Absent the Testimonium, Does the Reference to Jesus in 20.9.1 Hold?
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.
I should be clear that the most significant axis of debate here, in my opinion, lies between knowledge that the 20.9.1 reference is authentic and the absence of such knowledge. This is because I don’t think too much of the argument from silence if Josephus said nothing, which is the argument that would need to know that Josephus did not say something about Jesus. (Some do, and they need their textual argument to inauthenticity. I am concerned more for the argument to authenticity and whether it can claim a reasonable preponderance of evidence so as to be used as a premise for further discussion.)
Also, this post brackets the Testimonium proper, only because much thought on Jesus in Josephus (and perhaps more of it recently) wants to treat the reference in 20.9.1 in itself, divorced from its service (for example, in Meier’s A Marginal Jew) as handmaiden to the argument for the authenticity of a reconstructed Testimonium.
Thus follows the current version.
The 20.9.1 Reference
The following passage contains the shorter reference to Jesus.
Antiquities 20.9.1. “And now Caesar, upon hearing the death of Festus, sent Albinus into Judea, as procurator. But the king deprived Joseph of the high priesthood, and bestowed the succession to that dignity on the son of Ananus, who was also himself called Ananus. Now the report goes that this eldest Ananus proved a most fortunate man; for he had five sons who had all performed the office of a high priest to God, and who had himself enjoyed that dignity a long time formerly, which had never happened to any other of our high priests. But this younger Ananus, who, as we have told you already, took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews, as we have already observed; when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king, desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified; nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a sanhedrim without his consent. Whereupon Albinus complied with what they said, and wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest.”
Although Rajak is an exception, most have granted that this passage is substantially authentic for two reasons.
- Josephus’ emphasis is not on Jesus or James, but on why Ananus was deposed as high priest. As John P. Meier says, “we have here only a passing, almost blasé, reference to someone called James, whom Joseph obviously considers a minor character. He is mentioned only because his illegal execution causes Ananus to be deposed.” (p. 57)
- Josephus’ account of James being stoned is different from the account given by the church historian Hegesippus c. 170 CE. Meier writes: “According to Hegesippus, the scribes and Pharisees cast James down from the battlement of the Jerusalem temple. They begin to stone him but are constrained by a priest; finally a laundryman clubs James to death (2.32.12-18). James’s martyrdom, says Hegesippus, was followed immediately by Vespasian’s siege of Jerusalem (A.D. 70).” (p. 58)
However, there has been considerable dispute as to whether the phrase “the brother of Jesus who was called Christ” was part of the original passage. Wells notes: “Schurer, Zahn, von Dobschutz and Juster are among the scholars who have regarded the words ‘the brother of Jesus, him called Christ’ as interpolated.” (p. 11) To this list, we could add Karl Kautsky, S.G.F. Brandon, Charles Guignebert, and Twelftree.
Before presenting the arguments for and against the authenticity of this phrase, it is necessary to offer an excursus on the references to this passage in the patristic authors.
Here are the references from Origen, Eusebius, and Jerome.
Origen, Commentary on Matthew 10.17. “And to so great a reputation among the people for righteousness did this James rise, that Flavius Josephus, who wrote the ‘Antiquities of the Jews’ in twenty books, when wishing to exhibit the cause why the people suffered so great misfortunes that even the temple was razed to the ground, said, that these things happened to them in accordance with the wrath of God in consequence of the things which they had dared to do against James the brother of Jesus who is called Christ. And the wonderful thing is, that, though he did not accept Jesus as Christ, he yet gave testimony that the righteousness of James was so great; and he says that the people thought that they had suffered these things because of James.”Origen, Against Celsus 1.47. “Now this writer [Josephus], although not believing in Jesus as the Christ, in seeking after the cause of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, whereas he ought to have said that the conspiracy against Jesus was the cause of these calamities befalling the people, since they put to death Christ, who was a prophet, says nevertheless-being, although against his will, not far from the truth-that these disasters happened to the Jews as a punishment for the death of James the Just, who was a brother of Jesus called Christ,–the Jews having put him to death, although he was a man most distinguished for his justice. Paul, a genuine disciple of Jesus, says that he regarded this James as a brother of the Lord, not so much on account of their relationship by blood, or of their being brought up together, as because of his virtue and doctrine. If, then, he says that it was on account of James that the desolation of Jerusalem was made to overtake the Jews, how should it not be more in accordance with reason to say that it happened on account (of the death) of Jesus Christ, of whose divinity so many Churches are witnesses, composed of those who have been convened from a flood of sins, and who have joined themselves to the Creator, and who refer all their actions to His good pleasure.”
