Jesus in Josephus — Eusebian clues — point 4

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by Neil Godfrey

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.


  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 . . . .



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Neil Godfrey

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7 thoughts on “Jesus in Josephus — Eusebian clues — point 4”

  1. Exxxcellent. I see 4 categories of evidence here against TF authenticity:

    1) Discovery

    1 – No evidence for the TF before Eusebius

    2 – Evidence that the TF was created during the career of Eusebius

    2) Familiarity – Parallels to Eusebius’ own Adversus Hieroclem.

    3) Language – The key phrases are generally Eusebian and not Josephan.

    4) Context – The context of the TF is contrary to Josephus.

    The complimentary evidence is to break down the credibility of Eusebius in general. Can you do that?


  2. Joseph Wallack wrote: “The complimentary evidence is to break down the credibility of Eusebius in general.”

    Please allow a brief comment from a non-specialist. It should probably be noted that Eusebius often exaggerates the extent and the antiquity of the anti-heretical literature written before his time, in order to demonstrate that certain controversies had already been settled long before. Walter Bauer writes: “Eusebius deliberately cultivated [the position] that during the first two centuries of our era an abundance of orthodox literature already existed in the Christian church” (Orthodoxy and Heresy in Earliest Christianity, p. 158). This is a good indication that Eusebius’ character was _not_ above reproach.

    Alice Whealey (“Josephus, Eusebius of Caesarea, and the Testimonium Flavianum” in Böttrich and Herzer, Eds., _Josephus und das Neue Testament_, Tübingen, 2007, pp. 73-116), desperate to whitewash Eusebius, draws attention to the discovery of the Papyrus Londiniensis 878; see Jones and Skeat, “Notes on the Genuineness of the Constantinian Documents in Eusebius,” Journal of Ecclesiastical History 5 (1954), 196-200. Whealey writes: “Clearly, Eusebius was not in the habit of simply forging _ex nihilo_ every source of a sensitive nature that he quoted to support his apologetic interests” (p. 106).

    But other scholars are not equally impressed with this discovery; see, for instance, T. G. Elliott’s book, _The Christianity of Constantine the Great_ (1996).

    Michael W. N.

  3. >>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 link might be helpful:


    Mr Olson writes: “I no longer think it is necessary to postulate that Eusebius was making a particular effort to try to sound like Josephus… Eusebius calls Jesus a wise man (Eclogae Propheticae 3.5; PG 22, 1129); he repeatedly calls Jesus a ‘maker of miraculous works’ (HE 1.2.23; DE 3.5.21, 59, 103, 3.7.4); he praises Christians who have undergone martyrdom ‘with pleasure’ (Martyrs of Palestine 6.6; In Praise of Constantine 17.11)…”

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