Skip to comments.Is This Mention of Jesus a Forgery?
Posted on 03/04/2014 1:45:58 PM PST by NYer
When confronted by skeptics who believe there is no non-Christian evidence for a historical Jesus, apologists often point to the writings of the ancient Jewish historian Josephus. Skeptics may respond by claiming that Josephus never actually mentioned Jesus in his writing.
How can we respond when confronted with this claim?
Who was Josephus?
Josephus was born to a wealthy family in Judea in the year A.D. 37. In the year 66, a national revolt against Rome broke out and Josephus was appointed commander of the insurgent forces in Galilee. The resistance was crushed in the summer of 67, and he was brought before Vespasian, the Roman general charged with suppressing the revolt. Josephus predicted that Vespasian would become emperor one day, and so his life was spared, but he was kept prisoner until two years later when the prophecy came true.
After defecting to the Roman side, Josephus became an advisor to Vespasian's son, Titus. He later recorded Jewish history, especially from the first century.
Does Josephus mention Jesus in any of his writing?
In his historical work Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus writes that the Roman procurator of Judea died suddenly in A.D. 62. During a three month interregnum period, Annas the younger, son of Annas who is mentioned in Luke 3:2, John 18:3, and Acts 4:6, is appointed high priest and orders the stoning of lawbreakers:
[H]e convened a judicial session of the Sanhedrin and brought before it the brother of Jesus the so-called ChristJames by nameand some others, whom he charged with breaking the law and handed them over to be stoned to death. (Josephus, Antiquities, book 20)
This James was probably James the Just, whom St. Paul describes as James, the brother of the Lord (Gal.1:19). An overwhelming majority of scholars believe that this passage is authentic, but there is another mention of Jesus in Antiquities known as the Testimonium Flavianum that many are divided on:
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, 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. (Antiquities, Book 18)
Josephus was certainly not a Christian, and so it is unlikely that he would have used phrases like, if it be lawful to call him a man, or he was the Christ. The majority of scholars of early Judaism and experts on the writings of Josephus believe this was likely touched-up by Christian scribes at a later time. Instead, the passage probably read like this:
Now, there was about this time Jesus, a wise 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. And when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principle men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first ceased not so to do; and the race of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct even now. (J. Klausner, Jesus of Nazareth, pg 55)
How can we answer objections to the Testimonium Flavianum?
Many skeptics will argue that Jospehus actually made no references to Jesus at all, and that both mentions of him were added by Christians. According to them, if the Testimonium Flavianum were removed from the text, the paragraph preceding it and the one after it flow together well. This argument is weak, however, because ancient writers would often wander from their main points. Antiquities itself contains many such digressions.
Another common skeptical claim is that no Christian authors seem to be aware of either passage until early Church historian Eusebius mentions it in the fourth century. For example, second-century theologian Origen quotes Josephus freely in his writing Contra Celsus, but, as atheist Dan Barker writes, [He] never once used this paragraph, which would have been the ultimate ace up his sleeve (Godless, pg 255). Given the nature of the pagan accusations against Jesus (he was born out of wedlock and died shamefully), there is nothing in the shortened version of the Testimonium that would have aided the arguments of the early Christian apologists.
Whether the surviving quotes contain Christian interpolations or not, the scholarly consensus is that Josephus did indeed know something of an obscure teacher named Jesus. What we are left with is a non-Christian account that backs up at least three main points about him: He existed, he started the Christian movement, and he was crucified under Pontius Pilate.
For more information on this topic, check out Trent Horn's new DVD, Why Believe In Jesus?: A Case for the Existence, Divinity and Resurrection of Christ.
On the eve of Passover Jesus was hanged. For forty days before the execution took place, a herald went forth and cried, "He is going forth to be stoned because he has practiced sorcery and enticed Israel to apostasy. Anyone who can say anything in his favor let him come forward and plead on his behalf." But since nothing was brought forward in his favor, he was hanged on the eve of Passover. Ulla retorted: Do you suppose he was one for whom a defense could be made? Was he not a mesith (enticer), concerning whom Scripture says, "Neither shall thou spare nor shall thou conceal him?" With Jesus, however, it was different, for he was connected with the government. (Sanhedrin 43a)
Weren’t there roman records from his being brought before Pilot?
I mean Pilate
“What is Truth?”
- Pontius Pilate to Jesus of Nazareth at the latter’s trial.
There were a great many Roman records that have perished. I believe one or two of the Fathers claim to have seen the census, but I’m not sure if anyone specifically claims to have seen the records from the trial—it wouldn’t surprise me if Luke and possibly some of the other evangelists had.
I have never been made aware of any.
To the Roman mind Jesus was an utterly routine execution.
I believe we have few official Roman records. Most of what we have is from manuscripts that were recopied repeatedly, and tax rolls and such didn’t quality.
Whatever Roman records existed, did not survive to modern times. So Josephus is the oldest non-Christian record we have mentioning Jesus. I agree with the author here: the two statements in Josephus are real, but the second one was expanded by Christian scribes when they copied the manuscripts of Josephus.
