Josephus & “Brothers of Jesus” Redux (vs. Lucas Banzoli)

Josephus & “Brothers of Jesus” Redux (vs. Lucas Banzoli) February 18, 2023

Lucas Banzoli is a very active Brazilian anti-Catholic polemicist, who holds to basically a Seventh-Day Adventist theology, whereby there is no such thing as a soul that consciously exists outside of a body, and no hell (soul sleep and annihilationism). This leads him to a Christology which is deficient and heterodox in terms of Christ’s human nature after His death. He has a Master’s degree in theology, a degree and postgraduate work in history, a license in letters, and is a history teacher, author of 27 self-published books, as well as blogmaster for six blogs. He has many videos on YouTube.

This is my 62nd refutation of Banzoli’s writings. From 25 May until 12 November 2022 he wrote not one single word in reply, claiming that my articles were “without exception poor, superficial and weak” and that “only a severely cognitively impaired person” would take them “seriously.” Nevertheless, he found them so “entertaining” that after almost six months of inaction he resolved to “make a point of rebutting” them “one by one”; this effort being his “new favorite sport.”

He has now replied to me 15 times (the last one dated 2-9-23). I disposed of the main themes of his numberless slander in several Facebook posts under his name on my Anti-Catholicism page (where all my replies to him are listed). I shall try, by God’s grace, to ignore his innumerable insults henceforth, and heartily thank him for all these blessings and extra rewards in heaven (Matthew 5:11-12).

Google Translate is utilized to render Lucas’ Portugese into English. Occasionally I slightly modify clearly inadequate translations, so that his words will read more smoothly and meaningfully in English. His words will be in blue. Words from past replies of mine to him will be in green.


This is my reply to Lucas Banzoli’s article, “Dave Armstrong muda de teoria sobre Josefo e reconhece seu erro sobre Hegésipo” [Dave Armstrong Changes His Theory About Josephus and Acknowledges His Error About Hegesippus] (1-5-23].

[I]n September of last year, Dave wrote this article, where he argues that Josephus could not be taken seriously, basically, because he was not a Christian.

It’s not quite that simple. I cite Josephus all the time in disputes regarding historical fact. But in this instance, it’s a bit different, as I explained:

Why does he want to rely on a Roman Jewish historian, when it comes to questions of Christian doctrine?  Josephus, not being a Christian at all, obviously wouldn’t even accept the virgin birth of Jesus, let alone a proposed perpetual virginity of Mary.  So why would Lucas appeal to him . . .? . . . 

Lucas’ reliance on Josephus with regard to the issue at hand, reminds me of the Protestant falling back on the post-Christian Jews with regard to the biblical canon, because they rejected the deuterocanonical books, whereas the early Christians included them in the Bible. If it comes to a question of refuting Catholics, any “witness” is good enough to enlist. They’ll follow the opinion of religious Jews rather than early Christians, if needs be.

That‘s a perfectly valid point, as opposed to Banzoli’s caricature: that I supposedly dismissed Josephus and his stature as an ancient historian merely because he was Jewish.

Dave could have used the occasion to simply also admit that Josephus is evidence against the Marian dogma of perpetual virginity and leave it at that, if only because that does not end the debate, which is biblical rather than historical in nature. But that would be asking a lot, since Josephus, a contemporary of Jesus, would hardly be mistaken on this point . . . 

The exact opposite is true: of course he could and likely would be mistaken, per the point I made above in my previous reply. Why would we expect a non-Christian to be objective about our supernatural doctrines? Both the virgin birth and Mary’s perpetual virginity (rightly and fully understood, including virginity [an intact hymen] during Jesus’ birth) would clearly not be accepted by a non-Christian. Therefore, we wouldn’t and shouldn’t (before we start analyzing what he wrote) expect Joseph to accept either doctrine. I haven’t renounced that part of my formerly stated position, because there is no need to.

and remember that, for Catholics, this doctrine cannot even be placed in doubt, as it is a dogmai.e., an indisputable doctrine and necessary to believe for salvation.

That’s correct. But I’m not arguing the matter a way that presupposes it as binding dogma. I’m simply examining related biblical and historical evidences. The current question at hand is what Josephus meant in his one single reference to James as Jesus’ “brother” (adephos). That can be discussed with no reference or recourse to Catholic dogma whatsoever. It’s an historical and literary question separate even from theology, let alone Catholic dogma.

As far as bias goes, of course Banzoli has a strong bias against Mary’s perpetual virginity. Neither one of us a completely objective logical machine. We have prior beliefs and we want the debate to have a particular outcome. Let’s not fool ourselves. But I never bow to this silliness that supposedly Catholics are always too biased by their beliefs to have a normal, rational conversation, whereas Protestants are assumed to have no bias at all, since they are the only true Bible believers and walking truth machines, etc.

