Goldberg and Carlson on the Testimonium Flavianum.

Did Luke and Tacitus know this famous Josephan passage?


Introduction.

The great Jewish historian Flavius Josephus wrote his sprawling opus, Antiquities of the Jews, for a Greco-Roman readership interested in Jewish lore. He finished it in the thirteenth year of Domitian, our year 93. The twenty books of this important work span the history of the Jewish world from the creation to just before the outbreak of the Jewish war with Rome. As his account passes through that part of history in which Jesus of Nazareth flourished and was executed, the modern reader might well expect a passing mention of the founder of Christianity, or perhaps of some of his followers.

And Josephus does not disappoint.

Our extant manuscripts of the Antiquities contain a paragraph at 18.3.3 §63-64 dedicated to Jesus and the movement that refused to die after his death:

Γινεται δε κατα τουτον τον χρονον Ιησους, σοφος ανηρ, ειγε ανδρα αυτον λεγειν χρη· ην γαρ παραδοξων εργων ποιητης, διδασκαλος ανθρωπων των ηδονη ταληθη δεχομενων, και πολλους μεν Ιουδαιους, πολλους δε και του Ελληνικου επηγαγετο· ο Χριστος ουτος ην. και αυτον ενδειξει των πρωτων ανδρων παρ ημιν σταυρω επιτετιμηκοτος Πιλατου ουκ επαυσαντο οι το πρωτον αγαπησαντες· εφανη γαρ αυτοις τριτην εχων ημεραν παλιν ζων των θειων προφητων ταυτα τε και αλλα μυρια περι αυτου θαυμασια ειρηκοτων. εις ετι τε νυν των Χριστιανων απο τουδε ωνομασμενον ουκ επελιπε το φυλον.

And there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if indeed it is necessary to call him a man, for he was a doer of paradoxical works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure and many Jews on the one hand and also many of the Greeks on the other he drew to himself. This man was the Christ. And when, on the accusation of some of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first loved him did not cease to do so. For he appeared to them on the third day, living again, the divine prophets having related both these things and countless other marvels about him. And even till now the tribe of Christians, so named from this man, has not gone extinct.

A more detailed presentation of the text of this passage, along with various patristic references to it, is available.

Such a paragraph is exactly what the historian of early Christianity would be hoping for, a reference to Jesus from someone other than a Christian. So important is this paragraph that scholars have bestowed upon it a special name, the Testimonium Flavianum, or testimony of Flavius (Josephus). I will simply call it the Testimonium.

But there is a problem. More than one problem, really. There are several phrases that sound suspiciously like something other than what a Jewish historian would have written. The problem, then, is that virtually nobody believes that Josephus really wrote that Jesus was more than a man, that he was in fact the Christ, and that he rose from the dead on the third day. Many also do not believe that Josephus wrote of his miracles, of the truth of his teachings, and of the messianic prophecies pointing to Jesus as the Christ. Josephus nowhere else drops a hint that he was actually a Christian, nowhere states, like Agrippa, that he was almost persuaded to become one (Acts 26.28). How could a Jew who was not a Christian write such things?

Three basic solutions suggest themselves:

  1. Josephus wrote the passage as it stands, and was in fact a covert Christian of some kind.
  2. Josephus wrote something about Jesus at this point in the text, but Christian scribes later embellished it with Christian phrases.
  3. Josephus wrote nothing about Jesus at this point in the text, and the entire paragraph is a Christian interpolation.

The first option seems rather unlikely. It is indeed the inherent unlikelihood of Josephus having written the passage as it stands that has prompted the other solutions. The third option is especially popular amongst Jesus-mythicists. But it is the second option that has really commanded the field of late.

In 1991 J. P. Meier, in volume 1 of his landmark series A Marginal Jew, defended a variant of the second solution; he argued that exactly three phrases are later Christian interpolations. Josephus did not write them; an overly enthusiastic Christian scribe did, and the additions were picked up in later copies. I offer the passage again, but with the three Christian phrases boldfaced:

Γινεται δε κατα τουτον τον χρονον Ιησους, σοφος ανηρ, [ειγε ανδρα αυτον λεγειν χρη·] ην γαρ παραδοξων εργων ποιητης, διδασκαλος ανθρωπων των ηδονη ταληθη δεχομενων, και πολλους μεν Ιουδαιους, πολλους δε και του Ελληνικου επηγαγετο· [ο Χριστος ουτος ην.] και αυτον ενδειξει των πρωτων ανδρων παρ ημιν σταυρω επιτετιμηκοτος Πιλατου ουκ επαυσαντο οι το πρωτον αγαπησαντες· [εφανη γαρ αυτοις τριτην εχων ημεραν παλιν ζων των θειων προφητων ταυτα τε και αλλα μυρια περι αυτου θαυμασια ειρηκοτων.] εις ετι τε νυν των Χριστιανων απο τουδε ωνομασμενον ουκ επελιπε το φυλον.

