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Josephus: A Reliable Source?

Flavius Josephus was a Jewish historian born in 37 CE. His Antiquities of the Jews, written in approximately 93 CE, has two references to Jesus. He was not a Christian, and this non-biblical source is often cited by apologists as strong confirmation of key elements from the gospel story.

At least, that’s what they’d like to imagine.

This first passage is the famous Testimonium Flavianum:

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.

That’s powerful support for the Christian position, but you know what they say about things that sound too good to be true.

Josephus was born after Jesus died, so in the most charitable interpretation, he is simply passing along second-hand information. More damning, scholars almost universally agree that this was not original to Josephus. He was a Jew, not a Christian, and this isn’t what he would’ve written. Also, the passage interrupts the flow of the book at this point (that is, the book would read better if this passage were removed), and it is briefer than similar summaries in the rest of the work. This is what you’d expect from a later addition.

From the Jewish standpoint, Josephus was a traitor. Formerly a Jewish commander, he defected to the Roman side during the First Jewish-Roman War in around 67, and his history was written in Rome. Jews had little interest in copying his works to keep them in circulation, and it was mostly Christians who copied them. They might have been motivated to “improve” Josephus.

The earliest copy of the Testimonium Flavianum is from Eusebius (324 CE or earlier). That it is traceable back to Eusebius raises concerns. He is not considered an especially reliable historian, and it’s possible that he added this paragraph.

The second passage is a bit long, so let me summarize. Ananus was named the new high priest. He was eager to establish his authority, and he sentenced a group of men to death, one of whom was James the brother of Jesus. There was an outcry against this execution (perhaps it was hasty or was built on insufficient evidence—the text isn’t specific), and concerned citizens petitioned the Roman procurator to rein in Ananus. The procurator agreed and removed Ananus from the high priesthood, “and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest.”

Let’s return to James, one of the unfortunates executed by stoning. The text says:

… [Ananus] assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others …

While this doesn’t celebrate the miracles of Jesus, it does at least establish the existence of Jesus Christ in the first century, since the book was written in about 93 CE. However, David Fitzgerald (Nailed, p. 58–61) summarizes a Richard Carrier argument that makes an intriguing case that this isn’t what it seems to be.

The first problem is that this isn’t how other accounts describe the death of James the Just, the brother of Jesus Christ and first bishop of Jerusalem.

Next, notice the clumsy sentence structure:

“the brother of Jesus,
who was called the Christ,
whose name was James … ”

rather than simply “the brother of Jesus, whose name was James.” Imagine if “who was called the Christ” was originally a marginal note in a copy that was merged into the manuscript by a later scribe. Scholars can point to many examples of these scribal insertions. In the form that we have it, it’s like a chatty email that drops “and then I saw Jesus” into a rather boring summary of a trip to the mall. Surely the reader of Josephus would say, “What?? Who cares about James? Go back and elaborate on that Christ bit!” This is what journalists call “burying the lead.”

The argument for that phrase being an addition goes from intriguing to convincing when we consider how the passage ends. Who replaced the hotheaded Ananus? It was “Jesus, the son of Damneus.” (Don’t forget that Jesus or Yeshua was a popular name at this time.)

Before, you had some random guy named James, highlighted for no reason from the list of those who were killed. But delete the “Christ” phrase as a later addition, and the story makes sense. Ananus the high priest irresponsibly kills some people, and he’s removed from office. The title is transferred to Jesus the son of Damneus, the brother of one of the men killed, as partial compensation for the wrongful death.

The most charitable interpretation of Josephus gives faint support for the Christian position—Josephus simply is passing along hearsay of supernatural events. We would give this the same credibility deserved by any ancient book with supernatural claims.

A critical review shows why both of these could be later additions, suggesting an original Josephus with no references to Jesus Christ. This is just educated guesswork, and scholars don’t argue this position with certainty, but dismissing it is a poor foundation on which to build any truth claims of Christianity.

When others asked the truth of me,
I was convinced it was not the truth they wanted,
but an illusion they could bear to live with.
— Anais Nin

Photo credit: Wikipedia

About Bob Seidensticker
  • smrnda

    I recall encountering this first in Lee Strobel’s ‘Case for Christ’ and even the Christian scholar in that book admitted that certain parts of the passage were likely to be later additions (I think he used the term ‘interpolations’) and that the original reference to Jesus would have made much more modest claims about him.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Apologists try to salvage something from that passage, but I’m with the camp that says that the entire thing needs to be discarded as unreliable.

      Consider the last line, for example: “And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.” You can only keep this if you keep the attribution “Christ” earlier; otherwise that last line is meaningless.

      • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com.au/ Tim ONeill

        “Apologists try to salvage something from that passage”

        “Apologists”? So the Jewish scholar Geza Vermes, Emeritus Professor of Jewish Studies at Oxford and one of the leading scholars of First Century Judasim of the last century is an “apologist”? How about leading Josephan scholars Schlomo Pines and Louis H. Feldman, also Jews, are they “apologists” as well? And Bart Ehrman, Maurice Casey, Paula Fredriksen and Gerd Theissen – are they also “apologists”, despite all being non-Christians?

        The current consensus of scholars of all backgrounds is that *Antiquities* XVIII.3.4 is partially authentic and that Josephus did mention Jesus here before it was added to by Christian scribes. The scholars who still think it is a wholesale interpolation are very few these days, though (not surprisingly) that is the view of the hobbyists and bloggers who make up the “Jesus Myth” fringe.

        “You can only keep this if you keep the attribution “Christ” earlier; otherwise that last line is meaningless.”

        You can also keep it if there was a mention of Jesus being *called* the Christ earlier. This is what we find in the textual variant form of the passage preserved in Jerome. And it’s how Josephus also refers to Jesus in *Antiquties* XX.9.1. And it’s how he is described in the version of *Antiquities* XVIII.3.4 reflected in the Arabic and Syriac versions of the Agapian paraphrase. So the evidence stacks up in favour of Josephus referring to Jesus as “called the Christos” here, which the interpolated changed to “he was the Christos”.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Tim:

          “Apologists”?

          You’re saying that I’m mistaken? That apologists actually don’t try to salvage something from Josephus?

          The current consensus of scholars of all backgrounds is that *Antiquities* XVIII.3.4 is partially authentic and that Josephus did mention Jesus here before it was added to by Christian scribes.

          I’ve not seen such a conclusion. Thanks for the input.

          How reliable can any guess at the pre-Eusebius (assuming he was the culprit) be?

          though (not surprisingly) that is the view of the hobbyists and bloggers who make up the “Jesus Myth” fringe.

          Uh huh. I don’t subscribe to the Jesus Myth theory.

          You can also keep it if there was a mention of Jesus being *called* the Christ earlier.

          Where? In the passage about James?

          So the evidence stacks up in favour of Josephus referring to Jesus as “called the Christos” here, which the interpolated changed to “he was the Christos”.

          Josephus refers to Jesus as the Messiah? Seems odd for a Jew to do.

          And what’s the bottom line here? You tell me: what about Jesus (or Christianity) do we get from Josephus?

        • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com.au/ Tim ONeill

          “You’re saying that I’m mistaken? ”

          Given that the consensus of current Josephan scholars is that *Antiquities* XVIII.3.4 was an original mention of Jesus even before it was doctored by later scribes, to describe this solid and accepted position as mere “salvaging” by “apologists” is either ignorant or deliberately disingenuous.

          “How reliable can any guess at the pre-Eusebius (assuming he was the culprit) be?”

          We can safely remove the reference to him rising from the dead and the “if indeed one could call him a man” phrase as obvious interpolations. The “he was a the Christ” statement is also clearly not original, but the “he was *called* the Christ” alternative preserved in Jerome’s version of the passage and the same phrase used by Josephus in *Antiquties* XX.9.1. means that it is likely this is what Josephus actually said here.

          The word translated as “called” here is λεγόμενος (legemenos) which in this context is actually less neutral and simply “called”. It has more of a sceptical tone – more like “the so-called Christ” or “the alleged Christ”.

          The phrase “and many of the Greeks” could also be an interpolation, though given he was writing in Rome at the beginning of the Second Century, Josephus would be aware of gentile converts to the Jesus sect and this may be original as well. The phrase “for he was a doer of wonderful works” may be interpolated, though this is not a phrase used by Christians about Jesus’ miracles. The word Josephus uses is παράδοξα (paradoxa) which, again, has a more sceptical edge – meaning “paradoxical, controversial” rather than “wondrous”. He also uses it about claims of miracles elsewhere, so that could be original as well.

