The Jesus Passages in Josephus – a Case Study, part 2d – ”Testimonium Flavianum”: Content and context; Was Eusebius a historian or a story-teller?

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

Den svenska texten.

II. Testimonium Flavianum

Content and context

Was Eusebius a historian or a story-teller?

The Christian Church Father Eusebius of Caesarea (c. 263-c. 340 CE) is the one who above all is suspected of having designed the Testimonium Flavianum. In my Swedish article Myten om språket i Josefus’ Testimonium Flavianum, I elaborate my arguments somewhat regarding this issue, and show that the language of the Testimonium actually reflects Eusebius’ linguistic usage even better than it reflects Josephus’ (see also footnote [33]). Eusebius is the first person to demonstrate knowledge of the Testimonium and he reproduces the passage while he claims to be quoting Josephus. Eusebius is testifying to the existence of this passage in the early 4th century.

In 313 CE he became Bishop of Caesarea, a large city by then located along the Mediterranean coast between modern Haifa and Tel Aviv. He held this office until his death circa 340 CE. Eusebius has come to be known as the “Father of church history”, partly because of his special position as Emperor Constantine’s confidant and at his service in the development of Christianity as the new state religion of the Roman Empire; partly for having compiled the authoritative version of the Church History (Ecclesiastical History) in ten volumes. A great deal of our knowledge of the oldest history of the church comes, for better or worse, from just Eusebius.

As said before, there are signs indicating that the entire Testimonium Flavianum was written by Eusebius. He reproduces the Testimonium three times in three of his works.[30] The first time Eusebius (says that he) quotes the passage from Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews is in his Demonstratio Evangelica 3:5 (in Greek, Euaggelikê apodeixis, which roughly means Proof of the Gospel).[31] However, this quote differs slightly from the version now appearing in the Antiquities of the Jews and from the two other versions in Eusebius.

The Testimonium Flavianum is actually a rather long passage, if you intend to memorize it verbatim. It is also not part the Biblical literature, which Eusebius was familiar with and from where one could expect that he quite accurately would be able to quote rather lengthy passages from memory. Consequently, Eusebius would scarcely have been able to reproduce the Testimonium literally from memory, especially since the deviations in his Demonstratio Evangelica still are so few compared to the normative version found in his later works. The deviations could be well explained by Eusebius designing the Testimonium when writing Demonstratio Evangelica and that he later slightly modified it, maybe in order to make it more Josephan. This scenario is also supported by the fact that the changes Eusebius made to the following versions in the Ecclesiastical History and in Theophania (Divine manifestations [of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ]), consisted of replacing two expressions considered to be typical of Eusebius with two expressions typical of Josephus; and to replace one expression considered typical of Josephus with one expressions typical of Eusebius.[32] In order to provide an overview of what in the Testimonium is typical of Josephus and of Eusebius, I have made a verse by verse review of the language of the Testimonium in the following footnote.[33] Ken Olson has examined both the language and the content of Demonstratio Evangelica and compared it to the language and content in Testimonium Flavianum. He concludes that the Testimonium reasonably cannot have been written by anyone else than Eusebius.

”the Testimonium follows Eusebius’ line of argument in the Demonstratio so closely that it is not only very unlikely that it could have been written by Josephus, but it is unlikely it could have been written by any other Christian, or even by Eusebius for another work. There is nothing in the language or content of the Testimonium, as it appears in the Demonstratio Evangelica, that suggests it is anything other than a completely Eusebian composition.” (Ken Olson, Eusebian Fabrication of the Testimonium, 2001)[34]

If this hypothetical scenario is correct, it was consequently the latter version found in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History (from c. 325 CE), which were interpolated into Josephus’ works. It may also be appropriate to notice that Eusebius actually uses the Testimonium to argue for his position. That is, Eusebius benefits highly by being able to refer to a Jewish testimony in order to counter pagan beliefs and “defamation” of the Christian doctrine. Immediately after Eusebius in Ecclesiastical History has rendered Josephus’ portrayal of John the Baptist[35] and of the Saviour [i.e. TF],[36] he apparently quite self-satisfied adds the following:

”Since an historian, who is one of the Hebrews themselves, has recorded in his work these things concerning John the Baptist and our Saviour, what excuse is there left for not convicting them of being destitute of all shame, who have forged the acts against them? But let this suffice here.” (Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History 1:11:9)[37]

It is accordingly quite possible that Eusebius himself created the Testimonium Flavianum in its entirety, and that his version was introduced in all extant copies of the Antiquities of the Jews. This, however, is impossible to know for sure, and it also presupposes that no version of the Testimonium existed before the days of Eusebius. That, however, is often said to be the case, and this will be examined later on during the investigation of Pseudo-Hegesippus. There is nevertheless no evidence for this. For my part I can imagine though that someone else, before Eusebius’ time, designed the Testimonium, and that maybe Eusebius therefore was acting in good faith and simply reproduced what he thought Josephus had written, or maybe even expanded upon an original forgery.