Origen, Against Celsus 2.13. “But at that time there were no armies around Jerusalem, encompassing and enclosing and besieging it; for the siege began in the reign of Nero, and lasted till the government of Vespasian, whose son Titus destroyed Jerusalem, on account, as Josephus says, of James the Just, the brother of Jesus who was called Christ, but in reality, as the truth makes dear, on account of Jesus Christ the Son of God.”
Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.23.22. “James was so admirable a man and so celebrated among all for his justice, that the more sensible even of the Jews were of the opinion that this was the cause of the siege of Jerusalem, which happened to them immediately after his martyrdom for no other reason than their daring act against him. Josephus, at least, has not hesitated to testify this in his writings, where he says, ‘These things happened to the Jews to avenge James the Just, who was a brother of Jesus, that is called the Christ. For the Jews slew him, although he was a most just man.’ And the same writer records his death also in the twentieth book of his Antiquities in the following words: ‘But the emperor, when he learned of the death of Festus, sent Albinus to be procurator of Judea. But the younger Ananus, who, as we have already said, had obtained the high priesthood, was of an exceedingly bold and reckless disposition. He belonged, moreover, to the sect of the Sadducees, who are the most cruel of all the Jews in the execution of judgment, as we have already shown. Ananus, therefore, being of this character, and supposing that he had a favorable opportunity on account of the fact that Festus was dead, and Albinus was still on the way, called together the Sanhedrim, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, the so-called Christ, James by name, together with some others, and accused them of violating the law, and condemned them to be stoned. But those in the city who seemed most moderate and skilled in the law were very angry at this, and sent secretly to the king, requesting him to order Ananus to cease such proceedings. For he had not done right even this first time. And certain of them also went to meet Albinus, who was journeying from Alexandria, and reminded him that it was not lawful for Ananus to summon the Sanhedrim without his knowledge. And Albinus, being persuaded by their representations, wrote in anger to Ananus, threatening him with punishment. And the king, Agrippa, in consequence, deprived him, of the high priesthood, which he had held threemonths, and appointed Jesus, the son of Damnaeus.'”
Jerome, Illustrious Men. “Josephus records the tradition that this James was of so great sanctity and reputation among the people that the downfall of Jerusalem was believed to be on account of his death.”
Scholars such as Steve Mason think that the reference derives from Origen misreading Josephus. It is possible to see how this has happened, especially under the influence of Christian traditions according to which the death of James was the cause of the destruction of Jerusalem that may have been the filter through which Origen read the twentieth book of the Antiquities. This suggestion is just that much stronger if it is accepted, as I have argued elsewhere, that the text attributed to Hegesippus, with the account of the fall of Jerusalem following the death of James, may have previously circulated under the name of Josephus.
Eisenman has suggested that this reference derives from a copy of Josephus from a passage distinct from our Ant. 20.9.1 reference, which nowhere says that the death of James led to the destruction of Jerusalem. This is difficult to accept, primarily because it is difficult to understand its removal from the manuscripts. That some attributed the fall of Jerusalem to the death of Jesus is not a very compelling explanation. Scribes left references to the fall of Jerusalem being due to James the Just in Christian literature and would be even less shocked to find such opinions in a non-Christian author. It’s timid stuff when compared to some pagan texts, such as those of Lucian, that have been preserved.
Zvi Baras writes: “Such an assumption [that there was a lost reference] overlooks the question of why the Testimonium passage should have remained in Josephus’ text, while the story of James’ martryrdom – neither disdainful nor defamatory toward Christ – should have been excised from Josephus’ writings.” (Josephus, Judaism, and Christianity, p. 343) Moreover, Zvi Baras quotes Against Celsus 1.47 and Ecclesiastical History 2.23.20 and comments: “The precise parallelism between the two texts has already been remarked by Chadwick, who proved that Eusebius quoted Origen’s passage verbatim, but changed it to direct speech.” (op. cit., p. 345) So it seems likely that there was no other passage concerning James to be found in Josephus. Of course, this theory then casts aspersions on the ability of Eusebius to quote Josephus accurately.
I will now analyze the arguments concerning the authenticity of the phrase “the brother of Jesus who is called the Christ.”
Arguments that the 20.9.1 Reference is Spurious
- It is sometimes argued that only the words “tou legomenou Christou” are spurious and that the reference to Jesus actually meant to refer to Jesus, the son of Damneus, who appears later in the text. This is not an improvement on the alternative hypothesis of interpolation that the entire reference to Jesus as the brother of James was inserted here. The reference to Jesus, son of Damneus, comes significantly later in the text and would not have helped the reader (or hearer) understand who James was when he was introduced. Also, the identification of Jesus happens in the supposed second mention, which is not natural. (A hypothetical original identification of Jesus as the son of Damneus earlier in the same breath with James or of James as the son of Damneus is fatuous.)
- Wells states, “The words have the character of a brief marginal gloss, later incorporated innocently into the text. Josephus probably wrote of the death of a Jewish Jerusalem leader called James, and a Christian reader thought the reference must be to James the brother of the Lord who, according to Christian tradition, led the Jerusalem Chruch about the time in question. This reader accordingly noted in the margin: ‘James = the brother of Jesus, him called Christ’ (cf. the wording of Mt. 1:16: ‘Jesus, him called Christ’) and a later copyist took this note as belonging to the text and incorporated it. Other interpolations are known to have originated in precisely such a way.” (p. 11) Doherty elaborates: “If he [Josephus] knew nothing else about James or chose to say nothing more, he would simply have used some equivalent to ‘a certain James’ or ‘someone named James.’ And what in fact do we find in the Greek? The words referring directly to James are: Iakobos onoma autoi. Translations render this ‘James by name’ or ‘whose name was James’ or ‘a man named James.’ Such a phrase could have stood perfectly well on its own (with a slight change in grammatical form), and had the reference to a brother Jesus added to it by a Christian interpolator.” (pp. 216-217) While these observations do not prove that the reference was interpolated, they do indicate the possibility of the interpolation hypothesis. References from Josephus similar to the phrase “one whose name was James,” where there is also no noun phrase that it modifies, include Ant. 10.6.1, Ant. 11.5.4, Ant. 14.9.4, and Life 56.
- Doherty argues: “Why would Josephus think to make the Jesus idea paramount, placing it before the James one? James is the character that brought about Ananus’ downfall, while mention of Jesus is supposed to be an identifying afterthought. It would have been much more natural for Josephus to say something like: ‘(Ananus) brought before them a man named James, who was the brother of Jesus, the one called (the) Christ . . .’ On the other hand, if the phrase is the product of a Christian scribe, it may be understandable that he, consciously or unconsciously, would have given the reference to Jesus pride of place.” (p. 217)This argument is weak. The fact that “the brother of Jesus who is called the Christ” is placed first, in the accusative, does not mean that the reference to Jesus is given some kind of “pride of place.” It is simply one grammatically correct way of identifying James.
