The Jesus Passages in Josephus – a Case Study, part 2b – ”Testimonium Flavianum”: Content and context

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This is part 2b of the translation of my treatise Jesuspassagerna hos Josefus – en fallstudie into English.

Den svenska texten.

II. Testimonium Flavianum

Content and context

The presence of Christian conceptions

According to the Testimonium Flavianum, Josephus should thus have written that Jesus was “a teacher of people who received the truth with pleasure”. A term such as “the truth” is an identification of the Christian faith as the (only) true religion, something that only a Christian could have written, as you by definition are a Christian if you believe its doctrine to be the true one. Besides, for a Jew it would mean to deny Judaism. Likewise, the unreserved proclamation that Jesus “appeared to them on the third day, living again” is an assertion that reasonably was made by a Christian, certainly not by a Jew while maintaining his Jewish faith. Further it is stated that Jesus was the Messiah, that he was superior to a man, superior to a human being, therefore a god, and that the divine prophets had foretold not only his resurrection, and revelation, but also an additional ten thousand wonderful things concerning him. The one of whom the prophets has prophesized of course was the promised Messiah, and all this aims to identify Jesus as the Messiah.[13] It is not only the expression “he was the Messiah” which identifies Jesus as the Messiah, but also “if indeed one should call him a man” and that his deeds were foretold by “the divine prophets”.

All of these opinions are of course quite plausible for a Christian. But would Josephus, a Jew who claims to be a Pharisee, really have appointed Jesus as the Messiah? The answer is for sure no! It is not just that Josephus was a Jew, deeply rooted in the Jewish tradition,[14] and that the Jews also never acknowledged the Christian claim that Jesus was the Messiah; no, Josephus never even shows the slightest sign of being a Christian (apart from what is said in the version of the TF which has survived to this day). All of this can for example be compared to the Roman historian Tacitus, who calls the Christian doctrine “a most mischievous superstition” (exitiabilis superstitio), and Suetonius, who calls it “a new and mischievous superstition” (superstitionis novae ac maleficae).[15]

Josephus’ and other Jews’ view of the Messianic concept

For a Jew to recognize Jesus as the Messiah could be equated with claiming that Jesus was the anointed king of the Jews, inasmuch as this was what Jews put into the concept of Messiah. The Testimonium Flavianum, which is written in Greek, has the expression ho christos (ὁ χριστὸς). At the beginning of our Common Era, the native language of maybe the greater part of all Jews was Greek and not Aramaic/Hebrew, and the Hebrew word ha-mashiah (Messiah) has its exact counterpart in the Greek ho christos. This can be seen in the Septuagint, the authorized Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, where ha-mashiah consistently is translated into ho christos, which means the same thing, “the anointed”. While those Jews, who still spoke Hebrew, or rather Aramaic, were yearning for the Messiah, the Greek-speaking Jews were yearning for Christos, without there being any other significant differences between them. The word “Christ” is simply the English term for the Greek Χριστός (Christos).

While Jews, i.e. those who adhered to Judaism, hardly would agree that Jesus was the Messiah, they would have no trouble understanding what Josephus meant by Jesus being ho Christos. But the large group of non-Jews, whom Josephus perhaps primarily wrote for, would on the other hand not so easily understand the designation. For, unless one was familiar with the Jewish concepts of kings being anointed (christos) to their offices with oil, an expression such as “he was Christos” would seem very strange. What does “he was wetted” mean? The Greek word christos means wetted or anointed.[16] We shall consequently believe that Josephus would have written that Jesus was Christos without having explained the concept. This must be considered as extremely unlikely, on top of the improbability that he would consider it at all.

Josephus honours accordingly Jesus as hardly any other. But the thing that is absolutely most striking is the explicit identification of Jesus as the Messiah: “He was the Messiah/Christ!” For this very reason, many scholars want to remove this passage, since it is virtually impossible that Josephus could have written it. But this is not so easily done, since the last sentence, one which among the advocators for genuineness is virtually universally assumed to have been written by Josephus, mentions that “the tribe of Christians, named after him, has not died out.” The fact that Christians are said to have been “named after him” requires that Josephus earlier had said that Jesus was or was called the Christ – otherwise the explanation of the origin of the Christian name becomes inconceivable.

