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Could Josephus Have Been A Christian?

Cold Steel

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Josephus, in his celebrated work, Antiquity of the Jews, makes this alleged report concerning Jesus of Nazarath:

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 wonderful works; a teacher of such men as received the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was (the) Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst 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 ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day. (Book XVIII, Chapter iii, Section 3).

According to John E. Remsburg, author of a book entitled, The Christ, maintains that "a ranker forgery was never penned. Its language is Christian. Every line proclaims it the work of a Christian writer. 'If it be lawful to call him a man.' 'He was the Christ.' 'He appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him.'

"These are the words of a Christian," he says, "â??a believer in the divinity of Christ. Josephus was a Jew, a devout believer in the Jewish faithâ??the last man in the world to acknowledge the divinity of Christ."

But was Josephus a devout Jew? Where did he spend the years of the famed "Jewish War"? He had fought gallantly during the first part of the war (66-73 A.D.), but then suddenly became a detractor, urging his fellows to abandon their revolt against the Romans. Rather than listening to his wise advice, they imprisoned him. After that, three legions, including the 10th, led by Flavius Silva, decimated the Jewish regiments and crucified thousands of Jews. There were so many crosses erected, one source said, that one had to walk through them sideways." Yet Josephus was spared because of him views on the rebellion and was later adopted by the Flavians, being called Flavius Josephus and comfortably writing his histories in Rome.

So much for him being "a devout believer in the Jewish faith."

But are the words attributed to him genuine, or are they a forgery, a Christian interpolation? This isn't a rhetorical question as I don't have the slightest clue. That said, his words do appear to contain a very enthusiastic view of Christianity, if indeed they are his words.

The Christians were not caught up in the war, because they had been warned by Jesus that Jerusalem would be destroyed, its people killed and scattered. Is it possible that Josephus was exposed to Christianity and converted, thus knowing what was going to happen, or did he just know by common sense that the Romans were simply too powerful? What changed his mind enough to be imprisoned by his own peers? Was he a coward? (After all, his wife and parents had been killed in the first seige.) What could cause him to have a sudden change in heart and sign on with the enemy who was responsible for killing his family? Or did he learn something that caused him to blame the Jews for those deaths?

I don't know, but I agree that his words sound as though they were, as Remsburg said, "written by a Christian." I also fail to see how they could have been added by deviouis Christians, yet is his brevity concerning Christ an indication that it's a forgery?

Any thoughts would be welcome. I only put this out as a possibility, but it might be worthy of discussion.


Flavius Josephus

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My opinion is that Josephus was a rank opportunist who was not only willing to cozy up to the Romans, but also to turn on his countrymen. I believe that the quote in question was a later addition to his work which, at least to his credit, is remarkable in its depth.

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I agree with Remsburg. It is almost certainly a devout forgery, designed by a Christian to retain his beloved Josephus in his library.

I have read somewhere (was it Nibley perhaps?) that Josephus had, in fact, put in a word about Christ but that it was a rank put-down (as would be expected from a Jew, whether devout or not, it doesn't matter). When the Roman world turned Christian in the 4th C, the copies of Josephus were swept up by Christian book-burners intent on destroying anti-Christian literature, and owners of the book would cut out, scrape out, rub out, ANYTHING, to get rid of the offending words, to preserve their copies.

I suppose one of them got the bright idea of inserting all-new text that twisted the meaning around completely...

(Oh the things we book-lovers have to do sometimes... :P )


PS I loved Josephus, btw. And as EnemyAce said, a rank opportunist (which is surely why the Flavians loved him so much...)

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I agree with you, Beowulf. Josephus was a man of principle. Many Jews (and apparently others) feel he was a turncoat, but I see nothing that supports that. Anyone who understands the zealotry of the rebelling Jews knows that they not only had turned away from God, but they'd lost all ability to reason. The only reason that the Macabee rebellion had worked against Antiochus and the occupying Greeks is that the Romans were encroaching from the north and Antiochus didn't have the resources to deal with both the revolt and the Romans. In short, the Jews were convinced that the revolt of the Macabees was a God-given victory and they thought they could repeat it with the Romans. Josephus undoubtedly saw the futility in this, and he was proven right.

The Romans were a stabilizing force in that area of the world. The Jews were given to civil war and they were not powerful enough to break the iron chains of Rome. As much as the Romans exacted from them and other peoples, it doesn't even begin to touch what our government is doing to us.

The Zealots were a horrible people. They brought the Roman legions down on Jerusalem and were responsible for all the deaths it caused. The Romans were not terrible taskmasters...unless you crossed them. They were especially...umm...gifted in quelling revolts. I think Josephus knew that.

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There certainly has been some editing of Josephus. There are surviving quotations of Josephus from Eusebius, Origen, and Jerome that differ from the current manuscripts on several points--e.g., attributing the fall of Jerusalem to the slaying of James, not Jesus. Currently, most scholars feel that the comments about Jesus are examples of interpolation or editing.

Also, some scholars feel that Josephus might have edited himself. In his preface to "Wars of the Jews" he says the following:

I have proposed to myself, for the sake of such as live under the government of the Romans, to translate those books into the Greek tongue, which I formerly composed in the language of our country, and sent to the upper Barbarians;

Meaning he "translated" an original Hebrew or Aramaic manuscript into Greek. When doing so, it was common to not give a 'photocopy' of the text, so-to-speak, but rather to edit it for your new audience, complete with interpolations or new thoughts, etc.

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I think there was originally a comment about Jesus but that it was later elaborated by Christian translators and transcribers. I think the original paragraph would have been much less Christian. I think this is supported by the early Arabic version.

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FYI, David Seely's essay on Josephus and Jeremiah is interesting.


Also, in The Revelation of Jesus Christ, Margaret Barker makes the case that Josephus is the False Prophet described in Revelation. From my Occasional paper:

She cites correspondences between the events described in Revelation and those described in Josephus' account of the Jewish Wars. She points out that Josephus had been of a priestly family, and that he switched sides in the war after having been captured by the Romans. Josephus ingratiated himself with the Romans by claiming that he had the gift of prophecy. Barker sees Josephus as the False Prophet of Revelation. Indeed, she argues that "the prophecies in the Book of Revelation were a significant factor in the war against Rome."83

Kevin Christensen

Pittsburgh, PA

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COld Steel:

The Zealots were a horrible people. They brought the Roman legions down on Jerusalem and were responsible for all the deaths it caused. The Romans were not terrible taskmasters...unless you crossed them. They were especially...umm...gifted in quelling revolts. I think Josephus knew that.

I think you have it backwards..........

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