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Jesus

The Jesus story is presented by Josephus as one of four misdeeds that Josephus blamed on Pontius Pilate, prefect of Judaea 26-36 CE. The first was the introduction of Roman standards bearing the emperor's effigy into Jerusalem (26 CE). The second was the misappropriation of Temple funds (date unknown). The third was the sentencing of Jesus (30 CE), while the last was the upheaval in Samaria (35 CE), which led to Pilate's dismissal from office.

Regarding the authenticity of the Testimonium, three stances are possible: 

1. One may accept it lock, stock and barrel, as did all the pre-16th-century authorities. 

2. With more recent scholars, one may reject the entire passage as a Christian interpolation. 

3. In the company of an increasing number of recent students, it is possible to recognise some parts of the notice as authentic and discard the remainder as spurious. 

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. Consequently, only historical and literary-critical analysis can serve as a filter to separate the authentic from the inauthentic elements. I reproduce here Antiquities 18:63-64 in English:

(63) About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who performed paradoxical deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many Greeks. He was the Christ. (64) When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing among us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvelous things about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.

The Christian passages, those that cannot be ascribed to the Jew Josephus, are easily distinguishable. 

  • The gloss, "If indeed one ought to call him a man", is the interpolator's reaction to the superhuman/divine Jesus being called a mere "wise man".
  • "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. 
  • The reference to Jesus attracting to himself "many Greeks" is without Gospel support. Nevertheless, if Josephus knew of a mixed Jewish-Gentile church in Rome, he may have believed that a similar structure existed at the time of Jesus. 
  • The resurrection appearances on the third day, together with the relevant prophecies, are part of the apologetic arsenal of the early church and have nothing to do with Josephus. 
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Anonymous
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.

Stone
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.

Eighty
January 3rd, 2010
2:01 PM
For an in depth and meticulously researched discussion of the "Jesus" passages in Josephus see http://jesuspuzzle.humanists.net/supp10.htm. This arrives at a very different conclusion from that of Geza Vermes.

Mick
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.

Adam
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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