Testimonium Flavianum 13

Christ from the Book of Kells


This is a companion piece to The Gospel Truth on Sally Cronin’s

Titus Flavius Josephus, as he obsequiously called himself after switching from Galilean rebel to Roman sycophant, was a Jewish historian who lived shortly after the time of Christ to about 100 AD. He gives a valuable eye-witness account of this crucial historical period in three significant works:

The Jewish War (circa 75 AD) – outlining the Jewish Rebellion of 66 AD that ended with the destruction of Jerusalem by the future emperor Titus and the mass suicide of the Jewish freedom fighters at Masada.

Antiquities of the Jews (c. 90AD) – a vast compendium detailing the complete history of the Jews

Life (c. 99 AD) – an autobiography

When the Jews rebelled against Roman occupation Joesphus a Galilean nobleman joined the rebels. Hunted down, his gang holed up in a cave where, as Josephus proudly tells it, he persuaded them to commit suicide rather than be captured. After cleverly arranging to be the last man standing, he surrendered to the Roman general Titus (son of the Flavian emperor Vespasian) and was amply rewarded for his treachery.

But this isn’t about Josephus. It isn’t even about his books. It is about 3 passages from Antiquities viewed as independent evidence of Jesus’ existence.

The first concerns the death of Jesus’ brother James. The relevant sentence reads… brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James

While many scholars believe the passage about James is genuine because it is included in every copy of Antiquities, there are some concerns. The earliest existing copies date from 1,000 years after Antiquities was written.

Writing in 280 AD, Origen, a church father, mentions the passage. He then confuses Josephus with an early church father called Hegesippus. While many scholars accept Hegesippus existed, others say he is no more than a version of Josephus as the quotes are often dependant on Josephus.

Origen, Clement of Alexandria and Eusebius, the original sources for Hegesippus, all quote the same book written a century after Josephus in Alexandria and taken to Caesarea. Despite its importance to early church history, the book vanished without trace.

Hegesippus says James was a Nazarite (a Jewish ascetic) and a High Priest (he went alone into the Holy of Holies). After James’s murder (different in Josephus) the main High Priest was deposed in favour of a new High Priest called Jesus; possibly his brother. Perhaps the person who wrote Hegesippus’ work was confused by two pairs of brothers with common names?

The second passage concerns Antipas killing John the Baptist in 27 AD – because he influenced the people. The vast majority of scholars believe this is both genuine and has not been tampered with.

The war Antipas fought with his ex-wife’s father over disputed territory is put down to God’s punishment for John’s death. The Gospels say John is killed because he preaches against Herod’s incestuous and adulterous marriage to his brother’s wife Herodias. John is believed to have belonged to the sect who wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls and they contain a long diatribe against exactly the same type of incestuous adultery. Given the time-frame the two reasons might not be mutually exclusive.

In the Gospels, Herodias’ unnamed daughter arouses Antipas with lascivious dancing and asks for the Baptist’s head as her reward. The girl is popularly thought to be Salome, although the story is unlikely as Salome was a respectable married woman.

The third and most controversial, known as the Testimonium Flavianum, is a passage about Jesus.

About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works and a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Christ. When, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate condemned him to a cross, those who had first come to love him did not cease. He appeared to them spending a third day restored to life, for the prophets of God had foretold these things and a thousand other marvels about him. The tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.

Scholars are divided as to whether it is all fake or part genuine; and if so which bits.

The evidence against says although twelve Christian authors including Origin (who mentions James Jesus’ brother) refer to Josephus none quote the Testimonium. It is also missing from a 6th century list of contents of Antiquities and not mentioned in the 9th century Photios’ review of Josephus. More damning it is missing from the Jewish War in a similar passage about Pontius Pilate.

Some believe Bishop Eusebius of Ceasaria made it up when writing the first Church History (circa 325 – when Christianity became official under Constantine). Josephus only uses the Greek word ‘doer’ to mean ‘poet’ whereas it is used as ‘doer’ by Eusebius. Within a century, church historian Socrates Scholasticus dismissed Eusebius’ history as inaccurate.

Those who think it is partly genuine take out the bits the Jewish Josephus would have problems with: he was the Christ and the resurrection.

Modern theologians are embarrassed by the resurrection. A man coming back from the dead are you kidding?  The Jews and Greeks were not that stupid!

I believe the only reason Josephus would mention Jesus was because he thought he survived the crucifixion.

To put the cat among the pigeons, I reckon the resurrection was the reason why Christianity so quickly became popular among the educated.

Like all mystery cults its appeal was the offer of immortality. Jesus said… “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.”

Jesus was the living proof.

You can make a case for Jesus not dying on the cross. He was only there for a few hours and his legs were not broken. Crucifixion styles differ but the end result was the same: a long and horrible lingering death that went on for days.

In his autobiography Josephus sees three crucified comrades and prevails on the Roman general to take them down. Although they were hanging on the cross for days, one survived. Jesus was only on the cross for hours.

In some gospels, after the resurrection Jesus is seen for 90 days by 500 of his followers. Now you might ask, what happened after those 90 days?

If I ever write that, it will be called the Hagia Pneuma: the Holy Spirit… or more correctly the Perfect Breath of God: breathing life into the dead.

13 thoughts on “Testimonium Flavianum

  1. Reply Mary Smith Jun 30,2017 12:35 pm

    Fascinating stuff as always, Paul.

  2. Pingback: Smorgasbord Reblog – Testimonium Flavianum by Paul Andruss | Smorgasbord – Variety is the spice of life

  3. Reply Shehanne Moore Jun 28,2017 8:37 pm

    An excellent companion piece Paul. Again many interesting points made. But you make them so well.AS always your research is meticulous.

  4. Reply Jerry E Smith Jun 27,2017 3:54 pm

    Interesting and informative. I’ve read some excerpts from the accounts of Josephus, strange man.

    • Reply Paul Jun 29,2017 1:22 am

      Jerry great to hear from you. Sorry I have not been around for a while. I’ll drop you a line over the weekend. You are right about Josephus.. a very strange chap and one who has attracted many legends around himself mainly based on these 3 passages from his books

  5. Reply patriciaruthsusan Jun 26,2017 9:35 am

    Interesting, Paul. 🙂 — Suzanne

  6. Reply Robbie Cheadle Jun 26,2017 6:04 am

    Ah, Paul, you are a master of controversy. A very interesting read and well supported and researched.

    • Reply Paul Jun 27,2017 1:58 am

      THat’s very kind of you to say so Robbie but I think I am the jack (in the box) of controversies (and master of none!) Thrilled you enjoyed it! Love PX

  7. Reply sally cronin Jun 25,2017 7:55 pm

    Very interesting Paul and there is no shortage of confusing ‘eye witness’ reports written many years after the event. My mother said she believed that Jesus was a good man who left a lasting impression on those that he spoke to and inspired but that he was just a man. I think that there have been other men since then who have inspired in a similar way .. trouble is there has also been the wannabees who have left an impression but not a good one. I am not sure anymore that we would recognise a messiah today since if they are not widely lauded on the Internet amongst all the pretenders they would never be noticed. I came to the conclusion a long time ago that there are special people in all our lives and that if they make a lasting impression on us to be better, kinder, and make a difference in the world, they well worth admiring and putting our trust in. Will reblog in a couple of days.

    • Reply Paul Jun 26,2017 12:03 am

      Thank you Sally. I think your comment is very perceptive – rather than pin out hopes on one we should realise lots of people make us better people every day. Love PX

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