Best of AW

Friday, November 2, 2012

Part 3 Answering Lowder's attack on historical Jesus Sources: Josephus and Talmud


 I was planning on ending this with this third part. I find it's too long to include the Talmud. So that I will cover in a fourth part and post this weekend.


This is still answer to Jeff Lowder's old piece (it was old in 2000 when it was updated) on historical Jesus sources. I was recently asked what I think of it so I decided why not critique it for AW?

He makes short shrift of Church fathers, as we have seen in 1-2 to his own determent. Then he wails on Josephus and the Talmud. His arguments against Jo begin with the "brother passage" rather than the Testimonium Flavianum. Remember Jo has two mentions of Jesus, the one everyone talks about, the longer one is the Testimonium Flavianum (hence forth "TF"). This other passage is really about James but he does mention that James' brother was Jesus, in Antiquities 20.9.1 §200-201. Cited by McDowell 1979, p. 83. Lowder says a  lot of things about this passage. He alludes to many criticism but doesn't say what they are.

But the above objection is hardly the only objection to the authenticity of this passage, and it is certainly not Wells' only objection. In Wells' 1982 book, The Historical Evidence for Jesus, Wells objects that "the Greek does not have 'so-called' but 'him called Christ,' and this, so far from being non-Christian, is the exact wording of Mt. 1:16."[24] Furthermore, in Wells' later books, he presents additional objections to the authenticity of the passage.[25] So while I think McDowell's and Wilson's conclusion concerning this passage is correct, their discussion is incomplete. Readers interested in a complete summary of the debate concerning this shorter passage will need to go elsewhere.[1]


When you search through them for the real meat of his objection you find really his argument boils down to this:

McDowell and Wilson also have occasion to consider an objection by G.A. Wells to this passage, that "it is unlikely that Josephus would have mentioned Jesus here simply--as it were--in passing, when he mentions him nowhere else."[22] In response, McDowell and Wilson argue that Wells' "statement demonstrates that even he recognizes that the James passage is incomplete without the Testimonium."[23]
This is based upon an assumption he can't prove, the likelihood of mentioning him in passing. That's depends upon how well known he was to the audience. The Greek version was written in the 90s. so he could have been well known in Rome by that time. They had already persecuted Christians by that time. Moreover, it begs the question because it assumes there's no TF, which is what McDowell's answer was getting at. As for the objection that the Greek uses "him called Christ" Wells is not a Greek Scholar. I would have to see it myself to know. I'm also not convinced that this is so exclusive to the Gospels that it's indicative of Christian writing. The real weight of Lowder's arguments are about the TF.

My position is that there was a core passage Jo wrote that did refer to Jesus. It was tweaked by someone probably a Christian. That's not a reason to think the original passage wasn't historical.

the TF with "tweaked" (theoretically) bits marked:



Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man IF IT BE LAWFUL TO CALL HIM A MAN, for he was a doer of wonders, A TEACHER OF SUCH MEN AS RECEIVE THE TRUTH WITH PLEASURE. He drew many after him BOTH OF THE JEWS AND THE GENTILES. HE WAS THE CHRIST. When Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, FOR HE APPEARED TO THEM ALIVE AGAIN THE THIRD DAY, AS THE DIVINE PROPHETS HAD FORETOLD THESE AND THEN THOUSAND OTHER WONDERFUL THINGS ABOUT HIM, and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day" (Antiquities 18:63-64).
 with the Tweaked bits taken out

Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man , for he was a doer of wonders,  He drew many after him. When Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him,  and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day" (Antiquities 18:63-64).
Lowder writes about how controversial it is but fails to mention by the end of the 20th century most scholars at taken the view that the core passage is valid and is a historical reference to Jesus written by Jo.

  Prof Mark GoodachreDuke University:
"Josephus' text has, of course, been interpolated by Christians, but most scholars think that there is at its base a passage written by Josephus: NB style, context & non-Christian elements that survive". [3]

Prof. Paula Frederiksen, Boston University:
"Most scholars currently incline to see the passage as basically authentic, with a few later insertions by Christian scribes." (Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, page 249).
Prof. David Flusser, Hebraica University:
"Although it is generally recognized that the passage concerning Jesus in the extant greek manuscripts of his Jewish Antiquities (18:63-64) was distorted by later christian hands "the most probable view seems to be that our text represents substantially what Josephus wrote, but that some alterations have been made by a christian interpolator" [4] See my original page on Doxa for many more such quotes. Here's a list of major scholars who agree to the position I'm talking. The Christian cadre once had a project of compiling this list, so our researched looked up each one to be sure.




A List of Scholar who accept at least some core passage.


