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by Neil Godfrey

Hoo boy! Not good. Look what I have just read:

  • “In fact, there are only four occurrences of demos in the New Testament, and they all mean “people” in the sense of an unruly or idolatrous crowd.”

p.154 in Paul Nadim Tarazi’s “The New Testament: an introduction. Volume 3, Johannine Writings

R.I.P. F.F.Bruce on non-Christian sources vis a vis Doherty

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by Neil Godfrey

I got carried away with my own comments on Bruce’s treatment of the non-christian sources. This morning I have reprimanded myself for straying from my original intent and made amends. I have gone back and revised each of the Bruce posts to include direct comparison’s with Doherty’s treatment of same.

Can’t wait to meet the next academic who is going to tell me or anyone else to “go to Bruce” the “sturdy” and “true” scholarly source on early non-christian sources!

I wonder if some just don’t like to be challenged to rethink their assumptions preferring for peer-pressure reasons as much as any other to lazily fall back on what “the majority of scholars” say.

New Testament allusions in Pliny correspondence with Trajan?

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by Neil Godfrey

Forgot to include what may possibly be allusions (or may not be) in the Pliny letter to the New Testament narratives:

  1. The Roman governor, like Pilate hearing the charges against Jesus, asked those brought before him “two or three times” of their guilt in order to give them a chance to free themselves. (Matt.27:11-14; Mark 15:1-5; John 18:33, 19:9. C.f. Titus 3:10)
  2. The Roman governor finds no criminal or illegal activity in the accused (Matt.27:23; Mark 15:12; Luke 23:13-15, 22; John 19:6)
  3. The Roman governor asks for advice on how to judge the accused given his apparent innocence of any crime (Matt.27:22; Mark 15:14)
  4. The religion has spread widely beyond expectations (Acts 19:26)
  5. The temple economy in Bithynia was threatened by the astounding numbers of conversions (Acts 19:27).

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Pliny, Trajan,

R.I.P. F.F.Bruce on Pliny’s letter about the Christians — revised

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by Neil Godfrey

I have revised this 18th January to include more direct comparisons with Doherty’s treatment of the Pliny letter.

This one, like the emperor’s clothes, has too long been simply too good, too precious, to dare let anyone admit what they really see and laugh.

But before discussing the problems that Bruce bypasses or simply fails to notice, I should say now that I do conclude on a more positive note: the letter, whatever its provenance, whoever its author, does contain historical information of second century Christianity of genuine value and interest.

First, Doherty’s discussion:

I’ll begin with Doherty’s treatment of this letter of Pliny. I am sure most will find his analysis and commentary far more sober than Bruce’s discussion and my commentary.

After outlining the contents of Pliny’s letter (reason he is writing to Trajan, what he has learned about the Christians, including details of their assembly meetings, prayers, rites, oaths, and so forth, and finding them innocent of criminal activity) Doherty comments:

We might have expected Pliny to refer to the “Christ” as a man crucified in Judea as a rebel, if that were the object of Christian worship, for this would have been unusual and of some interest to the emperor. However, he does not. In any even, any information Pliny is imparting or implying in this letter he has received from Chrsitians. (p.201 of The Jesus Puzzle)

So in a few brief lines Doherty cuts to the core of the deficiency of Pliny’s letter as non-Christian evidence of Jesus. Compare Bruce’s three pages (six pages including the translations of the correspondence) of discussion elaborating on the face value of the text. Bruce is certainly deeply interested in the contents of Pliny’s letter about the Christians and never stops to question whether Trajan himself would be, let alone if it is the sort of content one could reasonably expect from a governor to his emperor regarding criminal cases worthy of death. One wonders if some orthodox scholars dismiss Doherty so quickly for fear of having their own intellectual nakedness exposed.

Compare Bruce:

Bruce typically starts with the passage itself. Had he begun with Pliny’s career background the nonsense that this letter contains would be all too apparent from the first few lines.

Although he gives background about Pliny’s uncle and how many books of letters were included in Pliny’s published collection, he does not appear to see any point in noting that the famous letter in question belongs to a collection (the tenth book) that was not published in Pliny’s lifetime. The significance of this latter point, if any, may be considered in light of both the other unfathomable anomalies in this letter and the relatively recent publication of Rosenmeyer’s Ancient Epistolary Fictions.

Bruce writes:

Pliny, who had never had any official contact with Christians during the fifty years of his life thus far, found himself obliged to deal with them in Bithynia because of the rapidity with which they were spreading in the province. (p.25)

What was the extent of this rapidity?

[T]hey had grown so numerous that the pagan temples were being neglected and the purveyors of fodder for the sacrificial animals found their livelihood threatened. (p.28)


  • if Pliny had never had any experience as a courtroom lawyer in Rome,
  • and if he had thus never heard of or enountered a Christian on trial in Rome,
  • and if he was just embarking wet behind the ears on his public career,
  • and if he had just arrived in Bithynia as a newly appointed governor,
  • and if the rapid spread of Christianity was confined uniquely to Bithynia and had been a virtual unknown quantity elsewhere despite being so strong in Bithynia that pagan temples were being neglected,
  • and if Pliny before setting out for his governorship position had been completely unaware of such a major development he was about to face,
  • and if not a single Christian had been implicated in the great fire of Rome of the previous generation,
  • and if Pliny had somehow moved in different circles entirely from his friend Tacitus (who also appears to have written with some knowledge about Christians),

then yes, we would have no difficulty in accepting that one of the very first things Pliny would have to write to Trajan about was “the (uniquely Bithynian?) Christian problem”.

