Josephus on Jesus
The extant manuscripts of the book Antiquities of the Jews, written by the first-century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus around 93–94 AD, contain two references to Jesus of Nazareth and one reference to John the Baptist. These references have no parallels in Josephus' other historical work The Jewish War, written 20 years earlier, but some scholars have provided explanations for their absence.
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The first and most extensive reference to Jesus in the Antiquities, found in Book 18, states that Jesus was the Messiah and a wise teacher who was crucified by Pilate. It is commonly called the Testimonium Flavianum. Almost all modern scholars reject the authenticity of this passage in its present form, while the majority of scholars nevertheless hold that it contains an authentic nucleus referencing the execution of Jesus by Pilate, which was then subject to Christian interpolation and/or alteration. The exact nature and extent of the Christian redaction remains unclear, however.
Modern scholarship has largely acknowledged the authenticity of the second reference to Jesus in the Antiquities, found in Book 20, Chapter 9, which mentions "the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James." This reference is considered to be more authentic than the Testimonium.
Almost all modern scholars consider the reference in Book 18, Chapter 5 of the Antiquities to the imprisonment and death of John the Baptist also to be authentic and not a Christian interpolation. A number of differences exist between the statements by Josephus regarding the death of John the Baptist and the New Testament accounts. Scholars generally view these variations as indications that the Josephus passages are not interpolations, since a Christian interpolator would likely have made them correspond to the New Testament accounts, not differ from them.
Josephus wrote all of his surviving works after his establishment in Rome (c. AD 71) under the patronage of the Flavian Emperor Vespasian. As is common with ancient texts, however, there are no extant (surviving) manuscripts of Josephus' works that can be dated before the 11th century, and the oldest of these were copied by Christian monks. Jews are not known to have preserved the writings of Josephus perhaps because he was considered a traitor, and/or because his works circulated in Greek, the use of which declined among Jews shortly after Josephus' era.
There are about 120 extant Greek manuscripts of Josephus, of which 33 predate the 14th century, with two thirds from the Comnenoi period. The earliest surviving Greek manuscript that contains the Testimonium is the 11th century Ambrosianus 370 (F 128), preserved in the Biblioteca Ambrosiana in Milan, which includes almost all of the second half of the Antiquities. There are about 170 extant Latin translations of Josephus, some of which go back to the sixth century. According to Louis Feldman these have proven very useful in reconstructing the Josephus texts through comparisons with the Greek manuscripts, confirming proper names and filling in gaps. The Testimonium is not mentioned by Origen, is absent in an ancient table of contents to the eighteenth book of the Antiquities and is absent in a Josephus codex of the patriarch Photius. One of the reasons the works of Josephus were copied and maintained by Christians was that his writings provided a good deal of information about a number of figures mentioned in the New Testament, and the background to events such as the death of James during a gap in Roman governing authority.
The three references found in Book 18 and Book 20 of the Antiquities do not appear in any other versions of Josephus' The Jewish War except for a Slavonic version of the Testimonium Flavianum (at times called Testimonium Slavonium) which surfaced in the west at the beginning of the 20th century, after its discovery in Russia at the end of the 19th century.
Although originally hailed as authentic (notably by Robert Eisler), it is now almost universally acknowledged by scholars to have been the product of an 11th-century creation as part of a larger ideological struggle against the Khazars. As a result, it has little place in the ongoing debate over the authenticity and nature of the references to Jesus in the Antiquities. Craig A. Evans states that although some scholars had in the past supported the Slavonic Josephus, "to my knowledge no one today believes that they contain anything of value for Jesus research".
Arabic and Syriac Josephus
In 1971, a 10th-century Arabic version of the Testimonium from the chronicle of Agapius of Hierapolis was brought to light by Shlomo Pines, who also discovered a 12th-century Syriac version of the Testimonium in the chronicle of Michael the Syrian. These additional manuscript sources of the Testimonium have furnished additional ways to evaluate Josephus' mention of Jesus in the Antiquities, principally through a close textual comparison between the Arabic, Syriac and Greek versions to the Testimonium.
There are subtle yet key differences between the Greek manuscripts and these texts. For instance, the Arabic version does not blame the Jews for the death of Jesus. The key phrase "at the suggestion of the principal men among us" reads instead "Pilate condemned him to be crucified". Instead of "he was Christ", the Syriac version has the phrase "he was believed to be Christ". Drawing on these textual variations, scholars have suggested that these versions of the Testimonium more closely reflect what a non-Christian Jew might have written.
Potential dependence on Eusebius
In 2008, however, Alice Whealey published an article arguing that Agapius' and Michael's versions of the Testimonium are not independent witnesses to the original text of Josephus' Antiquities. Rather, they both ultimately derive from the Syriac translation of the Church History written by Eusebius, which in turn quotes the Testimonium. Whealey notes that Michael's Syriac Testimonium shares several peculiar choices of vocabulary with the version found in the Syriac translation of the Church History. These words and phrases are not shared by an independent Syriac translation of the Testimonium from Eusebius' book Theophania, strongly indicating that Michael's text is simply a paraphrased quotation from of the Syriac Church History, and not a direct quotation of Josephus himself.
Whealey then argues that Agapius' Arabic version of the Testimonium must also be dependent on the same Syriac translation of the Church History. This is largely because Agapius' and Michael's Testimonia share the unique peculiarity that they both explicitly state that Jesus died after being condemned to the cross, while the Greek original does not include this detail. According to Whealey, the differences between the two Testimonia are simply due to the fact that Agapius' chronicle more freely paraphrases and abbreviates its sources than Michael's in general. The implication of this argument, if valid, is that Agapius' abbreviated Testimonium cannot be an earlier version of the passage than what we find in extant manuscripts of Josephus' Antiquities. Interestingly, although Whealey intended to show that the Testimonium is almost entirely authentic, her argument has also been embraced by scholars who believe that the Testimonium is a complete forgery, such as Richard Carrier.
The Testimonium Flavianum
Flavius Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18, Chapter 3, 3 For Greek text see
The Testimonium Flavianum (meaning the testimony of Flavius Josephus) is a passage found in Book 18, Chapter 3, 3 (or see Greek text) of the Antiquities which describes the condemnation and crucifixion of Jesus at the hands of the Roman authorities. The Testimonium is probably the most discussed passage in Josephus.
