More Lazy Historiography By Tim O’Neill: Did Josephus REALLY Mention Jesus?

If you have been following my blog, you will hopefully know that I am not someone who subscribes to Mythicism. Instead, I hold to a position known as historical agnosticism when it comes to the historicity of Jesus. In case you don’t know the difference, I explain it here, but to briefly explain summarise, the three different positions one can hold regarding the existence of Jesus are:

  • Historicity: someone who maintains that there was a historical, flesh and blood figure whom we would recognise as Jesus of Nazareth in (approximately) the time the Gospels describe he lived and died.
  • Mythicism: the earliest writings to Jesus were of a celestial beingwho was never on Earth but the references made about him are based on revelations and allusions to Scripture, who was then placed into history through a process of euhemerism by the Gospels and other New Testament writings.
  • Agnosticism: the position in which whether or not there was a historical figure which one might refer to as Jesus of Nazareth is either impossible to affirm, and/or that one cannot say with any certainty that the figure of Jesus of Nazareth existed.

Obviously within each, one can split these into different groups, but generally speaking these are the positions that one could hold regarding the existence of Jesus. The importance of this, is that there is a huge difference between myself as an agnostic and a mythicist; the main one being I am not convinced that the extant evidence we have warrants the belief that the earliest writings we have can be best explained as a celestial being which was euhemerised. Instead, my position is that if we had a time machine and travelled back to the first century to the correct time and place in which Jesus supposedly lived and died, we would not be able to clearly find a historical figure which we would be able to recognise as Jesus of Nazareth. For instance, although I haven’t spelt out the entire case exactly why, but if you have read either my post about the apparently certain fact about Jesus’ Baptism (see here) or my posts about Paul’s claim that Jesus was born of a woman (here and here), it seems the scholarship on the issues are more nuanced than is often assumed and more complicated than is often treated by many scholars. Not only this, but scholars holding to Jesus’ earthly existence merely rely on heuristics or a superficial analysis of the evidence, which I hope (whether you agree with my conclusions or not) you’d not accuse me of doing here. Thus, I will freely admit that there may well have been a figure(s) which inspired the Jewish-Christian movement, I would say that what can be known about him is so minimal (if anything) that we could not clearly identify him in the first century. In other words, there may well have been someone called Yehoshua, who perhaps was a Jewish Pharisee, who may or may not have been baptised and crucified at some point in the first century, who later because the “Jesus of history” and later on the “Christ of faith”, but we know virtually nothing about him other than a few fragmentary details (at best).

In addition to the above, if you have been following my blog, you will know I’m not a huge fan of the self-appointed expert, Tim O’Neillor his grandiosely named (and in my view, incorrectly named) website History for Atheists. The reason being, Tim seems to perform exactly the same tactics that I find with a lot of apologists; he seems to think that uncritically summarising the scholarly consensus and repeating the arguments that have been offered countless times before, constitutes a sound defence of his position. However, just as I think anyone should encourage, the purpose of my blog is to go into these issues with a fine tooth comb and show that these issues are more complicated than just a cursory analysis of the evidence and uncritically regurgitating the same arguments and evidence that are often presented and merely assumed to be the case. With all this being said, I will be going through a commonly repeated argument by Tim and many others affirming that Jesus existed; that the Jewish-Roman historian Josephus mentioned Jesus of Nazareth in the famous, or perhaps infamous, Testimonium Flavianum. As Tim argues:

In fact, there is only one writer of the time who had any interest in such figures, who also had little interest for Roman and Greek writers.  He was the Jewish historian Josephus, who is our sole source for virtually all of the Jewish preachers, prophets, faith healers and Messianic claimants of this time.  If there is any writer who should mention Jesus, it’s Josephus.  The problem for the “Jesus Mythicists” is … he does.  Twice, in fact.  He does do so in Antiquities XVIII.63-64 and again in Antiquities XX.200.  Mythicists take comfort in the fact that the first of these references has been added to by later Christian scribes, so they dismiss it as a wholesale interpolation.  But the majority of modern scholars disagree, arguing there is solid evidence to believe that Josephus did make a mention of Jesus here and that it was added to by Christians to help bolster their arguments against Jewish opponents. 

– Emphasis in original

The position Tim is talking about here therefore, is that the majority of scholars claim that Josephus does mention Jesus in the Testimonium Flavianum, although most accept that it was not wholly written by Josephus, but added to by a later Christian scribe. While I do not disagree that most contemporary scholars hold to what is referred to as a partial-interpolation (that Josephus wrote some of what is attributed to him), the arguments which Tim provide are far from offering a convincing example of sound historical analysis. So let’s break down his argument and see why this is:

The Jewish priestly aristocrat Joseph ben Matityahu, who took the Roman name Flavius Josephus, is our main source of information about Jewish affairs in this period and is usually the only writer of the time who makes any mention of Jewish preachers, prophets and Messianic claimants of the first century.  Not surprisingly, he mentions Jesus twice: firstly in some detail in Antiquities of the Jews XVIII.63-64 and again more briefly when mentioning the execution of Jesus’ brother James in Antiquities XX.200.  The first reference is problematic, however, as it contains elements which Josephus cannot have written and which seem to have been added later by a Christian interpolator. 

Now this blog post will only focus upon the former passage, I will return to the other passage (referring to Jesus’ brother James) later on. But from the outset, Tim just asserts the case that this is a partial interpolation and then analyses the rest of the post with this assumption firmly in mind (which looks suspiciously like confirmation bias to me). While I can accept this is the modern scholarly consensus, I will analyse the arguments provided to see whether this is the most reasonable case. But before I do this, I need to provide an important bit of context which Tim seems to conveniently ignore.

The Modern Invention of the Partial Interpolation Theory

To begin, it is important to note that, while the modern consensus is that this passage is at least partially genuine, as Gordon Stein observes:

the vast majority of scholars since the early 1800s have said that this quotation is not by Josephus, but rather is a later Christian insertion in his works.

Equally, Earl Doherty notes:

it is a curious fact that older generations of scholars had no trouble dismissing this entire passage as a Christian construction.

(Josephus Unbound: Reopening the Josephus Question)

While this may sound extreme it must be noted there are many reasons for adopting such a position. Before I get into why this is, I will begin by pointing out that even Christian apologists have to admit certain things about this passage. For example, Mike Licona admits that while this passage is in Greek and Latin manuscripts:

[i]t must be admitted that there are only three Greek manuscripts, the earliest of which appears to have been written in the eleventh century.

(The Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus: Historiographical Considerations in the Light of Recent Debates p. 167)

Furthermore, Licona goes on to further admit that:

[i]t must also be noted that the passage is not mentioned by any Church fathers prior to Eusebius in the fourth century.

(The Historicity of the Resurrection of Jesus: Historiographical Considerations in the Light of Recent Debates p. 167)

This latter detail is incredibly important when we consider the sources which the author of this passage may have used (more on that below). But it seems the first problem with affirming this to be a genuine account written by Josephus, it must be noted that there is no reference to this passage passage in the earliest centuries of the common era as it only appears to exist after the fourth century. This becomes incredibly important when we are attempting to establish what sources the author was drawing upon. But before that, I just want to stress how significant this is, because this is not just a trivial fact, but is in fact central to the issue of whether this passage is genuine or not.

