The Authenticity of Josephus Flavius
Josephus Flavius (37 C.E. to 100 C.E.) was a first century Jewish historian and apologist. His works give us important information on first century Judaism and the destruction of the Jerusalem in 70 C.E. Josephus short written work mentioning Jesus is considered very important. The reason why is because it’s the earliest non-Christian that allegedly mentions Jesus alleged crucifixion and alleged resurrection. Christian apologists constantly claim that the Joephus passage about Jesus is reliable. Here we examine Josephus and see whether this claim holds any water.However when really analyzing this passage, it seems that there are several problems with it as will be seen shortly. Here is the paragraph that currently appears in The Antiquities of the Jews, written by Josephus around 95 C.E.:
"Now, there was about this time, Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works--a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named for him are not extinct to this day." (Antiquities of the Jews 18.63-64)
The main problem I have with the passage from Josephus is that it has been shown conclusively to be a forgery, and even conservative scholars admit it has been tampered with. But even were it historical, it dates from more than six decades after Jesus. So its not an independent eye witness account of Jesus.
The time line of Testimonium Flavianum (the work of Joephus that allegedly mentions Jesus divinity, crucifixion, resurrection, etc).
93 C.E.: The book Jewish Antiquities by Josephus is published in Rome. It contains at least one reference to "James, the brother of Jesus called the Christ." Manuscripts surviving today also contain a description of Jesus. But was this description present in the year 93?
230-250 C.E.: The Christian writer Origen cites Josephus' section on the death of James "the brother of Jesus" in Book 20 of the Antiquities; but states Josephus did not believe in Jesus, and does not cite the TF passage in Book 18 (the book that allegedly mentions Jesus crucifixion and resurrection).
324 C.E.: Church Father Eusebius quotes the TF in full, in the form that survives today in all manuscripts.
However there are several problems with Joephus short account of Jesus. They are:
1)The Christian content found is unlikely from a Jewish writer (esp., "He was the Messiah."). 2)Writers/Church Fathers earlier than Eusebius do not cite the passage; Church father Origen states that Josephus did not believe Jesus was the Messiah. 3)The passage breaks the continuity of the narrative concerning Pilate. Its also helpful to read what comes before and after the passage on jesus. If I remember right its sandwiched between two long passages on some kind of roman military action that make sense back to back. The passage on jesus is very out of place, stuck there in the middle. 4)There are stylistic peculiarities that are not found in Josephus, such as the use of the first person in "the principal men among us". 5)Interpolations have been found in isolated manuscripts of Josephus, such as accounts of Jesus in the Slavonic version. 6) For more than two hundred years, the Christian Fathers who were familiar with the works of Josephus knew nothing of this passage. Had the passage been in the works of Josephus which they knew, Justin Martyr, Tertullian, Origen an Clement of Alexandria would have been eager to hurl it at their Jewish opponents in their many controversies.
7) Some Christian apologists say that there is an Arabic version of the TF, thus it must be authetnic. However this is not the case. The "Arabic version" is 10th century... way after the time of Joesphus.
Some Christian Apologists and even some Joepshus scholars say that the Joesphus account of Jesus in the Testimonium Flavianum is genuine but has some interpolations in it. Christian apologist even cite Louis Feldman, considered to be the world's leading expert/scholar on
Joesphus who says (without good evidence) that the Testimonium of Flaviaum is authentic. But they do admit that there are interpolations in the text. In fact Louis Feldman took a survey on the scholars and their opinon of Jesus being allegedly mentioned by Joesphus. Interestingly he admits that there are several scholars who do indeed say the entire T.F. is a fabrication and not written by Joesphus.
Citing opinions of scholars who say that Joesphus mention of Jesus is genunine isn't an argument. Evidence is all that matters at the end of the day. I want hard evidence that Joesphus really wrote about Jesus Christ. If there is no evidence for this claim, I won't believe it. It's as easy as that.
