The Testimonium Flavianum: more clues from Eusebius

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by Neil Godfrey

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.


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19 thoughts on “The Testimonium Flavianum: more clues from Eusebius”

  1. I believe I can anticipate at least one apologetic reply here, namely, that no church writer before Origen knew _Antiquitates_ directly, and that none shows clear familiarity with the latter half of _Antiquitates_, see Alice Whealey’s essay in Böttrich and Herzer, Eds., _Josephus und das Neue Testament_ (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007). In the same essay, Mrs. Whealey presents a rather puzzling twist on the Josephus-Eusebius relationship, suggesting that Josephus’ language may have influenced Eusebius’ language: “In particular, the language of the _Testimonium_ may have influenced how Eusebius described Jesus in his own works… Thus any study of this topic may ultimately leave us with rather inconclusive results” (page 76). Of course, this is a desperate hypothesis, but there we are. Some people may try and explain away the fascinating parallels you have drawn, claiming that Josephus may have inspired Eusebius!

    Michael W. Nordbakke

  2. If no church writer knew of Antiquities then in my books that’s a pretty good indication it had nothing of interest to them. Had the TF existed it beggars belief that it would not have come to the attention of the literate Christian community sooner rather than later. Of course if Luke et al used Josephus for Acts and even some gospel narratives then this becomes a much stronger point, although I realize few like to date the gospels pre-Josephus.

  3. Neil, please allow me to add one more comment. Quoting Doherty, you ask why Eusebius, in _Adversus Hieroclem_, does not appeal to the _Testimonium_. “We can hardly presume that he only discovered Josephus in the interim.” In the essay I mentioned above (Whealey, “Josephus, Eusebius of Caesarea, and the Testimonium Flavianum”) it is indeed suggested that Eusebius discovered the _Testimonium_ at a late stage in his life!

    Whealey writes: “The Division of _Antiquitates_ into two halves apparently dates to ancient times (R. Marcus, Josephus. Jewish Antiquities, 10 Vols., LCL, Cambridge 1937, vol 6, vii), and this division may have been one factor in the general ignorance of the latter half of _Antiquitates_ before Origen” (p. 75).

    She then stretches this argument even further past breaking point, tacitly arguing that Eusebius had not yet read the _Testimonium_ when _Adversus Hieroclem_ was written (see pp. 99-100). These are far-fetched speculations, but regrettably they are taken very seriously.

    IMO the fascinating parallels you have sketched out between the _Testimonum_ and _Adversus Hieroclem_, chapter 4, add lots of weight to the argument that Josephus could not possibly have written a passage so useful to Eusebius’ apologetics. Whealey writes: “The attempt to use texts apologetically does not indicate that the texts were forged. Eusebius quotes numerous passages of Plato in Books XI-XIV of _Praeparatio Evangelica_ in order to illustrate Christianity’s similarity to Platonic ideas…” However, in the latter case we are certainly not dealing with specific sequences of thoughts and ideas. This is a matter of probability.

    1. Thanks for the comment. Whealey’s argument sounds like a macro counterpart to the desperate heavy reliance on the micro “this-word-was-interpolated-but-that-word-wasn’t” arguments, only worse. These arguments certainly demonstrate the pedantry of the scholars, and I suppose they can sound most erudite for lay readers who must marvel at how such learning can lead to such minute discernment.

      But in all this the “DUHHH!!! factor” is ignored. — These arguments are in most cases completely detatched from the broader context or what Josephus “would/could have written” given his audience, personal and social and political and religious milieu, what he said elsewhere that belies the proposed amendments to the TF, etc.

      Not to mention a realistic consideration of the social literary world in which knowledge by just about any sector of a literate community who heard of this passage in a public reading, — and how it would be inevitable that IF anything like this were written it WOULD inevitably come to the attention of literate and other Christians.

      Ken Olson has also further advanced his argument to propose that Eusebius was attempting to counter Porphyry with the TF.