The Silence of the Church Fathers

To expand on the significance of this point, the above means that Church fathers from the second, third and early fourth centuries have no knowledge of this passage but references only appear after Eusebius references it in the fourth century. The consequence of this, as Louis Harry Feldman correctly concludes:

“[it is] hard to believe that such a remarkable passage would be omitted by anyone, let alone by a Christian summarizing the work… despite the fact that such a passage would have been extremely effective, to say the least, since it comes from a Jew who was born only a few years after Jesus’ death, in the debates between Jews and Christians, especially since we know that Justin Martyr (Dialogue with Trypho 8) attempted to answer the charge that Jesus had never lived and that he was a mere figment of Christian imagination. And yet, I have counted no fewer than eleven church fathers prior to or contemporary with Eusebius who cite various passages from Josephus (including the Antiquities) but who do not mention the Testimonium. Moreover, during the century after Eusebius there are five church fathers, including Augustine, who certainly had many occasions to find it useful and who cite passages from Josephus but not this one… To be sure, all this is the argumentum ex silentio, but as a cumulative argument it has considerable force.

Josephus, Judaism, and Christianity (p. 57)

This therefore means that; Theophilus, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen, Hippolytus, Minucius Felix, Anatolius and Chrysostom are all examples of well-known Christian authorities who extensively studied and quoted Josephus who did not refer to the passage referring to Jesus in the years before Eusebius. Thus, before I go through each line which Tim analyses (plus several he doesn’t even mention) to see whether they can be best interpreted as being authored by Josephus or someone else, I want to point out a commonly held assumption which is extremely problematic when it comes to analysing this passage.

Attempting to Answer When The Testimonium Flavianum was Written

Obviously the million dollar question is; when was this paragraph written? However, to answer this question, another issue which Tim does not talk about, is when we are trying to establish who authored this passage, we need to consider the potential source of this account. In other words, where did the author get their information from? Not only this, but a second and in many ways related question is; which historical time makes the most sense of this account being written? While this might sound like a strange question, this becomes important as we go throughout this.

Of course, historical sources can be anything from first hand accounts, to interviewing witnesses (among any number of other things) and so if we knew the source of this passage, it would vastly help us in the case of establishing who authored this. Unfortunately however, the assumption which many scholars hold to, is that the source must have been a contemporary to Josephus. After all, if Josephus wrote this paragraph, then the sources which he was drawing upon must have lived in a similar time to himself! So a common argument is that because terms or phrases are used nowhere in the New Testament to describe Jesus (which I’ll talk in detail about below) this lends credence to this being authored by Josephus. As Tim himself claims, the case being made in favour of Josephus authoring this, the passage includes:

phrases not found in early Christian texts.  And it is significantly free of terms and phrases from the gospels, which we’d expect to find if it was created wholesale by a Christian writer

Because of this, Tim seems to think that:

The weight of the evidence of the vocabulary and style of the passage is heavily towards its partial authenticity. 

Therefore, by just looking at the vocabulary and style of writing of the passage, we can establish whether Josephus wrote this or not high a high degree of confidence, at least according to Tim. However, as John P. Meier argues in A Marginal Jew, Volume 1 argues:

This comparison of vocabulary between Josephus and the NT does not provide a neat solution to the problem of authenticity, but it does force us to ask which of two possible scenarios is more probable. Did a Christian of some unknown century so immerse himself in the vocabulary and style of Josephus that, without the aid of any modern dictionaries and concordances, he was able to (1) strip himself of the NT vocabulary with which he would naturally speak of Jesus and (2) reproduce perfectly the Greek of Josephus for most of the Testimonium – no doubt to create painstakingly an air of verisimilitude-while at the same time destroying that air with a few patently Christian affirmations? Or is it more likely that the core statement, (I) which we first isolated simply by extracting what would strike anyone at first glance as Christian affirmations, and (2) which we then found to be written in typically Josephan vocabulary that diverged from the usage of the NT, was in fact written by Josephus himself? Of the two scenarios, I find the second much more probable. (p. 63)

While I disagree with his balancing of the evidence, he makes it clear that this is simply a case of balancing each potential explanation, which means we have to ask whether it would be more likely an interpolation from a Christian at some point between the end of the first to the fourth century, or by Josephus himself. I will of course be doing this below, but at least this recognises that we have to balance how likely it is that a Jewish born, Roman citizen wrote this, or came from the hand of a Christian at some other point in time. However, given that this passage does not appear until after Eusebius in the fourth century, this provides a vital clue that Tim seems to just completely ignore and he seems to think by analysing the words and phrases used in the passage, this clearly points to Josephus being the author of the apparently “authentic core.” Yet his analysis of this claim is severely lacking. But before I go through why Tim’s conclusion is problematic, let’s go through the case in favour of this being entirely authored by Josephus.

Analysing the Passage in Full

Given all of the above, here is the typical presentation of Josephus’ passage and the apparent core written by Josephus with the interpolations in bold

“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 paradoxical deeds, 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.”

Obviously it is easy to see why these are considered to be added by a later Christian because of their clear Christian bias. As Steve Mason puts it:

“this man was Christ” is that “its solemn phrasing makes it seem to represent Josephus’ own confession of faith: he believed Jesus to be Messiah. In addition to that direct statement, the passage says things that only a Christian could have written, it seems, about Jesus’ appearances after death, his being more than just a man, and the many ancient prophecies concerning him. Indeed, William Whiston, who translated Josephus’ writings in 1737, thought on the basis of this passage that Josephus must have been a Christian. But that seems impossible. As we have seen, he writes as a passionate advocate of Judaism. Everywhere he praises the excellent constitution of the Jews, codified by Moses, and declares its peerless, comprehensive quality. (Yet even Moses, who was as close as possible to God, is never credited with being more than a man.) Josephus rejoices over converts to Judaism. In all of this there is not the slightest hint of any belief in Jesus. Whiston thought that this omission was because Josephus was a Jewish Christian. But from everything we know of Jewish Christians in the first century (James, Peter, those mentioned in Acts), the figure of Jesus was still central to their faith. That is obviously not the case with Josephus. His total commitment to the sufficiency of Judaism seems to preclude any Christian affiliation.”

(Josephus and the New Testament)

As even the Christian apologist Mike Licona points out:

“[t]he text leads one to believe that Josephus must have converted to Christianity. However, in the early third century, Origen claimed that Josephus was not a Christian. This creates a problem. If Origen is correct, it would be odd that a non- Christian Jew would say some of the things reported in this passage.”‘

(p. 167)

Assuming that one can grant that at least some of this passage has been added to by a Christian, let us now consider Tim’s argument that the rest of it can be traced back to Josephus.

Josephan Language in The Testimonium Flavianum?

