The so called Testimonium Flavianum. This is the
only direct discussion of Jesus to be found in the writings
of Josephus. Unfortunately, the text as we have it in extant
copies of Josephus' Antiquities appears to have
been dramatically re-written from a Christian point of view.
(The writings of Josephus were brought down to us from
antiquity not by the Jewish community, but by the
Christians). The second column contains an Arabic quotation
of the Josephus passage that has a much less Christian
flavor. Some scholars have argued that the Arabic version
has a more likely claim to originality.
Although that is a strong possibility, it should be noted
that even the Arabic version is a good deal kinder to Jesus
than Josephus usually is to messianic claimants. In addition
it is harder to see why the Christian scribe would feel so
compelled to change it. It is possible that the original may
have been much more insulting, in keeping with Josephus'
normal pattern, and that the Greek and Arabic versions are
simply two different recensions of a Christian rewrite. R.
Eisler has made an effort to reconstruct an 'original' that
might have, given Christian revision, served as a base for the
version that survives in Greek. It is, of course, entirely
hypothetical, and no textual evidence exists to support it, but
it does fit in better with Josephus' usual pattern and language,
as well as the general context of the passage.
On the other hand, it may be possible to 'save' the Arabic
version. Particularly if we remove the last sentence (accordingly
...wonders) as a pious expansion, we are left with a non-committal
report on the martyrdom at Roman hands of a pious Jew. This would
not be at all inconsistent with Josephus' style, particularly
if he discounted as later followers' embellishments the claims
made by Christians that Jesus was the Messiah. This last suggestion
is to some extent crippled by the less controversial reference in
Antiquities 20 if it is genuine (see below).
Josephus, Antiquities 18.63, probably in a
About this time there lived Jesus, a wise
man if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was
one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such
people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews
and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah.
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 cease. On the third day he
appeared to them restored to life. For the
prophets of God had prophesied these and myriads of
other marvellous things about him. And the
tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has
still up to now, not disappeared.
Tr. I. H.
Classical Library, vol. 9, pp. 49ff.
Arabic summary, presumably of Antiquities
18.63. From Agapios' Kitab al-'Unwan ("Book of
the Title," 10th c.).
Similarly Josephus the Hebrew. For he says in the treatises
that he has written on the governance of the Jews:
The translation belongs to Shlomo Pines.
See also James H. Charlesworth, Jesus Within
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 themafter his crucifixion and that he was
alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the
Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted
R. Eisler's Reconstruction
Same text, in a less complementary modern scholarly
Now about this time arose an occasion for new disturbances,
a certain Jesus, a wizard of a man, if indeed he may be
called a man, who was the most monstrous of men, whom his
disciples call a son of God, as having done wonders such as no
man has ever done.... He was in fact a teacher of
astonishing tricks to such men as accept the abnormal with
delight.... And he seduced many Jews and many also of the
Greek nation, and was regarded by them as the
Messiah.... And when, on the indictment of the principal
men among us, Pilate had sentenced him to the cross, still
those who before had admired him did not cease to rave.
For it seemed to them that having been dead for three days, he
had appeared to them alive again, as the divinely-inspired
prophets had foretold -- these and ten thousand other
wonderful things -- concerning him. And even now the race
of those who are called 'Messianists' after him is not
The Messiah Jesus, (tr. A. H. Krappe),
1931, p. 61. Quoted from the Loeb Classical Library
, vol. 9, p. 48.
The only usually undisputed allusion to Jesus in Josephus is
actually only a passing reference in the context of the trial
of James. James is identified, not as James son of ???? as one
would normally expect but as brother of Jesus. While this
passage is more likely to be authentic than the one above, it is
not without problems. Origen knows and cites this passage, and
is unaware of the 'Testimonium Flavianum' above, providing some
evidence for its presence in the Antiquities before
its Christian reworking. On the other hand, Origen's version
contains the unlikely addition in which Josephus also says that it
is as punishment for the execution of James that Jerusalem and the
temple are destroyed. The possibility suggests itself that even
Origen's Josephus has undergone Christian reworking, simply of a
different variety, in which, perhaps, the insulting Testimonium
has been expunged, and James has been introduced as a pious Jewish
Josephus, Antiquities 20.9.1
Since Ananus was that kind of person, and because he perceived an
opportunity with Festus having died and Albinus not yet arrived, he
called a meeting of the Sanhedrin and brought James, the brother of
Jesus (who is called 'Messiah') along with some others. He accused
them of transgressing the law, and handed them over for stoning.
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