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


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 2s 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

Robert Eisler’s negative portrait

Robert Eisler’s theory was that the Slavonic version of Josephus was based on the first and now lost Greek editions of the Jewish War; therefore, Greek translations made ​​from the rough drafts of the Aramaic version which came out in the early 70’s. This work was intended for the Aramaic speaking Jews of the East and meant to deter them from further risings against Rome. The Greek version that latter was preserved was probably partly rewritten and primarily intended for a Greco-Roman audience.[188] According to Robert Eisler, the Christians who at that time relied on original texts by Josephus did in turn tamper with these by adding some and removing others. Thereafter, a Lithuanian Jew with some sort of Christian background in the mid thirteenth century translated this text into the Old Russian from Greek texts. While doing this, he would also have interpolated more materials. Today, not many agree with Eisler and most scholars believe the Slavonic Josephus to be a medieval forgery.[189]

His method was as simple as consistent. Josephus must have written about Jesus; the alternative would be to assume that Jesus either did not exist or that his deeds were of very little importance. The first hypothesis is according to Eisler extremely questionable and the second slightly less improbable, yet so unlikely that it is not a real alternative. He considers his own hypothesis as “infinitely more plausible, even without further support”.[190]

Josephus must accordingly have written about Jesus also in the Jewish War, and this would then have been removed by Christians, yet have been preserved in a number of medieval quotes. Josephus could not reasonably have written appreciatively of Jesus and certainly not the Testimonium as it now appears in the Antiquities of the Jews – in that case he would not immediately afterwards have written about another sad calamity which befell the Jews. Christians would, on the other hand, not have invented anything about Jesus that could be perceived as negative.

Consequently, all one had to do was to compile everything ever written about Jesus, that was likely to come from Josephus and then discard all that was favourable to him and his disciples (and therefore added by Christians). The remainder would then pretty well reflect what Josephus originally wrote.[191] It should suffice to call attention to the purely subjective in the described methodology of selection, in order for its weaknesses to be exposed and revealed. In any case, this had the effect that Eisler reconstructed the Testimonium as far as he felt that he was capable of, by using all the sources he could find; either what occurred in distorted form in the other three passages about Jesus in the Slavonic Josephus, or in other Church Fathers.

Eisler’s own reconstruction of the Testimonium goes like this:

“Now about this time arose (an occasion for new disturbances) a certain Jesus, a wizard of a man, if indeed he may be called a man (who was the most monstrous of all men, whom his disciples call a son of God, as having done wonders such as no man hath ever yet done) … He was in fact a teacher of astonishing tricks to such men as accept the abnormal with delight … And he seduced many Jews and many also of the Greek nation and (was regarded by them as) the Messiah … And when, on the indictment of the principal men among us, Pilate had sentenced him to the cross, still those who before had admired him did not cease (to rave). For it seemed to them that having been dead for three days, he had appeared to them alive again, as the divinely-inspired prophets had foretold — these and ten thousand other wonderful things — concerning him. And even now the race of those who are called ‘Messianists’ after him is not extinct.”[192]

The points […] in Eisler’s reconstructed text are his own and form passages which he considered to be irretrievably lost, beyond the possibility of reconstruction, but which probably dealt with something considered to be terrible for the Jews. Now Eisler is not the only one to reconstruct the Testimonium. Rather, there are as many reconstructions as there are scholars involved in this issue. A number of these reconstructions are reproduced in the following footnote.[193] All these “re-creations” have a few things in common – they lack textual support, are based on the assumption that Josephus must have written about Jesus, and are due to small modifications made sufficiently acceptable in order for each scholar to believe that Josephus indeed might have written it.

In addition to reconstructing the Testimonium, Eisler also tried to find other things that Josephus had written about Jesus, such things that either occurred in garbled form in the other three passages on Jesus in the Slavonic Josephus, or in the writings of the Church Fathers. So for example, did Andreas of Jerusalem (c. 660–740) write the following:

“But Josephus the Jew also records in the same way that the Lord appeared with joined eyebrows, beautiful eyes, a long countenance, humped over, well grown.”[194]

This is repeated in similar terms by, among others, the scholion to John of Damascus (c. 676-749)[195] and in the Greek lexicon Suda from the tenth century.[196]

Eisler then makes a new reconstruction based on these observations and also on the so-called letter of Lentulus, an apocryphal writing probably made in the thirteenth century and which claims to be written by a predecessor of Pilate, the otherwise unknown Roman governor of Judea, Lentulus. The letter of Lentulus begins in a similar way as the Testimonium followed by a description of Jesus in which he is said to be of medium size, where his beholders can both fear and love him, where his hair is wavy, curled and bright and flowing over his shoulders, is parted in two on the top of the head, after the pattern of the Nazarenes; he has a face without wrinkle, his nose and mouth are faultless, his eyes are changeable and bright, his beard is abundant, etc.[197]