- Doherty mentions the anomalous character of the reference to “Jesus who is called Christ” in Josephus:
In the Antiquities 20 reference we actually have a double identification: one for James, that he was Jesus’ brother, the second for Jesus, that he was the one called the Christ. But would Josephus have been likely to offer this identification for Jesus? First of all, it implies that the historian had explained just what “the Christ” was at some previous point. (His readership was a Greco-Roman one, who would not be expected to have much familiarity with the idea.) The fact is, he has not, and certainly not in the Antiquities 18 passage, where the declaration “He was the Messiah” is rejected as a later and obvious Christian insertion.Moreover, the entire Jewish tradition of messianic expectation is a subject Josephus seems to avoid, for he nowhere else describes it, not even in connection with the rebellious groups and agitators in the period prior to the Jewish War. (His one clear reference to the messianic “oracles” of the Jews, the object of whom he claims was Vespasian [Jewish War 6.5.4], is in a different book, and is dealt with in very cursory fasion.) This silence and apparent reluctance would seem to preclude the likelihood that Josephus would introduce the subject at all, especially as a simple aside, in connection with Jesus. (p. 218)
Doherty suggests that a more likely reference would identify Jesus by his crucifixion under Pilate. Another possibility is that Josephus would not refer to Jesus at all but rather make use of a more traditional patrilineal reference.
Concerning the reference to Jesus as the one called Christ, Steve Mason explains that Josephus would not have assumed his readership to understand the term:
First, the word “Christ” (Greek christos) would have special meaning only for a Jewish audience. In Greek it means simply “wetted” or “anointed.” Within the Jewish world, this was an extremely significant term because anointing was the means by which the kings and high priests of Israel had been installed. The pouring of oil over their heads represented their assumption of God-given authority (Exod 29:9; 1 Sam 10:1). The same Hebrew word for “anointed” was mashiach, which we know usually as the noun Messiah, “the anointed [one].” Although used in the OT of reigning kings and high priests, many Jews of Jesus’ day looked forward to an end-time prophet, priest, king, or someone else who would be duly anointed.But for someone who did not know the Jewish tradition, the adjective “wetted” would sound most peculiar. Why would Josephus say that this man Jesus was “the Wetted”? We can see the puzzlement of Greek-speaking readers over this term in their descriptions of Christianity: Jesus’ name is sometimes altered to “Chrestus” (Suetonius, Claudius 25.4), a common slave name that would amke better sense, and the Christians are sometimes called “Chrestians.”
Since Josephus is usually sensitive to his audience and pauses to explain unfamiliar terms or aspects of Jewish life, it is very strange that he would make the bald assertion, without explanation, that Jesus was “Christ.”
The fact that the term “Christ” appears only in Ant. 18.3.3 and here in 20.9.1 seems to do little to suggest the authenticity of the phrase. It has been often observed that Josephus avoided the subject of messianic expectation. Crossan states:
The more important point, however, is that neither there nor anywhere else does Josephus talk about messianic claimants. He makes no attempt to explain the Jewish traditions of popular kingship that might make a brigand chief or a rural outlaw think not just of rural rebellion but of regal rule. The reason is, of course, quite clear and was seen already. For Josephus, Jewish apocalyptic and messianic promises were fulfilled in Vespasian. It is hardly likely, that Josephus would explain too clearly or underline too sharply the existence of alternative messianic fulfillments before Vespasian, especially from the Jewish lower classes. (The Historical Jesus, p. 199)
Even in the passage where Josephus seems to describe Vespasian as the fulfillment of the messianic oracles, Josephus does not make use of the term “Christ.”
- Steven Carr supplies a reason for doubting the authenticity of the reference to Jesus:
How does Josephus refer back to people he has previously mentioned in those days when books had no indexes? Here he is going back two books, so readers will need more than a casual reference.Judas of Galilee was first mentioned in ‘Wars of the Jews’ Book 2 Section 118 ‘Under his administration, it was that a certain Galilean , whose name was Judas , prevailed with his countrymen to revolt ; and said they were cowards if they would endure to pay a tax to the Romans , and would, after God , submit to mortal men as their lords.’
