The Jesus Passages in Josephus – a Case Study, part 2l – ”Testimonium Flavianum”: The Church Fathers’ knowledge; The Latin translations, Jerome

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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This is part 2l 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 Latin translations


There is another Latin version of the Testimonium which needs to be investigated. It is found in the writings of the Latin Church Father Jerome (c. 347–420), who perhaps is best known for having translated the Bible into Latin; a translation that has come to be known as Versio Vulgata (Latin: “the commonly used translation”). Before Jerome, the Testimonium had been reproduced in Greek (its original language) three times by Eusebius in three of his works in the early fourth century; and in Syrian in the Syriac translation of Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History and Theophania – translations also made in the fourth century. Rufinus translated Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History into Latin in c. 402 CE; a decade after Jerome came out with his book De viris illustribus (On Illustrious Men) in 392 CE,[124] in which also he translated the Testimonium from Greek.[125] Pseudo-Hegesippus witnessed the Testimonium two decades earlier than Jerome did, but his version of the Testimonium is, as has been shown, not a quotation of the passage but a very free paraphrase. Jerome is therefore the first who in the form of quotation translated the Testimonium into Latin.

The deviations. Jerome’s version of the Testimonium follows the normative version of Testimonium Flavianum relatively well. There are two deviations that are of importance. Jerome writes “et credebatur esse Christus”, which literally means “and he was believed to be Christ/Messiah.” Further he writes that it was “through the envy” (Latin: cumque invidia) of the Jewish leaders that Jesus was executed, not “at the suggestion of” or ”because of an accusation” (Greek: ἐνδείξει = on accusation) as the normative version reads. In the latter case Jerome apparently is relying on the Gospel of Matthew 27:18 (similar in Mark 15:10) which has (διὰ φθόνον), that “because of envy they had delivered him [Jesus] up.” Jerome’s version therefore differs primarily by the use of the word “envy” instead of “accusation” and that Jesus “was believed to be” and not “was” the Messiah.

Jerome, De Viris Illustribus,

British Library, Royal MS 5 B VIII, 12th cent.

This leads to two questions which need to be answered: 1) What was Jerome’s source for the Testimonium and 2) what did this source say? What we know for certain is that Jerome was well versed in Greek and that he was familiar with Eusebius and his Ecclesiastical History, in which the Testimonium occurs. We also know that in this particular book where Jerome reproduces the Testimonium, that is De Viris Illustribus, he is elsewhere highly dependent on Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History.[126] It is therefore reasonable to assume that Jerome translates the Testimonium from Eusebius’ version and not from Josephus’. Still, Jerome is also well acquainted with Josephus’ works and quotes him no less than 90 times. Despite this, he reproduces the Testimonium on one occasion only, and that is precisely in the book where he relies on Eusebius.[127] It is certainly a staggering thought, but perhaps the Testimonium was missing in Jerome’s manuscript of Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews, as it would realistically take time for all manuscripts to be interpolated. This train of thought is, as previously indicated, supported by the fact that a number of others of those who were contemporary with Jerome did not mention the Testimonium despite a good knowledge of Josephus’ works (see Shortly after Eusebius).

Jerome has accordingly most likely based his translation of the Testimonium into Latin on the Greek text of the Testimonium that he found in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History, and not on the one which at this time possibly could have existed in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews. Alice Whealey believes that the Testimonium originally would have read something like “he was believed to be the Messiah” also in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History and that Jerome’s translation into “was believed to be” better reflects the original reading than the extant normative text does. In support of this she adduces a Syrian version with similar wording. She argues that it is unlikely that they both independent of each other would have altered the text in the same way. However, she fails to explain why this would be unlikely.[128] My line of argument below, however, leads to the conclusion that they may well have changed the text independently.

Jerome’s version reads: “He had very many adherents also, both of the Jews and of the Gentiles, and was believed to be Christ”. Marian Hillar suggests that Jerome himself changed from “was” to “was believed to be” as an explanation of who considered Jesus to be the Messiah: “he had many adherents … and was [by the adherents] believed to be Christ.” It was reasonably his disciples who also considered him to be the Messiah. The change was no bigger than the one he made ​​in the next sentence, by stating that it was through the envy of the principal men among the Jews that Pilate had crucified Jesus.[129] Jerome’s translation is far from literal and you cannot from the discrepancies that exist conclude that his Greek master must have contained the same deviations – especially since the word “envy” reflects a Christian idea of faith taken from the Gospels, and which Jerome surely added himself, and this shows that he did not hesitate to change the meaning of the text.