But we have, rather, a Pliny problem:

  • Pliny had been a prominent lawyer in Rome for 28 years — it is therefore incredible to think that he had no knowledge of any precedents re Christians
    • Trajan’s reply failing to address any precedents in Rome or elsewhere in the empire (in particular the fire of Rome a generation earlier?) equally defies explanation.
  • Pliny had been travelling throughout Bithynia as governor for a year and a half before he saw fit to write a letter about the Christian problem — just how seriously can we take the letter’s descriptions of the seriousness of this problem if 18 months could lapse before this first and only letter addressing it?
  • Pliny begins by saying he has never seen a Christian trial so has no idea how to conduct one, and confesses his ignorance on how to deal with Christians and indeed, this is his reason for his letter to Trajan — to seek guidance. Yet in the same letter Pliny goes on to say:
    • that he has been conducting trials of Christians for some time — long enough to notice that the pagan temples are once again being frequented;
    • that he has routinely executed Christians who stubbornly refused to recant;
    • that he has routinely released those who do;
    • that he only decides to write the letter after carrying out these convictions and acquittals for some time when he happened to learn as a consequence of torturing two female slaves that they were guilty of “nothing more than a perverse superstition” (no details provided)

Conveniently for the naive reader the author fails to detail the cities affected, where the victims lived, how many Roman citizens he sent to Rome for trial, etc. Why do not more heads spin when they are hit with this illogical and utterly implausible nonsense? Biblical scholars like to insist that the coherence of the Testamonium Flavianum is evidence that it is built on a genuine original statement by Josephus about Jesus, yet blithely accept without question the incoherence of this letter.

  • Pliny lists point by point detail to demonstrate the good character and innocence of the Christians on the one hand, then reverts to stereotypical persecuter mode by pronouncing that the Christians are nevertheless guilty of the vaguely generalized charge of perverse and unspeakable superstition. How can anyone fail to see through this blatant contradiction the hand of a pro-Christian apologist awkwardly attempting to simultaneously pose as the stereotypical anti-Christian!
  • Trajan is just as confused in his reply. Christians must die: punish them if they are accused of being a Christian. Christians are harmless: do not seek to punish them.

Bruce’s discussion is blind to any of these problems. This strange contradictory letter that did not appear in Pliny’s lifetime and that raises incomprehensible questions within the context of Pliny’s career and conventional history of the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman empire (including Rome) with persecutions and court hearings by Trajan’s time, and what we know of Roman law and custom is seized as one of our earliest non-christian evidences of early Christianity. Pagan Rome’s tolerance of religious practice was well-known; the only people normally required to offer sacrifice to the emperor were those taking official government office; the liberty of Marcion himself and the rise and rise of Marcionism in Asia Minor are difficult to explain if, as Pliny says here, his policies restored pagan practices at the expense of Christianity; Justin Martyr’s apparent ignorance of Pliny’s and Trajan’s situation as a precedent in his letter pleading for tolerance to Antoninus Pius might also be seen as a problem; and the emperor soon after Trajan, Hadrian, who travelled and loved the eastern provinces especially, despite his bureaucratic and legalistic mind is not known for any follow-up ruling on Christians, let alone anything from Trajan or Pliny.

Genuine historical value nonetheless

Pliny’s letter to Trajan concerning the Christians nevertheless is of genuine historical interest in its description of an early Christian service. It matters little if that description was inserted some time after Pliny the Younger.

Bruce’s treatment in summary:

Bruce does not offer a scholarly thought provoking discussion of the Pliny letter but essentially narrates a confessional, “Look, here is more (rare indeed so oh how precious!) evidence of Christianity from a non-Christian source.” The source does contain an interesting description of early Christian practices, although it says nothing whatever about the name of Jesus. It does speak of a worship of Christ and thus could possibly reflect a Pauline (Marcionite?) theology of a spiritual or heavenly Christ deity as opposed to an earthly Jesus figure.

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R.I.P. F.F.Bruce on Tacitus and the Christians – revised

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by Neil Godfrey

I have revised 18th January to include a comparison with Doherty’s treatment of Tacitus.

By now we’re getting the picture.
Bruce writes:

Pilate’s execution of Christ, and any report that he may have sent to Rome about it, would never have been heard of again, if in fact that execution had put an end to the movement which Christ began. (p.23)

If the aim of Bruce here is to offer independent evidence of the existence of the historical Jesus this logic here is of course entirely circular. He is arguing that because Jesus existed and started the Christian movement that spread like wildfire to Rome then this is evidence that Rome’s “police” would have kept records that they would not normally have kept, and that Tacitus would have used these! No hint that this passage of Tacitus (ca.115-117 c.e.) implicating the Christians in the Fire of Rome in Nero’s reign (64 c.e.) raises more questions and problems, if indeed historical, than one can throw matches at.

But Bruce does belie some sense that he is aware of the circularity and hollowness of his argument since he goes on to cover himself with the most tentative “perhaps”, “possiblies”, “who knows?”, “would have”, “if indeeds”:

[W]here did [Tacitus] go [for his information]? To some official record, perhaps — possibly to Pilate’s report; who knows? Tacitus had an official stnading which would give him access to such archives, if indeed they survived to his day.(p.23)

Pilate, he concedes, is not mentioned in any other pagan document known to us, thus underscoring further the complete unlikeliness that Tacitus would indeed have found such records in Rome in his day. This passage, he admits, is a most unlikely one — one based on “records” that would not normally make their way to Rome. Rather than prompt other questions of historical evidence and alternative explanations this “unlikely” fact (and a fact that assumes the historical existence of Jesus that this passage is meant to be supplying additional evidence for) merely increases the dramatic irony in Bruce’s eyes.

Why does Bruce insist that these admittedly unlikely police records had to have been Tacitus’ source? Because, he explains,

from the contemptuous and hostile tone which he adopts towards the Christians, we may gather that he did not seek his information from them. (p.23)

One would not have thought a historian had to be on friendly terms with Christians to have had some knowledge of their claims and beliefs. Such assertions by Bruce indicate a naivety about methods historical that surely place his book more comfortably among other confessional writings for the choir.

Compare Bruce’s and Doherty’s discussions of Tacitus

While Bruce treats Tacitus as “a source” Doherty seeks for the source that Tacitus himself used.

