A Narrative Anomaly in Josephus

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by Neil Godfrey

An email update this morning informs me that linguist Paul Hopper has uploaded to his academia.edu page another copy of his earlier paper, A Narrative Anomaly in Josephus: Jewish Antiquities xviii:631, that was published in 2014 in Linguisitics and Literary Studies. There is now a new link to the paper. The paper is a few years old now and I’ve posted about it before but no matter at all: the email notice this morning gives me another opportunity to bring it to the attention of readers not aware of it.

In my previous post, Fresh Evidence: The Forged Jesus Passage in Josephus, I quoted the abstract and conclusion of Paul Hopper’s paper. Here I quote a few lines on different aspects in the body of the paper.

After a detailed discussion of verbal forms in the Testimonium Flavianum passage compared with those in the adjacent Pilate episodes we move to a discussion of the “macrolevel” of narrative structure. (I have added bolding to and changed some of the layout of the original text.)

The Aquifer episode

But Pilate undertook to bring a current of water to Jerusalem, and did it with the sacred money, and derived the origin of the stream from the distance of two hundred furlongs. However, the Jews were not pleased with what had been done about this water; and many ten thousands of the people got together, and made a clamor against him, and insisted that he should leave off that design. Some of them also used reproaches, and abused the man, as crowds of such people usually do. So he habited a great number of his soldiers in their habit, who carried daggers under their garments, and sent them to a place where they might surround them. So he bid the Jews himself go away; but they boldly casting reproaches upon him, he gave the soldiers that signal which had been beforehand agreed on; who laid upon them much greater blows than Pilate had commanded them, and equally punished those that were tumultuous, and those that were not; nor did they spare them in the least: and since the people were unarmed, and were caught by men prepared for what they were about, there were a great number of them slain by this means, and others of them ran away wounded. And thus an end was put to this sedition.Antiquities, 18, 3, 2.

The time organization in the Testimonium is strikingly different from that of the surrounding text. For example, the narrative of the Aquifer [see box right] is filled with particular details –

the rioters shouting insults,

the Roman soldiers going among the crowd in Jewish dress,

the order to the demonstrators to disperse,

the overreaction of the soldiers,

and the bloody suppression of the riot.

At each point we know not only what the actors did, but why they did it, and what the causes and effects of their actions were. The Aquifer episode, like the other episodes involving Pontius Pilate, has an event structure. Time in these episodes is kairotic, that is, it is qualitative time (kairos) experienced by individual actors.9 . . . .

By contrast, the temporality of the Testimonium is chronic (chronos), that is, it is part of the general temporality of human history. It takes place in a more remote perspective of slow changes and general truths; it is temps conjoncturel, the time of social movements and social reorganization. It has a bird’s-eye view of its subject, scanning the entire life of Jesus and his influence in no particular order, anachronistically (Genette 1980:34). . . . . So the Testimonium belongs to a different kind of time from the rest of the Jewish Antiquities. The temporality of the Testimonium derives from its presumed familiarity to its audience, which in turn is more compatible with a third century or later Christian setting than a first century Roman one. . . . .

The next point is a comparison of the Testimonium‘s “emplotment” with the preceding Pilate episodes.

The Aquifer story is a narration in which a situation is established and the characters interact, and there is a resolution. It has a plot in the way that recent narrative theorists have stipulated. . . .  The same is true of the other two Pilate episodes. . . . . The careful crafting of emplotment is an essential part of Josephus’s skill as a historian.

The Testimonium has no such plot. From the point of view of its place in Josephus’s Jewish Antiquities, it does not qualify as a narrative at all. The Testimonium could not be understood as a story except by someone who could already place it in its “intelligible whole”, the context of early Christianity. The Testimonium gains its intelligibility not through its reporting of novel events but by virtue of being a “repetition of the familiar” (Ricoeur 1981:67) – familiarity here meaning familiarity to a third century Christian readership, not to a first century Roman one.The “intelligible whole” posited by Ricoeur as the indispensable foundation for a story does not lie, as it does for the other events told by Josephus in this part of the Jewish Antiquities, in the larger narrative of the interlocking destinies of Rome and Jerusalem, but instead in the Gospel story of the Christian New Testament, and it is from the Gospels, and the Gospels alone, that the Jesus Christ narrative in the Testimonium draws its coherence and its legitimacy as a plot, and perhaps even some of its language. It is not just that the Christian origin of the Testimonium is betrayed by its allegiance to the Gospels, as that without the Gospels the passage is incomprehensible. Once again to draw on Paul Ricoeur, the Testimonium does not so much narrate to first century Romans new events, but rather reminds third century Christians of events already familiar to them.

And then a look at genre, and a comparison between the TF and credal formulas vis a vis the historical narrative of Josephus.