The earliest secure reference to this passage is found in the writings of the fourth-century Christian apologist and historian Eusebius, who used Josephus' works extensively as a source for his own Historia Ecclesiastica. Writing no later than 324, Eusebius quotes the passage in essentially the same form as that preserved in extant manuscripts. It has therefore been suggested that part or all of the passage may have been Eusebius' own invention, in order to provide an outside Jewish authority for the life of Christ. Some argue that the wording in the Testimonium differs from Josephus' usual writing style and that as a Jew, he would not have used a word like Christos (Χριστός), at Josephus' time being the Greek term for "Messiah". Also see Arguments for Authenticity.
Of the three passages found in Josephus' Antiquities, this passage, if authentic, would offer the most direct support for the crucifixion of Jesus. It is broadly agreed that while the Testimonium Flavianum cannot be authentic in its entirety, it originally consisted of an authentic nucleus with a reference to the execution of Jesus by Pilate which was then subject to interpolation. James Dunn states that there is "broad consensus" among scholars regarding the nature of an authentic reference to Jesus in the Testimonium and what the passage would look like without the interpolations. Among other things, the authenticity of this passage would help make sense of the later reference in Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews Book 20, Chapter 9, 1 where Josephus refers to the stoning of "James the brother of Jesus".
Three perspectives on authenticity
Paul L. Maier and Zvi Baras state that there are three possible perspectives on the authenticity of the Testimonium:
- It is entirely authentic.
- It is entirely a Christian forgery.
- It contains Christian interpolations in what was Josephus' authentic material about Jesus.
Paul Maier states that the first case is generally seen as hopeless given that as a Jew, Josephus would not have claimed Jesus as the Messiah, and that the second option is hardly tenable given the presence of the passage in all extant Greek manuscripts; thus a large majority of modern scholars accept the third alternative, i.e., partial authenticity. Baras adds that the third position is more plausible because it accepts parts of the passage as genuine, but discounts other parts as interpolations. Craig Evans (and separately Robert Van Voorst) state that most modern scholars accept the position that the Testimonium is partially authentic, had a kernel with an authentic reference to Jesus, and that the analysis of its content and style support this conclusion.
While before the advent of literary criticism most scholars considered the Testimonium entirely authentic, thereafter the number of supporters of full authenticity declined. However, most scholars now accept partial authenticity and many attempt to reconstruct their own version of the authentic kernel, and scholars such as Geza Vermes have argued that the overall characterizations of Jesus in the Testimonium are in accord with the style and approach of Josephus.
Arguments for complete authenticity
Until the rise of modern criticism, many scholars believed the Testimonium was nearly or completely authentic with little or no Christian interpolations. Some of these arguments relied on the language used in the Testimonium. For instance, Jesus is merely called "a wise man" (and Josephus described others like Solomon, Daniel, and John the Baptist in the same fashion), which would not have been a common Christian label for Christ at the time. He referred to Jesus merely as "a worker of amazing deeds" and nothing more, again disagreeing with how Christians viewed Christ. Referring to Jesus as "a teacher of people who accept the truth with pleasure", where "pleasure" (ἡδονή) connotes hedonistic value, is not in line with how Christians saw the point of Jesus' teachings. Claiming that Jesus won over "both Jews and Greeks" is a misunderstanding that a Christian scribe would not likely have made, knowing that Jesus mainly ministered to Jews. Also, the phrase "Those who had first loved him did not cease doing so" is Josephan in style, and calling Christians a "tribe" would not have made sense.
Arguments for presence of Christian interpolations
The Testimonium has been the subject of a great deal of research and debate among scholars, being one of the most discussed passages among all antiquities. Louis Feldman has stated that in the period from 1937 to 1980 at least 87 articles had appeared on the topic, the overwhelming majority of which questioned the total or partial authenticity of the Testimonium. While early scholars considered the Testimonium to be a total forgery, the majority of modern scholars consider it partially authentic, despite some clear Christian interpolations in the text.
The arguments surrounding the authenticity of the Testimonium fall into two categories: internal arguments that rely on textual analysis and compare the passage with the rest of Josephus' work; and external arguments, that consider the wider cultural and historical context. Some of the external arguments are "arguments from silence" that question the authenticity of the entire passage not for what it says, but due to lack of references to it among other ancient sources.
The external analyses of the Testimonium have even used computer-based methods, e.g. the matching of the text of the Testimonium with the Gospel of Luke performed by Gary Goldberg in 1995. Goldberg found some partial matches between the Testimonium and Luke 24:19–21, 26–27 stating "the Emmaus narrative more closely resembles the Testimonium in its phrase-by-phrase outline of content and order than any other known text of comparable age." Goldberg's analyses suggested three possibilities, one that the matches were random, or that the Testimonium was a Christian interpolation based on Luke, and finally that both the Testimonium and Luke were based on the same sources.
One of the key internal arguments against the complete authenticity of the Testimonium is that the clear inclusion of Christian phraseology strongly indicates the presence of some interpolations. For instance, the phrases "if it be lawful to call him a man" suggests that Jesus was more than human and is likely a Christian interpolation. Some scholars have attempted to reconstruct the original Testimonium, but others contend that attempts to discriminate the passage into Josephan and non-Josephan elements are inherently circular.
Another example of the textual arguments against the Testimonium is that it uses the Greek term poietes to mean "doer" (as part of the phrase "doer of wonderful works") but elsewhere in his works, Josephus only uses the term poietes to mean "poet," whereas this use of "poietes" seems consistent with the Greek of Eusebius.
According to Wataru Mizugaki, Origen explicitly mentions the name of Josephus 11 times, never mentioning the Testimonium, both in Greek and Latin. Furthermore, Origen's statement in his Commentary on Matthew (Book X, Chapter 17) that Josephus "did not accept Jesus as Christ", is usually seen as a confirmation of the generally accepted fact that Josephus did not believe Jesus to be the Messiah. This forms a key external argument against the total authenticity of the Testimonium in that Josephus, as a Jew, would not have claimed Jesus as the Messiah, and the reference to "he was the Christ" in the Testimonium must be a Christian interpolation. Based on this observation alone, Paul L. Maier calls the case for the total authenticity of the Testimonium "hopeless". Almost all modern scholars reject the total authenticity of the Testimonium, while the majority of scholars still hold that it includes an authentic kernel.
