DON CUPITT

 

Is it possible for people, and even for a whole society, to lose faith in God? ... [If] it happens, [it is] not primarily because something they used to think existed does not after all exist, but because the available language about God has been allowed to become too narrow, stale and spiritually obsolete ... the work of creative religious personalities is continually to enrich, to enlarge and sometimes to purge the available stock of religious symbols and idioms ... (The Sea of Faith, 1984)


DENNIS NINEHAM

 

... people of different periods and cultures differ very widely; in some cases so widely that accounts of the nature and relations of God, men and the world put forward in one culture may be unacceptable, as they stand, in a different culture ... a situation of this sort has arisen ... at about the end of the eighteenth century a cultural revolution of such proportions broke out that it separates our age sharply from all ages that went before (The Use and Abuse of the Bible, 1976)


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Josephus' Account of Jesus in
the Testimonium Flavianum

by G  J Goldberg

Do the Christian gospels record actual events during the first century or are they the ecstatic visions of a small religious group? There are no surviving Roman records of the first century that refer to, nor are there any Jewish records that support the accounts in the Christian gospels - except one.

In Rome, in the year 93, Josephus published his lengthy history of the Jews. While discussing the period in which the Jews of Judea were governed by the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate, Josephus included the following account: 

About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. And when, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first come to love him did not cease. He appeared to them spending a third day restored to life, for the prophets of God had foretold these things and a thousand other marvels about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared. (Jewish Antiquities, 18.3.3 �63.)

Yet this account has been embroiled in controversy since the 17th century. It could not have been written by a Jewish man, say the critics, because it sounds too Christian. It even claims that Jesus was the Messiah (ho christos, "the Christ" in Greek). 

The critics say this paragraph is not authentic. It was inserted into Josephus' book by a later Christian copyist, probably in the third or fourth century. This opinion was controversial. A vast literature was produced over the centuries debating the authenticity of the Testimonium Flavianum, the "Testimony of Flavius Josephus".

A view that has been prominent among American scholars was summarized in John Meier's 1991 book, A Marginal Jew. This opinion held that the paragraph was formed by a mixture of writers. It parsed the text into two categories: anything that seemed too Christian was added by a later Christian writer; anything else was originally written by Josephus. By this view, the paragraph was taken as essentially authentic, and so supported the objective historicity of Jesus. Unfortunately, the evidence for this was meager and self-contradictory. But it was an attractive hypothesis.

New information  
In 1995 a discovery was published that brought important new evidence to the debate over the Testimonium Flavianum. For the first time it was pointed out that Josephus' description of Jesus showed an unusual similarity with another early description of Jesus. It was established statistically that the similarity was too close to have appeared by chance. Further study showed that Josephus' description was not derived from this other text, but rather that both were based on a Jewish-Christian "gospel" that has since been lost.

For the first time, it has become possible to prove that the Jesus account cannot have been a complete forgery and even to identify which parts were written by Josephus and which were added by a later interpolator.

The Testimonium story
Louis Feldman, the pre-eminent Josephus scholar, has succinctly discussed the problem of the Testimonium Flavianum (TF) in several works. He describes the chief arguments for and against the Testimonium authenticity. Briefly they are as follows:

Arguments for authenticity

Arguments against authenticity

Found in all surviving manuscripts

Christian content unlikely from a Jewish writer (esp., "He was the Messiah.").

Quoted in full by Eusebius, 
c. 324

Writers earlier than Eusebius do not cite the passage; Origen states that Josephus did not believe Jesus was the Messiah.

A more accepted reference to Jesus in Book 20 indicates that he must have been described earlier in the Antiquities, logically at the discussion of Pilate.

The passage breaks the continuity of the narrative concerning Pilate.

Vocabulary and style are generally consistent with that of Josephus

There are stylistic peculiarities that are not found in Josephus, such as the use of the first person in "the principal men among us".

No other passage in the Antiquities has been seriously questioned, so the burden of proof is on the skeptics.

Interpolations have been found in isolated manuscripts of Josephus, such as accounts of Jesus in the Slavonic version.

The history of scholarly argument over the years is as follows.

93
The book Jewish Antiquities by Josephus was published in Rome. It contained 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?

c. 230-250
The Christian writer Origen cited Josephus' section on the death of James "the brother of Jesus" in Book 20 of the Antiquities. But he stated that Josephus did not believe in Jesus, and did not cite the TF passage in Book 18.

c. 324
Eusebius quoted the TF in full, in the form that survives today in all manuscripts.

10th Century
The Arab historian Agapius quoted a version of the TF that differed from that of Eusebius. It did not have the most obvious Christian elements. However, this version was lost to scholarship until 1971.

16th Century
Joseph Scaliger first suspected the authenticity of the TF due to its Christian content.