      Hope to continue more on this series sooner rather than later.

  4. So Eusebius was a scoundrel who invented proof texts that no one else could reference, as proof for his claims concerning Christianity!

    To state the above out loud is to refute it. It is a self-defeating argument.
    It makes Eusebius out to be a dunce and a devil, but more dunce than devil.
    We know he was not a dunce.

    If he was into forging documents, why not have Josephus simply quoting passages from the Gospel of John or Romans, stating unequivocally that Jesus was God incarnate? The Testimonium, however, comes nowhere close to that. If he were a forger, why would he suffice it to say ,”he was The Christ”? “He was The Son of God” would be much more forceful and to the point, yet no ms. has that, either in Josephus or Eusebius’ quotes of Josephus.

    When I quote an authority as evidence, I expect the reader to be able to
    reference and verify that evidence, or it is useless and meritless.
    Is this who you think Eusebius was? This is incredible!

    1. Hi David,

      If I understand your point correctly, you answer your own argument. Eusebius was not a dunce and only a dunce would directly quote NT scriptures and plant them as if they were the genuine words of Josephus.

      As for your last point, forgery was as common as grass in the ancient world as we know from so many ancient complaints about it — including several allusions to it in the NT. Even second century church “fathers” of various persuasions often railed against forgeries in the texts. Verification of texts was not as easy in that world as it is today, and establishing what was an original text was not always easy at all.

      Meanwhile, you should address the rest of my argument supporting the forgery claim of this Josephan passage, and not just zero in on one part of it, Eusebius. If not Eusebius, then that still does not overthrow the weight of the rest of the case that the TF is a complete forgery.

      Have plans to do a new post on the promiscuous extent of ancient forgeries in classic texts and others soonish. Till then, I recommend Anthony Grafton’s “Forgers and Critics: creativity and duplicity in Western scholarship” 1990.

  5. Hi Neil,

    So Eusebius was a scoundrel who invented proof texts that no one else could reference, as proof for his claims concerning Christianity!

    And he was a scoundrel who assumed that he could quote a non-existent
    Josephan testimony as a proof text for Christianity, undetected by anyone.

    Is that your position on Eusebius?

    1. I have never mentioned scoundrel, David, and am presenting arguments here that offer what seems to be a plausible explanation for the appearance of the Josephan passage from the fouth century c.e. I’m not interested in the character of Eusebius himself, but only in the evidence and positing the best explanations that the evidence points to.

      If none of the reasoned and carefully laid out evidence convinces you, then why not argue where it is lacking?

      To dismiss all of the evidence because it seems to imply some dishonesty or lack of total credibility or transparency on the part of a very powerful political figure at the time seems to me a little naive.

      Do you have a more plausible explanation for the facts I have attempted to present in the above and preceding post?

      Are you really arguing that Josephus did say that Jesus was the Christ? Surely I misunderstood your point here.

  6. Alice Whealey is intellectually bankrupt.
    There is an English language translation of PseudoHegisippus available for download on the internet. The translated text does not support the arguments she made in her earliest papers regarding the authenticity and transmission of the TF.
    The location of the TF in PseudoHegisippus shows that the TF was NOT in the PsH redactors copy of Jewish War, and that he did not copy it from Antiquities, it has been interpolated into the “wrong” place in PsH.
    To me this suggests the PsH redactor read the TF in Eusebius’ Demonstrio or Theophany, not in a copy of Antiquities. Where one would expect the TF to occur in PsH, is a passage blaming Tiberius corruption and Pilate’s savagery for the crucifixion of Jesus, and for laying the foundation of the Judean discontent that led to the Jewish war. Whealey has missed or ignored this altogether. This indicates that even in the late 4th c. the Testimonium Flavianum was known through the works of Eusebius, and was still not found in the circulating texts of Josephus’ histories.
    I know that a copy of the translation was sent to her home address along with a cover letter asking her to comment on the apparent discrepancy between her commentary on the text and what the translation indicates is there. She did not deign to reply. One is forced to ask the question, is she intellectually dishonest and deliberately defending christian doctrine at the expense of truth, or has she been blinded by having been brought up in a professional christian household and receiving her education at Wheaton, a christian madrassa.
    Personally I am affronted by the difficulty in finding adequate translations of important early texts, and the orthodox christian scholars who write pages of commentary on these texts telling us what we should believe about them, without providing sufficiently long quotations AND translations so that the non academic can evaluate the text for himself.

