Rameus On the Testimonium Flavianum
by Rameus A.
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 wouldn’t, 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: “It’s possible, and you can’t 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:
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:
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:
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):
Let us conclude with a brief summary of my analysis: