Did Jesus Christ Actually Exist?

Geza Vermes examines the validity of evidence provided by Josephus

A much-debated point is the lack of nonbiblical evidence from the first century for the actual existence of Jesus Christ. A passage in Josephus has long been a standard response to the question. However skeptics have contended that the actual wording of Josephus was probably an interpolation by a subsequent Christian editor. The works of Josephus have been preserved by the church rather than the synagogue, opening the question of additions to suit the apologetic needs of the church.

Accordingly, in recent years the passage in Josephus, known as The Testimonium Flavianum, has been scrutinized to establish what, in fact, Josephus wrote as opposed to what was added later. One help in this area was the existence of an Arabic version of Josephus that had not been preserved by the church and was thought to be free of any interpolations.

Summarizing the whole aspect of the reception of Josephus as well as The Testimonium Flavianum is a useful article by Geza Vermes, published in the latest issue ofStandpoint, titled: Jesus in the Eyes of Josephus. Vermes concludes his article with his reconstruction of the statements of Josephus about Jesus Christ. Interestingly, Vermes reads Josephus as seeing Jesus as a Christ—in Vermes's view to link to the name by which he knew of the followers of Jesus. He posits:

So by portraying Jesus not unsympathetically, yet without fully embracing his cause, he achieved what none of his ancient Jewish successors managed to do: he sketched a non-partisan picture of Jesus. The Testimonium lies half way between the reverential portrait of the early church and the caricatures of the Talmud and of the early medieval Jewish lives of Jesus (Toldot Yeshu). In conclusion, what seems to be Josephus's authentic portrait of Jesus depicts him as a wise teacher and miracle worker, with an enthusiastic following of Jewish disciples who, despite the crucifixion of their master by order of Pontius Pilate in collusion with the Jerusalem high priests, remained faithful to him up to Josephus's days.

Let me offer therefore the text that I believe Josephus wrote. The Christian additions, identified in the paragraph that follows the earlier reproduction of the English translation of Antiquities 18: 63-64, are excised and the deletions are indicated by [ . . . ]. The dubious authenticity of the phrase "[and many Greeks?]" (see the same paragraph above) is signalled by the question mark. Finally, the word [called] is inserted into the sentence "He was [called] the Christ" on the basis of Josephus's description of James as "the brother of Jesus called the Christ".

About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man . . . For he was one who performed paradoxical deeds and was the teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews [and many Greeks?]. He was [called] the Christ. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing among us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him . . . And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.

Read the entire article as it provides useful background on the first century.

H/T to James Davila of PaleoJudaica


Tags: Jesus Christ, Geza Vermes, Josephus, Testimonium Flavianum

James Who?

Brother of Jesus subject to study

James the brother of Jesus doesn’t have the celebrity status of the Apostle Paul or Apostle Peter within New Testament studies.  Like the rest of the twelve he is largely ignored.  Yet James is the one leader for whom we have historical details outside of the New Testament in that he is referred to by Josephus. 

Matti Myllykoski of University of Helsinki, Finland is seeking to help turn that around.  Over the past two years, Matti has published two lengthy articles entitled “James the Just in History and tradition: Perspectives of Past and Present Scholarship” in the journal, Currents in Biblical Research.  Perhaps the end result of this extensive study would be another book on the subject. These articles will be useful reading material for some of the long flights I’m about to undertake!

Matt Jackson-McCabe of the University of Niagara also told me that he was hoping to develop some studies on James.

Encouraging signs all round.

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Tags: Josephus, Jackson-McCabe, James the brother of Jesus, Matti Myllykoski, New Testament Studies

Jerusalem Tunnels were Escape Routes for Scrolls

Norman Golb speculates on the use of the recently discovered tunnel

Writing in The Daily Jewish Forward, Norman Golb opines about the use of the recently discovered tunnel that led to the pool of Siloam as one of the escape routes from Jerusalemthat Josephus discussed.  Golb, who has postulated that the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls at Qumran were in fact a cache of scrolls that were secretly removed from Jerusalem prior to the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE., sees the tunnel as being one of the avenues for the flight of the scrolls from Jerusalem.

Tags: jerusalem, Dead Sea Scrolls, Archaeology, Josephus, Norman Golb, Siloam

Josephus and Jesus Christ

Insights into Josephus and the knowledge of Jesus from the First Century

On Thoughts on Antiquity, the writer has put together a useful survey of the information known about Josephus' reference to Jesus Christ.  Known technically as The Testimonium Flavianumit represents what is attributed to Josephus, and what can be deduced as Josephus's original comments.  Full details of the material together with an interface to compare different documents relating to the statement from Josephus are given on thiswebsite.

