Richard Carrier’s article: Origen, Eusebius, and the Accidental Interpolation in Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.200

In December last year Richard Carrier had his article Origen, Eusebius, and the Accidental Interpolation in Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.200 published in the Journal of Early Christian Studies 
(vol. 20, no. 4, Winter 2012,
pp. 489–-514).

I should have commented upon it long ago. Anyway, in that article Carrier strongly arguments for the probability that the brief mention of Jesus in connection with James in Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews (AJ) 20.200 is an accidental interpolation.

Richard Carrier

Richard Carrier, credit Wikipedia

Carrier begins by referring to the Testimonium Flavianum and says that he sides “with those scholars who conclude that the entire passage is an interpolation and that there was no mention of Jesus in the original text of AJ 18” (489). He gives two major arguments for reaching that position.

One is that the text of the Testimonium is so relatively short compared to what could be expected if Josephus really would have written about Jesus. A forger on the other hand would only have had “the remaining space available on a standard scroll” to add the additional text and would therefore “have been limited” to write only a short text. I have seen Carrier suggest this previously, but have never been convinced by it due to one specific circumstance. I have counted the words (or I guess the letters) of all the twenty books of the Antiquities of the Jews, and found that they deviated rather much in length. Book 18 is surpassed in length by very much more than the length of the Testimonium in quite number of books. So, unless I have misunderstood Carrier’s argument, there would have been plenty of room for a very much longer Testimonium if the scroll with book 18 were of the same length as some of the scrolls containing the longer books.

The other argument on the other hand, is much stronger. Carrier correctly, in my opinion, argues the following: “the paragraph that follows the TF begins with, ‘About the same time also another sad calamity put the Jews into disorder . . .’ (AJ 18.65), thereby indicating that Josephus had just ended with the sedition resulting in a public massacre described in AJ 18.60–62, and leaving no logical place for the unrelated digression on Jesus and the Christians (AJ 18.63–64).” I have made the same argument myself:

“The truly precarious in the situation is thus the first sentence of paragraph 4, which follows directly on the Testimonium. It says: “At about the same time, another [emphasis added] sad calamity put the Jews into disorder [ἐθορύβει, ethorubei]”. This means that if the Testimonium is genuine, if so only to a portion, Josephus must allude to the Testimonium when he directly after the Testimonium writes that another sad calamity put the Jews into disorder. He then had to be of the opinion that Jesus’ death was a sad calamity for the Jews – something almost unthinkable unless Josephus was a Christian, which he most likely was not.” (Part 2e of my article “The Jesus Passages in Josephus – a Case Study”, an article I intend to publish as a 200 pages pdf-file once I have updated the language and made some amendments)

But Carrier’s article is primarily not about the Testimonium, but the James passage. This he argues is an interpolation which came to be included accidentally. He further argues that “the passage was never originally about Christ or Christians. It referred not to James the brother of Jesus Christ, but probably to James the brother of the Jewish high priest Jesus ben Damneus.” (489) His way of reasoning is simplified this:

1)      Accidental interpolations happened frequently. When text by mistake was left out in the copying process, later proofreader would add the missing text either between the lines or in the margin. This text would then be inserted in the next copy of that copy. But scribes also included other text in the margins and between lines – sort of footnotes and the like. And “there was no standard notation for distinguishing marginal notes from accidentally omitted text” (490), and so marginal notes could easily be taken for being part of the original, and once it was included in the next copy the mistake would continue to be copied. Carrier writes: “A later scribe simply mistook the marginal note as accidentally omitted text and, upon creating a copy, ‘rectified’ the error by ‘reinserting’ it, thus creating an altered sentence that appears to be what its author originally wrote, but is not.” (491)

2)      Origen and Eusebius used the same manuscript or manuscript line of Josephus: “Around 231 C.E, Origen established a Christian library in Caesarea, which was passed to Pamphilus and then to Eusebius. Eusebius was thus in all likelihood using the very same manuscripts of Josephus that Origen had been using, or else copies thereof.” (492)

3)      Origen did not know the Testimonium: “In fact, the TF in that precise form was almost certainly not known to Origen, as there are several passages where it is almost certain he would have remarked upon it, even quoted it, had he known of it.” (492) Carrier, again correctly in my opinion, rejects all subjective reconstructions of alternative versions of the Testimonium, and also cautions us to trust the accuracy of so-called quotations. Like me, he thinks Alice Whealey is wrong when she claims that Eusebius originally wrote “He was thought to be the Messiah” in his quotation of the Testimonium. I am pleased to see that Carrier argues in the same way as I do regarding the small deviations of the Testimonium, especially in the translations: “More likely some early copy of Eusebius’s History alone was ‘improved’ by a scribe intending to restore a more plausible quotation from a Jew … and it is this that we see in Whealey’s cited examples. It is inherently less likely that all manuscript traditions of all the texts of Eusebius and all manuscript traditions of Josephus were conspiratorially emended in the same way, than only one manuscript tradition of a single text of Eusebius being emended the other way” (494).

4)      Since the Testimonium was not in Origen’s copy of AJ, but in Eusebius’, the latter must have used a copy of Origen’s copy from the same library and into which the Testimonium had been added. Carrier does accordingly not think that Eusebius invented the Testimonium himself. Although I would not bet on it, someone must have written the Testimonium if it was inserted into AJ, and Eusebius is then an obvious candidate. At least we can agree on that it was probably not yet invented by the time of Origen in the 240’s.