Tim’s entire case seems to hinge upon the already questionable assumption that we can establish the author of this passage by analysing the words and phrases used. As Tim himself argues:

To begin with, several elements in the passage are distinctively Josephan in their style and phrasing. 

While this is indeed a commonly made assertion, this is characteristic of the poor scholarship which is unfortunately rife when it comes to dealing with this issue. It seems that the only thing Tim relies upon and indeed many scholars hold, is the issue that this passage sounds like it came from Josephus because it uses phrases which is consistent with the rest of his writings. For instance, one of the most commonly cited arguments in favour of there being a genuine core of this passage is, as Meier puts it:

“[m]any key words and phrases in the Testimonium are either absent from the NT or are used there in an entirely different sense; in contrast, 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 (p. 63)

Not only is a multitude of sins are concealed with the word “most” but such an argument actually can be used with more strength against the authorship of Josephus, rather than in favour of it. But I’ll explain why in more detail below. So let’s break this down into each phrase to see whether this sounds like something Josephus might have written, or more likely from someone else.

“Now there was about this time, Jesus”

As we begin to analyse the apparent core of this passage, this opens with the introductory phrase “now there was about this time, Jesus…” which is often contended to be authored by Josephus. For instance, Tim claims:

“Now (there was) about this time …” is used by Josephus as a way of introducing a new topic hundreds of times in his work. 

While it is certainly true that this is consistent with Josephus’ corpus, this hardly seems to have been conclusively written by him on this basis. Given one does not need to have even a particular familiarity with Josephus’ work to know this, one would imagine this piece of evidence could merely be offered against one affirming this was written by a poor imitator of Josephus who managed to get every detail of his writing style wrong. As this phrase appears, by Tim’s own admission hundreds of times and is also used several times in the same section and in the chapters surrounding this (for instance, this exact phrase is used in Ant. 17.19; 18.39, 65, 80; 19.278) all one needs to have, is a mere rudimentary familiarity with Josephus’ work to be able to imitate a common phrase which Josephus often uses to introduce a new topic/person or event.

This is important, because recall that above, the case being made is that someone attempting to insert this passage into Josephus’ work would have to “immerse himself in the vocabulary and style of Josephus” and “reproduce perfectly the Greek of Josephus”. Yet, given this is an incredibly common phrase, it is hardly difficult to imitate a phrase which is used literally hundreds of times in his work, by Tim’s own admission. In the same way, if someone wanted to forge something I have written, it would hardly take a rocket scientist to work out I often use the phrases “or to put it simply” or “on which note.” This means, the way those defending the partial interpolation try and spin this, is that this phrase is characteristic Josephus, yet do not seem to accept that if it was such a common phrase which was used by Josephus, this would be perfectly consistent with this being interpolated by someone familiar with his work. Given that many of the ancient Church Fathers were familiar with Josephus’ work, using a common phrase which is used many times thought Josephus’ writing seems to hardly unambiguously point to this being authored by him. 

The second reason why it is often contended to be authored by Josephus is because the name “Jesus” would be more likely to be used by Josephus, as a Christian would be more likely to use the title of “Jesus Christ” or “Christ Jesus.” Yet this suffers from the problem which is rightly rejected by scholars who argues that just as “this one was the Christ” is an interpolation, as both because it is clearly a Christian profession of faith. Not only this, but as Meier argues, this:

“seems out of place in its present position and disturbs the flow of thought”

(A Marginal Jew, Volume 1 p. 60)

Because of this, it would seem that referring to Jesus here as “Jesus Christ” would have been incredibly suspicious for the Jewish historian Josephus to have written. Thus, if one rejects the notion that “he was the Christ” is a Christian profession of faith and something Josephus would never affirm, then it seems offering the evidence for the authenticity of the opening of “about this time, Jesus” seems to be incredibly questionable as neither provide clear and unambiguous support that Josephus wrote this, when both can perfectly plausibly and parsimoniously be explained this being due to a Christian being familiar with Josephus’ writing style and avoiding a clearly positive Christian title for Jesus. But let’s move onto the next part of this passage.

“A wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man”

The next phrase to analyse is often split up into an authentic core “a wise man” with an interpolated end of this being “if it be lawful to call him a man.” As Tim puts it:

There are no early Christian parallels that refer to Jesus merely as “a wise man”, but this is a term used by Josephus several times, eg about Solomon and Daniel. 

To put this more formally, as Mason puts it:

the reticence to call Jesus a man seems like a rejoinder to the previous, already flattering statement that he was a wise man. It seems more like a qualification of an existing statement than part of a free creation.

(Josephus and the New Testament)

While this is indeed a commonly made assumption, what I find surprising about this, is that those arguing that Josephus wrote this because it doesn’t sound like a Christian description of Jesus is actually an argument against Josephus writing this rather than in favour of it. Think about it for a second; while this may seem to be a decisive argument to support the authorship of Josephus, if one accepts that this was not the typical practice in the first century to refer to Jesus as a “wise man”, this would therefore mean that this would in fact be the first reference anywhere in the first century for this phrase applied to Jesus. This would seem particularly odd for it to come from Josephus, given that we not only have not only no precedent in the New Testament as referring to Jesus as this, but as Geza Vermes puts it:

it actually conflicts in a sense with New Testament terminology. Jesus is admittedly twice identified by Paul in I Cor. 1.24 and 30 with the abstract `wisdom of God’, but the adjective sophos as applied to men in the same chapter (vv. 18-31) carries a pejorative connotation. Furthermore, on the only occasion where the Gospels put this word into the mouth of Jesus, `the wise’ are unfavourably compared to `babes’ (nepioi) (Matt. 1 1:25; Luke 10:21). In the few instances where the term sophos is employed positively, it relates to Christian teachers, but never to Jesus himself 

(Jesus in his Jewish context (p. 93-94)

This is important because, while it is true that Josephus uses this phrase referring to King Solomon (Ant. 8.53) and Daniel (Ant. 10.237), in both it is used in a positive sense. This means, if this was written in the first century by Josephus, we have to think about what sources Josephus was drawing upon. Obviously, as Tim points out that Josephus was Jewish and had ties to the Romans, so one might assume that Josephus’ source would have been either Jewish or Roman. Yet in both cases, it would seem seems bizarre that either groups would refer to Jesus in a positive sense. Equally, if one assumes that the source was Christian, not only is there no mention of this title being given the Jesus in any extant first century sources, as Vermes correctly points out, the reference to Jesus as a “wise man” would have had negative connotations for Christians. Therefore, this seems to rule out a Christian source in the first century as well. 