While Bruce is content to repeat the Eusebian model of Church history (fanning out with spirit-like rapidity throughout the empire from the time of Jesus’ death), Doherty makes note of the fact that modern historians are being forced to limit the initial impact of Jesus given, amongst other factors, the degree of silence about Jesus in the contemporary record. This silence makes it even less likely that Tacitus ever had bureaucratric records of any particular one of countless thousands of crucifixions and executions benighting the empire decades earlier.

While Bruce is content to assume that Tacitus searched police records for his information about Jesus (on the grounds that this is the only alternative given that his unfriendly tone tells him he could not have been informed by Christians themselves), Doherty notes that Tacitus was not in the habit of consulting original documents. In support of this is the fact that Tacitus gets Pilate’s title wrong. This, of course, ought to have informed Bruce that he was being too cavalier in his discussion.

Doherty’s suggestion that Tacitus’s source was most likely picked up directly or more likely indirectly from what Christians themselves were saying in his time is by far more economical than Bruce’s presumptions of what Doherty says would have been an unheard of scale of record-keeping even for the Romans. Doherty leaves it open whether the information derived from Roman Christians or those in the province of Asia where Tacitus had earlier governed.


Bruce’s conclusion is that this passage from Tacitus presents history with “an irony” — so notable that it places the sole reference of a pagan writer to Pilate in a “hand to hand” moment with “the ancient Christian creed: ‘. . . suffered under Pontius Pilate’.” It does truly appear that Bruce’s interest in dramatic presentation of his confessional interest has caused him to view this passage from but a single — apologetic — view.

Again, there is no discussion of the historical problems involved (except to express the unlikelihood of such records normally existing in Rome). No explanation — not even any mention of — the silence of the early Church Fathers on this record. It does not do to say that an “argument from silence” in this case means anything since the arguments for and against the silence of the Josephan TF among early Church Fathers are admitted as vital in many scholarly discussions. It is unthinkable that there could be no references to this passage of a presumably most salient historical event among those early Christians given their regular cravings for all records, good and bad, of the treatment of early Christians. Doherty discusses this aspect persuasively and in depth.

But in this case it is not only the silence of the early church writers that begs for explanation. It is also the correspondence only 50 years later between emperor Trajan and his governor Pliny — neither Roman official knows of any precedent for how to handle Christians! And they were in ignorance just 50 years after Christians were slaughtered by imperial edict over the fire that destroyed a third of Rome? Yeh, right!

R.I.P. F.F.Bruce on Suetonius and Chrestus — revised

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by Neil Godfrey

I have revised the following 18th January to include a comparison with Doherty’s treatment of Suetonius.

Oh dear, this is embarrassing from the historian’s point of view. I am sure F.F.Bruce represented the brightest lights of his time but, well, 1974 was another generation ago, even if I was part of it, and the series to which this book belongs is by its own account “by theologians” to further advance their belief that it is only religion that can contribute a “deeper understanding of the mystery that surrounds us” (The Editor’s Preface pp.7-8).

So it is little wonder that Bruce’s work reads as a superficial rationalization of ancient evidence while demonstrating precious little of genuine historical method and serious interest in analytical debates over the evidence in which he finds nonbiblical references to the historical Jesus.

In his discussion of the passage in Suetonius that deals with the expulsion of the Jews by Claudius for reportedly rioting “at the instigation of Chrestus” he writes:

Chrestus, a common slave-name, was a popular mis-spelling of the name of Christ.

From that, the rest of the discussion rests on this “evidence” that the Jews indeed did riot in Rome in some connection over Christ and Christianity. It matters not, it seems, that Bruce admits that the name over which they rioted really was “a common slave-name”. Surely this is every reason to take the passage at face value and not try to turn the name into something else.

But perhaps sensing a little weakness in this argument Bruce tosses in for good measure gratuitous claims that Suetonius got this information from “police records”. Of course, this causes more problems so he has to explain that Suetonius would have misunderstood the police records. — The police records would not have said that “Chrestus” was actually “in Rome” at the time of the riots that were “instigated by him”. (p.21) Bruce is silent on the implication that the police records wrote the wrong name for the instigator of these riots. Besides, anyone who knows Suetonius and his style of histories knows he was never one for painstaking research, and that for him good old gossip and rumour were far more titillating than any facts.

Bruce does not inform us in what sources the name Chrestus is found as a “common mis-spelling” of Christ. I would like to follow this up further. I do, however, seem to recall that some sects or Christians appear to have used “Chrestus” not as a mis-spelling of Christ but as an alternative to Christ. Were these expected to be known to Suetonius? That might be worth checking. But there is a more telling reason to question Bruce’s assumptions.

Comparing Doherty’s discussion of Suetonius

Who is “Chrestus”? Is this a misspelling of “Christus”? An unknown Jewish agitator with a very common name? Are these Christians at all, or simply apocalypti-minded Jews anticipating the arrival of the Messiah? Is this figure supposedly on the scene, or is he merely the object of the agitator’s beliefs? There is too much uncertainty here to take this as evidence of anything. (p.203 of The Jesus Puzzle)

I challenge anyone to dismiss this as “fringe” or “extreme” or even merely “radical” scepticism. I suggest they represent some of the questions that go through most reader’s minds on first encountering this passage in Suetonius.

Compared with Doherty Bruce looks like a naive confessionalist rationalizing anything close to his goal. Compare how creative his imagination and how his speculations become fact:

‘Chrestus’, a common slave-name, was a popular mis-spelling of the name of Christ. The situation referred to was probably the result of the recent introduction of Christianity . . . . Police action was called for . . . . [and] police records provided one of his[Suetonius’s] sources of information. . . . (p21 of Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament)

Other reasons to reject the assumption that Suetonius meant “Christ”

But when Acts appears to refer to the same event (18.2) it gives not a hint that the expulsion by Claudius or Aquilla and Priscilla had anything to do with Christianity. Aquilla meets Paul because of his common trade only. Later in the same chapter when another Jew, Apollos, who does bring some (imperfect) knowledge of Jesus with him, arrives in Paul’s area, Acts tells us so. So one must ask if Suetonius meant that Jews were expelled because of “Christ” why both he AND the author of Acts did not say so. One cannot plead that a riot over Christianity would have been embarrassing to relate because Acts is if nothing else a long catalogue of riots instigated by the name of Christ! And if it was Paul in the vanguard of taking this controversial Christianity to the gentiles then who was responsible for these so-called “Christ-instigated riots in Rome” so early? The book of Acts concludes with Jews in Rome declaring their near total ignorance of the Christian faith, hearing only of its reputation in places outside Rome. (28.22)

Further, if Acts was a mid-second century anti-Marcionite work (assuming that its author also extensively redacted Luke) it is not impossible that Suetonius was the source of Acts 18.2. If so, then it appears that the author did not make any link between Chrestus and Christ.

What is certain is that the early Church Fathers are as silent regarding this passage in Suetonius as they are the Testimonium Flavianum in Josephus — both silences begging for explanations if they were both known to refer to Christ and Christians from such an early date.
So there is no historical discussion of the evidence in question. In this case not even an uncritical naive face-value acceptance of the evidence. We have a common riot instigated by a person with a common name turned into “evidence” for another name (Christ) and a related event (riot in Rome) of which the biblical record is inexplicably silent.

Interestingly Bruce himself writes of another biblical scholar who through arbitrary recasting and erudition cleverly made texts say something other than what they clearly did say, so that:

the unwary reader might easily be misled by it; it is important to emphasize that it rests upon his own arbitrary recasting of texts which say the opposite of what he makes them say . . . . (p.46)

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R.I.P. F.F.Bruce on the Testimonium Flavianum

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by Neil Godfrey

Where would one expect to find the most sound treatment of the textual and historical significance of the Testimonium Flavianum — in a work by a tried a true academic specializing in early Christian studies or in a lay outsider presuming to challenge the core working paradigm of those studies? F.F. Bruce’s “Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament” has been recommended more than once over recent years as an essential read for anyone wanting to come to grips with the Testimonium Flavianum, if only as a sound and sobering antidote to “radical nonsense” touted by “nonacademic upstarts”, with Earl Doherty being the principal one in mind. In fact, I once made a special 4 hour (two-way) trip to a university library just to consult this recommended reference on the strength of the erudition and assurances of an academic who strongly suggested it would put to rest any doubts raised by the nonsense pushed by the likes of Doherty re the TF. This piece is no doubt a smarting reaction against what I would like to think was a practical joke on the part of the academic rather than a true reflection of his knowledge and analysis of what Bruce has to say.

So I have finally prepared a comparison of the treatment of the Testimonium Flavianum by both Bruce (“Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament“) and Doherty (“The Jesus Puzzle“), and share it here with anyone else interested when and if similarly challenged by an academic to go to Bruce as an antidote to Doherty on this particular point. At least let it serve as a warning not to fall for the same practical joke some academics seem to enjoy playing on innocent, trusting laypersons.

Before getting into the detail of Bruce’s discussion of the TF there is another passage by Bruce I would love to share — this time with academics who scoff at views of those “less enlightened” who dismiss the TF in toto:

“[M]any students have come to the conclusion that the paragraph was interpolated by some Christian copyist or editor into the record of Josephus between the time of Origen and the time of Eusebius. It is a reasonable conclusion, held by many Christian scholars; and we must not accuse a man of undermining the case for historic Christianity because he cannot accept the authenticity of this paragraph. For, after all, it is not on the authority of Josephus that Christians believe in Christ!” (p.38 )

So what reasons does Bruce list and discuss to argue that the TF very likely represents core evidence for the historical existence of Jesus Christ?

On page 36 Bruce concludes a brief look (approx 350 words) at the reference to “the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ, James” by asking if there is any more direct reference in Josephus’ work to Jesus. This leads to his discussion of the TF.

Bruce notes that the TF was known to Eusebius but that, “if we look at it carefully” (sic) (p.37) we will see that it contains wording only a Christian could use. This is underscored in the case of the sentence “He was the Christ” by explaining that Josephus elsewhere expressed his belief that the Christ was Vespasian, and that Origen a century before Eusebius also wrote that Josephus did not believe Jesus was the Christ.

So what reason(s) does Bruce give for thinking that Josephus did write at least something here about Jesus? I counted at least 1 (but I did keep counting many times looking for more so here they all are):

1. “The passage contains some characteristic samples of the diction of Josephus . . . ” (p.38 )

2. See 1. above

3. See 1. above

4. See 1. above

But to be fair, though, Bruce does let this single reason spawn a lengthier list of scholarly speculations on what that original Josephan passage might have said:

  • Klausner reconstructs the passage by removing the most obvious christian statements: “if it be lawful to call him a man”, “he was the christ”, and the account of his resurrection.
  • In the time of Domitian it is more likely that Josephus would not have made any favourable comment about Christianity, hence original may have included negative expressions about Christ and Christianity as well such as:

— “a source of further trouble” (Robert Eisler, to connect the passage to what had gone before)

— “strange things” to replace “true things” (H. St. J. Thackeray since to Josephus Christianity was more strange than true)

— “[he was the] so-called [Christ]” (G.C. Richards and R. J. H. Shutt, to match “the so-called Christ” elsewhere in Josephus – and some reference to Christ is necessary here to make sense of the subsequent explanation of how the Christians got their name)

— [did not cease] to cause trouble” (Without some phrase like “to cause trouble” added here it is not known in what sense the Christians “did not cease”)

Conclusion? Hold your breath, now prepare to inhale what you are about to exhale, and study the circularity of hot air:

it seems clear (a) that Josephus’s paragraph about Jesus is not a wholesale interpolation; (b) that Josephus did not write it in the form in which it has been handed down to us.” (p.40)

And that’s it. Bruce has let his list of scholarly speculations of what an original Josephan core might have said (if there was one) cloud the fact that his conclusion rests entirely on the fact that the TF includes Josephan language. There are 2 major flaws here:

  1. Bruce offers no suggestion that there could be any reason to doubt that Josephan language in the TF must suggest that Josephus wrote something here about Jesus after all;
  2. Bruce appears to have let his array of speculations about what Josephus may originally have written persuade him enough to say “it seems clear” that Josephus did write something here about Jesus.

