The Interpolations of Josephus by De Robigne Mortimer Bennett 1881
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It is most unfortunate for the character and reliability of Christianity and its reputed founder that there is little or no corroborative evidence from the writers who flourished at the time Jesus is said to have made his advent into the world and soon after. It is unfortunate that Philo, Josephus, and Justus should be so silent with regard to him. If it was true that Jesus existed in Palestine at the time he is said to have lived and taught there; if it is true that he performed such wonderful works as are related of him, and that he drew a large following of people after him, it is singular that such writers as those named should have known nothing of it all, or should have said nothing of it when writing the history of the events that transpired in that period. The Rev. S. Baring-Gould, in his "Lost and Hostile Gospels," takes a clear view of this want of corroborative proof. He thus expresses himself: "It is somewhat remarkable that no contemporary, or even early life of our Lord exists, except from the pens of Christian writers. That we have none by Greek or Roman writers is, perhaps, not to be wondered at; but it is singular that neither Philo, Josephus, nor Justus of Tiberias, should ever have alluded to Christ or to primitive Christianity. Philo was born at Alexandria about twenty years before Christ In the year A. D. 40 he was sent by the Alexandrian Jews on a mission to Caligula to entreat the emperor not to put into force his order that his statue should be erected in the temple of Jerusalem and in all the synagogues of the Jews. Philo was a Pharisee. He traveled in Palestine, and speaks of the Essenes he saw there; but he says not a word about Jesus Christ and his followers. It is possible that he may have heard of the new sect, but he concluded it was but insignificant and consisted of the disciples, poor and ignorant, of a Galilean rabbi, whose doctrines he, perhaps, did not stay to inquire into, and supposed they did not differ fundamentally from the traditional teaching of the rabbis of his day.
"Flavius Josephus was born A. D. 37, consequently only four years after the death of our Lord, at Jerusalem. Till the age of twenty-nine he lived in Jerusalem, and had, therefore, plenty of opportunity of learning about Christ and early Christianity. In 67 Josephus became governor of Galilee, on the occasion of the Jewish insurrection against the Roman domination. After the fall of Jerusalem he passed into the service of Titus, went to Rome, where he rose to honor in the house of Vespasian and of Titus, A. D. 81. The year of his death is not known. He was alive in A. D. 93, for his biography is carried down to that date. Josephus wrote at Rome his 'History of the Jewish War,' in seven books, in his own Aramaic language. This he finished in the year A.D. 75, and then translated it into Greek. On the completion of this work he wrote his 'Jewish Antiquities,' a history of the Jews, in twenty books, from the beginning of the world to the twelfth year of the reign of Nero, A. D. 66. He completed this work in the year A. D. 93, concluding it with a biography of himself. He also wrote a book against Apion on the antiquity of the Jewish people. A book in praise of the Maccabees has been attributed to him without justice. In the first of these works, the larger of the two, the 'History of the Jewish War,' he treats of the very period when our Lord lived, and in it he makes no mention of him. But in the shorter work, the 'Jewish Antiquities,' in which he goes over briefly the same period of time treated of at length in the other work, we find this passage:
"'At this time lived Jesus, a wise man [if indeed he ought to be called a man], for he performed wonderful works [he was a teacher of men who received the truth with gladness]; and he drew to him many Jews and also many Greeks. [This was the Christ] But when Pilate, at the instigation of our chiefs, had condemned him to crucifixion, they who at first loved him did not cease [for he appeared to them on the third day again, for the divine prophets had foretold this, together with many other wonderful things concerning him], and even to this time the community of Christians called after him continues to exist'
"That this passage is spurious has been almost universally acknowledged. One may be accused perhaps of killing dead birds, if one again examines and discredits the passage; but as the silence of Josephus on the subject which we are treating is a point on which it will be necessary to insist, we cannot omit as brief a discussion as possible of the celebrated passage.
"This passage is first quoted by Eusebius (fl. A.D.315) in two places (Hist Eccl. lib. i.,c.xi.; Demonst Evang. lib. iii.); but it was unknown to Justin Martyr (fl. A.D.140), Clement of Alexandria (fl. A.D.192), Tertullian (fl. A.D.193), and Origen (fl. A.D.230). Such a testimony would certainly have been produced by Justin in his apology or in his controversy with Trypho the Jew, had it existed in the copies of Josephus at his time. The silence of Origen is still more significant Celsus, in his book against Christianity, introduces a Jew. Origen attacks the arguments of Celsus and his Jew. He could not have failed to quote the words [of Josephus, whose writings he knew, had the passage existed in the genuine text He indeed distinctly affirms that Josephus did not believe in Christ (Contr. Cels.,i).