John P. Meier
Raymond Brown
Graham Stanton
N.T. Wright
Paula Fredrickson
John D. Crossan
E.P. Sanders
Geza Vermes
Louis Feldman
John Thackeray
Andre Pelletier
Paul Winter
A. Dubarle
Ernst Bammel
Otto Betz
Paul Mier
Ben Witherington
F.F. Bruce
Luke T. Johnson
Craig Blomberg
J. Carleton Paget
Alice Whealey
J. Spencer Kennard
R. Eisler
R.T. France
Gary Habermas
Robert Van Voorst
Shlomo Pines
Edwin M. Yamuchi
James Tabor
John O'Connor-Murphy
Mark Goodacre
Paula Frederiksen
David Flusser
Steve Mason


Alice Whealy, Berkely Cal.



Twentieth century controversy over the Testimonium Flavianum can be distinguished from controversy over the text in the early modern period insofar as it seems generally more academic and less sectarian. While the challenge to the authenticity of the Testimonium in the early modern period was orchestrated almost entirely by Protestant scholars and while in the same period Jews outside the church uniformly denounced the text's authenticity, the twentieth century controversies over the text have been marked by the presence of Jewish scholars for the first time as prominent participants on both sides of the question. In general, the attitudes of Protestant, Roman Catholic, Jewish and secular scholars towards the text have drawn closer together, with a greater tendency among scholars of all religious backgrounds to see the text as largely authentic. On the one hand this can be interpreted as the result of an increasing trend towards secularism, which is usually seen as product of modernity. On the other hand it can be interpreted as a sort of post-modern disillusionment with the verities of modern skepticism, and an attempt to recapture the sensibility of the ancient world, when it apparently was still possible for a first-century Jew to have written a text as favorable towards Jesus of Nazareth as the Testimonium Flavianum. [5]
Prof. Louis Feldmann, in his book Josephus and Modern Scholarship, noted that between 1937 to 1980, of 52 scholars reviewing the subject, 39 found portions of the Testimonium Flavianum to be authentic - 10 scholars regarded the Testimonium Flavianum as entirely or mostly genuine, 20 accept it with some interpolations, 9 with several interpolations, and 13 regard it as being totally an interpolation. [6] According Feldman, the vast majority of scholars (75 %) favor partial authenticity of the Testimonium. Some scholars who accepts that Josephus wrote something about Jesus: Lane Fox, Michael Grant, Crossan, Borg, Meier, Tabor, Thiessen, Frederiksen, Flusser, Charlesworth, Paul Winter, Feldman, Mason...[7]

Lowder begins his attack by claiming that most of the Ms bearing the TF are from the tenth century or latter. This is suppossed to real prove sometime but the truth those are earliest we have. It's not true that we have this big repository of MS that don't have it. All Ms have it. We have none without it.
Tenth century is the oldest for  a Josephus text but not the oldest we have.



There's a reading by St. Jerome who was a contemporary of Augustine (347–420). There were other mentions by writers before Jerome.

Before Jerome, the Testimonium had been reproduced in Greek (its original language) three times by Eusebius in three of his works in the early fourth century; and in Syrian in the Syriac translation of Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History and Theophania – translations also made in the fourth century. Rufinus translated Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History into Latin in c. 402 CE; a decade after Jerome came out with his book De viris illustribus (On Illustrious Men) in 392 CE,[124] in which also he translated the Testimonium from Greek.[125] Pseudo-Hegesippus witnessed the Testimonium two decades earlier than Jerome did, but his version of the Testimonium is, as has been shown, not a quotation of the passage but a very free paraphrase. Jerome is therefore the first who in the form of quotation translated the Testimonium into Latin.[8]
 The Jerome version reads "believed to be Messiah" not "was" messiah.

These are not Ms of Josephus but they prove the passage existed in a from very much like he one we have well before the tenth century. Of course the tenth century is the date of the Arabic version discovered by Rabbi Shlomo Pine's. That version has different emendations but the core is much thes same indicating that there was a core and it's still intact.

Lowder actually dismisses a lot of  other objections and agrees that McDowell and Wilson answer them adequately. These pertain to the passage coming out of context or not sounding like Jo.
According to that objection, the fact that there has been any tampering with the text at all makes the entire passage suspect; a heavy burden of proof falls upon anyone who defends partial authenticity. I will leave it as an exercise for the reader to decide what to think about this objection.
He actually helps McDowell by employing their evidence on the Arabic text  that the core passage is intact in both, giving it authenticity. Then he argues that it's not complete.
Yet even if the Arabic version can be dated to the fourth century, the text would still not provide any additional evidence for the authenticity of the Testimonium. Again, three centuries would still have been plenty of time for the Testimonium to have been interpolated. Indeed, for all we know, the extant Greek versions and the Arabic version have a common source, perhaps the original interpolation itself!
The fallacy in that thinking is that while three centuries is a lot of time for something to happen the fact that core passage is intact means it didn't. Moreover we have more than just two, the Arabic and the version the Greek version of Jo. We have many other versions that are all earlier than the tenth century. That's just the earliest Josephus text.