Bruce does conclude with a footnote on the tenth-century Arabic version of the TF, noting that it “may preserve a less thorough-going Christian editing of the original than does the traditional Greek text; at any rate it helps to confirm that Josephus did write about Jesus.” (p.41)

No argument, no details, no presentation of contrary opinions, just a footnote. (Garnering information “on the internet” is sometimes derided by academics who insist true in depth learning can only be found in hard copies of books, but in the case of checking more detailed information and arguments about this Arabic version I did come across a Wikipedia article at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Josephus_on_Jesus#Arabic_version

On the view Bruce expressed in his footnote this “internet” source says:

However, Pines’ theory has not been widely accepted. The fact that even the title of Josephus’s work is inaccurate suggests that Agapius is quoting from memory, which may explain the discrepancies with the Greek version. In addition, the claim that Pilate condemned Jesus to be crucified and to die has been interpreted as a reaction to the Muslim belief that Jesus did not really die on the cross.

Thank god for the internet to help me fill out footnotes in books I drive 4 hours to pick up!

Bruce’s next chapter is titled “The Slavonic Josephus”. Perhaps, I originally hoped, here I would find the reason for being advised to read this book for a more complete understanding of the debates surrounding the TF and its relevance as evidence for the historical Jesus. But sadly, Bruce writes on the first page of this chapter:

“In fact, it is as certain as anything can be in the realm of literary criticism that they [the Slavonic extracts relating to Jesus et al.] were not part of what Josephus wrote at all, but had been interpolated into the Greek manuscripts from which the Old Russian translation was made.” (p.42)

Compare, now, what I learned about the TF from Doherty’s “Jesus Puzzle”:

1. Josephus could not have written the TF as we have it because he did not subscribe to Christian doctrine (= F.F. Bruce)

2. There are 4 suspect sections in the TF (c.f. F.F.Bruce singling out 3 passages)

Arguments that Josephus wrote an original core on which the TF was built:

3. Vocabulary in the TF is characteristic of Josephus (= F.F.Bruce)

4. A Christian forger would not have limited himself to such short passage

5. A distilled Josephan original has no gospel flavour

6.Meier argues that Church Fathers would have failed to have referred to this passage because it testified to Josephus’s unbelief

7. Origen’s statement that Josephus did not accept Jesus as the Christ is an oblique reference to the TF

To reconstruct the Josephan original core statement we need to consider:

8. That the original was neutral regarding Jesus (= F.F.Bruce)

9. That the original was hostile regarding Jesus (=F.F.Bruce)

10. That Josephus’s information came from official Roman records

11. That Josephus is likely to have made some put-down reference to the belief of Christians that Jesus was resurrected.

So I learned at least twice as much about the debates and discussion surrounding the TF from Earl Doherty’s book than I did from that by F.F. Bruce. An academic might assume that Doherty presents a one-sided discussion. I would say that Bruce has certainly presented a one-sided and narrow discussion about the TF as evidence for the historical Jesus. But Doherty presents arguments for and against on each point, concluding that within the framework of the most thoroughly addressed arguments in scholarship that the debate could go either way. He then looks at the broader context and issues in which the Josephan writings are embedded and presents fresh arguments that weigh far more decisively than Bruce’s default “it contains Josephan language … it seems clear”. Doherty’s strength is that he does not limit his discussion of the TF to the immediate textual issues. He weighs the broader context of what scholarship also informs us about what was known of Christianity in Rome around the time that Josephus wrote. He does this in part by drawing on the letters — and beliefs about Christ — of Paul. He considers the question of non-citation by Church Fathers in the broader context of what they did cite — thus breaking the narrow arguments of Meier (see point 6 above). Doherty also goes beyond the various speculations about what an original Josephan passage might have written by treating each one to an in-depth analysis within the broader context of what was known about Josephus, Christianity, and other cultural and political attitudes at the time.

Doherty’s treatment of the TF does not answer all the questions that have been raised about it. (I understand he has addressed the question in more depth on his website since publication of his book.) But if any academic recommends that you turn from Doherty and go to Bruce to better grasp the sound basics of the TF and its significance as evidence for the historical Jesus, be warned. That academic is only pulling your leg. Tricky buggers, some of them!


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A rationale for the previous post…

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by Neil Godfrey

So what explanation could there be for why Romans would be included among the executioners of Jesus IF in the original narrative it was exclusively a Jewish affair?

The Gospel of Mark is all about balancing Jews and Gentiles. Kelber demonstrates this the most graphically with his “Mark’s Story of Jesus” (1979). Mark 4.35-8.21 is divided into 2 ethnic halves that are united in the end via the symbol of the lake (p.41). Compare the feeding of the 5000 (jewish) and the feeding of the 4000 (gentile) — not an accidental or silly editorial oversight when one notes 8.1 originally translates as “again” thus indicating a deliberate original repetition.

If Mark is a Pauline gospel (which I like to think it is despite having some unresolved questions re this hypothesis, although they MAY be ‘explained’ as later redactions….) then it surely becomes inevitable that it must involve BOTH jews and gentiles in culpability for the death of Jesus. Paul, we know, implicates BOTH Jews and Gentiles as incurring guilt and in equal need of salvation over the Saviour sent from God.

If there is anything to this hypothesis then it throws into question the traditional academic postulation of some single trajectory from Q or Mark to whatever …. it would imply that the differences are fundamentally the consequence of a dialogue or rivalry between the different gospel authors, not an organic evolutionary trajectory.