"Again, the paragraph interrupts the chain of ideas in the original text Before this passage comes an account of how Pilate, seeing there was a want of pure drinking water in Jerusalem, conducted a stream into the city from a spring two hundred stadia distant, and ordered that the cost should be defrayed out of the treasury of the Temple. This occasioned a riot. Pilate disguised Roman soldiers as Jews, with swords under their cloaks, and sent them among the rabble, with orders to arrest the ring-leaders. This was done. The Jews, finding themselves set upon by other Jews, fell into confusion. One Jew attacked another, and the whole company of rioters melted away. 'And in this manner,' says Josephus, 'was this insurrection suppressed.' Then follows the paragraph about Jesus, beginning, 'At this time lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man,' etc.; and the passage is immediately followed by, 'About this time another misfortune threw the Jews into disturbance, and in Rome an event happened in tbe temple of Isis which produced great scandal.' And then he tells an indelicate story of religious deception which need not be repeated here. The misfortune which befel the Jews was, as he afterward relates, that Tiberius drove them out of Rome. The reason of this was, he says, that a noble Roman lady, who had become a proselyte, had sent gold and purple to the temple at Jerusalem. But this reason is not sufficient. It is clear from what precedes—a story of a sacerdotal fraud—that there was some connection between the incidents in the mind of Josephus. Probably the Jews had been guilty of religious deceptions in Rome, and had made a business of performing cures and expelling demons with talismans and incantations, and for this had obtained rich payment
"From the connection that exists between the passage about the 'other misfortune which befel the Jews,' and the former one about the riot suppressed by Pilate, it appears evident that the whole of the paragraph concerning our Lord is an interpolation. That Josephus could not have written the passage as it stands is clear enough, for only a Christian would speak of Jesus in the terms employed. Josephus was a Pharisee and a Jewish priest. He shows in all his writings that he believes in Judaism.
"It has been suggested that Josephus may have written about Christ as in the passage quoted, but that the portions within brackets are the interpolations of a Christian copyist. But when these portions within brackets are removed, the passage loses all its interest, and is dry statement, utterly unlike the sort of notice Josephus would have been likely to insert. He gives color to his narratives; his incidents are always sketched with vigor. This account would be meagre beside those of the riot of the Jews and the rascality of the priests of Isis. Josephus asserts, moreover, that in his time there were four sects among the Jews—the Pharisees, the Sadducees, the Essenes, and the sect of Judas of Gamala. He gives tolerably copious particulars about these sects and their teachings, but of the Christian sect he says not a word. Had he wished to write about it, he would have given full details, likely to interest his readers and not have dismissed the subject in a couple of lines.
"It was, perhaps, felt by the early Christians that the silence of Josephus—so famous a historian and a Jew—on the life, miracles, and death of the founder of Christianity, was extremely inconvenient; the fact could not fail to be noticed by their adversaries. Some Christian transcriber may have argued either Josephus knew nothing of the miracles performed by Christ—in which case he is a weighty testimony against them—or he must have heard of Jesus, but not have deemed his acts, as they were related to him, of sufficient importance to find a place in his history. Arguing thus, the copyist took the opportunity of rectifying the omission written from the standpoint of a Pharisee, and therefore designating the Lord as merely a wise man.
"It is curious to note the use made of the interpolation now found in the text Eusebius, after quoting it, says: 'When such testimony as this is transmitted to us by a historian who sprang from the Hebrews themselves respecting the Savior, what subterfuge can be left them to prevent them from being covered with confusion?'"