Josephus refers to him again in Book 2 Section 433 as follows ‘”In the meantime one Manahem, the son of Judas , that was called the Galilean (who was a very cunning sophister, and had formerly reproached the Jews under Quirinius , that after God they were subject to the Romans )” – considerable detail is included.
In Wars, Book 7 Section 533 we read about Judas again – “… Eleazar, a potent man, and the commander of these Sicarii, that had seized upon it. He was a descendant from that Judas who had persuaded abundance of the Jews , as we have formerly related , not to submit to the taxation when Quirinius was sent into Judea to make one; …’ . So a change of book causes Josephus to say ‘as formerly related’.
Judas was also in Antiquities 18 ‘Yet was there one Judas , a Gaulonite, of a city whose name was Gamala, who, taking with him Sadduc, a Pharisee, became zealous to draw them to a revolt , who both said that this taxation was no better than an introduction to slavery, and exhorted the nation to assert their liberty’.
Josephus referred back to Judas in Antiquities 20 ‘the sons of Judas of Galilee were now slain; I mean that Judas who caused the people to revolt, when Quirinius came to take an account of the estates of the Jews, as we have shown in a foregoing book .’
So Josephus usually put in detail and when he referred back from Ant. 20 to Ant. 18, he reminded the reader that it was in a different book. None of these factors apply to Josephus’s reference to Jesus in Antiquities 20. A Christian interpolator would naturally need not need to supply such detailed back-references. His readers would know exactly who Jesus called the Christ was.
This kind of consideration weighs especially against those who have removed the reference to “Christ” from the passage on Jesus. Those who see the 20.9.1 reference as being explained earlier in 18.3.3 should, at a minimum, consider the likelihood that the original Testimonium would likely have to contain the term “Christ” (the “credabatur esse Christus” type of reference), which would make some sense out of the reference in the later book as well as the reference to Christians being named after him. It presumes that the reference in 20.9.1 was intended to be a cross-reference to an earlier place. Even with this improvement to the reconstruction of a Testimonium, this argument has some value, given the parallels drawn to the way Josephus refers back to another book in other cases. This argument does not apply to those who see the 20.9.1 reference as the sole authentic mention of Jesus, but the next one does.
- Finally, it has been argued the identification of James by way of mentioning Jesus presupposes that Josephus had previously mentioned Jesus, while there are several arguments that Jospehus did not write any part of the famous Testimonium. This argument is important if not singularly decisive. It must be said, however, that Josephus may not have intended this identification to serve as a reference to an earlier passage. The general plausibility of such an identification without any earlier reference is established from the similar example in Wars of the Jews 2.247 (see above). However, it is questionable to attempt to compare Christ to Pallas in the historical context of a first century Roman audience. Pallas, with his secular fame in Roman society, needed no explanation. Josephus, in his desire to provide the historical backdrop of Judea prior to the revolt, would have provided an explanation in the appropriate place for anybody mentioned in his narrative “who is called Christ” who is significant enough to serve as a well-understood identifier. If this Jesus who is called Christ is assumed to be a name well-known to his audience, it would be remiss for Josephus in his role as a historian to decide to pass over his life in silence, given that Jesus was not, like Pallas, a politician in Rome who would be unconnected to his narrative but instead a Jewish leader in Judea under Tiberius when Pilate was prefect who would find a place in theJewish Antiquities of Josephus. (Even if it were a deliberate purpose of Josephus to omit mention of Christians or Jesus that explains the absence of an earlier passage, then that same purpose makes such a reference in the 20th book of the Jewish Antiquities counter-productive to his aims.) Whether we want to say that Jesus were not well-known or that he were, in either case, it is more likely that Josephus would have given an earlier account of Jesus, given the later reference, than that he would not.