A different set of external arguments against the authenticity of the Testimonium (either partial or total) are "arguments from silence", e.g. that although twelve Christian authors refer to Josephus before Eusebius in 324 AD, none mentions the Testimonium. Given earlier debates by Christian authors about the existence of Jesus, e.g. in Justin Martyr's 2nd century Dialogue with Trypho, it would have been expected that the passage from Josephus would have been used as a component of the arguments.
Even after Eusebius' 324 AD reference, it is not until Jerome's De Viris Illustribus (c. 392 AD) that the passage from Josephus is referenced again, even though the Testimonium's reference to Jesus would seem appropriate in the works of many intervening patristic authors. Scholars also point to the silence of Photios as late as the 9th century, and the fact that he does not mention the Testimonium at all in his broad review of Josephus.
Andreas Köstenberger argues that the fact that the 10th-century Arabic version of the Testimonium (discovered in the 1970s) lacks distinct Christian terminology while sharing the essential elements of the passage indicates that the Greek Testimonium has been subject to interpolation.
A final argument from silence relates to Josephus' own writings and questions the authenticity of Testimonium based on the fact that it has no parallel in the Jewish War, which includes a discussion of Pontius Pilate at about the same level of detail.
Timing of the interpolations
Zvi Baras believes that the Testimonium was subject to interpolation before Eusebius wrote. Baras believes that Origen had seen the original Testimonium but that the Testimonium seen by Origen had no negative reference to Jesus, else Origen would have reacted against it. Baras states that the interpolation in the Testimonium took place between Origen and Eusebius.
Paul Maier states that a comparison of Eusebius' reference with the 10th-century Arabic version of the Testimonium due to Agapius of Hierapolis indicates that the Christian interpolation present in the Testimonium must have come early, before Eusebius. Robert E. Van Voorst also states that the interpolation likely took place some time between Origen and Eusebius.
Arguments for partial authenticity
Arguments from style and content
Craig Evans states that an argument in favor of the partial authenticity of the Testimonium is that the passage does not stress the role played by the Jewish leaders in the death of Jesus. According to Evans, if the passage had been an interpolation after the emergence of conflicts between Jews and Christians, it would have had a more accusative tone, but in its current form reads as one would expect it to read for a passage composed by Josephus towards the end of the first century. Geza Vermes concurs, arguing that if the Testimonium had been the work of a Christian forger, it would have placed blame on the Jewish leaders, but as is it is "perfectly in line" with the attitude of Josephus towards Pilate. Vermes also states that the detached depiction of the followers of Jesus is not the work of a Christian interpolator. Vermes calls the Jesus notice in the Testimonium a "veritable tour de force" in which Josephus plays the role of a neutral witness.
Andreas Köstenberger argues that the Testimonium includes vocabulary that is typically Josephan, and the style is consistent with that of Josephus. Köstenberger (and separately Van Voorst) state that the Josephus' reference to the large number of followers of Jesus during his public ministry is unlikely to have been due to a Christian scribe familiar with the New Testament accounts, and is hence unlikely to be an interpolation.
Claudia Setzer holds that while "tribe is an odd way to describe Christians," it does not necessarily have negative connotations. Setzer argues for the existence of an authentic kernel because "the style and vocabulary are Josephan" and specific parts (e.g. the use of "wise man") are not what one would expect from a Christian forger. Setzer argues that the Testimonium indicates that Josephus had heard of Jesus and the basic elements surrounding his death, and that he saw Jesus as primarily a miracle worker. Van Voorst also states that calling Christians a "tribe" would have been very out of character for a Christian scribe, while Josephus has used it to refer both to Jewish and Christian groups.
Arguments from external attestation
Lester L. Grabbe notes that in two works (Commentary on Matthew 10.17 and Contra Celsum 1.47; see § Early references) Origen had actually complained that Josephus had mentioned Jesus, while not recognizing Jesus as the messiah, and this provided an early independent support of the partial Testimonium in a more neutral form. Zvi Baras argues from this that Origen had seen a version of the Testimonium that included no interpolations. Baras asserts that a Testimonium seen by Origen must have had a neutral tone, and included no derogatory references towards Christians, and hence required no reaction from Origen. He claims that the neutral tone of the Testimonium was then modified between the time of Origen and Eusebius.
Andreas Köstenberger argues that a comparison of the Greek manuscripts with the Arabic quotation discovered by Shlomo Pines in the 1970s provides an indication of the original Josephan text. Köstenberger states that many modern scholars believe that the Arabic version reflects the state of Josephus' original text before it was subject to Christian interpolation.
Steve Mason has argued for partial authenticity for the "Testimonium" because no other parts of any of the works of Josephus have been contested to have had scribal tempering, Christian copyists were usually conservative when transmitting texts in general, and seeing that the works of Philo were unaltered by Christian scribes through the centuries strongly support that it is very unlikely that the passage was invented out of thin air by a Christian scribe. Philo often wrote in a way that was favorable to Christian ideas and yet no Christian scribes took advantage of that to insert Jesus or Christian beliefs into Philo's text.
Chilton and Evans state that the general acceptance of the authenticity of the James passage lends support to the partial authenticity of the Testimonium in that the brief reference to "Jesus, who was called Christ" in Antiquities XX, 9, 1 "clearly implies a prior reference" and that "in all probability the Testimonium is that prior reference". Paul L. Maier concurs with the analysis of Chilton and Evans and states that Josephus' first reference was the Testimonium. Geza Vermes also considers the "who was called Christ" reference in the James passage as the second reference to Jesus in the Antiquities and states that the first reference is likely to be the Testimonium.
