A version of this discussion was originally published in The
Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 13 (1995), pp.
The Josephus-Luke Connection
G. J. Goldberg, Ph. D.
In the search for new evidence concerning Josephus' Jesus passage we have a tool unavailable to scholars of the past and insufficiently used by scholars today: the computer.
Our advantage today is that the entire body of ancient Greek and Latin literature now resides on a computer database. This allows us to perform a computer search in order to find writings that resemble in various ways the Jesus passage from Josephus' Antiquities, the "Testimonium Flavianum." This is new information that will help us in understanding the origins of the passage.
Throughout this book, the database that will be used is the Thesaurus Lingua Graecae (TLG) published by the University of California at Irvine. The TLG database contains "every" Greek and Latin text from the earliest times up to 600 C.E., with the caution that new items are being discovered continually and are added to the database as they come to light. Currently the database holds about 73 million words in a form suitable for complex computer searches.
It would be pleasant if we could simply ask the computer to find the closest match to the Josephus passage. But databases are not yet so sophisticated, and we need to specify what is meant by "closest match." We could ask for: similarity of exact words or words based on same root, synonymous phrases occurring in the same order, peculiar phrases in parallel location, or harmony of meaning, tone, beliefs, prejudices, and other indications of the speaker's intent. Some of these are easy to program; others, impossible. But the easiest search to make at first is for exact word/order matches.
For the initial investigation, then, we will consider the beginning of the passage, which when translated preserving the Greek word order is:
The computer's output discloses an intriguing fact. There exists one passage, and only one, that contains these three nouns in proximity. The matching passage is not from an obscure writer, nor was it written centuries after Josephus' time; indeed, it is usually dated to the same decade Josephus' Antiquities was published. The matching passage comes straight from the New Testament: the Gospel of Luke, chapter 24, verse 19.
In the New Revised Standard Version, the matching verse is translated in this way:
The things about Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed..One sees Jesus and deed, but where is the word man that we searched for? It is there in the original Greek, but curiously enough every modern English translation omits it. The problem is the phrase
Iesou...hos egeneto aner profetes...which literally translates as
Jesus...who was a man prophet...Commentaries on translations stumble over how to render "man prophet." One problem for Christian interpreters is that this is a purely human designation, no divinity involved, leading to the suggestion has been that the verb egeneto, which literally means "became", indicates that the phrase means "Jesus, who became a man", that is, that Jesus was a divine spirit who came to earth to become human. Against this is the fact that egeneto is commonly used throughout Luke and the rest of literature as simply meaning "was;" in fact, Josephus' passage also uses this verb, in the form ginetai, which can be translated "occurred", "arose", etc.
Other attempts at translation in the past had it that Jesus was a "prophet-man", "a prophetic man", "a male prophet", and "a man, a prophet." The latest translations simply omit "man," a decision which at the same time has the virtue of sidestepping Luke's difficult admission that Jesus' contemporaries had no thought of his being a Son of God.
This translation may be one reason why this initial similarity between Luke 24:19 and the Antiquities record of Jesus has not been recognized. One must compare the original languages side by side to see the resemblance:
|Jesus wise man||Jesus the Nazarene who was a man prophet|
|Iesous sophos aner||Iesou tou Nazoraiou hos egeneto aner profetes|
Although we only looked for the noun combination Jesus/man/deed, we also have happened on another similarity: sophos, "wise," in Josephus, versus profetes, "prophet" (or "prophetic") in Luke, thematically related words both modifying the word man.
The word "deeds" also appears in both texts: Luke has mighty in deed and the Antiquities has performer of surprising deeds
This simple computer search has related the beginning of the Testimonium to one New Testament verse. But is this is a fluke? There is an obvious test: If this is not simply an accident, then the section of Luke that begins with 24:19 would be expected to have other noteworthy similarities to the Testimonium. If it is an accident, the number of matches will be minor, that is, no more than could be found in any other brief description of Jesus.
Just what is the portion of Luke containing this verse? It's a famous passage, but one not often paid a great deal of attention. Let us try to read it with fresh eyes.