Arguments that the 20.9.1 Reference is Authentic
- The reference appears in all extant manuscripts. However, as Doherty points out, “we have nothing earlier than the 10th century, and by then one of the universal tendencies in manuscript transmission, that all copies of a well-known passage gravitate toward the best-known wording, as well as toward the inclusion of the passage itself, would have ensured that this reference to Jesus in its present form would long since have been found in all copies.” (p. 216) More importantly, however, the reference appears in the works of Origen in the early third century. This is strong textual evidence for the reference. However, room must be made for the possibility of conjectural amendation when the other passage referring to Jesus also appears in all extant manuscripts of Josephus but is known to have been the result of tampering.
- At least five five different people in Josephus’ works alone are known to have the name of James. But Josephus is generally careful to supply details to locate his characters in history. As this is a common name, if Josephus referred only to “James and certain others,” it might be confusing as to what James is meant. Against this argument, Doherty writes: “This inclusion of an identifying piece of information, say those arguing for authenticity, is something that Josephus does for most of his characters. True enough, but this does not necessarily make the present phrase the original one. Josephus may have said something else which Christians subsequently changed. Or he may have written nothing. If he knew nothing else about James or chose to say nothing more, he would simply have used some equivalent to ‘a certain James’ or ‘someone named James.'” (p. 216)
- It is sometimes suggested that, if a Christian was tampering with this passage, he would probably also want to deny the charges against James as well as get it “straight” with Hegesippus’ version of his death. However, Doherty rightly counters that there were limitations to the amount of tampering that could take place in “a tightly-packed account of James’ death and its repercussions on Ananus” (p. 218). Moreover, if the reference were originally a marginal aside as suggested by Wells, then there would be no thought of purposely altering the passage; a later scribe would have included the marginal gloss under the assumption that it belonged in the text.
- It is suggested that, if a Christian was tampering with this passage, he would have taken the opportunity to definitely assert the messiahship of Jesus (rather than just referring to Jesus “who is called the Christ,” Gk. tou legomenou Christou). Morton Smith writes: “Since Josephus’ works have been preserved by Christian copyists and no Christian would have forged a reference to Jesus in this style, the text has generally been accepted as genuine.” (p. 44)There are problems with Smith’s argument. First, Smith depends upon a translation of the reference as “Jesus the so-called Christ,” when this translation is not a necessary one. Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz state, “The formulation ο λεγομενος χριστος (who is called Christ) implies neither assent nor doubt (cf. Matt 1.16).” (p. 65) Doherty points this out:
The frequent translation of “tou legomenou Christou” as “the so-called Christ,” with its skeptical and derogatory overtone, is in no way necessary, and is in fact belied by the usage of the same phrase in Matthew [1:16, 27:17] and John [4:25] where it obviously cannot have such a connotation. The word legomenos is found in many other places in the New Testament without an implied derogation. Those using the term in their translations of Josephus betray a preconceived bias in favor of his authorship. (p. 217)
If we assume that there was originally a note in the margin identifying this James as “the brother of Jesus who is called Christ” and that this note was later incorporated into the text, then there would be no intentional interpolation, and the idea that the interpolator would have wanted to more definitely assert messiahship collapses.
On the other hand, if we assume that the passage was intentionally modified, it could have been modified by a slightly sophisticated interpolater. It has often been suggested that Jerome, whose quotation has “Credabatur esse Christus” in a place in the Testimonium, altered the original “He was the Christ” — he knew that Josephus wouldn’t think so. This interpolator would have inserted the reference to “Jesus who is called the Messiah” on the same basis; the interpolator realized that Josephus would not actually consider call Jesus the Christ. The plausibility of this suggestion is also seen from the reference in Matthew 27:17, in which the author of Matthew puts words on the lips of Pilate that refer to Jesus as “Jesus who is called Messiah.”