17th Century
Richard Montague, Bishop of Norwich, declared that the phrase "He was the Messiah" is a later Christian addition.

1737
Whiston published his translation of Josephus, and argued that the TF we have is entirely authentic. He argues that the passage should be read from the perspective of a contemporary of Josephus, in which case the Christian elements are not so alarming; and that, in any case, Josephus could very well have been a Jewish believer in Jesus (a Jewish Christian or "Ebionite").

18th - early 20th Century
Other scholars argue the passage is forged in whole or in part. Later scholars opposing authenticity include: Schurer, Niese, Norden, Zeitlin, Lewy, and Juster.

1929
H. St J. Thackeray supported the interpolation theory, and credits Josephus' "Greek assistants" for variation in styles throughout the Antiquities. He also noted several correspondences (but not the TF) between the Gospel of Luke and the Antiquities, and suggested that Luke may have been present at readings of Josephus' work in Roman, and that the two may even have met.

1931
R. Eisler, in his influential The Messiah Jesus, suggests Christians censored and deleted large portions of the original text, and offered a reconstruction by inserting new text into the passage.

1941
C Martin identified select portions of the Testimonium as probably interpolations, while the rest he considered authentic.

1954
Paul Winter argued that there are just three interpolations in the TF, and the rest is genuine. "He was the Messiah" and "if indeed he can be called a man" are considered most suspect, as is the latter section describing the resurrection and the prophecies. This identification of the interpolations became a popular view (reiterated by John Meier, 1991).

c. 1960
Hans Conzellman notes that the TF resembles "the Lukan kerygma", the essential beliefs presented by Luke in his gospel and in Acts. He therefore concludes that the passage must be entirely forged by a Christian.

1963
Feldman writes: "The most probable view seems to be that our text represents substantially what Josephus wrote, but that some alterations have been made by a Christian interpolator".

1971
In a startling find, Shlomo Pines published citations of the TF appearing in Arabic and Syriac works of the 9th-10th centuries. These quotations substantially resemble our current Testimonium, but do not have two of the most suspicious phrases: "he was the Messiah" and "if indeed he can be called a man". Pines suggested these editions may have used an authentic, un-interpolated version of Josephus' work.

1973-1983
Karl Rengstorf published his massive concordance of Josephus' work, listing references to every word, allowing scholars for the first time a tool to study Josephus' style quantitatively.

1984
J. Neville Birdsall used Rengstorf's new concordance to study the style of the TF. He concluded that there are too many discrepancies for the passage to be genuine, and it may be entirely forged.

1991
John Meier studied the question again, repeating his support for Winter's view. This work is influential among contemporary scholars, including John Dominic Crossan and John O'Connor-Murphy.

1995
G J Goldberg identified a regular series of correspondences between the TF and the Emmaus narrative of Luke. He argued that these are so close the two must have been derived from a common source, a Christian document now lost.

Moreover, the correspondences are not plausibly what would be expected of a Christian forger, nor can later interpolations have been made or the relationship between the texts would have been destroyed.

The significant variations between the two texts is that the Luke texts have neither the phrase "if indeed he can be called a man" nor "he was the Messiah" at appropriate locations, in accordance with the Arabic version published by Pines (1971) and verifying the speculations of Winter.

However, both texts contain the resurrection and the prophecy in parallel locations and with unusual overlapping vocabulary, again in accordance with the Arabic version, but in disagreement with the speculations of Winter, Meier, and others

The Josephus-Luke Connection
In the search for new evidence concerning Josephus' Jesus passage we have a tool unavailable to scholars of the past and insufficiently used by scholars today: the computer.

Our advantage today is that the entire body of ancient Greek and Latin literature now resides on a computer database. This allows us to perform a computer search in order to find writings that resemble in various ways the Jesus passage from Josephus' Antiquities, and the Testimonium Flavianum. This is new information that will help us in understanding the origins of the passage.

Throughout this book, the database that will be used is the Thesaurus Lingua Graecae (TLG) published by the University of California at Irvine. The TLG database contains "every" Greek and Latin text from the earliest times up to 600, with the caution that new items are being discovered continually and are added to the database as they come to light. Currently the database holds about 73 million words in a form suitable for complex computer searches.

It would be pleasant if we could simply ask the computer to find the closest match to the Josephus passage. But databases are not yet so sophisticated, and we need to specify what is meant by "closest match." We could ask for: similarity of exact words or words based on same root, synonymous phrases occurring in the same order, peculiar phrases in parallel location, or harmony of meaning, tone, beliefs, prejudices, and other indications of the speaker's intent. Some of these are easy to program; others, impossible. But the easiest search to make at first is for exact word/order matches.

