“An important piece of non-Christian evidence” for the historicity of Jesus

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by Neil Godfrey

This post raises reasons to challenge “the usual scholarly view” most recently asserted by Maurice Casey in his new book, Jesus of Nazareth, that Josephus wrote a short passage about Jesus. I show that contrary to “the usual scholarly view” in general, and contrary to Casey’s assertions in particular, there is evidence to justify the view that Josephus wrote nothing about Jesus, and that the passage about Jesus in Josephus is a complete Christian forgery.

The passage about Jesus appears in a book by a Jewish historian written around 90 CE. The historian is Josephus, and his book, Antiquities of the Jews, is a history of the Jews from the beginnings of the biblical story right through to the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 CE.

The passage begins:

At this time there lived one Jesus, a wise man . . . .

It concludes:

And the tribe of the Christians . . . has not died out to this day.

For the full passage, I have copied a translation in The Jesus Reference in Josephus, and have included in that post translations of all the variant versions from Eusebius to the 11th century.

Until the Second World War this passage was generally regarded worthless as historical testimony. I have cited the views of scholars as diverse as Albert Schweitzer, G.R.S. Mead, Walter Bauer, Maurice Goguel and Charles Guignebert (the first and latter two names still prominent for their criticisms of the view that the Jesus of the New Testament was a mystical or mythical character) in What they used to say about Josephus as evidence for Jesus.

Since the Second World War the scholarly tide has turned towards default favouring of any potential Jewish contribution towards Christianity, as discussed in earlier posts on discussions by Crossley (Political Contextt of Scholarly Consensus) and DeConick (Need a Good Judas).

Of this passage, Emeritus Professor of New Testament Languages and Literature at the University of Nottingham, Maurice Casey, writes:

Against people who still argue that Jesus was not a real historical figure, it is an important piece of non-Christian evidence that he was. (p. 121 of Jesus of Nazareth)

So what is the basis of this assertion that is clearly contrary to the views of prominent scholars and scholars who argued against the Jesus-myth view?

Casey explains his reason for believing that the passage in Josephus is not a complete Christian interpolation:

[A] Christian is not likely to have begun a complete interpolation ‘At this time there lived one Jesus, a wise man’, nor to have ended by saying that ‘And the tribe of the Christians . . . has not died out to this day.’ Accordingly, the usual scholarly view is that Josephus, who also recorded the trial and execution of Jacob, ‘the brother of Jesus who is called Christ’ (Ant. XX. 200), wrote a short piece about Jesus, and that it was edited by Christian scribes . . . . These scribes may have omitted things as well as added them. The importance of this passage is therefore basic. (p. 121 of Jesus of Nazareth)

Evidence that a Christian was likely to have begun an interpolation with “wise man”

Casey appears to speak for many scholars when he writes that a Christian “would not have” begun a passage describing Jesus as a “wise man” (sophos). This argument is merely an assertion. Its weight consists entirely in scholars’ lack of knowledge of the insights, conditions and motivations of the original author.

What this assertion (based on ignorance of the original author’s intent) overlooks is that there is indeed strong evidence that a Christian would have, and really did, describe Jesus as a “wise man”:

  • This passage is first found in Eusebius, the fourth century Christian bishop and author.
  • Eusebius uses this passage to answer the criticism that Jesus was a charlatan.
  • Eusebius several times elsewhere in his works uses the word for “wise man” as the opposite of “charlatan”.

Ken Olson has shown that the word used for “wise man” in this context was characteristic of Eusebius, whom Olson argues was the forger of this passage in Josephus. (For those unable readily to access Olson’s article — click his name above to be taken to his blog — I have outlined some of its main points here.)

Eusebius several times throughout his works uses “wise man” in his arguments countering the views that Jesus was a charlatan.

Josephus also uses the same word of Solomon and Daniel, but unlike Eusebius, never uses it in connection with miracle working and special teaching.

It just happens that the first time we learn that anyone knew of this passage in Josephus is when we read Eusebius using it to counter the criticisms that Jesus was a charlatan.

We thus have in Eusebius an example of a Christian likely to describe Jesus as a wise man when countering the anti-Christian polemic that Jesus was a charlatan.

So the first evidence we have that anyone knew of this passage in Josephus is when we read of it in Eusebius. And when we read of it in Eusebius, it just happens that it answers Eusebius’s polemical needs perfectly: he can use it to show that Jesus was the opposite of a charlatan, and that he was, rather, a “wise man”. And the fact that Eusebius elsewhere uses these two words as antonyms is a lucky coincidence.