Reconstruction of an authentic kernel
Robert Van Voorst states that most modern scholars believe that the Testimonium is partially authentic, and has a reference to Jesus. However, he states that scholars are divided on the tone of the original reference and while some scholars believe that it had a negative tone which was softened by Christian interpolators, others believe that it had a neutral tone, in keeping with the style and approach of Josephus regarding the issue. According to Van Voorst, scholars who support the negative reconstruction contend that the reference read something like "source of further trouble in Jesus a wise man" and that it stated "he was the so-called Christ". Van Voorst states that most scholars support a neutral reconstruction which states "Around this time lived Jesus, a wise man" and includes no reference to "he was the Christ". Van Voorst states that if the original references to Jesus had had a negative tone, the Christian scribes would have likely deleted it entirely. Van Voorst also states that the neutral reconstruction fits better with the Arabic Testimonium discovered by Pines in the 1970s. Van Voorst states that the neutral reconstruction is supported by the majority of scholars because it involves far less conjectural wording and fits better with the style of Josephus.
Craig Blomberg states that if the three elements "lawful to call him a man", "he was the Christ" and the reference to the resurrection are removed from the Testimonium the rest of the passage flows smoothly within the context, fits the style of Josephus and is likely to be authentic. Blomberg adds that after the removal of these three elements (which are likely interpolations) from the Greek versions the remaining passage fits well with the Arabic version and supports the authenticity of the reference to the execution of Jesus by Pilate. Joel B. Green also states that the removal of some elements from the Testimonium produces a passage that is likely to be an authentic reference to the death of Jesus.
In the estimation of James Dunn, there is "broad consensus" among scholars regarding what the Testimonium would look like without the interpolations. According to Dunn's reconstruction, the original passage likely read:
In this passage, which is based on Meier's reconstruction, Jesus is called a "wise man", but "lawful to call him a man" and "he was the Christ" are removed, as is the reference to the resurrection.
Geza Vermes has performed a detailed analysis of the Testimonium and modified it to remove what he considers the interpolations. In Vermes' reconstruction "there was Jesus, a wise man" is retained, but the reference to "he was the Christ" is changed to "he was called the Christ" and the resurrection reference is omitted. Vermes states that the Testimonium provides Josephus' authentic portrayal of Jesus, depicting him as a wise teacher and miracle worker with an enthusiastic group of followers who remained faithful to him after his crucifixion by Pilate, up to the time of Josephus.
Arguments for complete forgery
In addition to the arguments listed above, a minority of scholars have put forward arguments to the effect that the entire Testimonium is a Christian interpolation. For example, Kenneth Olson has argued that the entire Testimonium must have been forged by Eusebius himself, basing his argument on textual similarities between the Testimonium and Eusebius' writings in the Demonstrations of the Gospels.
In 2012, Josephus scholar Louis Feldman reversed his prior support for the partial authenticity of the Testimonium, proposing that the passage was interpolated in its entirety by Eusebius. In support of this view, Feldman points out, following Olson, that the Testimonium features three phrases ('one who wrought surprising feats,' 'the tribe of the Christians,' and 'still to this day') which are used no where else in the whole of Greek literature except Eusebius.
In 2014, Carnegie Mellon linguistics professor Paul Hopper wrote a book chapter in which he argued that the style and narrative structure of the Testimonium is sharply in contrast with the rest of Josephus' work. According to Hopper, the language of the Testimonium has more in common with fourth-century Christian creedal statements than the historiographical work of first-century authors, including Josephus. He concluded that the most likely explanation is that the passage was simply interpolated in its entirety by a Christian scribe.
The concordance of the language used in the Testimonium, its flow within the text, and its length have formed components of the internal arguments against its authenticity, e.g. that the brief and compact character of the Testimonium stands in marked contrast to Josephus' more extensive accounts presented elsewhere in his works. For example, Josephus' description of the death of John the Baptist includes consideration of his virtues, the theology associated with his baptismal practices, his oratorical skills, his influence, the circumstances of his death, and the belief that the destruction of Herod's army was a divine punishment for Herod's slaughter of John. G. A. Wells has argued against the authenticity of the Testimonium, stating that the passage is noticeably shorter and more cursory than such notices generally used by Josephus in the Antiquities, and that had it been authentic, it would have included more details and a longer introduction.
A further internal argument against the Testimonium's authenticity is the context of the passage in the Antiquities of the Jews. Some scholars argue that the passage is an intrusion into the progression of Josephus' text at the point in which it appears in the Antiquities and breaks the thread of the narrative.
"James, the brother of Jesus" passage
Flavius Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews Book 20, Chapter 9, 1 For Greek text see
In the Antiquities of the Jews (Book 20, Chapter 9, 1) Josephus refers to the stoning of "James the brother of Jesus" (James the Just) by order of Ananus ben Ananus, a Herodian-era High Priest. The James referred to in this passage is most likely the James to whom the Epistle of James has been attributed. The translations of Josephus' writing into other languages have at times included passages that are not found in the Greek texts, raising the possibility of interpolation, but this passage on James is found in all manuscripts, including the Greek texts.
The context of the passage is the period following the death of Porcius Festus, and the journey to Alexandria by Lucceius Albinus, the new Roman Procurator of Judea, who held that position from 62 AD to 64 AD. Because Albinus' journey to Alexandria had to have concluded no later than the summer of 62 AD, the date of James' death can be assigned with some certainty to around that year. The 2nd century chronicler Hegesippus also left an account of the death of James, and while the details he provides diverge from those of Josephus, the two accounts share similar elements.
Modern scholarship has almost universally acknowledged the authenticity of the reference to "the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James" (τὸν ἀδελφὸν Ἰησοῦ τοῦ λεγομένου Χριστοῦ, Ἰάκωβος ὄνομα αὐτῷ) and has rejected its being the result of later Christian interpolation. Moreover, in comparison with Hegesippus' account of James' death, most scholars consider Josephus' to be the more historically reliable. However, a few scholars question the authenticity of the reference, based on various arguments, but primarily based on the observation that various details in The Jewish War differ from it.
