The Jesus Passages in Josephus – a Case Study, part 3e – ”The brother of Jesus, who was called Christ”: Origen’s knowledge; Did not accept Jesus as the Messiah

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 3e of the translation of my treatise Jesuspassagerna hos Josefus – en fallstudie into English.

Den svenska texten.

III. The brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James

Origen’s knowledge of another James passage

Did not accept Jesus as the Messiah

Origen is accordingly twice claiming that Josephus did not accept or believe in Jesus as the Messiah. So what does this mean? There are reasonably three possible interpretations:

1)      Josephus bluntly denied Jesus’ Messiahship and wrote something like: “He was not the Messiah!” This would mean that Origen knew of a now lost passage in Josephus. Even if this of course is possible, I see no reason that on the basis of this vague statement of Origen construct such a hypothetical missing text.

2)      Josephus did not write any part at all of the Testimonium, and from the expression “called Christ” in the James passage quoted by Origen, that the fate of James and not of Jesus was said to be the cause of the fall of Jerusalem, and further on Josephus’ overall silence on Jesus and the Christian teaching, Origen has interpreted this as if Josephus reasonably cannot have regarded Jesus as the Messiah – for then he expressly should have said something about this. This I find to be a likely explanation.

3)      Josephus wrote the Testimonium but not that Jesus “was the Messiah” (if so Origen would not have said that Josephus did not accept Jesus as the Messiah), but instead something like “he was thought to be the Messiah”, similar to how Jerome and Michael rendered the sentence.

The latter is a popular theory among those who argue for authenticity. According to the proponents of authenticity, the expression “he was thought to be” would accordingly explain Origen’s “did not accept”. Nevertheless, this reasoning is, as previously shown in “Origen’s testification of the absence of the Testimonium“, for several reasons illogical. To claim that the Testimonium should have included the phrase “he was thought to be the Messiah”, is a modification of the Testimonium in order to more easily accept that Josephus has written the paragraph. But Origen does not mention the Testimonium, even though he refers John the Baptist and book 18, where the Testimonium now is found. On top of this we already have an expression where it is said that Jesus “was called the Messiah”. And to make doubly sure, it is a paragraph that Origen expressly says occurred in Josephus. Does not the expression “he was called Christ” express as much (or as little) skepticism as “he was thought to be Christ”?

By comparison, we can imagine that a person writes that “Nixon was thought to be president” and another that “Nixon was called president”. Is there any difference in the skepticism between these two concepts? Can we say that the writer in one case did not accept Nixon as president, but in the second case did? Both sentences describe what others might have thought, but not necessarily what the author thought. In both cases, this might be enough for a reader to doubt that whoever wrote this accepted that Nixon held the office, but one no more than the other. Why at all assume an unproven text which says the same as a text we actually have? Is it then not more reasonable to assume that when Origen says that Josephus did not accept Jesus as the Messiah, and in the same breath quotes a text in which Josephus writes that Jesus was called the Messiah, it is that formulation he has in mind and not a hypothetical formulation with the same meaning? In addition, one must also assume that the Testimonium which Origen in such case had access to, differed from the received version on many more places; for instance, the divine prophets could not possibly have foretold Jesus’ deeds, since Josephus thereby would have appointed him Messiah. And even a “down-played” Testimonium would have served Origen’s purposes; if for nothing else than at least to show that some people in those days believed that Jesus was the Messiah.

A much more likely scenario is that Origen on the basis of Josephus’ oeuvre concluded that Josephus did not accept or recognize Jesus as the Messiah. There is every reason to assume that Origen was not just superficially familiar with Josephus’ works, but that he also had read the books and particularly the Antiquities of the Jews. This conclusion can be made from the fact that Origen quotes or paraphrases Josephus on 11 occasions and this in several works.[222] This can also be inferred from the things Origen writes himself; that Josephus “wrote the Antiquities of the Jews in twenty books” and that in “in the 18th book of his Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus bears witness to John as having been a Baptist”. Besides, also the Testimonium occurs in book 18. The fact that Origen gives an account of the things Josephus writes about John the Baptist in Book 18 of the Antiquities of the Jews, has at least two immediate implications. 1) It shows that Origen was familiar with that particular part of Josephus’ works where the Testimonium occurs. 2) Origen should have been aware of the Testimonium if it had occurred in his manuscript of the Antiquities of the Jews, yet he does not touch upon its contents or even mention the passage. This then demonstrates that the Testimonium most likely did not appear in the manuscripts of Josephus which Origen had access to. Reasonably Origen could not have avoided referring to the Testimonium, almost regardless of what the paragraph had said and certainly not by just the small change of “he was” into “he was thought to be” the Messiah, as the divine prophets’ prediction of his actions, would have been enough for Origen’s purposes.

