The brief account of Josephus referring to the crucifixion of Jesus Christ is at best a highly interpolated account, and at worst an absolute forgery. Many scholars today, Christian and otherwise formally support the veracity of this assertion. Indeed for many centuries, this was the prevailing view among the academic community. It was not until the discovery of a 10th century Arabic Christian version of the Josephus account that the fires of debate were rekindled, so to speak.
To many of us in the academic community, the Arabic manuscript does little to further the thesis that there was an original, authentic reference to the crucifixion of Christ made by Josephus. Should it be any surprise that the European Christian manuscripts use more distinctively Christian language than the Arabic version that is now extant? Christian apologists believe this difference in tone implies that the Arabic copy is much closer to the original work penned by Josephus in the 1st century. By theorizing that the Arabic version is the more original, they are able to shed many of the problems in the Josephus account like so many layers of snake skin. Not least of which is the tone of the Arabic account, which doesn?t contain the extreme Christian language of the Greek and Latin copies. Why would a pious Jew, a Pharisee even, refer to Jesus as the Christ and his movement as the truth? He wouldnt, which is one of the main reasons why the academic majority has long considered the Josephus account to be a forgery. But with the discovery of the Arabic manuscript, the fundamentalists have decided to jam their toe back in the door, and reopen the discussion. They now propose that the Arabic account is the least mangled of all the copies, and that they all draw from a common, authentic source. This cute little thesis of theirs does little more than appeal to their favorite line of final defense: Its possible, and you cant prove otherwise! However as I intend to show, there is absolutely no reason to believe that the Arabic, Greek, and Latin copies of this text didn?t all come from the same forged manuscript(s) that Bishop Eusebius used (or produced) in the 4th century.
Josephus wrote Antiquities circa 90 C.E., approximately 50-60 years after the (alleged) death of Jesus Christ.
His (alleged) account reads:
Now, there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct to this day.
Antiquities, Book XVIII, Chapter III:63-64
As I have already stated, the original manuscripts of Josephus do not exist. More importantly, we do not have a single extant copy that was not written by Christian scribes many centuries later. The importance of this point should not be underestimated. If the history of Christian Europe shows us anything it is that the Christian church was willing to do just about anything to promote the prosperity and growth of their religion. People were murdered, books were burned, temples were sacked, and manuscripts were forged. These are the historical facts, and they are indisputable. What does this mean? First, it means that the Christians had ample opportunity to commit the forgery; all of the existing copies of Josephus were written by Christian scribes. Second, it means that the Christian church had a very clear motive to commit such forgery; the movement lacked a solid foundation in the historical record that co uld be used to rebut arguments presented against it by the many detractors of the day. Forging an account and attributing it to Josephus, the major Jewish historian for that time period, would lend enough credibility to the historicity of Jesus Christ to transform Christianity from a movement into a full blown religious phenomenon. Last and perhaps most important, the historical record shows us that the Christians were engaged in forgery and the suppression of rival literature during this time period. So it is certainly not unreasonable to assume that they might very well have utilized these same tactics to create the now famous Testimonium Flavianum. Motive, opportunity, and a prior record; now all we need is to find Christian fingerprints on the Testimonium Flavianum.
A cursory analysis of the Testimonium Flavianum is now in order. Josephus was an orthodox Jewish Pharisee; he never converted to Christianity. This fact is even acknowledged in the 2nd century writings of the early Christian apologist Origin. But after reading the Testimonium Flavianum, one can hardly imagine Josephus to have been a Jew. He quite unequivocally refers to Jesus as the Messiah, and that he taught the truth. It seems absurd to think that a Jewish Pharisee could be responsible for such remarks. But let us pretend for a moment that he did write them. If Jesus was the Messiah, if he was a doer of wonderful works, if he had truly risen from the grave on the third day, and if his religion was the truth as Josephus describes, why in the Hell did he remain an orthodox Jew? It simply doesn?t make sense. The language is entirely Christian; the most fitting explanation is that the account was written or interpolated by a Christian.
Another issue is that the Testimonium Flavianum does not fit in context with the passages preceding or following it. Josephus was dealing with problems regarding the Roman occupation of Jerusalem and the catastrophes that had befallen the Jews because of it. From a Jewish perspective the death of Christ was not a catastrophe, indeed if you believe the gospel accounts they saw him as a blasphemer of the lord and as such justly put to death according to the laws set forth by God in the Torah. However, if you are a Christian trying to insert this forged passage into Josephus work many centuries later you would probably consider the death of Christ a Jewish catastrophe. In this context the passage again appears to be written not by a Jew but by a Christian.
