The Jesus Passages in Josephus – a Case Study, part 2q – ”Testimonium Flavianum”: The Church Fathers’ knowledge; miscellanous, Slavonic Josephus

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 2q 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 Jewish War and the Slavonic Josephus with their respective additions


The Slavonic Josephus

It is easy to understand that this silence in the Jewish War felt embarrassing for the early Christians, since on a number of occasions they inserted passages about Jesus and Christians in that book – thus in a book where Jesus receives no mention in the extant Greek original text. There are a few manuscripts of the Jewish War which also contains the Testimonium. The passage is then inserted in either the beginning or the end of the manuscripts except in one case,[171] where it is inserted at 2:167.[172] Perhaps the most startling additions, however, are preserved in some thirty Slavonic manuscripts (in Old Russian and some also in Romanian).[173] Different theories has been presented for when the Slavonic texts were written, ranging from the tenth to the thirteenth century. The 30 surviving manuscripts are all from the fifteenth to the eighteenth century – the oldest of which dates to the year 1463 – but internal markers show that the Slavonic translation from the Greek Jewish War was at the latest made by the mid thirteenth century and probably one or two centuries earlier.[174] It is however by no means just plain translations, as materials has been both added and removed.[175] In these manuscripts there are eight Christian passages that do not exist in any known Greek manuscript. Of these eight, three relate to John the Baptist and four to Jesus.[176] The opening of one passage is quite similar to the normative version of the Testimonium, but soon turns into a different story, which at least partially reflects gospel material. That passage is found in that particular place in the book where Josephus deals with the events preceding the Testimonium in the Antiquities of the Jews, and it reads:[177]

Testimonium Slavianum

“At that time there appeared a man, if it is proper to call him a man, whose nature and form were human but whose appearance was more than human and whose deeds were divine. And he worked wonderful and powerful miracles. Therefore it is impossible for me to call him a man. Then again, in view of his common nature, I shall not call him an angel [either]. And everything, whatever he did, he did by some unseen power, by word and command. Some said of him: Our first lawgiver has risen from the dead and has been demonstrating many cures and skills. Others thought that he was sent from God. But he was in much opposed to the law and did not observe the sabbath according to the ancestral customs, yet did nothing dirty, unclean, nor with use of hands, but worked everything by word only. And many of the people followed and listened to his teachings. And many souls were aroused, thinking that by him the Jewish tribes would free themselves from the hands of the Romans. But it was his habit rather to remain in front of the city on the Mount of Olives; and there he also [freely] gave cures to people. And there 150 servants and a multitude of people joined him, seeing his power, how by word he did everything he wished. They bade him enter the city, kill the Roman troops and Pilate, and reign over these. But he did not care [to do so]. Later, when news of this came to the Jewish leaders, they assembled to the chief priests and said: We are powerless and [too] weak to oppose the Romans, like a slackened bow. Let us go and inform Pilate what we have heard, and we shall be free of anxiety; if at some time he shall hear [of this] from others, we shall be deprived of property, ourselves slaughtered, and [our] children exiled. And they went and informed Pilate. And he sent and killed many of the people and brought in that wonderworker. After inquiring about him Pilate understood that he was a doer of good, not of evil, [and] not a rebel, nor one desirous of kingship; and he released him. For he had cured his wife, who was dying. And he went to the usual places and performed his usual deeds. And again, as more people gathered around him, he became renowned for his works more than all [others]. Again the lawyers were struck with envy against him. And they gave 30 talents to Pilate that they should kill him. And he took [it] and gave them liberty to carry out their wishes themselves. And they sought out a suitable time to kill him. For they had given Pilate 30 talents earlier, that he should give Jesus up to them. And they crucified him against the ancestral law, and they greatly reviled him.”[178]

As can be seen, there are decidedly Christian ideas in this text, for example, that Jesus had power and did everything he wished through the Word; that he more than all others became renowned for his works and that the lawyers were struck with envy against him. At the same time this does not resemble how Christians tend to write about Jesus. The question is therefore whether Josephus actually could have written the paragraph? The answer must still be negative. It is rather conceivable to that which a pious Jew who was friendly to Christianity may have written.

