May 212015


While not nearly as much ink has been spilled over the reference to John the Baptist found in Antiquities 18.116-119 (Whiston’s chapter 18.5.2), when compared to the case of the Testimonium to Jesus, there is still a debate to be found in the literature over the authenticity of the reference to John the Baptist in Josephus’ text. Several have ventured to postulate that the passage on John the Baptist, as well as the passage on Jesus, represents an interpolation. The arguments have not been surveyed and discussed as frequently as they should be.

One of the people to argue for interpolation in recent years has been Frank Zindler, whose reasons were summarized by Neil Godfrey. Another argument (in “Josephus’ Account of John the Baptist: A Christian Interpolation?”) has been made by Rivka Nir, which has been mentioned by Godfrey and McGrath. There is an older discussion in English from Israel Abrahams, referencing scholars such as Gerlach and Graetz. Robert Price considers an argument for inauthenticity, which is discussed by Maurice Casey. One of the more-detailed presentations, recently, pro-authenticity, can be found by Robert Webb. A review of arguments for authenticity (in an essay sub-titled “The Uncertain Authenticity of Josephus’ Witness to John the Baptist”) has been published by Clare Rothschild. There are also threads from the old Biblical Criticism & History forum from Andrew Criddle (who noted the point I made here in 2005), Toto (on Rivka Nir), ApostateAbe (on Robert Price), and PhilosopherJay (in favor of interpolation).

According to Clare Rothschild:

Unlike the study of its Christian counterparts about Jesus (A. J. 18.63-64, the so-called Testimonium Flavianum) and James (A.J. 20, 197-203), the authenticity of Josephus’ excerpt about John is hardly debated. Without demur, theologians and historians alike rely on this passage for reconstructions of John’s life.

Let’s debate it then.

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May 072015

Gesta_Theodorici_-_Flavius_Magnus_Aurelius_Cassiodorus_(c_485_-_c_580)In a previous post on The Quotable Josephus, we’ve seen that Josephus was frequently used as a source for quotation (including quotation by way of Eusebius, who himself quotes the Jewish historian). In a post on Eusebius, Rufinus, and the Latin Antiquities, we saw (in agreement with Whealey and Levenson-Martin) that the Latin translation of the Antiquities created under the supervision of Cassiodorus made use of quotations from Josephus, by way of Eusebius, based on the Latin translation of Eusebius made earlier by Rufinus. In particular, a hypothesis was considered according to which the quotations from Josephus by Eusebius, in Rufinus’ Latin translation, came to the Latin Antiquities of Cassiodorus from a set of extracts of Josephus in Latin that were already made out of the Latin translation of Eusebius.

In another post on Jesus, John, and James in the Latin Table of Contents to Josephus, an argument was considered towards the probability of the conclusion that, unlike John the Baptist, Jesus was not originally mentioned in the Latin table of contents to the Antiquities.

Here’s a closer look at the passages from the Latin Antiquities based on the Latin translation of Eusebius.

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May 052015
Opera quae extant omnia :  nempe, Antiquitatum Judaicarum libri XX Sigismundo Gelenio interprete, De bello Judaico libri VII interprete Rufino Aquilejensi, Liber de vita sua cum interpretatione Gelenii, Adversus Apionem libri II cum versione antiqua ˆ Gelenio emendata, & De Maccabaeis seu de imperio rationis liber cum paraphrasi Erasmi Roterodami : accedit index locupletissimus : juxta editionem Graeco-Latinam Genevensem ad manuscriptos Palatinae bibliothecae codices castigatam quae nunc ˆ pluribus mendis expurgata & praeterea prolegomenis & appendice auctior redditur. by Josephus, Flavius*

Josephus’ Antiquities, Greek and Latin

In their article on “The Latin Translations of Josephus on Jesus, John the Baptist, and James” (Journal for the Study of Judaism 45, pp. 1-79), Levenson and Martin discuss the fact that four passages quoted from Josephus by Eusebius in the Latin translation of Rufinus appear with very similar wording in the Latin translation of the Antiquities conducted later under Cassiodorus (the passages on Jesus, the one on John, and two others, which mention high priests, including Caiaphas, and the death of Herod the Great). They write:

