The Jesus Passages in Josephus – a Case Study, part 3i – ”The brother of Jesus, who was called Christ”: Origen’s knowledge; Possible scenarios

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Part 2a Part 2b Part 2c Part 2d
Part 2e Part 2f Part 2g Part 2h
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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 3i 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

Possible scenarios

How are we then to understand the reference to “the brother of Jesus who was called Christ, whose name was James”, which now appears in Antiquities of the Jews 20:200? Here are five possible scenarios:

1)      The whole passage about Ananus is a forgery. It has been suggested that the whole passage dealing with the removal of a High Priest and the appointment of a new, is a forgery. But since the text fits so well in its context and the story has an important role and deals with a rather important historical event, this is quite unlikely.

2)      “The brother of Jesus who was called Christ, whose name was James” is added. One must keep in mind that Josephus recounts for Ananus’ fate, and not for James’. Josephus did not have to mention James at all; this was irrelevant to the story. Josephus’ main point is to explain why Ananus was deposed, namely because what he did was not lawful. It would have been enough for Josephus to write that Ananus unlawfully executed some people and for this reason was disposed. So perhaps Josephus did not mentioned James at all at this point. In his earlier work, the Jewish War, he portrays Ananus in a completely different and much more favourable light; as “a venerable, and a very just man” and “a prodigious lover of liberty, and an admirer of a democracy”. In this book he does not mention the execution of James, but rather that the Idumeans and the Zealots later had Ananus killed, and that their actions which lead to “the death of Ananus [and not the death of James] was the beginning of the destruction of the city, and that from this very day may be dated the overthrow of her wall, and the ruin of her affairs”.[232]

3)      “The brother of Jesus who was called Christ” is added to the things Josephus originally wrote, which in such case was only someone “whose name was James” (Iakôbos onoma autô, Ἰάκωβος ὄνομα αὐτῷ). It seems unlikely that Josephus would have used the name Christ, especially in order to identify Jesus, since Josephus maintains that he has remained a Pharisee and thus a professing Jew. But nor was it necessary to account for who this brother of James was. If one removes the phrase “the brother of Jesus who was called Christ” the story becomes entirely consistent. The High Priest Ananus was deposed from office because he unlawfully had executed “one whose name was James and some others”. This was as has been shown (see The identification) Josephus’ standard way to identify a person who was irrelevant to the story or who he did not know anything further about. Later, some Christian reader assumed that James must be the Lord’s brother James, which according to Christian tradition was the leader of the Christian church in Jerusalem. The reader then, perhaps with the support of Matthew 1:16, has made a note in the margin; “the brother of Jesus who was called Christ.” When the manuscript then was copied, the copyist believed that the note belonged to the original text, or thought that it should, and from personal conviction or the like included it. It was not unusual that such marginal notes (so-called glosses) were included in the text when the Bible manuscripts were copied.[233]

4)      Only “who was called Christ” is added. Another possibility is that only the words “who was called Christ” are added. Josephus would then have written “the brother of Jesus, whose name was James.” This seems to me to be the most plausible explanation. The Jesus who Josephus in such case refers to was Jesus, the son of Damneus, who Josephus only a few lines later says was made the new priest after Ananus. Also this solution would make James and Jesus brothers, however then sons of Damneus and not of Joseph. This would as well make clear why Josephus did not explain who Jesus was (unless of course the paragraph originally read “the brother of Jesus son of Damneus, whose name was James”). This instead becomes evident a few sentences later. At the same time this also explains why James is killed. He and his brother Jesus, both sons of Damneus, belonged to a rival faction which the Ananus-wing took the opportunity to decimate when no procurator was in place. Jesus, the son of Damneus, obviously becomes upset when his brother is killed, and he incites the masses. The popular rising which follows, forces Agrippa II to dismiss Ananus and make Jesus the new priest. Somewhat later in the Antiquities of the Jews, we learn that King Agrippa II also dismisses Jesus, the son of Damneus, and appoints Jesus, the son of Gamaliel; a man who in the Jewish War is associated with the wing of Ananus.[234] This means that the office went from the wing of Ananus to the wing of Damneus and back to the wing of Ananus again.

Shaye Cohen gives several examples from Josephus’ Life, which demonstrates that Josephus often refers to a person by name without explaining who he is and only slightly later identifies the person.[235] Also Steve Mason exemplifies how Josephus mentions a person by name and shortly afterwards gives the identification – precisely as would be the case if Josephus identified James as the brother of Jesus, and a few sentences later informed the reader that this Jesus was the son of Damneus and was appointed High Priest after Ananus. Mason is wondering if Josephus could be using “a deliberate narrative technique” in order to provoke the reader to wonder who that person is. A few sentences later he gives the answer, in the same way as you in the movies often wonder who the person is and only later get the answer.[236]

If Josephus just wrote “the brother of Jesus, whose name was James” and only a few sentences later identified this Jesus as the son of Damneus and the new High  Priest, this would not be remarkable and totally in line with the way Josephus proceeded in other situations. This would also explain why Jesus is put before James in the sentence. It is an invitation to the reader that this Jesus is of importance, and a few sentences later it is said that Jesus was appointed new High Priest. If so, the Christian addition “who was called Christ” completely changed the meaning of what Josephus originally wrote and hid the link between the new High Priest and his murdered brother.