Our thanks to the author for the considerable work he has undertaken to put this material together in the public domain.

Tags: Jesus Christ, First Century, Josephus, James the brother of Jesus

Paul the Jew

New considerations about the context of Paul's usage of Torah

The Apostle Paul and his writings have increasingly been of prominence at the annual conference of the Society of Biblical Literature, held each November. Currently, abstracts of papers to be presented this year are being made available. Here is one that is of great interest which was posted today on Torrey Seland on his Philo of Alexandria Blog.

Markus Tiwald, University of Vienna Paul: 
Apostle of Christ and Jew
The interpretation of the “Tora” – and all that was included in this very complex expression – was the central topic in early Judaism and was handled in a wide range of different theological concepts. The diversity of these concepts can be highlighted by the differing theology in the scriptures of Qumran, Jewish pseudepigrapha and the writings of Philo and Josephus. According to these results it can be shown, that the theology of the apostle Paul has to be understood as an inner-Jewish dialogue about the right fulfillment and interpretation of scripture – but not as an “abrogation of the Tora”, as often suggested by some exegetes. Paul was Jew – and he remained Jew also in his Christian times. As a Christian he did not abrogate the Tora, but adopted the position of a liberal Tora-interpretation that was already present in early Judaism.

This is a valuable topic as Paul is so often seen and read outside of the Jewish milieu from which he came.

Tags: Apostle Paul, First Century, Qumran, Paul, Philo, Josephus, Law, Nomos, Torah

First Century Tomb Discovered

A New Testament king’s final resting place is uncovered at last.
 Mount Herodium
Mount Herodium: Site of Herod's Tomb

The remains of a tomb from the first century B.C.E. has been uncovered at Herodium, 12 miles south of Jerusalem. Unlike other tombs that have been in the news of recent date, this tomb can be linked unequivocally to a specific individual: King Herod, also known as Herod the Great, who ruled the Jewish nation from 37 to about 4 B.C.E. and who died shortly after the birth of Jesus Christ. 

Herodium was one of the monumental public works commissioned by Herod. His reign witnessed one of the most prolific building campaigns in Judaea. Herod not only refashioned Jerusalem but started to restore and enlarge the temple—a project that lasted for some 46 years—making the sacred structure a focus and magnet for Jews throughout the Diaspora. He also built a number of fortified palaces for himself at Jericho, Machaerus, Masada and Herodium, the latter becoming his burial place. 

Details of his funeral procession, circa 4 B.C.E., are given by Flavius Josephus. But the exact

Base of Herod's tomb

Tomb of Herod the Great

location of the tomb at Herodium was never recorded. For the past 35 years, Professor Ehud Netzer of Hebrew University has made it his goal to locate it. Initially the focus fell on the “Tomb Estate” on the lower levels of the tumulus, or hillock, on which Herodium is built. An extensive palace and administrative center were found, but no sign of a tomb. Other archaeologists such asJodi Magness believed that the tomb was in the fortified palace at the top of the mound. Since archaeologists discovered that the palace was no longer used after the Herod’s death, some reasoned that it could be the location of the tomb. 

Ultimately, Netzer found the tomb on the northeast shoulder of the mound at the top of a processional stairway that led to the burial site. Sadly for the professor, the mausoleum that contained the sarcophagus had been vandalized and destroyed, most likely after the 70 C.E. fall of Jerusalem. Herodium, like Masada, became an outpost for the Zealots and, also like Masada, was finally destroyed by Roman forces. The Zealots had no love for Herod, regarding  him as a puppet of the Roman Empire that had given him his role and legitimacy. The magnificent sarcophagus in which Herod was buried, estimated to be eight feet long (almost 2.5 meters), had been smashed. Despite the failure to recover anything more than fragments and decorations, the site is accepted as having been the final resting place of Herod and is being noted as one of the most significant of archaeological discoveries. 

Decorated Fragments Herod's Tomb

Fragments and Decorations from Herod's Tomb

Herod, of course, is known for his brutality and despotism. The account of the massacre of the children of Bethlehem, recorded in Matthew’s Gospel, is characteristic. He ordered the murder of at least one of his wives and two of his sons, and his dying wish was that all the leaders of Judaea perish with him so that the entire nation would mourn his death. Fortunately, those charged with his orders did not carry them out. 

Whether loved or hated by the people of his day, Herod made a major contribution to the region in a critical period of time. His life ended shortly after the birth of Jesus Christ, with the consequent spread of Jesus’ followers throughout the Roman world and beyond. Herod’s reign as a puppet of the Roman Empire also contributed to the ultimate fall of Jerusalem and the dispersion of its people. 

Tags: Herod, Jesus Christ, Judaea, Josephus, Heroduium

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