Bock

The Jesus Puzzle, Point 2- The Josephus Citation about Jesus Sept 15

We come now to the second point of the Jesus Puzzle. It is:

2) There is no non-Christian record of Jesus before the second century. References in Flavius Josephus (end of first century) can be dismissed as later Christian insertions.

We come now to the second point of the Jesus Puzzle. It is:

2) There is no non-Christian record of Jesus before the second century. References in Flavius Josephus (end of first century) can be dismissed as later Christian insertions.

This is not correct. In fact, the Josephus reference is regarded by most scholars as quite likely authentic. I have discussed this in detaii in my Studying the Historical Jesus. John Meier’s A Marginal Jew also has a good discussion, but here are some of the main points. The citation in Antiquities 18.61-64 is questioned by some because some parts of the citation as it stands are clearly not things Josephus would have written as a Jew. The sentence where he says "if one can call him a man" is not from him. The confession Jesus was the Messiah was not from him. The praise given to Jesus at the end of the citation is not from Josephus either. On that scholars agree. However, does this mean that the entire discussion is not from him? Some say yes, but most do not. Here is why. There is an allusion to James the brother of the Christ in Ant 20. This remark assumes a previous reference to the Christ earlier in Antiquities. The only place that could be is in Ant 18.

The reason this citation is important is because it note Jesus did unusual works, It says he was crucified at the instigation fo the Jewish leadership by Pilate. This is first century testimony from a Jew who lived in Judea about Jesus that does not come from Christians. This is why it is an important piece of historical evidence that Jesus existed as a person and had a history even those outside the church were aware of.

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10 Comments

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    Mario

    Is it all that we have about
    Is it all that we have about the Son of God? The miracle maker, the one was cricified and raised after three days: a couple of sentences in a monumental History of the Jews. Not that much, after all. We may ask, then: what did professional historians think about Jesus? He was an unknown and (probably) meaningless figure, who for only one historian deserved no more that 10 words.

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      bock

      On all we have dlb

      Mario:

       

      As the well known New Testament scholar FF Bruce said that we have anything about Jesus from this period outside of internal sources is amazing. This was initially a small movement on the edge of the Roman Empire, a little like asking what is going on in Fiji in Chicago. There was no major political role for this movement for some time and that is what historians tended to write about. So that we have anything is the surprise. If we go to the early second century, then we begin to see more with Tacitus and Suetonius, since the impact of the movement starts to show up in Rome (all the way from Jerusalem in about 20 years as the expulsion fo Jews in AD 49 from Rome is probably a product of Jewish-Christian tensions).

       

      dlb 

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    J.Clark

    no non-Christian sources
    This seems like an intentional category to exclude. A small movement in Judea would hardly elicit the historians of the day to write books about. But who would write about such a small movement? How bout the ones involved, though even then they seemed somewhat reluctant. Historical writing did not carry the same weight as today and I’ve found many critics anachronistically will force it on the day. And the apostles seemed most interested in transference of knowledge by the “living voice” and the living Spirit. So how do they get rid of Paul? With a great brush they make his Jesus a cosmic one. Well, they are somewhat right. Though he layed his cosmicness aside and put on his peasant “terra” clothes for a short time. The only way to get rid of the sources we have and their credibility is to exclude them as incredulous by an incredulous means.

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      bock

      No Non-Christian sources dlb

      j:

       

      You are right that Christian sources are dismissed too quickly and count as evidence.

       

      However, such sources are important, especially in a discussion that claims that Jesus did not exist at all. So there are worth raising and discussing with those who have doubts or are skeptical. 

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    Nehemias Monteiro

    Other christian, jew and pagan sources
    Dr. Bock,

    You said: “You are right that Christian sources are dismissed too quickly and count as evidence. However, such sources are important, especially in a discussion that claims that Jesus did not exist at all.”

    We also have Tacitus, Pliny, Lucian, Celsus, Mara Bar Serapion and jewish sources as Talmud. Taken individually, they count as cumulative evidence, (although do not prove that Jesus existed). However, collectively these sources are devastanting to any claims that Jesus did not exist, because they show that, in second century, jewish and pagans do not doubt of Jesus existence, and believe that Jesus Christ “suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands (…) of Pontius Pilate” or ” was crucified in Palestine because he introduced this new cult into the world (…) Futhermore their first lawgiver persuaded them that they are all brothers (…) denying the greek gods and by worshipping that crucified sophist himself and living under his laws. ”

    And, we have 40, 50 gospels and other books written by heterodox sects of christianity and none of them have advanced a “christ myth” heresy. Even docetics and marcionites, who didn’t believe that Christ had a flesh, did believe that Jesus “appeared, then, on earth as a man to the nations of these powers, and wrought miracles”. Tertulian, Irenaeus and others described dozens of heresies, but they didn’t mention any group of christians who believed that Christ never walked in the earth.

