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The three passages appear in separate sections of the Antiquities. The short Jesus notice comes first, followed by the longer accounts of John and the execution of James. Leaving the controversial Testimonium to last, let us first examine John and James, both in their Josephan context and in comparison with the corresponding Christian sources.

John the Baptist

In the Gospels, John, an eremitic prophet, preached repentance and baptism in the wilderness of the Jordan. He was the forerunner of Jesus, his follower and successor in Galilee. John was imprisoned and beheaded on the occasion of the birthday feast of the ruler of Galilee, Herod Antipas, for disapproving of his marriage to Herodias, his sister-in-law.  Josephus mentions no link between John and Jesus, places the venue of John's execution not in Galilee, but in Machaerus (Mukawir), a fortress in contemporary Jordan, and does not connect the downfall of the Baptist with his disapproval of the union between Antipas and Herodias. For Josephus, John was an exemplary character, a "good man", who "had exhorted the practise justice towards their fellows and piety towards God, and so doing to join in baptism". He noted, however, that John "aroused" his followers to the highest degree by his sermons. The word "aroused" implies that he was a powerful and fiery preacher, and as such capable of igniting a revolt. 

So, Josephus continued, Antipas decided to "strike first and be rid of him before his work led to an uprising". The eloquent John was seen by Antipas — like Jesus, one may add, by the high priests after he had caused mayhem in the merchants' quarter in the Temple — as a potential threat to civic order. In consequence, both were eliminated. 

Josephus included John's story in his narrative because the annihilation of Antipas's army by Aretas, the Nabatean king and the enraged father of the wife abandoned by Antipas for Herodias, was interpreted by the Jews as a divine vindication that fairly closely followed John's murder. There is no reason to suspect here a Christian hand. The account fits Josephus's narrative style and explains the tragedy just as well as the anecdote of Herodias's dancing daughter, Salome, demanding the head of the Baptist on a platter. Against the Gospel version note that Machaerus on the distant Nabatean border would be a rather unsuitable location for a royal birthday party intended for the Galilean nobility (Mk 6:21).

James, the brother of Jesus

The authenticity of the mention of James is the least questionable of the three anecdotes. Josephus identifies James not as the son of "X", but as "the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ". Paul also refers to him as "James the brother of the Lord". The atmosphere of the story reflects the political situation in Jerusalem in the first century CE, with Roman governors and Jewish high priests constantly vying with one another for power. 

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October 6th, 2010
10:10 PM
This is all an amazing text to me, who is certainly not a scholar. Do I believe in Jesus? Yes..Do the writings, or supposed writings of Josephus give me pause or doubt? No. Besides being our Savior though, I do find it fascinating to see how other "experts" find ways to mitigate the writings of Josephus, just as they would the Bible----all because of one man, Jesus.

Geza Vermes
February 13th, 2010
11:02 AM
I can reassure Stone, whose comments I appreciate, that I am perfectly aware of the Arabic version of Agapius (see my study in "Jesus in his Jewish Context", SCM, London 2003, pp. 92, 176). As I, with other scholars, consider it not a strict translation but a free re-telling of the Josephus passage, on account of the word limit prescribed for my article, I felt obliged to leave Agapius, a tenth century Christian writer, out of consideration. On the whole, as Stone notes, the Arabic translation would support my contention.

February 9th, 2010
8:02 PM
This article sums up the majority consensus of most scholars at this time. As such, it is cogent and fairly comprehensive. I personally feel that most of his conclusions are fairly well justified as well. I am surprised, though, at his saying that "I belong to the third group and will argue the case for a partial authenticity. The textual evidence — the Greek manuscripts of Josephus, the quotation of the passage in Eusebius, and the Latin, Syriac and Arabic translations — contains no significant variants." In fact, the Arabic translation is significantly different from the others and could even be used to bear out some of Vermes' points: From Agapios' Kitab al-'Unwan ("Book of the Title," 10th c.). The translation belongs to Shlomo Pines. See also James H. Charlesworth, Jesus Within Judaism. "Similarly Josephus the Hebrew. For he says in the treatises that he has written on the governance of the Jews: At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them after his crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders." Ironically, some respondents here have called attention to "no text that supports [Vermes'] following assertions and suppositions that some parts should be removed; all existing texts have no significant variation. He therefore SUPPOSES an earlier shorter text on zero evidence." Yet here, in Arabic, is an ms. citation that's no later than the other earliest mss. of the passage that does indeed give external confirmation of both the tampering with the passage that had apparently happened and also of its existence in another version, pointing to the distinct possibility that it was there in Josephus's original from the start. The very fact that this is a relatively early form of the passage bolsters its authenticity together with the validity of Vermes's argument for tampering. It is odd and regrettable that Vermes overlooked these variants in the Arabic translation altogether. Stone

Steven Fodor
January 13th, 2010
5:01 PM
It was a pleasure to read the words of Geza Vermes. Is there any doubt that Josephus confirmed the existence of Jesus? If I listen to Geza Vermes, Jesus lived and existed. Of course without any miracles, and as a natural man. A son of Adam, plainly.

