Josephus on Jesus

Josephus on Jesus

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This article is part of the Jesus and history
Jesus and history
-Other related topics:* The Bible and history discusses the historicity of the entire Bible.* Jesus Christ in comparative mythology is the study of Jesus from a mythographical perspective, an examination of the narrative of Jesus, as a central part of Christian mythology.* Josephus on Jesus...

 series of articles.

Titus Flavius Josephus , also called Joseph ben Matityahu , was a 1st-century Romano-Jewish historian and hagiographer of priestly and royal ancestry who recorded Jewish history, with special emphasis on the 1st century AD and the First Jewish–Roman War, which resulted in the Destruction of...

(c.37 – 100, also known as Yosef ben Matityahu, Hebrew
Hebrew language
Hebrew is a Semitic language of the Afroasiatic language family. Culturally, is it considered by Jews and other religious groups as the language of the Jewish people, though other Jewish languages had originated among diaspora Jews, and the Hebrew language is also used by non-Jewish groups, such...

 יוסף בן מתתיהו, Joseph son of Matthias) was a renowned 1st-century Jewish historian. Despite being a Roman apologist, his writings are considered authoritative and provide an important historical and cultural background for the era described in the New Testament
New Testament
The New Testament is the second major division of the Christian biblical canon, the first such division being the much longer Old Testament....

. Books 18 to 20 of the Antiquities of the Jews are the most important in this regard. Josephus was fluent in Aramaic
Aramaic language
Aramaic is a group of languages belonging to the Afroasiatic language phylum. The name of the language is based on the name of Aram, an ancient region in central Syria. Within this family, Aramaic belongs to the Semitic family, and more specifically, is a part of the Northwest Semitic subfamily,...

, Hebrew and Greek.

The surviving fragments of the writings by Josephus contain references of a Jewish sect led by James the Just
James the Just
James , first Bishop of Jerusalem, who died in 62 AD, was an important figure in Early Christianity...

, whom he calls the brother of Jesus. Josephus' history includes sections on John the Baptist
John the Baptist
John the Baptist was an itinerant preacher and a major religious figure mentioned in the Canonical gospels. He is described in the Gospel of Luke as a relative of Jesus, who led a movement of baptism at the Jordan River...

, the High Priest Annas
Annas [also Ananus or Ananias], son of Seth , was appointed by the Roman legate Quirinius as the first High Priest of the newly formed Roman province of Iudaea in 6 AD; just after the Romans had deposed Archelaus, Ethnarch of Judaea, thereby putting Judaea directly under Roman rule.Annas officially...

, Pontius Pilate
Pontius Pilate
Pontius Pilatus , known in the English-speaking world as Pontius Pilate , was the fifth Prefect of the Roman province of Judaea, from AD 26–36. He is best known as the judge at Jesus' trial and the man who authorized the crucifixion of Jesus...

, and Jesus
Jesus of Nazareth , commonly referred to as Jesus Christ or simply as Jesus or Christ, is the central figure of Christianity...

 called the Messiah.

Another passage, the famous Testimonium Flavianum found in the Antiquities of the Jews
Antiquities of the Jews
Antiquities of the Jews is a twenty volume historiographical work composed by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus in the thirteenth year of the reign of Roman emperor Flavius Domitian which was around 93 or 94 AD. Antiquities of the Jews contains an account of history of the Jewish people,...

 18.63-64, in its current form describes the ministry and death of Jesus in confessional terms; the authenticity of this passage remains contested by many scholars, and has been the topic of ongoing debate since the 17th century. Currently, the most widely held scholarly opinion is that the Testimonium Flavianum is partially authentic; but that those words and phrases that correspond with standard Christian formulae are additions from a Christian copyist.

Some scholars suspect all these passages to be Christian interpolations, on the grounds that Josephus, who was a Pharisee and sympathetic to the Romans, would not have given such a glowing view of Jesus.

In those parts of the Testimonium that some scholars commonly regarded as authentic, Jesus is described as a teacher and miracle worker, attracting a large following who revered him after his death. But, other than James, Josephus names none of the first-century founders of the Church
Christian Church
The Christian Church is the assembly or association of followers of Jesus Christ. The Greek term ἐκκλησία that in its appearances in the New Testament is usually translated as "church" basically means "assembly"...

 such as St. Paul, St. Peter or any of the Twelve Apostles, nor does he refer to basic Christian doctrines, such as the Virgin Birth
Virgin Birth
The virgin birth of Jesus is a tenet of Christianity and Islam which holds that Mary miraculously conceived Jesus while remaining a virgin. The term "virgin birth" is commonly used, rather than "virgin conception", due to the tradition that Joseph "knew her not till she brought forth her firstborn...