Luke, in his last chapter, Chapter 24, describes two followers of Jesus who are walking from Jerusalem to the nearby town of Emmaus. It is two days after Jesus was executed. Earlier that morning, Luke tells us, some women who had come with Jesus from Galilee had visited his tomb and discovered it empty, but two men in dazzling clothes told the women that Jesus had returned to life, reminding them Jesus himself had predicted that he would "on the third day rise again." Luke then relates the following (Luke 24:13-27, NRSV translation):
Then one of them, whose name was Cleopas, answered him, "Are you the only stranger in Jerusalem who does not know the things that have taken place there in these days?" He asked them, "What things?"
They replied, "The things about Jesus the Nazarene, who was a prophet mighty in deed and word before God and all the people, and how our chief priests and leaders handed him over to the judgment of death and crucified him. But we had hoped that he was the one to redeem Israel. Yes, and besides all this, it is now the third day since these things took place.
"Moreover, some women of our group astounded us. They were at the tomb early this morning, and when they did not find his body there, they came back and told us that they had indeed seen a vision of angels who said that he was alive. Some of those who were with us went to the tomb and found it just as the women had said; but they did not see him."
Then he said to them, "Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and then enter into his glory?" Then beginning with Moses and all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things about himself in all the scriptures.
For Luke, then, Cleopas and his companion, then, were the very first people to see the resurrected Jesus. This disagrees with the other gospels. The name Cleopas appears no where else in the New Testament, and the only parallel to the Emmaus story is a brief note in Mark 16:12-13 -- that is generally suspected of being based on Luke (falling in the so-called "longer ending" of Mark). Those verses simply state: "After this he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking in the country. And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them."
Furthermore, the competing claim by the apostles that Simon was the first witness is not given much weight by Luke only, who only deigns to report the appearance at secondhand, literally as hearsay. Somehow, for Luke, this odd story of Cleopas and his friend is more important -- more authentic -- than what the eleven apostles had to say.
2. The Correspondences
We were led from Josephus to the Emmaus narrative of Luke by the search of the TLG database for the first key words of the Antiquities' description of Jesus. Since Luke's passage is lengthy and full of incident, let us extract only the portion that involves a description of the actions and nature of Jesus:
Now let us compare the Emmaus passage, without the internal flashback, with the Jesus passage from Josephus' Antiquities - the Testimonium. For reference the Testimonium is repeated here:
I emphasize that the following reading follows the exact word order in the original Greek of both texts. The parallels shown occur in identical locations.
We already read the beginning:
|Jesus wise man||Jesus the Nazarene who was a man prophet|
|Iesous sophos aner||Iesou tou Nazoraiou hos egeneto aner profetes|
The word man (aner) in both texts follows closely after Jesus, modifies the name. In turn, man is modified in both cases by a term indicating that Jesus played a wisdom role. Luke presents Jesus as a man prophet while the Antiquities calls him a wise man. The designations are related, but not identical, which is not surprising considering that Josephus calls no one of his day a "prophet;" indeed, elsewhere he asserts there were no "prophets" since the days of the first Temple.
But missing from Luke is anything similar to the next
Antiquities phrase if indeed one may call him a man.
|if a man one can call him indeed||(no match)|
|eige andra auton legein cre|
|for he was of amazing deeds a worker||mighty in deed|
|en gar paradoxon ergon poietes||dunatos en ergoi|
As with all parallels, there are dissimilarities too: "deed" is plural in the Antiquities but a singular collective form in Luke; "worker" has no parallel in Luke although one might argue it is implied; and so on. Later I will explore in detail how these differences are within the range of variation of two authors mildly rewriting a single text to suit a given context.
Luke states, immediately after deed, that Jesus was also mighty in word, a powerful speaker.
|a teacher||and word|
This pairing and order is not to be taken for granted: of the nine places in the New Testament which deeds and words are paired, seven are in the opposite order, word/deed (e.g., Acts 7:22, Moses is mighty "in words and in deeds"), and only this passage of Luke and (obscurely) Jude 1:15 is in the deed/word order. There are also numerous places in the New Testament where deeds are mentioned without pairing with speech.