For the initial investigation, then, we will consider the beginning of the passage, which when translated preserving the Greek word order is:

There happened about this time Jesus wise man - if a man one may call him indeed - for he was of amazing deeds a worker ...

The first three significant nouns in the Antiquities Jesus passage are the Greek words 'Iesous, aner, ergon; in English, Jesus, man, and deeds. (We skip the introductory noun "time", but later will return to it - with surprising results.) We instruct the computer to perform the following search of the TLG database: look for every occurrence in Greek literature of these three words and forms thereof ('Iesou, aner/andra, and any words beginning erg), such that the words occur within three or four lines of each other.

The computer's output discloses an intriguing fact. There exists one passage, and only one, that contains these three nouns in proximity. The matching passage is not from an obscure writer, nor was it written centuries after Josephus' time; indeed, it is usually dated to the same decade Josephus' Antiquities was published. The matching passage comes straight from the New Testament: the Gospel of Luke 24.19.

In the New Revised Standard Version, the matching verse is translated in this way:

The things about Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed..

One sees Jesus and deed, but where is the word man that we searched for? It is there in the original Greek, but curiously enough every modern English translation omits it. The problem is the phrase

Iesou ... hos egeneto aner profetes ...

which literally translates as

Jesus ... who was a man prophet ...

Commentaries on translations stumble over how to render "man prophet." One problem for Christian interpreters is that this is a purely human designation, no divinity involved, leading to the suggestion has been that the verb egeneto, which literally means "became", indicates that the phrase means "Jesus, who became a man", that is, that Jesus was a divine spirit who came to earth to become human. Against this is the fact that egeneto is commonly used throughout Luke and the rest of literature as simply meaning "was;" in fact, Josephus' passage also uses this verb, in the form ginetai, which can be translated "occurred", "arose".

Other attempts at translation in the past had it that Jesus was a "prophet-man", "a prophetic man", "a male prophet", and "a man, a prophet." The latest translations simply omit "man," a decision which at the same time has the virtue of side-stepping Luke's difficult admission that Jesus' contemporaries had no thought of his being a Son of God.

This translation may be one reason why this initial similarity between Luke 24.19 and the Antiquities record of Jesus has not been recognized. One must compare the original languages side by side to see the resemblance:

Testimonium

Luke

Jesus wise man

Jesus the Nazarene who was a man prophet

Iesous sophos aner

Iesou tou Nazoraiou hos egeneto aner profetes

Although we only looked for the noun combination Jesus/man/deed, we also have happened on another similarity: sophos, "wise," in Josephus, versus profetes, "prophet" (or "prophetic") in Luke, thematically related words both modifying the word man.

The word "deeds" also appears in both texts: Luke has mighty in deed and the Antiquities has performer of surprising deeds.

This simple computer search has related the beginning of the Testimonium to one New Testament verse. But is this is a fluke? There is an obvious test: If this is not simply an accident, then the section of Luke that begins with 24.19 would be expected to have other noteworthy similarities to the Testimonium. If it is an accident, the number of matches will be minor, that is, no more than could be found in any other brief description of Jesus.

Just what is the portion of Luke containing this verse? It's a famous passage, but one not often paid a great deal of attention. Let us try to read it with fresh eyes.

Luke, in his last chapter, describes two followers of Jesus who are walking from Jerusalem to the nearby town of Emmaus. It is two days after Jesus was executed. Earlier that morning, Luke tells us, some women who had come with Jesus from Galilee had visited his tomb and discovered it empty, but two men in dazzling clothes told the women that Jesus had returned to life, reminding them Jesus himself had predicted that he would "on the third day rise again." Luke then relates the following (Luke 24.13-27, NRSV translation):

Now on that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about sixty stadia from Jerusalem, and talking with each other about all these things that had happened. While they were talking and discussing, Jesus himself came near and went with them, but their eyes were kept from recognizing him. And he said to them, "What are you discussing with each other while you walk along?" They stood still, and looked sad.

Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?" He asked them, "What things?"

They replied, "The things about Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to the judgment of 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 took place.

"Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him."

Then he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?" Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

Still the two do not recognize him, and the story continues as they invite Jesus to dine with them in Emmaus. When he breaks the bread their eyes are opened and they recognize him as Jesus. But their eyes fail them once again: Jesus vanishes "from their sight." Returning at once to Jerusalem, they discover the eleven apostles already in excitement over a report that Jesus had appeared to one of them (Simon).

For Luke, then, Cleopas and his companion were the very first people to see the resurrected Jesus. This disagrees with the other gospels. The name Cleopas appears nowhere else in the New Testament, and the only parallel to the Emmaus story is a brief note in Mark 16.12-13 - that is generally suspected of being based on Luke (falling in the so-called "longer ending" of Mark). Those verses simply state: "After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking in the country. And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them."