, the Incarnation
Incarnation (Christianity)
The Incarnation in traditional Christianity is the belief that Jesus Christ the second person of the Trinity, also known as God the Son or the Logos , "became flesh" by being conceived in the womb of a woman, the Virgin Mary, also known as the Theotokos .The Incarnation is a fundamental theological...

 or the Atonement, but these generally developed after the time of Josephus. William Whiston
William Whiston
William Whiston was an English theologian, historian, and mathematician. He is probably best known for his translation of the Antiquities of the Jews and other works by Josephus, his A New Theory of the Earth, and his Arianism...

, a 19th-century scholar, suggested that Josephus may have been an Ebionite Christian
Ebionites, or Ebionaioi, , is a patristic term referring to a Jewish Christian sect or sects that existed during the first centuries of the Christian Era. They regarded Jesus as the Messiah and insisted on the necessity of following Jewish religious law and rites...


During the beginning of the twentieth century, a Russian version of The Jewish War was discovered, commonly called the "Slavoic Josephus" or Testimonium Slavianum that is universally acknowledged by all scholars to contain Christian interpolations.

James the brother of Jesus

According to Christian writings, after the Crucifixion of Jesus
Crucifixion of Jesus
The crucifixion of Jesus and his ensuing death is an event that occurred during the 1st century AD. Jesus, who Christians believe is the Son of God as well as the Messiah, was arrested, tried, and sentenced by Pontius Pilate to be scourged, and finally executed on a cross...

, James the brother of Jesus became the leader of the Jewish sect that would become known as Jewish Christianity. James "the Just"
James the Just
James , first Bishop of Jerusalem, who died in 62 AD, was an important figure in Early Christianity...

, remained its leader until he was martyred AD c. 62.
Some suggest the above quotation from the Antiquities is directly contradicted by the equivalent historic account given in The Jewish Wars, which does not mention the martyrdom of James and cites the death of Ananus as the reason for the beginning of the destruction of Jerusalem. From the surviving fragments of The Jewish Wars: "I should not be wrong in saying, that with the death of Ananus began the capture of the city, and from that very day on which the Jews beheld their high priest and the guardians of their safety, murdered in the midst of Jerusalem, its bulwarks were laid low, and the Jewish state overthrown." Others point out that the above quotation says nothing regarding the destruction of Jerusalem.

Isaac Mayer Wise
Isaac Mayer Wise
Isaac Mayer Wise , was an American Reform rabbi, editor, and author.-Early life:...

 believed that while the passage was historically accurate, the phrase "who was called Christ" was the addition of a Christian transcriber. The notable freethinker John Remsburg in his 1909 book, The Christ, agreed that the "who was called Christ" passage was a 3rd-century addition citing the then-popular view based on a c. 170 CE work by Hegesippus
Hegesippus (chronicler)
Saint Hegesippus , was a Christian chronicler of the early Church who may have been a Jewish convert and certainly wrote against heresies of the Gnostics and of Marcion...

 that put the death of James the Just at c. 70, while the Josephus account puts it at c. 64. Remsburg's theory that the passage was added as a marginal note
Marginalia are scribbles, comments, and illuminations in the margins of a book.- Biblical manuscripts :Biblical manuscripts have liturgical notes at the margin, for liturgical use. Numbers of texts' divisions are given at the margin...

 by a Christian copyist and later incorporated into the main text by a later copyist was reiterated by George Albert Wells
George Albert Wells
George Albert Wells , usually known as G. A. Wells, is an Emeritus Professor of German at Birkbeck, University of London. He is best known as an advocate of the idea that Jesus is a largely mythical rather than a historical figure....

 in 1986.

In The Witnesses to the Historicity of Jesus (1912), Arthur Drews
Arthur Drews
Christian Heinrich Arthur Drews [pronounced "drefs"] was a German philosopher, writer, and important representative of German Monist thought. He was born in Uetersen, Holstein, present day Germany....

 wrote, "In the edition of Origen
Origen , or Origen Adamantius, 184/5–253/4, was an early Christian Alexandrian scholar and theologian, and one of the most distinguished writers of the early Church. As early as the fourth century, his orthodoxy was suspect, in part because he believed in the pre-existence of souls...

 published by the Benedictines it is said that there was no mention of Jesus at all in Josephus before the time of Eusebius (about 300 A.D., Ecclesiast. Hist., 1, 11). Moreover, in the sixteenth century Vossius had a manuscript of the text of Josephus in which there was not a word about Jesus." He believed this was proof that both this passage and the Testimonium Flavianum were interpolations.