Given that it seems difficult to affirm that the source of this came from anyone Jewish, Roman or Christian in the first century, we need to remember that the earliest mention of Josephus’ passage comes from the fourth century and after Eusebius cites it. This is incredibly important because this title is used about Jesus at the time in which Eusebius was writing. In fact, Eusebius was specifically writing to respond to the contemporary objections which pagans were making about Christianity. As Robert Louis Wilken argues:

some pagan critics had argued that Christ was a wise man, not a divine being as the writers of the New Testament claimed, and that he, like other sages, taught men and women to worship the one high God. His disciples, however, had made Christ into an object of worship, thereby detracting from the honor due to the one supreme God… Some pagans, said Augustine, criticize Jesus because he wrote no books and spread his fame abroad by the use of magic. Others, however, attribute “superior wisdom” (sapientia) to Jesus, but “only as a man.” they say that his disciples were responsible for teaching people that he was the son of God and promulgating the idea that he was the One through whom all things are made (John 1:1). These critics of Christianity believe that Jesus should be “honored as a very wise man, but they deny that he should be worshipped as God” (De cons. 1.7.11), Why pagans should honor Christ can be seen from some of their philosophers—for example, Porphyry—who “consulted their gods to discover what they should respond about Christ and were compelled by their own oracles to ‘ praise him” (De cons. 1.15.23)”

(The Christians as the Romans Saw Them p. 144; 153)

Therefore, while this reference does not seem congruent with what Christians were saying about Jesus in the first century and certainly does not sound like anything anyone Roman or Jewish would have said, it seems to make perfect sense with how Christians referred to Jesus at the same time this passage first appears. This means, while this is perhaps the strongest piece of evidence in favour of a historical core traced back to Josephus, when we consider that Josephus must have had a source in the first century when he was writing his account, when we do not see this in the Christian literature at the time, as it would have had negative connotations, and seems unlikely that a Jewish or Roman source,  it would seem the most plausible explanation is that this was not Josephus using a title which no Christian would have used, and when Josephus does use this, it seems to be in a positive sense at that time, this makes significantly more sense in the setting in which this title was not only used by Christians, but used in a positive sense to deal with contemporary concerns much later than the first century. 

“For he was a doer of wonderful works”

The next claim Tim makes is that:

Christian writers placed a lot of emphasis on Jesus’ miracles, but here the passage uses a fairly neutral  term παραδόξων ἔργων – “paradoxa erga” or “paradoxical deeds”.  Josephus does use this phrase elsewhere about the miracles of Elisha, but the term can also mean “deeds that are difficult to interpret” and even has overtones of cautious scepticism. 

Tim then just seems to miss out the controversial part of the next phrase, which seems a little convenient. So next phrase which needs to be critically analysed which Tim ignores begins by saying that “for he was a doer of wonderful works.” The case becomes problematic for those who support this being authored by Josephus is that even scholars who claim this is part of Josephus’ authentic core admit that he was employing a common word in an uncommon way. For instance, Meier argues:

it is not all that unusual for ancient Greek authors to use occasionally a word in an unusual way

(p. 83)

This argument seems to lack primia facie plausibility and seems incredibly ad hoc. The reason for this, as Mason argues:

the word translated “worker” in the phrase “worker of incredible deeds” is poietes in Greek, from which we get “poet.” Etymologically, it means “one who does” and so it can refer to any sort of “doer.” But in Josephus’ day it had already come to have a special reference to literary poets, and that is how he consistently uses it elsewhere (nine times)—to speak of Greek poets like Homer.

(Josephus and the New Testament)

In other words, the term which the author is using to refer to Jesus’ miracles in Josephus’ time made specific reference to literary poets and in fact never associates forms of the word paradoxon/s and poietes/poieo to mean the sense of “miracle making.” What’s more, while Tim is indeed correct that the phrase is used to refer to the prophet Elisha (Ant. 9.182) as G.J. Goldberg notes:

[c]ommentators have wondered why Josephus did not simply say ‘healings’, or something similarly expressive, rather than the enigmatic ‘deeds’ with its difficult adjective ‘surprising’ (or ‘wonderful, unusual, incredible’)… The puzzle is why… Josephus… used only this word, coupled with one strong adjective, to cover the acts of Jesus.

(The Coincidences of the Emmaus Narrative of Luke and the Testimonium of Josephus (p. 71)

This is further compounded when we consider the fact that this term is used nowhere in the New Testament to describe Jesus’ miracles, nor is it used in early Christian literature. However, when we look at where else this phrase is used, it is far more characteristic of Eusebius. In fact, as Ken Olson notes:

[t]he combination of παράδοξος and ποιέω to mean “wonder-working” is extremely common in Eusebius and occurs more than a hundred times. With the disputed exception of the Testimonium itself, the word ποιητής modified by παραδόξων ἔργων does not show up anywhere in the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae database of extant Greek literature before Eusebius, who uses this combination of words ten times outside the Testimonium, usually of Jesus, but also of God. He says, for example, that God became “a maker of miraculous works” for the emperor Constantine in Life of Constantine 1.18.2. Two features of the way the term is used in the Testimonium are noteworthy. First, Eusebius uses the fact that Jesus was a “maker of miraculous works” in the Demonstration to show that Jesus was beyond human in his nature. In Demonstration 3.3.20, Eusebius says that he has been discussing Christ as though he had only a common human nature and will now move on to discussing his diviner side. The next section begins with his first use of the term παραδόξων ἔργων ποιητής as a label for Jesus (3.4.21). Eusebius appears to be using the term to suggest that Jesus was more than an ordinary man, just as the Testimonium uses it to justify questioning whether it is proper to call Jesus a man. Second, Eusebius frequently claims that it was foretold in prophecy that the Christ would be a miracle-worker, and once even that he would be a παραδόξων ἔργων ποιητής (Ecclesiastical History 1.2.23), and this would seem to be implied by the Testimonium as well.”

To further support this interpretation, Eusebius uses the term sophos to refer to a sage or a wise man, as the opposite of a goēs referring to a a charlatan several times throughout his works. For instance, in Adversus Hieroclem Eusebius challenged Hierocles for describing another miracle worker, Apollonius of Tyre, as a sophos on a par with Jesus, yet who is not worshipped as a god. While Apollonius, like Jesus, performed miracles, his followers never esteemed him higher than as one beloved by gods. However, what is important here is that Eusebius does not quote Josephus to prove his point here that Jesus was viewed as more than a sophos. Yet, in the later work Demonstratio Evangelica, when Eusebius is trying to counter the charge that Jesus is a goēs to mean a charlatan or wizard, he does refer to the Testimonium Flavianum to demonstrate that he was, in fact, a sophos (remember this, because this will become important later on).

This therefore leaves the question; why is it that in this earlier work in which he was concerned to cast Jesus in a favourable light, did Eusebius not appeal to the Testimonium, but in his later work, he does in similar circumstances in two later works? While one could certainly argue that he not yet discovered this famous passage, given the previous observation that there is no mention of this passage prior to Eusebius, it seems the more reasonable answer for this silence is due to the fact that this passage did not exist prior to Eusebius. But more on this later!

“A teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure”

Tim then seems to just ignore a number of other parts of this passage. But luckily, I’ll analyse them now! I’ll even provide a source which supports this being authored by Josephus. For instance, as Louis H. Feldman argues:

the phrase ‘such people as accept the truth gladly’ is characteristic of the scribe in this part of the Antiquities, since the phrase appears eight times in books 17-19… and nowhere else in Josephus. Christian interpolation is unlikely, since the word ἡδονή in the New Testament and in early Christian writings has a pejorative connotation.