          The claim Jesus’ teachings were heard by those who “receive the truth with pleasure” is also likely to be authentic. This is a characteristically Jospehan phrase, found no less than eight times in Books XVII to XIX. Finally the reference to “the tribe of the Christians” is also distinctively Josephan. He often uses the word φυλή (phyle) to refer to a sub-division of a group.

          “In the passage about James?”

          Yes. And as I detail in another comment below, that passage is original to Josephus in its current form.

          “Josephus refers to Jesus as the Messiah? ”

          No, Josephus refers to Jesus as someone other people called the Messiah. Given that people did call Jesus this, it’s not odd for Jospehus to note it, since it would be one thing that made Jesus distinctive and it would make it very clear which Jesus he was referring to.

          “what about Jesus (or Christianity) do we get from Josephus?”

          Given what I have said above about what is likely original to *Antiquities* XVIII.3.4 I’d say we can get that:
          (i) He existed within living memory
          (ii) He was a teacher
          (iii) He was regarded by some as the Messiah
          (iv) He had followers
          (v) He was crucified by Pontius Pilatus, ie sometime between 26 and 36 AD
          (vi) Jewish leaders played some role in his execution
          (vii) His sect survived his death
          (viii) He had a brother called James
          (ix) His brother was executed by the Temple priesthood when Jospehus was 25.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Tim:

          Given that the consensus of current Josephan scholars …

          Any easy place you could point me to to show that this is the consensus view?

          “How reliable can any guess at the pre-Eusebius (assuming he was the culprit) be?”

          given he was writing in Rome at the beginning of the Second Century

          … or 93-94 CE, at least according to Wikipedia.

          Re your list of possibly authentic passages: I would like to see who says this. It seems that pulling the diamonds from the slag heap is tricky work, and the temptation to bias toward one’s preconception must be huge. The conclusion that Josephus is simply too corrupted to pull anything historical from sounds better to me. But then again, I’m not a scholar in this field.

          The phrase “for he was a doer of wonderful works” may be interpolated

          May be interpolated? Again, we have a Jew here. How could Josephus have said this without being a Christian?

          The claim Jesus’ teachings were heard by those who “receive the truth with pleasure” is also likely to be authentic.

          If Josephus could’ve said it, he probably did? We can just discount with little consideration the hypothesis that the whole thing was added? That the remaining text would read better if this aside were simply removed?

          Your summary simply sounds like cherry picking. But, as a non-expert, I’ll need to see what the experts say and rely on them.

          As for your list at the end, this whole thing is a tempest in a teapot. Nothing supernatural. You see it as simply a way to place Jesus within history? Or am I missing something important from your take on Josephus?

  • Jason

    Bob,

    I agree that the Josephus passages do NOT historically validate the religious claims of Christians about Jesus (obviously), and you are right to question whether or not the reference is an interpolation. If Josephus were our only evidence for Jesus at all, I would say that Jesus probably never existed. However, I don’t think you’re giving enough credit to the historical evidence we have in addition to Josephus. Assuming the reference to Jesus in Josephus is not a later Christian interpolation, then Josephus is almost contemporary evidence from a non-Christian (who would thus have no biases) of the existence of Jesus. In historical research, independent witnesses count for a lot more than ones who just read each other and confirm ideas circularly, and Josephus seems to be an independent witness. Now combine that with other evidence. We have three related but somewhat independent traditions in the gospels (Mark, Matthew/Luke, and John), and also remember that Paul seems to have no knowledge of the gospels and the gospels no knowledge of Paul, so those are also independent from each other. Not long after all this we have Tacitus, a Roman historian from about 100 CE, who also seems to be independent and mentions basic stuff about Jesus. So within the first hundred years after Jesus’ birth, we have at least 4 references from very different parts of Roman/Palestinian/Greek society and who don’t seem to have been talking to each other. Yes, it is possible that someone made the whole thing up around 30 CE and somehow all of these authors received similar info independently, but by the normal standards we evaluate historical evidence, this is pretty strong evidence that someone at least existed. You can add to all this the evidence from the Dead Sea Scrolls which at least shows that anti-establishment Messianic Judaism was popular at that time and place. John the Baptist was probably also this type of figure. So why make up Jesus when there are plenty of other real messianic prophets to choose from? Well, he probably wasn’t made up. He was an actual prophet who announced the end of times, and after he died a lot of extraordinary stuff got made up about him.

    • Paul King

      Tacitus was probably repeating Christian claims, and therefore can’t be safely counted as independent. Even if there were records available to him, it’s hard to see how he could have found the right one, or why he’d have expended the effort when the Christian story suited his purposes very well.

      Aside from that, I’ll agree that it is very plausible the the Gospel accounts are fictionalised stories of a historical individual. In the absence of a compelling alternative explanation of the origins of Christianity – and I have yet to see one – I’d tend to stick with the idea of there being a real person behind the stories.

      • Jason

        Yes, Tacitus “may” have been repeating Christian claims. This is an important point. The reason I mentioned Tacitus is because he is a Roman with no affiliation to Christianity who knows some basics at an early-ish date about Jesus, and there is no evidence that he was familiar with the gospels or Paul. If you have any thoughts on specific evidence that makes it not just possible but probable that Tacitus followed Christian sources, please share.

        • Paul King

          If you can think of any likely source for Tacitus’ information other than Christians (directly or indirectly) I’d like you to tell me ! Tacitus did correspond with Pliny the Younger who had some dealings with Christians. He was writing late enough (born 56 AD, Annals written c 116 AD) and far enough from the scene of events that he could not have direct knowledge of events himself and is not likely to have had access to witnesses, unless he sought them out himself. The knowledge he reveals could easily be obtained from Christian sources (possibly indirectly, through Pliny or even “common knowledge”), but seems too sketchy for him to even be able to track down official records of Jesus’ death, even if there were such records in Rome – he seems to think that “Christ” is a name!

          If there is any real case for Tacitus being likely to have got information from any official source other than vague speculation built around the fact that, as a Senator, he had access to official records – without dealing with the content of the records available to him, or the problems in searching them – I’ve never heard it.

        • Jason

          If you are going to assert that Tacitus used a Christian source, the burden of proof is on you to name one or at least point to evidence that he used one. As far as I know, there is no evidence for Christian texts earlier than 100 CE other than Paul’s letters (the earliest), some versions of the gospels (at least Mark, Matthew, and Luke in some form), and the maybe the Didache. Also, the significance of Pliny’s letter is precisely that Pliny was confused about who the Christians were and how to handle them. He had heard a lot of bad rumors but expressed to the emperor that he was basically unsure whether to persecute them. Also, this happened when he had an administrative position on the far edge of the Roman Empire. So the fact that Tacitus knew Pliny and Pliny had some vague awareness of a small quasi-illegal cult far away from Rome that he didn’t understand definitely does not suggest that Tacitus was prone to using bad Christian sources.

        • Paul King

          I think that my arguments already establish a strong likelihood that Tacitus’ information originated with Christians. There seems to be no reasonable alternative. He can’t be writing from personal knowledge. There’s no sign that he did any detailed investigation of his own. If he got his information from other sources, then what were they ? Do you have any plausible candidates ? Any at all ?

        • Jason

          Paul,
          I really don’t know what Tacitus’ sources were. I suppose I was objecting to what appeared to me a hasty double leap on your part: because he might have used a Christian source he must be unreliable. In general, I try not to come to conclusions based on two uncertain claims in a row without admitting that in the second step I have moved totally into speculation. Also, I understand that Christian sources are more biased, but I’m not clear on this black and white assumption that Christian sources always lie and non-Christians sources do not, unless the latter might have used a Christian source. We can read between the lines in Christian and non-Christians sources without totally rejecting or accepting them. You are certainly right that Tacitus does not prove beyond a doubt that Jesus did anything in particular and there is a good chance that he based this on general hearsay around Rome. I’m simply trying to play the middle ground and say that Tacitus is pretty good evidence of what an informed non-Christian might have known about Jesus at a fairly early date (before Christians were everywhere and doctrine/gospels established). As Tacitus’ bit about Nero’s fire and Pliny’s letter show, pagans were very suspicious of Christians. So if a non-Christian casually mentions Jesus and does not question his existence, we can infer that the author was operating under an implicit assumption that Jesus was real. Of course Tacitus could have been wrong and not known it, but even by modern standards, he’s a fairly rigorous historian. So at the very least I’m going to assume that he was unaware of any contemporary claims that Jesus was a fiction or all but a fiction. If he’s unaware of any claims like this, then that says a lot about the information available to non-Christians by the end of the first century.