  7. I find Hector Avalos’s footnote in The End of Biblical Studies also interesting:

    One of the dirty little secrets of historical Jesus scholarship is that the Greco-Roman sources used as “independent confirmation” for Jesus all depend on manuscripts of medieval date, and so no one cannot be sure what has been added. John P. Meier (A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, vol. 1, The Roots of the Problem and the Person [New York: Doubleday, 1991], p. 100, n. 6) admits: “As with Josephus, so with Tacitus our observations must be tempered by the fact that the earliest manuscript of the Annals comes from the 11th century.”


  8. Neil:

    I just paid a visit to Roger Pierce’s Tertullien web site.
    It is the sort of web site the professional academics and university librarians, especially those at tax supported institutions, should be maintaining: an extensive library of texts posted in vernacular translations, with extensive information about the manuscript sources: a resource that is accessible to all and not just the ivory tower denizens.
    Most academics , however, do not contribute to this sort of activity and seem to concentrate on writing gnomic, Derrida style, incomprehensible essays that are read only by their fellows. This makes me wonder what their contribution to humanities’ store of general knowledge really is.

    Be that as it may.

    Roger has a copy of PseudoHegisippus posted on his site.

    He shows that PsHegisippus contains material from “Antiquities of the Jews”. Therefore the PsH redactor had access to a copy of “JA” yet he interpolated the TF into the wrong location in his redaction of “Jewish War”. He did not put his paraphrase of the TF next to the passages dealing with Pilate, but at a later section of the text.

    And rather than appearing like an integral part of the text as it sort of does in “JA”, the PsHegisippus version of the TF reads like a gloss or commentary that has been incorporated into the main body of the text.
    Therefore, the PsH redactor apparently had access to a copy of Jewish Antiquities and used material from it in his translation and redaction of the Greek “Jewish War” into Latin. He placed a paraphrase of the TF at the “wrong” place in the narrative, and it reads like commentary rather tan an integral part of his text.
    Is it safe to conclude that the PsH redactor DID NOT SEE the TF in “Jewish Antiquities”, but is quoting it from another source? Did he extract the TF from Eusebius’ Demonstrio or Theophany, which were the only other known TF sources available in the late 400’s.

    How widely distributed were Eusebius’ Demonstrio and Theophany? Did copies of the documents make it into the West or were they confined to the Greek speaking east Med.? This might help place the TF redactor.

    Unlike the mainstream or orthodox contention that PsH proves the authenticity of the TF and its presence in “JewishAntiquities”, PseudoHegisippus is actually a demonstration that the Testamonium Flavianum was NOT present in early copies of the “Jewish Antiquities” and is derived from some other source. The only other known TF source were two works composed by Eusebius: the Demonstrio and the Theophany.

    At this point I will let the reader form his own opinion.


    1. There is a place for academic jargon, but it’s long been a justifiable complaint that some academics do appear to be incapable of writing clearly — not only in biblical studies by any means. One author compared them to ancient witchdoctors who like to impress others with their status by talking a lot of incomprehensible mumbo jumbo. So often some of the most convoluted sentences are really saying nothing more than common truisms when translated.

      But one development that is under way among many academic libraries now is the establishment of digital repositories that can archive the research work of staff and make much more of it openly accessible online. Hopefully this can become a more widespread practice and eventually incorporate digitized copies of older works. Much will depend on $ and the usual resistance to changes among some of the stakeholders that in places is breaking down.

      Thanks for the additional notes on the PsH.

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