Was Eusebius a liar?

Dick Harrison, Professor of History at Lund University

It is often said that Eusebius would never have lied, and that he therefore never would have made a forgery such as the Testimonium. But such an argument is ineffective, because most people are lying if they find something to be important enough. And it is also impossible to know who would do such a thing. Moreover, it is not at all certain that what we consider to be lies were regarded as lies by contemporary orthodox Christians, who would consider deeds that were in accordance with the will of God as pious, even if they would go against the so-called public morality. The Swedish Professor of History, Dick Harrison, depicts this in an eloquent way when he speaks of the “socially accepted type of lie which hardly gives rise to attacks of bad conscience to the actor concerned”, and which appeared among others within “the medieval Catholic Church, a far-reaching network of institutions whose capacity to forge documents was rather significant, to say the least.”He further writes:

“There is nothing to prevent, on the contrary, a lot to be said in favour of, that the people who formulated these lies saw themselves as righteous speakers of the truth. They rectified the history and gave the papacy the position which the pious emperors of the past reasonably must have thought the institution was entitled to. They were no crooks. They were loyal papal servants who did their duty to what they considered to be the holiest and truest version of the history. The lie was to them an acceptable way to improve the historical memory. Many of the medieval abbots and bishops argued in the same way. For a contemporary prelate, what we consider to be a typical lie might very well have been regarded as a perfectly acceptable version of the truth. (Dick Harrison Från Nydala kloster till Saddams Bagdad: I historien fullkomligt vimlar det av lögnare [my translation])[38]

As a basic rule, one should therefore assume that people can lie, even if you obviously have to have actual evidence before you can accuse someone of lying, or at least suggest that this someone has been lying. Besides, in the case of Eusebius it is a bit easier, since he himself seems to be arguing that it is sometimes necessary to resort to lying. In Praeparatio Evangelica 12:31 (in Greek “Euaggelikê proparaskeuê” meaning Preparation for the Gospel), in the chapter heading “which has been shown to be by Eusebius” himself,[39] he writes: “That it is necessary sometimes to use falsehood as a medicine for those who need such an approach”. Richard Carrier states that Eusebius found it “necessary to lie for the cause of Christianity”, relying on Plato’s argument that “lying is acceptable, and … thus the government’s teachers should employ lies for the benefit of the state.”[40]

In defense of Eusebius, the promoters of the Christian doctrine suggest a different translation of the Greek word pseudos (ψευδoς), which means to lie, to be dishonest. They propose a more down-toned meaning such as fiction, which for sure is a possible translation, particularly in the earlier classical Greek that Plato used, but one unlikely in Koine Greek[41] which was Eusebius’ language.[42] Even if Eusebius bore this unlikely sense of pseudos in mind, also to deliberately produce fictions would basically be the same as lying.

Eusebius says that in the Syrian archives of Edessa, a correspondence between Jesus Christ and the Armenian King Abgarus V of Osroene was preserved. This correspondence would be dated to 28/29 CE and was written in the Syriac language, and according to Eusebius it would prove that the apostle Addai went to the kingdom of Osroene, with his capital at Edessa, “as a preacher and evangelist of the teaching of Christ.” Eusebius is uncritically reproducing a letter of Abgarus to Jesus and also Jesus’ answer to Abgarus, without any reservation, and with the testifying that there existed “written evidence of these things taken from the archives of Edessa … which we have taken from the archives and have literally translated from the Syriac language”. These extremely fabulous and legendary letters are reproduced on the scrolls below:

Copy of an epistle written by Abgarus the ruler to Jesus, and sent to him at Jerusalem by Ananias the swift courier.

And Jesus sent a reply:

Eusebius was a chronicler who compiled the history of the Christians. In this mission he did not hesitate to reproduce obvious cock-and-bull tales, like the one about Jesus’ correspondence with King Abgarus, wherefore he rather should be called a story-teller than a historian.

Roger Viklund, 2011-03-05

[30] Demonstratio Evangelica (Proof of the Gospel) 3:5 (written sometime 303–313); Historia Eecclesiastica (Church History) 1:11:7–8 (the books 1–7 could have been written already 311–313, but the work was not completed until almost 325 CE; however, before the First Council of Nicaea in that year); Theophania 5:44 (it is unknown when the work was written, perhaps in 324 CE or sometime in the period 333–340). The book has only survived in a Syriac translation made some time in the 4th century and preserved in a manuscript from the year 411CE.