Josephus and Modern Scholarship (1937–1980) (p. 699)

The trouble with this part of this passage, is the phrase διδάσκαλος ἀνθρώπων to mean “teacher of men/human beings” is incredibly rare in the writings of Josephus. In fact, as Neville Birdsall notes:

when a genative is found following the word, it defines the content of the teaching and not the recipients, as the phrase “teachers of those who accept the truth glady” demands” and when the word διδάσκαλος followed by the recipients, rather than the contents, is extremely rare in Josephus. In fact, this is found only once in Josephus’ entire work.

So clearly we have a problem to claim this came from Josephus when this is literally never used by him. But do you want to guess who uses this phrase frequently to talk about Jesus? You guessed it! This phrase is characteristic of Eusebius and is used frequently to describe Christ elsewhere in Eusebius’ work (e.g. Demonstratio 3.6.27 and 9.11.3). In fact, the theme that the Christ was sent into the world to teach the truth about the One God to all human beings willing to receive it is the central point in Eusebius’ theology of the incarnation (see Praeperatio Evangelica 1.1.6-8). Not only this, as Olson observes:

Eusebius identifies Jesus as the savior of human beings and the teacher of barbarians and Greeks alike and places the recipients of the teaching in the genitive (Demonstration 5.Proem.25). In all of these cases the content of Jesus’ teaching is εὐσέβεια, religion or piety, and in two of them specifically the “true religion,” a term which he defined in the introduction to his Preparation for the Gospel as worship of the one God who is creator of all (Preparation 1.1). That is likely to be the meaning here, because Eusebius does sometimes use the neuter plural τὰ ἀληθῆ to denote the monotheistic religious beliefs of the ancient Hebrews which Jesus re-instituted by teaching them to his disciples, as in Demonstration 4.13, where Eusebius says: “He taught them truths (τὰ ἀληθῆ) not shared by others, but laid down as laws by Him or by the Father in far distant periods of time for the ancient and pre-Mosaic Hebrew men of Go. Taken together, all of this suggests that when the text describes the recipients of Jesus’ teachings as “human beings receiving the truths with pleasure,” it is neither polemical nor intentionally ambiguous. It means that Jesus taught the truths about the One God to those who were willing to receive them.

“He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles”

This phrase is often viewed as being authored by Josephus for the same (flawed) reason as above, is that is that “he drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles” which is often taken to mean this could not have been written by a Christian because it so obviously contradicts the portrait of Jesus’ ministry in the Gospels. For instance, as Meier argues:

“[i]n the whole of John’s Gospels, no one clearly designated a Gentile ever interacts directly with Jesus; the very fact that Gentiles seek to speak to Jesus is a sign to him that the hour of his passion, which alone makes a universal mission possible, is at hand (John 12:20-26). In Matthew’s Gospels, where a few exceptions to the rule are allowed… we find a pointedly programmatic saying in Jesus’ mission charge to the Twelve: ‘Go not to the Gentiles, and do not enter a Samaritan city; rather, go only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” (Matthew 10:5-6). The few gentiles who do come into contact with Jesus are not objects of Jesus’ missionary outreach; they rather come to him unbidden and humble, realizing they are out place. For Matthew, they point forward to the universal mission, which begins only after Jesus’ death and resurrection (28:16-20). While Mark and Luke are not as explicit as Matthew on this point, they basically follow the same pattern: during his public ministry, Jesus does not undertake any formal mission to the Gentiles; the few who come to him do so by way of exception. Hence the implication of the Testimonium that Jesus equally won a large following among both Jews and Gentiles simply contradicts the clear statements about the Gospels.” Therefore, we are to take this to mean a Christian would never have said that Jesus won over many Jews and Gentiles because the Gospels portray Jesus’ mission as being only to the Jews and that the mission to the Gentiles did not begin until after his death.

(p. 64-65)

It is interesting to note that Meier continues:

[u]nless we want to fantasize about a Christian interpolator who is intent on inserting a summary of Jesus’ ministry into Josephus and who nevertheless wishes to contradict what the Gospels say about Jesus’ ministry, the obvious conclusion to draw is that the core of the Testimonium comes from a nonChristian hand, namely, Josephus’.

(p. 65)

However, one certainly does not need to fantasise that this could have happened, but we have a number of instances of this happened. In fact, consistent with the arguments from above, we again find Eusebius providing a number of examples of in which he claims that Jesus’ found a following among the Gentiles. For instance, reports of Jesus that “by teaching and miracles He revealed the powers of His Godhead to all equally whether Greeks or Jews” (Demonstration 8.2.109). Equally, elsewhere also claims that Jesus interacted with both Jews and Gentiles when he reports that “the whole slander against his disciples is destroyed, when by their evidence, and also apart from their evidence, it has to be confessed that many myriads of Jews and Gentiles were brought under His yoke by Jesus the Christ of God through the miracles that he performed” (Demonstration 3.5.109). Furthermore, in the Ecclesiastical History, it reports: “the divinity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ became famous among all men because of his wonder-working power, and led to him myriads even of those who in foreign lands were far remote from Judea, in the hope of healing from diseases and from all kinds of suffering” (Ecclesiastical History 1.13.1). Later on in the same collection, Eusebius reports of a statue of Jesus in Caesarea Philippi erected to honor Jesus’ healing of the woman with a flow of blood and reports: “it is not at at all surprising that those Gentiles, who long ago received benefits from our Savior, should have made these things” (Ecclesiastical History 7.18.4). Therefore, it is clear that there was a tendency for later Christians to increase Jesus’ contact with Gentiles during his ministry and so it seems much more likely that a Christian would have invented the claim that Jesus attracted Jewish and gentile followers during his life. This is because, consistent with the above analysis, given that Josephus must have been drawing upon sources in the first century, then again it seems the more plausible case can be made that this one cannot affirm that Josephus wrote this, since the extant records we have from that era deny Jesus taught and won over both Jews and Gentiles in the first century, while this was commonly employed by later Christians and in particular Eusebius himself.

“And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross”

The next part of the apparently authentic core is that “when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross” which is commonly viewed as being authored by Josephus. For instance, James Charlesworth argues:

“Josephus must have made a reference to Jesus because the passage, divested of the obvious Christian words, is not Christian and is composed in such a way that it is very difficult to attribute to a Christian… Would a Christian have written that ‘first-rate men’ or ‘men of the highest standing amongst us’ accused Jesus before Pilate, leaving the impression that he deserved a guilty verdict?”