“In the Testimonium, LAJ makes only two minor stylistic changes in Rufinus’ text (et in place of –que and gentibus for gentilibus). LAJ ’s decision to reproduce Rufinus’ version of the Testimonium so precisely and the lack of any significant textual variation in the manuscript tradition of the Testimonium in LAJ might reflect a special regard for the exact wording of this passage. However, it should be noted that LAJ clearly depends on Rufinus in two other cases (AJ 17.168-170/HE 1.8.6-8 and AJ 18.34-35/HE 1.10.5). In the seven other extended AJ passages quoted by Eusebius there is no significant verbal overlap between LAJ and Rufinus.” (p. 58)

This post offers some quantitative analysis that confirms these conclusions. It goes on to ask why some passages in the sixth century translation of Josephus’ Antiquities into Latin might show this very significant verbal overlap, indicating use of the Latin text of the quotes of Josephus in the translation of Eusebius made by Rufinus, while others do not.

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May 022015

250px-Josephus_flavius,_english_1602The works of Josephus did not survive only in complete editions of his books. Between the fact that Josephus was (and remains) eminently quotable, particularly for his relevance to the times of the New Testament, and the fact that his works were voluminous, there was often occasion for excerpts to be made from his texts.

Excerpta (or florilegia) were a common form of (subliterary) writing activity, from antiquity, through the medieval period, and into modernity. Extracts were made for personal use, in preparation for one’s own composition, for straight quotation or adaptation in other works, and even for publication in their own right. As Goldberg’s helpful web page on the New Testament Parallels to the Works of Josephus illustrates, Josephus is particularly well-suited for this kind of anthologizing.

Thackeray used two texts with extensive excerpts when editing Josephus for the Loeb edition: the Excerpta Peiresciana (excerpts “made by order of Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus, cent. x.”) and an epitome “E,” which was, “used by Zonaras, and conjectured by Niese to have been made in cent, x or xi.”

There are, however, many more manuscripts with excerpts from Josephus also known to us.

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Apr 302015

josephusmaybeThe study of the texts of Josephus, even in connection to the ‘hotly contested’ and famous passages found there, is not all wrangling. There is, it will be admitted, a slight amount of mystery as to whether a reference to Jesus originally formed part of the Latin table of contents (falling out of transmission here and there), or whether it came later and proliferated to most (but not all) of the Latin manuscripts. Aside from that, however, there is very little to tussle over here, with some interesting things to observe in the development of the textual witnesses, particularly in connection to the parts where John is mentioned.

This post would be completely impossible without the diligent and much-appreciated efforts of David B. Levenson and Thomas R. Martin, authors of “The Latin Translations of Josephus on Jesus, John the Baptist, and James: Critical Texts of the Latin Translation of the Antiquities and Rufinus’ Translation of Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History Based on Manuscripts and Early Printed Editions” (Journal for the Study of Judaism, Volume 45 [2014], Issue 1, pages 1 – 79). Their work here is invaluable, as they have presented a critical edition of these passages (and related matter), in the Latin version, for the first time.

Disclaimer: The English translations are partly based on the Loeb edition, but any errors are my own.

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Apr 272015

JosephusThe question of the origin of the “table of contents” and related practices in antiquity (when they began to be used, how they entered the manuscript tradition, and whether they are authorial or not in any particular case) is an involved one. There is an excellent paper by Roger Pearse providing some notes on the subject. On the question of the origin of the summaries found at the beginning of the books in Josephus’ Antiquities, some circumspect notes are offered by Joseph Sievers (“The Ancient Lists of Contents of Josephus’ Antiquities” in Studies in Josephus and the Varieties of Ancient Judaism, pp. 290-291).