        • C.J. O’Brien

          Take a look at the discussion in the older post about what Bob calls the Naysayer Hypothesis for reasons why it’s unlikely there ever were “any contemporary claims that Jesus was a fiction or all but a fiction”
          As regards Tacitus, there is no reason whatever to think he would have preferred that as an indictment of the “hated abomination” and “mischievous superstition” over what he does say: “Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators” This would be true even if the claims were floating around.
          When, in your view, your opponents have damned themselves with their very own claims, you don’t go about making negative claims you can’t possibly substantiate (there was no wretch by the name Christus executed by Pilate during his tenure as Procurator).

        • Paul King

          Perhaps you should have paid more attention. I said that since Tacitus was probably repeating Christian claims he can’t be safely counted as an independent source. Reliability was not the issue.

          And I have no idea where you got the idea of “this black and white assumption that Christian sources always lie and non-Christians sources do not, unless the latter might have used a Christian source. ” from, because I didn’t make any reference to anything of the sort. The issue was independence, not truth.

          Now your latest attempt to use Tacitus as evidence of some sort of historical Jesus is also weak. The claim of Jesus’ execution by Romans is convenient to his anti-Christian views, and really, who in Rome would be expected to know of an obscure Jewish leader crucified 80 years before ? Tacitus has every reason to accept the claims he does repeat at face value, especially for a comment which is no more than an aside.

          Now there may be mythicist theories which entail that Tacitus might have good reason to doubt the existence of Jesus, and when answering those Tacitus might be useful. But in general Tacitus seems to have very little value in the debate over Jesus existence, for the reasons I have given.

        • Jason

          Paul,

          When you say that Tacitus isn’t independent, aren’t you saying that he isn’t reliable (in the sense that we can’t trust what he says)? That’s all I meant. I take your point that Tacitus could be reliable in the sense that he tried to tell the truth but could still be wrong in the sense that he unknowingly gave us false information.

          I originally used “independent source” to indicate that Tacitus, the gospels, Paul, and possibly Josephus were not relying on each other. Yes, it’s possible that Tacitus’ claims were based on Christian claims, but until you can show a connection of dependence between the extant sources, we should tentatively consider them independent. For example, even though we do not have the hypothetical gospel q, on which Matthew and Luke seemed to be based, the similarities between the texts suggest that they were using the same sources and thus not independent. So in the sense that Luke/Matthew are independent of Mark and John, Tacitus was independent of the gospels, Paul, or Josephus. When you have independent sources, you can start to look for common denominators and tentatively conclude on probable events. I don’t mean to sound preachy (ha!). I’m just trying to explain my definitions and methods.

          It sounds like we agree that on the whole the myth theories go too far but that there is very little we can know about the historical Jesus because of the nature of the sources. Right? I suppose I am trying to combat what I perceive as a tendency among atheists in general to think that they’ve made a better case against Christianity if they can show Jesus never existed or was at least nothing at all like anything we can glean from the gospels. Seems to me that Christian claims about Jesus are just as silly whether he was a historical person or not.

        • Paul King

          It seems we have the same understanding of independence. You claim that Tacitus did not derive his information from the Gospels, while I believe it is very likely that his information is indirectly derived from the Gospels. Why not ? He says nothing that we could not get from the Gospels. The mainstream dates for the Gospels make them early enough for their contents to be widely circulated among Christians by the time the Annals was written (Mark is usually dated about 50 years earlier). Even if Tacitus’ information was ultimately derived from earlier sources they are likely the same sources as those that underly the Gospels.

          I also think you go too far in holding to a presumption of independence. Yes, we need to show that the hypothesis of dependence is at least reasonably possible, and that it reasonably accounts for what we have, but given such a demonstration any presumption of independence is highly unsafe. A lot of history is inference to the best explanation, and if dependence is the best explanation then a presumption of independence should not be held.

          I am also surprised that you consider Mark independent of Luke and Matthew when it is widely accepted that Mark is one of the main sources for both Luke and Matthew – and even alternative theories link all three synoptic Gospels. Typically with a direct literary connection, instead of proposing a hypothetical shared source, like Q.

          As an aside, I don’t think that atheists in general are Jesus Mythicists – I’ll grant that the proportion of Mythicists among atheists is relatively high, but it certainly isn’t clear that they are a majority. But if you wish to combat Mythicism I would avoid falling into the trap of exaggerating the historical evidence for Jesus, as some Christian apologists do. For all Bob’s criticisms, Josephus is about the best non-Christian source – at least Josephus could plausibly be independent of Christian sources, there may be a genuine core to the Testimonium (although I find it all but impossible that it is entirely genuine – to me the phrase “if it be lawful to call him a man” can only be Christian), and it is possible that Josephus preserves a genuine tradition about the death of James. Suetonius, for instance, is even more useless than Tacitus, at best referring to the actions of Christians in Rome, after Jesus’ death. To me the Gospels are the best evidence that there was a historical Jesus, even if they are full of elaborations and legendary – and theological – developments on top of any genuine historical details.

        • Jason

          Paul,
          I agree with everything you said in the last post except I just can’t understand why you seem so willing to assume that Tacitus had some gospels at his disposal. It is plausible, but I don’t understand why you think it’s probable.

          Thank you for correcting my comment on the synoptic gospels. That was a hasty explanation and my point would have been clearer if I had just posited two lines (John vs. the other three). I simply wanted to use a popular example to show how internal evidence helps us posit probable lines of dependence. You claim dependence of Tacitus on the gospels, but you can’t point to parallels between Tacitus and the gospels like we find between the synoptic gospels. But I think I understand your point now. You are saying it’s most plausible, which is the best we can do. I’m saying that most plausible is not probable.

        • Paul King

          Jason I DON’T assume that Tacitus had some Gospels at his disposal. Rather I conclude that he got his information indirectly from the Gospels. You seem to be confusing dependence in the more general sense with literary dependence (actual copying).

          The question is, where did the information in Tacitus come from ? Ideally we want to trace it back to primary sources, but if it is traced back to a secondary source we already have (or even one of several) we can stop. Given that Tacitus seems to know very little, it’s likely that his information is the product of a casual enquiry. Christians are the most likely source (simply because Jesus was obscure in life, Pilate’s term in Judaea was 80 years gone at the time of writing the Annals and the Jewish War would have likely destroyed a lot of records and killed many surviving witnesses). With the Gospel of Mark likely well established by then (Luke and Matthew both using it as a source), it’s probably the case that the Gospels were a major source of information for Christians on Jesus’ life.

          Of course, I also allow that Tacitus ultimate source might instead rely on the sources of the Gospels – but even then those sources are much better represented in the Gospels, and Tacitus tells us so little it makes very little difference.

          Finally I hope you realise that even if “most plausible” is not “probable” (and with only two alternatives I don’t see how that is possible) we certainly can’t say that a LESS plausible alternative is actually true !

        • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com.au/ Tim ONeill

          “If you can think of any likely source for Tacitus’ information other than Christians (directly or indirectly) I’d like you to tell me !”

          Okay. Firstly, it’s distinctly UNLIKELY that his source was anything from Christians. Tacitus was a careful historian and he actively and explicitly rejected hearsay and unreliable third hand rumour:
          “My object in mentioning and refuting this story is, by a conspicuous example, to put down hearsay, and to request all into whose hands my work shall come, ]not to catch eagerly at wild and improbable rumours in preference to genuine history which has not been perverted into romance.
          (*Annals, IV.11)

          So the idea that a historian who rejected hearsay would simply accept what people said Christians claimed makes no sense. And it is also highly unlikely that he would accept hearsay from a despised lower class cult like Christianity anyway – this is a sect that he calls “a most mischievous superstition …. evil …. hideous and shameful …. (with a) hatred against mankind”. That is not likely to be a source of information an aristocratic Roman historian like Tacitus is going to trust. Finally, nothing in what Tacitus says about Jesus indicates a Christian origin. There is nothing about his teaching, his miracles or his supposed resurrection. Instead it is made up entirely of information of the kind we’d expect from a non-Christian observer: the fact he was executed, where this happened, when, who was emperor at the time and what Roman governor passed the sentence.

          So if Tacitus didn’t get this information from Christian hearsay, where did he get it? He is likely to have trusted a source known to him, preferably a fellow aristocrat. It would be a bonus if they were also a historian or scholar and obviously they would have to be someone with a knowledge of Jewish affairs in the early First Century. And they would have to be accessible to Tacitus for him to consult.

          As it happens we know there was someone in Rome who fitted all those criteria and who was also part of the Flavian court and moved in the same circles as Tacitus. The most obvious source was Josephus.