5)      James, the brother of the Lord! A fifth possibility is that the paragraph originally read: “James, the brother of the Lord”. For in the ninth century Photios says in his rendering of the passage that Ananus “accused James, the brother of the Lord, and others with him, of disobeying the laws”.[237] This would then be consistent with Paul’s description of James as the brother of the Lord. And if this was the original reading then this sentence is clearly a Christian interpolation, since Josephus would by virtue of his Jewish faith never call Jesus “the Lord”.

Roger Viklund, 2011-04-09

[232] Flavius Josephus writes:

”I should not mistake if I said that the death of Ananus was the beginning of the destruction of the city, and that from this very day may be dated the overthrow of her wall, and the ruin of her affairs, whereon they saw their high priest, and the procurer of their preservation, slain in the midst of their city. He was on other accounts also a venerable, and a very just man; and besides the grandeur of that nobility, and dignity, and honor of which he was possessed, he had been a lover of a kind of parity, even with regard to the meanest of the people; he was a prodigious lover of liberty, and an admirer of a democracy in government; and did ever prefer the public welfare before his own advantage, and preferred peace above all things; for he was thoroughly sensible that the Romans were not to be conquered. He also foresaw that of necessity a war would follow, and that unless the Jews made up matters with them very dexterously, they would be destroyed; to say all in a word, if Ananus had survived, they had certainly compounded matters; for he was a shrewd man in speaking and persuading the people, and had already gotten the mastery of those that opposed his designs, or were for the war. And the Jews had then put abundance of delays in the way of the Romans, if they had had such a general as he was.” (Flavius Josephus, Jewish War 4:314ff)

[233] George Albert Wells, Did Jesus exist?, 1975, p. 11.

[234] Flavius Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 20:212–214, Jewish War, book 4.

[235] Shaye Cohen gives some examples from Josephus’ Life (Greek: Vita = V), Jewish War (Latin: Bellum Judaicum = BJ) and Antiquities of the Jews (Latin: Antiquitates Judaicae = AJ):

“The uneven method of introducing and re-introducing characters and places is particularly conspicuous in V. Cestius Gallus, the governor of Syria, is mentioned first in V 23 but his title does not appear until V 30. V 49 and 214 record only the name, V 347 and 373 add the title. The village of Dabaritta is mentioned in V 126 but Josephus does not explain its location until V 318. Jesus ben Sapphia is introduced in V 134 as if he were a new character although he appeared at least once before (V 66). We meet Ananias, a member of the delegation, in V 197, but Josephus describes him in V 290 as if for the first time. Elsewhere, too, Josephus employs this same non-technique. The monuments of Helena are mentioned in BJ 5.55 and 119, but Helena is not identified until 147 and 253. John of Gischala appears first in BJ 2.575, but is introduced only in 585. Antioch is described in BJ 3.29 although it was mentioned frequently in BJ 1 and 2. Judas the Galilean, the son of Ezekias, is introduced twice (BJ 2.56//AJ 17.271 and BJ 2.118//AJ 18.4). Antipater the father of Herod is described as if a new character in BJ 1.180-81//AJ 14.121. Any deductions about Josephus’ sources based on these inconcinnities are unreliable.” (Shaye J. D. Cohen, Josephus in Galilee and Rome: his vita and development as a historian, 1979 Leiden, p. 111)

[236] Steve Mason writes:

“The Iesous in Tiberias (from Life 271) is the archon, or council-president (278-79) — a case of mentioning the name shortly before giving the identification. That also happens occasionally in War. I have wondered whether it is not a deliberate narrative technique: provoking the reader to wonder who this guy is, and then supplying the identification after a few sentences (the way the films frequently raise such questions — Who is this person? — and only later supply the answer.” (David C. Hindley on Freethought & Rationalism Discussion Board, where he quotes a couple of paragraphs from a letter by Steve Mason)

[237] Photios writes:

“Thus, this Ananias, when Festus had died in Judaea and before Albinus had entered office, assembled the Sanhedrin on his own authority and accused James, the brother of the Lord, and others with him, of disobeying the laws and he ordered their death by stoning.” (Photios, Bibliotheca, codex 238 [On Antiquities of the Jews])


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