Furthermore, the competing claim by the apostles that Simon was the first witness is not given much weight by Luke, who only deigns to report the appearance at second-hand, literally as hearsay. Somehow, for Luke, this odd story of Cleopas and his friend is more important - more authentic - than what the eleven apostles had to say.

Correspondences
We were led from Josephus to the Emmaus narrative of Luke by the search of the TLG database for the first key words of the Antiquities' description of Jesus. Since Luke's passage is lengthy and full of incident, let us extract only the portion that involves a description of the actions and nature of Jesus:

The things about Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to the judgment of 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 took place. [...]" Then he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?" Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures. (Luke 24.19-21; 24.25-27)

This extract, comprising the verses 19 through 27, is continuous and unedited except for the removal of the block of sentences concerning the women. The omitted block forms a flashback within this narrative and does not materially add to a description of Jesus. As will be discussed later, experts on the subject agree this flashback was probably inserted by Luke into a passage which had formerly stood alone. Therefore, its omission likely moves us closer to Luke's original source for the Emmaus story.

Now let us compare the Emmaus passage, without the internal flashback, with the Jesus passage from Josephus' Antiquities. For reference the Testimonium is repeated here:

About this time there was Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Christ. And when, upon an accusation by the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. He appeared to them spending a third day restored to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these things and countless other marvels about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared. (Antiquities 18.63)

We have compared the beginnings of these two passages and seen they employ three words in the same order, Jesus, man, and deed. Now let us proceed to compare them phrase by phrase, concentrating on the sequence of ideas in both.

I emphasize that the following reading follows the exact word order in the original Greek of both texts. The parallels shown occur in identical locations.

We have already read the beginning:

Testimonium

Luke

Jesus wise man

Jesus the Nazarene who was a man prophet

Iesous sophos aner

Iesou tou Nazoraiou hos egeneto aner profetes

The word man (aner) in both texts follows closely after Jesus, modifies the name. In turn, man is modified in both cases by a term indicating that Jesus played a wisdom role. Luke presents Jesus as a man prophet while the Antiquities calls him a wise man. The designations are related, but not identical, which is not surprising considering that Josephus calls no one of his day a "prophet;" indeed, elsewhere he asserts there were no "prophets" since the days of the first Temple.

But missing from Luke is anything similar to the next Antiquities phrase if indeed one may call him a man.

Testimonium

Luke

if a man one can call him indeed

(no match)

eige andra auton legein cre

 

Interestingly enough, this phrase is one that the modern consensus holds was not in the original version of the Testimonium. According to this view, it was added as much as 200 years after Josephus published the passage. Does this indicate that Luke's passage, which also does not have anything like the "if one can call him a man" phrase, is closer to the original, unedited passage of Josephus then the Testimonium we have? We shall certainly return to this point later.

Testimonium

Luke

for he was of amazing deeds a worker

mighty in deed

en gar paradoxon ergon poietes

dunatos en ergoi

The word deed in both texts has a word to indicate there is something extraordinary about them. Luke's word is mighty and the Antiquities uses amazing (or surprising, or wonderful). Both texts imply many unusual works were done; neither text specifies what these are.

As with all parallels, there are dissimilarities too: "deed" is plural in the Antiquities but a singular collective form in Luke; "worker" has no parallel in Luke although one might argue it is implied; and so on. Later I will explore in detail how these differences are within the range of variation of two authors mildly rewriting a single text to suit a given context.

Luke states, immediately after deed, that Jesus was also mighty in word, a powerful speaker.

Testimonium

Luke

a teacher

and word

didaskalos

kai logoi


The Antiquities at this point states that Jesus was a teacher. There is no exact word match, but the general concept is the same: both texts have moved from Jesus' actions to his speech.

This pairing and order is not to be taken for granted: of the nine places in the New Testament which deeds and words are paired, seven are in the opposite order, word/deed (e.g., Acts 7.22, Moses is mighty "in words and in deeds"), and only this passage of Luke and (obscurely) Jude 1.15 is in the deed/word order. There are also numerous places in the New Testament where deeds are mentioned without pairing with speech.

Both texts now move to the witnesses of the deeds and words and their holy nature.

Testimonium

Luke

of people who with pleasure the truth received

before God

anthropon ton hedone taleth decomenon,

enantion tou Theou


Testimonium

Luke

and many of the Jews and many of the Greeks were won over

kai pollous men 'Ioudaious, pollous de kai tou Hellenikou epegageto.

and all the people


kai pantos tou laou

To Luke, Jesus was mighty in deed and word before God; the phrase is a Semitism, most likely a rendition of the Hebrew lifne adonai, which can be rendered "in the opinion of the Lord." These deeds and words were witnessed and approved of by the Lord, that is, they were of a religious nature. The Antiquities does not mention God, but has it that Jesus was a teacher of such people as receive the truth gladly. Given the context, truth also refers to religious teaching. It would have been unusual for Josephus to use the term before God here, so the reference to, essentially, a synagogue congregation or something similar may indeed by the nearest thing one could expect Josephus to write at this point. (E.g., a religious teacher is what Josephus usually means by a wise man, the term used previously; as will be discussed later).