And there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, [if indeed it is necessary to call him a man,] for he was a doer of paradoxical works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure and many Jews on the one hand and also many of the Greeks on the other he drew to himself. [This man was the Christ.] And when, on the accusation of some of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first loved him did not cease to do so. [For he appeared to them on the third day, living again, the divine prophets having related both these things and countless other marvels about him.] And even till now the tribe of Christians, so named from this man, has not gone extinct.

According to Meier, Josephus himself actually wrote only what remains after excising the three offending statements:

Γινεται δε κατα τουτον τον χρονον Ιησους, σοφος ανηρ, ην γαρ παραδοξων εργων ποιητης, διδασκαλος ανθρωπων των ηδονη ταληθη δεχομενων, και πολλους μεν Ιουδαιους, πολλους δε και του Ελληνικου επηγαγετο· και αυτον ενδειξει των πρωτων ανδρων παρ ημιν σταυρω επιτετιμηκοτος Πιλατου ουκ επαυσαντο οι το πρωτον αγαπησαντες· εις ετι τε νυν των Χριστιανων απο τουδε ωνομασμενον ουκ επελιπε το φυλον.

And there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, for he was a doer of paradoxical works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure, and many Jews on the one hand and also many of the Greeks on the other he drew to himself. And when, on the accusation of some of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first loved him did not cease to do so. And even till now the tribe of Christians, so named from this man, has not gone extinct.

This proposal has won many adherents and seems most cogent and rational. It must be emphasized, however, that it is only cogent and rational. It was arrived at without the benefit of textual evidence. The method used to arrive at this conclusion was simply to stare at the paragraph for a long time, then cut out what does not look like what a Jewish historian would have written. (Rather like my uncle, a wood-carver, telling me how to carve a duck out of a block of wood: Just cut out everything that does not look like a duck.)

I am a great believer in approaching problems from a textual perspective. I will therefore present two pieces of textual evidence for what the Testimonium might well have looked like after Josephus laid down his pen, one of which Meier was not aware of when he wrote, the other of which he briefly considered, but rejected. Both pieces of evidence are based on the apparent intertextuality of the Testimonium with other early texts. The first text is Christian, the second pagan.

This treatment will by no means be complete in a scholarly sense. It is no monograph. And the literature on the Testimonium is immense. I will especially be keeping my eye on the three phrases that Meier has identified as the main impediments to Josephan authorship of the passage. But my express goal at this stage is no more than to present two examples of intertextuality.

I myself discovered neither of these textual relationships. I am presenting (and of course linking to) the work and ingenuity of others. My purpose here is, not at all to supercede their efforts, but rather to present the pertinent texts in their original languages.

The translations are my own, but always with an eye to other current translations. Mine will not necessarily sound very smooth. I am trying to preserve as much of the original syntax and word selection as possible so as to better compare the relevant passages.

Refer also to my analysis of the Testimonium and a response by Ken Olson.

The Lucan connection.

G. J. Goldberg, on his Flavius Josephus Homepage, lays out an intriguing hypothesis (.pdf file) of the interrelationship of the Testimonium to a passage in the gospel of Luke. Goldberg argues that both the Testimonium and Luke 24.18-21, 25-27, a split passage from the story of the road to Emmaus, go back to a common creedal source amongst the early Christians, and he demonstrates the relationship in synoptic tabular fashion. He then goes on to use this finding as evidence in the matter of the alleged interpolations in the Josephan passage.

In the table below, I have boldfaced the most distinct parallels. Two things must be kept in mind. First, the parallels are usually not verbatim; they are synonymous and thematic. Second, the parallelism extends to more than mere verbal connections; both passages run alongside each other neck and neck, with the same narrative flow and logic:

Josephus, Antiquities 18.3.3 §63-64. Luke 24.18-21, [25-27].
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
Γινεται δε κατα τουτον τον χρονον
Ιησους,
σοφος ανηρ,
ειγε ανδρα αυτον λεγειν χρη·
ην γαρ παραδοξων εργων ποιητης,
διδασκαλος
ανθρωπων των ηδονη ταληθη δεχομενων,
και πολλους μεν Ιουδαιουςπολλους
δε και του Ελληνικου επηγαγετο·
ο Χριστος ουτος ην.
και αυτον ενδειξει
των πρωτων ανδρων παρ ημιν
σταυρω
επιτετιμηκοτος Πιλατου
ουκ επαυσαντο
οι το πρωτον αγαπησαντες·
 
 
εφανη γαρ αυτοις
τριτην εχων ημεραν
 
 
παλιν ζων,
 
 
των θειων προφητων
ταυτα
 
τε και αλλα μυρια
 
 
 
περι αυτου
θαυμασια ειρηκοτων. εις ετι τε νυν
των Χριστιανων απο τουδε
ωνομασμενον ουκ επελιπε το φυλον.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
And there was about this time
Jesus,
a wise man,
if indeed it is necessary to call him a man,
for he was a doer of paradoxical works,
a teacher
of such men as receive the truth with pleasure
and many Jews on the one hand and also many
of the Greeks
on the other he drew to himself.
This man was the Christ.
And when, on the accusation
of some of the principal men among us
,
Pilate had condemned him
to a cross,
those who had first loved him

did not cease to do so,
 
 
for he appeared to them
having the third day,
 
 
living again,
 
 
the divine prophets
 
both these things
and countless other marvels
 
 
 
about him

having related. And even till now
the tribe of Christians,
so named from this man,
has not gone extinct.
Αποκριθεις δε εις ονοματι
Κλεοπας ειπεν προς αυτον·
Συ μονος παροικεις Ιερουσαλημ
και ουκ εγνως τα γενομενα εν αυτη
εν ταις ημεραις ταυταις;
και ειπεν αυτοις· Ποια;
οι δε ειπαν αυτω·
 
Τα περι Ιησου του Ναζαρηνου,
ος εγενετο ανηρ προφητης
 
δυνατος εν εργω
και λογω
εναντιον του θεου
και παντος
του λαου
,
 
οπως τε παρεδωκαν αυτον
οι αρχιερεις και οι αρχοντες ημων
εις κριμα θανατου
και εσταυρωσαν αυτον
.
 
ημεις δε ηλπιζομεν οτι αυτος εστιν
ο μελλων λυτρουσθαι τον Ισραηλ,
αλλα γε και συν πασιν τουτοις
 
τριτην ταυτην ημεραν αγει
αφ ου ταυτα εγενετο.
 
[Και αυτος ειπεν προς αυτους·
Ω ανοητοι και βραδεις τη καρδια
του πιστευειν επι πασιν
οις λαλησαν οι προφηται.
ουχι ταυτα
εδει παθειν τον Χριστον
και εισελθειν εις την δοξαν αυτου;
και αρξαμενος απο Μωυσεως και απο
παντων των προφητων διερμηνευσεν
αυτοις εν πασαις ταις γραφαις
τα περι εαυτου.]  
 
 
 

And one answered, Cleopas
by name, and said to him:
Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem
without knowing the things that have happened
in it these days?
And he said to them: Which things?
And they said to him:
 
The things about Jesus the Nazarene,
who became a prophet-man
 
mighty in work
and word

before God
and all
the people
,
 
and how our chief priests and rulers
delivered him
to a judgment of death
and crucified him
.
But we were hoping that it was he
 
who was about to redeem Israel,
but indeed, along with all these things,
 
it is now the third day
since these things happened.
 
[And he himself said to them:
O fools, and slow of heart
to believe upon all the things
that the prophets said!
Was it not necessary
for the Christ to suffer these things
and enter into his glory?
And, beginning from Moses and from
all the prophets he interpreted
to them in all the scriptures
the things written about himself.]

Readers accustomed to synopses of Matthew, Mark, and Luke may be disappointed at the relative paucity of verbatim interplay in the passage, but ancient historians often liked to rewrite their sources, not following them slavishly, as Josephus himself affirms in his Wars of the Jews, preface 5 (translation modified from William Whiston):

Φιλοπονος δε ουχ ο μεταποιων οικονομιαν και ταξιν αλλοτριαν, αλλ ο μετα του καινα λεγειν και το σωμα της ιστοριας κατασκευαζων ιδιον.

Now he is not to be esteemed to have taken good pains in earnest who does no more than change the disposition and order of the works of other men, but rather he who not only relates what had not been related before but composes an entire body of history of his own.

The synoptic problem is actually notable in that the synoptic authors often did much less rephrasing than other writers of antiquity, perhaps more after the manner of what Pliny describes in Natural History 1.21-22a (translation slightly modified from that by Bostock and Riley):

Argumentum huius stomachi mei habebis quod in his voluminibus auctorum nomina praetexui. est enim benignum, ut arbitror, et plenum ingenui pudoris fateri per quos profeceris, non ut plerique ex iis, quos attigi, fecerunt.

You may judge of my taste from my having inserted, in the beginning of my book, the names of the authors that I have consulted. For I consider it to be courteous and to indicate an ingenuous modesty, to acknowledge the sources whence we have derived assistance, and not to act as most of those have done whom I have examined.

