The Jesus Passages in Josephus – a Case Study, part 3f – ”The brother of Jesus, who was called Christ”: Origen’s knowledge; The cause of Jerusalem’s destruction

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 3f 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

The cause of Jerusalem’s destruction

A very common but nonetheless false statement is, as said before, that Origen would be witnessing the passage which now occurs in the Antiquities of the Jews 20:200 regarding Ananus’ assassination of James. There is not much to indicate this. On the three occasions when Origen invokes what Josephus would have written about James and Jesus, he twice writes ton adelfon Iêsou tou legomenou Christou (τὸν ἀδελφὸν Ἰησοῦ τοῦ λεγομένου Χριστοῦ), thus “the brother of Jesus who was called Christ.” The third time, he writes “a brother” instead of “the brother”. He is thus on the whole consistent on all three occasions and this in two separate books, which reasonably were written within a few years time. Without any doubt this increases the probability that he did not reproduce “the brother of Jesus who was called Christ” from memory but actually was quoting the passage. Another possible explanation is of course that he consulted his ​​first book when he later wrote his second.

Origen’s ton adelfon Iêsou tou legomenou Christou is also identical to what can be found in Josephus today. This is the fact that makes many scholars contend that Origen is in fact witnessing the surviving James passage in Josephus. It is however not entirely identical to the text in the Antiquities of the Jews 20:200 in terms of language, inasmuch as Origen puts James before the expression, while in Josephus James is mentioned directly after the phrase; thus “the brother of Jesus who was called Christ, James was his name.” So whoever argues that Origen relies on the James passage now occurring in Josephus’ Antiquities, cannot argue that he presents faithful quotes from it. On the contrary, the present deviation which occurs on all three occasions in Origen indicates that he consulted a text which was not the same as the one in the Antiquities of the Jews 20:200.

The reverse order in Josephus is also a bit strange, although linguistically not incorrect. But since it is James who is executed and he therefore is the person upon whom the focus should be; it would be obvious to begin the sentence with his name and only afterwards identify him as the brother of Jesus. The fact that Jesus is put first in the sentence indicates that the person who wrote this thought of Jesus as the key person in this context. This in turn suggests that it was written by a Christian and thereby not by Josephus (who was not a Christian). But if Josephus really wrote “the brother of Jesus”, yet not “who was called Christ”, this may instead indicate that Jesus was the key person also in Josephus’ story, and that he therefore refers to that Jesus who a few sentences later is appointed the new high priest.[224] More on this is to come.

Instead of referring to the surviving James passage in Josephus, Origen says 1) ”Titus destroyed Jerusalem, on account [of what the Jews did to] …”, 2) ”these things happened to them in accordance with the wrath of God in consequence of the things which they had dared to do against …”, 3) ” these disasters happened to the Jews as a punishment for the death of James the Just, who was a brother of Jesus who was called Christ”.

Origen is accordingly not referring to the passage in Josephus where Ananus has James executed, but to a passage in which the killing of James is said to have been the reason why Jerusalem was destroyed. No such text exists in the extant books of Josephus. Since Origen on three occasions and also in two separate books refers to the passage on the consequences of the murder of James, it is reasonable to assume that Origen also reports what he had read in Josephus – including “the brother of Jesus who was called Christ.” This means that in Origen’s days (in the 240’s) there probably was a reference to “James, the brother of Jesus who was called Christ” somewhere in a Josephan manuscript accessible to Origen, but that this subordinate clause occurred in a different context and thus elsewhere than in book 20 of the Antiquities of the Jews, where now “the brother of Jesus who was called Christ, whose name was James” is found.

1) Besides, Josephus could scarcely have blamed the outcome of the war on Ananus’ outrage on James, and therefore hardly have written the things Origen said he wrote. The fatal destiny of the Jews was according to Josephus the result of the action of the Sicarii and the Edomites.[225] 2) Nor would the Christians, during the long era they reigned the Roman Empire, have allowed a passage where the destruction of Jerusalem is said to be the result of what the Jews did to James be lost – if Josephus wrote it and it thus appeared in all the early manuscripts of the Antiquities of the Jews. Even if according to Origen, Josephus should have blamed the outcome of the war on the Jews for what they did to Jesus, this was anyway recognition of Jesus’ brother James’ greatness. For these two reasons it is possible to infer that it was a forgery which existed only in a limited “manuscript line” of the Antiquities of the Jews. The whole thing could have happened in the following manner:

They hardly modified, deleted from and added to the original of the Antiquities of the Jews, but probably altered a copy at a time when perhaps hundreds of copies were in circulation in Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Some Christian “improves” the text when a new manuscript is copied. Later on also this text is copied in, say, three copies and these will all be present in a certain area, as a suggestion Alexandria or Palestine (two places where Origen lived). Origen reads this text, and later paraphrases it from memory or possibly consults it directly. In any case, Origen’s three renderings of the passage are far from identical to the text in Josephus, unless we limit ourselves to only the expression “[the] brother of Jesus who was called Christ.” For this reason, it is hardly about exact quotes but more about paraphrasing. When later the Antiquities of the Jews is distributed, it is probably only one or perhaps a few of the hundreds of manuscripts available that will be copied and will form the basis for all future copies. If this or one of those “originals” was not the manuscript that Origen had access to, his variant will consequently soon disappear into oblivion.

Roger Viklund, 2011-04-05


[224] Earl Doherty, Jesus: Neither God Nor Man – The Case for a Mythical Jesus (2009), p. 572–573, note 224 on p. 771–772.

[225] Flavius Josephus writes:

“For that it was a seditious temper of our own that destroyed it, and that they were the tyrants among the Jews who brought the Roman power upon us, who unwillingly attacked us, and occasioned the burning of our holy temple, Titus Caesar, who destroyed it, is himself a witness, who, daring the entire war, pitied the people who were kept under by the seditious, and did often voluntarily delay the taking of the city, and allowed time to the siege, in order to let the authors have opportunity for repentance.” (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, preface, 4)

“When Albinus reached the city of Jerusalem, he bent every effort and made every provision to ensure peace in the land by exterminating most of the Sicarii.” (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 20:208)

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