Origen of Alexandria
And to so great a reputation among the people for righteousness did this James rise, that Flavius Josephus, who wrote the “Antiquities of the Jews” in twenty books, when wishing to exhibit the cause why the people suffered so great misfortunes that even the temple was razed to the ground, said, that these things happened to them in accordance with the wrath of God in consequence of the things which they had dared to do against James the brother of Jesus who is called Christ. And the wonderful thing is, that, though he did not accept Jesus as Christ, he yet gave testimony that the righteousness of James was so great; and he says that the people thought that they had suffered these things because of James.— Commentary on Matthew, Book X, Chapter 17 (emphasis added)
In Origen's apologetic work Contra Celsum, he made a similar remark:
Now this writer [Josephus], although not believing in Jesus as the Christ, in seeking after the cause of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, whereas he ought to have said that the conspiracy against Jesus was the cause of these calamities befalling the people, since they put to death Christ, who was a prophet, says nevertheless—being, although against his will, not far from the truth—that these disasters happened to the Jews as a punishment for the death of James the Just, who was a brother of Jesus (called Christ),—the Jews having put him to death, although he was a man most distinguished for his justice.— Contra Celsum, Book I, Chapter XLVII (emphasis added)
Many commentators have concluded that Origen is making reference to the "James, the brother of Jesus" passage found in Antiquities, Book 20 here, but there are some problems with this view. Origen is attributing statements to Josephus that he never wrote in any of his extant works (such as the claim that the killing of James caused the destruction of the Jerusalem temple), suggesting that he is at least partially confused.
Richard Carrier has proposed that Origen actually had in mind a passage from the work Commentaries on the Acts of the Church, written by the Christian chronicler Hegesippus in the late second century. The Hegesippus passage, which is preserved in a quotation from the church historian Eusebius, describes the martyrdom of "James the Just" at the hand of the Jews and implies that this was the cause of the destruction of the temple.
Eusebius of Caesarea
In Book II, Chapter 23.20 of his Church History, Eusebius mentions Josephus' reference to the death of James. Eusebius attributes the following quote to Josephus: “These things happened to the Jews to avenge James the Just, who was a brother of Jesus, that is called the Christ. For the Jews slew him, although he was a most just man.” However, this statement does not appear in the extant manuscripts of Josephus. Moreover, in Book III, ch. 11 of his Church History Eusebius states that the conquest of Jerusalem immediately followed the martyrdom of James setting the martyrdom at c. 70 CE rather than the c. 62 CE given by Josephus.
While Eusebius does not acknowledge Origen as the source for his apocryphal quote of Josephus, Richard Carrier argues that he is in fact quoting Origen, since Eusebius' quote is almost word-for-word identical in the Greek to the statement attributed to Josephus by Origen in Contra Celsum 1.47. John Painter writes that placing the blame for the siege of Jerusalem on the death of James is perhaps an early Christian invention that predates both Origen and Eusebius and that it likely existed in the traditions to which they were both exposed. Painter suggests, similarly to Carrier, Eusebius may have obtained his account of the siege of Jerusalem from Origen.
Arguments for authenticity
Louis Feldman states that the authenticity of the Josephus passage on James has been "almost universally acknowledged." Feldman states that this passage, above others, indicates that Josephus did say something about Jesus. Feldman states that it would make no sense for Origen to show amazement that Josephus did not acknowledge Jesus as Christ (Book X, Chapter 17), if Josephus had not referred to Jesus at all. Paul L. Maier states that most scholars agree with Feldman's assessment that "few have doubted the genuineness of this passage" Zvi Baras also states that most modern scholars consider the James passage to be authentic.
According to Robert E. Van Voorst the overwhelming majority of scholars consider both the reference to "the brother of Jesus called Christ" and the entire passage that includes it as authentic. Van Voorst states that the James passage fits well in the context in the Antiquities and an indication for its authenticity is the lack of the laudatory language that a Christian interpolator would have used to refer to Jesus as "the Lord", or a similar term. Van Voorst also states that the use of a neutral term "called Christ" which neither denies nor affirms Jesus as the Messiah points to authenticity, and indicates that Josephus used it to distinguish Jesus from the many other people called Jesus at the time, in the same way that James is distinguished, given that it was also a common name.
Richard Bauckham states that although a few scholars have questioned the James passage, "the vast majority have considered it to be authentic", and that among the several accounts of the death of James the account in Josephus is generally considered to be historically the most reliable. Bauckham states that the method of killing James by stoning, and the description provided by Josephus via the assembly of the Sanhedrin of judges are consistent with the policies of the Temple authorities towards the early Christian Church at the time.
Andreas Köstenberger considers the James passage to be authentic and states that the James passage attests to the existence of Jesus as a historical person, and that his followers considered him the Messiah.(Köstenberger pages 104–105) Köstenberger states that the statement by Josephus that some people recognized Jesus as the Messiah is consistent with the grammar of Josephus elsewhere but does not imply that Josephus himself considered Jesus the Messiah.(Köstenberger pages 104–105) Köstenberger concurs with John Meier that it is highly unlikely for the passage to be a Christian interpolation given that in New Testament texts James is referred to as the "brother of the Lord" rather than the "brother of Jesus", and that a Christian interpolator would have provided a more detailed account at that point.(Köstenberger pages 104–105)
Claudia Setzer states that few have questioned the authenticity of the James passage, partly based on the observation that a Christian interpolator would have provided more praise for James. Setzer states that the passage indicates that Josephus, a Jewish historian writing towards the end of the first century, could use a neutral tone towards Christians, with some tones of sympathy, implying that they may be worthy of Roman protection.
John Painter states that nothing in the James passage looks suspiciously like a Christian interpolation and that the account can be accepted as historical.(Painter pages 139–142). Painter discusses the role of Ananus and the background to the passage, and states that after being deposed as High Priest for killing James and being replaced by Jesus the son of Damnaeus, Ananus had maintained his influence within Jerusalem through bribery.(Painter page 136) Painter points out that as described in the Antiquities of the Jews (Book 20, Chapter 9, 2) Ananus was bribing both Albinus and Jesus the son of Damnaeus so that his men could take the tithes of other priests outside Jerusalem, to the point that some of whom then starved to death.(Painter pages 139–142). Philip Carrington states that there is no reason to question the authenticity of the Josephus passage on James, and elaborates the background by stating that Ananus continued to remain a power within the Jewish circles at the time even after being deposed, and that it is likely that the charges brought against James by Ananus were not only because of his Christian association but because he objected to the oppressive policies against the poor; hence explaining the later indignation of the more moderate Jewish leaders.
