The Jesus Passages in Josephus – a Case Study: Excursus – ”The Emmaus Narrative in Luke”

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This is the Excursus and the final part of the translation of my treatise Jesuspassagerna hos Josefus – en fallstudie into English.

Den svenska texten.

Excursus: The Emmaus Narrative in Luke

Gary J. Goldberg has in an article pointed out a number of coincidences between the Testimonium Flavianum and the Emmaus narrative in the Gospel of Luke.[242] The parts in Luke which Goldberg refers to are reproduced below:

“What things?” he asked. “About Jesus of Nazareth,” they replied. “He was a prophet, powerful in word and deed before God and all the people. The chief priests and our rulers handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they crucified him; but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to redeem Israel. And what is more, it is the third day since all this took place. …

He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken! Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. (Luk 24:19–21, 25–27, NIV)

Clearly there are obvious similarities between this block of text in the Gospel of Luke and the Testimonium. Of course Jesus is mentioned, as the Messiah (Christ); however, it does not say that Jesus was the Messiah, as in the Testimonium. Jesus is said to have been “a prophet, powerful in word and deed”, but Jesus is not said to have been a “wise man”. It is the chief priests and the rulers who handed him over to be sentenced to death, and they can probably be seen as the leading men, as stated in the Testimonium. However, in the Testimonium it is Pilate who condemns Jesus to the cross (stauros). The third day is mentioned as well as the prophets having told about him.

Goldberg finds similar short phrases in the original Greek which correspond, and above all coincidences of structure. I will not deal with those word by word comparisons, just notice that they actually do exist. So there certainly are similarities, but really no imperative ones. After all, we are dealing with the Gospels and the information found in the quoted passage from the Gospel of Luke is the fundamental information of the Gospels. Furthermore, there are key elements in the Testimonium missing from this passage in the Gospel of Luke. This includes the assertions that Jesus was a teacher of people who received the truth with pleasure, that he gained a following among many Jews and Greeks, who had not ceased to love him; and that the tribe of Christians has not yet died out. You might perhaps say that the statement in the Testimonium that Jesus appeared to those who had loved him is also in the Gospel of Luke, since the stranger they are talking to is said to be the resurrected Jesus.

The question then is what to make of these similarities? Goldberg depicts three possible scenarios:

1)      The result of chance. The coincidences would then be the due to chance. This means that “Luke” and Josephus would have reached similar wordings and partially a similar sequence by pure chance. Goldberg dismisses this as unlikely, particularly since “the only two known examples of the ”third day” as a participial phrase appears in texts with so many other structural resemblances.” But this is an option only if one believes that Josephus wrote the Testimonium and it is therefore not a credible alternative for me either.

2)      The Testimonium is a later Christian forgery influenced by the Emmaus narrative. The coincidences would “be due to a Christian interpolator who altered the Testimonium, or forged it entire, under the influence of the Emmaus narrative.” Goldberg dismisses also this possibility as unlikely, and he do not think “that a writer capable of imitating Josephus’ style and daring enough to alter his manuscript would at the same time employ non-Josephan expressions and adhere rather closely to a New Testament text.” This objection from Goldberg is however hardly sustainable, since the principle in such case must apply to all similarities between the Testimonium and other Christian beliefs, not only for the similarity between the Testimonium and the Emmaus narrative. And that kind of similarities between the Testimonium and Christian beliefs are in excess in terms of the resurrection on the third day and the predictions made by the divine prophets, etc. As has been shown, the Testimonium is made up of Christian notions and the way Goldberg argues, one could then ask how someone dared to imitate those notions? What is more, Goldberg’s thesis is not entirely correct – that the expressions in the Testimonium would be non-Josephan. On the contrary! As previously pointed out in ”Subjective methods of reconstruction” there is not really anything in either language or linguistic expressions in the Testimonium which Josephus could not have written – if seen from a linguistic point of view only. This applies to those parts where the content is Christian, as well as those parts which are not explicitly Christian. If you only see it from a linguistic point or view and ignore the content, Josephus could very well be the author of the entire Testimonium. It is the content and not the language which lead to certain parts being excised as Christian additions. Furthermore, if there would be any reason at all to invent the Testimonium, it would be to let Josephus confirm Christian values. I therefore consider it to be perfectly reasonable that a Christian forger, consciously or unconsciously, was influenced by a well-known Gospel text when designing the Testimonium. Why would that person not “dare” to use expressions similar to those found in a New Testament text? Would he be afraid that someone would discover this? And who would discover it when the first person who apparently made this “discovery” was Goldberg in the 1990’s?

3)      Josephus and Luke both based their descriptions on statements circulated by Jewish Christians, or on similar or identical common sources. Goldberg is attracted by this idea, and considers it to be the simplest and most probable one. What Goldberg then ignores is that there are other and much more obvious parallels between Josephus and “Luke” (the Gospel of Luke as well as the Acts of the Apostles), which has led to several scholars having suggested a direct influence between these two.[243] The apologists who acknowledge these similarities tend to argue that Josephus used “Luke”, which could be applicable in this case too, even if Goldberg does not suggest it – although he seems to be certain that Luke wrote before the Antiquities of the Jews was published in 93/94 CE. But it seems to be very unlikely that a historian like Josephus would have relied on an author such as “Luke”, who writes anything but history. Luke wrote instead religious documents. It is then much more plausible that “Luke” in this case used Josephus as one of his sources and he would thus have written the gospel as well as the Acts of the Apostles sometime after 94 CE; and then probably early in the second century. And could anyone realistically imagine Josephus as having written the Testimonium first and “Luke” then would have revised the Testimonium into the Emmaus narrative; which in such case would be the causality of this scenario? Moreover, if Josephus and “Luke” would have used a common source, that source would in all likelihood have been a Christian source. The reason for this is that Luke’s Emmaus narrative is a Christian narrative and that the Testimonium is a Christian testimony. Why would a historian like Josephus be relying on a Christian document of faith?

To sum up; the similarities between the Testimonium and the Emmaus narrative are not greater than if the Testimonium (in part or in full) was written by a Christian, they could easily have originated by chance and of course by conscious or unconscious influence of the Emmaus narrative in the Gospel of Luke; a story which obviously all Christians were very familiar with.

Roger Viklund, 2011-04-16

[242] Gary J. Goldberg, The Coincidences of the Emmaus Narrative of Luke and the Testimonium of Josephus, The Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 13 (1995) ps. 59–77.

[243] See for example Richard Carrier, Luke and Josephus (2000) and Steve Mason, Josephus and the New Testament, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1992.


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