    Nehemias

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      bock

      More on Sources dlb

      Nehemias:

      When we get to the second century we do have numerous sources. Although my sentence was not clear about which important sources I was referring to in the post you responded to, I was referring to the non-Christian sources.

       

      (What I sad was: J: You are right that Christian sources are dismissed too quickly and count as evidence. However, such sources are important, especially in a discussion that claims that Jesus did not exist at all. So there are worth raising and discussing with those who have doubts or are skeptical.) The "such sources" I meant were the non-Christian ones, even though all of them are relevant.

       

      Put them all together, these non-Christian sources especially make it very difficult to argue that Jesus did not exist. What makes Josephus special is he is a Jew in the very region Jesus labored in from the very century Jesus lived. He also had access to the seats of governmental authority and sources. Josephus indicates what key Jews understood Jesus to be. As I noted, I discuss many of these texts that you noted in my Studying the Historical Jesus (Baker). Another good recent work on this is Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence by Robert, E. Van Voorst. F F Bruce has one as well on Jesus ousie of the Biblical texts, but it is now out of print.

       

      dlb

       

       

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    BR

    Dr Bock,
    What you said was

    Dr Bock,

    What you said was surprising. If Josephus’ remarks about Jesus were either altogether forgeries, as the Jesus Puzzle seems to suggest or heavily altered by Christian scribes as you suggest – it seems to place the credibility of ancient Christian writings in quite reasonable doubt simply based on the lack of integrity displayed by altering Josephus for their own advocacy. Doesn’t it?

    Also, any writing produced after the first century cannot be considered evidence for Jesus, only evidence for the belief in Jesus because the author’s information is second or third-hand. So what Nehemias said about them being devastating to any claims that Jesus did not exist doesn’t really follow. But they do seem to indicate that people living ~100 years later *believed* Jesus existed.

    BR

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      bock

      What you said …on Josephus and other texts dlb

      BR:

       

      Let’s go one work at a time. Josephus. Yes, alteration COULD mean what you suggest, but the point does not apply to the logic for Josephus having said something given a later reference to James and Christ later in the book which has no textual doubt surrounding it and assumes some remark earlier. Josephus is still first century and lived in the area of Jesus’ ministry; so this is important evidence. In other words, it is quite likely that alterations did take place (as I and many others who have studied the text accept). The changes took place from Christian scribes who altered a part of the text to make it say more than it originally did). This situation of soem alteration is more likely than the alternative that the entire citation is inserted, which cannot explain as well the assumptions that the later reference suggests.

      The other later texts. Their dates alone do not matter in and of themselves Alos important is the potential line of transmission and tradition. We would have to doubt and question a great deal of what we understand about earlier classical history if we had to say a source centuries later for an event cannot count. Sources have to be weighed, not merely dated. If a late first century or second century source has a line back to the early years (as say Clement might or Polycarp through Ignatius who knew John) then we may well be able to work our way back. In 2007, I know some things about WW 2 (over 60 years earlier) because a woman who lived in our house was the wife of a man who was in the German army. She would tell me stories when I was a child about what life was like in Germany during the war, stories I still recall. Even more than that, she was able to tell my children the same kind of story so if my children live to be 70, then one can span over a hundred years and still be in touch with an eyewitness. So the chain of transmission is as important as mere dates.

       

      dlb

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    Nehemias Monteiro

    second and third hand sources
    Dr. Bock,

    Yes, I do agree with you. Josephus is our best non-christian source about Jesus.

    “We would have to doubt and question a great deal of what we understand about earlier classical history if we had to say a source centuries later for an event cannot count”

    That is quite correct.

    In fact, almost everything that we know about emperors Caligula, Claudius and Nero – “the great events, their deeds, and their achievements” – came from Tacitus and Suetonius. They wrote their books in early second century, about 50-75 years after Claudius’ reign. Our extant first century testimony about those emperors is, at best, fragmentary. Shall we apply the criteria “any writing produced after the first century cannot be considered evidence” for Caligula’s reign, for e.g ? The author’s information was also second or third hand (and biased, because guys from senatorial class like Tacitus and Suetonius did care about balance of power between the Senate and the Emperors).

    The great Hannibal fought battles like Cana, and put Rome existence at risk. The Second Punic War happened in end of third century BC. However, our main extants sources are Polibyus (half second century BC, about 50-75 years later) and Livy (early first century AD, 250 years later).

    Nehemias

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