The Jesus Passages in Josephus – a Case Study, part 2j – ”Testimonium Flavianum”: The Church Fathers’ knowledge; The post-Eusebian Greek witnessing, Theodoret and Photios

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

Den svenska texten.

II. Testimonium Flavianum

The Church Fathers’ knowledge of the Testimonium

The post-Eusebian Greek witnessing

Theodoret of Cyrus

Bishop Theodoret of Cyrus in Syria (c. 390-457) wrote about the year 433 a Commentary on the prophet Daniel.[86] In this he writes:

“Now, to the fact that the Jews of old used to call blessed Daniel the greatest prophet the Hebrew Josephus is a notable witness, who, while not accepting the Christian message, could not bring himself to conceal the truth.” (Theodoret, Commentary on Daniel 12:14)[87]

After this Theodoret exemplifies from the Antiquities of the Jews how Josephus could not hide the fact that Daniel predicted the destruction of Jerusalem.[88] Alice Whealey interpreters Theodoret’s statement that although Josephus did not accept the Christian message, he still could not bring himself to conceal the truth, as if Theodoret had access to a variation of the Testimonium where the expression “he was the Messiah” was missing in favour of “he was thought to be the Messiah”.[89] But why would Theodoret only on the basis that the Testimonium did not contain an explicit appointment, however, an indirect appointment, of Jesus as the Messiah, make this conclusion? An outright denial of the Christian message could explain Theodoret’s statement that Josephus did not accept the Christian message. But if so, we have to assume a completely different Testimonium, without the exuberant Christian praise. Theodoret’s statement rather suggests that Josephus did not accept the Christian message; that is, there was no Testimonium at all in Theodoret’s copy of the Antiquities of the Jews. Origen, Theodoret, John Chrysostom and Pseudo-Hegesippus all point out that Josephus was not a Christian. This is an obvious observation solely on the basis of Josephus’ writing in general, where he claims to be a Pharisee and never profess the Christian faith.


Then we move nearly five centuries into the future. Once again we are in Constantinople and the one who now is the Patriarch and holds the same office as Chrysostom is Photios (c. 815–c. 895). Photios is usually considered to be the most influential Patriarch of Constantinople since John Chrysostom. Photios wrote a comprehensive work that nowadays goes by the name of Myriobiblion (Ten Thousand books) or Bibliotheca (Library), where he is reviewing and summarizing 279 works of different authors, all of which he had read. Photios is interesting because he, like his predecessor Chrysostom, seems to have had access to an edition of the Antiquities of the Jews that did not contain the Testimonium.

In Bibliotheca, Photios has three short essays on Josephus.[90] In his treatment of the Antiquities of the Jews he deals with the paragraph on James in book 20,[91] as well as with the one on John the Baptist in Book 18,[92] shortly after the Testimonium. But not by a single word does he mention the Testimonium. Photios also comments on Josephus’ contemporary; the Jewish historian Justus of Tiberias and his Chronicle of the Kings of the Jews in Their Stemma. Justus wrote this now lost work of history about 80 CE, and in this he dealt with the history of the Jewish kings from Moses to Herod Agrippa II (27–c. 93 CE). Photios expresses his amazement that Justus has not mentioned Jesus at all and that he thereby is “suffering from the common fault of the Jews”.[93]

This shows that Photios as a Christian particularly was searching for references to Jesus in the works he read. Seen in this light, Photios’ omission to refer to the Testimonium becomes even stranger. How could Photios fail to mention the principal Jewish Jesus-testimony, although he refers to passages that must have been of much less importance to the Christians, such as the ones about James and John the Baptist? And he obviously thinks that Jews in general are suffering from a “fault”, and that this fault is to “not even mention the coming of Christ”. He thereby could have shown that at least one Jewish historian had indeed mentioned the coming of Christ.

The simplest and therefore reasonably the most likely explanation to why Photios did not mention that Josephus wrote the Testimonium – in spite of the fact that he is amazed that Justus did not mention Jesus ­– seems to be that a manuscript line in Constantinople of the Antiquities of the Jews had remained free from interpolation of the Testimonium. Thanks to that, the Testimonium would be missing in the handwriting that both Chrysostom and Photios had access to. They may even have used the same manuscript. This is not at all impossible, since it is not for sure that they managed to catch and “update” every manuscript if hundreds of years had elapsed from that the original was written until Testimonium Flavianum was created. In for example Eusebius’ time, copies of the Antiquities of the Jews would have been present at many locations in the vast Roman Empire.