Kenneth Humphreys points to the "Jesus, the son of Damneus" passage as identifying Jesus in this passage and dismissed the phrrase, "who was called Christ," as being inserted later. Emil Schürer
Emil Schürer
Emil Schürer was a German Protestant theologian.-Biography:Schürer was born at Augsburg.After studying at Erlangen, Berlin and Heidelberg from 1862 to 1866, he became in 1873 professor extraordinarius at Leipzig and eventually professor ordinarius at Göttingen...

 rejected the entire passage, largely on the a priori grounds that Josephus wanted to avoid mentioning Jewish belief in a Messiah to his Roman readers.

This passage, and the Testimonium are the only two times that Josephus uses the word "Christ".

John the Baptist

According to Christian writings, John the Baptist
John the Baptist
John the Baptist was an itinerant preacher and a major religious figure mentioned in the Canonical gospels. He is described in the Gospel of Luke as a relative of Jesus, who led a movement of baptism at the Jordan River...

 played a central role in the ministry of Jesus by baptizing him in the river Jordan. The historicity of John the Baptist is supported in all extant manuscripts of the Jewish Antiquities (book 18, chapter 5, 2) by Flavius Josephus (37–100):
The above quotation from the Antiquities is considered authentic in its entirety by almost all scholars. But, over the years a minority of scholars have raised doubts.

Testimonium Flavianum (Koine Greek)

Although there is consensus that most of the writings of Josephus are authentic, the following passage, which appears in the Greek version of Antiquities of the Jews
Antiquities of the Jews
Antiquities of the Jews is a twenty volume historiographical work composed by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus in the thirteenth year of the reign of Roman emperor Flavius Domitian which was around 93 or 94 AD. Antiquities of the Jews contains an account of history of the Jewish people,...

 18.63-64, is the notable exception:
The scholarly debate can be divided into three main groups: those who believe it is authentic, those who do not and those who believe it is partially authentic.


The first person to cite this passage of Antiquities was Eusebius
Eusebius of Caesarea
Eusebius of Caesarea also called Eusebius Pamphili, was a Roman historian, exegete and Christian polemicist. He became the Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine about the year 314. Together with Pamphilus, he was a scholar of the Biblical canon...

, writing in about 324. In his Demonstratio Evangelica, he quotes the passage
in essentially the same form (he has πολλους των Ιουδαιων instead of πολλους Ιουδαιους, and inserts απο before του Ελληνικου).

As is common with ancient texts, The Antiquities of the Jews survives only in medieval copies. The manuscripts, the oldest of which dates from the 11th century, are all Greek minuscules, and all have been copied by Christian monks. Jews did not preserve the writings of Josephus because they considered him to be a traitor. The text of Antiquities appears to have been transmitted in two halves i.e. (books 1–10 and books 11–20). Other ad hoc copies of the Testimonium also survive, as a quotation in the works of Christian writers.

Recent scholarly discussion has favoured partial authenticity of the Testimonium Flavianum. Louis Feldman
Louis Feldman
Louis Harry Feldman is an American professor of classics and literature. He is Abraham Wouk Family Professor of Classics and Literature at Yeshiva University, the institution at which he has taught since 1956...

 counts 87 articles published during the period of 1937-1980, "the overwhelming majority of which question its authenticity in whole or in part".

Géza Vermes
Geza Vermes
Géza Vermes or Vermès is a British scholar of Jewish Hungarian origin and writer on religious history, particularly Jewish and Christian. He is a noted authority on the Dead Sea Scrolls and other ancient works in Aramaic, and on the life and religion of Jesus...

 offers a speculative reconstruction of the original text of the Testimonium Flavianum, removing later Christian additions, indicating deletions with "…":

Arguments in favor of authenticity or partial authenticity

Until the 16th century, Christian writers took the position that Josephus wrote the Testimonium in its current form. Many modern scholars do claim that Josephus did write something about Jesus which has been corrupted, to an unspecified degree, in the surviving Greek text.