I have often wondered about the connection between “Mark” and “Marc”ion — and am encouraged to read in Robert M. Price’s “The Pre-Nicene New Testament” that I am not alone with this question (p.70).



Gospel of Peter and the Slavonic Josephus

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by Neil Godfrey

Given that the Slavonic Josephus appeared around the 11th or 12th centuries and without any known links to other church documents, what follows can be little more than speculation of course.

Two noteworthy features of The Gospel of Peter (link is to table of gospel comparisons) are:

  • it is Herod who is responsible for crucifying Jesus (albeit with Pilate’s acquiescence)
  • there appears to be no room for a Judas betrayal since all 12 disciples are portrayed as mourning together after the crucifixion

Justin Martyr (link is to table of gospel narrative comparisons) of around 150 c.e. is interesting for appearing to know only the same gospel narratives:

  • Herod and the Jews crucify Jesus “under Pilate (see Dialogue with Trypho 32, 85, 104 and the First Apology 13)
  • He always speaks of the 12 as a constant unified band without any hint of a Judas (See Dialogue with Trypho 42, 53, 106 and First Apology 39 and 50)

The interesting connection of these early accounts with the Testimonium Flavianum in the Slavonic Josephus (scroll to section IV) is that here is provided a narrative explanation for these unusual depaertures from the canonical versions:

  • Pilate, on finding Jesus innocent, releases him — an action that so offends the Jewish leaders that they bribe Pilate with 30 talents to allow them (the Jews) to execute Jesus
  • This bribing of Pilate with 30 talents removes any room for a Judas betrayal (for 30 pieces of silver) since it is Pilate who (in weakness and against his better judgment) betrays Jesus for 30 talents to the Jewish leaders, not Judas.

If, as seems likely, the Slavonic Josephus insertions derive from eastern christians removed from western orthodox controls, and this is the same area where the Gospel of Peter remained popular for many years, is it possible that we have in the Slavonic Josephus’ Testimonium Flavianum a missing portion of the Gospel of Peter narrative?


The poor and Q — literary vs historical paradigms

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by Neil Godfrey

One point used to support the case for Q is Luke’s ‘more primitive’ version of the beatitudes:

‘Blessed are the poor/hungry’ is said to be less (spiritually) developed than Matthew’s ‘poor in spirit/hungry for righteousness’.

On the other hand Luke’s ‘poor’ and ‘hungry’ seems to me to fit in seamlessly with his preceding motifs. Compared with Matthew Luke could be said to be tailoring a gospel for the literal poor:

  • in place of kings and wise-men we have lowly shepherds at Jesus’ birth, and an old man and a widow at his circumcision;
  • rather than in a house or inn the infant Jesus is found in a manger;
  • Mary describes herself as lowly;
  • Jesus opening message in Nazareth is said to be specifically sent ‘to the poor’;
  • in this same opening message Jesus honours a leprous and a widow gentile;
  • John the Baptist demands sharing with and care for the poor and hungry;
  • Jesus’ genealogy is not traced through the wealthy and wise Solomon but through Nathan.

So when we read in this context “blessed are the (literal) poor and hungry” is it not simpler to see Luke’s beatitude being born of the broader themes of the gospel than to postulate that it’s variation from Matthew’s points to an earlier form? So why the preference to see the beatitude as a “more primitive” version of Matthew’s “poor in spirit” and as evidence of a prior source, Q? One reason may be the preference for scholars to find intermediary evidence for Jesus between the late first century gospels and the time of Jesus; another complementary one may be the reluctance to read the gospels as literary works in their own right and through the framework of literary analysis, preferring to treat them rather as “historical records”. Both reasons suggested here would suggest a paradigm bias underlying the scholarship.


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Simon of Cyrene & Simon Magus — revised (24th jan 07)

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by Neil Godfrey

I doubt it is possible to ever know the origins of Christianity. Another little intriguing “mystery” is the potential identification at some point of Simon of Cyrene and Simon Magus.

Irenaeus informs readers that Simon Magus taught that he had appeared in Judea and appeared to suffer crucifixion. The Catholic Encyclopedia’s online article on Docetism:

Simon Magus first spoke of a “putative passion of Christ and blasphemously asserted that it was really he, Simon himself, who underwent these apparent sufferings. “As the angels governed this world badly because each angel coveted the principality for himself he [Simon] came to improve matters, and was transfigured and rendered like unto the Virtues and Powers and Angels, so that he appeared amongst men as man though he was no man and was believed to have suffered in Judea though he had not suffered” (passum in Judea putatum cum non esset passus — Irenaeus, Adv. Haer. I, xxiii sqq.)

Irenaeus also informs readers that some Christians taught that it was Simon of Cyrene who in fact suffered crucifixion in Christ’s stead. Again, the Catholic Encyclopedia’s online article on Docetism:

According to Basilides, Christ seemed to men to be a man and to have performed miracles. It was not, however, Christ, who suffered but Simon of Cyrenes who was constrained to carry the cross and was mistakenly crucified in Christ’s stead. Simon having received Jesus’ form, Jesus returned Simon’s and thus stood by and laughed. Simon was crucified and Jesus returned to his father (Irenaeus, Adv. Char., 1, xxiv).

Robert Price in The Pre-Nicene New Testament observes that:

  • Simon of Cyrene was Phoenician
  • Simon Magus was from Gitta (=Gath, Goliath’s hometown) of Phoenicia (0r Samaria)
  • Phoenicia was called Kittim (easily confused with Gitta)
  • The synoptic gospels narrate that Simon of Cyrene carried Christ’s cross

The Gospel of Mark is often ambiguous in its narration and its account of who it was who was crucified is no less so to the attentive reader:

Now they compelled a certain man, Simon a Cyrenian, the father of Alexander and Rufus, as he was coming out of the country and passing by, to bear his cross. And they brought him to the place Golgotha, which is translated, Place of a Skull. Then they gave him wine mingled with myrrh to drink, but he did not take it. And when they crucified him . . . . (Mark 15:21-24)

The Gospel of John of course removes any room for ambiguity by insisting that Jesus carries his own cross! (19.17)

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Atlantis — another 21st! century myth

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by Neil Godfrey

This is a temporary break from themes biblical….