Luke then turns from Jesus' words and the holy nature of his activity to those who heard and witnessed Jesus, all the people. The same movement is made in the Testimonium, though with greater elaboration; it was begun in the preceding phrase and is completed here. First, as was just seen, mention is made of the people Jesus taught, and this is followed by He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. Between the two there is something of a parallel in all (Luke) versus many (Testimonium). There are words for "people" in both texts, laou in Luke, and in the Testimonium first the general anthropon ("human") followed by ethnic specification, Greeks and Jews, not found in Luke.

Let us pause for a moment. The reader may appreciate that nothing forces either writer to move from one concept to another in just this order. Consider, for example, a description of Jesus written about 50 years after Luke and the Antiquities, appearing in a work of the Christian writer, Justin Martyr, which begins:

In the books of the prophets we find it announced beforehand that Jesus our Christ would appear, be born through a virgin, grow up, heal every disease and sickness and raise the dead, and be despised... (Justin Martyr, First Apology, 31)

Compare this with our two texts: no man, no prophet. Instead of expressing "amazing deeds" in two words, this lists specific miracles; and there is no reference to words or teaching, there is no mention of an approving audience and, on the contrary, says Jesus was despised.

Or take another description written by Luke, from his book of Acts:

You know the thing that happened ... how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power; how he went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with him. We are witnesses to all that he did both in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They put him to death ... (Acts 10:36-43)

This is written by the same author as the Emmaus passage, yet it lacks the clear parallels with the Testimonium. One can detect a few traces that Luke used the same structure here as in the earlier Emmaus, including the words "power (might)", "doing" (same root as "deed), and an implication that he has a wide audience. But one cannot write out a phrase by phrase parallel with the Testimonium as we have been doing so far, and which we can continue to do.

In fact, it is shown on the statistical studies page that there is no Christian text (and certainly no Jewish text) more closely resembling the Antiquities passage in content, vocabulary, and thematic structure, than this passage of Luke.

Let us now continue our reading. The next sentence of the Antiquities does not have a parallel at this point in Luke: He was the Christ.

Testimonium

Luke

The christ [or messiah] he was.

(no match)

ho christos houtos en.

 

The last time we saw a complete absence of a parallel was in the phrase if indeed one can call him a man, which the scholarly consensus holds as a later, Christian interpolation into Josephus' original text. Recall now that this same consensus considers the phrase He was the Christ to be another such an interpolation. Thus we have twice seen that a lack of parallel with Luke occurs where the Josephus passage has been altered, if we identify alterations according to the modern consensus.

This leads me to propose that the version Josephus originally wrote had almost exactly the same structure as the Emmaus extract from Luke.

Continuing to the next phrase in Luke, one finds the passage turning from Jesus' acceptance by the people to conflict with the authorities:

Testimonium

Luke

and him an indictment

how they handed him over

kai auton endeixei

hopos te paredokan auton

The same dramatic turn is made in the Antiquities. The similar concepts here are indictment (endeixei) versus being handed over to a judicial process ( paredokan).

Testimonium

Luke

by the principal men

the chief priests and leaders

ton proton andron

hoi archiereis kai hoi archontes

Both texts now specify who did the indictment/handing over: the leaders. The principal men is the standard way Josephus refers to leaders of the community; it is synonymous with Luke's leaders and potentially includes priests. (Note proto-, "first", is a near-synonym for arch-, "begin, chief").

Testimonium

Luke

among us

of us

par' hemin

hemon

The leaders are further specified - they are "ours," in both texts, at precisely the same location. The reader is again reminded that the exact Greek word order of both texts is being followed. The match of such small words at key points can be more spectacular than lengthier expositions.

In this case, there is a very unusual grammatical match with the use of the first person plural in identifying the "our leaders", the principal men among us. For Josephus in his writings usually obeys the conventions of objective historians and refers to his people in the third person as "the Jews" and the like, not as "us".

Indeed, this peculiarity of the first person at this point has been used by some scholars as one of the proofs Josephus did not write the passage at all. A study of every appearance of us in the Antiquities reveals that, with possibly three or four exceptions, the first person plural does not occur in a context such as this in Josephus.