[31] In Demonstratio Evangelica 3:5, Eusebius of Caesarea writes as follows:

“Οὐδὲν δὲ [κωλύει] οἷον ἐκ περιουσίας καὶ τῷ ἐξ Ἑβραίων Ἰωσήπῳ μάρτυρι χρήσασθαι, ὃς ἐν τῷ ὀκτωκαιδεκάτῳ τῆς Ἰουδαϊκῆς ἀρχαιολογίας τὰ κατὰ τοὺς Πιλάτου χρόνους ἱστορῶν μέμνηται τοῦ σωτῆρος ἡμῶν ἐν τούτοις· Γίνεται δὲ κατ’ ἐκεῖνον τὸν χρόνον Ἰησοῦς, σοφὸς ἀνήρ, εἴγε ἄνδρα αὐτὸν λέγειν χρή· ἦν γὰρ παραδόξων ἔργων ποιητής, διδάσκαλος ἀνθρώπων τἀληθῆ σεβομένων, καὶ πολλοὺς μὲν τοῦ Ἰουδαϊκοῦ, πολλοὺς δὲ καὶ τοῦ Ἑλληνικοῦ ἐπηγάγετο· ὁ Χριστὸς οὗτος ἦν. καὶ αὐτὸν ἐνδείξει τῶν παρ’ ἡμῖν ἀρχόντων σταυρῷ ἐπιτετιμηκότος Πιλάτου, οὐκ ἐπαύσαντο οἱ τὸ πρῶτον ἀγαπήσαντες· ἐφάνη γὰρ αὐτοῖς τρίτην ἡμέραν πάλιν ζῶν, τῶν θείων προφητῶν ταῦτά τε καὶ ἄλλα μυρία περὶ αὐτοῦ εἰρηκότων, ὅθεν εἰς ἔτι νῦν ἀπὸ τοῦδε τῶν Χριστιανῶν οὐκ ἐπέλ[ε]ιπεν τὸ φῦλον.”

“And nothing of any kind [prevents us] from making use of the testimony of Josephus from among the Hebrews, who in the eighteenth [book] of the Antiquity of the Jews, while reporting the things about the times of Pilate, makes mention of our savior in these [words]: And there is about that time Jesus, a wise man, if indeed it is necessary to say that he is a man; for he was a doer of miraculous works, a teacher of men who revere true things, and many of the Jewish element, and also many of the Greek element, he led to himself; this man was the Christ. And, when on the accusation of the rulers among us Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first loved him did not cease; for he appeared to them on the third day living again, the divine prophets having said both these things and myriads of other things concerning him, whence even until now the tribe of Christians, from this man, has not been lacking.” (Eusebios, Demonstratio Evangelica 3:5:104–106; från Ben C. Smith, Text Excavation, The Testimonium Flavianum)

[32] He changed ”ἀρχοντῶν” into ”πρώτων ἀνδρῶν” (the leading men); “who revere the truth” into “who received the truth with pleasure”; and “εἰς ἔτι νῦν” into “εἰς ἔτι τε νῦν” (and up until now).

[33] To provide an overview of what in the Testimonium is typical of Josephus and Eusebius respectively, I have done a survey of every sentence in the Testimonium. The sentences put in red have a distinct Christian character from the point of view of content, and are usually on that ground removed from the various reconstructions made. The sentences put in blue have no such clear Christian character and are therefore deemed as something Josephus could have written.