Hence they cannot simply admit the existence of such strong evidence to the contrary, for the mere existence of contrary evidence is enough to throw dogma into doubt (and a dogma can never be in doubt).

If I found such evidence, I would admit it, and then I would have a difficulty that I would have to work through. I would cross that bridge when I came to it. As of yet, I haven’t found such “strong evidence” or even weak evidence to the contrary.

This time, the theory is that Josephus cited James as Jesus’ brother because he relied on the “Aramaic usage” of the term (even though he was writing in Greek rather than Aramaic), where “brother” can basically mean anything and everything, and problem solved. 

Yes. It’s a live possibility, plausible, and it hasn’t been decisively disproven. The fact remains that we can’t be sure which meaning Josephus intended, and we can’t because of 1) contemporary ranges of the meaning of adelphos, and 2) Josephus’ own use of it elsewhere as a half-brother and not a full sibling, in cases where some might casually interpret his use as meaning as full sibling. That’s why we can’t know for sure what he meant in calling James Jesus’ adelphos.

To put it in simpler terms, Dave’s new theory is as follows: Josephus wrote in Greek (a language that had specific words for brother and cousin) and spoke of cousins ​​(anepsios) on several occasions, but when it came to James he preferred say he was a brother (adelphos) because he was suddenly attacked by a surge of Jewish nationalism and he remembered that in Aramaic there was no word for “cousin”, and so he wrote “brother” in Greek. And why then does the same Josephus refer to cousins ​​on several other occasions in that same work?

Because that’s how Greek works and how it also works for a Jew speaking Greek in a Jewish culture (with Aramaic as its current language). Sometimes anepsios or suggenes (“cousin”) are used, and sometimes adelphos for cousins or even countrymen, fellow Christians, etc. I’ve already shown at length that adelphos was used this way for James and Joseph in the NT, because they are expressly stated to be sons of a different Mary: the wife of Clopas. Thus they can’t possibly (granting an inspired, infallible Scripture) be Jesus’ siblings, yet they are called His adelphoi.

The reason Catholics demand that the brothers of Jesus be named as children of Mary is because in Roman Catholicism, unlike the Bible, Mary is the strongest reference, and Jesus is an almost helpless being who lets Mary step in and take over.

Nonsense. First of all, she’s not the “strongest reference” in Catholicism (Jesus is that, despite Banzoli’s ridiculous, laughable caricature above). Secondly, as I noted above, the argument is not being made as if we’re dong Catholic systematic theology, but rather, as an exegetical (biblical) and historical matter (re Josephus). No one is “demanding” anything. We are simply making a logical observation that if the Bible had called these “brothers” the “sons of Mary” then we would not be having this disagreement at all. All would agree, because it would be inexorably stated as a not-able-to-be-questioned truth in the inspired NT.

The fact of the matter, however, is that this doesn’t occur, and that leaves the matter speculative, because of the latitude of meaning of adelphos. A statement that these brothers were Mary’s sons would cut through all that because it would prove their status as siblings. Therefore, the lack of same makes it more difficult for those who deny Mary’s perpetual virginity to make their biblical case. But we, on the other hand, can pretty much prove that James and Joseph were Jesus’ cousins, from the Bible. Our case is a lot stronger.

Indeed, the very fact that these brothers of Jesus are mentioned alongside Mary on so many occasions is strong evidence that they were indeed Mary’s children. It would be very strange for Mary to walk all the time with Jesus’ brothers to and fro, if they were only Jesus’ cousins ​​who had their own mothers (these mothers who abandoned them, apparently…).

Not at all, in light of our understanding of the nature of Jewish families at that time and place — as I have written about — as extended in nature (to cousins and aunts and uncles); very unlike our present nuclear families, which are the norm in modern society: basically since the industrial revolution. Before that, even western cultures — in rural communities — tended to have more extended family structures. I majored in sociology. This is the sort of thing that I learned a lot about.  For example, in the book, Families in Ancient Israel (Leo G. Perdue, editor; Westminster John Knox Press, 1997) we find this description:

The familial roles of males in the household’s kinship structure included those of lineal descent and marriage — grandfather, father, son, and husband — and those lateral relationships — brother, uncle, nephew, and cousin. (pp. 179-180)

If Banzoli had known and understood this (and it ain’t rocket science), he wouldn’t have even made the statement above.