When Josephus uses the word for “wise man” elsewhere, he does not use it in the sense which it is applied to Jesus in this passage. This particular usage is not Josephan.

Evidence that a Christian was likely to have concluded with the “tribe of Christians” not having died out till this day

Again, though Josephus elsewhere uses the word for “tribe” or “race” (phyon), he never uses it to describe a religious group. Again we have an unJosephan use of a key word in the Jesus passage.

Eusebius, on the other hand, is creative in his use of the word “tribe”, and is the first known author (outside this Josephan passage) to use the word “tribe” to describe the Christians. It is after Eusebius describes Christians (twice) as a tribe that other Christian authors also speak of Christians as “a third race”. This suggests that it was Eusebius who introduced this descriptor of Christians.

As discussed more fully here (from Ken Olson’s article), Eusebius describes Christians as “a tribe” twice in his History. Evidence of his creativity in use of the word is found in his Preparation of the Gospel where he describes groups of stars and aerial creatures as “tribes”.

As for the phrase, “until this day”, again we find in this Jesus passage a usage that is uncharacteristic of Josephus, but almost a signature of Eusebius. To quote a section from my earlier post (that is based on Ken Olson’s article) discussing this in detail:

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.


So we do have evidence that a Christian really was likely to have begun an interpolation by describing Jesus as a wise man, and to have concluded it with a reference to Christians as a tribe who “continue until today”!

Thus the assertion to the contrary is simply an appeal to ignorance or incredulity, not to knowledge or the evidence. The “usual scholarly view” today, as expressed by Maurice Casey in his latest book, is unfounded.

More important than this evidence in its own right, is what it demonstrates about the basis for the “usual scholarly view”. When “historians” argue that something must be a “fact” because they can’t think of any reason to think it is “not a fact”, they are falling into the fallacy of incredulity, or arguing from ignorance, not knowledge or judicious imagination.

Addendum: that “brother of Jesus called Christ, James by name” passage

Many appeal to Josephus’s reference to the martyrdom of James later in Josephus’ Antiquities, where he describes James as “brother of Jesus who is called Christ”, as evidence that Josephus must be referencing an earlier passage where he explained who this Jesus Christ was. But there is little to commend this argument. Some of the difficulties with this passage are:

  1. The phrase does not identify which Jesus is the brother of James. Jesus was a common name, (there are 20 so named in Josephus), and few scholars believe Josephus ever wrote that any Jesus was “Christ”.
  2. It is inconsistent with the way Josephus normally re-introduced characters after their last mention being some time earlier
  3. It leaves unexplained why this James (supposedly renowned for his law-based life yet charged with breaking the law?) was murdered
  4. It is inconsistent with the other accounts of James being a Christian (the high priest would not have been so unpopular if James had been a Christian)
  5. It is inconsistent with the other non-Josephan accounts of the death of James. In other accounts, we read of a large gang of Jews collectively murdering him along with their leaders (with no reference to Ananus as in Josephus).
  6. It would be one of only 2 places in all of Josephus’s works where he says someone was said to be a Messiah or Christ — not even other clearly would-be messiahs were so described by Josephus
  7. It creates an unusual word order. Why would a passage about the wickedness of Ananus, with James as a target of his wickedness, be introduced by reference to a relative of that target, especially if Christ was not originally used in the book 18 passage earlier?

There are, furthermore, positive arguments that do explain the origin of this phrase in Josephus at this point. But they are too lengthy to address here. I have discussed these arguments several times, including links to online articles, in a small collection of posts here.

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38 thoughts on ““An important piece of non-Christian evidence” for the historicity of Jesus”

  1. CASEY
    [A] Christian is not likely to have begun a complete interpolation ‘At this time there lived one Jesus, a wise man’….

    You seem to be forgetting that Biblical scholars have psychic powers. They know what every single Christian would or would not have written.

      1. We know what Josephus was from his autobiography. We also know Josephus did not write “Jesus was the Christ” as found in his Antiquities, because this conflicts with his claim elsewhere that he believed Vespasian was the prophesied world ruler, and with his expressions of contempt for Jewish messianic rebel movements.

        We can use similar criteria — based on the evidence of what is written — for determining interpolated passages in Paul’s epistles.

        But determining the motives and unexpressed thoughts of gospel and epistle authors is indeed true psychic power.