          Josephus was living in Rome at this stage, writing for his patrons the Emperor Titus and his Jewish mistress, the Princess Berenice. And if we compare the data points in what Tactius has to say about Jesus to what Josephus says in *Antiquities* XVIII.3.4 (ignoring the obvious Christian interpolations) we find they correspond on almost every point. The most likely source of information about Jesus for Tacitus, therefore, was the one Jewish historian in his social circle who he could consult and whose opinion he could feel he could trust on Jewish matters, his fellow historian Josephus.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Tim:

          Tacitus was a careful historian and he actively and explicitly rejected hearsay and unreliable third hand rumour

          OK, it’s great that he set high standards for himself. Let’s not assume too much about his actual accuracy.

          (Papias probably imagined himself to be a good historian, too.)

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Jason:

      Assuming the reference to Jesus in Josephus is not a later Christian interpolation…

      Kind of an odd assumption, since it’s not held by scholars.

      … then Josephus is almost contemporary evidence from a non-Christian

      Guy says “Jesus existed” 60+ years after Jesus died? How is that compelling evidence? Sure, it’s a data point, but I don’t think much of it.

      So within the first hundred years after Jesus’ birth, we have at least 4 references from very different parts of Roman/Palestinian/Greek society and who don’t seem to have been talking to each other

      4 sources that tell us what the buzz about Jesus was in their location and time. OK, I think we’re on the same page, but I’m not seeing why this is compelling. Imagine 4 independent sources in different locations and times in the first century of any religion. Would the equivalent for Bahai or Islam or Shintoism convince you that it were the truth?

      Yes, it is possible that someone made the whole thing up around 30 CE

      Yes, it is possible, but neither of us advance this hypothesis, so let’s not go there.

      this is pretty strong evidence that someone at least existed

      OK. I don’t have much interest in arguing the Christ Myth theory.

      He was an actual prophet who announced the end of times, and after he died a lot of extraordinary stuff got made up about him.

      Not “made up” in the sense of deliberately invented, but “made up” in the sense of a legend that grew with the retelling.

      • Jason

        Bob,
        I want to respond in more detail to your specific claims about the passages from Josephus later, but for now I just have a quick question. Do you know of contemporary Christian apologists who actually use Josephus to argue for the whole religious story of Jesus? I notice that there do not seem to be any defenders here in this forum. Seems to me that Josephus is worse evidence than the Bible for any miraculous claims about Jesus. He lacks details AND the whole thing may be an interpolation. Are you combating a straw man in your post here or perhaps you just think it is important to show Christians that there is very little reliable non-Biblical confirmation for the claims about Jesus set out in the NT?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Jason:

          Do you know of contemporary Christian apologists who actually use Josephus to argue for the whole religious story of Jesus?

          In my (limited) experience, Josephus is trotted out frequently because he is a hostile witness. He’s an extra-biblical source. The Testimonium is a delightful bit of evidence, but most apologists acknowledge that it’s been at least tampered with. They’ll try to rehabilitate it and scrape away accretions to a (claimed) original core. I’m no expert, but I sympathize with skeptical scholars who say that the entire passage is likely added and so can’t be relied on as evidence of anything.

          So, no, I don’t think it is a straw man to highlight the problems with Jo as a source.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Jason:

      Even taking Josephus at face value, this adds nothing to the Jesus story. What does it say besides “There are people who follow a man named Jesus”? OK, I already accept that Christians arose long ago. This tells me nothing new.

      The only interesting thing that I see here is confirming that Christians existed in the late first century.

      this is pretty strong evidence that someone at least existed.

      OK. I have no interest in contesting this. Lots of people existed; that doesn’t get us very far in supporting supernatural claims.

  • Andrew G.

    Carrier has an article on Josephus due to be published, I believe, in the next issue of Journal of Early Christian Studies. (Annoyingly, he’s been referring to this article for the past year or so – academic publication proceeds only at glacial pace, apparently.)

  • C.J. O’Brien

    “In the absence of a compelling alternative explanation of the origins of Christianity – and I have yet to see one – I’d tend to stick with the idea of there being a real person behind the stories.”

    I have yet to see a compelling explanation of the origins of Christianity, at all, period. “There was a real Galilean street preacher named Jesus” is not an explanation for a faith tradition that rose from obscurity to become a world religion in a matter of a couple of centuries, unless you’re terribly incurious, or a fundie, which is redundant. And the diverse nature of the various careers given this figure by modern scholars along with the gaping holes between the putative crucified street preacher and Paul’s cosmic Christ and the disjoint in turn between that figure and the divergent portraits in the gospels, canonical and noncanonical, have cumulatively led me to believe that radical approaches like mythicism are called for and should be taken seriously by those who would refute them. Maybe it’s wrong (mythicism), but I’m convinced that the minimal consensus on historicity has failed utterly to provide a plausible reconstruction of the origins and early decades of the church, and so our investigations need to roam further afield in search of new approaches to what are all too often treated as tired old questions: “Oh, we answered that long ago”. And when you go looking for those answers, you find scholars passing the buck all the way back to the likes of Schweitzer and Bultmann, who were much more cautious than have been the Questers of latter days.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      CJ: A compelling argument. IMO, the Christ Myth argument is a sideshow to the main event, but it’s still interesting. Thanks for the comments.

    • Paul King

      Of course, unless you are the sort of person that demands a supernatural explanation, the rise of Christianity after the apparent date of Jesus’ death (somewhere around 30 AD) is largely independent of the question of the existence of a historical Jesus. So you’re pretty much asking the wrong question to start with. I won’t say that there aren’t problems – mainly gaps in our knowledge, for lack of reliable sources – dealing with the early days, but mythicism seems to create more problems than it solves.

      For instance, who founded Christianity, if not Jesus ? It can’t be Paul (although he is arguably more influential than anyone else in shaping the new religion). It can’t be the Gospel authors. It isn’t even that likely to be Peter or any of the other leaders of the Jerusalem church. And more, if the Gospels were written as fiction, why set them at that particular time ? How did the original story come to be lost ? None of these are issues if the Gospels have some historical core – but mythicism has to explain them all.

      • Jason

        By the way, Paul, I agree with this post 100%.

      • C.J. O’Brien

        For instance, who founded Christianity, if not Jesus ?
        It is not the case that all religious traditions have a single, identifiable founder. Sects can form within larger traditions over the course of a generation or so by gradual fission. At first, there is no sect, just a small minority with a few oddball ideas. The Son of God, I believe, was first identified in scripture as an antidote to the clear impossibilty of a military or political solution to the Roman occupation of Judaea. Traditional messianism was becoming a non-starter, an obvious pipe-dream. But a purely spiritual entity come to usher in the Kingdom of God gained some traction over the idea that the Jews would be delivered by a military leader or political figure.
        It can’t be the Gospel authors.
        But they could have contributed the historicized figure that has loomed so large in orthodox Christianity ever since. It’s a matter of what you’re willing to call “Christianity”. It began as a proto-sect within Judaism, perhaps within the Ebionites or the Nazoraeans. After the gospels began circulating, it looked different than it had before, as a comparison of the 1st century epistles and the gospels clearly shows.
        It isn’t even that likely to be Peter or any of the other leaders of the Jerusalem church.
        What is it you think you know about them that makes it unlikely? For what it’s worth, incidentally, I think the author of Acts transposed a number of events that actually took place in Antioch to Jerusalem, but that’s rather beside the way.
        if the Gospels were written as fiction, why set them at that particular time ?
        Not sure I follow. Every story needs a setting. The author of Mark picked a time and a place he was familiar enough with to maintain some versimilitude, but one that was removed from the audience’s immediate situation.
        How did the original story come to be lost ?
        Some of it is right there in the letters attributed to Paul. Some of it can perhaps be gleaned by reading between the lines of the earliest patristic writers. But by and large I imagine it got lost the way “the real story” usually gets lost. The participants die.
        I’m not going to launch into a full defense of mythicism here. For one thing, it’s not an angle Bob is especially interested in, and I’m not trying to use his blog as a soapbox. For another, I’m just sympathetic to the idea; I’m not convinced either way. In this comment I was just trying to show that these questions aren’t as intractible as you seem to think they are.

        • Paul King

          I didn’t say that the problems couldn’t be answered, only that they are problems that don’t have very good answers, yet.

          As to your answers, the Gospels are rather ambivalent on the nature of the messiah. There are hints enough that Jesus saw himself as a more “traditional” messiah.

          The Gospel authors were writing after Paul, so while the story we have could in principle be their invention, they can’t be seen as founding the sect that Paul persecuted and then joined.

          Paul doesn’t seem to have much regard for the authority of Peter and the rest, yet there is no clear split between them – arguments, yes, but not outright division. That seems to me rather unlikely if Peter, say, was the founder of the sect.