Arabic version

In 1971, Shlomo Pines
Shlomo Pines
Shlomo Pines was a scholar of Jewish and Islamic philosophy, best known for his English translation of Maimonides' Guide to the Perplexed.-Biography:...

, a Jewish professor
A professor is a scholarly teacher; the precise meaning of the term varies by country. Literally, professor derives from Latin as a "person who professes" being usually an expert in arts or sciences; a teacher of high rank...

, published a translation of a different version of the Testimonium, quoted in an Arabic manuscript of the 10th century. The manuscript in question appears in the Book of the Title written by Agapius the historian
Agapius the historian
Agapius son of Constantine was a 10th century Arabic Christian writer, best known for his lengthy Kitab al-'Unwan . He was the Melkite bishop of Manbij .He was contemporary with the annalist Eutychius , also a Melchite...

, a 10th-century Arabic Christian and Melkite
The term Melkite, also written Melchite, refers to various Byzantine Rite Christian churches and their members originating in the Middle East. The word comes from the Syriac word malkāyā , and the Arabic word Malakī...

 bishop of Hierapolis Bambyce (Manbij). Agapius' version of the Testimonium reads:

For he says in the treatises that he has written in the governance of the Jews: "At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus, and his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon their loyalty to him. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive. Accordingly they believed that he was the Messiah, concerning whom the Prophets have recounted wonders." - Shlomo Pines' translation, quoted by J. D. Crossan

The text that Pines gives is mainly derived from the quotation of this portion of Agapius in the later Arabic Christian historian, Al-Makin
George Elmacin
George Elmacin , also known as Ibn Amid, was an Arabic Christian historian.-Life:The details of his life come from passages at the end of his own history. He was born in Cairo in Egypt in 1205. His full name in Arabic was Ğirğis ibn Abī Ùl-Yāsir ibn Abī Ùl-Mukārīm ibn Abī Ùt.-T. ayyib al-ÿAmīd ...

, which contains extra material not found in the Florence manuscript that alone preserves the second half of Agapius.

Pines suggests that Agapius' Testimonium may be a more accurate record of what Josephus wrote, lacking as it does the parts which have often been considered to have been added by Christian copyists. He argued that this would add weight to the argument that Josephus did write something about Jesus.

But, Pines' theory, that Agapius' text largely reflects what Josephus wrote, has not been widely accepted. As the title of Josephus's work is inaccurate in this version suggests that Agapius is paraphrasing his source, which may explain the discrepancies with the Greek version. Agapius explicitly claims that he used a lost, older Syriac chronicle by Theophilus of Edessa (d. 785) to write his chronicle. This suggests that his Testimonium is also a paraphrase of a Syriac version. Because of some linguistic parallels between Agapius' Testimonium, the Testimonium of Michael the Syrian (see above and below) and that of the Syriac translation of Eusebius' Historia Ecclesiasica, Alice Whealey has argued that Agapius' passage is a paraphrase of a Testimonium taken from the Syriac translation of Eusebius' Historia Ecclesiastica that differed from the textus receptus in several ways, but most significantly in reading "he was thought to be the Christ."

Whealey has suggested that Agapius' statement that Pilate condemned Jesus to be crucified "and to die" was a response to the Muslim
Islam . The most common are and .   : Arabic pronunciation varies regionally. The first vowel ranges from ~~. The second vowel ranges from ~~~...

 belief that Jesus did not die on the cross. This aspect of Agapius' Testimonium is not unique, since a similarly enhanced reference to Jesus' death independently appears in Michael the Syrian's Testimonium and in one other Syriac Testimonium deriving from the Syriac translation of Eusebius' Historia Ecclesiastica. This parallel is one more piece of evidence indicating that Agapius' text is an Arabic paraphrase of a literal Syriac translation of the Testimonium.

Syriac version

Pines also refers to the Syriac translation of the Testimonium cited in the 12th century by Michael the Syrian
Michael the Syrian
Michael the Syrian , also known as Michael the Great or Michael Syrus or Michael the Elder, to distinguish him from his nephew, was a patriarch of the Syriac Orthodox Church from 1166 to 1199. He is best known today as the author of the largest medieval Chronicle, which he composed in Syriac...

 in his World Chronicle. It was left to Alice Whealey to point out that Michael's text is identical with Jerome's translation of the Testimonium at the most contentious point ("He was the Christ" becoming "He was believed to be the Christ"), establishing the existence of a variant that must go back to a Greek manuscript. Latin and Syriac writers did not read each others' works in late antiquity, but both commonly read and translated Greek Christian texts.