        1. Casey’s form of argument, whether correct in this instance or not, is valid. We can use assumptions about an author’s background to assess the likely hood of their making a particular statement. Otherwise how could anyone say any thing meaningful about a text? We wouldn’t be able to tell if a work were Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Atheist, whatever, if we could not make a statement like, “A Christian is not likely to _______ ” This is hardly mind reading.

          1. Casey’s argument has no validity at all. A Christian is not likely to say Jesus Christ is the devil. But when it comes to anything much less than that it is mindreading. I have just demonstrated via Ken Olson’s piece that there are indeed scenarios where a Christian IS likely to have written just what Casey says a Christian is not likely to have written!

            Scholars use the same psychic argument of John the Baptist. In my reply to Avery (#5) I link to posts where I demonstrate that Christians could well have written such a scene.

            When scholars use the argument, “It must be a fact, or it is very certainly a fact, or it is a fact beyond reasonable doubt, simply because they can’t imagine why someone would have made it up,” they are no longer using scholarly arguments. They are just being lazy or gullible and failing to exercise proper scholarly inquiry and imagination. If something is a fact then they need to establish positive reasons for claiming it is a fact.

            This has been the thrust of my argument about historical methodology for some time now. Historians in nonbiblical fields test evidence for its authenticity, and analyze it for what it can yield. I have read many books of history, but never heard the argument, “Can’t see why not!” until I picked up books by New Testament scholars.

            1. I might add once again here the quotes I cited ad infinitum from Schweitzer, Schwartz, Hobsbawm et al, that all address the fundamentals of this same methodology. If a witness sounds plausible and has a great “sitz im leben”, this means squat without external controls.

              The only people so far who have presented counter arguments are McGrath who responded that Schweitzer was “not critical enough” and that Hobsbawm was a “commie out to undermine good values”; and Crossley who says that applying the same standards of nonbiblical historical methodology to his work results in a “bloody weird” review of his work!

              My copy of Casey’s book has arrived and I have read much of it already, and already I feel cheated. If it were not for the material it offers for blog posts here to expose the vacuity of NT scholarship I would be kicking myself for having wasted the money — and to think how many trees have been felled to produce how many copies of this 550 page . . . . (“scholarly work”).

              1. I think you underestimate the value of the “Can’t see why not!” argument. For instance, you earlier said that we “know Josephus did not write “Jesus was the Christ” as found in his Antiquities, because this conflicts with his claim elsewhere that he believed Vespasian was the prophesied world ruler, and with his expressions of contempt for Jewish messianic rebel movements.” But these are only his claims, what external control do we have that he believed them? It is physically and logically possible that he is not telling the truth, here or in any other part of his biography/history that has not been externally verified. The reason they are not dismissed as historically valueless is any theory of a mass deception on the part of Josephus is rather unlikely. It is possible that his accounts are terribly inaccurate but few would want to take the time to cook up grand theories of the fiction of Josephus’ accounts. If we find him to be proven, or highly suspect in one account, we still cannot presume deception in all accounts.

              2. My dismissal of the “Don’t see why not” standard is based on what I read in historical discussions of nonbiblical topics. The last time I read of any such historian coming close to that standard was the prominent British socialist historian Eric Hobsbawm who was criticized for accepting evidence on a “don’t see why not” basis. That is, he took the narratives he heard at face value and because they were consistent with the times and situations he was investigating, and claimed even to be by eyewitnesses, he assumed they were true historical records.

                He learned, or was reminded, the hard way that such an assumption has no validity, and he accepted that criticism.

                If we read things by Josephus that indicate that he is a Pharisee or Priest, and that he has views that are inconsistent with being a Christian, then we can safely assume that he does not want readers to think he is a Christian. (If he is lying we have no idea, but that is beside the point here.) So when we read something in one place that conflicts with what he says elsewhere and reinforces many times, we have a right to question the authenticity of that one anomalous passage.

                Sure, in theory he may have been telling the truth this one time, and he really was a Christian after all, and everything else he says was the lie. But the standard procedure that has yielded the most beneficial and consistent results has been to regard the one out of place passage as the anomalous one, and the majority of comments as the true reflection of his general views.

                We go with what works.

                In the second part of your post you seem to accept this. You seem to be saying that if Josephus says one sort of thing most of the time, then we should accept that as what he wanted his readers to think he was trying to convey. It is when we read the lone passage that contradicts all of that (e.g. his Jesus passage), that we have a right to question its authenticity.