While the argument concerning the non-commital nature of the reference isn’t quite conclusive, it is certainly quite suggestive. The significance of the references to “called Christ” in the New Testament is exaggerated. Van Voorst observes:
For the few occurences of the phrase “called Christ” in the New Testament, see Matt 1:16 (Matthew’s genealogy, where it breaks the long pattern of only personal names); Matt 27:17, 22 (by Pontius Pilate); John 4:25 (by the Samaritan woman). Twelftree, “Jesus in Jewish Traditions,” 300, argues from these instances that “called Christ” is “a construction Christians used when speaking of Jesus” and therefore an indication that this passage is not genuine. He also cites John 9:11, but there the phrase is “called Jesus” and so does not apply to this issue. But if these passages are indicative of wider usage outside the New Testament, “called Christ” tends to come form non-Christians and is not at all typical of Christian usage. Christians would not be inclined to use a neutral or descriptive term like “called Christ”; for them, Jesus is (the) Christ.
I also note that no extracanonical works in the second century use the phrase “Jesus who is called Christ,” even though this would be the period when an interpolation would have to have been made. On the other hand, as with the next argument, a different identity for the postulated author of such a marginal gloss may explain all the data.
- John P. Meier argues:
…the way the text identifies James is not likely to have come from a Christian hand or even a Christian source. Neither the NT nor early Christian writers spoke of James of Jerusalem in a matter-of-fact way as “the brother of Jesus” (ho adelphos Iesou), but rather — with the reverence we would expect — “the brother of the Lord” (ho adelphos tou kyriou) or “the brother of the Savior” (ho adelphos tou soteros). Paul, who was not overly fond of James, calls him “the brother of the Lord” in Gal 1:19 and no doubt is thinking especially of him when he speaks of “the brothers of the Lord” in 1Cor 9:5. Hegesippus, the 2d-century Church historian who was a Jewish convert and probably hailed from Palestine, likewise speaks of “James, the brother of the Lord” (in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History 2.23.4); indeed, Hegesippus also speaks of certain other well-known Palestinian Christians as “a cousin of the Lord” (4.22.4), the “brothers of the Savior” (3.25.5), and “his [the Lord’s] brother according to the flesh” (3.20.1). The point of all this is that Josephus’ designation of James as “the brother of Jesus” squares neither with NT nor with early patristic usage, and so does not likely come from the hand of a Christian interpolator. (p. 58)
It’s a fair note. A search of the ante-Nicene Church Fathers, the extracanonical writings, and the New Testament will produce no instance in which James is identified as “the brother of Jesus.” It may not be the most probable phrase to find from an ancient Christian author. It suffers, however, from attempting to make an argument about the style of someone who is otherwise unknown, who left no other writing, simply from the scribe being a Christian. It also contains the assumption that the addition came from a Christian scribe, which might actually be controverted if the considerations about the style of reference and its potential skepticism are taken just as seriously as the considerations against a solitary, unexplained reference here from the historian Josephus. The outcome of accepting both prongs of the argument is that a marginal gloss identifying this man named James (with the one renowned among the Jews, according to Hegesippus, for his justice) may have been from a second century non-Christian Jewish scribe.
Hi, I’m not sure if any comment to this relatively old post may be still valid.
However, I’d like to comment the “jewish scribe gloss” proposal – which is intriguing.
I believe that such proposal should consider the following arguments:
1) Do we have any knowledge of jewish scribes/copyist transmitting Josephus’ work in jewish circles?
(Josephus possibly had a bad reputation amongst jewish, at least in the first centuries. We have knowledge of controversies with John of Giscala and Just of Tiberias. I believe we don’t even have any mention of him in early rabbinic sources.)
2) In case point 1) can be answered in positive, why a jewish scribe felt the need to add such a gloss?
3) If the jewish scribe motivation was historical accuracy, wouldn’t this be an argument in favor of a correct James identification (as a brother of Jesus called the Christ) by a knowledgeable jewish source?