There are several facts as to why the Josephus short account of Jesus in the T.F. is a fabrication:
•No Christian or scholar before then refers to it, especially not the scholar Origen, whose library Eusebius had. •Origen even wrote that Josephus did not believe in Jesus. •If the pious Jew Josephus had truly thought that Jesus was the Messiah, he would have become a Christian. But Josephus was a Jew his entire life. •The style of the text is radically different from the rest of Josephus' writings. •The story is completely out of context with the paragraphs around it. •It's unlikely that Josephus would have referred to the accusing Jews as “the principal men among us.” •There never was a “tribe of the Christians.” •Josephus wrote extensively about many minor people of the time. A single paragraph and sentence for the Messiah is impossible.
Following is a list of important Christian authorities who studied and/or mentioned Josephus but not the Jesus passage:
•Justin Martyr (c. 100-c. 165), who obviously pored over Josephus's works, makes no mention of the TF. •Theophilus (d. 180), Bishop of Antioch--no mention of the TF. •Irenaeus (c. 120/140-c. 200/203), saint and compiler of the New Testament, has not a word about the TF. •Clement of Alexandria (c. 150-211/215), influential Greek theologian and prolific Christian writer, head of the Alexandrian school, says nothing about the TF. •Origen (c. 185-c. 254), no mention of the TF and specifically states that Josephus did not believe Jesus was "the Christ." •Hippolytus (c. 170-c. 235), saint and martyr, nothing about the TF. •The author of the ancient Syriac text, "History of Armenia," refers to Josephus but not the TF. •Minucius Felix (d. c. 250), lawyer and Christian convert--no mention of the TF. •Anatolius (230-c. 270/280)--no mention of TF. •Chrysostom (c. 347-407), saint and Syrian prelate, not a word about the TF. •Methodius, saint of the 9th century--even at this late date there were apparently copies of Josephus without the TF, as Methodius makes no mention of it. •Photius (c. 820-891), Patriarch of Constantinople, not a word about the TF, again indicating copies of Josephus devoid of the passage, or, perhaps, a rejection of it because it was understood to be fraudulent.
When the evidence is scientifically examined, it becomes clear that the entire Josephus passage regarding Jesus was forged, likely by Church historian Eusebius, during the fourth century. In "Who on Earth was Jesus Christ?" David Taylor details the reasons why the TF in toto must be deemed a forgery, most of which arguments, again, were put forth by Dr. Lardner:
•"It was not quoted or referred to by any Christian apologists prior to Eusebius, c. 316 ad.
•"Nowhere else in his voluminous works does Josephus use the word 'Christ,' except in the passage which refers to James 'the brother of Jesus who was called Christ' (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 20, Chapter 9, Paragraph 1), which is also considered to be a forgery.
•"Since Josephus was not a Christian but an orthodox Jew, it is impossible that he should have believed or written that Jesus was the Christ or used the words 'if it be lawful to call him a man,' which imply the Christian belief in Jesus' divinity.
•"The extraordinary character of the things related in the passage--of a man who is apparently more than a man, and who rose from the grave after being dead for three days--demanded a more extensive treatment by Josephus, which would undoubtedly have been forthcoming if he had been its author.
•"The passage interrupts the narrative, which would flow more naturally if the passage were left out entirely.
•"It is not quoted by Chrysostom (c. 354-407 ad) even though he often refers to Josephus in his voluminous writings.
•"It is not quoted by Photius, Patriarch of Constantinople (c. 858-886 ad) even though he wrote three articles concerning Josephus, which strongly implies that his copy of Josephus' Antiquities did not contain the passage.
•"Neither Justin Martyr (110-165 AD), nor Clement of Alexandria (153-217 ad), nor Origen (c.185-254 AD), who all made extensive reference to ancient authors in their defence of Christianity, has mentioned this supposed testimony of Josephus.
•"Origen, in his treatise Against Celsus, Book 1, Chapter 47, states categorically that Josephus did NOT believe that Jesus was the Christ.
•"This is the only reference to the Christians in the works of Josephus. If it were genuine, we would have expected him to have given us a fuller account of them somewhere."