After Eisler having removed everything favourable of Jesus, and with the aid of the Slavonic Josephus and several other texts such as the one by Andreas of Jerusalem, he creates another passage which he believes represents something similar to what Josephus could have written. Below I quote the introduction of this text:

“At that time, too, there appeared a certain man of magical power, if it is permissible to call him a man, whom (certain) Greeks call a son of God, but his disciples the true prophet, (said to) raise the dead and heal all diseases. His nature and his form were human; a man of simple appearance, mature age, small stature, three cubits high, hunchbacked, with a long face, long nose, and meeting eyebrows, so that they who see him might be affrighted, with scanty hair (but) with a parting in the middle of his head, after the manner of the Nazirites, and with an undeveloped beard. Only in semblance was he superhuman, (for) he gave some astonishing and spectacular exhibitions. But again, if I look at his commonplace physique I (for one) cannot call him an angel…”(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. 466–467)[198]

Eisler accordingly concluded that Josephus had described Jesus as a small hunchbacked, long-nosed, half baldheaded man of simple appearance. Eislers approach is thrilling and interesting but can scarcely be called scientifically rigorous.

Instead of like Eisler assuming that this shows what Josephus actually wrote about Jesus, it rather shows that Christians (and others) could not help but invent passages about Jesus and Christians and to attribute these to Josephus. They have felt compelled to alter and amend sentences in Josephus. One question that necessarily must be asked is this: If the Slavonic Josephus really would have preserved authentic materials by Josefus, how come that no one knew of this until much later?

Resumé. It is hard to know where all these legendary tales have their origin. One possibility is that they (at least largely) come from the apparently legendary stories told by Hegesippus and of which only fragments have been preserved. Since the Latin forms (H)egesippus and Iosippus (Josephus) are so similar, the names have (as has been showed in Part 2k) been confused throughout history. Until the twelfth century there were all sorts of additions and deletions in the texts of Josephus and as late as the eleventh century did Thomas Gale from Cambridge have several long Greek fragments of text which he claimed were from Josephus and that are not included in the preserved text.[199]

Alice Whealey is quite rightly regarding the Slavonic Josephus as a medieval creation through and through.[200] It was done to give the Slaves a historical narrative, focusing on the Christian story as well as on the characteristics of the Slavic people; in the same way as previously had been done for the Latin-speaking group (Pseudo-Hegesippus), the Hebrew-speaking (Josippon), the Syrian-speaking (James, Theophilus, Michael, etc.) and the Arabic-speaking (Agapius). In this they did not hesitate to add and remove things, so that the story came to focus on those aspects that were important in their time and place.

The following table provides a summary of the entire chapter “the Church Fathers knowledge of the Testimonium” and is an attempt to illustrate the time for the origins of the various writings and how the influence has been from writer to writer.

Roger Viklund, 2011-03-24


[188] Arthur E. Palumbo, Jr., The Dead Sea Scrolls and the Personages of Earliest Christianity, 2004, p. 225–226.

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

[190] The quotation from Robert Eisler is taken from Earl Doherty, Supplementary Article No. 16, Josephus on the Rocks:

“… these conjectures would seem nothing but a very bold hypothesis: all the same, they would seem infinitely more plausible, even without further support, than the extremely questionable hypothesis of the non-historicity of Jesus, or the little more probable assumption of the essential insignificance of the Gospel events, or Josephus’ unknown private reasons which are held responsible for his passing over in silence what he knew about Jesus, whilst he does not appear to impose upon himself the slightest reserve when he comes to speak of the other messiahs of that troublesome period.” (Robert Eisler, The Messiah Jesus and John the Baptist: According to Flavius Josephus’ Recently Rediscovered ‘Capture of Jerusalem’, 1931, p. 68)

[191] The quotation from Robert Eisler is taken from Earl Doherty, Supplementary Article No. 16, Josephus on the Rocks:

“everything of anti-Christian character, every contemptuous or disparaging allusion to Jesus and his followers, may be regarded offhand as the authentic work of Josephus; every statement exonerating Jesus and favourable to him and his disciples is to be set aside as an interpolation or correction introduced by a Christian reader or copyist.” (Robert Eisler, The Messiah Jesus and John the Baptist: According to Flavius Josephus’ Recently Rediscovered ‘Capture of Jerusalem’, 1931, p. 382)