Both texts now move to the witnesses of the deeds and
words and their holy nature.
|of people who with pleasure the truth received||before God|
|anthropon ton hedone taleth
|enantion tou Theou
|and many of the Jews and many
of the Greeks were won over
kai pollous men 'Ioudaious, pollous de kai tou Hellenikou epegageto.
|and all the people
kai pantos tou laou
To Luke, Jesus was mighty in deed and word before God; the phrase is a Semitism, most likely a rendition of the Hebrew lifne adonai, which can be rendered "in the opinion of the Lord." These deeds and words were witnessed and approved of by the Lord, that is, they were of a religious nature. The Antiquities does not mention God, but has it that Jesus was a teacher of such people as receive the truth gladly. Given the context, truth also refers to religious teaching. It would have been unusual for Josephus to use the term before God here, so the reference to, essentially, a synagogue congregation or something similar may indeed be the nearest thing one could expect Josephus to write at this point. (E.g., a religious teacher is what Josephus usually means by a wise man, the term used previously; as will be discussed later).
Luke then turns from Jesus' words and the holy nature of his activity to those who heard and witnessed Jesus, all the people. The same movement is made in the Testimonium, though with greater elaboration; it was begun in the preceding phrase and is completed here. First, as was just seen, mention is made of the people Jesus taught, and this is followed by He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. Between the two there is something of a parallel in all (Luke) versus many (Testimonium). There are words for "people" in both texts, laou in Luke, and in the Testimonium first the general anthropon ("human") followed by ethnic specification, Greeks and Jews, not found in Luke.
Let us pause for a moment. The reader may appreciate that
nothing forces either writer to move from one concept to another in just
this order. Consider, for example, a description of Jesus written about
50 years after Luke and the Antiquities, appearing in a work of the Christian
writer , which begins:
(Justin Martyr, First Apology 31)
Or take another description written by Luke, from his book of Acts:
This is written by the same author as the Emmaus passage, yet it lacks the clear parallels with the Testimonium. One can detect a few traces that Luke used the same structure here as in the earlier Emmaus, including the words "power (might)", "doing" (same root as "deed), and an implication that he has a wide audience. But one cannot write out a phrase by phrase parallel with the Testimonium as we have been doing so far, and which we can continue to do.
In fact, it is shown on the statistical studies page that there is no Christian text (and certainly no Jewish text) more closely resembling the Antiquities passage in content, vocabulary, and thematic structure, than this passage of Luke.
Let us now continue our reading.
The next sentence of the Antiquities does not have
a parallel at this point in Luke: He was the Christ.
|The christ [or messiah] he was.||(no match)|
|ho christos houtos en.
The last time we saw a complete absence of a parallel was in the phrase if indeed one can call him a man, which the scholarly consensus holds as a later, Christian interpolation into Josephus' original text. Recall now that this same consensus considers the phrase He was the Christ to be another such an interpolation. Thus we have twice seen that a lack of parallel with Luke occurs where the Josephus passage has been altered, if we identify alterations according to the modern consensus.
This leads me to propose that the version Josephus originally wrote had almost exactly the same structure as the Emmaus extract from Luke.
Continuing to the next phrase in Luke, one finds the passage
turning from Jesus' acceptance by the people to conflict with the authorities:
|and him an indictment||how they handed him over|
|kai auton endeixei
|hopos te paredokan auton|
The same dramatic turn is made in the Antiquities. The similar concepts here are indictment (endeixei) versus being handed over to a judicial process ( paredokan).
|by the principal men||the chief priests and leaders|
|ton proton andron
|hoi archiereis kai hoi archontes
Both texts now specify who did the indictment/handing over: the leaders. The principal men is the standard way Josephus refers to leaders of the community; it is synonymous with Luke's leaders and potentially includes priests. (Note proto-, "first", is a near-synonym for arch-, "begin, chief").
|among us||of us|
The leaders are further specified -- they are "ours," in both texts, at precisely the same location. The reader is again reminded that the exact Greek word order of both texts is being followed. The match of such small words at key points can be more spectacular than lengthier expositions.
In this case, their is a very unusual grammatical match with the use of the first person plural in identifying the our leaders, the principal men among us. For Josephus in his writings usually obeys the conventions of objective historians and refers to his people in the third person as "the Jews" and the like, not as "us". Indeed, this peculiarity of the first person at this point has been used by some scholars as one of the proofs Josephus did not write the passage at all. As I will show later, a study of every appearance of us in the Antiquities reveals that, with possibly three or four exceptions, the first person plural does not occur in a context such as this in Josephus.