The Testimonium is anchored in a radically different discourse community from that of the rest of the Jewish Antiquities. The Testimonium reads more like a position paper, a party manifesto, than a narrative. Unlike the rest of the Jewish Antiquities, it has the same generic ambiguity between myth and history that Kermode (1979) has noted in the Gospels as a whole. . . . . It is, in other words, a political interpolation. It serves to validate the Christian claim of the crucifixion of the sect’s founder during Pilate’s administration, and, by positioning its text within that of the genre “history”, with its ethos of truth, to warrant the historical authenticity of the Gospels. But told as a series of new events to a first century Roman audience unfamiliar with it, the Testimonium would have been a bizarre addition and probably quite unintelligible.

The Testimonium Flavianum

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, (9) those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; (10) 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.Antiquities, 18, 3, 3.

The Testimonium Flavianum qualifies poorly as an example of either history or narrative. Where, then, does it fit generically? The closest generic match for the Testimonium is perhaps the various creeds that began to be formulated in the early fourth century, such as the Nicene Creed (325 CE).10 Some credal elements are clearly present:

Jesus was the Messiah;

he was crucified under Pontius Pilate (passus sub Pontio Pilato, in the words of the Apostles’ Creed);

he came back to life on the third day after his death;

the movement founded by him – the Christian church – continues to flourish;

he performed miracles;

the biblical prophets foretold many details of his life.

Less specifically credal, but similar in character to the creeds, are its length (77 Greek words, comparable to the 76 words of the Latin Apostles’ Creed and the 91 words of the Greek Apostles’ Creed)11 and the sycophantic tone of the confirmed believer (“had a following among both Jews and Gentiles”, “appeared to them alive after the third day”, “the biblical prophets foretold his many miracles”). The unmotivated introduction of Jesus immediately after the openingginetai (“there happened”) is also structurally reminiscent of credal formulas such as credo in unum deum etc.

. . . . . . The Testimonium reflects what had by the third century CE become a commonplace of Christianity: that culpability for the death of Jesus rested with the Jews.12 It is made clear in the Testimonium that Pilate’s agency is indirect: the true agents are “the first men among us”, the Jewish leaders who effect the “indictment” of Jesus, Pilate’s role being limited to pronouncing the death sentence. The “among us” is unequivocal: responsibility for the death of Jesus lies with Josephus’s fellow-countrymen, the Jews, not with the Romans, and in this too the Testimonium is hard to reconcile with Josephus’s denunciation of Pilate’s crimes against the Jews. The Josephus of the Testimonium is represented as aligning himself with the Christians (versus the Jews) and admitting that the blame for the crucifixion of Jesus the Messiah lies with the Jews; it need hardly be said that such an admission on Josephus’s part is inconceivable.

But the above is taken from only the last three pages of Paul Hopper’s twenty plus page article. See the link below to download the paper or read it online.

Hopper, Paul. 2014. “A Narrative Anomaly in Josephus: Jewish Antiquities xviii:63.” In Linguistics and Literary Studies / Linguistik und Literaturwissenschaft, edited by Monika Fludernik and Daniel Jacob, Bilingual edition, 147–69. Linguae & Litterae, Book 31. Berlin ; Boston: De Gruyter. https://www.academia.edu/37321029/A_Narrative_Anomaly_in_Josephus_Jewish_Antiquities_xviii_63.

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13 thoughts on “A Narrative Anomaly in Josephus”

  1. This is a good point, and one that I didn’t make in my assessment of the Testimonium in my book. I wish I would have read this first to add it to the list of arguments against it. I’m very convinced that the Testimonium is the insertion of a marginal note. I mean it fits the pattern of being a marginal note that was incorporated into the text by someone who thought it was a correction, and I would say this argument about the temporal nature of the passage vs the rest of the work I think just adds to the case.

      1. I am still on the fence about buying RGP’s book. I am curious to see how he argues Mark’s use of the term “gospel” is sarcasm?

        Scholars such as Burridge, Licona, and Keener have argued that the Gospels are comparable to Greco-Roman biographies. I don’t think that’s quite right, though. The gospels don’t seem to be biographies, but rather selective theological writings used to introduce Jesus to different audiences and bring them to faith in Him.

        Mark calls what he is doing a “euaggelion,” basically meaning he is writing something analogous to a piece of Augustan imperial propaganda.

        Helms points out Mark writes: “The beginning of the gospel of Jesus Christ the Son of God” – which closely matches the formula found on a monument erected by the Provincial Assembly in Asia Minor (1st century BCE) regarding Augustus: “Whereas… Providence… has… brought our life to the peak of perfection in giving us Augustus Caesar… who, being sent to us and to our descendants as a savior…, and whereas… the birthday of the god has been for the whole world the beginning of the gospel (euaggelion) concerning him, let all reckon a new era beginning from the date of his birth.”

        I think Mark is basically a propaganda document full of fictions about Jesus (eg., miracles, pithy one liners, etc) meant to win converts: “If you thought Caesar was great, take a look at Jesus!” This agrees with John’s characterization of the nature of the writing as “”31But these are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life through his name (John 20:31).”

        Mark’s gospel seems to function on an exoteric level to lure the masses with enticing miracle stories, and on an esoteric level to convey deeper spiritual truths of loving neighbor, widow, orphan, alien, and enemy, to those who have ears to hear.(cf. Mark 4:11).

        So, I’m intrigued by RGP’s alternative, but I think I might wait for Dr. RMP’s review of RGP’s book to see if it is worth considering, or is just another Joseph Atwill disaster. For a couple of reviews of Atwill, see:

        Robert M Price: http://www.robertmprice.mindvendor.com/rev_atwill.htm
        Richard Carrier: https://www.richardcarrier.info/archives/4664

    1. I’m not so convinced. The Testimonium reads as if it expects the reader never to have heard of Jesus before, which seems unlikely if it started out as a marginal note.

      The interpolation (if such it was) likely happened at the Theological Library of Caesarea, founded by Origen, expanded by Pamphilius, and later curated by Eusebius. Anybody perusing the stacks would almost certainly be already familiar with the Jesus story. A marginal note would presumably refer to a well-known tale rather than purport to tell it from scratch. Something like: “It was at about this same time that Jesus, the Christ, pursued his ministry in Judaea and was crucified under Pilate.”

      Whoever interpolated the Testimonium probably did so as a deliberate pious fraud, intending his own prose to be accepted as the work of Josephus. That would explain the borrowing of some nearby Josephan phrases here and there. The fraud worked pretty well.

      1. I agree that the TF is unlikely to have arisen from a marginal note.

        Ken Olson in a 2013 book chapter argues it was Eusebius – https://www.academia.edu/4062154/Olson_A_Eusebian_Reading_of_the_Testimonium_Flavianum_2013

        Richard Carrier has speculated in a blog-post it could have been Eusebius’ predecessor Pamphilus, but either aligns with your proposition that it “likely happened at the Theological Library of Caesarea, founded by Origen, expanded by Pamphilus, and later curated by Eusebius.”

        Gary Greenberg noted ‘The Coincidences of the Emmaus Narrative of Luke and the Testimonium of Josephus’ in a paper published in 1995 in the Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 13, pp. 59-77 – http://www.josephus.org/GoldbergJosephusLuke1995.pdf

  2. I remember a number of years ago on Robert M Price’s “Bible Geek” podcast some guy wrote in to the show making the point that if Josephus’ text originally only had the name “Jesus,” and lacked “Christ,” it would make no sense to the reader to say, as Josephus does later, that Christians were named after him. “Christ-ians” were named after “Christ,” not “Jesus,” so the whole thing is suspect.

    1. Yes. That observation would seem to pretty well prove that it is wrong to remove “He was the Christ” and there is no room for assuming a “Josephan core”.

        1. The more usual argument by those who propose a Josephan core is that the original said, “He was believed to be the Christ”.

          If we delete the reference to Christians then one is left with very little with which to justify why Josephus wrote anything at all. The passage just doesn’t fit the flow or agenda the larger passage in which it is found — as Paul Hopper explains far more cogently and with scholarly justification than I did in my earlier efforts to show how the passage was a cuckoo in the nest Part 1, Part 2, Part 3

          1. Even if Josephus had written “He was believed to be the Christ,” you would expect him to have explained what a Christ was. He was writing not for Jews, but for gentiles. The concept of a Christ would have carried a lot of baggage for any first century Jew, but would be unfamiliar to most gentiles.

            (The same consideration applies to book XX where the received text identifies James as the brother of “Jesus who was called Christ.”)

            If you delete everything that looks fishy because it seems too Christian, there’s not much of a story left. “There was this guy Jesus, and he was a good guy, and he had a bunch of followers, but then Pilate killed him. The end.” I’m with you. Why would Josephus bother to include such a pallid tale?

  3. That its not authentic to Josephus is actually pretty obvious. I think one of the most damning pieces of evidence is the fact that the passage is never referenced prior to Eusebius. When you look at how widely read this work was and how many early apologists referenced the work, and the degree to which early apologists were fervent about addressing statements about Jesus made by anyone, good, bad or indifferent, it’s pretty obvious that the passage didn’t exist until the 4th century.

  4. The nearly verbatim account by the “risen Jesus” in the Emmaus Road episode reveals the work of a fabricator in both cases.
    It was the same author, probably Eusebius.

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