In his surviving works, Origen
Origen , or Origen Adamantius, 184/5–253/4, was an early Christian Alexandrian scholar and theologian, and one of the most distinguished writers of the early Church. As early as the fourth century, his orthodoxy was suspect, in part because he believed in the pre-existence of souls...

 does not mention the Testimonium Flavianum, although he was familiar with the Antiquities of the Jews. Origen makes mention of the second passage about Jesus in Josephus in Antiquities of the Jews (xx.9) as well as Josephus' reference to John the Baptist
John the Baptist
John the Baptist was an itinerant preacher and a major religious figure mentioned in the Canonical gospels. He is described in the Gospel of Luke as a relative of Jesus, who led a movement of baptism at the Jordan River...

, which occurs in the same chapter (xviii) as the Testimonium. Origen states that Josephus "did not accept Jesus as Christ", but the Testimonium declares Jesus to be Christ. This is why modern scholars suspect the original Testimonium was worded "he was called Christ" rather than "he was the Christ." According to Alice Whealey, this original version was also probably what Eusebius had at his disposal. Whealey has argued that the wording of Michael the Syrian's Testimonium in particular, which employs the word mistabra, meaning "was supposed," has a skeptical connotation, as evidenced in the Syriac New Testament where it is used to translate Greek enomizeto of Luke 3:23. She has argued that Origen's probable exposure to a reading like Greek enomizeto (corresponding to the Syriac mistabra) in the original version of the Testimonium would readily explain Origen's statement that Josephus did not believe in Jesus as the Christ.

Literary connection with the Gospel of Luke

In 1995, G. J. Goldberg, using a digital database of ancient literature, identified a possible literary connection between Josephus and the Gospel of Luke
Gospel of Luke
The Gospel According to Luke , commonly shortened to the Gospel of Luke or simply Luke, is the third and longest of the four canonical Gospels. This synoptic gospel is an account of the life and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. It details his story from the events of his birth to his Ascension.The...

. He found a number of coincidences in word choice and word order, though not in exact wording, between the entire Josephus passage on Jesus and a summary of the life of Jesus in Luke 24:19-21, 26-27, called the "Emmaus
Emmaus Nicopolis
Emmaus Nicopolis was the Roman name for a city associated with the Emmaus of the New Testament, where Jesus is said to have appeared after his death and resurrection. In the modern age, the site was the location of the Palestinian Arab village of Imwas, near the Latrun junction, between Jerusalem...


And he said to them, "What things?" And they said to him, "Concerning Jesus of Nazareth, a man who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him up to be condemned to death, and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things happened. ... Was it not necessary that the Christ should suffer these things and enter into his glory? And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

Goldberg points out explicit similarities in the Greek text, including a grammatical form of "the third day" which exists only in these two texts, and nowhere else in Christian literature; an unusual introduction of the first-person plural; as well as other consistent peculiarities of order and style that, he argues, have no parallel in other Jesus descriptions. From these, Goldberg writes, "The conclusion that can therefore be drawn is that Josephus and Luke derived their passages from a common Christian (or Jewish-Christian) source." Goldberg points out that Josephus' phrases: "if it be lawful to call him a man," "He was [the] Christ," "he appeared to them," and "And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day," have no parallel in Luke's passage, and takes this to support the position that the first two short phrases are Christian additions, while the latter two form the context of the Emmaus text and so were available to be transmitted by Josephus. Luke contains the phrases "but besides all this," four sentences on the women who witnessed the tomb, and "the Christ should suffer," for which there is no counterpart in Josephus' text; unless referred to in the summary "these and countless other marvelous things about him".

An alternate theory has been argued by Steve Mason
Steve Mason
Stephen Roger Mason was born in Brooklyn NY, in 1940.Steve Mason was a decorated United States American combat veteran of the Vietnam War and a critically acclaimed poet. His poem "The Wall Within" was read at the 1984 dedication of the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C...

, who proposes that Luke-Acts may have used Josephus as a source.