Another argument in which Lowder actually helps McDowell.

Finally, (iv) is the one good argument in the bunch. Whereas the gospels tend to blame the Jews for Jesus' death, the Testimonium blames the Romans. Furthermore, it does not mention anything about Jewish authorities sentencing Jesus. It is difficult to explain how the hands of a Christian interpolator near the time of Eusebius would have left this intact.
It's not conclusive that the Gospels blame the Jews more than the Romans. They both nave a hand in it. Pilate turns him back to the Sanhedrin knowing it means his death. This argument of Lowder's is actually pre TF. It means the Christian making the tweaks would not have left the Romans as guilty, he would have turned the Jews into the culprits. That means the core passage comes from a time closer to the facts and from a Jewish author.

Lowder's conclusion:

In conclusion, I think McDowell is right to appeal to the Testimonium as independent confirmation of the historicity of Jesus. However, given the centuries-old debate over how much, if any, of the Testimonium is authentic, McDowell's mere quotation of the full Testimonium (combined with an acknowledgement that the quotation is "hotly-disputed") is simply inexcusable. By itself, the unqualified quotation of the Testimonium in ETDAV gives readers the misleading impression that, although there is some unspecified controversy concerning the passage, McDowell accepts the full authenticity of the Testimonium. Furthermore, since skepticism concerning the authenticity of the Testimonium is fairly widespread, I think McDowell did a disservice to his mostly Christian audience by not answering these objections. Indeed, if McDowell had made it clear in ETDAV that his own view is that the Testimonium is partially authentic, that would have answered most of the objections. Of course, McDowell and Wilson have discussed the objections at some length in their 1988 book, He Walked Among Us. But many of their arguments for authenticity are weak; their response to one of the objections against authenticity is incomplete; and they neglected what I consider to be a very serious objection against their view.

In other words It is authentic but I'm not goign to take it for evidence. McDowell is a sucker for not making deal out of the tweaks. Well that's ok with me. I do make a big deal of the tweaks and I still think it's basically good evidence for the mere point that he existed because that is hardly an extraordinary claim. There are no versions that are so wildly different from the core passage as to suggest that it was not original. There are no Ms of Josephus with out it. We can't assert that "envy" is proof of Christian interpolation then ignore non Christian aspects blaming Rome. Just becuase envy m might be Jerrome's on interpolation doesn't mean the phrase "was thought to be" as to be his own too. Moreover, it's just as likely that he copied a version that both readings in it. Over all there's good overwhelming reason to assume the core passage is original to Josephus.



[1] Lowder, op cit, 
linked fn 24 and 25 is the original from Lowder's text.
[2] ibid.
linked fn's are form Lowder's text.
[3] link on the goodachre quote is no longer good, form my original page Doxa.
[4]Paula Frederiksen, The Sage from Galilee - Rediscovering Jesus' Genius, page 12
[5] form the Doxa page, original link no longer good. Here's a PDF by the original author with the quote: http://www.roger-pearse.com/weblog/wp-content/uploads/2011/08/whealey2000.pdf
[6] Christopher Price, "A Thorough Review of the Testimonium Flavianum;" Peter Kirby, Website, earl Christian Writings: Testimonium Flavianum
[7]Mason, Feldman, Colzelmann quotes contributed by researcher Nehemias CADRE blog 8/18/2008 02:16:00 PM
[8]Roger Viklunds blogg
Jesus Granskad (website) "Jesus Passages in Jospehus  case study part 21..." URL
http://rogerviklund.wordpress.com/2011/03/16/the-jesus-passages-in-josephus-%E2%80%93-a-case-study-part-2l-%E2%80%93-%E2%80%9Dtestimonium-flavianum%E2%80%9D-the-church-fathers%E2%80%99-knowledge-the-latin-translations-jerome/
Roger Viklunds argues that some of Joerome's version was interpolated by him, for example attributing the Jews opposition to envy. He does not conclude that the passage is bogus.
Jerome’s translation is far from literal and you cannot from the discrepancies that exist conclude that his Greek master must have contained the same deviations – especially since the word “envy” reflects a Christian idea of faith taken from the Gospels, and which Jerome surely added himself, and this shows that he did not hesitate to change the meaning of the text.
Yet since it backs up all the other versions we have one also can't conclude that's made up of whole cloth either.






No comments: