Josephus' Account of Jesus 
The Testimonium Flavianum 

    Do the Christian gospels record actual events during the First Century A.D./ C.E., or are they the ecstatic visions of a small religious group? 

    There are no surviving Roman records of the First Century that refer to, nor are there any Jewish records that support the accounts in the Christian gospels --- except one

    In Rome, in the year 93, Josephus published his lengthy history of the Jews. While discussing the period in which the Jews of Judaea were governed by the Roman procurator Pontius Pilate, Josephus included the following account: 
 

About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man.  For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. And when, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had  first come to love him did not cease.  He appeared to them spending a third day restored to life, for the prophets of God had foretold these things and a thousand other marvels about him.  And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.

                                - Jewish Antiquities, 18.3.3 63
(Based on the translation of Louis H. Feldman, The Loeb Classical Library.) 

    Yet this account has been embroiled in controversy since the 17th century. It could not have been written by a Jewish man, say the critics, because it sounds too Christian: it even claims that Jesus was the Messiah (ho christos, the Christ)! 

    The critics say: this paragraph is not authentic. It was inserted into Josephus' book by a later Christian copyist, probably in the Third or Fourth Century. 

    The opinion was controversial. A vast literature was produced over the centuries debating the authenticity of the "Testimonium Flavianum", the Testimony of Flavius Josephus. 

    A view that has been prominent among American scholars was summarized in John Meier's 1991 book, A Marginal Jew.

    This opinion held that the paragraph was formed by a mixture of writers. It parsed the text into two categories: nything that seemed too Christian was added by a later Christian writer, while anything else  was originally written by Josephus. 

    By this view, the paragraph was taken as essentially authentic, and so supported the objective historicity of Jesus. 

    Unfortunately, the evidence for this was meager and self-contradictory. But it was an attractive hypothesis. 
 
 


 
 New Information 

    In 1995 a discovery was published that brought important new evidence to the debate over the Testimonium Flavianum. 

    For the first time it was pointed out that Josephus' description of Jesus showed an unusual similarity with another early description of Jesus

    It was established statistically that the similarity was too close to have appeared by chance. 

   Further study showed that Josephus' description was not derived from this other text, but rather that both were based on a Jewish-Christian "gospel" that has since been lost. 

    For the first time, it has become possible to prove that the Jesus account cannot have been a complete forgery and even to identify which parts were written by Josephus and which were added by a later interpolator. 

  Read about this discovery here! 
 
 


 
The New View of The Testimonium of Josephus 
Reference: "The Coincidences of the Testimonium of Josephus and the Emmaus Narrative of Luke", G. J. Goldberg,  The Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 13 (1995) pp. 59-77. 
  1. The Mystery of Josephus' Jesus Account 
            An introductory history of the scholarly controversy over Josephus' Jesus account, from 93 CE  to the present. 

  2. The Josephus-Luke Connection
        The article introducing  the surprising relationship found between the Testimonium and the Gospel of Luke. Includes computer search results. 

  3. The Testimonium-Luke Comparison Table
         The table of parallels between the two Jesus descriptions. Gives a quick view of the subject. 
 

  4. Statistical Analysis of Jesus Texts
         Early Descriptions of Jesus:  Statistics Table and Sources. A quantitative analysis showing the statistical significance of the Testimonium-Luke relationship when compared with other Jesus descriptions from early Christianity. (Revision of Oct 1998:  The  interpretation of the statistics now includes use of the t-distribution, which is a better measure of significance for small samples. Using this, it is found that the correspondences between Josephus' Jewish Antiquities 18:63-64 and the Emmaus narrative of Luke show they match each other more closely than any other two Jesus descriptions to a significance level of 98%.)

  5. Quantitative Content Analysis of Jesus Texts
        Analysis of thematic content of Jesus texts; part of the above study. 

  6. Critique of John Meier's Argument in A Marginal Jew in Light of the New Evidence

  7. Conclusions: Answers to Scholar's Frequently Asked Questions
        The conclusions drawn from the discovery. Was the passage a forgery? Did Josephus write any of it, and if so, which parts? This section shows how these past puzzles of the Jesus account of Josephus can be resolved. 

8. Bibliography

9. Appendix:  Robert Eisler on the Testimonium Flavianum

 

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