Scito enim conferentem auctores me deprehendisse a iuratissimis ex proximis veteres transcriptos ad verbum neque nominatos, non illa Vergiliana virtute, ut certarent, non Tulliana simplicitate, qui de re publica Platonis se comitem profitetur, in consolatione filiae Crantorem, inquit, sequor, item Panaetium de officiis, quae volumina ediscenda, non modo in manibus cotidie habenda, nosti.

For I must inform you that, in comparing various authors with each other, I have discovered that some of the most grave and of the latest writers have transcribed, word for word, from former works, without making any acknowledgement, not avowedly rivalling them, in the manner of Virgil, or with the candor of Cicero, who, in his treatise On the Republic professes to coincide in opinion with Plato, and in his Essay on Consolation for his Daughter says that he follows Crantor, and in his Offices Panaecius, volumes which, as you well know, ought not merely to be always in our hands, but to be learned by heart.

What is notable is the sheer volume of thematic contacts between these Lucan and Josephan, and the fact that they come in virtually the same sequence throughout (with only one exception):

  1. Both Josephus and Luke begin by naming the man Jesus.
     
  2. Josephus now turns to our first controversial phrase, ειγε ανδρα αυτον λεγειν χρη (if indeed it is necessary to call him a man), for which, interestingly, there is no parallel in Luke. But then both Josephus and Luke discuss the works of Jesus, his εργα. Josephus calls him a doer of paradoxical works, while Luke calls him mighty in work.
     
  3. Josephus calls Jesus a teacher, while Luke calls him mighty in word as well as in work.
     
  4. Josephus says that Jesus attracted many Jews and Greeks to him. Luke simply writes of all the people. But both are referring to those who followed him before his death.
     
  5. Josephus now calls Jesus the Christ (ο Χριστος ουτος ην), our second controversial phrase. Luke does have a parallel to this one, but not here. It comes later in the passage.
     
  6. The next sentences in both Josephus and Luke contain the densest parallels. Both works now turn to the crucifixion of Jesus after having been handed over by the Jewish authorities.
     
  7. Both Josephus and Luke now write of his followers again, this time those who followed him after his death. The former writes of those who had first loved him, the latter of those who had hoped that he would redeem Israel.
     
  8. Both Josephus and Luke have the third day in the accusative, a rarity in Christian literature, which usually expresses the third day as the object of a preposition. The third day begins, appropriately enough, our third controversial passage, and note that, unlike the first, the third has parallels in Luke.
     
  9. Both Josephus and Luke write of these things that the prophets have foretold. Josephus adds the countless other marvels foretold of Jesus. Luke adds the part about coming into his glory.
     
  10. Luke at this point writes of the Christ, the misplaced parallel to our second controversial passage.
     
  11. Both passages now come to a nearly identical prepositional phrase revealing whom the prophetic or scriptural passages were pointing to: They were writing about him, about Jesus.

From this broad outline, as well as several other considerations that Goldberg mulls over in detail, it becomes apparent that there is some kind of literary relationship between Josephus and Luke at this juncture. Either Josephus has drawn from Luke, or Luke from Josephus, or both from some lost early Christian statement about Jesus.

Goldberg himself argues for the third option, but the direction of literary borrowing is not my main concern here.

And what of our three controversial passages, the three that Meier excludes in his reconstruction of the original text?

  1. The first phrase, ειγε ανδρα αυτον λεγειν χρη (if indeed it is necessary to call him a man), enjoys no support from Luke at all.
     
  2. The second phrase, ο Χριστος ουτος ην (this man was the Christ), is supported in Luke, but later in the passage. This parallel, in fact, is the only one out of sequence between the two passages.
     
  3. The third phrase, εφανη γαρ αυτοις τριτην εχων ημεραν παλιν ζων των θειων προφητων ταυτα τε και αλλα μυρια περι αυτου θαυμασια ειρηκοτων (for he appeared to them on the third day, living again, the divine prophets having related both these things and countless other marvels about him), enjoys substantive support from the Lucan passage, and in sequence.

One other item of interest. Josephus has Jesus himself drawing in many gentiles along with Jews, in contrast with the available Christian sources about Jesus, which portray his mission as to Jews almost to the exclusion of gentiles. How might Josephus have come to make this mistake? Perhaps he was merely thinking of the state of affairs in his own day, well after the early Pauline and other gentile missions had turned the churches into mixed congregations. He simply assumed that it had been that way from the beginning.

The Tacitean connection.

Stephen Carlson, in one of his weblogs, proposes a connection between the Testimonium of Josephus and another justly famous passage in the Annals of the Roman historian Tacitus.