          The setting causes problems for Mark. He doesn’t like Roman responsibility for Jesus’ execution, for instance, but it is forced on him by the time the story is set. If he had a free choice of time, setting the story in the reign of Herod the Great, for instance, would be more convenient on that score. Also, antiquity was a plus to the Romans, just as it is to a lot of people now. Setting the story in the more distant past would have given Christianity more prestige in Roman eyes. And it isn’t without precedent in the Jewish scriptures – the Book of Daniel is even attributed to a (very likely fictional) author living centuries before the actual time the text was written.

          Also I think “people die” is a rather glib answer to how the story was lost (if it was). After all, we are dealing with events that would be important to the early Christians and likely to be passed on. I don’t think that there is an “original story” lurking in the early writings either, although it’s hard to answer without knowing what you are referring to.

  • http://www.atlantafreethought.org/ Steve

    I laugh every time I read the Testamonium Flavianum. For Josephus, a Jew, to say that Jesus was the Jewish Messiah (the Christ) and just leave it there without saying anything more about Jesus, is proposterous! The Jewish people were earnestly awaiting the coming of their Messiah. They longed for this deliverer to free them from the bondage of their oppressors. Certainly, if Josephus thought that Jesus was the Christ, he would have written a whole lot more about him than just the casual mention of him in this one paragraph! For me, this is the strongest indicator that Josephus most certainly did not write it. The reference to Jesus was added by later scribes.

    • Jason

      This is an argument from lack of evidence but certainly possible. However, at the time Josephus was writing, early Christianity was just one small insignificant cult among many. He had no idea what kind of impact it was going to have within a couple of hundred years and thus no reason to write about it in detail. It’s not until the 2nd cent. CE that we find archaeological evidence of Christians. They were low profile in Josephus’ time. Interpolations are common in all ancient texts, but you have to be careful calling a passage into question just because you already think it’s suspect for other reasons. I’m not clear yet why Josephus should have stopped to talk about Jesus at length. He may not have known anything else.

      • Bob Seidensticker

        I’m not clear yet why Josephus should have stopped to talk about Jesus at length.

        A messiah Jesus, come from God, would be extremely important to a Jew writing the history of his people. I agree with Steve that this would be a monumentally important issue that Jo wouldn’t touch on with just a paragraph.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Steve: I agree. But it’s the rejection of the second reference that gives the very plausible hypothesis that Josephus didn’t say anything about Jesus. 60 years after his death, Jesus wasn’t important enough from the vantage point of Josephus in Rome to write about in his history of the Jews.

      • arkenaten

        I seem to recall reading somewhere that a second copy of Josephus work ( Russian?) has no Testimonium)

        In fact, when you lay out all the supposed ‘evidence’ for Christ, Tacitus, Josephus, the Gospels etc etc….the more it all seems to be hokum.
        As for James being the brother of Jesus and the founder of the Jerusaelum church: Isn’t it odd that Catholics refuse to acknowlege that Jesus had any siblings and still hold on to the dogma that the terms brothers and sisters as recorded in the Bible could mean ‘cousins’.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          I think you’re referring to the Arabic version. It had a simpler Testimonium (if memory serves), and apologists have groped for it to salvage at least something from Josephus.

          Problem is, the Arabic version is 10th century, far later than the Eusebius version (4th century). Conclusion: the Arabic is likelier a summary of Eusebius, not an earlier draft.

        • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com.au/ Tim ONeill

          “the Arabic is likelier a summary of Eusebius, not an earlier draft.”

          The whole point of the interpolations in *Antiquities* XVIII.3.4 is to bolster the key claims of Christianity by putting them in the mouth of a Jewish scholar. So this is why the most obvious interpolations are the claims that (i) Jesus was the Messiah, (ii) he may have been more than just a man and (iii) he rose from the dead. So how does it make sense that in this “summary”, the Agapian paraphrase just happens to leave all of these elements out but preserves all the stuff that doesn’t prop up any Christian beliefs? It makes far more sense that these apologetic elements are all missing because Agapius was working from a pre-interpolation version of the passage. The “he was *believed* to be the Christ” variant in Jerome’s version also supports this idea.

    • C.J. O’Brien

      It’s important to remember who Josephus was, and what his purpose was in writing. Some Jews were indeed awaiting the Messiah, and if Josephus had been one of them, your characterization of the difficulties would be apt. But Josephus was an upper class Judaean from a priestly family, and at the time he was writing, he was living in Rome as an adopted Flavian and he was writing for upper-class Romans. Here is what he has to say about messianic prophesies explicitly:

      But what more than all else incited them to the war was an ambiguous oracle also found in their sacred writings, that:
      “At about that time, one from their country would become ruler of the habitable world.”
      This they took to mean one of their own people, and many of the wise men were misled in their interpretation. This oracle, however, in reality signified the government of Vespasian, who was proclaimed Emperor while in Judea.

      So it’s not just the contested passages re: Jesus on which we must ask the titular question here; Josephus is not a necessarily reliable source on any subject that has to do with the beliefs of his fellow Jews or on the causes of their discontent. His works are Jewish apologetics for a specific non-Jewish audience, and he has no interest in getting into the kind of apocalyptic fervor that animated many of his his people in the 1st century except to decry it as rabble-rousing, impiety, and the product of misinterpreting scripture. It’s exactly the kind of thing that the Roman elite derided as Eastern barbarian superstition. So as regards his use of “Christ” it is preposterous that he would have written either of these passages. He never once uses the term anywhere else, preferring “charlatan” and similar over even “false messiah”. It’s just entirely too fraught a subject for him to be treating with such casual references, and not just because he would only have written it if he actually believed Jesus had been the messiah. He just had no reason to go there at all, and lots of reasons not to, not the least of which being that he turned the whole idea of messianism on its head by declaring Vespasian the fulfillment of messianic expectations.

      • http://www.atlantafreethought.org/ Steve

        Well said, C. J.! Yes, I think you are right.

  • MNb

    When Tacitus wrote about Jesus there already was a christian community in Rome. That’s likely where he got his information from. These christians must already have known some version of the Gospels – remember the hypothesis of the Q-document? So Tacitus is not independent until proven otherwise. Same for Plinius.
    That same Q-document implies that the Gospels have to be taken as one source; it’s not hard to connect Acts as well.
    Now for Flavius Josephus most literary critics seem to think that the two infamous quotes are based on an original source indeed. The text obviously has been changed a lot by copiists, but that’s not evidence of complete fiction. In the end I can’t judge this, so I just take their word for it, like I do on rocket science.
    Then there is another weak, but independent source. Polycarpus, Bishop of Smyrna (his historicity is indisputed) claimed to be a pupil of Johannes the Apostle. Without a messias I can’t see how there could have been apostles.
    Now we have to ask ourselves: how big is the chance that all three sources are complete forgeries? I’d say 15% at the absolute max and likely much less.
    There is more to it: the principle of embarrassment. I mean the infamous words “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” which are hard to explain if you are looking for a spiritual meaning or assume it has been made up by say Eusebio. Fortunately there is a very simple explanation: Jesus was reciting Psalm 22 to help him endure his suffering. This assumes that there was a Jesus to recite indeed.
    A historical Jesus with all those myths attributed to him covers the known facts best.

  • MNb

    For any miracle as described in the Gospels there is no reliable historical evidence at all. On the contrary, lots of stories around Jesus can be traced back to older similar stories popular in Antiquity. A famous example is the infanticide according to Mattheus. Something similar happened to Moses, Oedipus and Paris.
    So historians, being scientists, are only interested in what such stories try to express. In case of the infanticide it’s simple – it says something like: “Reader! Pay attention. Here we have an important guy who’s chosen by fate/god to play an important role.”

  • Pingback: Jesus a Legend: A Dozen Reasons

  • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com.au/ Tim ONeill

    There are serious problems with the way Carrier tries to argue away the mention of Jesus at *Antiquities* XX.9.1.

    “The first problem is that this isn’t how other accounts describe the death of James the Just, the brother of Jesus Christ and first bishop of Jerusalem.”

    It isn’t? Both Josephus and Hegesippus make it clear James was executed by the Temple priesthood. Both say he was stoned. But Josephus mentions the execution passing while talking about something else, so doesn’t give details as to how it was carried out. Whereas Hegesippus is writing a hagiographical account of the martyrdom of a Christian leader and so gives far more detail. So where exactly is the problem?

    “Next, notice the clumsy sentence structure”

    Yes, it is clumsy. It’s even more clumsy in Greek. Carrier thinks this is because the “who was called the Christ” part has been added. But because he has no training in Hebrew or Aramaic, he has missed the actual reason for this grammatically odd construction. Josephus was a native Aramaic speaker and he notes that his Greek is very poor. It’s actually not too bad, but he does occasionally use grammatical constructions that are more Aramaic than Greek. These are referred to as Semiticisms and we find quite a few of them in his work. One common one is the use of a “casus pendens”, which is what we find here.