Arguments against authenticity
A comparative argument made against the authenticity of the James passage by scholars such as Tessa Rajak is that the passage has a negative tone regarding the High Priest Ananus, presenting him as impulsive while in the Jewish Wars Josephus presents a positive view of Ananus and portrays him as prudent.
A textual argument against the authenticity of the James passage is that the use of the term "Christos" there seems unusual for Josephus. An argument based on the flow of the text in the document is that given that the mention of Jesus appears in the Antiquities before that of the John the Baptist a Christian interpolator may have inserted it to place Jesus in the text before John. A further argument against the authenticity of the James passage is that it would have read well even without a reference to Jesus. New Testament scholar Robert M. Price speculates that Josephus may have considered James a fraternal brother rather than a sibling.
Richard Carrier argues that the words "who was called Christ" likely resulted from the accidental insertion of a marginal note added by copyist between the time of Origen and Eusebius. Carrier proposes that the original text referred to a brother of Jesus ben Damneus, who is mentioned later in the same passage. The original passage would have described the illegal execution of James, the brother of Jesus ben Damneus, by the high priest Ananus. Ananus is then punished by being stripped of his position as high priest and replaced with ben Damneus— the brother of the very man he had unjustly killed.
Carrier points out that in the earliest potential external references to the James passage, found in the works Origen (see § Early references above), Origen attributes statements to Josephus that he never wrote in any of his extant works, such as the claim that the killing of James caused the destruction of the Jerusalem temple. According to Carrier, this strongly suggests that he is confusing statements from another author with those of Josephus. He proposes that Origen actually had in mind a passage from the work Commentaries on the Acts of the Church, written by the Christian chronicler Hegesippus in the late second century. The Hegesippus passage, which is preserved in a quotation from the church historian Eusebius, describes the martyrdom of "James the Just" at the hand of the Jews and heavily implies that this was the cause of the destruction of the temple. If Origen is really referring to a passage in Hegesippus, Carrier argues, then this actually provides evidence against the authenticity of the reference to "Christ" in Josephus' Antiquities. This is because, if the reference to Christ were authentic, Origen would likely have simply quoted that passage rather than insisting that Josephus wrote something that he did not actually write.
G. A. Wells argued that the fact that Origen seems to have read something different about the death of James in Josephus than what there is now, suggests some tampering with the James passage seen by Origen. Wells suggests that the interpolation seen by Origen may not have survived in the extant Josephus manuscripts, but that it opens the possibility that there may have been other interpolations in Josephus' writings. Wells further states that differences between the Josephus account and those of Hegesippus and Clement of Alexandria may point to interpolations in the James passage.
Differences with Christian sources
Josephus' account places the date of the death of James as AD 62. This date is supported by Jerome's 'seventh year of the Emperor Nero', although Jerome may simply be drawing this from Josephus. However, James' successor as leader of the Jerusalem church, Simeon, is not, in tradition, appointed till after the siege of Jerusalem in AD 70, and Eusebius' notice of Simeon implies a date for the death of James immediately before the siege, i.e. about AD 69. The method of death of James is not mentioned in the New Testament. However, the account of Josephus differs from that of later works by Hegesippus, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen, and Eusebius of Caesarea in that it simply has James stoned while the others have other variations such as having James thrown from the top of the Temple, stoned, and finally beaten to death by a fuller as well as his death occurring during the siege of Jerusalem in AD 69.
John Painter states that the relationship of the death of James to the siege is an important theologoumenon in the early church. On the basis of the Gospel accounts it was concluded that the fate of the city was determined by the death there of Jesus. To account for the 35 year difference, Painter states that the city was preserved temporarily by the presence within it of a 'just man' (see also Sodom); who was identified with James, as confirmed by Origen. Hence Painter states that the killing of James restarted the clock that led to the destruction of the city and that the traditional dating of 69 AD simply arose from an over-literal application of the theologoumenon, and is not to be regarded as founded on a historical source. The difference between Josephus and the Christian accounts of the death of James is seen as an indication that the Josephus passage is not a Christian interpolation by scholars such as Eddy, Boyd, and Kostenberger. Geza Vermes states that compared to the Christian accounts: "the sober picture of Josephus appears all the more believable". G. A. Wells, on the other hand, has stated that in view of Origen's statements these variations from the Christian accounts may be signs of interpolation in the James passage.
John the Baptist passage
In the Antiquities of the Jews (Book 18, Chapter 5, 2) Josephus refers to the imprisonment and death of John the Baptist by order of Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee and Perea. The context of this reference is the 36 AD defeat of Herod Antipas in his conflict with Aretas IV of Nabatea, which the Jews of the time attributed to misfortune brought about by Herod's unjust execution of John.
Almost all modern scholars consider this passage to be authentic in its entirety, although a small number of authors have questioned it. Because the death of John also appears prominently in the Christian gospels, this passage is considered an important connection between the events Josephus recorded, the chronology of the gospels and the dates for the ministry of Jesus. A few scholars have questioned the passage, contending that the absence of Christian tampering or interpolation does not itself prove authenticity. While this passage is the only reference to John the Baptist outside the New Testament, it is widely seen by most scholars as confirming the historicity of the baptisms that John performed. According to Marsh, any contrast between Josephus and the Gospel's accounts of John would be because the former lacked interest in the messianic element of John's mission.
Arguments for authenticity
Craig Evans states that almost all modern scholars consider the Josephus passage on John to be authentic in its entirety, and that what Josephus states about John fits well both with the general depiction of John in the New Testament and within the historical context of the activities of other men, their preachings and their promises during that period.
Louis Feldman, who believes the Josephus passage on John is authentic, states that Christian interpolators would have been very unlikely to have devoted almost twice as much space to John (163 words) as to Jesus (89 words). Feldman also states that a Christian interpolator would have likely altered Josephus' passage about John the Baptist to make the circumstances of the death of John become similar to the New Testament, and to indicate that John was a forerunner of Jesus.
James Dunn states that the accounts of Josephus and the New Testament regarding John the Baptist are closer than they may appear at a first reading. Dunn states that Josephus positions John as a righteous preacher (dikaiosyne) who encourages his followers to practice "righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God" and that Mark 6:20 similarly calls John "a righteous (dikaios) and holy man". Dunn states that Antipas likely saw John as a figure whose ascetic lifestyle and calls for moral reform could provoke a popular uprising on moral grounds, as both Josephus and the New Testament suggest.
