Josephus and the historical Jesus

To this day, Christian apologists continue to roll out Josephus as Jesus’ great savior from being lost to history completely. In fact, Josephus is the only thread by which they have to hang.

To put it simply, there are no contemporary references to Jesus outside of the Bible. Not one. The only first century account of him came, oddly enough, from Josephus, an observant Jew. Here is the oft-quoted passage from Josephus in context to show how the paragraph in question is most certainly a later edition to the text:

2. But Pilate undertook to bring a current of water to Jerusalem, and did it with the sacred money, and derived the origin of the stream from the distance of two hundred furlongs. However, the Jews (8) were not pleased with what had been done about this water; and many ten thousands of the people got together, and made a clamor against him, and insisted that he should leave off that design. Some of them also used reproaches, and abused the man, as crowds of such people usually do. So he habited a great number of his soldiers in their habit, who carried daggers under their garments, and sent them to a place where they might surround them. So he bid the Jews himself go away; but they boldly casting reproaches upon him, he gave the soldiers that signal which had been beforehand agreed on; who laid upon them much greater blows than Pilate had commanded them, and equally punished those that were tumultuous, and those that were not; nor did they spare them in the least: and since the people were unarmed, and were caught by men prepared for what they were about, there were a great number of them slain by this means, and others of them ran away wounded. And thus an end was put to this sedition.

3. 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 [the] Christ. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, (9) those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; (10) 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.

4. About the same time also another sad calamity put the Jews into disorder, and certain shameful practices happened about the temple of Isis that was at Rome. I will now first take notice of the wicked attempt about the temple of Isis, and will then give an account of the Jewish affairs. … – Antiquities of the Jews, Book XVIII, Chapter 3, Articles 2-4.

Article 3 is obviously the passage that Christians pull out of context and attempt to claim this is evidence for Jesus outside of scripture. First, an observing Jew would not admit that Jesus was the Christ, much less make laudatory comments about him like: there were “ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him.”

Second, notice how Article 2 ends and how Article 4 begins. Skipping Article 3, the text reads, “And thus an end was put to this sedition” to “About the same time another sad calamity put the Jews into disorder.” There was no hint in Article 3 that the coming of Christ was a “calamity.” However, the events in Article 2 describe a number of Jews getting killed and wounded by Pilate’s overzealous soldiers, and if were to jump to Article 4, we read about “another sad calamity.” Article 3 represents an abrupt shift in both tone and content from the other two articles. Thus, Josephus’ “Antiquities” as an account of the historical Jesus falls. The gospels themselves, of course, fall on their own right, but since I have noted that repeatedly on this site, a suggestion to use the search feature to the right will do for now.

For further reading, see: The Testimonium Flavianum Controversy from Antiquity to the Present by Alice Whealey (Berkeley, Calif.).

Here’s a video that explains more about the lack of external sources, including a fuller explanation of the Josephus text above:

About the Author

Jeremy Styron
Jeremy Styron
I am a newspaper editor, op-ed columnist and reporter working in the greater Knoxville area. This is a personal blog. Views expressed here are mine and mine alone.

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