[T]he Bible does not enter into “intimate domestic contexts” when it comes to the life of Jesus. Only Matthew and Luke narrate anything of Jesus’ childhood (Mark and John completely omit it), and even then only in the context of Jesus’ birth, when he had no siblings. 

It doesn’t have to. We can understand much more about families in biblical times by pursuing historical studies in this area. Understanding that Jesus’ first cousins would have routinely been present with Him in that culture, explains a lot related to the dispute at hand. Not understanding this would lead one to likely assume without proper proof, that they are siblings.

As if there were some source before Tertullian calling them cousins…

In the first century, the Bible proved this as regards two of the four named “brothers”:

By comparing Matthew 27:56, Mark 15:40, and John 19:25, we find that James and Joseph [aka “Joses”: Mk 15:40] — mentioned in Matthew 13:55 with Simon and Jude as Jesus’ “brothers” — are also called sons of Mary, wife of Clopas. This “other Mary” (Matthew 27:61, 28:1) is called Our Lady’s adelphe in John 19:25 (it isn’t likely that there were two women named “Mary” in one family — thus even this usage apparently means “cousin” or more distant relative, or sister-in-law).

Matthew 13:55-56 and Mark 6:3 mention Simon, Jude and “sisters” along with James and Joseph, calling all adelphoi. Since we know for sure that at least James and Joseph are not Jesus’ blood brothers, the most likely interpretation of Matthew 13:55 is that all these “brothers” are cousins, . . .

James (along with sometimes Joseph) is called the son of this “other Mary”: wife of Clopas or Alphaeus [alternate names for one person], in Matthew 27:56; Mark 15:40; 16:1; Luke 24:10, and “the son of Alphaeus” in Matthew 10:3 / Mark 3:18 / Luke 6:15 / Acts 1:13. This second Mary is called “the wife of Clopas and the “sister” of Mary the mother of Jesus in John 19:25. This is strong evidence that James and Joseph were not sons of Mary the mother of Jesus, and hence not Jesus’ siblings (and indirect evidence that Simon and Jude are of the same similar status as relatives). Rather, it appears that they are Jesus’ first cousins or more distant cousins.

I cited James B. Prothro, Assistant Professor of Scripture and Theology, whose academic work “focuses on the letters and thought of the Apostle Paul and on the ancient Greek language.” He obtained a Ph.D. in New Testament from the University of Cambridge and an MA in classics and MDiv in theology from other universities. He wrote:

An instructive example comes from Philip’s designation as Herod Antipas’ ἀδελφός, which the Synoptic authors write without qualification (Mark 6:17//Matt 14:3//Luke 3:19). . . . To ask whether Jesus’ ἀδελφοί/αί and he shared a mother is not necessarily special pleading in the interest of some alien “tradition,” but an acknowledgment that our texts—like most—omit much specificity as unessential and that ἀδελφός/ή need not imply uterine fraternity/sorority.

As it turns out, they were actually siblings, albeit on their father’s side rather than on their father and mother (see here and here). This does nothing to endorse the Catholic thesis that Jesus’ brothers were only cousins ​​(that is, that they were not his brothers on either his father’s or mother’s side). 

That’s a good point, and one well-taken. It does not, however, help his case against Mary’s perpetual virginity. It works against it, since it’s yet another NT usage of adelphos, not for a full sibling (common children of both a mother and father), but for a half-brother or half-sister (with one common parent only). Thus, this particular scriptural data would be in harmony with the Epiphanian theory (the “brothers” as sons of Joseph and a former wife; he being a widower). It would not be evidence towards the “cousins” theory (I presented that evidence from Scripture, above). It could also conceivably be the case that both things are true: some of the “brothers” were cousins and some half-brothers.

But what Banzoli neglects to see is that this is evidence against Mary having other children, since if adelphos can refer to half-brothers, then it can refer to Jesus’ half-brothers (if that is what they were) in a way which doesn’t include Mary (i.e., they are children of Joseph from a prior marriage). But even that would be in a legal sense only, since we all know that Joseph wasn’t Jesus’ biological father.

Catholics are free to accept either the “half-brother” or “stepbrother” theory or St. Jerome’s cousins theory. We’re not required to hold to either; only to hold that Mary was a perpetual virgin. Eastern Catholics and some among Western Catholics, hold to the Epiphanian theory. Most Western or Latin Catholics (including myself) hold to the cousins theory. Either one upholds Mary’s perpetual virginity.

In the first paragraph above, Dr. Prothro documents how Josephus (proven by his own express explanation) uses adelphos in a sense other than sibling, and in the second paragraph notes that he sometimes uses adelphoi “as an equivalent of συγγενεῖς [syngeneís].” [second statement referred to, with my bracketed clarification: “Josephus can use ἀδελφοί as a collective as an equivalent of συγγενεῖς [syngeneís: usually rendered ‘cousin’] (BJ 6.356–357). . . .]

This is simply false, because, as we have seen, the almighty Dr. Protho was unable to produce a single quote from Josephus where a cousin is called a brother and not a cousin. 

To the contrary, he did. The reference is seen above (BJ = Wars of the Jews). Here is the exact quotation:

On the same day it was that the sons and brethren [ἀδελφοί / adelphoi] of Izates the king, together with many others of the eminent men of the populace, got together there, and besought Caesar to give them his right hand for their security; upon which, though he was very angry at all that were now remaining, yet did he not lay aside his old moderation, but received these men. At that time, indeed, he kept them all in custody, but still bound the king’s sons and kinsmen [συγγενεῖς / syngeneís], and led them with him to Rome, in order to make them hostages for their country’s fidelity to the Romans. (Book VI, ch. 6, sec. 4; William Whiston translation, 1737)

To see the exact mini-section, with the original Greek text, too, see the translation by Henry St. John Thackeray (1928):

On the same day the sons and brothers [ἀδελφοί / adelphoi] of king Izates, who were joined by many of the eminent townsfolk, entreated Caesar to grant them a pledge of protection. Though infuriated at all the survivors, Titus, with the unalterable humanity of his character, received them. For the present he kept them all in custody; the king’s sons and kinsmen [συγγενεῖς / syngeneís] he subsequently brought up in chains to Rome as hostages for the allegiance of their country.

We see, then (notwithstanding Banzoli’s false and ignorant claim to the contrary), that Josephus used both adelphoi and syngeneís  for the same group of people in the same context: those allied with the sons of King Izates. This absolutely proves what he meant, because he interpreted his own usage by referring to the same group in both ways. As we are constantly reminded by the opponents of perpetual virginity, syngeneís or sungenis or suggenes [multiple spellings] primarily means “cousin.” The Blue Letter Bible (Strong’s #G4773) explains:

Strong’s Definitions: a relative (by blood); by extension, a fellow countryman:—cousin, kin(-sfolk, -sman).

Thayer’s Greek Lexicon: of the same kin, akin to, related by blood, . . . in a wider sense, of the same race, a fellow-countryman:

Vine’s Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words:


in Luk 1:36 (so in the most authentic mss.) and sungenes in Luk 1:58 (plural), AV, “cousin” and “cousins,” respectively signify “kinswoman” and “kinsfolk,” (RV); so the RV and AV in Luk 2:4421:16. The word lit. signifies “born with,” i.e., of the same stock, or descent; hence “kinsman, kindred.” See KIN, KINSFOLK, KINSWOMAN.

The same reference page indicates that the word is translated in KJV as “kinsman (7x), cousin (2x), kinsfolk (2x), kin (1x).” It’s the word used to describe Mary’s cousin Elizabeth (KJV: “cousin”: Lk 1:36). Jesus arguably used it in the same sense: “A prophet is not without honour, but in his own country, and among his own kin, and in his own house” (KJV: Mk 6:4; cf. Jn 7:5 (RSV): “For even his brothers [ἀδελφοί / adelphoi] did not believe in him”).

Kittel’s Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (one-volume edition, p. 1097) has this for syngenes:

2) The LXX.

a. The LXX uses the noun 44 times for “relations,” i.e., “relatives.” . . .

3) Judaism.

a. Philo has the noun some 80 times for “relatives,” . . .

b. . . . in Josephus, . . . syngenes is very common and usually denotes the “relative” in the narrower sense.

King Izates II (c. 1-54) had but one sibling, Monobazus II (both sons of Queen Helena of Adiabene and King Monobazus I). Therefore, for Josephus to refer to his “brethren / brothers / [ἀδελφοί / adelphoi] couldn’t possibly be in reference to full siblings, since he had only one of those. I documented last time how Josephus uses adelphos for half-brothers:

In AntiquitiesBook XVIII, ch. 4, sec. 6, Josephus refers to “Philip, Herod’s brother” (likely using adelphos there). In Wars of the JewsBook II, ch. 6, sec. 1, he refers to “Archelaus’s brother Philip.”

But we know that they were not siblings (sons of the same mother and father). In Wars of the JewsBook II, ch. 7, sec. 4, Josephus mentions “Alexander, who was the brother of Archelaus, . . . This Alexander was the son of Herod the king . . .” Again, he likely uses adelphos, but is not referring to literal siblings, since we know that this Alexander‘s mother was Mariamne. Wikipedia (Philip the Tetrarch”informs us that Philip was “son of Herod the Great and his fifth wife, Cleopatra of Jerusalem, . . . half-brother of Herod Antipas and Herod Archelaus.” The mother of the latter two men was Malthace.