Stranger still, Luke also does not employ the first person when he identifies accusers of Jesus within the speeches of Acts. In Acts 13.27, Paul was himself a dweller in Jerusalem yet nonetheless asserts that "those dwelling in Jerusalem and their rulers" were the ones who asked Pilate to sentence Jesus. Similarly consider Acts 2.23 ,"you crucified"; 3.15, "you delivered up"; 5.30, "you laid hands on"; and 10.39 ("they did away with him"). If the first person is unusual in both Luke and Josephus, why would both suddenly use them at the same time in harmonious passages?

Testimonium

Luke

to a cross condemned by Pilate

to a judgment of death and crucified him.

stauroi epitetimhkotos Pilatou

eis krima thanatou kai estaurosan auton.

In this next segment there are single words in each text denoting the passing of a criminal sentence, judgment and condemned. The word cross, Greek stauro, is the root of a word in both: Luke estaurosan (crucified), Antiquities stauroi (to a cross). These are slight rewritings of the same concept, the notable difference being that the name Pilate does not occur in Luke. Pilate is there implicitly: there must be someone to whom Jesus is handed over by the leaders, the one who passed the judgment of death. Luke avoids the name deliberately. The name is mandatory in Josephus, however, because the Testimonium passage occurs in Josephus' section on the actions of Pilate as procurator of Judea.

Testimonium

Luke

did not stop the first followers.

But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel

ouk epausanto hoi to proton agapesantes.

hemeis de helpizomen hoti autos estin o mellon lutrousthai ton Israel

From the crucifixion, both texts now simultaneously turn to the actions of the original disciples.

The Josephus verse gives some translation problems; Feldman renders it as those who had in the first place come to love him did not cease. The generally similar structure is that the followers are referred to immediately after the crucifixion, before any other activity, and their attachment to him is expressed. Some difference is inevitable considering that these original disciples are, in fact, the ones speaking in Luke's story.

But an extremely important mismatch is Luke's identification of Jesus as potentially the one to redeem Israel, absent in Josephus at this point; and although earlier there had been a Messianic reference in "He was the Christ (or Messiah)," our strict adherence to word order rules this out as a parallel.

Another interesting difference is that these disciples in the Antiquities did not give up their affection for him, while the speakers in Luke's drama are on the verge of "giving up their affection," but something occurs to nip this loss of faith in the bud.

Testimonium

Luke

(no match)

but besides with all these things

 

alla ge syn pasin toutois

Some transitional words in Luke give a mismatch.

Testimonium

Luke

For appearing to them

(no match)

ephane gar autois

 

The statement of Jesus' reappearance completed after the next clause; discussion is deferred until then.

Now the next clause I consider to be the most significant single match:

Testimonium

Luke

a third day having

this third day spending

triten echon hemeran

triten tauten hemeran agei

A third day  In Christian doctrine, Jesus' resurrection occurred "on the third day," a key expression in statements of belief. The prevalent form uses the preposition "on," with "third day" the object of the preposition; in Greek, en triti himei.

But this is not the form in either Josephus or Luke. In these, "third day" is the object of a verb, and not a preposition. It's grammatical form is consequently the accusative case, triten hemeran. The verbs - Josephus "having", Luke "spending" or "passing" - are synonyms here, for in Greek literature echon and agein are used interchangeably when denoting the passing of time.

Yet the New Testament does not use this verbal form. Either the prepositional or nominative is used throughout, with Luke being the sole exception. As for other Christian literature, we can again search the TLG database. This time, the computer is asked to search for the phrase the third day in the accusative case, or indeed any combination of triten and hemeran within three or four lines of each other. The results are revealing: Luke's Emmaus passage and the Testimonium are the only two texts using the resurrection third day as object of a verb in all of ancient Christian literature.

Inevitably, one must ask if there is some reason why these two authors use this unique form at the same position. The obvious proposal is that there is some dependence: one is based on the other, or both are derived from a prior source. Also supporting this is the awkwardness and lack of clarity in both texts - ask, who is the subject of the verb having/spending in each sentence? This indicates dependence on a source that is as unclear as it is authoritative.

Testimonium

Luke

again alive

today since these things happened. [...] And he said to them, "Oh, fools and slow of heart to believe

palin zon

hemeron aph' ou tauta egeneto.[...]kai autos eipen pros autous, O anoetoi kai bradeis tei kardiai tou pisteuein epi

As suggested above, Luke's flashback to the women is excluded. The "again alive" completes the thought begun previously in the Testimonium with "he appeared to them..." At this moment Jesus makes his appearance to the disciples, but the same cannot occur in Luke - simply because Luke's entire narrative takes place during the appearance. The genres are different - a dramatization cannot be identical to a history at every point. But even so, there is, in fact a parallel in Luke: for this is the moment at which Jesus at last speaks to the disciples, starting in motion the application of Messianic prophecies to Jesus and, eventually, the disclosing of Jesus' identity to the disciples. Thus a possible parallel can be found between appeared again alive and He said to them, communication of the risen Jesus to the disciples.

