Why Exactly Will I not Accept Josephus as Evidence.

Why you ask? I mean, everyone knows he mentions Jesus Christ in his writing, right? Right? I mean, I was told by some who was told by someone, who might have been told by their preacher that Josephus mentions Christ. Or, wait! I read it on the internet somewhere.

Ask yourself this, What do you really know about Josephus and his writings? What if I told you that the Josephus text is not only a known forgery, but an acknowledged one by major church fathers? Would you then quit using it as evidence of Jesus’ existence?

Let’s start at the beginning; let’s start with Josephus himself.

The Man in Question.

Flavius Josephus was born sometime in 37 AD and died sometime around 97 AD. (I’m using AD vs CE just for confusion sake). This would have prevented him from being eye-witness to any of Christ or John the Baptist’s miracles. He was however a contemporary to the Christian Evangelicals who were, at that time, polishing up the books that would become the New Testament of today [1].

Josephus was a well know writer of his time, a historian who wrote on the history of the Jews in several books. Of note are Wars of the Jews and Antiquities. Time wise, Wars of the Jews was written 20 years earlier then the Antiquities, and this is important to know because there is no mention of James the Just, John the Baptist, or Jesus of Nazareth in Wars of the Jews. This is particularly perplexing because Wars of the Jews covers the time period when these men were supposed to have lived [1]. Josephus had access to living eyewitness of the time, his own father was a well-known Rabbi and well aware of the major events of his time. So why no mention of three men who would have been very noticeable?

A Few Quick Notes.

First, we need to understand that Antiquities is a very well planned and organized book. It has a table of contents associated with it, one of the oldest known. We are lucky to have it survive, many of these don’t make it to modern times. What this gives us is an outline of the document, how it was originally written and laid out by the author [1].

Secondly, we need to know that Eusebius Pamphili (c264-340 AD), and early church father, advocated the use of fraud and deception as long as it furthered the mission of the Church [2].

Antiquities.

It’s in Antiquities that things begin to get weird. The passage often quoted is known as the Testimonium Flaviannum, or the Testament of Josephus. (We’ll stick with Testimonium, cause it sounds cooler.) This is actually a single paragraph (called Paragraph 3, or P3) where Josephus begins exalting Christ, for no apparent reason. The paragraph before this (P2) talks about the mistreatment of the Jews at the hands of Pontius Pilate, and the paragraph afterwards (P4) says “About the same time also another sad calamity put the Jews into disorder” [3].

Without knowing anything about P3 you might think this is a natural progression, but it’s not. P3 is pretty upbeat, it talks briefly of the miracles of Jesus, calls him ‘Messiah’ by name, mentions the crucifixion, and then mentions that the Christians live on to this day. The only commonalty between P3 and P2 is Pilate [3].

Scholars have looked over this paragraph and its relation to the others around it, and have found it to be an interloper. Not only is the tone mismatched, the words used are out of context for the writer. Jospehus was a Jew, born, raised,  and died. There is no record of him ever converting to Christianity, so his use of the word ‘Messiah’ is very suspicious. Also, if you remove P3 and read from P2 to P4 you’ll find the flow of words uninterrupted and the message of the stories intact [1].

Remember that Table of Contents I mentioned earlier? This passage is not listed in the original Table of Contents. I know that seems a little nit-picky but keep in mind that Josephus outlined this document for us, telling us what he was going to mention and where. To have this paragraph just stuck in here like this is unusual in the context of the document [1].

Dating is also an issue here. Using the events mentioned in P2 and P4 we can date these two paragraphs to be talking about 19AD. P3 jumps ahead about 11 years to 30AD. If we read the three paragraphs in their supposed correct order we move from year 19 to year 30 and back to year 19 again. Not the best way to relate events, especially events meant to be related to each other [1].

Eusebius.

This is probably the most damming bit of information I can offer against the Testimonium. The Testimonium fist appeared in the writings of Eusebius, who was a known forger. He advocated the use of forgery in the early church. The translations of Antiquities that and the copies made there from are traceable back to Eusebius. I can go on a list other early church fathers that never mentions or apparently knew about the Testimonium. Men like Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Clement of Alexandria [4]. Can I say without doubt that Eusbius is the actual forger, no, but I can say that his version, and only his version, of Antiquitieshas a forged paragraph in it.

Modern Use of the  Testimonium.

Even the more dogged evangelicals today have stopped using the Testimonium as historical evidence of Jesus’ existence. If the damming knowledge that Eusebius advocated and forged other documents wasn’t enough to draw it into question, the more scholarly methods I provided would be. It’s hard to continue to use flawed evidence against a well informed opponent, unless you never got the memo.

[1] Zindler, Frank. The Jesus the Jews Never Knew. (Cranford, New Jersey: American Atheist Press) Chpt. 2.

[2] Eusebius Pamphili, “How it may be Lawful and Fitting to use Falsehood as a Medicine, and for the Benefit of those who Want to be Deceived.” From Praeparatio Evangelica, Vol 12, Chpt 32.

[3] Whiston, William, Josephus: Complete Works (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1981), Antiquities, XVIII, 3.            

[4] Remsburg, John E., The Christ: A Critical Review and Analysis of the Evidence of His Existence (New York: The Truth Seeker Company, 1909) Pg 30-31

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