Also, Origen’s statement that Josephus did not accept Jesus as the Messiah indicates that he actually was aware of everything Josephus had written, and therefore had read him thoroughly. Whether he had access to Josephus’ works or not when he wrote Against Celsus and On Matthew is another matter. It is sometimes argued that Origen on one or possibly two occasions has confused Josephus’ books. However, it is far from certain that this indeed is the case, and the suspicion probably arose due to the fact that Josephus’ Against Apion originally also bore the name Antiquities of the Jews.[223] What we cannot know is if Origen looked up the things he referred to in Josephus, or if he took it from memory? A perusal of Josephus’ works makes it clear that Josephus was not Christian. Combined with Origen’s possible realization that Josephus had not written anything at all about Jesus and the Christians (besides the part which Origen quotes and where more attention is paid to James than to Jesus), this would be quite sufficient for Origen to conclude that Josephus did not accept Jesus as the Messiah. Otherwise Josephus should have written much more about Jesus; had come to the conclusion that the killing of Jesus and not of James led to Jerusalem’s destruction, and also have said that he was the Messiah – not just that he “was called Christ / Messiah.”

You would accordingly not have to assume that Origen had read anything by Josephus where he explicitly says that Jesus was not the Messiah. Origen might indeed have interpreted a more neutral saying in Josephus where Jesus was called or thought to be the Messiah, as if Josephus did not accept Jesus as the Messiah. But it is then more likely to assume that this expression was the actual expression which Origen said was in Josephus by this time; namely, “who was called Christ”, then to assume that there was an expression in a Testimonium which Origen does not refer to and which neither occurs in Josephus – that is to say a text with the expression “he was thought / believed to be Christ”. But perhaps the most reasonable assumption to make is that Origen did not find anything else about Jesus Christ than what was said in connection with the punishments of the Jews because of the murder of James. Origen concluded that Josephus’ lack of interest in Jesus demonstrated that he could not have thought of Jesus as the Messiah. If so, this “shortcoming” would in the future be corrected by the creation of the Testimonium.

Roger Viklund, 2011-04-04


[222] Earl Doherty, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man – The Case for a Mythical Jesus (2009), p. 538.

[223] Origen writes:

“For any one who chooses may read what Flavius Josephus has recorded in his two books on the Antiquity of the Jews, where he brings together a great collection of writers, who bear witness to the antiquity of the Jewish people”. (Origen, Against Celsus 1:16)

“And any one who likes may peruse the two books of Flavius Josephus on the antiquities of the Jews, in order that he may see in what way Moses was more ancient than those who asserted that floods and conflagrations take place in the world after long intervals of time.” (Origen, Against Celsus 4:11)

Origen speaks of two books of Josephus on the Antiquity of the Jews and he therefore appears to be mistaken, since Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews is just one book. But Origen did not necessarily refer to book titles but only books which dealt with the antiquity of the Jews; i.e. the Jews’ oldest history.

In the first quote, however, from Against Celsus 1:16, it looks like Origen speaks of Against Apion since he is saying that Josephus brought “together a great collection of writers, who bear witness to the antiquity of the Jewish people” – something which well corresponds with the content of Against Apion. But since apart from Origen also Eusebius says that the work we know as Against Apion bore the title On the Antiquity of the Jews, it is more likely that Jerome, who is the first person to use the title Against Apion, was the one who was unaware of the original title of the book. This is now thought to have been “the Apology of Flavius Josephus on the Antiquities of the Jews against Apion”; in Greek: ”Peri archaiotêtos Ioudaiôn kata Apiônos”. Origen’s references to Josephus’ two books on the Antiquity of the Jews therefore likely refers to both Antiquities of the Jews and Against Apion and then Origen did accordingly not confuse Josephus’ books.

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