Several scholars also contend that the Christian passages have not been created by the Slavonic “translator” of this text. Their style is alien to the Old Russian, and its content is also foreign to the Slavic mentality.[179] It is therefore assumed that they existed in some form in Greek already, either in the manuscript of the Jewish War which formed the basis of the Slavonic text, or in other Greek texts.[180] But Louis H. Feldman shows that the Christian passages may well be the work of the Slavonic translator himself, although they may be founded on older Greek texts in different sources.[181]

If this free Slavonic paraphrase is founded on a Greek master, these both were created in order to make a Greek Christians version of Josephus’ Jewish War, as well as a Slavonic version – in the same way as Pseudo-Hegesippus is a Latin Christian version of the same work. In neither case was the Testimonium inserted as a quotation. But in the Slavonic Josephus are all passages with Christian flavours founded on Christian texts,[182] though not necessarily always with exuberant Beatitudes. Instead, it is about garbled summaries of Biblical tales which have been spiced with legendary tales of the kind that occur in later apocryphal books.[183] One example is the statement that Jesus would have healed Pilate’s dying wife, a late Christian legend.[184]

Roger Viklund, 2011-03-22

[171] Earl Doherty writes:

“Ancient Christians must have been painfully aware of the void in Jewish War, for although no corresponding passage (that we know of) was interpolated into the work to remedy the omission, we do have a few manuscripts of Jewish War in which the Testimonium itself, from the Antiquities, was inserted, either at the beginning or the end of the manuscript, or in one case at the end of Book II.“ (Earl Doherty, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man – The Case for a Mythical Jesus (2009), p. 548–549)

[172] Codex Vossianus, Graec. F 72 (Lugduno-Batavus, L.B., Voss, bei Niese), 15th century. (Roger Pearse, Josephus: all the Manuscripts)

[173] John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, v. 1, New York: Doubleday, 1991, p. 57.

[174] Henry Leeming, Katherine Leeming, Josephus’ “Jewish War” and Its Slavonic Version: A Synoptic Comparison of the English Translation by H. St. J. Thackeray with the Critical Edition by N. A. Meščerskij of the Slavonic Version in the Vilna Manuscript translated into English by H. Leeming and L. Osinkina, Leiden & Boston: Brill, 2003, p. 60–62.

[176] Below follows the English translation of three of the four passages in the Slavonic version of the Jewish War where Jesus is mentioned. The quotes are taken from G. R. S. Mead, Gnostic John the Baptizer: Selections from the Mandaean John-Book, 1924, p. 109–115; reproduced in Sacred texts):

The trilingual inscription concerning Jesus (in Jewish War 5:5:2):

“At it (the barrier of the Temple) were columns … and on these inscriptions in Greek and Roman and Jewish characters, publishing the law of purity and [proclaiming] that no foreigner should enter the inner [court]; for they called it the Holy [Place] to which one had to ascend by fourteen steps, and whose upper part was built in a square. And over these tablets with inscriptions hung a fourth tablet with inscription in these [three] characters, to the effect: Jesus has not reigned as king; he has been crucified by the Jews, because he proclaimed the destruction of the city and the laying waste of the temple.”

Portents at the death of Jesus and rumours of his resurrection (follows on Jewish War 5:5:4):

“This curtain (katapetasma) was prior to this generation entire, because the people were pious; but now it was lamentable to look at. It had, you should know, been suddenly rent from the top to the ground, when they delivered over to death through bribery the doer of good, the man—yea, him who through his doing was no man. And of many other signs they tell which came to pass at that time. And it was said that after he was put to death, yea after burial in the grave, he was not found. Some then assert that he is risen; but others, that he has been stolen by his friends. I, however, do not know which speak more correctly. For a dead man cannot rise of himself—though possibly with the help of another righteous man; unless it (lit. he) will be an angel or another of the heavenly authorities, or God himself appears as a man and accomplishes what he will,—both walks with men and falls, and lies down and rises up, as it is according to his will. But others said that it was not possible to steal him, because they had put guards all round his grave,—thirty Romans, but a thousand Jews. Such [is narrated] as to that curtain (katapetasma). Moreover [as to] the cause of its tearing there are [? various statements]. And thereafter, when knowledge of it came to the Jewish leaders, they gathered together with the High-priest and spake: ‘We are powerless and weak to withstand the Romans. But as withal the bow is bent, we will go and tell Pilate what we have heard, and we will be without distress, lest if he hear it from others, we be robbed of our substance and ourselves be put to the sword and our children ruined.’ And they went and told it to Pilate. And he sent and had many of the people cut down. And he had that wonder-doer brought up. And when he had instituted a trial concerning him, he perceived that he is a doer of good, but not an evildoer, nor a revolutionary, nor one who aimed at power, and set him free. He had, you should know, healed his dying wife. And he went to his accustomed place and wrought his accustomed works. And as again more folk gathered themselves together round him, then did he win glory through his works more than all. The teachers of the Law were [therefore] envenomed with envy and gave thirty talents to Pilate, in order that he should put him to death. And he, after he had taken [the money], gave them consent that they should themselves carry out their purpose. And they took him and crucified him according to the ancestral law.”

