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Josephus - 1

Josephus: Evidence for Christianity?


Jesus as a person does not exist outside the gospels. The only Jesus we have is the Jesus of faith.  ~ Garry Wills



Could it be true, as the scholar and Christian historian Wills states, that there is no sound evidence of Jesus existing outside of the scriptures?  If we are to accept the claims of Christianity about the origins of scriptures it would be very helpful to have sources in addition to the writers of the Bible; extra-Biblical sources to corroborate or at least give credence to the assertions of its followers would lend more credibility to religious claims. But none?  Most believers base their origin narratives on ancient scriptures. If we do not have those outside sources, we must be very skeptical of any declarations of Jesus’ historicity and at least divinity due to the incredible claims made and the conflict of interest and agenda of its writers.  When Christians are asked for any such sources, the Jewish historian Josephus is frequently mentioned. Indeed, since he was not a Christian, this could be even a higher level of confirmatory evidence.  As discussed below, this hope is soon dashed, as a close examination of Josephus’ writings indicates the referenced writings are possibly all, or at least part, a forgery and most certainly a deliberate corruption of the original writings by Christians to make their case more believable.  In addition, as will be shown, this is not an isolated case, but rather a pattern of thinking and document changing that is seen throughout Christian writing.


Josephus was born Joseph ben Mattathias, or Yosef ben Matityahu in the year 37 CE, a few years after the death of Jesus. He wrote several historiographical works, and the one of interest for this discussion is the 20 volume Antiquities of the Jews, or Antiquitates Judaicae in Latin. He later became a Roman citizen and changed his name to Flavius Josephus (c. 37- c. 100), the name he is commonly called today. [1]


It is important to note that we have no originals of his writings; all extant copies derive from Christian copies and sources. There are two passages in Antiquities that supposedly reference Jesus. The first is a longer section, known as the Testimonium Flavianum, found in book 18, chapter 3, section 3 (18:3.3).  The second passage is a reference to James, “the brother of Jesus” and is referenced in 20:9.1. In addition, Josephus describes John the Baptist in his writings, and most scholars accept this last reference to be genuine and not an interpolation (an entry in the original text not written by the original author). [3]



Testimonium Flavianum (18:3.3)


Here is the Testimonium as it is referenced today:


Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross,  those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day;  as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day. [3]


Why do reputable scholars dismiss all or part of this entry as false writings of Josephus?  The evidence is diverse and copious.


1. The vocabulary and style is not that of Josephus. His writing style was to write detailed chapters about very insignificant figures. And yet, here we have him writing just a few details about Jesus, who certainly is proposed not to be an insignificant figure.  The writings of Josephus concerning John the Baptist describe much detail; the brief nature of the Testimonium starkly stands out as different.  In the Testimonium the Greek term “poietes” is used as “doer” but elsewhere Josephus uses the term to mean “poet”. [5]


2. Following the Testimonium, the first sentence of the next paragraph states, “About the   same time also another calamity put the Jews into disorder...”  This makes no sense - Josephus calling the Jesus entry ‘another sad calamity’?  It does make sense if we look at the preceding paragraph were he writes about Romans killing Jews; it seems obvious that the Testimonium was inserted and if removed, the chapter flows much more cleanly. The happy writings of the Testimonium hardly seem in context to the paragraphs around it talking about killing Jews. It interrupts the narrative. [see Appendix, below with the Testimonium removed] [5,7]


3. This passage first appears in the writings of the early church father Eusebius (c. AD 263–339). Feldman notes no fewer than 11 church fathers prior to or contemporary with Eusebius who make no clear reference to the Testimonium.  Early church fathers who were not acquainted with it include Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen.  Remsberg has surveyed 42 writers who wrote within a century after the time of Christ and not one mentions Jesus. [6]  It is not until the fourth century that a copy of Antiquites appears with the Testimonium in it; for 200 years church fathers who were aware of Josephus’ writings never mention this passage? Scores of non-Christian writers at the time of Jesus don’t even mention him once? [6]


4. The writing style is typical of Christian-speak. Too many phrases sound atypical for Josephus to write: “if it be lawful to call him...”, “he was [the] Christ”, “for he appeared to them alive again the third day”, etc. It indeed sounds like a Christian corrupting the document. [5]


5. Origen specifically declares that Josephus has not mentioned Christ. In the edition Origen published by the Benedictines, there is no mention of Jesus by Josephus. Thus, the phrase “he was [the] Christ”, did not exist until the middle of the third century or later. This phrase sounds like a profession of faith and hardly would be written by a Jew.  If Josephus did write this, why did he then not convert?  It makes no sense.  In the 16th century Vossius produced a manuscript of the text of Josephus in which there was not a single word about Jesus. His contention is that both the Testimonium and the James entry are interpolations.  White also argues that Josephus does not mention Jesus in his other major work, The Jewish Wars (Bellum Judaicum) and thus doubts the authenticity of the Jesus references in Antiquities.


6. Chrysostom, in his defense of Christianity rejected using the Testimonium as did Photius, even though he wrote three works about Josephus. [5]


7. Some modern scholars believe the phrase “he was the Christ” was changed from an original entry, “he was thought to be the Christ”. Jerome (died 420 AD) and Michael the Syrian (died 1199 AD) also quote the text using the latter phrase.  In any case, even if this is the original wording it seems clear that someone did alter the text. [4]


8. Eusebius and Jerome use the Testimonium for anti-pagan apologetics and not as an anti-Jewish argument.



James, brother of Jesus (20:9.1)


This is the passage in Antiquities we now have:


Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned:... [3]


1. Unlike the Testimonium, where nearly every reputable scholar has decided all or much is a forgery, this passage is more controversial.  Some accept it since it says “who was called the Christ” instead of “was [the] Christ” and many believe that Josephus could have written that statement. However, if the Test. Flav. is a forgery, it makes no sense that Josephus would mention Christ here also unless this too is a forgery. [1]


2. As noted above, many church fathers in the first 200 years after Christ did not reference any Josephus writings that mention Jesus, even though it would have been a huge advantage for them to use this source in their apologetics. [5]


3. As mentioned, there are numerous ancient historians and documents that do not mention Jesus in any of the writings of Josephus, and they were very familiar with Antiquities. The best explanation is that these phrases were inserted by Christians later.


4. It is doubtful that the James of Josephus is the same as James the Just, brother of Jesus. James the Just died in 69 A.D., seven years after the James of Josephus. [5]


5. Hegesippus wrote in 165 - 175 AD about the death of James that has irreconcilable conflicts with the account in Josephus’ writings.


6. Jesus was a common name in Palestine at the time. It has been suggested that in this section, the Jesus Josephus mentions is actually Jesus, son of the high priest Damneus and not the NT Jesus. Jesus the son of Damneus did have a brother called James who was stoned to death for a crime. [9]  “The name "Jesus" was as common among the Jews as is William or George with us. In the writings of Josephus, we find accounts of a number of Jesuses. One was Jesus, the son of Sapphias, the founder of a seditious band of mariners; another was Jesus, the captain of the robbers whose followers fled when they heard of his arrest; still another Jesus was a monomaniac who for seven years went about Jerusalem, crying, "Woe, woe, woe unto Jerusalem!" who was bruised and beaten many times, but offered no resistance; and who was finally killed with a stone at the siege of Jerusalem.” [6]


Continued on second page ------------ > Josephus 2