    So the grammatical awkwardness of this passages is actually evidence that it is original to Jospehus, not that it is an interpolation. It’s awkward because it’s an example of Josephus writing Greek with an Aramaic accent.

    “Imagine if “who was called the Christ” was originally a marginal note in a copy that was merged into the manuscript by a later scribe. ”

    That’s a nice little supposition, but it has a whole lot of problems with it. If Josephus simply wrote “the brother of Jesus, whose name was James” and an interpolator inserted the “who was called the Christ” later, this means he identified James as the brother of this Jesus here, without identifying who this Jesus was. Then, apparently, he refers to this Jesus later as “the son of Damneus”. The problem is this is something Josephus never does anywhere else in his works. He is careful to identify people with common names (like “Jesus”) and is careful to use the same identifier consistently. He also doesn’t introduce someone without an identifier and then refer to them later with one.

    Like most Myther arguments, this one is contrived and designed purely to make an inconvenient pieces of evidence go away. Carrier seems to be basing his argument on the grammar, unaware that this can be explained better in another way. And the “marginal note” theory doesn’t fit with how we know Josephus referred to people by identifiers. The “who was called the Christ” element works better as an original element in the text. And given that Josephus was a young man in Jerusalem at the time and would have known all about James’ execution given his involvement in priestly politics himself, the fact he identifies James by reference to Jesus is about as close to first hand testimony to the existence of Jesus as we are going to get.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Tim:

      So where exactly is the problem?

      You’ve read both accounts; you tell me. Was James thrown off a building and then stoned because he didn’t die in the fall, or was he stoned, execution-style?

      So the grammatical awkwardness of this passages is actually evidence that it is original to Jospehus, not that it is an interpolation.

      ?? It’s what an interpolation would look like; therefore, it’s evidence of an interpolation.

      You argue that it could also be seen as evidence of an author who had Greek as a second language. OK, interesting input.

      Something so basic sounds like Poirot (I watch the TV show occasionally) using his native French, not for the tough words, but for the easy ones–Mademoiselle, oui, etc. The words that we knuckleheads in the audience can figure out. Works on TV but doesn’t sound authentic when you think about it.

      I know no Greek, so I don’t know if you hypothesis is a Poirot-ism or not. Just a thought.

      The problem is this is something Josephus never does anywhere else in his works.

      Interesting. Another commenter also made that point.

      Like most Myther arguments, this one is contrived and designed purely to make an inconvenient pieces of evidence go away.

      The bottom line is: what do you think we get from Josephus? Even granting Josephus apologists their way, I doubt it does much to support the gospel claims. I await your summary.

      • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com.au/ Tim ONeill

        “Was James thrown off a building and then stoned because he didn’t die in the fall, or was he stoned, execution-style?”

        Josephus simply says he was stoned, he doesn’t describe the stoning in detail. Hegesippus also says he was stoned, though describes it in detail. Again, where is the problem?

        “I don’t know if you hypothesis is a Poirot-ism or not”

        Not really. It’s more like a non-native English speaker asking “Why you all the time make noise?” instead of “Why do you make noise all the time?” The meaning is clear enough but the grammar is awkward because they are using a word order that works in their native language but is not correct in English. The fact that we find a “casus pendens” construction here is more evidence this phrase is original to Josephus.

        “I doubt it does much to support the gospel claims.”

        I gave a list of what we can know from him above. I don’t care much about how it supports gospel claims, given that I’m an atheist.

        And I can’t reply to your response above on Tacitus for some reason, so I’ll do so here.

        “Let’s not assume too much about his actual accuracy.”

        So your reason for assuming a *lack* of accuracy in one of the most careful and reliable historians of the ancient world would be … ?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Tim:

          Josephus simply says he was stoned, he doesn’t describe the stoning in detail. Hegesippus also says he was stoned, though describes it in detail. Again, where is the problem?

          Is this just busy work for me? You’re the expert; don’t you know?

          Wikipedia describes the Hegesippus account. As I said before, James was thrown off a building. This is not what you get from Josephus. There is the problem.

          I don’t care much about how it supports gospel claims, given that I’m an atheist.

          And, given your list above, there’s not much to your pro-Testimonium standpoint. It gives nothing to those who claim the gospels are correct. Where’s the beef? If you’re simply saying that we need to dot our i’s properly, OK, I agree. Thanks for your points.

          So your reason for assuming a *lack* of accuracy in one of the most careful and reliable historians of the ancient world

          I dunno. That’s not my position.

        • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com.au/ Tim ONeill

          “As I said before, James was thrown off a building. This is not what you get from Josephus. There is the problem.”

          No, there is no problem there at all. If I say “my brother was killed in a car accident” and my mother says “my son was killed in a car accident when a truck lost its brakes and crashed into his car at an intersection” do you see a contradiction there as well. One account simply says something happened. The other details how. To pretend this makes them mutually exclusive is rather weird.

          “It gives nothing to those who claim the gospels are correct. ”

          So you keep saying. And I keep telling you I don’t care about that. But you seem rather too inclined toward tendentious arguments that minimise the things Josephus’ mentions do confirm, espceially ones from the Myther fringe. I’m trying to show you that this is not a great place to be arguing your point from.

          “That’s not my position.”

          Great. So what was your point about Tacitus then?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Tim:

          One account simply says something happened. The other details how. To pretend this makes them mutually exclusive is rather weird.

          We both understand the facts; we’re just trying to interpret them? This conversation is getting pointless.

          As I understand the two accounts, one says that they tried to kill him by throwing him off a building. Darn–that didn’t do it. OK, guys, plan B: stone him to death.

          Versus: he was executed in the traditional capital punishment way (no kangaroo court), by stoning.

          Sounds quite different to me. If they sound like two versions of the same incident to you, OK, got it. Thanks for your perspective.

          And I keep telling you I don’t care about that.

          And I get it. I keep telling you that Josephus is interesting to me only in what he says or doesn’t say to support the Christian claim. I realize that Josephus says far more about other interesting topics; I don’t care about that.

          But you seem rather too inclined toward tendentious arguments that minimise the things Josephus’ mentions do confirm, espceially ones from the Myther fringe.

          Nope. I don’t accept the Myth hypothesis (not being in a position to do so), and I’m trying to get from you your bottom line about what Jo says or doesn’t say to support or disconfirm the gospel claim. Other aspects of Josephus’s writings don’t interest me.

          So what was your point about Tacitus then?

          It was a small point, stated above. It’s a tangent.

        • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com.au/ Tim ONeill

          “As I understand the two accounts, one says that they tried to kill him by throwing him off a building. Darn–that didn’t do it. OK, guys, plan B: stone him to death.

          Versus: he was executed in the traditional capital punishment way (no kangaroo court), by stoning.

          Sounds quite different to me. ”

          Okay, I can definitely see where the first one can be found – Hegesippus’ account does detail how exactly James was stoned to death with the details you mention. However, I can’t see any detailed description of the stoning in Josephus. He just says he was stoned to death. So where are you getting some kind of differing detail from? One says he was stoned and details how. The other says he was stoned and doesn’t. No conflict at all.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Oh good. I’m glad it was as easy to resolve as that.

        • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com.au/ Tim ONeill

          “I’m glad it was as easy to resolve as that.”

          Sorry? I can’t see how that is a reply to what I wrote. I noted the detail we find in Hegesippus’ account, who describes HOW James was stoned to death, and asked where we find a contradictory set of details in Josephus. Because he just says that James was stoned to death and tells us nothing about HOW. So I’ve asked you where the contradictory details are in Josephus.

          You haven’t answered.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          You say there’s no conflict. I don’t see it. Not much point in repeating what I’ve already said.

        • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com.au/ Tim ONeill

          “You say there’s no conflict. I don’t see it.”

          And I’ve asked you to quote me the bit in Josephus that conflict with Hegesippus. You keep failing to do so. Josephus says James was stoned, though doesn’t describe the execution. Hegesippus says he was stoned and does describe the execution. The only detail found in both corresponds – he was stoned. So where is this “conflict” that you claim to see? Show it to me in the text.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Tim:

          ?? I’ve given you as much as I’m able to give you. You know the passages far better than I do. You reject my analysis. OK, I get it. Thanks.

        • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com.au/ Tim ONeill

          “You reject my analysis. ”

          Reject your “analysis”? I can’t see any “analysis” to reject. I keep asking you to show me what there is in Josephus that conflicts with what we find in Hegisippus. You keep responding with “I see a conflict”, which doesn’t answer my question. Yes, apparently you see a conflict. Okay, so show me *WHERE*.