It’s damn depressing to see in this 21st century first world country so many university educated peers actually believing in past lives, the literal text of the bible, spirits, ‘mystical healings’ too bizarre and embarrassing to describe, various mantras and ‘dream catchers’ and silly myths like Atlantis.

I once actually took the time to write a partial rebuttal of a well-known book (at least well-known among Atlantis believers) by W. Scott-Elliot, titled “The Story of Atlantis“, in a very faint hope of somehow ‘redeeming’ a work colleague of mine who could see no reason to doubt the story.

I’m half-pleased to say that I think this piece, along with similar pieces I wrote critiquing nonsense like auras and Noah’s flood, did have a positive impact — although only for a year or so. So I finally decided the truth of the proverb that says:

those convinced against their will are of the same opinion still.

Nevertheless, knowing that most sensible clear thinking people will not bother to take the time of day to write anything so futile? as a critique of the myth of Atlantis, for those who might appreciate stumbling across one piece of ammo to throw at other misguided innocents, here is what I wrote about one aspect of Scott-Elliot’s book some years ago:

Testimony of Ancient Writers

Aelian belonged to the second century CE and wrote many credulous and fabulous tales in an age of gullibility. (People believed in phoenix birds being resurrected every few hundred years; in natural springs of wine; in islands that floated like boats; in real virgin births (not just Christians); in gods walking around among them in disguise; in spirit worlds above the clouds and beyond the stars, just a few hundred metres away; in giant men and turtles carrying the earth,….) Aelian believed that beavers knew they were hunted for their testicles so they when hunted they would bite off those testicles and throw them into the path of the hunters; but if hunters despite this trick continued to chase them they would stand up on their hind legs facing the hunters to show they had no longer had their testicles so the hunters would leave them alone. He wrote gullibly to entertain the gullible and compiled tales of the fabulous to tittilate his audience.

Scott-Elliot writes: “Aelian … states that Theopompus (400 B.C.) recorded an interview between the King of Phyrgia and Silenus ….” This is contextualized by preceding the passage with words like “testimony” and “evidence”. What is not immediately clear from Scott-Elliot’s “newsbite” is that the characters are all mythological. Silenus is, in fact, the name of a satyr! Yet Scott-Elliot presents an image of a serious interview between a king and a wise man by a court recorder as matter-of-factly as if it were a piece of surviving historical “evidence”!

What Aelian narrated was that the mythical Midas had his shepherds pour wine into a river so the grand Satyr who taught the god Dionysus would fall asleep after he had drunk from it. Once asleep he was captured by Midas’ shepherds and forced to reveal divine secrets to the king. The sorts of secrets he revealed:

1. In a far away land there are 2 types of trees on either side of a river, and if a traveller eats of one of those types, he will begin to grow younger. From that day on he will age in reverse until he finally becomes a little baby and then eventually vanishes altogether.

2. Another was how he (Silenus) and his divine pupil Dionysus, the god of wine and lust who was followed everywhere by lots of lesser satyrs, had just returned from showing people far off how to cultivate grapes and make wine.

3. Another was of a vast mythical land beyond Oceanus (not “Atlantis” as Scott-Elliot writes.)

4. And yet another, of course, was how he would allow Midas to ask to be granted any wish for releasing him… which led to the famous story of all he touched turning to gold.

There is no more obvious reason to believe any of these tales than there is to believe in the existence of satyrs, or that beavers bite off their testicles and throw them at chasing hunters, or any of the other myths told about Dionysus, satyrs or mythical kings.

The second ancient writer Scott-Elliot lists is Proclus. Proclus wrote in the second century CE and was a commentator on Plato. Since Scott-Elliot later lists Plato as another source it is wrong to cite Proclus to sound like an independently supporting witness. Proclus wrote about what Plato wrote.

Diodorus Siculus’ reference can more justifiably be seen as a reference to Britain or the Canary Islands. The Coast of Africa was adjacent to Spain, both bordering the “Pillars of Hercules” (Strait of Gibraltar) and was the main territory of a Phoenician kingdom. It would be a mistake to assume that ancient sailors, even the Phoenicians, passed on an accurate size or shape or even number of land masses in those times. We need only observe some of the bizarre distortions of islands and land areas in ancient maps to appreciate the difficulties, misconceptions and ignorance that bedevilled ancient geographers. It is not hard to imagine how the idea of a large land mass “a few days” west could have emerged in the consciousness of sailors used to hugging the coasts as they sailed and who may have been swept out away from their African journey, making various sightings of what were in fact the somewhat sizeable Canary Islands before their return.

Plato frequently created his own myths to illustrate his views of human nature and the world. Two of his most famous literary creations are his Cave and Republic. Just because Plato said his story of Atlantis was “true” does not necessarily make it so. The literary context of this claim must be assessed. We know even today of many tales that begin with an assertion of their truth yet where our cultural background makes it clear to us that such a claim is made only for dramatic effect. Similarly there are many examples of ancient writers clearly writing fiction but who employ many techniques to make their tales sound true and convincing. One of the literary techniques used was to create scenes with masses of incidental details to give an aura of eyewitness recollections and veracity. Homer’s epics are the most famous of early examples of this. If detail and colour were evidence of eyewitness testimony then we would have to believe in magical caves of nymphs, and in the truth of the minutiae of the hundreds of soldiers and ships of each of the named scores of kings who led them to Troy, in the reality of the graphically portrayed Hades complete with its list of who’s who seen among its hapless ghosts, and in the various specifically dilineated layers of astral orbits surrounding the earth.