In the archives of Rome there is a physical description of Jesus contained in a report written during Jesus lifetime by a Roman, Publius Lentulus, to the Emperor Tiberias. It reads as follows:
There has appeared in Palestine a man who is still living and whose power is extraordinary. He has the title given him of Great Prophet; his disciples call him the Son of God. He raises the dead and heals all sorts of diseases.
He is a tall, well-proportioned man, and there is an air of severity in his countenance which at once attracts the love and reverence of those who see him. His hair is the color of new wine from the roots to the ears, and thence to the shoulders it is curled and falls down to the lowest part of them. Upon the forehead, it parts in two after the manner of Nazarenes.
His forehead is flat and fair, his face without blemish or defect, and adorned with a graceful expression. His nose and mouth are very well proportioned, his beard is thick and the color of his hair. His eyes are grey and extremely lively.
In his reproofs, he is terrible, but in his exhortations and instructions, amiable and courteous. There is something wonderfully charming in this face with a mixture of gravity. He is never seen to laugh, but has been observed to weep. He is very straight in stature, his hands large and spreading, his arms are very beautiful. He talks little, but with a great quality, and is the handsomest man in the world.
It’s reasonable that Pilate would want to appear successful in suppressing unrest in Judea. The fewer episodes of Jewish unrest reported to Rome, the better for Pilate. It wouldn’t surprise me if many such executions went unrecorded.
"Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus, and a most mischievous superstition, thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judæa, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their centre and become popular. Accordingly, an arrest was first made of all who pleaded guilty; then, upon their information, an immense multitude was convicted, not so much of the crime of firing the city, as of hatred against mankind".
The testimonies from hostile sources.
In the case for Christ, the value of evidence, particularly from hostile sources, is tremendous. Hostile sources are considered to be those who were definitely not followers of Christ; i.e., people who clearly were not out to propagate favorable belief in him. The fact that hostile sources cite Christ, as well as cite other New Testament personages and events, is evidence for both the existence of Christ and the general veracity of the Bible.
The important point of hearing the corroborating testimony by non-Christians writing in Christ’s own era, and shortly thereafter, is simply the acknowledgment of Christ’s existence. Naturally, because all of the proceeding testimony comes from people who did not conclude him to be God, it does not deal with Christ as favorably or thoroughly as writings by those who did.
It is also categorically true that proof of Jesus’ divinity will not be found in writings that qualify as hostile. This is because if some ancient writer had seen and confirmed his miracles or realized his fulfillment of prophecy and then recorded “Yes, Christ actually did this or that which his followers speak of”, that writer would no longer be considered hostile by today’s skeptic. Right?
Therefore, only writers who reference Christ offhandedly or in a negative way are sources whom skeptics are likely to accept as neutral observers. Hence we are left with a collection of writings that, though by nature lack clear confirmation of Christ’s deity, do at least confirm he walked the earth for even his enemies to see.
— FLAVIUS JOSEPHUS
Josephus was a Jewish historian who was born around AD 38. He served Roman commander Vespasian in Jerusalem until the city’s destruction in AD 70. Josephus personally believed Vespasian to be Israel’s promised Messiah. When Vespasian later became emperor of Rome, Josephus served under him as court historian. 2 In AD 93, Josephus finished his work Antiquities of the Jews in which at least three passages specifically confirm portions of Scripture:
But to some of the Jews the destruction of Herod’s army seemed to be divine vengeance, and certainly a just vengeance, for his treatment of John, surnamed the Baptist. For Herod had put him to death, though he was a good man and had exhorted the Jews to lead righteous lives, to practice justice towards their fellows and piety towards God, and so doing to join in baptism. 3
...convened the judges of the Sanhedrin and brought before them a man named James, the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ, and certain others. He accused them of having transgressed the law and delivered them up to be stoned. 4
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 them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive;... 5
— PLINIUS SECUNDUS (Pliny the Younger)
Pliny was the governor of Bithynia in Asia Minor. Much of his correspondence has survived including a particular letter written circa AD 112 to the Roman emperor Trajan. This letter does not reference Christ directly, but it does establish several beliefs and practices of early Christians. This includes their loyalty to Christ even when it cost them their lives. Pliny’s letter states:
In the meantime, the method I have observed towards those who have been denounced to me as Christians is this: I interrogated them whether they were in fact Christians; if they confessed it, I repeated the question twice, adding the threat of capital punishment; if they still persevered, I ordered them to be executed.