  • At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man. Linguistically speaking, the term “wise man” (σοφὸς ἀνήρ) is typical of Josephus. Eusebius also often use the term ”wise” (σοφὸς), but rarely followed by “man” (ἀνήρ). The sentence contains nothing typical Christian and could therefore have been written by Josephus. At the same time, it is also in line with what Eusebius could have written, especially if he tried to imitate Josephus.
  • … if indeed one should call him a man. This must be seen as a typical Christian conception – that Jesus was superior to a human being, that is a god, and nothing that Josephus should have written. However, it would be in line with Eusebius’ conception of Jesus as being divine. Linguistically, nothing prevents that Josephus have written this subordinate clause, like there are no impediments that also Eusebius could have written it.
  • For he was a doer of startling deeds, Josephus could have written this. But only if he were sympathetic to Jesus, could he reasonably have written that Jesus was “wonderful deeds doer” (παραδόξων ἔργων ποιητής). Linguistically speaking, Josephus never uses the word poiêtês in the sense of “doer”, “creator”. He only uses the word in the sense of “poet”. Eusebius on the other hand uses poiêtês in exactly this sense, and could therefore easily have said this about Jesus. The combination of the two words (παραδόξων and ποιητής) in the sense of “creating miracles” is common in Eusebius’ writings and the combination of all three words, παραδόξων, ποιητής, and ἔργων, is apparently used by Eusebius exclusively in the descriptions of Jesus.
  • … a teacher of people who received the truth with pleasure. Josephus could hardly have called the Christian doctrine the “truth” (τἀληθῆ), unless he was a Christian. He could however have used this language if he would have thought that Christianity was the true religion. Nor would he have used the word ”ἡδονῇ” (pleasure) as if it were “joyful” to receive the Christian teaching, although Josephus repeatedly uses the phrase “ἡδονῇ … δεχομένων” (received with pleasure). This mode of expression is however typical of Eusebius.
  • And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin. Linguistically, this is consistent with Josephus’ way of expressing himself and not directly a Christian confession. Also Eusebius could have written these words. One argument against Eusebius writing this, is that a Christian would not have written that Jesus gained a following among many of Greek origin, as they would have known that Jesus worked among the Jews. But of course also Josephus, who was raised in Jerusalem, must have been aware of this. Eusebius on several occasions actually claims that Jesus taught the Greeks. Here is one example:

” For it is written that before His Passion He shewed Himself for the space of three-and-a-half years to His disciples and also to those who were not His disciples: while by teaching and miracles He revealed the powers of His Godhead to all equally whether Greeks or Jews.” (Demonstratio Evangelica 400).

  • He was the Messiah [Christ]. Josephus could not have written this, since Jesus is appointed Messiah. The rescue plan says that Josephus originally wrote “he was thought to be the Messiah”. Of course Eusebius could have written that Jesus was the Messiah.
  • And when Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, This sentence has no direct Christian elements and could therefore have been written by Josephus. It would however be strange if he had blamed the death of Jesus on “the leading men among us”; that is among the Jews. Linguistically there is nothing to prevent Josephus from having written this. Josephus often uses the expression “the leading men” (πρώτων ἀνδρῶν), but never in combination with “παρ᾽ ἡμῖν” (with/among us).  Eusebius often uses the phrase “with us”, while he on the other hand never uses the expression “πρώτων ἀνδρῶν”.
  • … those who had loved him previously did not cease [to do so]. From the point of view of content, this is pretty much in line with how Josephus used to express himself. While the sentence is in a typical Josephan style, the words are on the other hand used in a non-typical way for Josephus. The line of reasoning in this passage is simply coinciding with Eusebius’ main arguments in Demonstratio Evangelica 3:5, in that the followers of Jesus would not have been true to his teachings if he had been an impostor.
  • For he appeared to them on the third day, living again, Although Josephus very well could have written this if only seen from the point of view of language, the content is typically Christian and the sentence is therefore not written by Josephus. This should have been written by a Christian person and there is nothing to prevent that this person was Eusebius.
  • … just as the divine prophets had spoken of these and countless other wondrous things about him. Although Josephus very well could have written this if only seen from the point of view of language, the content is typically Christian and the sentence is therefore not written by Josephus. The content is entirely consistent with Eusebius’ (and many other Christians) way of arguing. Eusebius argues precisely that the old Jewish prophecies had foretold who Jesus would be and what he would do.
  • And up until this very day the tribe of Christians, named after him, has not died out. From the point of view of language, Josephus could have written this, and the content is further more not directly Christian. But Josephus otherwise never writes “and up until now” (εἰς ἔτι τε νῦν) while Eusebius does (H.E. 2:1:7) and further more often uses the phrase “εἰς ἔτι νῦν”.

[34] Ken Olson writes:

The Testimonium, then, corroborates many of the points Eusebius made in the first three books of the Demonstratio Evangelica. Norris observes that when Eusebius found the Testimonium, “it surely would have appeared too good to be true – as indeed it was” (Norris, 533). I will go farther than Norris and say that the Testimonium follows Eusebius’ line of argument in the Demonstratio so closely that it is not only very unlikely that it could have been written by Josephus, but it is unlikely it could have been written by any other Christian, or even by Eusebius for another work. There is nothing in the language or content of the Testimonium, as it appears in the Demonstratio Evangelica, that suggests it is anything other than a completely Eusebian composition. (Ken Olson, Eusebian Fabrication of the Testimonium, 2001)

[35] Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History 1:11:1–6.

[36] Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History 1:11:7–8.