A prophecy concerning Jesus (in Jewish War 6:5:4, where only Vespasian is mentioned in the genuine text)

“Some indeed by this understood Herod, but others the crucified wonder-doer Jesus, others again Vespasian.”

[177] Earl Doherty, The Jesus Puzzle, Supplementary Article No. 16, Josephus on the Rocks, The Slavonic Josephus. The Testimonium is inserted in Jewish War between 2:174 and 2:175.

[178] The text is from Ben C. Smith’s Text excavation, “Josephus on the career and execution of Jesus”; The Slavonic version of Josephus. In turn, this is from H. and K. Leeming, Josephus’ Jewish War and its Slavonic Version. As far as I can see, all English translations on the Internet are made from German translations of the Old Russian text. I therefore also reproduce a German translation made from the Slavonic text. It is done by Wolfgang A. Bienert and reproduced by Gerd Theißen & Annette Merz in Der historische Jesus: ein Lehrbuch, p. 93–94.

The ministry, trial and crucifixion of Jesus, (follows on Jewish War 2:9:3 or 2:174):

„Damals trat ein gewisser Man auf, wenn es auch geziemend ist, ihn einen Mann zu nennen. Sowohl seine Natur wie seine Gestalt waren menschlich, seine Erscheinung aber war mehr als menschlich. Seine Werke jedoch waren göttlich und er wirkte Wundertaten, erstaunliche und kräftige. Deshalb ist es mir nicht möglich, ihn einen Menschen zu nennen. Wiederum aber auf das allgemeine Wesen sehend, werde ich (ihn) auch nicht einen Engel nennen. Und alles, was er wirkte durch irgendeine unsichtbare Kraft, wirkte er durch Wort und Befehl wirkte er (es). Die einen sagten von ihm, daß unser erster Gesetzgeber auferstanden sei von den Toten. Und viele Heilungen und Künste gewährte er. Die andern aber meinten, daß er von Gott gesandt sei. Aber er widersetzte sich in vielem dem Gesetz und hielt den Sabbat nicht nach väterlichem Brauch. Doch wiederum verübte er auch nichts Schändliches, noch Verbrechen, sondern durch Wort bewirkte er alles. Und viele aus dem Volke folgten ihm nach und nahmen seine Lehren auf. Und viele Seelen wurden wankend, meinend, da sich dadurch befreien würden die jüdischen Stämme aus den römischen Händen. Es war aber seine Gewohnheit, vor der Stadt auf dem Ölberge sich aufzuhalten. Dort auch gewährte er die Heilungen den Leuten. Und es versammelten sich zu ihm von Schülern 150, aber vom Volk eine Menge. Da sie aber sahen seine Macht, daß er alles, was er wolle, ausführe durchs Wort, so befahlen sie ihm, daß er einziehe in die Stadt und die römischen Krieger und den Pilatus niederhaue und herrsche über sie. Aber jener verschmähte es. Und hernach, als Kunde geworden war davon den jüdischen Führern, so versammelten sie sich mit dem Hohenpriester und sprachen: „Wir sind machtlos und schwach, den Römern zu wiederstehen. Da aber auch dem Bogen gespannt ist, so wollen wir hingehen und dem Pilatus mitteilen, was wir gehört haben, und wir werden ohne Betrübnis sein, damit nicht, wenn es von andern es hört, wir sowohl des Vermögens beraubt, als aus selbst niedergemacht und die Kinder zerstreut werden.“ Und sie gingen hin und teilten es dem Pilatus mit. Und dieser sandte hin und ließ viele aus dem Volke niederhauen und jenen Wundertäter ließ er herbeiführen. Und da er inbetreff seiner ein Verhör angestellt, so sah er ein, daß er ein Wohltäter sei, aber nicht ein Übeltäter sei, noch ein Aufrührer, noch ein nach [Königs-]Herrschaft Strebender, und ließ ihn frei. Er hatte nämlich sein sterbendes Weib geheilt. Und er ging an seinen gewohnten Platz und tat die gewohnten Werke. Und da wiederum mehr Volk sich um ihn versammelte, da verherrlichte er sich durch sein Wirken mehr als alle. Von Neid wurden die Gesetzeslehrer vergiftet und gaben 30 Talente dem Pilatus, damit er ihn töte. Und der, nachdem er (das Geld) genommen, ließ ihnen den Willen, daß sie selbst ihr Vorhaben ausführen sollten. Und jene nahmen ihn und kreuzigten ihn gegen das väterliche Gesetz.“