Roger Viklund, 2011-03-16

[124] Both at the introduction and the end of the book, Jerome writes that he completed the work in the fourteenth year of the Emperor Theodosius. This corresponds to the period from January 19, 392 CE to January 18, 393 CE.

[125] The Latin text from Jerome’s De Viris Illustribus 13, followed by two English translations:

”Scripsit autem de domino in hunc modum: Eodem tempore fuit Iesus, sapiens vir, si tamen virum eum oportet dicere; erat enim mirabilium patrator operum et doctor eorum qui libenter vera suscipiunt; plurimos quoque tam de Iudaeis quam de gentilibus habuit sectatores, et credebatur esse Christus. cumque invidia nostrorum principum cruci eum Pilatus adfixisset, nihilominus qui primum dilexerant perseverarunt {in fide}; apparuit enim eis tertia die vivens; multa et haec et alia mirabilia carminibus prophetarum de eo vaticinantibus. et usque hodie Christianorum gens ab hoc sortita vocabulum non defecit.”

”Moreover, he wrote concerning the Lord in this manner: At the same time there was Jesus, a wise man, if indeed it is proper to say that he was a man; for he was an accomplisher of marvelous works and a teacher of those who freely receive true things; he also had very many followers, as many from the Jews as from the gentiles, and he was believed to be Christ. When by the envy of our principal ones Pilate had affixed him to a cross, those who had first loved him nevertheless persevered {in the faith}; for he appeared to them on the third day living; many things, both these and other marvelous things, are in the songs of the prophets who made predictions about him. Even until today the race of Christians, having obtained the word from him, has not failed.” (Ben C. Smith, Text Excavation, The Testimonium Flavianum)

“In this same time was Jesus, a wise man, if indeed it be lawful to call him man. For he was a worker of wonderful miracles, and a teacher of those who freely receive the truth. He had very many adherents also, both of the Jews and of the Gentiles, and was believed to be Christ, and when through the envy of our chief men Pilate had crucified him, nevertheless those who had loved him at first continued to the end, for he appeared to them the third day alive. Many things both these and other wonderful things are in the songs of the prophets who prophesied concerning him and the sect of Christians, so named from him, exists to the present day.” (Marian Hillar, Flavius Josephus and His Testimony Concerning the Historical Jesus, 2005, p. 6–7)

[126] At the introduction of De Viris Illustribus, Jerome writes himself that when he was writing this book he had the utmost assistance of Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History:

“As for me, what shall I do, who, having no predecessor, have, as the saying is, the worst possible master, namely myself, and yet I must acknowledge that Eusebius Pamphilus in the ten books of his Church History has been of the utmost assistance, and the works of various among those of whom we are to write, often testify to the dates of their authors.”

Rosamond McKitterick, History and memory in the Carolingian world, New York 2004, s. 226. Alice Whealey, The Testimonium Flavianum in Syriac and Arabic, New Testament Studies 54.4, 2008, p. 581.

[127] Louis H. Feldman writes:

“Moreover, though Jerome knows Josephus so well that he cites him no fewer than ninety times and, indeed, refers to him as a second Livy (Epistula ad Eustochium 22), he cites the Testimonium only this one time. To be sure, all this is the argumentum ex silentio, but as a cumulative argument it has considerable force.” (Louis H. Feldman, Gōhei Hata, Josephus, Judaism and Christianity, Detroit 1987, p. 57)

[128] Alice Whealey writes:

“Since it is scarcely credible that the writers could have independently modified the Testimonium in this same way, their readings must reflect an original Greek Testimonium reading something like ‘he was believed to be the Christ’.” (Alice Whealey, The Testimonium Flavianum in Syriac and Arabic, New Testament Studies 54.4, 2008, p. 580–581)

[129] Marian Hillar writes:

“One possible explanation for it is that it could refer to the adherents mentioned in the preceding part as ‘he had many adherents … and was believed to be Christ [by them].’ Such a modification does not change the sense of the textus receptus, it is only an explanatory alteration, similar to the change in the following sentence. Moreover, the lack of an explicit statement about the death of Jesus in Jerome’s version and in the textus receptus, in contrast to such a statement present in the Michael, Agapius, and early Latin versions of Pseduo-Hegesippus [sic! Pseudo], supports the hypothesis that Jerome himself was the author of the modification concerning the Messiah.”

“Most likely the change he made was an explanatory one referring to the disciples who believed that he was the Christ.”

(Marian Hillar, Flavius Josephus and His Testimony Concerning the Historical Jesus, 2005, p. 16, 22)


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