Stranger still, Luke also does not employ the first person
when he identifies accusers of Jesus within the speeches of Acts. In Acts
13:27, Paul was himself a dweller in Jerusalem yet nonetheless asserts
that "those dwelling in Jerusalem and their rulers" were the ones who asked
Pilate to sentence Jesus. Similarly consider Acts 2:23 ,"you crucified";
3:15, "you delivered up"; 5:30, "you laid hands on"; and 10:39 ("they did
away with him"). If the first person is unusual in both Luke and Josephus,
why would both suddenly use them at the same time in harmonious passages?
|to a cross condemned by Pilate||to a judgment of death and crucified him.|
|stauroi epitetimhkotos Pilatou||eis krima thanatou kai estaurosan
In this next segment there are single words in each text
denoting the passing of a criminal sentence, judgment and condemned. The
word cross, Greek stauro, is the root of a word in both: Luke estaurosan
(crucified), Antiquities stauroi (to a cross). These are slight
rewritings of the same concept, the notable difference being that the name
Pilate does not occur in Luke. Pilate is there implicitly: there must be
someone to whom Jesus is handed over by the leaders, the one who passed
the judgment of death. Luke avoids the name deliberately. The name is mandatory
in Josephus, however, because the Testimonium passage occurs in Josephus'
section on the actions of Pilate as procurator of Judea.
|did not stop the first followers.||But we were hoping that he would be the one to redeem Israel|
|ouk epausanto hoi to proton
|hemeis de helpizomen hoti autos
estin o mellon lutrousthai ton Israel
From the crucifixion, both texts now simultaneously turn to the actions of the original disciples.
The Josephus verse gives some translation problems; Feldman renders it as those who had in the first place come to love him did not cease. The generally similar structure is that the followers are referred to immediately after the crucifixion, before any other activity, and their attachment to him is expressed. Some difference is inevitable considering that these original disciples are, in fact, the ones speaking in Luke's story.
But an extremely important mismatch is Luke's identification of Jesus as potentially the one to redeem Israel, absent in Josephus at this point; and although earlier there had been a Messianic reference in "He was the Christ (or Messiah)," our strict adherence to word order rules this out as a parallel.
Another interesting difference is that these disciples
in the Antiquities did not give up their affection for him, while
the speakers in Luke's drama are on the verge of "giving up their affection,"
but something occurs to nip this loss of faith in the bud.
|(no match)||but besides with all these things|
|alla ge syn pasin toutois|
Some transitional words in Luke give a mismatch.
|For appearing to them||(no match)|
|ephane gar autois|
The statement of Jesus' reappearance completed after the next clause; discussion is deferred until then.
Now the next clause I consider to be the most significant single match:
|a third day having||this third day spending|
|triten echon hemeran||triten tauten
A third day. In Christian doctrine, Jesus' resurrection occurred "on the third day," a key expression in statements of belief. The prevalent form uses the preposition "on," with "third day" the object of the preposition; in Greek, en triti himei.
But this is not the form in either Josephus or Luke. In these, "third day" is the object of a verb, and not a preposition. It's grammatical form is consequently the accusative case, triten hemeran. The verbs -- Josephus "having", Luke "spending" or "passing" -- are synonyms here, for in Greek literature echon and agein are used interchangeably when denoting the passing of time.
Yet the New Testament does not use this verbal form. Either the prepositional or nominative is used throughout, with Luke being the sole exception. As for other Christian literature, we can again search the TLG database. This time, the computer is asked to search for the phrase the third day in the accusative case, or indeed any combination of triten and hemeran within three or four lines of each other. The results are revealing: Luke's Emmaus passage and the Testimonium are the only two texts using the resurrection third day as object of a verb in all of ancient Christian literature.
Inevitably, one must ask if there is some reason why these
two authors use this unique form at the same position. The obvious proposal
is that there is some dependence: one is based on the other, or both are
derived from a prior source. Also supporting this is the awkwardness and
lack of clarity in both texts - ask, who is the subject of the verb having/spending
in each sentence? This indicates dependence on a source that is as unclear
as it is authoritative.
|again alive||today since these things happened. [...] And he said to them, "Oh, fools and slow of heart to believe|
|palin zon||hemeron aph' ou tauta egeneto.[...]kai autos eipen pros autous, O anoetoi kai bradeis tei kardiai tou pisteuein epi|
As suggested above, Luke's
flashback to the women is excluded. The "again alive" completes the thought
begun previously in the Testimonium with "he appeared to them..." At this
moment Jesus makes his appearance to the disciples, but the same cannot
occur in Luke -- simply because Luke's entire narrative takes place during
the appearance. The genres are different -- a dramatization cannot be identical
to a history at every point. But even so, there is, in fact a parallel
in Luke: for this is the moment at which Jesus at last speaks to the disciples,
starting in motion the application of Messianic prophecies to Jesus and,
eventually, the disclosing of Jesus' identity to the disciples. Thus a
possible parallel can be found between appeared again alive
and He said to them, communication of the risen Jesus to the disciples.
|the divine prophets these things||all that the prophets have spoken. Were not these things necessary|
|ton theion propheton tauta||pasin hois elalesan hoi prophetai. ouchi tauta edei|
Simultaneously both move to the founding concept of Christianity:
the link of Jesus to ancient Jewish prophecies. The themes are the same.
There are also a number of precise vocabulary correspondences: the word
for "prophets" and the word tauta ("these things"), which is to
refer to what has just been related. Also the explanatory construction:
Jesus appeared to them because (gar, at the beginning of
the sentence) of what the prophets said, matched by Luke that it was necessary
that this happen due to these same prophecies.
|(no match)||to suffer the christ|
|pathein ton christon|
The key word "Christ, or "Messiah", ho christos, is now found in Luke at this point, several lines after the Testimonium use of "Christ" -- at least in the Greek version of Josephus we have received. But oddly enough in the Arabic translation of the Antiquities discussed in Chapter 1, that of the 10th-century writer Agapius that many scholars feel to be more authentic, "Christ/Messiah" does appear just where it does in Luke! This will be discussed thoroughly in Chapter 5, but for now, I just quote the relevant section:
|and thousands other wonders about him foretold||and to enter into his glory|
|te kai alla myria peri autou||kai eiselthein eis ten doxan autou; kai arxamenos apo Mouseos kai apo panton ton propheton diermeneusen autois en pasais tais graphais ta peri eautou.|
A near-duplicate phrase is about him/about himself (peri autou/peri eautou) used to the same purpose of identifying the subject of the prophecies. It is a small phrase, but the location, context, and range of possible alternatives that makes it significant.
The difference in voice -- dramatic versus discursive -- disguises a great deal of similarity at this point. First, note there is very little information that is not found or strongly implied in both texts, the mismatches being that Josephus does not mention Moses and does not say that Jesus spoke to the disciples about the prophecies. The main difference is stylistic, in that Luke's acted-out drama is repetitious where the Testimonium uses a single complex sentence. Because the composition of these sections is so different it is better to read them entire:
to believe on all which spoke the prophets. Not these things must suffer the Christ, and to enter into his glory? And beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, he interpreted to them in all the scriptures that about himself.
The last line has no parallel in Luke:
|And to now the tribe of the Christians,
named after him, has not disappeared.
eis eti te nun ton Christianon apo toude onomasmenon ouk epelipe to phylon.
The same implication is nonetheless present in Luke, for the resurrection appearance renews the disciples' dying faith.
* * *
Reading through this list of parallels inevitably leads to the question: Is there simple explanation for the harmony between the two?
The modern consensus holds that the Antiquities passage was, for the most part, written by Josephus with some later Christian additions. Yet how could a Jewish historian independently compose a text that, by pure chance, so closely matches a passage from a Christian gospel?
There are several alternatives. I shall demonstrate the
1. The similarities are too numerous and unusual to be
the result of accident. This will be demonstrated on another page by a
statistical comparison of all other known descriptions of Jesus of similar
2. The similarities are not what would be written by a 2nd or 3rd century Christian deliberately mimicking Josephus' style. This is a consequence of the study on the statistics page.
3. The similarities are what would be expected if Josephus had employed a document very similar to Luke's Emmaus narrative as his source for information on Jesus, which he then moderately rewrote. This will be demonstrated on the style page by studying how other passages in his works were rewritten by Josephus from sources known to us.
The conclusion that can therefore be drawn is that Josephus and Luke derived their passages from a common Christian (or Jewish-Christian) source.
The analysis allows us to identify what is authentic in the Testimonium. It also allows is to plausibly uncover the document used by both Josephus and Luke. I will argue elsewhere that this document is a copy of a speech used by early Jesus proselytes of Jerusalem.
For the first time, we will have independent, Jewish documentation of the speech that is called, many times in Luke/Acts, "the word" and "the gospel."