Carlson begins by noting that Tacitus, who flourished in the first quarter of the second century, could easily have had access to the Antiquities of Josephus:

Josephus was known within imperial circles, having obtained a gift of land from Vespasian, traveled with Titus, and obtained favorable rulings from Domitian. Thus, the history was available to officials in the imperial government, and a good place to look for another witness to Josephus's Testimonium is someone with access to imperial materials.

He goes on to point out that the other Tacitean historical work, the Histories, repeats the Josephan claim that the Jewish scriptures pointed, not to a native Jewish messiah, but rather to Vespasian (Tacitus adds Titus as well), an interpretation for which Josephus appears to claim credit. Compare Tacitus, Histories 5.13.2 with Josephus, Wars of the Jews 6.5.4 §312-313 (confer 3.8.3 §350-354; 3.8.9 §399-404).

Tacitus, in other words, had probably read Josephus, a probability which will be important to remember while reading the passage in question. From Tacitus, Annals 15.44, writing of the Christians that Nero blamed for the Roman fire:

Auctor nominis eius Christus Tiberio imperitante per procuratorem Pontium Pilatum supplicio adfectus erat; repressaque in praesens exitiabilis superstitio rursum erumpebat, non modo per Iudaeam, originem eius mali, sed per urbem etiam, quo cuncta undique atrocia aut pudenda confluunt celebranturque.

Christus, from whom the name derived, while Tiberius was emperor suffered at the hands of the procurator Pontius Pilate the death sentence, and, suppressed for the moment, the harmful superstition broke out again, not only in Judea, the place of origin for the evil, but even in the city in which all kinds of atrocious or shameful things from everywhere converge and come into vogue.

Carlson derives virtually every detail in Tacitus from the Testimonium of Josephus, emphasizing that the standard by which to judge the parallels must not be outright literary dependence:

However, literary dependence is a very high standard, almost akin to finding plagiarism, but this level is inappropriately strict for identifying the sources of historians who rewrite their source material.

For it is often urged that Tacitus must have gotten his information about the origins of Christianity from an otherwise unknown source. The synoptic table below, however, will demonstrate the distinct possibility of what Carlson proposes, that Tacitus learned about Christian origins from Josephus:

Tacitus, Annals 15.44.
Continuous text.
Josephus, Antiquities 18.3.3 §63-64.
Noncontinous text.
 
 
Auctor nominis eius
 
Christus
 
Tiberio imperitante

per procuratorem Pontium Pilatum
supplicio adfectus erat
;
 
repressaque in praesens
 
 
exitiabilis superstitio
 
 
rursum erumpebat,
 
non modo per Iudaeam,
originem eius mali,
 
sed per urbem etiam
quo cuncta undique atrocia
aut pudenda confluunt celebranturque.

Christus,
 
 
from whom the name derived,
 
while Tiberius was emperor
 
suffered at the hands of the procurator Pontius Pilate
the death sentence,
 
and, suppressed for the moment,
 
 
the harmful superstition
 
broke out again,
 
 
not only in Judea,
the place of origin for the evil,
 
but even in the city
in which all kinds of atrocious or shameful things
from everywhere converge and come into vogue.
...των Χριστιανων απο τουδε
ωνομασμενον... το φυλον....
 
....ο Χριστος ουτος ην....
 
...κατα τουτον τον χρονον....
 
...σταυρω επιτετιμηκοτος
Πιλατου
....
 
...ουκ επαυσαντο οι το πρωτον
αγαπησαντες....
 
...διδασκαλος ανθρωπων των ηδονη
ταληθη δεχομενων
....
 
...εις ετι τε νυν... ουκ επελιπε....
 
...και πολλους μεν Ιουδαιους,
 
 
πολλους δε και του Ελληνικου
επηγαγετο....  
 

...this man was the Christ....
 
...and the tribe of Christians,
so named from this man....
 
...at this time....
 
...when Pilate had condemned him
to a cross....
 
...those who had first loved him
did not cease to do so....
 
...a teacher of such men as receive
the truth with pleasure
....
 
...and even till now it has not gone extinct....
 
 
...and many Jews on the one hand....
 
 
...and also many of the Greeks on the other hand
he drew to himself....

Again the parallels are numerous, though this time not in the same sequence. Yet the lack of sequence, on its own not very surprising given the Tacitean style, is more than made up for by the almost certain connection between Tacitus and the works of Josephus in the first place. Was Josephus available to Tacitus? Most certainly. Did Tacitus read Josephus? Most probably, given the similar comments on Vespasian as the fulfillment of Jewish prophecy. Did, then, Tacitus derive his paragraph on Christian origins from that of Josephus? I think it quite likely.