[192] Robert Eisler, The Messiah Jesus and John the Baptist: According to Flavius Josephus’ recently rediscovered ‘Capture of Jerusalem’ and the other Jewish and Christian sources, 1931, p. 62)

[193] John P. Meier’s reconstruction of the Testimonium:

“At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man. For he was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who receive the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following among many Jews and among many of Gentile origin. And when Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so. And up until this very day the tribe of Christians (named after him) had not died out.” (John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew, Volume 1, p. 61)

Schlomo Pines’ reconstruction of the Testimonium:

“At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them after his crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.” (Shlomo Pines, An Arabic version of the Testimonium Flavianum and its implications, 1971, p. 8–10, 16)

Geza Vermes’ reconstruction of the Testimonium:

“About this time lived Jesus, a wise man … He performed astonishing feats (and was a teacher of such people as are eager for novelties?) He attracted many Jews and many of the Greeks … Upon an indictment brought by the leading men among us, Pilate sentenced him to the cross, but those who had loved him from the very first did not cease to be attached to him … The tribe of the Christians, named after him, is still in existence.” (Geza Vermes, The Jesus Notice of Josephus reexamined, Journal of Jewish Studies, vol. 38, issue 1, 1987)

Paul Winter’s reconstruction of the Testimonium:

“About this time lived Jesus, a wise man … he performed astonishing feats (and was a teacher of such people as are eager for novelties?) He attracted many Jews and many of the Greeks … Upon an indictment brought by leading members of our society, Pilate sentenced him to the cross, but those who had loved him from the very first did not cease to be attached to him … The brotherhood of the Christians named after him, is still in existence.” (Paul Winter, Josephus on Jesus and James i Emil Schürer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (175 B.C.- A.D. 135), edited by Geza Vermes and Fergus Millar; Edinburgh, 1973, Excursus II, p. 437)

James Charlesworth’s reconstruction of the Testimonium:

”About this time there was Jesus, a wise man, [if indeed one ought to call him a man]. For he was one who performed surprising works, (and) a teacher of people who with pleasure received the unusual. He stirred up both many Jews and also many of the Greeks. [He was the Christ.] And when Pilate condemned him to the cross, since he was accused by the first-rate men among us, those who had been loving (him from) the first did not cease (to cause trouble), [for he appeared to them on the third day, having life again, as the prophets of God had foretold these and countless other marvelous things about him]. And until now the tribe of Christians, so named from him, is not (yet?) extinct.” (James H. Charlesworth, Jesus within Judaism: new light from exciting archaeological discoveries, Doubleday, 1988)

F. F. Bruce’s reconstruction of the Testimonium:

”Now there arose about this time a source of further trouble in one Jesus, a wise man who performed surprising works, a teacher of men who gladly welcome strange things. He led away many Jews, and also many of the Gentiles. He was the so-called Christ. When Pilate, acting on information supplied by the chief men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had attached themselves to him at first did not cease to cause trouble, and the tribe of Christians, which has taken this name from him, is not extinct even today.” (Frederick Fyvie Bruce, Jesus and Christian Origins Outside the New Testament, Eerdmans, 1974, p. 39)

Claudia Setzer’s reconstruction of the Testimonium:

“About this time lived Jesus, a wise man, For he was a doer of wonderful deeds, a teacher of those who accept the unusual with pleasure, and won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. When Pilate, heeding the principal men among us, had ordered him to be crucified, those who had loved him in the first place did not cease. On the third day he appeared to them alive again, for the prophets of God foretold these and a myriad of other marvelous things about him. And even now, the tribe of Christians, named after him, has not failed.” (Claudia Setzer, Jewish responses to early Christians: history and polemics, 30-150 C.E., Minneapolis 1994, p. 106–107)

[194] Andreas of Jerusalem:

”Αλλα και ο Ιουδαιος Ιωσηπος τον αυτον τροπον ιστορει οραθηναι τον κυριον συνοφρυν, ευοφθαλμον, μακροπροσωπον, επικυφον, ευηλικα.” (From Ben C. Smith, Text Excavation, Jesus).

[195] Scholion to John of Damascus, On the Orthodox Faith 4.16:

…επει και Ιωσηπος ο Ιουδαιος, ως τινες φασι… τον αυτον ιστορει τροπον τον κυριον οραθηναι συνοφρυν, ευοφθαλμον, μακροψιν, ειπκυφη τε και ευηλικα.