[37] Eusebius of Caesarea, Ecclesiastical History 1:11:9. By ”the acts”, Eusebius probably refers to one or more of the many acts of Pilate, which by all appearances also are forgeries. During the reign of Emperor Maximinus Daias (305/310–313), there was a decree to read the acts of Pilate in school.

[38] Dick Harrison writes in Swedish:

”Det finns inget som hindrar, tvärtom mycket som talar för, att de människor som utformade dessa lögner såg sig själva som rättfärdiga sanningssägare. De rättade till historien och skänkte påvedömet den ställning forna tiders fromma kejsare rimligen måste ha ansett institutionen vara berättigad till. De var inga skurkar. De var trogna påvetjänare som gjorde sin plikt mot vad de ansåg vara den heligaste och sannaste versionen av historien. Lögnen var för dem ett acceptabelt sätt att bättre [sic!] på det historiska minnet. På samma sätt resonerade mängder av medeltida abbotar och biskopar. För en dåtida prelat kan vad vi uppfattar som en typisk lögn mycket väl ha varit att betrakta som en fullt acceptabel variant av sanning.” (Dick Harrison, Från Nydala kloster till Saddams Bagdad: I historien fullkomligt vimlar det av lögnare, Tvärsnitt nr. 3, 2003)

[39] Earl Doherty, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man – The Case for a Mythical Jesus (2009), p. 557.

[40] Richard Carrier, The Formation of the New Testament Canon (2000). Carrier also quotes Eusebius, who writes:

That it is necessary sometimes to use falsehood as a medicine for those who need such an approach.

“[As said in Plato’s Laws 663e by the Athenian:] ’And even the lawmaker who is of little use, if even this is not as he considered it, and as just now the application of logic held it, if he dared lie to young men for a good reason, then can’t he lie? For falsehood is something even more useful than the above, and sometimes even more able to bring it about that everyone willingly keeps to all justice.’ [then by Clinias:] ’Truth is beautiful, stranger, and steadfast. But to persuade people of it is not easy.’ [then by Eusebius] You would find many things of this sort being used even in the Hebrew scriptures, such as concerning God being jealous or falling asleep or getting angry or being subject to some other human passions, for the benefit of those who need such an approach.” (Eusebius of Caesarea, Praeparatio Evangelica 12:31)

Richard Carrier continues:

“So in a book where Eusebius is proving that the pagans got all their good ideas from the Jews, he lists as one of those good ideas Plato’s argument that lying, indeed telling completely false tales, for the benefit of the state is good and even necessary. Eusebius then notes quite casually how the Hebrews did this, telling lies about their God, and he even compares such lies with medicine, a healthy and even necessary thing. Someone who can accept this as a ‘good idea’ worth both taking credit for and following is not the sort of person to be trusted.” (Richard Carrier, The Formation of the New Testament Canon (2000), note 6)

[41] From the Encyclopædia Britannica:

“Koine, the fairly uniform Hellenistic Greek  spoken and written from the 4th century Bc until the time of the Byzantine emperor Justinian (mid-6th century AD) in Greece, Macedonia, and the parts of Africa and the Middle East that had come under the influence or control of Greeks or of Hellenized rulers. Based chiefly on the Attic dialect, the Koine superseded the other ancient Greek dialects by the 2nd century AD. Koine is the language of the Greek translation of the Old Testament (the Septuagint), of the New Testament, and of the writings of the historian Polybius and the philosopher Epictetus. It forms the basis of Modern Greek.” (”Koine.” Encyclopædia Britannica from Encyclopædia Britannica 2007 Ultimate Reference Suite, 2011).

[42] Earl Doherty, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man – The Case for a Mythical Jesus (2009), p. 557. See also Roger Pearse, Eusebius the Liar? 3. ’Can’t he lie?’

3 kommentarer

  1. 6 mars, 2011 den 01:23

    ”It is often said that Eusebius would never have lied, and that he therefore never would have made a forgery such as the Testimonium. But such an argument is ineffective, because most people are lying if they find something to be important enough. And it is also impossible to know who would do such a thing.”

    Those who argue for the forgery of the Mar Saba letter might argue the same thing about Morton Smith ….


    • Den andre BB said,

      6 mars, 2011 den 01:39

      Indeed, but noone in her right mind would claim that Smith was incapable of lying.


    • 6 mars, 2011 den 07:59

      And that is why the question of motive is rather irrelevant. Not everyone would lie and deceive; the problem is that we can never know who would and who would not. Of course Smith could have wanted to forge the letter. The real issue is whether he had the capability to do so and also if there are any signs that the letter is a forgery. To say that Smith would never have forged the letter is simply an ineffective argument, since we don’t know what went on in his mind.



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