Carlson points out that, while the Testimonium itself does not name Tiberius as emperor at the time, the entire context does so some 75 times. Also, the Testimonium itself names the Roman leader as Pilate, but he is called Pontius Pilate, as in Tacitus, near enough at hand, in section 55 of the same book of the Antiquities.

In that section Josephus does not give Pilate a specific title, but only the vague ηγεμων (leader), which circumstance gives Carlson pause regarding the famous Tacitean mistake in calling Pilate procurator instead of prefect, his actual office:

Even more significant, the use of Josephus explains the erroneous title for Pontius Pilate. The Greek term Josephus used (η̒γεμών) was non-specific, and Tacitus had to guess (and guess incorrectly) what Pilate's Latin title would have been.

I have noted that the agreements between Josephus and Tacitus are not sequential, at least not detail for detail. John Dominic Crossan, however, on pages 8-14 of The Birth of Christianity, sifts out four broad sequential correspondences between the pertinent text of Josephus and that of Tacitus, though apparently treating them as independent witnesses to the historical Jesus. His four phases are movement, execution, continuation, and expansion, in that order, as the table below lays out:

Josephus. Tacitus.
 
Movement.
Γινεται δε κατα τουτον τον χρονον
Ιησους, σοφος ανηρ,
ειγε ανδρα αυτον λεγειν χρη·
ην γαρ παραδοξων εργων ποιητης,
διδασκαλος ανθρωπων των ηδονη
ταληθη δεχομενων,
και πολλους μεν Ιουδαιους,
πολλους δε και του
Ελληνικου επηγαγετο·
ο Χριστος ουτος ην.
Execution.
Και αυτον ενδειξει
των πρωτων ανδρων
παρ ημιν σταυρω
επιτετιμηκοτος Πιλατου....
Continuation.
...ουκ επαυσαντο οι το πρωτον
αγαπησαντες· εφανη γαρ αυτοις
τριτην εχων ημεραν παλιν ζων
των θειων προφητων ταυτα τε
και αλλα μυρια περι αυτου
θαυμασια ειρηκοτων.
Expansion.
Εις ετι τε νυν των Χριστιανων
απο τουδε ωνομασμενον
ουκ επελιπε το φυλον.
Movement.
Auctor nominis eius Christus
Tiberio imperitante....
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
Execution.
...per procuratorem
Pontium Pilatum
supplicio adfectus erat....
 
Continuation.
...repressaque in praesens exitiabilis
superstitio rursum erumpebat....
 
 
 
 
Expansion.
...non modo per Iudaeam,
originem eius mali,
sed per urbem etiam
quo cuncta undique atrocia aut
pudenda confluunt celebranturque.

I would regard the expansion as the weakest link in the chain, since it is explicit in Tacitus (with Christianity having reached the capital all the way from Judea), but at best only implicit in Josephus (with Christianity merely not having died out yet). Nevertheless, the structural similarity is sufficiently striking to help confirm the thesis that Carlson advances.

So what of our three controversial Josephan phrases as Meier has identified them? How do they fare in Tacitus?

  1. The first phrase, ειγε ανδρα αυτον λεγειν χρη (if indeed it is necessary to call him a man), was not in Luke, and is also missing in Tacitus.
     
  2. The second phrase, ο Χριστος ουτος ην (this man was the Christ), was supported in Luke, but later in the sequence than in Josephus, and also finds a measure of support in that Tacitus names the founder of the superstition Christus.
     
  3. The third phrase, εφανη γαρ αυτοις τριτην εχων ημεραν παλιν ζων των θειων προφητων ταυτα τε και αλλα μυρια περι αυτου θαυμασια ειρηκοτων (for he appeared to them on the third day, living again, the divine prophets having related both these things and countless other marvels about him), is not found in Tacitus. One wonders whether Tacitus would have been likely to mention the actual detailed content of the exitiabilis superstitio even if he did find it in his copy of the Antiquities.

I might make mention of a patristic text that is often brought into play regarding the second controversial phrase, ο Χριστος ουτος ην (he was the Christ). Origen, in Against Celsus 1.47, claims that Josephus did not believe in Jesus as the Christ (απιστων τω Ιησου ως Χριστω). He repeats this claim in his commentary on Matthew (10.17, ...Ιησουν... ου καταδεξαμενος ειναι Χριστον, ...[Josephus] not having accepted... Jesus... to be the Christ). (Both texts are taken from Gerd Theissen, The Historical Jesus, page 68.)

I regard this statement from Origen as quite secure evidence against the second controversial phrase standing in the Josephan text as it is. It also comes down hard on the (now antiquated) belief that Josephus was a Christian.