If the Testimonium really was missing from Photios’ copy of the Antiquities of the Jews, this is indeed a strong argument in favour of the Testimonium being a forgery, since it is much easier to imagine that Photios had access to a manuscript not interpolated with the Testimonium, than he would be having access to a manuscript where the Testimonium had been removed – especially since the thing removed would have been a non-Christian historian’s glorification of Christianity’s Saviour and that the removal would have been done in the golden age of Christianity.

By clicking on the image it will open magnified in a separate window, and more clearly illustrate the context and the impact that likely exist and which I describe in the text.

Summary. A number of Church Fathers in the fourth century, and in some cases even later, also failed to refer to the Testimonium, although they had every reason to do so. If a book by a certain author shall be altered and additions be made, and this book is scattered in a large number of copies over a large area, it will take time before all copies have been identified and altered. Maybe they cannot identify all the manuscripts and the remaining copies will then be around for a long time before they eventually moulder away and are discarded. The new copies are made from approved manuscripts and in the course of time, only one or a few copies considered to represent the best text, will form the basis for all the future copies. That could explain the strange silence even among the Church Fathers in the fourth century and in one line of manuscript in Constantinople, which John Chrysostom and Photios appear to have used. In course of time the Testimonium was found in all the extant copies of Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews.

Roger Viklund, 2011-03-13

[86] Robert C. Hill writes:

“A date like 433 therefore suggests itself for Theodoret’s Daniel commentary.” (Robert C. Hill, Theodoret of Cyrus: Commentary on Daniel. Boston, MA, USA: Brill Academic Publishers, 2006, p. xiv)

[87] Theodoret writes:

“Now, to the fact that the Jews of old used to call blessed Daniel the greatest prophet the Hebrew Josephus is a notable witness, who, while not accepting the Christian message, could not bring himself to conceal the truth. In the tenth book of the Jewish Antiquities, after saying many things about Daniel, he goes on to say this: – – – Whereas Josephus gives this additional witness to the prophet, Jews by contrast, afflicted with utter shamelessness, have no respect even for their own teachers. Let us for our part, on the other hand, I beseech you, accept the foreknowledge of the future as from God’s prophet and make ourselves ready for that fearsome day, so that we may rise, not to everlasting shame, but to everlasting life. May it be the good fortune of us all to attain this, thanks to the grace and lovingkindness of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom with the Father and the Holy Spirit be glory, now and forever, for ages of ages. Amen.” (Theodoret, Commentary on Daniel 12:14; translation by Robert C. Hill, Theodoret of Cyrus: Commentary on Daniel. Boston, MA, USA: Brill Academic Publishers, 2006, p. 327–329)

[88] Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 10:266–268 & 12:322.

[89] Alice Whealey, Josephus on Jesus. The Testimonium Flavianum Controversy from Late Antiquity to Modern Times, (New York: Peter Lang Publishing, 2003) p. 36ff.

[90] Photios, Bibliotheca, codex 47 (on the Jewish War) and codex 76 and 238 (on the Antiquities of the Jews).

[91] Photios tells us about Josephus and what he wrote about James, but he calls him “the brother of the Lord” and not “the brother of Jesus called Christ”:

“Ananias son of Ananias took the office of high priest after having stripped Joseph of it; he was bold, daring and bold to the extreme; he was, indeed, a follower of the sect of the Sadducees and those were hard in their judgements and inclined to every audacity. Thus, this Ananias, when Festus had died in Judaea and before Albinus had entered office, assembled the Sanhedrin on his own authority and accused James, the brother of the Lord, and others with him, of disobeying the laws and he ordered their death by stoning. On top, the most moderate Jews and king Agrippa himself, deeply affected, drove him out after three years of office and put in his place Jesus son of Damnes.” (Photios, Bibliotheca 238)

[92] Photios tells us about Josephus and what he wrote about John the Baptist:

”Herod took her from her husband and married her. It was he who assassinated John the Precursor out of fear, says Josephus, which did not raise the people against him because all followed the lesson of John because of his exceptional virtue. It was under his reign also that the Passion of the Saviour took place.” (Photios, Bibliotheca 238)

[93] Photios tells us about Josephus and what he wrote about Justus of Tiberias:

”Justus’s style is very concise, and he omits a great deal that is of the utmost importance. Suffering from the common fault of the Jews, to which race he belonged, he does not even mention the coming of Christ, the events of His life, or the miracles performed by Him.” (Photios, Bibliotheca 33)


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