Early Christian writers other than Origen

It has been suggested by older scholarship that since Justin Martyr
Justin Martyr
Justin Martyr, also known as just Saint Justin , was an early Christian apologist. Most of his works are lost, but two apologies and a dialogue survive. He is considered a saint by the Roman Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church....

 makes no mention of the Testimonium in his efforts to persuade the rabbi Trypho in the Dialog With Trypho the Jew, the text must not have existed, since it would have been an "extremely effective answer" to Trypho. However, there is no evidence that Justin Martyr knew Josephus' works: Josephus is never mentioned in his genuine works. There is no evidence that any early Christian apologists used Josephus' works in apologies directed at Jews. Early writers such as Eusebius of Caesarea
Eusebius of Caesarea
Eusebius of Caesarea also called Eusebius Pamphili, was a Roman historian, exegete and Christian polemicist. He became the Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine about the year 314. Together with Pamphilus, he was a scholar of the Biblical canon...

 and Jerome
Saint Jerome was a Roman Christian priest, confessor, theologian and historian, and who became a Doctor of the Church. He was the son of Eusebius, of the city of Stridon, which was on the border of Dalmatia and Pannonia...

 do not draw on the Testimonium for anti-Jewish apologetic reasons; rather, they use the text for anti-pagan apologetics. The earliest use of the Testimonium for anti-Jewish disputation appears in an anonymous late 4th-century Latin text, known conventionally as Pseudo-Hegesippus
Pseudo-Hegesippus is a conventional title for a fourth-century adaptor of the Jewish War of Flavius Josephus.-The text:Although the author is sometimes termed a "translator", he never makes a claim to be translating either literally or freely. Rather, he considered himself an historian who used...

's 'De excidio Hierosolymitano.'.

Although some Christians before Origen had read parts of 'Jewish War' and 'Against Apion,' it is not clear that any Christian before Origen had read 'Antiquities' at all, and none before Origen makes any clear reference to Book 18 of Antiquities, where the Testimonium appears. Against this, Feldman had written that "no fewer than eleven church fathers prior to, or contemporary with, Eusebius cite various passages from Josephus (including the Antiquities) but not the Testimonium". Both Michael Hardwick and Alice Whealey have conducted a closer reading of ante-Nicene Christian texts that cite or have been assumed to cite 'Antiquities' than Feldman and other earlier scholars, and both conclude that some prior assumptions that 'Antiquities' is cited are mistaken or debatable. For example, Hardwick has shown that Tertullian
Quintus Septimius Florens Tertullianus, anglicised as Tertullian , was a prolific early Christian author from Carthage in the Roman province of Africa. He is the first Christian author to produce an extensive corpus of Latin Christian literature. He also was a notable early Christian apologist and...

 (ca. 193) had read Josephus' 'Against Apion' rather than 'Antiquities', as is sometimes assumed. Tertullian's reference to "antiqitatum Judaicarum" (Apol. 19) is not a reference to 'Antiquities,' but rather a reference to 'Against Apion,' which in ancient times was known as "The antiquity [i.e. ancient-ness] of the Jews." Hardwick argues that contrary to the assumption of some older scholars, not only is it not clear that Tertullian had ever read 'Antiquities' but it is not clear that any other writer of the Western church other than Tertullian was directly acquainted with any of Josephus' works at all.

Whealey expresses more skepticism than Hardwick about Christians before Origen citing 'Antiquities'. For example, she argues that the authenticity of one catena
Catena (Biblical commentary)
A catena is a form of biblical commentary, verse by verse, made up entirely of excerpts from earlier Biblical commentators, each introduced with the name of the author, and with such minor adjustments of words to allow the whole to form a continuous commentary.The texts are mainly compiled from...

 fragment citing Book 2 of 'Antiquities' attributed to Irenaeus
Saint Irenaeus , was Bishop of Lugdunum in Gaul, then a part of the Roman Empire . He was an early church father and apologist, and his writings were formative in the early development of Christian theology...

 is debatable because catenae were often miscopied. She has pointed out that even if the attribution to Irenaeus is accurate, it is clear that he was unfamiliar with Book 18 of 'Antiquities' since he wrongly claims that Jesus was executed by Pilate in the reign of Claudius (Dem. ev. ap. 74), while Antiquities 18.89 indicates that Pilate was deposed during the reign of Tiberius, before Claudius. As for writers of the Eastern church, Clement of Alexandria
Clement of Alexandria
Titus Flavius Clemens , known as Clement of Alexandria , was a Christian theologian and the head of the noted Catechetical School of Alexandria. Clement is best remembered as the teacher of Origen...

 vaguely refers (Stromata
The Stromata is the third in Clement of Alexandria's trilogy of works on the Christian life. Clement titled this work Stromateis, "patchwork," because it dealt with such a variety of matters...