              3. Of course I accept this, it is the point of my argument, that you can have an idea of what a person is more likely to say. You can determine what it is more likely for Josephus to say; you can determine what is more likely for a Persian to say, or sailor to say. It isn’t mind reading, it is making an informed guess. Some guesses are more reasonable than others. You can argue whether a Christian would write the interpolation. you could argue, and you have well, that a Christian may have written the whole passage. Now Hobsbam’s critics may argue that you have no basis for knowing any thing precise about Josephus’ religious beliefs, but that isn’t true is it? You know it is more likely he is a Jew than a Christian, and that makes it unlikely he would write about Jesus being Christ. Another person could argue that a Christian would not say “at this time there lived jesus a wise man” It isn’t mind reading, it is an attempt to logically determine the likely hood of an author of a particular background making a statement. He may not be correct, but it is not an invalid way of making the argument. I have seen other historians use this form of reasoning, and you your self use this type of reasoning. As I said at the beginning, it is why we are having the argument, we can make a judgement on what Josephus thought based on evidence of other things he is believed to have said.

              4. In the case of the gospels we do not know when they were written or by whom or for whom. We only have “educated guesses” for two of these and no idea for the middle one.

                We also have evidence that early Christianities were not what we see in later orthodoxy. There were very diverse doctrines and concepts of Christ.

                So, for anyone today to say that “a Christian” would or would not have written of Jesus as “a wise man” we have to accept they are talking over-the-top nonsense. How do we know? We cannot know such a thing. Casey and others who argue like this are simply talking nonsense.

                And if on top of that we do see evidence to the contrary, that is, evidence that Christians really did say such things, then Casey’s argument not only falters and loses its balance, it falls flat on its face in the mud.

              5. Neil
                “So, for anyone today to say that “a Christian” would or would not have written of Jesus as “a wise man” we have to accept they are talking over-the-top nonsense. How do we know? We cannot know such a thing. Casey and others who argue like this are simply talking nonsense.”
                I haven’t read Casey’s full argument so I won’t give full agreement, But I agree that it is a stretch to presume no Christian would write an interpolation like that. In the specific instance the method(determining what someone would write based on what we know about them) may not work to get this result, but the principle is sound, as you said, it is unlikely a a Christian would say “Jesus is the devil”. Casey isn’t mind reading, he is just apply what he thinks a Christian might say about Jesus based on his understanding of Christians. It may not be a correct appraisal but it isn’t an attempt mind reading.

  2. Well, as Doherty has pointed out, NT scholars probably wouldn’t lean so heavily on the Testamonium if they had anything else to fall back on. They keep a tight grip on the fraudulent interpolations in Josephus and the myth of Nazareth, I think mainly because they know if they lose them, we’re on the slippery slope leads to a chasm of ignorance. Wouldn’t it be nice to hear one of them finally admit we don’t know Jack-Geschichte about any “real” historical Jesus?

  3. Neil, thanks for directing me to Ken Olson’s piece, fortunately I was able to find it on-line. Man so much hassle over a few lines of text. It is encouraging though that new discoveries can be found in 2000 year old writings. While hunting around for refutations of Olson’s work, I stumbled on this,


    By a Christopher Price, true to myself, I’m convinced till I read the next article, so I’m off to find a rebuttal of the refutation. I don’t know if your familiar with Price’s arguments here, but I’m skeptical, 1. It was found on the Christian Cadres site (his link on his own Bede’s something or another didn’t work)
    2. He mentions a a number of possible alternate versions of the TF quoted by ancient Christians, but if that was commonly known, I’m surprised I’m just now hearing about them, but I’m surprised all the time (My recent paper on the origin of the St. George dragon is now being modified because I just found out St. George got his dragon from St. Theodore the Tyro!)

    1. It sounds like it’s time you got more familiar with the sources themselves and did your personal think-through on them before taking on the secondary literature for futher input. I have cited the various versions of the TF found in early Christian literature, and argued in addition why no modern historical “reconstruction” of the Tf is valid. Every one necessarily does violence to the flow of thought and theme of Josephus himself.

      My series of posts addressing all of these — and indirectly Christopher Price’s arguments — is in the categories link in the margin of this blog. Scroll till you see Josephus/Testamonium Flavianum.

