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Josephus on Jesus

    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).

    Greek Version
    Josephus, Antiquities 18.63, probably in a Christian redaction
    Tr. I. H. Feldman, Loeb Classical Library, vol. 9, pp. 49ff.

    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.
    Arabic Version
    Arabic summary, presumably of Antiquities 18.63. 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 themafter his crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.
    R. Eisler’s Reconstruction
    Same text, in a less complementary modern scholarly reconstruction.
    R. Eisler, The Messiah Jesus, (tr. A. H. Krappe), 1931, p. 61. Quoted from the Loeb Classical Library , vol. 9, p. 48.

    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 extinct.

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