Jesus within Judaism: New Light from Exciting Archaeological Discoveries (p. 93)

However, there are a number of problems with this line of reasoning in affirming that this must have been authored by Josephus. To begin, there is certainly a prima facie problem with the line of reasoning adopted by Charlesworth here. While Charlesworth is correct to a degree that a Christian may not have claimed that Jesus was put to death by “the principal men among us”, this argument rests upon the assumption that such an author would have described the death of Jesus in a distinctly Christian way, which of course is absurd. Given, as noted above, Josephus was not a Christian writer, thus, if a Christian was trying to include this passage within a document written by someone Jewish and thus certainly not a Christian, they would have been incredibly unlikely to refer to Jesus’ death in any other way and would have been quickly dismissed as a Christian interpolation. In other words, while a Christian speaking as a Christian would not have likely referred to Jesus being condemned to death by “first-rate men” or “men of the highest standing amongst us”, a Christian attempting to speak in the same manner as a Jewish historian would have surely been more likely referred to Jesus’ death in this manner.

The second issue with affirming this formed part of an authentic core rests upon the fact that this description of Jesus’ death is not found in any other Josephus’ other work. As Earl Doherty correctly observes:

[i]n the section on Pilate in the earlier Jewish War, written in the 70s, Josephus outlines the same two incidents with which he began chapter 3 of Book 18 in the Antiquities of the Jews, incidents which caused tumult in Judea during the governorship of Pilate. In the Antiquities, these descriptions are immediately followed by the Testimonium about Jesus. In Jewish War (2.9/169-177) no mention of Jesus is included.”

The Jesus Puzzle. Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ? : Challenging the Existence of an Historical Jesus (p. 222)

Therefore, one would imagine that if this was indeed part of the authentic core of the passage in Josephus’ Antiquities, it would seem strange that this episode is not also recorded in the parallel account in Josephus’ earlier work. Not only this, but it is important to note that in Josephus’s other Pilate episodes in this collection, these show a clear dislike for Pilate, as an arrogant and hated ruler. Yet here, not only is Pilate’s role in Jesus’s crucifixion completely brushed off and diminished to merely four words, it also deflects blame away from the Romans and places this onto the “principal men”, which is taken to mean the Jewish elders. Thus, this would be a clear instance in which Josephus did not paint Pilate in a negative light, which clearly seems incongruent with the other episodes Josephus reports. Therefore, while elsewhere in the episodes which reference Pilate in Josephus’ work, it portrays him in an incredibly unflattering manner, this seems to stand out as being at best neutral towards his role in the death of Jesus, if not outright absolving him of any blame but instead blaming the Jewish elders. The consequence of this, as Hopper concludes:

[t]he Josephus of the Testimonium is represented as aligning himself with the Christians (versus the Jews) and admitting that the blame for the crucifixion of Jesus the Messiah lies with the Jews; it need hardly be said that such an admission on Josephus’s part is inconceivable.

To build upon this, as Mason points out, there are a number of references in this section to the deeds of Pilate. As he observes:

“Pilate arrives in Judea 18.35. First incident: Pilate’s introduction of im perial images into Jerusalem by night 18.55-59. Second incident: Pilate’s expropriation of temple funds for aqueduct 18.60-62. Third incident: Jesus and his followers 18.63-64. Fourth incident (contemporary, in Rome): seduction of a chaste, aristocratic follower of Isis in Rome, resulting in the crucifixion of priests and destruction of the temple of Isis 18.65-80. Fifth incident (contemporary, in Rome): four Jewish scoundrels conspire to de-fraud an aristocratic convert to Judaism of money sent to the Jewish temple, resulting in the expulsion of Jews from Rome 18.81-84. Sixth incident (back in Palestine): Pilate quashes popular Samaritan movement 18.85-87. Pilate’s removal from office 18.88-89.”

(Josephus and the New Testament)

However, in contrast to these episodes before and after the apparent mention of him as it relates to Jesus’ death, it is significant that Pilate plays a central role in these episodes in the rest of this section, but plays a secondary role in the account which references Jesus. To explain the significance of this, as Hopper notes:

[w]hereas in the other Pilate episodes he is the chief protagonist, in the Testimonium Pilate’s role is unmistakably subordinate. He is mentioned in the genitive absolute construction…: his name is in the genitive case, and his action in sentencing Jesus is brushed off in four words, one of them a perfect participle, also in the genitive case. Whereas in the other Pilate passages Pilate is depicted as going out of his way to act with premeditation…, and as the explicit instigator of acts of repression against Jews, there is now a distinct indirectness… So Pilate, the decisive Roman boss of the other three Pilate episodes, ruthless scourge of the Jews and despiser of their laws, now appears as the compliant puppet of the Jewish hierarchy. But the actions of the elders and Pilate are themselves secondary to the main point of the passage as identified by the aorist verbs, namely Jesus’s resurrection and the continued devotion of Jesus’s followers, which are presented as skeletal happenings for the entire passage. Again, the grammatical structure of the Testimonium is at odds with that of the sequence of Pontius Pilate, in which the chief protagonist is Pilate himself.

The implication of this, is that this means that unlike the other instances within Josephus’ writings whereby Pilate is seemingly the protagonist, in this account he very much plays a secondary role, which does not seem consistent with how Josephus writes about the other episodes involving Pilate in this immediate context.

Beyond this, one must not overlook the significance of the fact that the blame for the death of Jesus by the Romans is not only absent from this passage but is specifically directed towards the Jewish authorities. While it is argued, as Meier does:

[t]he description of the trial and condemnation of Jesus is also curious when compared to the Four Gospels. All Four Gospels state explicit reasons why first the Jewish authorities and then Pilate (under pressure) decide that Jesus should he put to death. For the Jewish rulers, the grounds are theological: Jesus claims to be the Messiah and Son of God. For Pilate, the question is basically political: Does Jesus claim to be the king of the Jews? The grounds are explicated differently in different Gospel texts, but grounds there are. The Testimonium is strangely silent on why Jesus is put to death… Whatever the reason, the Testimonium does not reflect a Christian way of treating the question of why Jesus was condemned to death… Moreover, the treatment of the part played by the Jewish authorities does not jibe with the picture in the Gospels. Whether or not it be true that the Gospels show an increasing tendency to blame the Jews and exonerate the Romans, the Jewish authorities in the Four Gospels carry a great deal of responsibility-either by way of the formal trial(s) by the Sanhedrin in the Synoptics or by way of the Realpolitik plotting of Caiaphas and the Jerusalem authorities in John’s Gospel even before the hearings hefore Annas and Caiaphas. Of course, a later Christian believer, reading the Four Gospels, would tend to conflate all four accounts, which would only heighten Jewish participation-something the rabid anti-Jewish polemic of many patristic writers only too gladly indulged in… Unless we are to think that some patristic or medieval Christian undertook a historical-critical investigation of the Passion Narratives of the Four Gospels and decided a la Paul Winter that behind John’s narrative lay the historical truth of a brief hearing by some Jewish official before Jesus was handed over to Pilate, this description of Jesus’ condemnation cannot stem from the Four Gospels-and certainly not from early Christian expansions on them, which were fiercely anti-Jewish.

(p. 65)

However, this seems to avoid the obvious conclusion, that the reason why this passage seems to absolve the role the Romans and blame the Jewish authorities but does not seem to be consistent with the Gospel’s depiction of Jesus’ trial, there is a clearly more parsimonious explanation. As Hopper rightly puts it:

this passage instead “reflects what had by the third century CE become a commonplace of Christianity: that culpability for the death of Jesus rested with the Jews.