      1. To a degree, for example, often times these studies revolve on how people used Greek words. My lack of knowledge of the language means that ultimately I’ll have to rely on Greek experts to sort these things out for me. It would be pointless to do my own study in how people used Greek words, but I don’t feel that I have to be opinion less on the subject until I’m a master of Greek language. My opinion would be less meaningful than that of a Greek expert, but not meaningless.

        1. One can read the flow of Josephus’s thoughts and values easily enough in any reasonable translation. We are not talking about issues that get hung up over a single word or phrase here. We are talking about flow of thought, of the outline of the content itself.

    1. It appears the copy of Josephus’ Antiquities that Origen possessed must have contained the section on John the Baptist, which he recapitulated in Contra Celsum. Yet he was ignorant of any references to Jesus. Of course, Eusebius hadn’t written the Testamonium yet, so we can forgive him.

      Do you think it’s historical?

    2. I strongly doubt its historicity.

      As Zindler has pointed out, the passage assumes Herod owned Macherus at the time he arrested John, and this contradicts an earlier statement in Josephus that Macherus was at the time in the possession of Herod’s enemy.

      As with the Testimonium Flavianum, the passage is not listed in the Greek table of contents but does appear in the later Latin TOC.

      Remove the passage and we have a neat flow of thought in Josephus.

      Josephus always expresses contempt for potential mob leaders, so the favourable treatment of John here conflicts with his understanding that Herod had John arrested as a potential popular rebel.

      The passage raises the question of how Josephus came to know so much about, and express such an interest in, John the Baptist and the details of his teaching.

      The details of his teaching conflict with those we read about in the canonical gospels. His chronological setting also conflicts with what we read in the gospels. It would appear (Zindler again) that we have an interpolation by someone sympathetic to the founder of the Mandaean religion. This was made before Origen, as Tim’s remark must imply.

      Besides, I have never forgotten Joseph Campbell’s questioning the happy coincidence of finding a rite of water baptism being administered by the namesake of a god associated with Water and new life, Oannes.

      I could be wrong, of course. But the above (from Joseph Campbell, Steve Mason, Frank Zindler and Earl Doherty) push me towards strong doubts.

      The canonical gospels’ Baptism scene is entirely creative fiction cum theology, as discussed in Sanders on John the Baptist and John the Baptist entirely creative literature.

  4. JW:
    Here’s my own unhumble contribution to the argument:


    “Just to summarize, regarding the question of whether the TF is original we have the following major categories of evidence:

    It’s generally agreed that Eusebius is the first known reference to the TF about 200 years after it would have been written. My related thread Say It Ain’t So Joe. Testimonium Flavium. Will Eusebius Be Convicted In Civil Court? demonstrates:

    1 – Probably most, if not all, Church Fathers would have heard of/been familiar with Josephus as he was the official historian of 1st century Israel where they thought Jesus was from.

    2 – For Church Fathers with a minimum of extant writings, most refer to/quote from Josephus and he is actually the most referred to non-Christian author of the early Church.

    3 – If Josephus had mentioned Gospel Jesus it would have been noted in these two hundred years.

    4 – After Eusebius some major Church authors still don’t refer to the TF. Presumably because their copies don’t have it.

    5 – Eusebius appears to have discovered the TF during his career.

    6 – The Scriptorium at Caesarea (They Shoot Sources, Don’t They?).


    1 – Ken Olson has demonstrated that the language is Eusebian.

    2 – Others, including spin here, have demonstrated that the language is not Josephan.


    1 – Eusebius has a general credibility problem regarding sources. We have numerous instances where the problem is somewhere in between creating/editing/hiding the source:

    Was Eusebius A Truth Challenged Advocate For Jesus? – The Argument Resurrected


    Last and least, authority confesses to us that the TF is not original.

    Other lesser categories are placement and variation which both are evidence for forgery but are relatively minor arguments compared to the above.

    The objective student should note especially how the categories of evidence here:

    1) Discovery

    2) Language

    3) Credibility

    4) Authority

    Co-ordinate. There is no category of evidence that favors originality and we have actual solid evidence that goes an order of magnitude beyond concluding just what was forged. Who did it.

    Thus we have it on good authority that the TF is likely not original and in the words of the Fathers, Eusebius receives a bad report.

    Methinks this would be a good subject for Dr. Carrier to write a professional article on as evidence that we can have a conclusion of unoriginal without any extant manuscript lacking the offending passage.


