The Jesus Passages in Josephus – a Case Study, part 2f – ”Testimonium Flavianum”: Content and context; The insignificance of the Testimonium Flavianum

Part 1
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Part 2a Part 2b Part 2c Part 2d
Part 2e Part 2f Part 2g Part 2h
Part 2i Part 2j Part 2k Part 2l
Part 2m Part 2n Part 2o Part 2p
Part 2q Part 2r Part 2s Part 2t
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Part 3a Part 3b Part 3c Part 3d
Part 3e Part 3f Part 3g Part 3h
Part 3i Part 3j
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Part 4
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Excursus

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

Den svenska texten.

II. Testimonium Flavianum

Content and context

The insignificance of the Testimonium Flavianum

If at least some part of the Testimonium Flavianum were written by Josephus, it would mean that Josephus, in addition to regarding Jesus’ death as a terribly tragic event, also claims that Jews in general would have thought the same. But everything we know about the Jews and how they looked upon the Christians during the first period shows the direct opposite. For them, Christianity was a perversion and Jesus an imposter about whom the Christians made bizarre claims that he was the Messiah and the Son of God. While certainly many Jews embraced the Christian faith, they also technically then abandoned Judaism and became Christians.

Besides, if nevertheless Josephus against the odds would have honoured Jesus as the Messiah (by calling him the Messiah and furthermore by praising him in such a way that he reasonably only could have referred to a Messiah), and held his own people responsible of his death, this must to Josephus have stood out as a very important event in the Jewish history. Then at last the long awaited Messiah of the Jews finally appeared, but died an ignominious death as a criminal. That Josephus in that case only wrote a few lines on such an important event must be considered equally startling as strange. He wrote for example, almost twice as much about John the Baptist.[57] Likewise, the stories in the proximity of the Testimonium are all very much longer. The stories of Pilate’s mass killing of Jews and of the Jews’ expulsion from Rome are about twice as long as the Testimonium, the story of Caesar’s effigies that are set up in Jerusalem is three times as long and the story about Paulina and the temple of Isis almost nine times as long. Are we really to believe that Josephus regarded the execution of an individual so important that he described the incident as a disaster for the Jewish people, while at the same time gave the event a minimum of space? Of course it is always a tragedy and a disaster for family and friends when a person dies, but the step from that incident in the small to regarding it as a national disaster is huge.

Now of course an argument that the Testimonium is unusually short can be used both ways. One can thus argue that if a Christian forged the paragraph, he would not have been content with writing such a short tribute; that is, the fact that the Testimonium is so short can therefore indicate that the Testimonium is not a Christian forgery. On the other hand, it is quite difficult to create a good forgery by imitation someone else’s style, and the more you create the more difficult it becomes, why a short faked text nevertheless is more realistic and therefore more likely than a long text.

Roger Viklund, 2011-03-08


[57] Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 18:116–119.

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