1. “The author of the argumenta is ‘ostensibly’ Jewish, as Thackeray remarked. Abraham is called ‘our’ forefather (Ant. 1 #vii; cf. Ant. 1.158); ‘our’ people served the Moabites (Ant. 5 #v); Demetrius presented gifts to ‘our’ people (Ant. 13 #iv).”
2. “Christians took great interest in the Antiquities and were early on, from the third century at the latest, involved in their textual transmission.  The fact that the argumenta show no Christian influence suggests an early date.”
3. “A terminus ante quem for the argumenta of the Antiquities is their Latin translation commissioned by Cassiodorus (c. 490–c. 583 C.E.), for the Latin argumenta, attested in relatively early manuscripts, agree on the whole with the Greek ones.”
4. “Nodet’s suggestion that the argumenta constituted Josephus’ outline before he wrote the Antiquities seems to be a brilliant solution to the striking inconsistencies between argumenta and text of the work. In support of his hypothesis one may adduce that they are at times closer to the content and wording of the War than of the Antiquities, and sometimes mix elements from both works.”
5. “Yet, there are other indicators that suggest that, as in the case of other ancient authors, the argumenta were provided for the benefit of the reader and are not fortuitous remains of the author’s outline. (see Ant. 1 #vii; 13 #i).”
6. “In some instances, the argumenta reflect use of a text of the Antiquities similar to the one known to us (see especially Ant. 14 #xxxvii and 15# 1; 15 #2). It does not appear feasible to assign just these sections to a later redactor.”
7. “Thus, the author of the argumenta seems to have known different (but not all) sources and stages of composition of the Antiquities, had a fair acquaintance with Jerusalem topography (Ant. 14 ##i, xii), and had a less than perfect knowledge of the geography of Greece and/or Roman history (Ant. 14 #xxii). Whether he knew the Histories of Nicolaus of Damascus (a principal source for both the War and the Antiquities) seems an intriguing but hard-to-verify possibility.”
8. “If it is hard to see the argumenta as Josephus’ own composition, Gutschmid’s suggestion of a ‘servus litteratus’ (or Thackeray’s ‘assistant’) does not seem as farfetched as it had appeared to me when I began my research for this paper.”

With these observations in mind, we turn to the subject of the table of contents of Antiquities, book 18.

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Apr 192015

Artist’s Rendition of Machaerus

The translation in the Loeb edition of Josephus’ Antiquities 18.112 reads:

On his return after transacting his business in Rome, his wife, who had got wind of his compact with Herodias, before any information reached him that she had discovered everything, asked him to send her away to Machaerus, which was on the boundary between the territory of Aretas and that of Herod. She gave no hint, however, of her real purpose. Herod let her go, since he had no notion that the poor woman saw what was afoot. Some time earlier she herself had dispatched messengers to Machaerus, which was at that time subject to her father, so that when she arrived all preparations for her journey had been made by the governor. She was thus able to start for Arabia as soon as she arrived, being passed from one governor to the next as they provided transport. So she speedily reached her father and told him what Herod planned to do.

The footnote here says:

The reading of the mss. is “and to him who was subject to her father.”

The following notes are in the text here in the Loeb edition.

εἰς τὸν Μαχαιροῦντα τότε3 πατρὶ αὐτῆς ὑποτελῆ,4
3 τότε] ed. pr.: τῷ τε codd.
4 ed. pr.: ὑποτελεῖ codd.

The Neise edition simply reads, in agreement with the manuscripts:

εἰς τὸν Μαχαιροῦντα τῷ τε πατρὶ αὐτῆς ὑποτελεῖ

F. F. Bruce remarks in a footnote:

He appeals to the statement found in all the printed editions of Josephus, Ant. xviii 112, that Machaerus was subject to Aretas at the time of his daughter’s flight from Antipas (εἰς τὸν Μαχαιροῦντα τότε [τὸν τῷ Bekker] πατρὶ αὐτῆς ὑποτελῆ); but the manuscript tradition (εἰς τὸν Μαχαιροῦντα τῷ τε πατρὶ αὐτῆς ὑποτελεῖ) does not make this statement.

The reading of the printed texts and translations may be called a conjectural corruption of Josephus. Although it is to be found in the editio princeps of the Greek text of Josephus printed in 1544, it disagrees with the three extant manuscripts that attest to Antiquities 18 (AMW).

[Update May 2, 2015: The Latin version (and quotation of it) reads “apud Macherunta omnia pararentur quae itineris usus exposceret” and thus omits the phrase. A perceived inconcinnity in the original wording, “and to him who was subject to her father,” may explain this. On the other hand, if the original wording were the phrase “which was at that time subject to her father,” an omission by the Latin translators of the sixth century may be more difficult to explain. But if the original wording were the wording present in the Greek manuscripts, which could be considered a ‘difficult’ phrasing due to the oblique way of mentioning this person, both the omission in the Latin and the alteration in the Greek is explained.]