“Those that loved him at the first did not forsake him”

The next passage to analyse is that “those that loved him at the first did not forsake him” which is often viewed as being authentically Josephan. For instance Van Voorst claims that:

‘[t]hose who had first loved him did not cease [doing so]’ is characteristically Josephan in style.

Jesus Outside the New Testament (p. 90)

While this is often the position adopted, Voorst does not give any examples of Josephus using this phrase at all. Not only this, but as with the above analysis, this does not appear to be something which is consistent with Josephus’ writings or beliefs. In contrast, one can certainly say that they are again consistent with Eusebius. In fact, often he would attempt to demonstrate that Jesus was the Christ by pointing to the honourable example of his disciples who remained loyal to him even after his dishonourable execution. This can be seen in a number of his writings, for instance in his attack on Hierocles, Eusebius claims:

why then after seeing His miserable end did they stand their ground? Why did they construct a theology about Him when He was dead? Did they desire to share His fate? No one surely on any reasonable ground would choose such a punishment with his eyes open. And if it be supposed that they honoured Him, while He was still their comrade and companion, and as some might say their deceitful cozener, yet why was it that after His death they honoured Him far more than before? For while He was still with men they are said to have once deserted Him and denied Him, when the plot was engineered against Him, yet after He had departed from men, they chose willingly to die, rather than to depart from their good witness about Him.

Demonstratio Evangelica 3.5

Furthermore, as Olson correctly notes:

Eusebius’ argument in this part of the chapter is that the disciples’ continued adherence to Jesus’ teachings and the subsequent success of their mission is inexplicable apart from the reality of the resurrection appearances, which demonstrated the truth of what Jesus taught. Later in the Demonstration, Eusebius enumerates the reasons for the resurrection itself and ranks as number five Christ’s need to give his disciples ocular proof of life after death so that they would have the courage to preach his message to all nations (Demonstration 4.12). In his later work In Praise of Constantine, Eusebius ranks this reason for the resurrection first (Tricennial Orations: On Christ’s Sepulcher 15.7).

Therefore, it would seem that again consistent with the above interpretations, it seems to the most parsimonious explanation is that the origin of this phrase can be traced back to several centuries after Josephus.

“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 passage which is often not part of the apparently authentic core is the phrase that “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.” Given the clearly Christian rendering of this passage, it seems to be a clear Christian confession, which is closely related to the creedal formula of the famous passage of the death of Christ “according to the scriptures” in 1 Corinthians 15. As Meier puts it:

[t]he affirmation of an appearance after death (“For he appeared to them on the third day, living again, just as the divine prophets had spoken of these and countless other wondrous things about him”) is also clearly a Christian profession of faith, including a creedal “according to the Scriptures” (cf. 1 Cor 15:5). 

Therefore, it seems that consistent with the above it would seem that this passage can be best understood as being written in the centuries after Josephus’ death. Thus, it seems that consistent with the above it would seem that this passage can be best understood as being written in the centuries after Josephus’ death.

“And the tribe of Christians so named from him are not extinct at this day”

After ignoring all of the above, the final phrase which Tim mentions is that:

Finally, the use of the word φῦλον (“phylon” – “race, tribe”) is not used by Christians about themselves in any works of the time, but is used by Josephus elsewhere about nations or other distinct groups.

Again, Tim seems to be stretching the truth a little bit here as this is one of the more controversial phrases which even those affirming Josephus did refer to Jesus acknowledge. For instance, as Meier argues:

[a]nother curiosity in the core of the Testimonium is the concluding statement that “to this day the tribe of Christians … has not died out. (p. 66)

The reason for this, as Mason argues:

the phrase “the tribe of the Christians” is peculiar. Josephus uses the word “tribe” (phyle) eleven other times. Once it denotes “gender,” and once a “swarm” of locusts, but it usually signifies distinct peoples, races, or nationalities: the Jews are a “tribe” (War 3.354; 7.327) as are the Taurians (War 2.366) and Parthians (War 2.379). It is very strange that Josephus should speak of the Christians as a distinct racial group, since he has just said that Jesus was a Jew condemned by the Jewish leaders.” 

(Josephus and the New Testament)

Again, as with the above analysis, the phrase is used by later Christians and once again, we see this in the work of Eusebius in Ecclesiastical History 3.33.2 and 3.33.3 as does and εἰς ἔτι τε νῦν (“to this very day”), which occurs six times elsewhere (Preparation for the Gospel 1.3.10, Demonstration of the Gospel 4.16.3; 9.3.7; Ecclesiastical History 2.1.7, Commentaria in Psalmos PG 23 col. 1305, Generalis elementaria introductio 168.15) it seems that the most likely explanation is that the author of this was Eusebius, rather than Josephus.

Given all of the above, when we consider the fact that not only is the vocabulary of the Testimonium is clearly not Josephan and a linguistic analysis shows that the passage reads as though it was written at a different time than the rest of chapter 18, and the choice of words and phrases and theology is certainly much more Eusebian it seems the strongest argument to be made against the authenticity is perhaps paradoxically the very reason many scholars affirm the historical core. While it is often suggested that the reason this appears to be authored by Josephus, it seems a stronger case can be made when we consider the fact the reason why this passage reads is not consistent with how a first century Christian would have said is an argument against it being authored by Josephus. Not only this, there is another issue which Tim fails to mention, which provides further reasons to doubt this being an authentic passage authored by Josephus.

The Issue of Context

While there is a lot more to analyse than Tim goes through here, the final thing I want to note is the seemingly obvious problem which Tim again neglects to mention. The passage does not fit in the wider context of Josephus’ work. If you have read Josephus’ work in context, it soon becomes clear that Josephus is talking about upheavals and calamities which had befallen the Jewish people during the governorship of Pontius Pilate. Specifically, immediately prior to this incident, Josephus reports:

since the people were unarmed, and were caught by men prepared for what they were about, they were a great number of them slain by this means: and others of them ran away wounded. And thus an end was put to this sedition” which one can rightly read this as being incredibly negative. Then if we look at the passage immediately after the reference of Jesus we read: “about the same time also another sad calamity put the Jews into disorder: and certain shameful practices happened about the temple of Isis that was at Rome.

(Ant. 18.60-62). 

In other words, the passage immediate before it claims that there was the sedition resulting in a public massacre. Then if we look at the passage immediately after the reference of Jesus we read:

about the same time also another sad calamity put the Jews into disorder: and certain shameful practices happened about the temple of Isis that was at Rome…

However, there is nothing in this the Testimonium Flavianum which depicts any sort of outrage. As as Mason correctly concludes:

Josephus is speaking of upheavals, upheavals, but there is no upheaval here. He is pointing out the folly of Jewish rebels, governors, and troublemakers in general, but this passage is completely supportive of both Jesus and his followers. Logically, what should appear in this context ought to imply some criticism of the Jewish leaders and/or Pilate, but Josephus does not make any such criticism explicit. He says only that those who denounced Jesus were “the leading men among us.” So, unlike the other episodes, this one has no moral, no lesson. Although Josephus begins the next paragraph by speaking of “another outrage” that caused an uproar among the Jews at the same time (18.65), there is nothing in this paragraph that depicts any sort of outrage.