However, a very different argument is sometimes put forward based on these remarks from Origen in favor of Josephus having written something about Jesus being the Christ at this point, but not as bluntly and glowingly as we now have it in the extant text. After all, the reasoning goes, how did Origen know that Josephus did not regard Jesus as the messiah (the Christ) if Josephus never mentioned Jesus in conjunction with the Christ? Surely Josephus must have written, at least, that Jesus was believed to be the Christ, and Origen read between the lines.

This line of reasoning for some mention of the Christ in Josephus seems weak to me. I think that a careful reading of Wars 6.5.4 §312-313 could have revealed to Origen that Josephus was tagging Vespasian as the messiah, thus ruling out all other candidates, including Jesus of Nazareth. Granted, if Josephus did make some mention of the messiah in the Testimonium in a way that did not point to a belief that Jesus filled the role, Origen stands explained. But I do not think at present that the evidence from Origen requires such a reference in our Josephan text.

Better is the argument that Josephus must have mentioned the Christ in the Testimonium because he concludes the paragraph with the statement that the Christians were named after Jesus, a statement which would make more sense if Josephus had already clued his readers in to the fact that Christians called Jesus the Christ. Perhaps, on the other hand, Josephus simply assumed that his readers would not need such an explicit connection made for them. Both Tacitus and Suetonius testify to an early Christian presence in Rome, solidly confirmed by the epistle of Paul to the church in Rome. Furthermore, Pliny, writing in Asia Minor, thrice casually calls the divine founder of the sect Christ, as if it were a personal name instead of an eschatological title. It may well be, then, that by the time of Josephus it was already common knowledge in the capital city that the crucified god worshipped by the despised Christians was called Christ.

All in all, I think that the best evidence for or against the inclusion of a statement about Christ in the original Testimonium would come from the kind of intertextual observations that this essay is pointing up.

Turning back to our three controversial phrases as Meier would have them, I wish to outline the support for each from our three potential sources, to wit, (A) the received text of Josephus, (B) the Lucan account of the road to Emmaus, and (C) the Tacitean account of the Christians in Rome.

Our first phrase is found only in the received text of Josephus. It receives no support at all from either of our other witnesses. If these textual parallels mean anything at all, then, it seems unlikely that it is original to Antiquities 18.3.3.

Our second phrase is found in all three of our witnesses, though in three different positions (one of which, that of Tacitus, is probative of nothing given that he does not follow the same sequence as Josephus and Luke). If it was original to the passage, however, I insist that it must have originally been less blunt than it now is in our copies of Josephus. The position that Josephus was a closet Christian seems untenable to me.

Our third phrase is found in the received text of Josephus, as well as in Luke. It is missing only from Tacitus, who may however have felt absolutely no motivation to detail what were for him the grossly superstitious beliefs of the Christian sect. Again, however, if this bare statement that Jesus came to life again was original to the passage, it must have been mitigated somehow.

Conclusion.

In 1972 Schlomo Pines from Hebrew University in Jerusalem announced the discovery of an Arabic manuscript of the historian Agapius, who flourished in the tenth century. The history happened to cite a version of the Testimonium Flavianum. I do not know Arabic, so can offer only the English translation:

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 other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But 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. Accordingly he was perhaps the Christ concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.

What is immediately of interest in this late translation of Josephus is the fact that our first Meier phrase is again utterly absent, justifying its rejection as original.

Furthermore, our second Meier phrase is present again, just as it was in the other three witnesses, but moved forward to almost the position that it has in Luke, in close connection with the prophets. And it now becomes apparent how it very well might have appeared in the original Testimonium in a less blatantly Christian manner: He was perhaps the Christ. Even that may seem too strong, but a discussion of this variant will have to await another time.

Finally, our third Meier phrase comes right where we might have guessed from Josephus and Luke. And, as just intimated, it is mitigated exactly as we might hope from an historian, as indirect discourse: They reported... that he was alive.

One other item demands comment, I think. The Arabic version substitutes virtue and good conduct for miracles and teaching, an interesting substitution given that many people think it unlikely that Josephus would have mentioned the miracles of Jesus.

This essay is an experiment in textual methodology. Reasonable scholars have reached reasonable conclusions about the Testimonium Flavianum just by carefully thinking the matter through. But scholarly reasoning is virtually untestable, and what appears reasonable to this generation may appear foolish to others to come. The texts of Luke, Tacitus, and the Arabic translation in Agapius offer a means of testing our conclusions about Josephus. These conclusions may yet prove to be mistaken, but at least they were reached in the spirit of trial and error, and of scholarly experimentation. Such a spirit does not mind one hypothesis yielding gracefully to another based on newer and better data, or which better explains the data already at hand.

I remind the reader that in this section I have been mainly presenting examples of intertextuality. I have used the three Meier phrases as a test of sorts in order to see how profitable it may be to bring Luke and Tacitus into the discussion. And I submit that the parallels between these texts are sufficient to warrant some kind of explanation. I do not think that we ought any longer to study the Testimonium Flavianum apart from the road to Emmaus in Luke and the excesses of Nero in Tacitus.

I offer, for close comparison and contrast, all four of our relevant texts. Let the reader decide how intertextually related they are.

Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 18.3.3 §63-64:

Γινεται δε κατα τουτον τον χρονον Ιησους, σοφος ανηρ, ειγε ανδρα αυτον λεγειν χρη· ην γαρ παραδοξων εργων ποιητης, διδασκαλος ανθρωπων των ηδονη ταληθη δεχομενων, και πολλους μεν Ιουδαιους, πολλους δε και του Ελληνικου επηγαγετο· ο Χριστος ουτος ην. και αυτον ενδειξει των πρωτων ανδρων παρ ημιν σταυρω επιτετιμηκοτος Πιλατου ουκ επαυσαντο οι το πρωτον αγαπησαντες· εφανη γαρ αυτοις τριτην εχων ημεραν παλιν ζων των θειων προφητων ταυτα τε και αλλα μυρια περι αυτου θαυμασια ειρηκοτων. εις ετι τε νυν των Χριστιανων απο τουδε ωνομασμενον ουκ επελιπε το φυλον.

And there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if indeed it is necessary to call him a man, for he was a doer of paradoxical works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure and many Jews on the one hand and also many of the Greeks on the other he drew to himself. This man was the Christ. And when, on the accusation of some of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first loved him did not cease to do so. For he appeared to them on the third day, living again, the divine prophets having related both these things and countless other marvels about him. And even till now the tribe of Christians, so named from this man, has not gone extinct.

Luke 24.18-21, 25-27:

Αποκριθεις δε εις ονοματι Κλεοπας ειπεν προς αυτον· Συ μονος παροικεις Ιερουσαλημ και ουκ εγνως τα γενομενα εν αυτη εν ταις ημεραις ταυταις; και ειπεν αυτοις· Ποια; οι δε ειπαν αυτω· Τα περι Ιησου του Ναζαρηνου, ος εγενετο ανηρ προφητης δυνατος εν εργω και λογω εναντιον του θεου και παντος του λαου, οπως τε παρεδωκαν αυτον οι αρχιερεις και οι αρχοντες ημων εις κριμα θανατου και εσταυρωσαν αυτον. ημεις δε ηλπιζομεν οτι αυτος εστιν ο μελλων λυτρουσθαι τον Ισραηλ, αλλα γε και συν πασιν τουτοις τριτην ταυτην ημεραν αγει αφ ου ταυτα εγενετο.

Και αυτος ειπεν προς αυτους· Ω ανοητοι και βραδεις τη καρδια του πιστευειν επι πασιν οις λαλησαν οι προφηται. ουχι ταυτα εδει παθειν τον Χριστον και εισελθειν εις την δοξαν αυτου; και αρξαμενος απο Μωυσεως και απο παντων των προφητων διερμηνευσεν αυτοις εν πασαις ταις γραφαις τα περι εαυτου.

And one answered, Cleopas by name, and said to him: Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem without knowing the things that have happened in it these days? And he said to them: Which things? And they said to him: The things about Jesus the Nazarene, who became a prophet-man mighty in work and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and rulers delivered him to a judgment of death and crucified him. But we were hoping that it was he who was about to redeem Israel, but indeed, along with all these things, it is now the third day since these things happened.

And he himself said to them: O fools, and slow of heart to believe upon all the things that the prophets said! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer these things and enter into his glory? And, beginning from Moses and from all the prophets he interpreted to them in all the scriptures the things written about himself.

Tacitus, Annals 15.44:

Auctor nominis eius Christus Tiberio imperitante per procuratorem Pontium Pilatum supplicio adfectus erat; repressaque in praesens exitiabilis superstitio rursum erumpebat, non modo per Iudaeam, originem eius mali, sed per urbem etiam, quo cuncta undique atrocia aut pudenda confluunt celebranturque.

Christus, from whom the name derived, while Tiberius was emperor suffered at the hands of the procurator Pontius Pilate the death sentence, and, suppressed for the moment, the harmful superstition broke out again, not only in Judea, the place of origin for the evil, but even in the city in which all kinds of atrocious or shameful things from everywhere converge and come into vogue.

Agapius, History of the World (English translation only):

Similarly Josephus the Hebrew. For he says in the treatises that he has written on the governance of the Jews: 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 other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But 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. Accordingly he was perhaps the Christ concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.