The reverend author continues his arguments in a similar vein, showing conclusively that the spurious paragraph quoted was never written by the Jewish historian. These would doubtless interest the reader, but the copious extracts already given, coupled with want of space, precludes further quotations from this learned author. He arrived at the same conclusion touching the spurious paragraph that many other eminent, learned, and even Christian writers have. Dr. Lardner, one of the ablest Christian writers, conclusively proves that Josephus was not the author of the paragraph, and exposes the subterfuge of the party or parties who dishonestly attempted to make the Jewish historian affirm that such a person as Jesus had an actual existence. Many writers ascribe the fraud to Eusebius. Whether he was the guilty party or not, he seems to have been the first to call attention to the passage; and according to the testimony of Mosheim—who certainly must be admitted to be a competent judge—Eusebius justified the policy of using fraud, if thereby the interests of the church could be promoted. In his "Ecclesiastical History," page 70, he says: "That it was not only lawful but commendable to deceive and lie for the sake of truth and piety early spread among the Christians of the second century." The Fathers easily fell into the practice of pious fraud agreeable to the pattern of the Romish and other pagan priests who preceded them. Paul also inculcated the commendable nature of this species of piety. (See Romans iii. 7.) There is scarcely a doubt that Eusebius was capable of being the author of the interpolated passage.
Contemporary with Josephus lived another Jewish historian, Justus of Tiberias, whose name has already been mentioned. Josephus speaks of him, and blames him for not having published his "Ilistory of the Wars of the Jews" during the life of Vespasian and Titus. St Jerome also mentions Justus, and includes him in his catalogue of ecclesiastical writers; and Stephen of Byzantium mentions him. His books are believed to be lost; but Photius had read his History, and expressed surprise to find that Justus made no mention whatever of Christ. Photius expressed himself in this way: "This Jewish historian does not make the smallest mention of the appearance of Christ, and says nothing whatever of his deeds and miracles" (Bibliothec. cod. 33). This amounts to almost positive proof that Jesus had not a real existence, or that he was so obscure and unknown as not to be talked about, and his career not an incident worthy of mention.
In the "Antiquities" of Josephus (lib. xx, c. ix) there is one other mention made of the name of Jesus in connection with the account given of the putting to death of James, the brother of him who is called Christ, and some others, under Ananus, the high-priest. Baring-Gould says: "This passage is also open to objection. According to Hegesippus, a Jewish Christian, who wrote a history of the church about the year A. D. 170, of which fragments have been preserved by Eusebius, St James was killed in a tumult, not by sentence of a court. He relates that James, the brother of Jesus, was thrown down from a wing of the temple, stoned, and finally dispatched with a fuller's club. Clement of Alexandria confirms this, and is quoted by Eusebius accordingly. Eusebius quotes the passage from Josephus without noticing that the two accounts do not agree. According to the statement of Hegesippus, St James suffered alone; according to that of Josephus, several other victims to the anger or zeal of Ananus perished with him."
"It appears that some of the copies of Josephus were tampered with by copyists, for Theophylact says, 'The wrath of God fell on them (the Jews) when their city was taken, and Josephus testifies that these things happened to them on account of the death of Jesus.' But Origen, speaking of Josephus, says, 'This writer, though he did not believe in Jesus to be the Christ, inquiring into the cause of the overthrow of Jerusalem and the demolition of the temple, . . . says, "These things befel the Jews in vindication of James, called the Just, who was the brother of Jesus, called the Christ, forasmuch as they killed him who was a most righteous man '" (Contra Cels. i, 47). Josephus, as we have seen, says nothing of the sort; consequently Origen must have quoted from an interpolated copy. And this interpolation suffered further alteration, by a later hand, by the substitution of the name of Jesus for that of James."
"It is therefore by no means unlikely that the name of James, the Lord's brother, may have been inserted in the account of the high-handed dealing of Ananus in place of another name" (Lost and Hostile Gospels). Few things were more common than these interpolations and changes by scribes and interested parties in the second and third centuries, anxious to show that Jesus had been mentioned by Josephus and other historians. The utter improbability that Josephus, an orthodox Jew, should speak of Jesus being the Messiah or Christ must be apparent to the most common observer. If, then, one or two such passages are found, the rational conclusion to be arrived at is that they were nothing but specimens of the interpolations common to that time.
This, then, is all the proof that is found in the writings of the contemporary historians and writers of the time—in the first century—save, perhaps, the account attributed to Celsus, already alluded to, to show that there was such a person as Jesus—nothing else save the disjointed, imperfect, and conflicting narratives ascribed to Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John (with numerous conceded spurious gospels), though by whom written, where, or when, whether in the first or second century, no man knows. As, however, no proof exists that they were in existence before the latter part of the second century the conclusion is obligatory that they were not written till about that time. Candor and truth also compel us to admit that the proof that Jesus had a real personal existence is very apocryphal and doubtful; and it is indeed singular how an edifice so stately as Christianity should have been built upon a foundation so defective and uncertain.
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