Testimonium

Luke

the divine prophets these things

all that the prophets have spoken. Were not these things necessary

ton theion propheton tauta

pasin hois elalesan hoi prophetai. ouchi tauta edei

Simultaneously both move to the founding concept of Christianity: the link of Jesus to ancient Jewish prophecies. The themes are the same. There are also a number of precise vocabulary correspondences: the word for "prophets" and the word tauta ("these things"), which is to refer to what has just been related. Also the explanatory construction: Jesus appeared to them because (gar, at the beginning of the sentence) of what the prophets said, matched by Luke that it was necessary that this happen due to these same prophecies.

Testimonium

Luke

(no match)

to suffer the christ

 

pathein ton christon

The key word "Christ, or "Messiah", ho christos, is now found in Luke at this point, several lines after the Testimonium use of "Christ" - at least in the Greek version of Josephus we have received. But oddly enough in the Arabic translation of the Antiquities discussed in Chapter 1, that of the 10th-century writer Agapius that many scholars feel to be more authentic, "Christ/Messiah" does appear just where it does in Luke! This will be discussed thoroughly in Chapter 5, but for now, I just quote the relevant section:

They reported that he had appeared to them three days after the crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders. (Agapius, Universal History, quoting Josephus)

Testimonium

Luke

and thousands other wonders about him foretold

and to enter into his glory

te kai alla myria peri autou

kai eiselthein eis ten doxan autou; kai arxamenos apo Mouseos kai apo panton ton propheton diermeneusen autois en pasais tais graphais ta peri eautou.

A near-duplicate phrase is about him/about himself (peri autou/peri eautou) used to the same purpose of identifying the subject of the prophecies. It is a small phrase, but the location, context, and range of possible alternatives that makes it significant.

The difference in voice - dramatic versus discursive - disguises a great deal of similarity at this point. First, note there is very little information that is not found or strongly implied in both texts, the mismatches being that Josephus does not mention Moses and does not say that Jesus spoke to the disciples about the prophecies. The main difference is stylistic, in that Luke's acted-out drama is repetitious where the Testimonium uses a single complex sentence. Because the composition of these sections is so different it is better to read them entire:

Testimonium
...
the holy prophets these things and thousands others about him wonders having foretold.

Luke
...
to believe on all which spoke the prophets. Not these things must suffer the Christ, and to enter into his glory? And beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures that about himself.

The boldfaced words have the same root, while possible synonyms are in italics. Some observations: "prophets" occurs once in the first text but twice in the second. The prophets "foretold" or "spoke ( or declared)." What is prophesied of Jesus is "wonders" or "glory". And the idea that there are "thousands" of such things is a suitable condensation of Luke's use, three times, of the word "all" ("all which spoke the prophets", "all the prophets", "all the scriptures"). The reduction of "all" to "thousands" is consistent with the manner in which, a few sentences earlier, Luke's "all the people" is replaced in the Testimonium with "many of the Jews...".

The last line has no parallel in Luke:

Testimonium

Luke

And to now the tribe of the Christians, named after him, has not disappeared.

eis eti te nun ton Christianon apo toude onomasmenon ouk epelipe to phylon.

(no match)

The same implication is nonetheless present in Luke, for the resurrection appearance renews the disciples' dying faith.

Reading through this list of parallels inevitably leads to the question: Is there simple explanation for the harmony between the two?

The modern consensus holds that the Antiquities passage was, for the most part, written by Josephus with some later Christian additions. Yet how could a Jewish historian independently compose a text that, by pure chance, so closely matches a passage from a Christian gospel?

There are several alternatives. I shall demonstrate the following:

  1. The similarities are too numerous and unusual to be the result of accident. This is demonstrated by a statistical comparison of all other known descriptions of Jesus of similar length.

  2. The similarities are not what would be written by a 2nd or 3rd century Christian deliberately mimicking Josephus' style. This is a consequence of the statistical study.

  3. The similarities are what would be expected if Josephus had employed a document very similar to Luke's Emmaus narrative as his source for information on Jesus, which he then moderately rewrote. This will be demonstrated on the style page by studying how other passages in his works were rewritten by Josephus from sources known to us.

The conclusion that can therefore be drawn is that Josephus and Luke derived their passages from a common Christian (or Jewish- Christian) source.

The analysis allows us to identify what is authentic in the Testimonium. It also allows is to plausibly uncover the document used by both Josephus and Luke. I will argue elsewhere that this document is a copy of a speech used by early Jesus proselytes of Jerusalem.

