learn. We don’t look at each remaining unsolved question and assume it is unsolved because it is forever beyond the possibility of a natural explanation. Maybe we will even find more evidence in time that not all problem events were fully (or fully honestly) reported. Reporting shortcomings, or even fraud, are not entirely unknown.

But back to the point. If most can be explained naturalistically, then why not single out just one that must surely prove not to be the case for us all to see and consider? Why resort to an argument from credulity? If I keep hearing of alien abductions so often, do I really suddenly encounter one that is so totally different from the rest that it is in a class of its own? If so, then let’s cut to the chase and identify and discuss those singular cases only!

Secondly, if most of the cases of the above behaviours can be explained in naturalistic terms, what is left of Eddy and Boyd’s complaint that “modern scholars” define “present human experience too narrowly”? If most cases can be naturalistically explained, then E&B’s complaint surely falls flat.

The fact that some academics themselves believe in the supernatural is neither here nor there, notwithstanding E&B’s efforts to see this as significant. Time and peer-review assessments and investigations will test their claims.

Epistemological humility?

After having shown the poverty of postmodernism for establishing “truth and fact” in historiography, E&B turn to postmodernism to argue that non-secular beliefs should be treated on an equal footing with religious ones. They are of the view that to do otherwise is a kind of “cultural imperialism” and smacks of intellectual arrogance.

I suggest that the secular worldview is really the spin-off from it being thoroughly and repeatedly tested and proven in the field of the natural sciences. This success rate gives a priori validity to approaching the rest of human experience through the same mindset.

A supernatural worldview has no comparable a priori validity to appeal to.

“The world view” and an American view?

E&B disagree strongly that the “Western worldview” is basically a naturalistic one. They contend that only a narrow clique of secular academic culture has embraced naturalism. “The majority of Western people”, they claim, are as believing and experiencing of the supernatural as the ancients ever were. They cite polls taken within the United States to support this claim (p.74). Over 80% of Americans believe God performs miracles today. This is apparently enough for E&B to believe that  over 80% of humanity experience “miracles”. They do not clarify if they would include a pay-rise as a miracle if that supposedly followed someone’s prayer request. But even if they mean only miracles of the kind where the dead are raised, it is good to keep such statistics in global perspective:

There have, for years, been comparative studies of religious fanaticism and factors that correlate with it. By and large, it tends to decline with increasing industrialization and education. The US, however, is off the chart, ranking near devastated peasant societies. About 1/2 the population believe the world was created a few thousand years ago . . . (Chomsky, 1999)

Eddy and Boyd, The Jesus Legend. Overview impressions.

Eddy and Boyd’s book, The Jesus Legend, reminds me of Intelligent Design literature. It is an attempt to guise faith in serious sounding academic garb. While ID aspires to be accepted as an equal explanation beside evolutionary theory, The Jesus Legend aspires to be accepted as an alternative scholarly historiographical hypothesis to explain Christian origins. (Indeed, at least one of the authors is associated with a website promoting Intelligent Design.)

It is also a book that could only have been written by religionists from the USA. The authors at times appear to equate surveys of U.S. beliefs regarding miracles and the supernatural with the experience of the vast bulk of all human experience at all times, against which are pitted only a few sheltered Western academics. They seem oblivious to the implications of applying their reasoning to anything other than their religious interests, such as popular beliefs in astrology, common superstitions and folklore, aboriginal dreaming, etc. They also naively (regularly) equate a gospel narrative and reported sayings with direct tangible evidence that such and such was really seen or experienced as historical fact.

In a recent post I showed how Eddy and Boyd misrepresented David Hume’s argument against the rationality of believing in miracles, and only subsequently noticed that E & B hinge the relevance of their entire book on their supposed demonstration of the fallaciousness of Hume’s argument.

Hume’s argument renders all possible historical arguments in favor of Jesus’s rising from the dead virtually irrelevant. For no conceivable historical evidence could possibly overturn such an overwhelmingly improbable claim — if, again, Hume’s argument is valid. (p.42)

So until someone can demonstrate that their argument about David Hume’s sceptical position is indeed valid, I can conclude that it’s entire argument is a waste of time.

Another fatal flaw in Eddy’s and Boyd’s argument is its inflexibility in the range of alternative naturalistic explanations they appear willing to consider. Finding a weakness in one naturalistic explanation for the origins of Christianity would normally prompt historical researchers to refine that explanation or consider alternative (naturalistic) hypotheses. Eddy and Boyd, however, drive home their supernaturalistic hypothesis at each and every sign of a weakness in a single naturalistic hypothesis.

This is a bit like Renaissance astronomer Kepler discovering that the model of circular orbits of planets did not fit the recorded observations, and deciding to opt for angels interfering with planetary orbits from time to time in preference to testing the evidence against a model of eliptical orbits instead. Fortunately for us it was Kepler who was working at giving us the understanding of how planets orbit the sun and not Eddy and Boyd. The latter may well have decided that since God can cause the sun to stand still and a star to stand over a manger that there was no need to attempt any naturalistic explanation of planetary movements — their supernaturalistic hypothesis had the power to explain everything!

Another feature of “interest” is the way Eddy and Boyd massage the naive reader with word-play. They emphasize, with italics, that the assumptions of the naturalistic approach to historical enquiry are not proven.

This assumption . . . does not have to be proven: it is presupposed. (p. 44)

Naturalistic assumptions are a fatal flaw in the whole naturalistic enterprise? Eddy and Boyd complain that by approaching the world through naturalistic assumptions one tends to be able to explain the world naturally. There remains no room for the miraculous, they protest. (Assumptions are generally of the nature of values and perspectives that by nature are not “provable”, but “recognized”, in scholarly discourse.)

Not surprisingly, the results “worked out in the whole field of her activity” serve to demonstrate the validity of the assumption. (p.44)

But the fact is that the naturalistic approach to historiography is not as circular as E&B imply. The assumptions of naturalism rest on the successful testing of the model in the field of the physical sciences. This success gives very strong grounds for viewing the entire world of human experience through the same presumption of naturalism.

Consistently applied, this reasoning of E&B would need to find even stronger grounds for the reality of miracles (that questions of nature are more generally best explained by miracles than by natural law) to justify replacing the naturalistic presumption underlying modern historiography.

As time permits I’ll try to address various other aspects of The Jesus Legend hypothesis in some detail. It does, after all, appear to be something of a ‘standard’ to which many fundamentalists appeal.