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Studies and Research
In 93, the Jewish historian Josephus published his work Antiquities of the Jews. The extant copies of this work contain two passages about Jesus. The one directly concerning Jesus has come to be known as the Testimonium Flavianum, and its authenticity has been disputed since the 17th century. The other passage mentions Jesus as the brother of James, also known as James the Just. The authenticity of this latter passage has been disputed by Emil Schürer as well by several recent popular writers.
The following passage appears in the Greek version of Antiquities of the Jews xviii 3.3, in the translation of William Whiston:
3.3 Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.
The Christian author Origen wrote around the year 240. His writings predate both the earliest known manuscripts of the Testimonium and the earliest quotations of the Testimonium by other writers. In his surviving works Origen fails to mention the Testimonium Flavianum, even though he was clearly familiar with the Antiquities of the Jews, since he mentions the less significant reference by Josephus to Jesus as brother of James, which occurs later in Antiquities of the Jews (xx.9), and also other passages from Antiquities such as the passage about John the Baptist. Furthermore, Origen states that Josephus was "not believing in Jesus as the Christ" 1 "he did not accept Jesus as Christ" 2, but the Testimonium declares Jesus to be Christ. Because of these arguments, some scholars believe that the version of Antiquities available to Origen did not mention Jesus at this point at all.
On the other hand, while this argument asserts that Josephus could not have written the Testimonium in its current form, it also demonstrates, according to some scholars, that Josephus must have written something about Jesus, for otherwise Origen would have no reason to make the claim that Josephus "did not accept Jesus as Christ." Presumably whatever he did write was sufficiently negative that Origen chose not to quote it.
The Dialog With Trypho the Jew 3, written about a hundred years after the death of Jesus, is Justin the Philosopher's account of a dialog between himself and a Jewish rabbi named Trypho. In it two men debated about whether Jesus was the promised Messiah. Justin makes no mention of the Testimonium in his efforts to persuade the rabbi, even though: (1) Justin was a noteworthy scholar and was known to have pored over the works of Josephus, whose Antiquities had been written fewer than fifty years earlier; (2) the passage was directly relevant to their discussion; (3) the rabbi would certainly have been impressed by a relevant evidentiary citation from the greatest known Jewish historian.
Justin also fails to mention the passage in his
The interruption of the narrative by the Testimonium Flavium (passage 3.3) also suggests that it is an interpolation. In its context, passage 3.2 runs directly into passage 3.4, and thus the thread of continuity is interrupted by the Testimonium (passage 3.3).
The passage 3.3 also fails a standard test for authenticity, in that it contains vocabulary not otherwise used by Josephus 4.
On the other hand, linguistic analysis has not proven conclusive when compared with other passages in Josephus which likewise exhibit unusual features.
It is argued that "He was [the] Christ" can only be read as a profession of faith. If so, this could not be right, as Josephus was not a Christian and he characterized his patron Emperor Vespasian as the foretold Messiah.
Some of the deepest concerns about the authenticity of the passage were succinctly expressed by John Dominic Crossan (1991), in The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Peasant: "The problem here is that Josephus' account is too good to be true, too confessional to be impartial, too Christian to be Jewish." 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." To some these seem directly to address Christological debates of the early 4th century. Consequently, some scholars regard at least these parts of the Testimonium as later interpolations.
For centuries, until the 16th century, Christian writers took the position that Josephus wrote the Testimonium more or less in its current form.
Today almost all no secular scholars don't hold that position anymore: however, many Christian writers claim that Josephus did write something about Jesus which has been corrupted in the surviving Greek text.
In 1971, professor Shlomo Pines 5 published a translation of a different version of the Testimonium, quoted in an Arabic manuscript of the tenth century. The manuscript in question appears in the Book of the Title written by Agapius, a 10th-century Christian Arab and Melkite bishop of Hierapolis. Agapius appears to be quoting from memory, for even Josephus' title is an approximation:
Pines suggests that this 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. This would add weight to the argument that Josephus did write something about Jesus.
However, Pines' theory has not been widely accepted. The fact that even the title of Josephus's work is inaccurate suggests that Agapius is quoting from memory, which may explain the discrepancies with the Greek version.
In 1995, G. J. Goldberg, using a digital database of ancient literature, identified a possible literary dependence between Josephus and the Gospel of Luke. He found 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 narrative":
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.
From these coincidences in wording, Goldberg suggests that Josephus and Luke used a common 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 interpolations. Luke contains the phrases "but besides all this," four sentences on the women who witnessed the tomb, and "the Christ should suffer," which there is no counterpart in Josephus' text. 6
Judging from Alice Whealey's 2003 7 survey of the historiography, it seems that the majority of modern scholars consider that Josephus really did write something here about Jesus, but that the text that has reached us is corrupt to a perhaps quite substantial extent. In the words of the Catholic Encyclopedia entry for Flavius Josephus, "The passage seems to suffer from repeated interpolations." There has been no consensus on which portions are corrupt, or to what degree.
Alice Whealey writes:
Twentieth century controversy over the Testimonium Flavianum can be distinguished from controversy over the text in the early modern period insofar as it seems generally more academic and less sectarian. While the challenge to the authenticity of the Testimonium in the early modern period was orchestrated almost entirely by Protestant scholars and while in the same period Jews outside the church uniformly denounced the text’s authenticity, the twentieth century controversies over the text have been marked by the presence of Jewish scholars for the first time as prominent participants on both sides of the question. In general, the attitudes of Protestant, Roman Catholic, Jewish and secular scholars towards the text have drawn closer together, with a greater tendency among scholars of all religious backgrounds to see the text as largely authentic. On the one hand this can be interpreted as the result of an increasing trend towards secularism, which is usually seen as product of modernity. On the other hand it can be interpreted as a sort of post-modern disillusionment with the verities of modern skepticism, and an attempt to recapture the sensibility of the ancient world, when it apparently was still possible for a first-century Jew to have written a text as favorable towards Jesus of Nazareth as the Testimonium Flavianum.
The other reference in the works of Josephus often cited to support the historicity of Jesus is also in the Antiquities, in the first paragraph of book 20, chapter 9. It concerns the execution of a man whom traditional scholarship identifies as James the Just (brother of Jesus).
This paragraph is generally accepted as authentic by scholars, although there is debate as to whether the words who was called Christ were in the original passage, or were a later interpolation. This passage from the Antiquities is considered authentic by the majority of scholars. 8 Even most scholars who hold that the Testimonium is inauthentic regard the xx 9.1. reference as original to Josephus. Unlike the Testimonium, the xx 9.1. reference was mentioned in several places by Origen. A small minority, including Zindler, 9 challenge the passage in its entirety, noting contradictions in both the characterization of Ananus and the chronology of his tenure between the passages in the Antiquities and the Jewish Wars.