For the first time, we will have independent, Jewish documentation of the speech that is called, many times in Luke/Acts, "the word" and "the gospel."

Summary Comparison Table
The table presents parallel comparison of the Testimonium Flavianum, the description of Jesus appearing in Josephus' Jewish Antiquities, with Luke's description of Jesus found in the Emmaus narrative of Chapter 24. The flashback at 24.22-24 is dropped from this exhibit.

In both cases, the exact order of the Greek text is maintained. The table merely adds in line breaks to clarify the relationship between clauses. This demonstrates the consistent presence and order of the themes in the two texts. Also, correspondences of Greek words with the same root are shown in boldface.

Josephus - Testimonium Flavianum,
Jewish Antiquities 18.3.3 Sec. 63-64

Gospel of Luke
24:18-21, 25-27

Jesus wise man

Jesus the Nazarene who was a man prophet

Iesous sophos aner

Iesou tou Nazoraiou hos egeneto aner profetes

if a man one can call him indeed

(no match)

eige andra auton legein cre

 

for he was of amazing deeds a worker

mighty in deed

en gar paradoxon ergon poietes

dunatos en ergoi

a teacher

and word

didaskalos

kai logoi

of people who with pleasure the truth received

before God

anthropon ton hedone taleth decomenon,

enantion tou Theou

and many of the Jews and many of the Greeks were won over

kai pollous men 'Ioudaious, pollous de kai tou Hellenikou epegageto.

and all the people

kai pantos tou laou

The christ [or messiah] he was.

(no match)

ho christos houtos en.

 

and him an indictment

how they handed him over

kai auton endeixei

hopos te paredokan auton

by the principal men

the chief priests and leaders

ton proton andron

hoi archiereis kai hoi archontes

among us

of us

par' hemin

hemon

to a cross condemned by Pilate

to a judgment of death and crucified him.

stauroi epitetimhkotos Pilatou

eis krima thanatou kai estaurosan auton.

did not stop the first followers.

But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel

ouk epausanto hoi to proton agapesantes.

hemeis de helpizomen hoti autos estin o mellon lutrousthai ton Israel

(no match)

but besides with all these things

 

alla ge syn pasin toutois

For appearing to them

(no match)

ephane gar autois

 

a third day having

this third day spending

triten echon hemeran

triten tauten hemeran agei

again alive

today since these things happened. [...] And he said to them, "Oh, fools and slow of heart to believe

palin zon

hemeron aph' ou tauta egeneto.[...]kai autos eipen pros autous, O anoetoi kai bradeis tei kardiai tou pisteuein epi

the divine prophets these things

all that the prophets have spoken. Were not these things necessary

ton theion propheton tauta

pasin hois elalesan hoi prophetai. ouchi tauta edei

(no match)

to suffer the christ

 

pathein ton christon

and thousands other wonders about him foretold.

and to enter into his glory. Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.

te kai alla myria peri autou thaumasia eirekoton.

kai eiselthein eis ten doxan autou; kai arxamenos apo Mouseos kai apo panton ton propheton diermeneusen autois en pasais tais graphais ta peri eautou.

And to now the tribe of the Christians, named after him, has not disappeared.

eis eti te nun ton Christianon apo toude onomasmenon ouk epelipe to phylon.

(no match)

[Editor's  Note:  Goldberg does not here mention (nor should he necessarily have mentioned) one other reference to Jesus by Josephus. This occurs in Antiquities 20.9.1.200.

Being therefore this kind of person [i.e. a heartless Sadducee] Ananus [the Younger, a High Priest in the year 62 CE], thinking he had a favourable opportunity because Festus [the Roman Procurator] had died and Albinus [Festus's successor] was still on his way [to take up his post], called a meeting of judges and brought into it the brother of Jesus-who-is-called-Messiah, James by name, and some others. He made the accusation that they had broken the [Hebrew] Law and so handed them over to be stoned.

There is no evidence, textual or otherwise, that this passage was either inserted into the Antiquities, or tampered with later. Few scholars have ever doubted that.

J P Meier in A Marginal Jew, Volume I, suggests that Josephus used the phrase "Jesus-who-is-called-Messiah" because he had no other way of setting James apart from others. This was because James (the English name is derived from the Greek version of the Hebrew Jakob) was such a common name at the time that "Jakob-the-son-of-Joseph" would not have been enough to identify a particular person. He had therefore to identify him via the better-known Jesus.

Josephus appears to confirm that Jesus had a brother named James, as mentioned in Mark 6.3, Matthew 13.55, Galatians 1.19 and and Acts 15.13-21. In doing so he in passing affirms the historical person of Jesus. The other account of James's death is that of Hegesippus (second century), which is probably derived from Christian folklore built up over the intervening century or so.]

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