...They affirmed, however, that the whole of their guilt, or their error, was that they were in the habit of meeting on a certain fixed day before it was light, when they sang in alternate verses a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and bound themselves by a solemn oath, not to perform any wicked deed, never to commit any fraud, theft or adultery, never to falsify their word, nor deny a trust when they should be called upon to make it good; after which it was their custom to separate, and then reassemble to partake of food - but food of an ordinary and innocent kind. 6
— CORNELIUS TACITUS
Tacitus was a senator under Emperor Vespasian and later became governor of Asia. Around AD 116 in his work entitled Annals, he wrote of Emperor Nero and a fire which had swept Rome in AD 64:
Consequently, to get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite tortures on a class hated for their abominations, called Christians by the populace. Christus, from whom the name had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilate, and a most mischievous superstition thus checked for the moment, again broke out not only in Judea, the first source of the evil, but even in Rome... 7
— GAIUS SUETONIUS TRANQUILLAS
Suetonius was a chief secretary to Emperor Hadrian writing around AD 120 in his work Life of Claudius:
Because the Jews at Rome caused continuous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus, he expelled them from the city. 8
Lucian, the Greek satirist, wrote this rather scathing attack in The Death of Peregrine circa AD 170:
The Christians, you know, worship a man to this day - the distinguished personage who introduced their novel rites, and was crucified on that account... You see, these misguided creatures start with the general conviction that they are immortal for all time, which explains the contempt of death and voluntary self-devotion which are so common among them; and then it was impressed upon them by their original lawgiver that they are all brothers, from the moment that they are converted, and deny the gods of Greece, and worship the crucified sage, and live after his laws. 9
— THE TALMUD
The Talmud is essentially the collection of Jewish oral traditions that were put into writing with additional commentary between the years of AD 70 and 200. From the Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 43a includes:
On the eve of Passover they hanged Yeshu. And an announcer went out, in front of him, for forty days (saying): ‘He is going to be stoned because he practiced sorcery and enticed and led Israel astray. Anyone who knows anything in his favor, let him come and plead in his behalf.’ But, not having found anything in his favor, they hanged him on the eve of the Passover. 10
The facts in this passage are somewhat difficult to assimilate. Although Yeshu is referring to Jesus, the announcement that he was to be stoned (a lethal punishment) is followed by the statement that he was hanged (crucified). One possible explanation is that the Jewish leadership’s call for his stoning preceded his eventual arrest by at least those forty days. This would be consistent with Scripture’s accounts of his numerous near-stonings (John 10:31-33, 11:8).
Jesus’ death by crucifixion may have then just been a matter of Roman involvement in the affair. Perhaps it is more likely that his sudden crucifixion (which immediately followed his arrest and dubious midnight trial) was gladly allowed by the Jewish leaders to pre-empt the normal forty day holding period for a condemned man. The leaders may have feared that, during this time, Jesus’ followers might have been able to organize his release or stir up an outcry against them.
- Blaise Pascal
The Testimonium is quite obviously altered, at the least. It’s a shame that some unscrupulous people went and did that, because it casts doubt on whatever might have been mentioned about Christ in the text before the alterations.
Yes, but most consider that to be a spurious document as well, and for good reason.
In the introduction to the Gospel According to Luke, the writer says:
The writings of the early Christians are also valid testimonies to the existence of Jesus Christ as well as the things He taught and did. The books that make up the New Testament in the Bible were all written during the first century and, had they been contrived or invented, those that were eyewitnesses to what Luke and the others tell would have been disputed also in that first century. Jesus, His Apostles and disciples had plenty of enemies (the Jewish religious leaders and the Romans) and they were perfectly capable of writing rebuttals to whatever was told had they been false. I think that the absence of these kinds of writings - or their scarcity - is also a good testimony for the existence of Jesus.
Publius Lentulus appears to have been a consul: “[In the consulship of Marcus Vinicius and Quintius Lucrecius (19 BC)] and later in that of Publius Lentulus and Gnaeus L[entulus (18 BC) and a third time in that of Paullus Fabius Maximus and Quintus Tubero (11 BC) the senate and the Roman people agreed] that [I should be made sole guardian of the laws and morals with the highest authority, but I did not accept any magistracy, though offered, which was contrary to the custome of our ancestors.” Robert Kenneth Sherk (editor and translator), The Roman Empire: Augustus to Hadrian, page 43 (Translated documents of Greece & Rome 6, Cambridge University Press, 1988)
FRiend, in this world, many are out to destroy belief in Jesus. When we quote things that even those with greater knowledge (I would presume) of history and archaeology believe are false, it does a disservice to our battle. Unfortunately, many early saints added, changed, adjusted massaged or outright faked letters, in an effort to promote Jesus and the belief in Him. That gives today's deniers of Jesus more ammunition. We need to be 'be wise as serpents and innocent as doves' when we present evidence for our faith.
Though perhaps thought spurious, due to the fact that - “No Governor of Jerusalem; no Procurator of Judea is known to have been called Lentulus.” But Lentulus was a consul it appears, so he need not be either a notable Governor nor Procurator within the province to provide such information to Tiberias - as the consul (likely a suffect consul) the office would have been held for perhaps a half years time in those days.
That book was translated into Syriac, and that particular passage was basically untouched for hundreds of years. The differences are striking, such as it saying “he was perhaps the Messiah”.
Which manuscript source did you use above?