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Dec 102013

Josephus (1)Yep, back-to-back posts on Josephus, but I think it’s important to get it right. I did not spend enough time on my effort the other day, but I was rewarded copiously anyway with some fantastic feedback (thank you!). With that help and with still some more time spent on it, I would like to think the essay is getting better. Here are some differences from my former self:

(1) I no longer entertain the idea that Josephus may have written a “lost reference” in the Jewish Wars to the death of James the Just that was the source of Origen’s reference to Josephus pinning the destruction of Jerusalem on James.

(2) I have expanded on the argument that the 20.9.1 reference requires an earlier passage (argument 6 below).

(3) I have decided against the idea that only the words “who is called Christ” were interpolated (argument 1 below) as it appears to be weaker than the idea that the longer phrase “the brother of Jesus who is called Christ” was interpolated.

(4) I have added some examples of references similar to the proposed “one whose name was James” in Ant. 20.9.1 (argument 2 below).

(5) I had previously discounted the argument that the reference to “Christ” without explanation would be unusual for Josephus (argument 4 below) but with somewhat superficial objections. (I had objected that Christ would only have been a “nickname” emptied of significance in the passage when used by Josephus.) I’m not sure if this objection (or a different one) can be restated to be more cogent.

(6) I have taken a different tactic than pretty much everyone I’ve read (as a possible alternative response to arguments 4 and 5 below for authenticity) by saying that the possibility must be considered that a second century scribe who glossed the phrase “the brother of Jesus who is called Christ” may not have been Christian but rather may have been Jewish.

Please let me know what you think. Continue reading »

Dec 092013

josephusFinally rewrote some parts in order to make the article a bit more accurate.

Testimonium Flavianum: Josephus’ Reference to Jesus

Most significantly, I had to write the conclusion again from scratch:

Thus, even though Josephus may not have referred to Jesus, that does not necessarily imply that there was no historical Jesus. While a reference to Jesus would help substantiate the historicity of Jesus, it, by the same token, wouldn’t necessarily settle the question outright, especially when the supposed reference is the subject of such severe textual difficulties. While the appeal to the text of Josephus is often made in the attempt to secure the place of Jesus as a figure in history, the text of Josephus itself is far too insecure to carry the burden assigned to it.

(The old one dodged all the problems involved and concluded that the place of Jesus as a figure of history is therefore secure, period.) Continue reading »

Dec 082013

“Walking on Water,” found at Dura Europos

When studying early Christianity, literature tends to take center stage. Critical editions of texts rule. So much so that knowledge about the physical remains of early Christianity, apart from a few celebrated examples, tends to be overlooked. This collection of links regarding the papyrology, epigraphy, and archaeology of Christianity in the first four centuries AD is presented here with a minimum of editorial comment to facilitate the reader’s exploration of this data.

1. Paleography and Papyrology … 9/mode/2up … 3/mode/2up … 9/mode/2up … 3/mode/2up … us-papyri/ … 7/mode/2up … 3/mode/2up … 5/mode/2up … 9/mode/2up … 4/mode/2up … 90&f=false … OxyPap.htm … 04&f=false … 22&f=false … 22&f=false … d_Straight … papyri.pdf … laeography … -analysis/
http://scribalhabitsofpapyrus46.wordpre … liography/ … sment.html … pyrus-p52/ … 52&f=false … misuse.pdf … apyri1.pdf … raries.pdf

(The rest of this collection of links, below, does not regard paleographical methods of dating manuscripts.) Continue reading »

Nov 052013

pub-475x350One day in 90 AD, Justus of Tiberias was sitting at his favorite tavern in the city of Rome, minding his own business, when in walks his sworn enemy Joseph.

Smirking, Joseph asks, “Hey, Justus, how’s it going for you?”

Justus shoots back, “What do you expect? Lousy.”

Joseph taunts, “Sucks to be on the losing side? You should have seen the writing on the wall, bud.”