Atlantis was a sort of Utopia myth created by Plato and its “truth” lay in the fact that he was creating it to warn his fellow Athenians of the dangers of pride and evil ways no matter how great they had been. And he created it with such elaborate detail with so many literary subtle assurances of its truth to add to its impact that it is as memorable and believable like any good story. In such a creation he was no different from those who created so many other ancient mythical tales. And no doubt many ancients did take his story as true, just as they took stories of testicle tossing beavers as true. It was a gullible age. Magicians could literally float through the air, dogs and horses could speak to humans, and living creatures could spontaneously emerge out of thin air. They knew such things were true because they had always heard them from someone who heard them from someone they could trust.

Distribution of Flora and Fauna

Similarities across continents has many explanations. Australia and South America have strange birds and animals with odd similarities. One might postulate a lost continent once joining them. Or one might accept the evidence for continental drift and fossil and genetic evidence that leads to understanding that Australia and South America were once joined to what is now the Antarctic and the flora and fauna that was known to this land mass followed variant natural adaptations after the land masses separated.

Deep-Sea Soundings

Scott-Elliot notes that the depth of the “Atlantis continent” is 100 to several 100 fathoms underwater now. That such a land mass was at any time in the history of humans above sea level is simply incredible and on a par with the Creationist belief in a literal Noachian flood. The New England Skeptical Society have written the following:

From a geophysical point of view, islands don’t just “sink” of their own accord, overnight or even over a few days, years or centuries. Being less dense than the crust and the interior of the Earth, the continental masses just float on the denser material. Rising sea levels may flood parts of continents, but the levels of continents themselves vis-a-vis the Earth’s solid crust change little or not at all. Even if the seas had risen high enough to inundate Atlantis, all of its continental landmass would still be visible underwater.

Scott-Elliot’s method

The method of Scott-Elliot is to interpret scientific debate over certain questions at the time (1896) as meaning such things were a “mystery” or “unfathonable”, and that his theory of Atlantis would give a neat answer to “the question”. Such a method of logic is invalid. Firstly, this greatly misrepresents what scientists do know about such questions and misunderstands (or is ignorant of) what the scientific debates are actually about and what they really do concede and understand. Scientific debate is what advances and refines scientific understanding. Secondly, to simply postulate an idea and say it answers pretty much everything means nothing. Ideas, theories, must be tested and therefore they must be testable. Otherwise they have no more validity than saying that God or Satan or aliens or gremlins did it or the Tooth Fairy and Santa Clause are real. If they are untestable assertions they are really matters of faith, not evidence.

Scott-Elliot for most part appears to be summarizing secondary sources and is often vague on details that would enable a reader to check these and trace back to the original documents. This is odd. If one wishes to persuade and one has specific verifiable citations or evidence that clearly clinched his case (not secondary assertions or imprecise generalized statements) then one would surely present them.

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The We-Passages in Acts: a Roman audience interpretation. Pt 9

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by Neil Godfrey


Excursis (only — not a foundational point): Another intermediate “little Troy”

(I will discuss in depth in a later excerpt the unity of Troas, the Troad and Troy in the Classical literature)


In passing it may be worth noting that after Aeneas left Troy and while Italy was still far off Aeneas came upon a second “little Troy” in Greece. Epirus had been populated earlier by Trojan refugees who rebuilt a Troy-like citadel and even attempted a second Xanthus River nearby. Aeneas’ party were welcomed as “fellow-citizens”. Epirus and Rome were both destined to be known as a new Troy, twin sister cities (Aeneid III.503-505).

Of specific note is that the first person Aeneas met here was a woman praying by a river, the royal Andromache, who welcomed him warmly. (III.294ff) Compare below the first person Paul met on reaching his “second Rome” – a woman wealthy from selling purple who was met at a place of prayer by a river (Acts 16:13).

The next person Aeneas met was a man who had the power of prophecy, Helenus. Aeneas greeted him with “You … are Heaven’s interpreter. You know the truth of Apollo’s power …What will guide me safely through the dread ordeals to come?” (III.358ff) Compare the second person Paul is said to have met in Philippi, the slave girl with the false spirit of divination. She greeted Paul with “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation” (Acts 16:17). The author of Acts never takes kindly to pagan prophets and rites.





Is the New Testament a root of antisemitism?

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by Neil Godfrey

The gospels of Matthew and John and other passages in the NT letters no doubt contain virulent anti-semitic expressions but most of us surely know from personal experience that those expressions have not turned (most of) us into raving anti-semites. Rather I suspect most of us have felt a little discomfort at times when reading these, much the same way many of us respond with some discomfort over passages forbidding women to speak in church assemblies.

Biblical “memes” need to find rich manure to do their dirty work, and surely those who find visceral excitement in passages like Matthew 27:25, John 8:39,44 and I Thess.2:15-16 are bent quite independently of those passages.

It helps to remember Jews have not been the only victims but Romanies (Gypsies) have been lumped with them for similar treatment from olden to modern times — variously along with witches and homosexuals et al. Singling out Jews at the expense of these surely risks serving sectional political interests today at the expense of these other minorities by failing to address racism per se.

Edward Said’s valuable contribution to this debate (in his classic Orientialism) was the observation of how since the holocaust of WW2 anti-semitism has bifurcated into the guilt-response cum displacement equation of jews:good::arabs:bad — both sides of the expression of course being unhealthy unrealistic mythical nonsense. I suspect that much of the rekindled expressions of anti(jewish)semitism in recent years has been a reaction, albeit an equally pathological one, against this bifurcation — as it has been expressed via one-sided neo-con policies in the middle east and inability to express any normal healthy criticism of the State of Israel without being accused (and often worse) of anti-semitism.

So what to do about religious or other tracts that promote antisemitism? Well, democracy is by nature often messy. Alternatives are totalitarianism and censorship. I’d rather those not so inflamed by those texts take reponsibility to promote solutions to racism as to any other social problem. It would help to ask also “why now”, “why these people”, “why here”, etc — since it is clear that the world has not seen rabid racism swept along on gales of sayings from sacred texts at all times and all places and among all groups where those sacred texts are venerated.


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