What if Josephus did write something about Jesus? It would likely have resembled a short mention that Tacitus wrote two decades afterward that explained why Christians are called that. This estimate stems from a Tenth Century Arabic language report of a different version of Josephus’ Testimony.
Monthly Archives: March 2016
The ancient Christian historian and saint Jerome (347-420) was an early translator of the received version of Josephus’ Testimony of Jesus and a commentator on Josephus’ treatment of James the Just. Jerome wrote the following from Bethlehem to a Roman widow in 386 (Letters 46.4).
…it (Jerusalem) has been stained by the blood of the Lord. Now, therefore, its guardian angels have forsaken it and the grace of Christ has been withdrawn. Josephus, himself a Jewish writer, asserts that at the Lord’s crucifixion there broke from the temple voices of heavenly powers, saying: “Let us depart hence.”
Jerome is right that Josephus had written about that incident, but Josephus reported that it happened sometime in the 60’s of the First Century, a few years before the sack of Jerusalem, about a generation after the crucifixion is said to have happened. For Josephus, the voices in the Jewish Temple were an omen of the catastrophe that befell Jerusalem soon afterwards.
Whether or not he ever realized his mistake, Jerome frankly Christianized a Jewish miracle. He managed this feat not because of what any text said, but in spite of what two well-known texts said, one of which he cited. Jerome simply misremembered something he’d read in a way that suited his purpose. Jerome thus created a new text, along with a new Jewish witness to a crucial Christian teaching, that Jesus’ death was accompanied by signs of his divinity.
Last January, the nine year-old open-access online science journal PLOS ONE published an article about the biomechanics of the human hand. The article admired the design skill of “the Creator.”
When this anomalous intrusion of religious doctrine into scientific publishing was recently widely noticed, PLOS ONE retracted the article.
Initial appearances were that this might be another creationist exploit against an insufficiently vigilant mainstream scientific publisher. In reality, the problem was more fundamental. English is the world’s leading second language, and the language of choice for many academics. Inevitably, much is written and published in English that is composed by people who aren’t native speakers.
The two earliest non-Christian mentions of Jesus appear to be in the Jewish Antiquities by Flavius Josephus, written about 93 CE. One is a parenthetical note that a man named James is a brother of “Jesus called Christ” (Book 20, Whiston’s chapter 9, section 1, Loeb edition section 200; or for short: 126.96.36.199). The other is the famous or notorious Flavian Testimony (188.8.131.52-64),
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 Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst 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 at this day.
The authenticity of both items is disputed.
In the version of Antiquities we now have, what immediately follows the Testimony is The Seduction of Paulina, a bawdy farce with a tragic twist, set in Rome and featuring no Jewish characters. It reads as if it had been channeled from the future pages of Boccaccio, who actually did include this very tale in his Famous Women. The finding of this post is that the generously lengthy sex romp and the brief remarks about the fate of thousands of Roman Jews that follows it belong together at the end of the second chapter of Antiquities book 18, not at the end of the third chapter where they are now found.
Correct location of the two Roman stories defuses a typical argument against the authenticity of the Testimony. However, The Seduction of Paulina may well be fictitious, and may not be Josephus’ work. These concerns affect the evidentiary value of the Testimony and the identification of James.