Prof Dilwyn Marple-Horvat
January 6th, 2010
4:01 PM
In his preamble setting out the three stances, Vermes consigns acceptance of the whole text without change to the past, he should add '...and do some scholars today.' His opening position is that it is POSSIBLE to discard some parts as spurious. He then admits there is no text that supports his following assertions and suppositions that some parts should be removed; all existing texts have no significant variation. He therefore SUPPOSES an earlier shorter text on zero evidence. He then admits he is left with only historical and literary-critical analysis to try and identify bits that can be removed or amended. Then, after presenting the text, he claims that bits that are not Josephus are 'easily distinguishable'. I must have missed the steps that took us from POSSIBLE to easy. As has been pointed out by others, there is evidence in John's gospel of Greeks coming to hear Jesus teach, and this is portrayed as very significant by the writer; the Gospel it appears is not just to the Jews. Jesus in the eyes of Josephus? Jesus in the eyes of Vermes more likely.

January 3rd, 2010
2:01 PM
For an in depth and meticulously researched discussion of the "Jesus" passages in Josephus see This arrives at a very different conclusion from that of Geza Vermes.

December 31st, 2009
9:12 PM
What an excellent, reasoned, argued aricle by an eminent academic. What a refreshing change from the amateur internet experts who proliferate on this subject.

Steven Carr
December 21st, 2009
3:12 PM
Geza Vermes writes about possible interpolations in Josephus about Jesus 'Furthermore, a Christian interpolator would be presumed to use phrases borrowed from the New Testament such as "mighty deeds" or "signs" instead of the neutral "paradoxical deeds". ' This is amazing. Why would Christian interpolators be limited to words found in the New Testament? Vermes lines us the sort of persons Josephus is paralleling Jesus to 'Both "wise man" and "performer of paradoxical deeds" take us to plain Josephus territory. Great biblical and post-biblical characters like the priest Ezra, the miracle-worker Honi-Onias (Hame'agel, the circle-maker), and the Pharisaic leader Samaias are regularly portrayed as "just men" and John is called a "good man". More specifically, the legendary King Solomon and the Prophet Daniel carry the title of "wise man", and the miracle-working prophet Elisha is said to have performed "paradoxical deeds". The notion of a paradox is commonly used by Josephus in relation to extraordinary events caused by God (the manna or the burning bush) and to miracles performed by Moses (Ant. 3:37-38) and by the prophet Elisha (Ant. 9:182).' Oh yes, Vermes actually thinks Josephus likened a crucified rebel to Daniel, Elisha, Elijah, Moses and Ezra, and that by doing this 'Josephus plays the role of a neutral witness.' Astonishing.

December 20th, 2009
10:12 PM
The Life & Death of Jesus - History's greatest Cold Case?

Steven Carr
December 20th, 2009
1:12 PM
Vermes writes 'Moreover, the church fathers, Origen (185-254) and Eusebius (260-340), not only attest to the existence of the passage, but also assert that Josephus saw in the fall of Jerusalem divine punishment for the murder of James. Unfortunately, no surviving Josephus manuscript contains such a statement and its authenticity is doubtful. ' So how do they attest to the existence of the passage from Antiquties 20, when no surviving Josephus manuscript contains such a statement? I did like Vermes claim about Antiq. 20 'It lacks New Testament parallels that might have inspired a forger.' I think this means that there is a bit of Matthew 1:16 in the passage, suitably changed to make it grammatically correct. And, of course, Vermes never explains why killing Christians enraged Jews , or why a certain 'Jesus' was made High Priest in place of the deposed Ananus. Surely this James was a blasphemer ,claiming that a recently executed criminal was the Son of God. I guess if James the blaspheming brother of Jesus was killed, then justice demanded that somebody called Jesus was made High Priest. I also liked Vermes on Ant.18. 'He was the Christ" is a common Christian interpolator's confession of the messianic status of Jesus. Nevertheless, the original text must have contained the epithet, "Christ", to account for the later statement about "the tribe of the Christians" named after the founder. The most likely original version read, "He was called the Christ", as Josephus puts it in the James passage. ' Just how circular is this reasoning? Vermes 'Furthermore, a Christian interpolator would be presumed to use phrases borrowed from the New Testament such as "mighty deeds" or "signs" instead of the neutral "paradoxical deeds". The term "paradoxical" is found only once in the New Testament on the lips of uncommitted witnesses of a Gospel miracle (Lk 5:26). ' Vermes actually thinks a Christian interpolator would never have put on the lips of a Jew like Josephus a phrase used in the New Testament as coming from 'uncommitted witnesses'. (as though Luke 5:26 was not full of wonderment at Jesus)

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