[179] G. R. S. Mead, Gnostic John the Baptizer: Selections from the Mandaean John-Book, 1924, p. 103.

[180] Louis H. Feldman, A Selective Critical Bibliography of Josephus (1989), p. 330; in Louis H. Feldman & Gohei Hata, Josephus, the Bible, and History. Earl Doherty, The Jesus Puzzle, Supplementary Article No. 16, Josephus on the Rocks, The Slavonic Josephus.

[181] Louis H. Feldman analyses the subject as follows:

The Slavonic Josephus “is based on an inferior Greek text”. Eisler “constructed an elaborate theory” that the Slavonic texts were based on “a rough draft of [Josephus’] work in Aramaic”. Nikolai K. Gudzii (History of Early Russian Literature, New York 1949) “however, has shown that the ideas and language of the Slavonic version, especially its tell-tale similes and rhythmic pattern, match those of Russian chronicles of the eleventh century”. John Strugnell (Josephus, Flavius, New Catholic Encyclopedia 7, New York 1967, p. 1120–1123) “on the basis of the relationship of the version to a Byzantine text which lacks the additional material, arrives at a similar date in the tenth or eleventh century. An eleventh century date has been confirmed by [N. A.] Meščerskij [Istorija iudeskoij vojny Josifa Flavija, Moscow & Leningrad 1958] who, through a thorough linguistic analysis, contends that the additions and omissions must be regarded as the original work of the translator.” Arie Rubinstein (Observations on the Old Russian Version of Josephus’ Wars, Journal of Semitic Studies 1957 2(4):329–348) “remarks that the additions are suspiciously like an embellishment inserted by a pious Byzantine copyist of the Greek text or by a pious Russian translator.” (Louis H. Feldman: Flavius Josephus Revisited: the Man, His writings, and His Significance, 1972, p. 771–774, in Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt: Hellenistic Judentum in Roman time: Philon and Josephus 21, 2, 1984 by Hildegard Temporini & Wolfgang Haase)

[182] Solomon Zeitlin, The Hoax of the “Slavonic Josephus”, The Jewish Quarterly Review, New Series, Vol. 39, No. 2 (Oct., 1948), p. 177.

[183] John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, v. 1, New York: Doubleday, 1991, p. 57.

[184] Robert Eisler, The Messiah Jesus and John the Baptist according to Flavius Josephus’ recently rediscovered ’Capture of Jerusalem’ and other Jewish and Christian sources, 1931, p. 112.


3 kommentarer

  1. thinkrguy said,

    23 mars, 2011 den 05:10

    Hi Roger–are you familiar with Ernst Hansack’s Die altrussische Version des ”Juedischen Krieges”? From what I can tell (my German is worse than it should be) he suggests that there may be a Greek original underlying the so-called ”Slavonic Josephus” (really an Old Russian Josephus) after all. He also seems to distinguish between most of the insertions, and the five or so ”Christological passages”, for what it’s worth.


  2. the_cave said,

    23 mars, 2011 den 05:14

    (BTW, that was me, the_cave, above :) I didn’t realize I was still logged in using my WordPress account.)


  3. 23 mars, 2011 den 12:06

    Nein, ich habe es nicht gesehen. Thanks! I am of course aware of the suggestion that there may have been a Greek original underlying the “Slavonic Josephus”. That was Eisler’s idea and he also tried to distinguish between the insertions and the things written by Josephus. I will, at least superficially, deal with this subject in coming posts, but I think Eisler’s method was basically flawed and biased. It would though be interesting to see what Hansack makes out of it on his 560 pages. The book is after all fairly cheap.



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