    Actually there is a category of evidence that favors originality and that is “Manuscript”. As usual/always the overall uncertainty prevents any individual conclusion from being likely here. I think Eusebius as somewhere between Creator/Discoverer based on questionable source is the best conclusion here. We sometimes see in the earlier Patristic writing the phrase “he should have said blah blah blah”. Thus the “original” here could have been such a commentary in margin or freestanding later taken dishonestly/hopefully/ignorantly as text/worthy of text/no one might notice text/if they notice we’ll lie text/if they notice we’ll kill them text.

    The Argument from Silence is especially strong here because of the combination of the SCOPE of the cumulative silence before E and the MOTIVATION for Patristic interest in J in Jo (sorry, “Jesus” in “Josephus”).

    Ironically, what first got me interested in this issue was Roger Pearse’s claim that Patristics had no/little interest in Josephus but after researching for myself it was clear that Josephus was the most interesting/referred to/quoted non-Christian author of Patristics.


    1. This whole topic is discussed much more extensively — including with extensive additional contributions from Joseph Wallack — at Jesus reference in Josephus: ad hoc doctoring and manuscript lines. This post looks at the history of ignorance of Josephus’s passage and when it first appeared in the record.


      More Eusebian clues

      More clues continued

      Still more

      Not extinct

      My Jesus in Josephus/cuckoo in the nest series:

      Cuckoo in the nest 1

      Cuckoo in the nest 2

      Cuckoo in the nest — why all proposed TFs are UnJosephan

      “More plausible” reconstruction

  5. Hi Folks,

    On the John the Baptist account, wading through the objections, they look a bit strained. e.g. If the Josephus account were identical to the Gospel account in details, that would be used as an argument against the account (Christian interpolation, yada), so the strain of rather inconsistent raising of negative argumentation is designed before the facts.

    My corollary question is again addressed to Neil. In all your objections to the James account, it is hard to see what you are really saying. So allow me to phrase a question.

    Do you believe that James reported by Josephus did in fact exist, and was executed by the Sanhedrin for perceived lawlessness (which in religious Judaism is frequently a charge against Christians, even in the NT) yet this “lawless” James was not mentioned by Josephus as the brother of Jesus ? Thus a different James than the NT James, the brother of Jesus ?

    Or do you say that Josephus actually wrote nothing about a James event at all ?


    Steven Avery
    Queens, NY

    1. Just saying a set of arguments look “strained” does nothing to expose their logical weakness. You will need to address the logic and evidence for the arguments. None of the arguments is based on differences per se from the gospel narratives.

      Compare other discussions at Engaging Sanders on John the Baptist or Baptism as creative literature.

      Similarly, my discussions of the James passage are in these posts: http://vridar.wordpress.com/category/religion/josephus/the-james-passage/

      (Since posting this comment I have edited it. I had attempted to shift the discussion to other posts without due regard for what I had written in this post. I probably would be better not to be discussing this at the moment since I am in the process of moving house, job and country of residence and am only giving spot-attentions to this blog and not engaging the arguments as extensively as I would like.)

    2. Hi Folks,

      Neil – “None of the arguments is based on differences per se from the gospel narratives.”

      Then why did you write in your objections:

      “The details of his teaching conflict with those we read about in the canonical gospels.”

      On John the Baptist, let us start with that one. If you want to say that was not an argument, but an aside, then say so clearly.


      And I would appreciate if you would answer my rather clear and simple question to you about the James account. Not a list of objections about this and that .. simply your conclusion, per my question which I will repeat:

      “Do you believe that James reported by Josephus did in fact exist, and was executed by the Sanhedrin for perceived lawlessness (which in religious Judaism is frequently a charge against Christians, even in the NT) yet this “lawless” James was not mentioned by Josephus as the brother of Jesus ? Thus a different James than the NT James, the brother of Jesus ?

      Or do you say that Josephus actually wrote nothing about a James event at all ? ”

      Or you may add your own possibility for our consideration, but please .. right to point.


      Steven Avery
      Queens, NY

      1. Neil – “None of the arguments is based on differences per se from the gospel narratives.”

        Steven — Then why did you write in your objections:

        “The details of his teaching conflict with those we read about in the canonical gospels.”

        Because I was responding to the following that you wrote:

        e.g. If the Josephus account were identical to the Gospel account in details, that would be used as an argument against the account (Christian interpolation, yada)

        My point in saying that the argument against authenitcity is not based on difference per se was to point out that the above objection is not valid. No one is arguing that there is a problem with the John the Baptist passage in Josephus because it is not identical to the Gospel accounts, or simply because it contains differences from the Gospel accounts.