But Justus sighs, “No, that’s not it. That’s not it at all. It’s book sales! My book’s been out for months, and I’ve only been able to get you, my mom, and the imperial librarian to make copies of it.”

Joseph says, “Actually, come to think of it, my own books haven’t been selling all too well either. I mean, not as bad as yours have, but still, not as well as I’d like.” Continue reading »

Nov 022013

mapOfGalileeVespJosephus writes:

There was one Judas, a Galilean, of a city whose name was Gamala, … (Antiquities 18.4)

Again, Josephus:

Judas the Galilean was the author of the fourth branch of Jewish philosophy. These men agree in all other things with the Pharisaic notions; but they have an inviolable attachment to liberty, and say that God is to be their only Ruler and Lord. They also do not value dying any kinds of death, nor indeed do they heed the deaths of their relations and friends, nor can any such fear make them call any man lord. (Antiquities 18.23)

Josephus calls it a fourth branch that arose later than the sects of Sadducees, Essenes, and Pharisees. Some have noted that the appearance of self-identified “Zealots” occurs during the first Jewish revolt, indicating that the Zealots may have formed their identity in the 60s AD in the events leading up to the revolt, though Josephus cites prior rebels as founders of their movement.

The author of Acts mentions this Galilean:

Some time ago, Theudas appeared, claiming to be somebody, and about four hundred men rallied to him. He was killed, all his followers were dispersed, and it all came to nothing. After him, Judas the Galilean appeared in the days of the census and led a band of people in revolt. He too was killed, and all his followers were scattered. (Acts 5:36-37)

The references in Josephus and Acts do not prove the connection, but they certainly raise the question whether the consistent reference to “Judas the Galilean” may have been taken by others to denote his cause as “Galilean,” even if only by misunderstanding. The question then is whether the term Galilean ever functioned as another name for Zealot, even if it does not so function in Josephus or the New Testament. Continue reading »

Oct 162013

strangegods-1024x705Moyer V. Hubbard puts it remarkably well:

Greek society, as the apostle Paul observed of Athens, was indeed ‘very religious’ (Acts 17:22 NIV). Religion was integral to community life, family life, and the private aspirations of individuals. Most civic celebrations contained overtly religious elements, as did the grand ceremonies of state. Family traditions, along with the mundane duties of daily life, were performed under the watchful eyes of the household gods, and if calamity struck the family or the city, the first order of business was to determine which of the gods had been offended and what must be done to appease him or her. Christianity entered this milieu and made some rather startling claims. In contrast to the conventional religious conceptions of the day, the followers of Jesus claimed that there was only one God, who created everything. This God cared about humanity to the point of sending his own Son in the flesh to atone for their sins. Even more preposterous, this atoning self-sacrifice took place through the shameful spectacle of crucifixion—a death reserved for slaves, criminals, and enemies of the state. The figure of Jesus was certainly an oddity in the religious smorgasbord of antiquity. Amid the plethora of divinities being worshiped in the first century, it is remarkable that anyone would dare to add a crucified Jewish peasant to this list, and even more remarkable that the primitive Jesus movement would snowball into an empire-wide phenomenon. (“Greek Religion,” The World of the New Testament, p. 122)

If there is one impression that we can gather from the references to Christians in our non-Christian sources, one common theme that that runs through Tacitus, Suetonius, Pliny the YoungerLucian, Marcus Aurelius, Galen, Celsus, and Philostratus, it is the inherent oddity they ascribe to the group. The only real exception in the literature of the era that stands out is that attributed to Mara Bar-Serapion. Continue reading »

Sep 282013


Previously I knew that this letter has been dated variously from the first to the third century, but just today I read that some scholars recently judge that it is most likely a Christian composition dating to the fourth century.

While the Syriac letter of Mara bar-Serapion frequently comes up when discussing non-Christian references to Jesus, there is precious little recent scholarly interpretation of the letter and its context online. (A little searching does, however, turn up a conference report from 2009, a webpage produced prior to that conference, and a brief exchange on Crosstalk from 2000.) The dating of the letter to 73 AD (or “later than 73 AD”) is widely cited, but most writers online either don’t know why it’s dated then or just choose not to discuss the reasoning.

The reasoning isn’t hard to follow, on the view that the letter is genuine: Continue reading »