…since also Josephus the Jew, as some say…. records in the same way that the Lord appeared with joined eyebrows, beautiful eyes, a long aspect [or face], both humped over and well grown. (From Ben C. Smith, Text Excavation, Jesus).

[196] The Lexicon Suda:

“Γράφει δὲ περὶ τοῦ κυρίου ἡμῶν Ἰησοῦ Χριστοῦ οὕτως· Γίνεται δὲ κατὰ τοῦτον τὸν χρόνον Ἰησοῦς, σοφὸς ἀνήρ, εἴγε ἄνδρα αὐτὸν λέγειν χρή· ἦν γὰρ παραδόξων ἔργων ποιητής, διδάσκαλος ἀνθρώπων τῶν ἡδονῇ τἀληθῆ δεχομένων, καὶ πολλοὺς μὲν τῶν Ἰουδαίων, πολλοὺς δὲ καὶ τοῦ Ἑλληνικοῦ ἐπηγάγετο· ὁ Χριστὸς οὗτος ἦν. καὶ αὐτὸν ἐνδείξει τῶν πρώτων ἀνδρῶν παρ’ ἡμῖν σταυρῷ ἐπιτετιμηκότος Πιλάτου, οὐκ ἐπαύσαντο οἱ τὸ πρῶτον ἀγαπήσαντες· ἐφάνη γὰρ αὐτοῖς τρίτην ἔχων ἡμέραν πάλιν ζῶν, τῶν θείων προφητῶν ταῦτα καὶ ἄλλα μυρία θαυμαστὰ περὶ αὐτοῦ εἰρηκότων. εἴς τε νῦν τὸ τῶν Χριστιανῶν ἀπὸ τοῦδε ὠνομασμένον οὐκ ἀπελείπετο φῦλον. τοσαῦτα Ἰώσηπος περὶ Χριστοῦ ἐν τῷ ͵ιηʹ λόγῳ φησίν.”

“And he writes thus concerning our Lord Jesus Christ: And there is about this 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 receive true things with pleasure, and many of the Jews, and also many of the Greek element, he led to himself; this man was the Christ. And, when on the accusation of the first men 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 these things and myriads of other wondrous things concerning him. And until now the tribe of Christians, named from this man, has not been lacking away. Josephus says such things concerning Christ in the eighteenth volume.” (From Ben C. Smith, Text Excavation, The Testimonium Flavianum)

[197] The letter of Lentulus:

“Lentulus, the Governor of the Jerusalemites to the Roman Senate and People, greetings. There has appeared in our times, and there still lives, a man of great power (virtue), called Jesus Christ. The people call him prophet of truth; his disciples, son of God. He raises the dead, and heals infirmities. He is a man of medium size; he has a venerable aspect, and his beholders can both fear and love him. His hair is of the colour of the ripe hazel-nut, straight down to the ears, but below the ears wavy and curled, with a bluish and bright reflection, flowing over his shoulders. It is parted in two on the top of the head, after the pattern of the Nazarenes. His brow is smooth and very cheerful with a face without wrinkle or spot, embellished by a slightly reddish complexion. His nose and mouth are faultless. His beard is abundant, of the colour of his hair, not long, but divided at the chin. His aspect is simple and mature, his eyes are changeable and bright. He is terrible in his reprimands, sweet and amiable in his admonitions, cheerful without loss of gravity. He was never known to laugh, but often to weep. His stature is straight, his hands and arms beautiful to behold. His conversation is grave, infrequent, and modest. He is the most beautiful among the children of men.” (The letter of Lentulus, Catholic Encyclopedia)

[199] J. Spencer Kennard Jr., Gleanings from the Slavonic Josephus Controversy Author(s), The Jewish Quarterly Review, New Series, Vol. 39, No. 2 (Oct., 1948), p. 164–165.

[200] Alice Whealey writes:

“More likely, however, the work dates from the medieval period, sometime before the thirteenth century. Although the author(s) of the Slavonic War almost certainly was familiar with the New Testament it is far from clear that he (or they) was an Orthodox Christian, as has been widely assumed. There is some internal evidence within the Slavonic War to suggest that the author(s) may have been a recent Jewish convert to Christianity, a Judaizing Christian, or a Christian convert to Judaism. It has still not been conclusively shown by either Byzantinists or medieval Slavicists whether the original adapter responsible for the interpolations in the Slavonic War was a Greek whose work was merely translated by a medieval Russian, or whether a medieval Russian authored the interpolations, which he then inserted into his translation of Josephus’ Greek War.” (Alice Whealey, The Testimonium Flavianum Controversy from Antiquity to the Present, 2000 SBL Josephus Seminar, p. 7–8)

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