Jerusalem with Jesus ben Ananus, upper right
In Book 20 of his Antiquities, Josephus briefly mentions a man named James who was unlawfully condemned to death in 62 CE, about eight years before the Roman sack of Jerusalem. Josephus says that this James’ brother was named Jesus. In all extant source manuscripts of the Antiquities, that Jesus is said to be “called Christ.” If Josephus wrote that description, then he’d have left us compelling evidence that a historical Jesus of Galilee really existed.
Modern scholars generally accept that Josephus did describe James’ brother as “Jesus called Christ,” largely because Origen wrote that that’s what he’d read in Antiquities. Origen also remembers reading a lot more about this James there, about his character and about God’s pay-back to Jerusalem for the injustice of his death. In fact, however, Josephus tells us almost nothing else about James, not even whether his death sentence was actually carried out, much less claiming divine retribution for it.
Given that Origen misrecalls so much so vividly, what weight should be placed on his recollection of the few words which allegedly identified James’ brother? Two other Jesuses appear in the story that includes the trial incident, a story which makes perfect sense if James’ brother were either of those Jesuses (link).
This post recalls still another Jesus who appeared in Josephus’ first book, The Jewish War. This Jesus is familiar to many because of remarkable parallels between his story and the Gospels’ passion. Let us first consider the merits of his candidacy to be the brother of Antiquities’ James. If it turns out that he wasn’t James’ brother, the tragedy of Jesus ben Ananus still contributes to our understanding of how Origen’s memory so badly scrambled and improved what Josephus wrote about James and his trial.
In the previous installment (link), Origen recalled having read in Josephus’ Antiquities that James, the brother of “Jesus called Christ,” was sentenced to death by stoning. However, Origen says that Josephus wrote much more about this James than what’s in our received Antiquities.
Origen’s testimony has been offered in support that the extant Antiquities is faithful to the original; that Josephus reported the actual existence of a close associate of the Christian Jesus in Josephus’ own time and surroundings. That is, Josephus implicitly vouched for a historically real Jesus, possibly based on a reasonable inference about the associate that Josephus could have made from his own lived experience.
The finding of this post is that Josephus did write some things substantially similar with what Origen recalled, in close proximity to Josephus’ mention of James. However, Josephus was discussing other people and events. Origen conflated Josephus’ actual writings with stories about the Christian martyr James the Just. Thus Origen’s faulty memory made a new non-Christian witness to Christian tradition, much as Jerome’s memory brewed up a new Christian miracle by misremembering an incident from Josephus’ War and mixing it with the Gospel passion (link).
10th Century Lion of Mark
This series (first post here) is about Jesus’ prevision of the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple complex, which is found in Mark 13:2,
Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be left here one stone on another, which will not be thrown down.”
How much support does Mark’s reporting of this statement lend to estimates that Mark’s Gospel was composed after the Romans destroyed those great buildings in 70 CE, rather than sometime before? The question itself is somewhat curious, since Jesus is supposed to have said this in the 30’s.
This post finds that Jesus could easily have said such a thing back then even if he, or whoever first attributed the remark to him, lacked foreknowledge of the disastrous Roman-Jewish War. Jesus wouldn’t necessarily have intended his remark as a personal prediction of a specific near-future (about 40 years) catastrophe. Finally, it isn’t much more or less likely for Mark to have included this remark in his story, depending on whether the Temple was or wasn’t intact when he made his choice.
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.
St Jerome, shown checking some sources more carefully than others
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.
Anubis or his priest, Isis Temple of Pompeii; click to enlarge
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: 188.8.131.52). The other is the famous or notorious Flavian Testimony (184.108.40.206-64),
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.