        But we do have a real question to resolve if we see contradictions between the Josephus and Gospel accounts.

        In my post I listed a range of arguments that have been raised that legitimately give us reason to question the historicity of the John the Baptist account in Josephus.

        My position is, as I said in my initial response, that I strongly doubt the historicity of the Josephan passage. I also concede, as I also said in my initial response, that I could be wrong. So if you are wanting me to defend an argument that it is definitely an interpolation, and to argue my point with absolute certainty, I will have to disappoint you. I have outlined my reasons for doubting the authenticity of the passage. You presumably see black and white certainty where I see uncertainty.

        As for your James question, I have already pointed you to where I have discussed this more fully. The question you ask is actually conflating two separate questions: one about the problematic phrase and another about the content of the death of James narrative.

        I do not think the bulk of the James passage in Josephus has anything to do with a sibling of Jesus Christ. As for the problematic phrase, that is another discussion. If you want to know what I think about the James passage and the problematic phrase and my reasons then you are welcome to have a look at the posts where I have explained this.

  6. i have questions for steven avery

    show one place in the tanakh where moshayiah has been used to mean that god saved from sin by sacrificing himself to himself.

    where in the tanakh the moshayiah DOES ihoshiyah from sin?

    1. This question has nothing to do with the topic of my post or anything in the thread. Between the two of you I’m beginning to wonder if I’m smelling a troll and an ongoing personal feud spilling over to here.

  7. Adonai saved Yisraél from Egypt’s power that day….” (Sh’mot 14:30)
    •”Adonai set up a saviour for Yisraél—Otniyél ben K’naz, Kalév’s younger brother….” (Shoftim 3:9)
    •”Adonai set up a saviour for them—Éhud ben Géra the Binyamini, who had a deformed right hand….” (Shoftim 3:15)
    •”….and he, too, saved Yisraél….” (Shoftim 3:31)
    •”If You will save Yisraél through my hand, as You have spoken….” (Shoftim 6:36)
    •”….you didn’t save me from them….
    and, when I saw that you hadn’t saved me….” (Shoftim 12:2-3)
    •”Adonai saved Yisraél that day….” (Sh’muél Alef 14:23)
    •”….so David saved the inhabitants of K’ilah….” (Sh’muél Alef 23:5)
    •”Adonai is my Light and my Salvation—
    Whom should I fear?
    Adonai is the fortress of my Life—
    Whom should I dread?
    If evil men approach me
    To devour my flesh—
    [When] my adversaries and my enemies [attacked] me—
    Wow! They stumbled and fell!
    If an army encamps against me
    My heart will not be afraid;
    If war breaks out against me—

    The above verses demonstrate how the verb save and nouns saviour, salvation are used in the T’nach, which is nothing like the way christians use them.

  8. Hi Folks,

    Neil, you are now specifically claiming that your remark in #5 above was a response to my comment in #7. Whether there is a Josephus chronology question, you have surely raised a posting chronology question ! …

    My #7 was asking you about WHY you included Gospel differences to Josephus in #5. A simple answer would be :

    “No, I did not mean that as an objection, more as an aside, even though I put it in the section starting with ‘I strongly doubt its historicity.’ and listing objections. Correction accepted ”

    However if you make a statement in an “objections” section .. you should not be surprised when a reader thinks you are actually using it as an argument.


    Your James explanation is still difficult. I am not asking for certainty, only what is your likelihood.

    “strongly doubt the historicity of the Josephan passage”

    – sounds like you consider the whole passage likely a forgery-interpolation

    “I do not think the bulk of the James passage in Josephus has anything to do with a sibling of Jesus Christ.”

    – sounds like you consider the passage likely valid, but simply not the Jesus part.

    It surely sounds like you are taking two conflicting “likely” positions.

    If it is a forgery, then everything has to do with a sibling.

    If it is historical, then there is another “lawless” James and a few words were added.

    Perhaps there is a third position, but I don’t see it. For now, you have to assign likelihoods to the two positions if you are trying to represent your own position in an understandable manner. You simply can not straddle two diametrically opposite positions.

    Steven Avery

    1. Neil, you are now specifically claiming that your remark in #5 above was a response to my comment in #7. Whether there is a Josephus chronology question, you have surely raised a posting chronology question ! …

      ??? I don’t follow you at all here. I repeated what I said in response to what you said in #7. You have lost me here.