 1.147) to Josephus' historical writings in a way that indicates that he knew directly or indirectly the claim of The Jewish Wars 6.440 that there were 1179 years between David and the second year of Vespasian. Direct familiarity with 'Antiquities' is, however, unclear in this passage. Clement's claim that there were 585 years between Moses and David may be based on Antiquities 8.61, which says that there were 592 years between the Exodus and the Temple, if one assumes that he subtracted the four years of Solomon's reign, and that a copying error was responsible for Clement's text reading 585 instead of 588. But what this conjectural explanation for Clement's claim about 585 years shows (a figure that does not explicitly appear in Antiquities) is that it is far from clear that Clement had direct acquaintance with Josephus' Antiquities.

Vocabulary and style

It has been claimed that some of the passage fails a standard test for authenticity, in that it contains vocabulary not otherwise used by Josephus; for example, the Testimonium uses the Greek term poietes with the meaning "doer" (as part of the phrase "doer of wonderful works"), but elsewhere Josephus only uses the term poietes to mean "poet," while it is Eusebius who uses poietes to mean "doer of wonderful works" when referring to Jesus. However, it has been argued that Eusebius' use of the term "doer of wonderful works" for Jesus (and in later works for God) is evidence of the influence of the Testimonium's vocabulary on his own vocabulary about Jesus (and by extension about God in later works), rather than evidence of his fabrication of the Testimonium.

On the other hand, John P. Meier states that "the vocabulary and grammar of the passage (after the clearly Christian material is removed) cohere well with Josephus' style and language...almost every word in the core of the "Testimonium" is found elsewhere in Josephus---in fact, most of the vocabulary turns out to be characteristic of Josephus". C. Guignebert has claimed that Josephus's style is not difficult to imitate, so that vocabulary proves little one way or the other.

The brief and compact character of the Testimonium stands in stark contrast to Josephus' more voluminous detailing of other individuals, even including those of minor importance; for example, Josephus' account of John the Baptist
John the Baptist
John the Baptist was an itinerant preacher and a major religious figure mentioned in the Canonical gospels. He is described in the Gospel of Luke as a relative of Jesus, who led a movement of baptism at the Jordan River...

 and his death, describes his virtues, the theology associated with his baptismal practices, his oratorical skills, that John's influence was so great that Herod was afraid of John's ability to incite the people to rebel against his regime, 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.

Interruption to the text

The paragraph before the Testimonium flows naturally into the paragraph after it, which might indicate either that the entire paragraph is a later insertion, or that it was substantially rewritten. As Guiguebert put it, "the short digression, even with the proposed corrections, interrupts the thread of the discourse into which it is introduced". On the other hand, this argument has been rejected as inconclusive or unconvincing by some modern scholars, who have argued that Josephus was a "patchwork" writer, who often employed such digressive techniques, inserting passages, sometimes based on barely revised sources, that do not fit smoothly with, and sometimes even contradict, surrounding narratives.

Josephus's faith

It is often argued that "He was [the] Christ" can only be read as a profession of faith, and Josephus was almost certainly not a Christian, instead remaining a conventional Jew; Josephus's lack of Christianity was mentioned by early Christian writers before Eusebius, such as Origen (as noted above). For example, John Dominic Crossan
John Dominic Crossan
John Dominic Crossan is an Irish-American religious scholar and former Catholic priest known for co-founding the Jesus Seminar. Crossan is a major figure in the fields of biblical archaeology, anthropology and New Testament textual and higher criticism. He is also a lecturer who has appeared in...

 has put it this way: The problem here is that Josephus' account is too good to be true, too confessional to be impartial, too Christian to be Jewish.

Consequently, some scholars regard at least certain parts of the Testimonium as later additions. In particular three passages stood out:
  • if it be lawful to call him a man …
  • He was [the] Christ …
  • 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

The phrase "he was the Christ" has been viewed as particularly problematic because it seems to indicate that the author thought that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah. Some scholars have argued that Josephus thought that Jewish messianic promises were fulfilled in Vespasian
Vespasian , was Roman Emperor from 69 AD to 79 AD. Vespasian was the founder of the Flavian dynasty, which ruled the Empire for a quarter century. Vespasian was descended from a family of equestrians, who rose into the senatorial rank under the Emperors of the Julio-Claudian dynasty...

, and view it as unlikely that Josephus would explain too clearly or underline too sharply the existence of alternative messianic fulfilments before Vespasian. In contrast, Meir has argued that the phrase "he was the Christ" was meant as an identification only, rather than an assertion of Jesus' Messiahship, since the audience for the work were Romans of the late 1st century, and the earliest extant Roman writers, Tacitus and Pliny the Younger, writing shortly after Josephus in the early 2nd century, identify Jesus as Christus, rather than Jesus, without implying anything about Jesus' Messianic status.

Although the standard text says "he was the Christ", a recent study by Alice Whealey
Alice Whealey
Alice Whealey is an independent intellectual historian. She received an M.A. In history, an M.A. in Demography, and Ph.D. in History from U.C. Berkeley....

 has argued that a variant Greek text of this sentence existed in the 4th century — He was believed to be the Christ; following Whealey's argument, the standard text would represent a corruption of the original, namely the loss of the main verb and a subsequent scribal "correction" of the prolative infinitive.


The entire passage is also found in one Greek manuscript of Josephus' earlier work, The Jewish War
The Wars of the Jews
The Jewish War , in full Flavius Josephus's Books of the History of the Jewish War against the Romans , also referred to in English as The Wars of the Jews and The History of the Destruction of Jerusalem, is a book written by the 1st century Jewish historian Josephus.It is a description of Jewish...

. (This Greek manuscript of "Jewish War" with an interpolated Testimonium is known as the "Codex Vossianus.") A passage about Jesus that appears to have been inspired by the Testimonium, but that differs widely from it in content also appears in an Old Russian adaptation of Jewish War written c.1250. The passage dealing with Jesus is not the only significant difference between the Old Russian and Greek versions of Jewish War. Robert Eisler
Robert Eisler
Robert Eisler was an Austrian Jewish art historian and Biblical scholar. He was a follower of the psychology of Carl Jung. His writings cover a great range of topics, from cosmic kingship and astrology to werewolves....

 has suggested that it was produced from one of Josephus's drafts (noting that the "Slavonic Version" has Josephus escaping his fellow Jews at Jotapata when "he counted the numbers
Josephus problem
In computer science and mathematics, the Josephus Problem is a theoretical problem related to a certain counting-out game....

 [of the lot cast in the suicide pact] cunningly and so managed to deceive all the others", which is in striking contrast to the conventional version's account:

"Without hesitation each man in turn offered his throat for the next man to cut, in the belief that a moment later his commander would die too. Life was sweet, but not so sweet as death if Josephus died with them! But Josephus - shall we put it down to divine providence or just luck - was left with one other man....he used persuasion, they made a pact, and both remained alive."

Other unique passages in the Old Russian version of "Jewish War" include accounts of John the Baptist, Jesus's ministry (along with his death and resurrection), and the activities of the early church.

Alleged fabrication by Eusebius

Ken Olson has argued that the Testimonium was fabricated by Eusebius of Caesarea
Eusebius of Caesarea
Eusebius of Caesarea also called Eusebius Pamphili, was a Roman historian, exegete and Christian polemicist. He became the Bishop of Caesarea in Palestine about the year 314. Together with Pamphilus, he was a scholar of the Biblical canon...

, who was the first author to quote it in his Demonstratio Evangelica. Olson argues that the specific wording of the Testimonium is closely related to the argument Eusebius makes in his Demonstratio, in particular that Jesus is a "wise man" and not a "wizard", as shown by the fact that his followers did not desert him even after he was crucified. Whealey rejects Olson's thesis of Eusebian fabrication based on a comparison of the Testimonium's style with that of Eusebius' undisputed works, and the fact that there is no known case of complete fabrication ex nihilo by Eusebius of any other text that he quotes in his works.

Modern stylometric studies, which use a concordance of Josephus' works that did not exist before the 20th century, has revealed some Josephan vocabulary and phrases (see above). As a consequence, it has more recently been argued that even "some proponents of the forgery thesis would agree that it is a good one" (i.e. good forgery).

See also

  • Textual criticism
    Textual criticism
    Textual criticism is a branch of literary criticism that is concerned with the identification and removal of transcription errors in the texts of manuscripts...

  • Benjamin Urrutia
    Benjamín Urrutia
    Benjamin Urrutia is an author and scholar. With Guy Davenport, Urrutia edited The Logia of Yeshua, which collected what Urrutia and Davenport consider to be Jesus' authentic sayings from a variety of canonical and non-canonical sources...

  • Historicity of Jesus
    Historicity of Jesus
    The historicity of Jesus concerns how much of what is written about Jesus of Nazareth is historically reliable, and whether the evidence supports the existence of such an historical figure...

External links