All this being the case, we can’t know for sure that when Josephus calls James the Lord’s “brother” adelphos, he means full sibling, half-brother, or cousin. He uses the word in all three ways, so any of those meanings is possible in the one instance. Two out of the three are harmonious with Mary’s perpetual virginity.

Banzoli can carp on and on about all this as much as he wants, but those are the facts, and he can’t absolutely prove Josephus’ meaning, as much as he tries or would wish to. And if he can’t prove it, then he also has no grounds for mocking and belittling the Catholic position(s), as he always does (lest the sky fall down if he didn’t).

After all this, Dave makes his final argument, based on a gross methodological error that would fail any university course (if he had taken one):

I wanted to include just one example of probably fifty or more in this one reply, of Banzoli’s ceaseless and literally mindless insults and lies about me. Now he implies that I never went to college? I have a BA in sociology, cum laude; 3.47 GPA, from the third largest university in Michigan, Wayne State University in Detroit.  This included many courses in philosophy (including logic), and history.

I should have majored in history, or (if I had gotten serious about Christianity) theology. It’s one of my few major regrets in my life. But God uses the education I received in my work all the time. All things work together for good (Rom 8:28). It helped me understand the secular / agnostic mindset (sociology being quite dominated by secular thought), and to love science even more than I already did: both of which are very valuable in discussions with atheists.

Banzoli then critiques my analysis of Josephus’ use of terms for relatives, compared to the NT and LXX. Here he actually makes a rare minor valid point, but it has no ill effect against my argument (especially my more advanced and elaborate one seen above), so granting it gives him no further advantage. I think I adequately demonstrated that the usage was remarkably similar, for whatever that is worth (maybe not a whole lot but something more than nothing).

The “methodology” that Dave devised to prove that Josephus made broader use of the term adelphos (which included any prime) would be fine if it weren’t for two problems. The first: it makes no difference whether Josephus named infinitely more brothers than cousins, if there is not actually an occasion when he named a cousin as a brother.

Now I have documented that there is at least one such instance, as demanded by Banzoli. It was already cited but not typed out, in my last reply, but Banzoli in his rush to (always) mock and utterly dismiss my arguments, either missed it or pretended that it wasn’t there. So he has made a fool of himself all the more, with silly statements that meet their fatal refutations (alas, a sadly and also comically regular occurrence).

And he knows he has none, because not even his coach – Dr. Protho, whom he paints as a great scholar of Josephus – had any text to quote us in that direction. 

I do not know that. I already knew the contrary. And I knew it because Dr. Prothro (not “Protho”) directed me to it. Now I have further analyzed it, complete with two variant translations of Josephus, and Greek parallel text, absolutely proving my point. I am so thankful that Banzoli counter-responded (one of only fifteen thus far, compared to my 62 refutations of his stuff), so that I could yet again greatly strengthen my argument. I love when that happens!

If Josephus always cited cousin as cousin and brother as brother, all that Dave’s “methodology” shows us is that he cited brothers more often than cousins ​​(not that he cited cousins ​​as brothers).

Since it’s proven that he didn’t, this is a non sequitur: one of Banzoli’s true hallmarks.

In any work it is natural for brothers to be cited far more than cousinsTo ensure that my suspicion was correct, I consulted several books that I have here in pdf – books that were not written by Jewish authors of that time, that is, who had no reason to change “cousin” to “brother” – and all they presented the same disproportion that Dave claims to the four corners of the earth as the great “proof” that Josephus and the NT authors spoke of cousins ​​as brothers.

This is a legitimate point. I gladly concede and grant it. Unfortunately for Banzoli, it has no adverse effect on my argument, since I proved that Josephus’ use adelphos and syngeneis in the same fashion in the same context with the same referent: precisely what he demanded that I do.

As long as he does not show in Josephus’ works a cousin who was effectively called by him “brother”, all he is proving is his difficulty in dealing with the painful fact that the thesis he has always maintained is flimsy, a fraud, and indefensible.

So what happens now that I have proven what he demanded I prove? If the past is any guide, Banzoli will 1) ignore it, and 2) flee for the hills.


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Photo credit: The Virgin of the Lilies (1899), by William-Adolphe Bouguereau (1825-1905) [public domain / Wikimedia Commons]


Summary: Josephus uses adelphos [lit., “brother”] many times in a sense other than “sibling.” Thus, his meaning when he refers to James, the “brother of Jesus” isn’t certain.

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