5)      The manuscript used by Eusebius would then have included marginal notes made into Origen’s manuscript (from which it would have been copied) and in all likelihood it also included Origen’s own notes.

6)      Carrier assumes that Josephus wrote “the brother of Jesus, the name for whom was James, and some others . . . ,” and that “the one called Christ” was added while perhaps at the same time “ben Damneus” was removed. He gives five reasons for assuming this (by me enumerated as a–e). a) If someone would make a note to remind himself of the place where he thought Josephus mentioned Jesus, “the one called Christ” is just what one could expect to be written. b) A participial clause such as this one is typical for interlinear notes. c) The phrase is practically identical to Matt 1.16 and something Josephus hardly would have written. d) In context, it seems odd to imagine that the executions would be executions of Christians, not least because many influential Jews are said to be very upset. e) The way in which this James is said to be killed diverges considerable from how it is described in Christian sources. I agree on all five issues, although point b seems a bit weaker than the rest.

7)      Carrier assumes that the wording ὃς … ἀδελφὸς Ἰησοῦ τοῦ λεγομένου Χριστοῦ, “the brother of Jesus who was called Christ”, stems from Origen expression (but not from empty nothingness) and not from Josephus. If “who was called Christ,” is removed, all that Josephus in AJ 20.200 and Origen share in common is the name James and the expression “brother of Jesus”. But they primarily differ in Origen linking James to the fall of Jerusalem, calling him Just and having the Jews wishing to have him killed (500).

8)      When Eusebius quotes the same passage in Josephus as Origen refers to, he is obviously not quoting Josephus but Origen. This can be seen from the fact that the quotation is basically identical to Origen’s wordings, that nor Eusebius knows where Josephus should have written it (Origen never said this) and that Eusebius is quoting the passage whereas Origen most certainly is not. Still the wording is identical. After this Eusebius also quotes the James passage which Origen never referred to and which obviously has entered into Josephus’ AJ after the time of Origen.

9)      If Josephus would have written about Jesus Christ of the Bible and he also had written the Testimonium, he would have provided a cross-reference and also explained what the name meant. Instead it is more likely that Josefus was referring to another Jesus, the one who became high priest after Ananus in 62 C.E. and whom Josefus mentions directly afterwards (503). According to Carrier (and I agree once more) the only intelligible reading of the story is that Ananus had James the brother of Jesus falsely accused and executed, and was punished for this by being disposed as High Priest and that James’ brother Jesus, son of Damneus, was appointed new High Priest: “In effect, Josephus was saying, ‘Ananus illegally executed the brother of Jesus, which got a reaction; for his crime, he was deposed and replaced by Jesus.’” (504) This Carrier, once again correctly, says is supported by the fact that the execution of Josephus’ James in no way, except for the stoning, corresponds to the Christian accounts of James’ death.

10)  Carrier suggests that Origen’s source for the James story was not Josephus, but the Christian hagiographer Hegesippus. This Hegesippus calls the Christian James “the Just”, and says that the fall of Jerusalem was the result of the execution of James (508). As the names Hegesippus and Josephus often were confused and Origen obviously refers to the same things as said by Hegesippus, Christian conceptions not shared by Josephus, the obvious interpretation, according to Carrier, is that Origen mistook a work by Hegesippus for being written by Josephus. (509-10)

To summarize, this is what Carrier suggests. In the 240’s Origen writes that “Titus destroyed Jerusalem, on account, as Josephus wrote, of James the Just, the brother of Jesus who was called Christ”. Although Origen says that Josephus wrote this, Origen nevertheless got it from Hegesippus, from whom he paraphrases it, not quotes it. He also includes a passage from Matt 1.16, and this he does in his Commentary on Matthew.

Origen searches Josephus in order to find where Josephus had written this, but does not manage to find the passage. He only finds the story of the stoning of one James in AJ 20.200 which spoke of “the brother of Jesus, whose name was James”. Perhaps he made a note there: “the one called Christ”. If Origen did not make such a note, then someone else later on made it, adapting to the phrase Origen previously used.

Eusebius used the same library as Origen less than a century later, and probably had a copy of AJ which was made from the very manuscript used by Origen. In the copying of that manuscript, the marginal note would have been inserted into the text so that it now read “the brother of Jesus who was called Christ, the name for whom was James …”. Eusebius, apart from this, also quoted the passage given by Origen as if it had been written by Josephus. But since he only got it from Origen, neither he could say where Josephus had written this.

As AJ later was copied, it was the expanded version used by Eusebius that became the standard version from which all later copies were made.

Most of this has already been dealt with at length, also by me. The “new” things are that this is published in a peer reviewed article (which seems to be so important for so many), and the idea of the manuscript line leading directly from Origen to Eusebius. Also this is known facts, but Carrier has refined and isolated the train of thought, even leaving out many alternative scenarios as being less likely. Although I share Carrier’s opinion that also the mention of Jesus Christ in AJ 20.200 is a later addition to the text, I am not as convinced as he seems to be, that this was done as described above. It is for sure a convincing line of argument that Carrier presents, still there are a number of other possibilities which – at least combined – seem to be as likely. The least likely scenario though is that Josephus would have written it.

Roger Viklund, 2013-04-02