Since the expression “he was the Messiah” hardly can be included in a genuine text written by Josephus, but as it also cannot very well be missing, it is often proposed in the reconstructions that Josephus originally had written something more neutral, like “he was thought to be the Messiah.” In support for this, the “reconstructors” rely on a few renderings made in similar wordings by later church fathers. This we will return to. In any case, Christ has to be included as a designation if we are to believe that Josephus wrote the TF, partly because the later statement in the TF that the Christians were named after him [Christ] shall be intelligible, partly because the scanty identification of Jesus as the one called Christ in the later Jesus-passage in Book 20, presupposes that Josephus previously had described who this Christ was.

However, every attempt to preserve the identification of Jesus as the Messiah, if only in a down-toned version, leads to problems difficult to solve. Not even then could Josephus reasonably have avoided explaining the meaning of the word. The thing is that Josephus never uses the word Messiah (Christos) besides the two times when Jesus is mentioned, which speaks against him using the word in connection with Jesus. The question is whether Josephus could have used the term Messiah (Christos) at all, even as a neutral term? My own analysis of TF’s authenticity leads to a definite no as an answer to that question.

Messiah-figures in Josephus. In his works, Josephus describes no less than 16 men who claimed to be, or could have been perceived as if they were, the Messiah. One of those men is Josephus’ patron, the Emperor Vespasian, whom Josephus honoured. Josephus’ positive assessment of Vespasian is of course coloured by Josephus being in a position of dependence to him, and I have therefore omitted him from the following survey, but I will return to him immediately thereafter. Five of the remaining 15 were probably not considered to be the Messiah, and Josephus had a negative attitude towards three of them, was neutral to one of them and positive to one, namely John the Baptist.[17] Four of the 15 may have been seen as the Messiah, even if this is uncertain. In any case, Josephus had a critical attitude to all four of them.[18]

The remaining six probably saw themselves as the Messiah, and in several cases we know that the people saw them as the Messiah. These six are Judas the Galilean, Theudas, the Egyptian prophet, an unnamed prophet, Menahem, and Jesus Christ.[19] Josephus is very negative, almost filled with hatred, towards everybody except Jesus, whom he instead just praises. Josephus says there were many lunatics who deluded the people under pretense of Divine inspiration and led the people out in the wilderness as pretending that God would there show them the signals of liberty. This the ruling class, led by Antonius Felix (procurator of Judea 52–60), interpreted as the beginning of a rebellion:

“There was also another body of wicked men gotten together, not so impure in their actions, but more wicked in their intentions, which laid waste the happy state of the city no less than did these murderers. These were such men as deceived and deluded the people under pretense of Divine inspiration, but were for procuring innovations and changes of the government; and these prevailed with the multitude to act like madmen, and went before them into the wilderness, as pretending that God would there show them the signals of liberty. But Felix thought this procedure was to be the beginning of a revolt; so he sent some horsemen and footmen both armed, who destroyed a great number of them.” (Josephus, Jewish War 2:258–260 or 2:13:4)

The Emperor Vespasian; according to Josephus the much longed-for Messiah.

Josephus accordingly has a very negative attitude towards nine of the ten men who probably or possibly was seen as a Messiah. The 15 alleged men are listed and described in the following footnote.[20] The only ones who Josephus treats with benevolence is Jesus (who he says was the Messiah) and John the Baptist, who himself did not claim to be the Messiah. When Josephus obviously had a bias against anyone who acted as or claimed to be the Messiah, and never even uses the word Messiah – a word that was closely associated with the Jewish rebellion – and as the author of Testimonium Flavianum instead had a positive view of the messianic character of Jesus, and even dares to name him Messiah/Christ, this is a strong indication that Josephus did not identify Jesus as the Messiah in either of the two passages.

From this follows 1) that Josephus did not mention Jesus in Book 20 at all, as the only thing said there about Jesus is that he was “called the Messiah/Christ”, and thus is the word used, which Josephus reasonably ought to have shunned or at least have accounted himself for, and 2) that Josephus because of this, neither in book 18 would have named Jesus the Messiah without an explanation; or even would have used the word Messiah.

Emperor Vespasian spared Josephus’ life, took him under his protection and offered him a refuge. It was on Vespasian’s commission that Josephus wrote his works, and it was Vespasian who financially secured for Josephus’ future. Of course, this means that Josephus was dependent on Vespasian, and for that reason also described him very favourably. In fact, Josephus designates Vespasian as the Messiah who had come to liberate the Jews; he only avoids using the word Messiah of the Roman emperor.

” But now, what did the most elevate them [the Jews] in undertaking this war, was an ambiguous oracle that was also found in their sacred writings, how,” about that time, one from their country should become governor of the habitable earth.” The Jews took this prediction to belong to themselves in particular, and many of the wise men were thereby deceived in their determination. Now this oracle certainly denoted the government of Vespasian, who was appointed emperor in Judea.” (Josephus, Jewish War 6:312–313 or 6:5:4)[21]

The prophecy Josephus refers to is from Numbers:

“I see him, but not now; I behold him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel. He will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the sons of Sheth. Edom will be conquered; Seir, his enemy, will be conquered, but Israel will grow strong. A ruler will come out of Jacob and destroy the survivors of the city.”(Num. 24:17-19, NIV)

Jews and especially Christians have interpreted this passage as a prophecy of the coming Messiah. Josephus accordingly claims that the passage actually alluded to the Emperor Vespasian and thus that Vespasian was that Messiah who would emerge and lead the Jews; then as ”emperor in Judea.” From this, two important observations can be made:

1)      In spite of the fact that Josephus identifies Vespasian as the much longed-for Messiah, he still does not use that designation. Is there any reason to believe then, that he would have used the word Messiah at all to describe Jesus?

2)      Josephus had already announced who was the Messiah, then Vespasian. Is there any reason to believe that he would appoint a second Messiah?[22]

Alice Whealey, who by many is referred to as a great authority on Josephus, and perhaps is the leading proponent of the thesis that Josephus wrote the entire Testimonium Flavianum including all the praising apart from Jesus being the Messiah, argues sometimes strange. She claims that earlier research anachronistically has assumed that the antagonism which we know arose very early between Jews and Christians also existed in Josephus’ time (the 90’s). According to Whealey, that is not necessarily the case, from which follows that Josephus very well could have written positively about Jesus.[23] Admittedly, we are almost entirely lacking credible information regarding the relationship between Jews and Christians during the first century, but this is in line with the fact that we do not with certainty know anything about Christianity in the early days. However, as soon as we receive such information in the second century, for instance in Celsus (whose work from 178 CE is summarized by Origen) – the Jews are contemptuous and often fierce towards Christians and Christian doctrines. The strange thing about Whealey’s argument is that the way she presents it, it is no argument. That is because she does not substantiate it, only leaves it at an unsupported assertion. It is on the same level as if you said that you must be careful not to assume that the ancient Christians were telling the truth about Jesus. That is not a valid argument either!

A perhaps ever stranger argument by Whealey concerns the Greek word poiêtês (ποιητής) in the Testimonium Flavianum, which there means “to perform something”. Josephus never uses the word in this sense while Eusebius often uses the term with exactly this meaning and, moreover, solely when he writes about Jesus or God. Reasonably this should indicate that Josephus did not write this sentence and that Eusebius seems like a likely candidate to have written it. Instead Whealey argues that Eusebius read the Testimonium Flavianum, was influenced by Josephus’ single usage of this particular word, and as a consequence, embraced the term himself, but then only when he writes about Jesus.[24] That explanation seems fabricated in order to achieve what one seeks, to say the least.

Josephus was not a Christian. It is really impossible to refer to any passage in Josephus which supports that Josephus was not a Christian, since the symptom of this is that he did not express any Christian beliefs, or even mentions them. The only thing that can be said about Josephus is that he does not confess to the Christian faith (except of course in TF, but since that particular passage is examined it cannot be referred to), that he never expressed specifically Christian values, and that every time he had the opportunity to comment upon people acting as if they were Messiah (without Josephus ever using the word Messiah) he just expresses contempt for them. This is the reality. That you cannot a priori assume that Josephus was hostile toward Jesus is more of an apologetic defence than an honest argumentation based on facts, which say that Josephus was not a Christian and otherwise hostile to all God-inspired freedom figures.

To sum up; nothing (other than TF) indicates that Josephus was a Christian, why he hardly could have written the Christian passages, and least of all that Jesus was the Messiah. Otherwise he only expressed contempt for any self-proclaimed Messiah-figure. He otherwise never uses the term Messiah (of course on condition that he did not write the Jesus passages), not even of the Emperor Vespasian, whom he yet indirectly appoints Messiah, why yet another Messiah in the form of Jesus is nothing to think about, not even as one who was considered to be the Messiah, inasmuch as Josephus reasonably must have explained himself. First of all, he should have dealt with the Jewish concept of the Messiah; secondly he should have explained to the non-Jews what he meant by Jesus being “wetted”; and thirdly have explained himself on the fact that he indirectly already had appointed the Emperor Vespasian as the Messiah.

Roger Viklund, 2011-03-03

[13] The word Messiah or Christos/Christus is a proper word in Hebrew, Greek/Latin, meaning “the anointed”. In ancient times it was used to describe the Israelite kings, prophets and priests who were anointed to their offices by the holy oil of YHVH. When it comes to Christianity, however, the Jesus character obtained the epithet of Messiah/Christ as a proper name.

[14] Marian Hillar writes:

“Josephus remained faithful to his culture and religion and he defended Judaism praising its excellence in his work originally titled Concerning the Antiquities of the Jews, but known since the time of Jerome under the title Against Apion, published ca 93 C.E. The work is a passionate apology of the Jews and their culture, their law, their religion, and their customs.” (Marian Hillar, Flavius Josephus and His Testimony Concerning the Historical Jesus, 2005, p. 4)

[15] Tacitus, Annales 15:44:

“Ergo abolendo rumori Nero subdidit reos et quaesitissimis poenis adfecit, quos per flagitia invisos vulgus Christianos [eller: Chrestianos] appellabat. 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 mundique atrocia aut pudenda confluunt celebranturque.”

“To get rid of the report, Nero fastened the guilt and inflicted the most exquisite punishments on a class hated for their disgraceful acts, called Chrestians (or Christians) by the populace. Christ, from whom the name had its origin, was executed by procurator Pontius Pilatus during the reign of Tiberius; 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, where all things hideous and shameful from every part of the world find their center and become popular.”

Suetonius, Nero 16:2:

”afflicti suppliciis Christiani, genus hominum superstitionis novae ac maleficae”

“Punishment was inflicted on the Christians, a class of men given to a new and mischievous superstition.”

[16] Steve Mason writes:

“First, the word ‘Christ’ (Greek christos) would have special meaning only for a Jewish audience. In Greek it means simply ‘wetted’ or ‘anointed.’ Within the Jewish world, this was an extremely significant term because anointing was the means by which the kings and high priests of Israel had been installed. The pouring of oil over their heads represented their assumption of God-given authority (Exod 29:9; 1 Sam 10:1). The same Hebrew word for ‘anointed’ was mashiach, which we know usually as the noun Messiah, ‘the anointed [one].’ Although used in the OT of reigning kings and high priests, many Jews of Jesus’ day looked forward to an end-time prophet, priest, king, or someone else who would be duly anointed.

“But for someone who did not know the Jewish tradition, the adjective ‘wetted’ would sound most peculiar. Why would Josephus say that this man Jesus was ’the Wetted’?” (Steve Mason, Josephus and the New Testament, Peabody, Massachusetts, 1992, p. 165–166)

[17] Judas, son of Hezekiah (Jewish War 2:56, Antiquities of the Jews 17:271–272), Simon of Peraea (Jewish War 2:57–59, Antiquities of the Jews 17:273–277), John the baptist (Antiquities of the Jews 18:109–116), Herod Agrippa (Antiquities of the Jews 19:338–353) and John of Gischala (Jewish War, the books 2–6, 7:264).

[18] Athronges, the shepherd (Jewish War 2:60–65, Antiquities of the Jews 17:278–284), the Samaritan prophet (Antiquities of the Jews 18:85–87), Simon bar Giora (Jewish War 7:26–32) and Jonathan, the weaver (Jewish War 7:437–450).

[19] Judas, the Galilean (Jewish War 2:433, Antiquities of the Jews 18:1–10 & 18:23), Theudas (Antiquities of the Jews 20:97–98), the Egyptian prophet (Jewish War 2:261–262, Antiquities of the Jews 20:169–171), an anonymous prophet (Antiquities of the Jews 20:188), Menahem (Jewish War 2:433–450).

[20] The 15 listed men in turn:

1.      The first person is Judas, son of Hezekiah. When Herod the Great died in 4 BCE, Judas appeared as a leader of a band of robbers who revolted against the “rule of his son and successor, Herod Archelaus”. We do not know what happened to Judas, but Josephus describes him as terrible to all men and extravagance in doing injuries. He was driven by ambitious desire of the royal dignity and tried to raise himself. Josephus despised this Judas, but although Judas made royal claims there is no evidence that the claims were messianic. (Jewish War 2:56 and Antiquities of the Jews 17:271–272).

2.      Then we have Simon of Peraea, who also was a leader of a group and he claimed the kingship for himself after Herod died in 4 BCE. Simon was initially a slave of King Herod. Later on he put a diadem on his head, which only were meant for the High priests, and “was declared to be a king, and he thought himself more worthy of that dignity than any one else.” Simon certainly appears as a Messiah, but Josephus never says that he was considered to be the Messiah. He was captured and beheaded. Josephus describes him as tall, handsome and strong and superior to others, but considers him arrogant when he proclaimed himself to be a king. Josephus’ description of him is pretty neutral, given that Simon burned and looted the palace (Jewish War 2:57–59, Antiquities of the Jews 17:273­–277).

3.      Next in line is Athronges, the shepherd, who also participated in the revolts following upon the death of Herod the Great. Also this man was so insolent that he was crowned with a diadem. We do not know what happened to Athronges, but Josephus says that he and his men did their own nation a great deal of mischief. Being a shepherd, like for instance David, might have given him a position to aspire to a messianic kingdom. But as Josephus never says that Athronges was anointed (Josephus never uses the word Messiah) we cannot say for certain that he had messianic claims (Jewish War 2:60–65, Antiquities of the Jews 17:278–284).

4.      Then we have Judas the Galilean, who together with the Pharisee Zadok started a revolt against the introduction of new taxes; a movement which eventually led to Quirinius interfering and conducting a census in the year 6 CE. This is the same event which Luke connects to the birth of Jesus. Judas was zealous for the Law and he likely gave rise to the zealot movement. Judas had an inviolable attachment to liberty and Josephus considered him arrogant. Josephus actually hated Judas and said that all sorts of misfortunes sprang from Judas and his men. (Jewish War 2:433, Antiquities of the Jews 18:1–10 and 18:23) This Judas was a great leader and it is very likely that he was seen as a Messiah, especially since his grandson Menahem was. The same Judas is also mentioned in Acts 5:36–37. Josephus further tells us that two of Judah’s sons, Jacob and Simon, were crucified in the 40’s (Antiquities of the Jews 20:100–103).

5.      Next we come to John the Baptist. According to the chronology of Josephus, John was executed sometime 35–36 CE, and thus long after Jesus was executed, if we are to believe the Gospel story. Both the Gospels and Josephus make it clear that John did not consider himself to be a Messiah. Josephus has quite a positive attitude towards John, and he says that John was a “good man, who had commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, righteousness towards one another and piety towards God.” (Antiquities of the Jews 18:109-116).

6.      Josephus also tells about a Samaritan prophet whom he does not name. The time is circa 36 CE. This Prophet attracts a large crowd of people to the holy Mount Gerizim. Pilate, knowing that this was a way to claim the Samaritan temple, attacked the group and killed many. This action was something Josephus did not seem to mind. (Antiquities of the Jews 18:85–87). To announce the restoration of the cult in the Samarian temple is of course a kind of messianic claim. But the Samaritans, although having almost the same religion, were technically not Jews.

7.      Josephus also describes how Herod Agrippa in the year 44 CE put on a garment made wholly of silver, and of a truly wonderful contexture, and when the silver of his garment was illuminated by the rays of the sun, it shone out and was resplendent. The people flattered Agrippa and called him a god, superior to the mortals. Agrippa did neither rebuke them, nor reject their flattery. But he then realizes that this was unwise, and that he as a result thereof would be punished. He suffers from stomach pains and eventually dies of his illness (Antiquities of the Jews 19:338–353). In Acts 12:19–23 the same story is told and it is said that Agrippa was eaten by worms. Josephus was not so fond of Agrippa, and although Agrippa by some was seen as a divine being, it is uncertain whether he really was thought of as the Messiah.

8.      Theudas, who also is mentioned in Acts 5:36, was certainly a Messiah figure, and there can be no doubt that he saw himself as the Messiah. This can be shown as he like Moses and in order to show people his power tried to divide the river Jordan – a typical act of messianic pride and a clear allusion to Joshua 3:14–17. He drew large crowds and Josephus considered him to be a charlatan and an impostor. Theudas was captured and beheaded and his head was brought to Jerusalem. (Antiquities of the Jews 20:97–98) Since Josephus calls him a charlatan and gives no hint that he disliked the act of beheading Theudas, one can certainly say that Josephus did not like Theudas (the Messiah).

9.      Then there is the Egyptian prophet, who also is told of in the New Testament and the one who Paul was mistaken for (Acts 21:38). The Egyptian prophet was active in the 50’s. Josephus says that there “were such men as deceived and deluded the people under pretense of Divine inspiration” and went before the multitude “into the wilderness, as pretending that God would there show them the signals of liberty. But Felix thought this procedure was to be the beginning of a revolt; so he sent some horsemen and footmen both armed, who destroyed a great number of them.” (Jewish War 2:259). The similarity to Jesus in the wilderness should be noticed. Josephus says that the Egyptian was a false prophet who did the Jews mischief by deluding thirty thousand men. (Jewish War 2:26–262) He led the thirty thousand to the Mount of Olives from where he said he would tear down the walls of Jerusalem just by his command, and he promised them that he would procure them an entrance into the city through those collapsed walls. The procurator Felix attacked the crowd and the Egyptian fled. (Antiquities of the Jews 20:169–171). The Egyptian prophet definitely thought of himself as the Messiah, as he thought that he like Joshua, who tore down the walls of Jericho (Joshua 6:20), could tear down the walls of Jerusalem. Jona Lendering says that “the Egyptian claimed to lead the Jews to a promised land without enemies. This was clearly a messianic claim, even though Josephus does not mention it. The nameless Egyptian may have called himself ‘king Messiah’, because Josephus uses the Greek verb tyrannein (‘to be sole ruler’) in the first quotation. It should be noted that the Mount of Olives was regarded as the place where God would stand on the Day of Judgment, fighting the battle against Israel’s enemies (Zechariah 14.4).”

10.  In the year 59 a prophet who Josephus does not name appeared. Josephus calls him “a certain impostor, who promised them deliverance and freedom from the miseries they were under, if they would but follow him as far as the wilderness.” The procurator Festus kills this prophet and a number of his supporters and Josephus calls him an impostor who had seduced and deluded his followers and he does not imply that Festus did anything wrong when he killed him. (Antiquities of the Jews 20:188). Lendering puts it this way: “Again, we meet someone who leads his followers to the desert, claiming to be the ‘prophet like Moses’ predicted in Deuteronomy 18.15-18. He may or may not have been called a Messiah.”

11.  Then we have Menahem, who probably was a grandson of Judas the Galilean; the one mentioned earlier. This Menahem was active in early stages of the war in 66 CE. He stole King Herod’s armory at Masada and returned to Jerusalem as a king. Josephus sees him as barbarously cruel and no better than an insupportable tyrant. Finally, he is captured, tortured and killed (Jewish War 2:433–450). Jona Lendering writes: “There is no need to doubt whether Menahem claimed to be the Messiah. He was a warrior, entered Jerusalem dressed as a king, quarreled with the high priest (who may have entertained some doubts about Menahem’s claim), and worshipped God in the Temple. We can be positive that Menahem wanted to be the sole ruler of a restored Israel. There are no indications that his rule was regarded as the inauguration of the end of times, but this was, of course, not necessary.”

12.  John of Gischala was a commander of the Jewish armies in Galilee during the revolt 66–70 CE. He gained control of most of Jerusalem and appointed his own high priest. He certainly behaved like a king and Josephus considered him a tyrant or despot who showed impiety towards God. But he was hardly considered to be a Messiah, as his coins bore the symbol “Freedom of Zion”, which “was a political and not religious marker”.

13.  Next we turn to the Emperor Vespasian whom Josephus believes has fulfilled the messianic star prophecy of Balaam: “The oracle of Balaam son of Beor …  A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel.” (Numbers 24:15, 17) Josephus suggests that the Jews now finally have got their real leader (Jewish War 3:399–404 and 6:310–315). But one should remember that when Josephus wrote this in the year 78 CE, Vespasian was his patron and the one who funded his project, so I consider this reference to be of less importance.

14.  Next in line is Simon bar Giora, who at the end of the war (69–70) was a general of a Jewish army. Josephus is very critical, almost hateful towards him. He says that God punished this savage tyrant (Jewish War 7:26–32). Lendering writes that Simon bar Giora’s “coins bore the legend ‘Redemption of Zion’, indicating that there was a religious aspect to Simon’s bid for power. This does not prove that he was considered the Messiah, but it is likely. The fact that he wore a royal robe in the Temple is another indication.”

15.  Finally, we have Jonathan, the weaver, who was a Sicarii. In circa 73 CE, he led a group of people “into the desert, upon promising them that he would show them signs and apparitions.” Also this group was attacked by the Romans and Jonathan captured and burned to death. Josephus calls him a vile person (Jewish War 7:437–450). Jonathan definitely was a prophet like Moses, even if we cannot know for sure if he proclaimed himself Messiah.

The information is mainly from Jonah Lendering, Messiah (overview) but independently arranged.

[21] Flavius Josefus writes:

“But now, what did most elevate them in undertaking this war, was an ambiguous oracle that was also found in their sacred writings, how, ‘about that time, one from their country should become governor of the habitable earth.’ The Jews took this prediction to belong to themselves in particular, and many of the wise men were thereby deceived in their determination. Now this oracle certainly denoted the government of Vespasian, who was appointed emperor in Judea.” (Flavius Josefus, Jewish War 6:5:4, or 6:312–313)

[22] J. D. Crossan writes:

“For Josephus, Jewish apocalyptic and messianic promises were fulfilled in Vespasian. It is hardly likely, that Josephus would explain too clearly or underline too sharply the existence of alternative messianic fulfillments before Vespasian, especially from the Jewish lower classes.” (John Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus: the life of a Mediterranean Jewish peasant, 1992, p. 199)

[23] Alice Whealey writes:

“In fact, much of the past impetus for labeling the textus receptus Testimonium a forgery has been based on earlier scholars’ anachronistic assumptions that, as a Jew, Josephus could not have written anything favorable about Jesus. Contemporary scholars of primitive Christianity are less inclined than past scholars to assume that most first-century Jews necessarily held hostile opinions of Jesus, and they are more aware that the line between Christians and non-Christian Jews in Josephus’ day was not as firm as it would later become.” (Alice Whealey, The Testimonium Flavianum in Syriac and Arabic, New Testament Studies 54.4, 2008, p. 575)

[24] Alice Whealey writes:

“Since there is relatively little use of the term ποιητής meaning performer in general in the patristic literature before Eusebius, or for Jesus being a ποιητής or performer of something in such literature, the Testimonium itself may be thought of as the only obvious source of Eusebius’ assertion several times in his works that Jesus was a performer of remarkable or miraculous works, unless of course one believes that Eusebius simply forged this part of the Testimonium. But the fact that Eusebius does not commonly use ποιητής to mean performer or doer except in connection with Jesus, or, in later works, with God, is some indication that ποιητής meaning performer was not Eusebius’ typical mode of  expression.” (Josephus, Eusebius of Caesarea and the Testimonium Flavianum, p. 83, in the book: Josephus und das Neue Testament)

4 kommentarer

  1. Den andre BB said,

    4 mars, 2011 den 13:19

    Regarding the claim of antagonism between Jews and Christians, the regular Christian interpretation of Suet. Claud. 25.4. would support that such existed in the first century. Unfortunately for them, there is no support for this interpretation…


  2. gmalcolms said,

    25 maj, 2012 den 11:27

    Why didn’t you mention here that Origen states that Josephus was not a Christian? Surely, if Origen’s copy of the Antiquities contained ”He was the Christ,” or any of the other Christian lines in the Testimonium, he wouldn’t have written that.


  3. 27 maj, 2012 den 16:39

    I am sorry, but I can’t recall having read in Origen that he states that Josephus was not a Christian, only that he did not accept or believe in Jesus as Christ (Origen’s knowledge; On Matthew and Against Celsus). Have I missed something?


  4. 7 juni, 2013 den 03:15

    […] does mention a number of other Jesus-like heroes running around the area at the time. It does seem clear that there was a precedent for semi-divine sons of gods in the pagan myths of […]



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