When the earliest Greek texts are analyzed, it is obvious that the Testimonium Flavianum interrupts the flow of the primary material and that the style of the language is different from that of Josephus. There is other evidence that the TF never appeared in the original Josephus. As Wells says:
"As I noted in The Jesus Legend, there is an ancient table of contents in the Antiquities which omits all mention of the Testimonium. Feldman (in Feldman and Hata, 1987, p. 57) says that this table is already mentioned in the fifth- or sixth-century Latin version of the Antiquities, and he finds it 'hard to believe that such a remarkable passage would be omitted by anyone, let alone by a Christian summarizing the work.'" (Wells, JM, 201)
The Paragraph also mentions that the "divine prophets" foretold the life of Jesus, but Joephus (assuming that he wrote this passage) neglects to mention who these Prophets were or what they said. Again another reason why I don't take Joesphus account to be true. What about Joesphus mention of the stoning of James? Again proves nothing. Even Christian Scholars widely consider this to be a doctored text. The stoning of James is not mentioned in the Book of Acts. Josephus spends much more time discussing John the Baptist and various other supposed Messiahs than he does discussing Jesus. Why? If Joephus knew about Jesus crucifixion and resurrection etc, wouldn't he mention more about this or even Jesus life? Why is it that so little is written about Jesus by Josephus? Origen did mention the "Jamesian Reference" of Josephus but nothing about the TF. It turns out that Josephus was speaking of another Jesus. The Jamesian Reference refers to Jesus Bar Damneus, though Christian apologists cut the quoted paragraph short before this becomes clear. Josephus was not talking about Jesus Christ but another politcal figure named Jesus. The "So-Called-Christ" is probably an interpolation.
Conclusions: There is no reason to believe Joesphus short accounts of Jesus.Many Biblical scholars reject the entire Testimonium Flavianum as a later Christian insertion. Both Joesphus alleged refernces to Jesus have been proven to be forgeries. As Richard Carrier says: "The Major Testimonium is a Fabrication, absolutely. Some scholars try to theorize it had an underlying (now lost) authentic core, but there are no sound arguments for that. As for the Minor Testimonium, I believe I can prove it's an accidental interpolation, and thus not authentic, but not a deliberate fabrication either. I'll say more about this in my next book. "
Again, leading Christian apologists have fully admitted that the TF was altered by Christians. This is not a point that is disputed.Their defense is that the document was only "partially" doctored. At this point, the burden lands on them. They have no evidence to back their position.
It is impossible for me to believe that a devoted Jew like Josephus would have believed that Jesus was the messiah, that he was allegedly divine, and he was allegedly resurrected from the dead and not convert to Christianity. Again Josephus remained a Jew all his life. He never converted to Christianity. But to make matters worse, Josephus did not believe Jesus was the messiah. Josephus believed Emperor Vespasian was the Messiah.
So there is no good reason to believe in Joephus short accounts of Jesus. I have asked Christian apologists to offer evidence of their claim, that the TF is authentic. Citing opinions of scholars is not evidence. Even the most respected scholar must submit evidence for claims. And the evidence shows that Joepshus never mentioned Jesus Christ. So there is no "historical" record of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. If Christians are seriously suggesting a Jew who remained so declared Jesus the messiah, you're taking a stance so hard line even a Christian apologist like Lee Strobel won't support you.
Doherty, Earl The Jesus Puzzle Canadian Humanist Publications, 1999
Feldman, Louis H (1989), "A Selective Critical Bibliography of Josephus", in
Feldman, Louis H; Hata, Gohei, Josephus, the Bible, and History, Leiden: E.J. Brill
Whealey, Alice. "The Testimonium Flavianum in Syriac and Arabic," New Testament Studies 54.4 (2008)
Bruce, F. F. Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament. Eerdmans, 1974.
Charlesworth, James H. Jesus Within Judaism. Doubleday (Anchor Books) 1988.
France, Richard T. The Evidence for Jesus. Intervarsity Press, 1986.