(Josephus and the New Testament)

The consequence of this, as George Albert Wells correctly concludes:

if the passage is excised, the argument runs on in proper sequence.

(p. Did Jesus exist? p. 10)

While the above has shown we have more than enough reason to be sceptical that that Josephus did reference Jesus at all, I will go one step further and provide an alternative account of where this source came from. To do this, we need to compare Eusebius’ Adversus Hieroclem with the Testimonium Flavianum.

Adversus Hieroclem with the Testimonium Flavianum.

As I mentioned above, in Adversus Hieroclem, Eusebius challenges Hierocles for describing another miracle worker, Apollonius of Tyre, as a “sophos” (a sage or truly wise man) on a par with Jesus, yet who is not worshipped as a god. Importantly, he does not quote Josephus’ passage here. Yet his later work, Demonstratio EvangelicaEusebius tries counter the charge that Jesus is a goes (charlatan, wizard) and yet here, he does quote” Josephus in order to demonstrate that he was, in fact, a sophos. Why is it then when talking about an incredibly similar topic, does he not quote Josephus which would have surely supported his point? As Earl Doherty asks:

why, in this earliest work in which he was concerned to cast Jesus in a favorable light, did Eusebius not appeal to the Testimonium, as he was to do in similar circumstances in two later works? We can hardly presume that he only discovered Josephus in the interim. There is no reason why the Testimonium could not have served his purpose in Adversus Hieroclem. What we may very well presume is that in the interim Eusebius decided it would be a good idea to fabricate something by Josephus to serve this purpose.

This is important, given that when one compares the relevant section in Adversus Hieroclem and compare this to Testimonium Flavianum we see a number of remarkable parallels. For instance, we see that Eusebius refers to Jesus as “more divine… worked more wondrous and numerous miracles than the other” which seems to be connected to the Testimonium Flavianum which reports Jesus “a doer of wonderful works”, Eusebius says that “that our Saviour and Lord Jesus Christ was the only man of whom it was prophesied, thanks to their divine inspiration” while the Testimonium Flavianum says “he was the Christ… as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him.” Furthermore, Eusebius says “he converted to his own scheme of divine teaching so many people; nor that he formed a group of genuine and really sincere disciples, of whom almost without exaggeration it can be said that they were prepared to lay down their lives for his teaching at a moment’s call” while the Testimonium Flavianum says Jesus was: “a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure… those that loved him at the first did not forsake him.” In addition, Eusebius says: “nor that he alone established a school of sober and chaste living which has survived him all along” which is related to the passage in Testimonium Flavianum reports: “the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.” What’s more, Eusebius reports: “by his peculiar divinity and virtue he saved the whole inhabited world, and still rallies to his divine teaching races from all sides by tens of thousands” which relates to the portion in Testimonium Flavianum which claims: “he drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles.” Finally, Eusebius says: “he is the only example of a teacher who, after being treated as an enemy for so many years, I might almost say, by all men, subjects and rulers alike, has at last triumphed and shown himself far mightier, thanks to his divine and mysterious power, than the infidels who persecuted him so bitterly, those who in their time rebelled against his divine teaching being now easily won over by him, while the divine doctrine which he firmly laid down and handed on has come to prevail for ages without end all over the inhabited world; nor that even now he displays the virtue of his godlike might in the expulsion, by the mere invocation of his mysterious name, of sundry troublesome and evil demons which beset men’s bodies and souls, as from our own experience we know to be the case.” This is related to the passage in the Testimonium Flavianum “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.”

One can certainly see the similarities of both of themes and the close relationship and sequence that both report that; Jesus was a divine man, worker of miracles, prophesied from old by Hebrew prophets, persuaded many who loved the truth, were sincere, and remained loyal even after his death, who have continued even to the present day, from all mankind, Jews and Gentiles, condemned by rulers, yet he has overcome through his powers and the devotion and continuation of his followers. Thus, one has to question why there is such a close connection between these two, yet is not quoted in one but is in another. Given the above, perhaps the most parsimonious explanation is that there was no a source available for Eusebius to quote which said precisely what he wanted it to say, it would appear Adversus Hieroclem was in fact a blueprint for what later emerged in the Testimonium Flavianum.


Given the above, there are a number of important points which unfortunately Tim and many other scholars do not draw attention to. The first, is that the passage is not mentioned by any Church fathers prior to Eusebius in the fourth century, which is initially very suspicious. The second issue, is when we are trying to establish the likely source of this passage, it seems that those affirming that Josephus was the author of this passage, often rest their argument on the fact that it does not seem to describe how Christians referred to Jesus in the first century. Yet this line of reasoning cuts with more force in the opposite direction, particularly as the other potential sources which Josephus would have been drawing upon would have been Jewish people or Romans; neither of which would have likely provided such a description of Christianity. Equally, given that the description sounds nothing like any extant Christian sources we have, it seems that the claim that Josephus wrote this suffers from the fact the sources which Josephus would have needed to draw upon would not have said anything like what is reported here. Furthermore, the language used, far from being characteristic of being authored by Josephus, shows that such phrases are perfectly consistent with the writings of Eusebius. Not only this, but there seems to be a template in Adversus Hieroclem of the Testimonium Flavianum, which then appears in Eusebius’ later work Demonstratio Evangelica. Therefore, it seems a careful and in-depth analysis shows that affirming that Josephus wrote even the “authentic core” is incredibly problematic.

Despite this, I will end with a note of caution. Even if one is convinced that the passages are interpolated, there may be a satisfactory explanation for the silence of Josephus on Jesus and Christianity. As W. D. Davies explains:

But it is still more likely that the silence of Josephus is due to the character of his work: his career suggests what his aim was in his writings. He desired to remain in the good graces of the Roman Emperor: to do so he avoided in his history all that might offend Roman susceptibilities. To mention Christianity, a Messianic movement that proclaimed another King than Caesar (Acts 17:7), would be to expose Judaism, which in Rome might not be distinguished from Christianity, to “guilt by association.” Perhaps Josephus would not cavil at discussing a dead Messianic movement, which no longer offered any threat to Rome, but Christianity was alive and militant. The part of prudence was to ignore it.

The consequence of this, as it concludes on Josephus and Jesus: The Testimonium Flavianum Question

Thus, even though Josephus may not have referred to Jesus, that does not necessarily imply that there was no historical Jesus. While a reference to Jesus would help substantiate the historicity of Jesus, it, by the same token, wouldn’t necessarily settle the question outright, especially when the supposed reference is the subject of such severe textual difficulties. While the appeal to the text of Josephus is often made in the attempt to secure the place of Jesus as a figure in history, the text of Josephus itself is far too insecure to carry the burden assigned to it.

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