Justin Meggitt states that there are fundamental similarities between the Josephus' portrayal of John the Baptist and the New Testament narrative in that in both accounts John is positioned as a preacher of morality, not as someone who had challenged the political authority of Herod Antipas. W. E. Nunnally states that the John passage is considered authentic and that Josephus' emphasis on the egalitarian nature of John's teachings fit well into the biblical and historical traditions.
In Origen's apologetic work Contra Celsum, made an explicit reference to the Josephus passage discussing John the Baptist:
For in the 18th book of his Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus bears witness to John as having been a Baptist, and as promising purification to those who underwent the rite.— Contra Celsum, Book I, Chapter XLVII (emphasis added)
Here, Origen provides a clear, unambiguous indication that the passage concerning John the Baptist existed in his early manuscript of Antiquities of the Jews. This implies that the John the Baptist passage would have had to have been interpolated into the Antiquities at quite an early date, before the time of Origen, if it is inauthentic.
In Eusebius of Caesarea's 4th century work Church History (Book I, Chapter XI), Eusebius also discusses the Josephus reference to Herod Antipas's killing of John the Baptist, and mentions the marriage to Herodias in paragraphs 1 to 6.
Arguments against authenticity
Rivka Nir argues that the kind of baptism performed by John the Baptist was not considered legitimate in the mainstream Jewish circles to which Josephus belonged, and therefore Josephus could not have described John as positively as he is in Antiquities, Book 18. Nir therefore concludes that the passage is likely a Christian interpolation.
Claire Rothschild has stated that the absence of Christian interpolations in the Josephus passage on John the Baptist can not by itself be used as an argument for its authenticity, but is merely an indication of the lack of tampering.
Differences with Christian sources
The marriage of Herod Antipas and Herodias is mentioned both in Josephus and in the gospels, and scholars consider Josephus as a key connection in establishing the approximate chronology of specific episodes related to John the Baptist. However, although both the gospels and Josephus refer to Herod Antipas killing John the Baptist, they differ on the details and motives, e.g. whether this act was a consequence of the marriage of Herod Antipas and Herodias (as indicated in Matthew 14:4, Mark 6:18), or a pre-emptive measure by Herod which possibly took place before the marriage to quell a possible uprising based on the remarks of John, as Josephus suggests in Antiquities 18.5.2. Jean Daniélou contends that Josephus missed the religious meaning while recording only the political aspect of the conflict between Herod and John, which led to the latter's death.
While Josephus identifies the location of the imprisonment of John as Machaerus, southeast of the mouth of the Jordan river, the gospels mention no location for the place where John was imprisoned. According to other historical accounts Machaerus was rebuilt by Herod the Great around 30 BC and then passed to Herod Antipas. The 36 AD date of the conflict with Aretas IV (mentioned by Josephus) is consistent with the approximate date of the marriage of Herod Antipas and Herodias estimated by other historical methods.
Louis Feldman has stated that there is "no necessary contradiction between Josephus and the gospels as to the reason why John was put to death" in that the Christians chose to emphasize the moral charges while Josephus emphasized the political fears that John stirred in Herod.
Josephus stated (Antiquities 18.5.2) that the AD 36 defeat of Herod Antipas in the conflicts with Aretas IV of Nabatea was widely considered by the Jews of the time as misfortune brought about by Herod's unjust execution of John the Baptist. The approximate dates presented by Josephus are in concordance with other historical records, and most scholars view the variation between the motive presented by Josephus and the New Testament accounts is seen as an indication that the Josephus passage is not a Christian interpolation.
The three passages in relation to The Jewish Wars
Louis Feldman states that it is significant that the passages on James and John are found in the Antiquities and not in the Jewish Wars, but provides three explanations for their absence from the Jewish Wars. One explanation is that the Antiquities covers the time period involved at a greater length than the Jewish Wars. The second explanation is that during the gap between the writing of the Jewish Wars (c. 70 AD) and Antiquities (after 90 AD) Christians had become more important in Rome and were hence given attention in the Antiquities. Another explanation is that the passages were added to the Antiquities to highlight the power of the Pharisees, but he considers the last explanation less likely than the others.
One of the arguments against the authenticity of the James passage has been that in the Jewish Wars Josephus portrays the High Priest Ananus in a positive manner, while in the Antiquities he writes of Ananus in a negative tone. Louis Feldman rejects these arguments against the authenticity of the James passage and states that in several other unrelated cases the Jewish War also differs from the Antiquities, and that an interpolator would have made the two accounts correspond more closely to each other, not make them differ.
The twenty-year gap between the writing of the Jewish Wars and the Antiquities has also been used to explain some of the differences in tone between them. Clemens Thoma provides an explanation for this based on the observation that Josephus may have learned of the details of the actions of Ananus in the twenty-year gap between the writing of the Jewish Wars and the Antiquities, and thus avoided a positive tone when writing of Ananus in the Antiquities.
John Painter states that the difference in the context for the Jewish Wars and the Antiquities may also account for some of the differences in tone between them, e.g. when writing of Ananus in a positive tone in the Jewish Wars the context was Ananus' prudence in avoiding a war and hence Josephus considered that a positive aspect. However, when writing in the Antiquities about the actions of Ananus which resulted in his demotion from the High Priesthood, the context required the manifestation of a negative aspect of Ananus' character.
- Feldman & Hata 1987, pp. 54–57.
- Flavius Josephus & Maier 1995, p. 12.
- Feldman 1984, p. 826.
- Maier 2007, pp. 336–337.
- Schreckenberg & Schubert 1992a, pp. 38–41.
- Dunn 2003, p. 141.
- Kostenberger, Kellum & Quarles 2009, pp. 104–108.
- Evans 2001, p. 316.
- Wansbrough 2004, p. 185.
- The Jesus Legend by G. A. Wells 1996 ISBN 0812693345 page 48: "... that Josephus made some reference to Jesus, which has been retouched by a Christian hand. This is the view argued by Meier as by most scholars today particularly since S. Pines..."
- Van Voorst 2003, pp. 509–511.
- Cohen, Shaye J. D. (2011). "Josephus". In Levine, Amy-Jill; Brettler, Marc Zvi (eds.). The Jewish Annotated New Testament. p. 576. ISBN 978-0-19-529770-6.
Most modern scholars believe that Josephus could not have written this text as we have it... Scholars disagree about exactly how to reconstruct the original of the passage.
- Wilhelm Schneemelcher, Robert McLachlan Wilson, New Testament Apocrypha: Gospels and Related Writings, page 490 (James Clarke & Co. Ltd, 2003). ISBN 0-664-22721-X
- Louis Feldman (ISBN 90-04-08554-8 pages 55–57) states that the authenticity of the Josephus passage on James has been "almost universally acknowledged".
- Van Voorst 2000, p. 83.
- Flavius Josephus & Maier 1995, pp. 284–285.
- Bauckham 1999, pp. 199–203.
- Painter 2005, pp. 134-141.
- Sample quotes from previous references: Van Voorst (ISBN 0-8028-4368-9 page 83) states that the overwhelming majority of scholars consider both the reference to "the brother of Jesus called Christ" and the entire passage that includes it as authentic." Bauckham (ISBN 90-04-11550-1 pages 199–203) states: "the vast majority have considered it to be authentic". Meir (ISBN 978-0-8254-3260-6 pages 108–109) agrees with Feldman that few have questioned the authenticity of the James passage. Setzer (ISBN 0-8006-2680-X pages 108–109) also states that few have questioned its authenticity.
- Evans 2006, pp. 55–58.
- Bromiley 1982, pp. 694–695.
- White 2010, p. 48.
- Painter 2005, pp. 143–145.
- Eddy & Boyd 2007, p. 130.
- Feldman & Hata 1989, p. 431.
- Flavius Josephus et al. 2003, p. 26.
- Baras 1987, p. 369.
- Mason 2001, p. LI.
- Feldman 1984.
- "Regarding the Testimonium Flavianum, we have pointed out the possibility that originally Josephus mentioned Jesus in passing, without much polemic, as a ψευδοπροφήτης; (pseudo-prophet) or άπατεών, even as certain others he had mentioned (War 2:259-263; 6:288; Ant. 20:167). It is just as possible that the entire passage is secondary. It is not only absent from Origen, but also from the ancient table of contents to the eighteenth book of the Antiquities, and apparently from the Josephus codex of the patriarch Photius."Schreckenberg & Schubert 1992b, pp. 58.
- Van Voorst 2000, p. 85.
- Creed 1932.
- Bowman 1987, pp. 373–374.
- Chilton & Evans 1998, p. 451.
- Pines 1971, p. 19.
- Feldman 2006, pp. 329–330.
- Van Voorst 2000, p. 97.
- The historical Jesus: ancient evidence for the life of Christ by Gary R. Habermas 1996 ISBN page 194
- Vermes 2011, pp. 33–44.
- Whealey 2008, pp. 578-579.
- Whealey 2008, p. 578.
- Carrier 2012, p. 493 n. 9.
- Flavius Josephus: Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18, Chapter 3, 3, based on the translation of Louis H. Feldman, The Loeb Classical Library. http://www.josephus.org/testimonium.htm
- Flavius Josephus, Whiston & Maier 1999, p. 662.
- Louth 1990.
- McGiffert 2007.
- Olson 1999.
- Wallace-Hadrill 2011.
- Kenneth A. Olson, Eusebius and the Testimonium Flavianum. The Catholic Biblical Quarterly 61 (2): 305, 1999
- Baras 1987, p. 339.
- Jesus and His Contemporaries: Comparative Studies by Craig A. Evans 2001 ISBN 0-391-04118-5 page 43
- Van Voorst 2000, pp. 89–90.
- Jesus and the oral Gospel tradition by Henry Wansbrough 2004 ISBN 0-567-04090-9 page 185
- The Cradle, the Cross, and the Crown: An Introduction to the New Testament by Andreas J. Kostenberger, L. Scott Kellum and Charles L Quarles 2009 ISBN 0-8054-4365-7 pages 104–108
- Jesus in the Jewish World by Geza Vermes 2011 ISBN 0-334-04379-4 pages 35–43
- Jesus and His Contemporaries: Comparative Studies by Craig A. Evans 2001 ISBN 0-391-04118-5 page 316
- Van Voorst 2000, p. 89.
- Van Voorst 2000, p. 89-90.
- Feldman & Hata 1987, p. 55. Google books
- Josephus, the Bible, and History by Louis H. Feldman and Gohei Hata 1988 ISBN 0-8143-1982-3 page 430
- Alice Whealey (2003). Josephus on Jesus: the testimonium Flavianum controversy from late antiquity to modern times. Peter Lang. ISBN 978-0-8204-5241-8. Retrieved 19 February 2012.
- Meier, 1990 (especially note 15)
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- Van Voorst 2000, pp. 91–92.
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- Van Voorst 2000, p. 91.
- Baras 1987, p. 340.
- Josephus and the New Testament by Steve Mason 2003 ISBN 1-56563-795-X page 231
- Mizugaki 1987.
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- "Echo of a whisper" by Clare Rothchild in Ablution, Initiation, and Baptism: Late Antiquity, Early Judaism, and Early Christianity by David Hellholm 2010 ISBN 3-11-024751-8 page 274
- Feldman & Hata 1987, p. 57.
- Feldman & Hata 1987, p. 431.
- Jewish historiography and iconography in early and Medieval Christianity by Heinz Schreckenberg, Kurt Schubert Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1991 page 39
- Van Voorst 2000, p. 88.
- Drews, Arthur (1912) The Witness To The Historicity of Jesus, (London: Watts & Co., 1912) page 9
- Van Voorst 2000, p. 90.
- Jewish responses to early Christians by Claudia Setzer 1994 ISBN 0-8006-2680-X pages 106–107
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- Baras 1987, pp. 340–341.
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- Chilton & Evans 1998, pp. 187–198.
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- Van Voorst 2003, p. 509.
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- Richard Bauckham states that although a few scholars have questioned this passage, "the vast majority have considered it to be authentic" (Bauckham 1999, pp. 199–203).
- Habermas 1996, pp. 33–37.
- Painter 2005, p. 205.
- Painter 2005, pp. 132–137.
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