The next problem with the Testimonium Flavianum is that NONE of the early Christian apologists quote from it. They quote from Josephus other works regarding Jewish history, but not from the Testimonium Flavianum. Origin in particular should have quoted from this account were it available during his lifetime. He wrote the book Contra Celsum circa 225 C.E. and multiple apologies, quoting very heavily from the works of Josephus, including a very short passage in Book XX of the Antiquities:
Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James.
Antiquities, Book XX, Chapter IX:200
Why would Origen, who was desperate to prove the historicity of Jesus Christ to potential converts and to the detractors of the Christian religion, quote this extremely minor account that makes only a passing reference to Jesus and not quote the Testimonium Flavianum? What?s even more compelling is that Origen expressly stated that Josephus never accepted Jesus as the Christ. But very clearly in the Testimonium Flavianum, Josephus (allegedly) proclaims Jesus to be the Christ. It doesn?t take a PhD in astrophysics to deduce that Origen (and all of the other Christian apologists) had never seen this Testimonium Flavianum that was allegedly written by Josephus. But Origen was extremely familiar with the works of Josephus, quoting from several books of the Antiquities. How could Origen and the other early Christian apologists be entirely ignorant of the most important historical reference to Jesus Christ ever recorded, especially when they were quite familiar with the author and the very work that it was supposedly recorded in?
The first person to quote the Testimonium Flavianum was the Christian Bishop of Caesarea, Eusebius in the 4th century. Eusebius is considered by some academics, Catholic and otherwise, as the father of pious fraud. The first Catholic authority to condemn the Eusebius reference to the Testimonium Flavianum as a forgery was Bishop Warburton of Gloucester (circa 1770). He said:
This [the Josephus] account of Eusebius is a rank forgery, and a very stupid one, too.
It is extremely important to recall that the original manuscripts of the Josephus account do not exist. This is a critical point to consider because there was rampant forgery perpetrated by some of the original church fathers and later by the Catholic Church during the period. The Catholic Encyclopedia readily admits this today; they refer to it as pious fraud.
To demonstrate this I will provide an example with a quote from the early Church father, Bishop of Corinth Dionysius (as recorded by Eusebius in the 4th century):
When my fellow Christians invited me to write letters to them I did so. These the devils apostles have filled with tares, taking away some things and adding othersSmall wonder that some have dared to tamper even with the word of the Lord himself, when they have conspired to mutilate my own humble efforts.
Let us conclude with a brief summary of my analysis:
Opportunity: We have determined that the Christians had ample opportunity to forge the Testimonium Flavianum. All of the surviving copies were written by Christian scribes, and more importantly the first person to produce the Testimonium Flavianum was the Christian Bishop Eusebius 300 years after it was [allegedly] written by Josephus.
Motive: We have demonstrated that the early Christians had a very clear motive for perpetrating this forgery. Historical evidence for the existence of Jesus Christ was one of the critical elements they needed to expand their small cult into a widespread religion; and historical evidence was the one element they lacked. The writings of the early Christian apologists and even those of the New Testament clearly demonstrate this dilemma that confronted the early Christian church. These texts borderline on an obsession that worshippers should believe that Jesus Christ existed, that he was the Messiah, and that he died for their sins on the cross under Pontius Pilate. The Testimonium Flavianum addresses all three of these concerns.
Prior Record: There is a serious paradigm of forgery and suppression of riv al literature perpetrated by the Christian church. In a more thorough study I would exhaustively demonstrate this paradigm; but in this limited discussion I have chosen to do little more than touch upon it. Readers should feel free to engage in further research for themselves.
Fingerprints: As has been demonstrated, the language, context, and style of the Testimonium Flavianum are entirely Christian. It is highly unlikely that a Jewish Pharisee like Josephus, would use such language when describing Jesus.
Circumstantial Evidence: The Testimonium Flavianum apparently fell out of the sky and into Bishop Eusebius? lap in the 4th century, as no previous author, Christian or otherwise made any reference to it. Strangely enough, the Testimonium Flavianum was widely quoted after Eusebius made reference to it. Interesting how the Christians chose to ignore it before we have proof that it existed, but then quoted it frequently immediately after the evidence suggests that it might have been forged.
Taken individually, none of these points prove that the Testimonium Flavianum is a forgery. However, when taken together they do paint a compelling case for such a forgery to have taken place. Ask yourself this question:
If the Testimonium Flavianum is genuine, why is there so much evidence suggesting that the passage was forged entirely?
Last updated: Circa 225 C.E.
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