          If Josephus actually gave us an account of how James was stoned to death we could compare his details with those given by Hegisippus and perhaps you could show me a conflict between them. But given that Josephus tells us no more than the fact that James was stoned by the Temple priesthood and this is supported by Hegisippus, I can’t see where your “conflict” could be found.

          It’s interesting though that the hyper-sceptical hobbyists on whom you rely for most of your arguments on these matters point to any kind of difference as contradiction and an indication of unreliability. But they also point to any kind of correspondence as derivation from Christian accounts (eg Tacitus) and also an indication of unreliability. So regardless of whether an account differs from or corroborates a Christian account, they have a way to wave the evidence away.

          It’s this kind of thing that makes them so hard for scholars to take seriously.

  • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com.au/ Tim ONeill

    (Patheos is not allowing me to reply to a response by Bob above, so I’ll try posting it here.)

    “Any easy place you could point me to to show that this is the consensus view?”

    A survey of the literature has been undertaken by Leading Josephan scholar Louis H. Feldman in his book “Josephus and Modern Scholarship” (1984). Analysing the positions of 52 scholars between 1937 and 1980, Feldman found 39 argued for partial authenticity. Peter Kirby has followed this up by analysing the literature since 1980, taking it up to 2001 and found the trend toward accepting partial authenticity had increased in more recent scholarship. Of the 13 books he surveyed, 10 accepted partial authenticity. The remaining three were by proponents of the Jesus Myth hypothesis. I can’t think of any current professional scholar, especially scholars of Josephus, who think *Antiquities* XVIII.3.4 is a wholesale interpolation.

    “The conclusion that Josephus is simply too corrupted to pull anything historical from sounds better to me. But then again, I’m not a scholar in this field.”

    The scholars in the field disagree with you. The analysis I refer to is based on the work of people like John P Meier. Geza Vermes, Louis Feldman and Alice Whealey. You’ll be happy to know none of these leading scholars are Christians and so this is not the work of “apologists”. Close analysis of the language shows elements that are (i) widely used by Josephus but not used by Christian writers of the time or (ii) unique to Josephus and so not used by Christian writers of the time. This satisfies the leading scholars in the field so I think I find their reasoning pretty clear and totally standard on this kind of question.

    “How could Josephus have said this without being a Christian? ”

    I explained to you that παράδοξα means “paradoxical, unusual” and has a sceptical connotation. Did you read what I said?

    “If Josephus could’ve said it, he probably did? We can just discount with little consideration the hypothesis that the whole thing was added?”

    There are good reasons to reject that idea. Firstly, the passage is found in all MSS – we have no textual indication, therefore, of an earlier MS tradtiion without this section. Secondly, what we *do* have is textual variants that only vary on the parts which are clearly not things Josephus would say. This indicates that *they* are additions while the rest is original.

    “You see it as simply a way to place Jesus within history? ”

    A”way”? That makes it seem like I’m *trying* to do something. I’ve simply analysed the evidence and read the scholarship and concluded that Josephus mentioned Jesus here and later scribes added to it. It’s about what we’d expect Josephus to say about someone like Jesus once the obvious additions are removed. And it fits with the Jesus of history that a non-Christian with a good kn0wledge of the evidence would expect.

    • Bob Seidensticker

      Tim:

      (Patheos is not allowing me to reply to a response by Bob above, so I’ll try posting it here.)

      If there’s no Reply button, scroll up and click on the first one you see.

      I can’t think of any current professional scholar, especially scholars of Josephus, who think *Antiquities* XVIII.3.4 is a wholesale interpolation.

      Interesting data point, thanks.

      Did you read what I said?

      Read it; wasn’t particularly convinced.

      I’ve simply analysed the evidence and read the scholarship and concluded that Josephus mentioned Jesus here and later scribes added to it.

      Yeah, got it. What I’m trying to figure out is the bottom line. Josephus adds what to the gospel story?

      • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com.au/ Tim ONeill

        “What I’m trying to figure out is the bottom line. Josephus adds what to the gospel story?”

        It’s strange, then, that you didn’t write an article about that rather than the one you wrote. Because the one you wrote tried to dismiss everything that Josephus says about Jesus as totally unreliable. And you’ve done so mainly by drawing on arguments from the Jesus Myther fringe. Yes, I realise you aren’t a Jesus Myther yourself, but it strikes me as very odd that you give so much of what they say credence nonetheless. And it’s even more odd that you accept the arguments of these hobbyists and yet seem almost wholly unaware of the positions of precisely the people you’d think would be the obvious ones to consult on this matter – actual Josephan experts. It’s remarkable that cite a relative nobody like Carrier and yet be unaware of the scholarly consensus view on the TF, for example. Or the work of people like Feldman and Vermes – real leaders in the field of Jewish studies.

        For me, it’s like coming across someone who says they accept evolution, but keeps citing Creationists and at the same time is unaware of the most basic work of actual biologists. There’s something very skewed about your understanding of these matters. It doesn’t seem very objective to say the very least.

        • Jason

          Tim,

          I for one want to thank you for your contributions here. Your comments are intelligent and well informed. I have had similar exchanges with Bob that have left me confused and exasperated. If I may, allow me to sum up what I think happens: Bob is an atheist and has a very specific agenda on his blog (i.e. to disprove Christianity). He reviews scholarly questions and information from a lay perspective and then tries to present how they support his case. The problem is that since Bob has an agenda AND is lay scholar, it is very difficult for him to get all the information together exactly right. Thus he errs on the side of accepting evidence that seems to support his case even when it doesn’t. When someone like you (or me, as I have tried in the past to explain to him that Carrier is way out of line with contemporary scholarly consensus on certain textual issues and historical questions) tries to explain to Bob where he has gone wrong in the details, he then shifts the terms of the discussion back to the basic question, for example, of whether Josephus actually *proves* the existence of Jesus. But of course it doesn’t , and as far as I understand, that wasn’t your point. But Bob misses this because he doesn’t see the difference between an Atheist agenda and striving for scholarly objectivity. So in the end Bob ends up being guilty of the same thing he criticizes religious zealots for. Tim, you also commented on Bob’s strange views on the Jesus myth theories.
          Tim said:
          “Yes, I realise you aren’t a Jesus Myther yourself, but it strikes me as very odd that you give so much of what they say credence nonetheless.”

          I agree 100%. When asked point blank, Bob dismisses myth theories, but when discussing particular details related to it, he seems to accept it. I think he’s realized that the myth theory goes against scholarly consensus, so he can’t accept it. The problem is that as a lay scholar, he doesn’t always see the connection between the details and the overall theory. So he just assents to any details that help him dismiss evidence in favor of the truth of Christianity or the existence of Jesus.

          Bob,

          With all do respect, I beg you to put evidence ahead of your agenda as an Atheist. If you want to make genuine progress in this discussion in terms of our understanding, you have to realize that it’s not always necessary to dismiss any and all evidence for Christianity to make your case. In all honesty, I agree with most of what you say on this blog, but evidence and objectivity are more important to me than Atheism.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Jason:

          Tim,

          I for one want to thank you for your contributions here. Your comments are intelligent and well informed.

          Yes they do seem to be. I appreciate new information. I just wish Tim didn’t come in with a chip on his shoulder.

          But, in the grand scheme of things, that’s not too big a deal.

          has a very specific agenda on his blog (i.e. to disprove Christianity).

          Not really. That Christianity is false seems the best hypothesis at the moment. If someone can show me where it’s not, that’d be great.

          The problem is that since Bob has an agenda AND is lay scholar, it is very difficult for him to get all the information together exactly right.

          I agree. I typically spend 10-20 hours per post researching the issue. I’ll make mistakes, and one reason for comments is for others to point out any errors they find. Even scholars with doctorates squabble over interpretations (consider Bart Ehrman vs. the Jesus Mythicists, for example), so the only way to avoid ruffling feathers or making errors is to be silent.

          he then shifts the terms of the discussion back to the basic question, for example, of whether Josephus actually *proves* the existence of Jesus.

          Yes. I’m trying to focus. We could go on and on about Josephus tangents, and if the commenters want to do that, that’s great. But I’m just stating the narrow area that I’m trying to focus on to explain why these tangents don’t interest me.

          With all do respect, I beg you to put evidence ahead of your agenda as an Atheist.

          And what do you think I do? If you’re saying that, just like all people, I have my biases and make errors, you’re correct. I’m doing the best I can at following the evidence where it leads. When I see an argument undercut, I drop that argument. I want to back the winning team, the side with the evidence. If there is a god, convince me, and I’ll drop atheism like a used tissue.

          you have to realize that it’s not always necessary to dismiss any and all evidence for Christianity to make your case.

          Is that hyperbole or do you really think that this characterizes my position?

        • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com.au/ Tim ONeill

          “I just wish Tim didn’t come in with a chip on his shoulder. ”

          I ahve no idea what that is supposed to mean. What chip do you think I have on my shoulder, exactly?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Whatever chip gives an angry edge to your comments.

        • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com.au/ Tim ONeill

          “Whatever chip gives an angry edge to your comments.”

          It’s easy to misread tone over the internet. I can assure you I am not even remotely “angry” and I have no “chip on my shoulder”. You seem interested in these questions and seem to be genuinely trying to learn. I’m trying to help you, since I’ve been studying this stuff for a long time and, like you, I’m not encumbered by the bias of religious belief. You, however, run the risk of being encumbered by an opposite ideological bias if you continue to lean so heavily on fringe ideas and arguments by people with an agenda rather than on solid, objective scholarship.

        • Jason

          Bob said:
          “I just wish Tim didn’t come in with a chip on his shoulder.”

          I don’t think he came in with a chip on his shoulder (sorry Tim, please speak for yourself if you disagree). I think he read your post and responded with honest frustration (just as you respond with honest frustration when you see a Christian making claims you know contradict basic evidence and consensus.

          “I agree. I typically spend 10-20 hours per post researching the issue. “

          Don’t get me wrong Bob. I’m amazed that you can engage the wide range of issues that you do on this blog. Actually, considering that you don’t have a graduate degree in ancient history or some other relevant professional training (do you??), 10-20 hours is an impressively short time to digest all that info and say something about it. You have my respect here.

          “I’ll make mistakes, and one reason for comments is for others to point out any errors they find.”

          Here’s the problem. When I have done this in the past, you don’t recognize it as such. More often than not, you stick to your guns.

          “Even scholars with doctorates squabble over interpretations (consider Bart Ehrman vs. the Jesus Mythicists, for example)…”

          This is a funny point for you to make. Sometimes you insist that what matters is a doctorate in a relevant field (for example when you want to defend Carrier, who has a PhD but does not publish in normal academic journals and does not reflect consensus), and sometimes you insist that what matters is scholarly consensus (when you want to reject, for example, a PhD from the Discovery Institute who argues for creationism– and yes, I know the Discovery Institute *also* boasts of PhD’s in non-relevant fields, so please don’t go there.). Bart Ehrman is a mainstream scholar who publishes in typical peer reviewed journals that reflect scholarly consensus AND also publishes popular books intended for a lay audience. As far as I know, Carrier is almost exclusively outside of mainstream circles. If you can name one mythicist who has published in a mainstream journal, please do so (that’s a genuine question. There may be one or two, but I’m not aware of them).

          “Yes. I’m trying to focus.”

          It’s odd that you don’t focus on the very issues and details you bring up in your own posts. Tim identified this exactly when he responded to your comment:

          Bob said:
          “What I’m trying to figure out is the bottom line. Josephus adds what to the gospel story?”

          Tim said:
          “It’s strange, then, that you didn’t write an article about that rather than the one you wrote.”

          Bob, you brought up the details that Tim responded to. So it’s a bit unfair to call it an irrelevant tangent whenever he brings up evidence that contradicts your claims.

          “And what do you think I do? If you’re saying that, just like all people, I have my biases and make errors, you’re correct.”

          Yes, we are all subject to bias, but it is possible to improve our ability to set bias aside. So all people have biases but in general those who become spokespeople for particular groups or ideologies feel more pressure to make the evidence fit their agenda. Actually, this is a point you yourself have made regarding preachers and people with close ties to the church (and yes, I know, Atheists probably aren’t nearly as susceptible as religious people, so please don’t go there, but the basic point still stands).

          “Is that hyperbole or do you really think that this characterizes my position?”

          It’s somewhat hyperbolic. I’ll rephrase in more empirical terms: I think you all too often unintentionally dismiss evidence in your zealous attempt to make your case against Christianity.

        • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com.au/ Tim ONeill

          “(sorry Tim, please speak for yourself if you disagree)”

          I don’t. In fact, I’ve just replied to Bob asking him to explain that strange comment.

          “As far as I know, Carrier is almost exclusively outside of mainstream circles. If you can name one mythicist who has published in a mainstream journal, please do so”

          After spending the eight years since he got his doctorate indulging in self-published vanity press projects and a couple of contributions to collections of essays published by Prometheus, Carrier has finally published something in a peer-reviewed journal. The article referred to in a comment above has appeared in the latest edition of “Journal of Early Christian Studies”. That’s the only article by a Mythicist in a peer-reviewed journal that I know of, however.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Jason:

          You have my respect here.

          Much appreciated, though I hope that didn’t come across as an appeal for praise. I’m simply acknowledging that I spent a lot of time, but not infinite time, and mistakes will happen. I think we’re on the same page here.

          More often than not, you stick to your guns.

          When I think I’m right, I stick to my guns. By contrast, when someone brings up new information that calls into question my points, as Tim has in this post, I acknowledge them. The Bob/Tim exchange here seems to be a counterexample to the worry that I dogmatically refuse to consider new information.

          This is a funny point for you to make.

          Then perhaps my point didn’t come across. I simply said that not only should a layman like me expect to get corrections, but even if I got a relevant doctorate, that wouldn’t stop the challenges since scholars have their own squabbles.

          Or maybe I misunderstand your point. Are you saying that Ehrman vs. Mythicists isn’t scholar vs. scholar since the Mythicists aren’t scholars?

          Bob, you brought up the details that Tim responded to. So it’s a bit unfair to call it an irrelevant tangent whenever he brings up evidence that contradicts your claims.

          I guess I’m kind of a broken record here. The common thread in this blog is whether the Christian claims are valid. When we get off into the weeds about Josephus, I lose interest. If you think the post had nothing to do about the Christian claims and was all about Josephus as a historian, then somehow my point didn’t come through.

          Yes, we are all subject to bias, but it is possible to improve our ability to set bias aside.

          Yes, it’s an ongoing struggle for all of us. And my response to Tim’s comments (“I’ve not seen such a conclusion. Thanks for the input.” and “Interesting data point, thanks.” for example) would suggest that I’m at least somewhat open minded.

          I think you all too often unintentionally dismiss evidence in your zealous attempt to make your case against Christianity.

          Yes, could be.

        • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com.au/ Tim ONeill

          “When we get off into the weeds about Josephus, I lose interest.”

          “Off into the weeds”? You wrote a post entitled “Josephus: A Reliable Source” arguing against the reliability of Josephus. I have noted a large number of flaws in your arguments and pointed you to some key pieces of information and pertinent scholarly positions that indicate your assessment of his reliability is faulty. So you keep responding that you aren’t actually interested in the question of his reliability at all, despite this being the whole focus of the very post we’re commenting on.

          How is responding to the very subject of your post getting “off into the weeds”?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Tim:

          You wrote a post entitled “Josephus: A Reliable Source” arguing against the reliability of Josephus.

          … on the question of the gospel story. It’s always about Christianity. Maybe that didn’t come through initially. But now you know.

        • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com.au/ Tim ONeill

          “… on the question of the gospel story.”

          Which “gospel story” was your attempt at debunking *Antiquties* XX.9.1 addressing?

        • Bob Seidensticker

          Tim:

          It’s all in the post. If the post was unclear or incomplete for you, OK, thanks for the input.

        • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com.au/ Tim ONeill

          “It’s all in the post. ”

          Okay, then looking back at what you say in the post:

          “While this doesn’t celebrate the miracles of Jesus, it does at least establish the existence of Jesus Christ in the first century, since the book was written in about 93 CE. ”

          So apparently your discussion of *Antiquties* XX.9.1 is addressing the existence of Jesus. Yet when we show you that the arguments you make against this passage indicating the existence of Jesus we get this “I’m not a Myther” and claim we are taking the discussion “off into the weeds”. No, we are addressing the point you have raised in your own post.

          Why so suddenly shy about discussing your own topic? You brought it up, after all.

        • Bob Seidensticker

          So apparently your discussion of *Antiquties* XX.9.1 is addressing the existence of Jesus. Yet when we show you that the arguments you make against this passage indicating the existence of Jesus

          ?? Josephus indicates the existence of Jesus? OK, fine. As I asked you two days ago, so what?

          Take your interpretation of Josephus. This supports the gospel story in what way? Apparently, it supports the existence of Jesus. OK, I got it.

          Is that it? How much more on the same page do we need to be?

        • http://armariummagnus.blogspot.com.au/ Tim ONeill

          Your post tried to argue that *Antiquties* XX.9.1 was *not* reliable on that point (the existence of Jesus). Now you’re saying we are “on the same page” when I say that it is reliable on that point. “So what?” So the argument in your post is wrong, by your admission. That’s “what”.

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