      Nor do I follow what you are saying about “asides” etc. Are you responding to the email response and not the response as it appears in this blog? I trust you will notice my explanation for the difference between the two which I added at the end of the comment.

      I do not understand why you are continuing to ask me for more than I have already expressed about the James passage in Josephus. Why do I have to have a preference between two opposing views? Why can I not simply accept the existence of these? Why do I have to have a definitive view on any topic you ask me about?

  9. Neil,

    One more time .. please.

    The details of his teaching conflict with those we read about in the canonical gospels. His chronological setting also conflicts with what we read in the gospels. Comment by Neil Godfrey ­ 2010/11/05 @ 1:55 pm

    If the Josephus account were identical to the Gospel account in details, that would be used as an argument against the account (Christian interpolation, yada), so the strain of rather inconsistent raising of negative argumentation is designed before the facts. Comment by Steven Avery ­ 2010/11/07 @ 1:21 am

    You have been claiming that your account two days earlier was a reply to my later comment. No wonder you have chronology difficulties.

    It is very clear that when you posted on 11/05 you were including the differences (Gospel to Josephus) among the reasons for doubting authenticity.

    Since I pointed that this is not a logical argument (ie. you would claim that if they agreed too closely that that showed interpolation) you have spun around in three circles instead of just saying “yep .. I take that argument out of the mix”.

    Please, note the timestamps, I did not expect to have to go to such detail on such a clear and simple point.

    Steven Avery

  10. Hi Folks,

    Neil, I have no idea who is Tony. JW and I go back awhile, with a certain amount of sparring yet little difficulty, yes I was praxeus on the bc&h forum, mostly some years back. My questions to you are explained above, carefully, they just became belaboured because of the simple chronology switcharound.

    You do not have to take a definite view on Josephus, however you and your readers should be aware that you are actually arguing two completely contradictory positions in one set of arguments.

    Simple logic says that such arguments would be better separated for clarity and examination and you would say which argument you saw as the stronger. Do you really expect the scholastic opposition to relate to a set of individual positions that contradict each other all at the same time ?

    Steven Avery

  11. Hi Folks,

    To make this a bit clearer. With either account, John the Baptist or James, It is of course fine to say “I see problems A,B,C with this being a true, historical account”. However, since Josephus is generally a good historian, there is little or no textual variation in the manuscripts, and theories of forgery have real difficulties, what is really necessary to say is “my alternate theory is X .. it does not have problems A,B,C and I believe other problems are small”. Then you have a real discussion.

    It is simply incomprehensible that you would ask for a discussion about your piecemeal critique elements without offering the alternate explanation that you think fits all the data.

    e.g On James, if you are only claiming that the reference to Jesus is an interpolation, you are left with your very same objections against your own position !!! (Note, though, that none of the objections appear to be very weighty.)

    Similarly on John the Baptist if you are claiming a forgery of the whole section, then your who-what-when-how-why questions look to be much greater than the position you are assailing.

    I am simply asking you to approach the question in a methodologically sound manner.


    1. And I am asking you, Steven, to desist from trolling. If you have anything to contribute or ask then do so with your cards all laid out on the table. I am not interested in playing your cat and mouse games.

      If I made a mistake in sequences of posts a few days ago (I don’t know if I did but you say I did) then I also referred you to a paragraph at the end of one of my comments in which I explained why I might well not have been taking the time and care to get such a point correct. Your determination to fault my intellectual integrity on a point such as this tells me you are a troll.

      You are fast headed for my spam list.

  12. Hi Neil,

    Your use of the epithet troll when a person is really trying hard to engage you in a substantive dialogue shows me that you are either new on the net …

    Or as likely… you never really thought out the Josephus issues to a conclusion and likely theory and are upset that I asked you to look at them carefully, consistently.

    Any reader should be able to see that it is a very real and simple question to ask you to simply state what you think is the most likely alternative scenario that you offer against the (normal scholarship) possibilities that the John the Baptist and James account are historical. And to be aware when your are offering contradictory objections, that might conflict with your own theory as well.

    Oh, I agree that our chronology Q&A above issue is more technical than anything else, I would have preferred it never come up.

    Be not concerned, if you do not want to answer to the Josephus point, I am happy to consider the discussion closed. Glad that I tried, and we got this far.


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