Josephus on James and Jesus

To return to the early sources, we are not noticeably better off when we turn to Jewish historians of the period including Flavius Josephus (c. AD 37 - 105) - the greatest of them. The following widely quoted passage is found in his Antiquities of the Jews (VIII, 111.3):

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, ...He was Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of many of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross (April 3, AD 33), those that loved him at first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day (April 5, AD 33)...

The dates inserted are those held by the modern Church and not given by Josephus. The whole passage is blatantly a later interpolation. Even a staunch upholder of Christian tradition like William Sanford LaSor of the Fuller Theological Seminary is forced to concede:54

Most modern scholars would deny the authenticity of the passage, claiming either (a) that it was wholly a Christian interpolation or (b) that it was worked over by Christian hands.

Or in plain English - it is a forgery. Origen, a Church historian of the third century is emphatic that Josephus did not regard Jesus as Christ, which would thus contradict the whole passage. But we already see a sinister pattern at play, shifting the blame for the death of Jesus from the Romans to the Jews by claiming 'many of the principal men amongst us' in the passage just quoted, implying that the Jews had caused Jesus to be executed.

There is one other reference to Jesus, an incidental one, also in his Antiquities of the Jews (XX. IX.1). It goes:

So he [Ananus, the High Priest] assembled the sanhedrim [assembly) of the 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...

The accusation against James - that he was guilty of breaking the Jewish Law - is not credible. Several independent sources are emphatic that James, known as the 'Righteous' was considered a holy man - not the kind to break the Law of Moses. His being stoned to death on orders from the Jewish High Priest is no doubt part of the same plan - to shift as much blame as possible on to the Jews. This account - of James being stoned on the orders of the High Priest - is also contradicted by other early accounts - including those of the early Church historian Eusebius and the ancient work known as the Recognitions of Clement. James emphatically was not stoned to death by the Jews.

As we saw in a previous section, these early sources tell us that James fell victim to an attack while engaged preaching in the Temple. As we also saw, Eisenman's research indicates that the attack on James might have been led by his rival Paul. It has also been noted that Josephus mentions one 'Saul' as having acted as an

54 The Complete works of Flavius Josephus, Grand Rapids. Michigan, Kregel. 1960. p. x.

intermediary in inviting the Romans to attack Jerusalem; Saul of course was the name of St Paul before his conversion. In the circumstances, it would be entirely in order for Christian scribes to shift the blame for the death of James from Paul to the Jews. Otherwise it would be a major embarrassment - to acknowledge that James, the 'Lord's brother', was assassinated in the Temple by St Paul and his followers!

This shifting of the blame on to the Jews was initiated by Paul himself when he accused them of having "put the Lord Jesus to death... making themselves enemies of the whole human race." (1 Thessalonians, 2.15)

As far as the passage in Josephus' Antiquities is concerned, we may again profitably turn to Dr LaSor for the orthodox Christian view:

Scholars are generally convinced that editors have worked over these passages. In my opinion, a reasonable position is taken by the great translator of Josephus, H. St John Thackeray, who holds that the passages are the work of Josephus, and that a Christian censor or copyist has made slight omissions and alterations that have distorted the original account, giving it a "wholly different complexion." (ibid.)

This is highly unsatisfactory, leaving us in the middle of nowhere. We have no way of knowing if the crucial phrase 'the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ' is a later interpolation or not. Actually, there is more to this passage than meets the eye. We know from earlier references to it that it has been doctored by Christian hands. As I have already pointed out, early Church historians like Eusebius and Origen know the passage but give a different reading. And Eusebius cites other early works - now lost - that also mention James, but not Jesus.

All this is strong indication that the passage in Josephus as known in their time contained a reference to James but not to Jesus. The above account of the death of James - by stoning on the orders of the High Priest - contradicts not only other early accounts, but also the account given by Josephus himself as known to historians of the first four centuries of Christianity. The passage therefore is worthless as it stands; it has been doctored. Eusebius is known to have tampered with Josphus' works to suit his propaganda purposes. He may himself have been responsible for some of these interpolations. But even Eusebius concedes that the Ebionites (the early Christians) did not hold Jesus to be divine. (Proclamation of the divinity of Jesus at the Council of Nicea in AD 325 was a political act by Constantine and Eusebius. See Chapter Vlll.)

This admission by Eusebius - conceding that his contemporaries did not regard Jesus as divine - has explosive potential. Origen goes so far as to say that many, including Josephus, did not even regard him a Messiah. Eusebius does not bother to tell us if Jesus did exist historically or if he was a creation of Paul. (As the Bishop of Caesarea in the time of Constantine he could hardly deny Jesus' historicity.) Significantly, studying the early Church against the background of the Scrolls tells us that Jesus played no part in their institution. The early Church gains nothing by Jesus and would suffer no loss if he were removed. Pauline Christianity on the other hand can hardly exist without Jesus. As Eisenman and Wise describe it (p. 234), drawing heavily upon Eusebius:

They [early Christians] also insisted on the complete observance of the Law, nor did they think one could be saved only by 'faith in Christ and a corresponding life.' Rather 'they evinced great zeal to observe the literal sense of the Law...' Paul, they considered 'an apostate from the Law. ' (Original emphasis.)

And rightly so. The conclusion that I am forced to draw is: much of Church 'history' is part of the effort by later Christian scribes to reduce the importance of James and exalt Jesus. They created a Jesus - either wholly fictional, or an exalted version of a relatively unimportant figure - and made him tower over James who was the real leader of the early Christians and the Church of Jerusalem. For it is James, not Jesus who finds mention as a martyr in the works of early authors like Josephus (as known to Eusebius and others) as well as the ancient work 'Recognitions of Clement '.

An unnamed James like figure is found also in the Scrolls - the Habakkuk Commentary in particular. We already saw that the Habakkuk Commentary has served as a major source for the New Testament authors. We shall see later that it was also the source of Paul's great invention - the Doctrine of the Faith. The Scrolls transcripts released by the Huntington Library and Eisenman will surely help clarify the picture further.

In summary: James, the 'Lord's brother', who lived in Qumran and was martyred while preaching is undoubtedly historical, but we are less sure about the Lord himself.55

All this brings up a very basic question: if Jesus were really historical, where was the need to forge and fabricate evidence in order to vouch for his existence? It is hard to avoid the suspicion that the Christian scribes themselves must have felt doubts about his historicity, leading them to indulge in forgery on a massive scale. Pagan scholars and historians ridiculed the Christians for being so clumsy in creating the character of Jesus. And pagan Greeks and Romans routinely accused them of harbouring a 'pernicious superstition' .

Christian scribes have undoubtedly been the most inveterate forgers in history, with the infamous 'Donation of Constantine' to show for their masterpiece. For the moment, however, we can afford to be generous and allow that Josephus records the existence of a Jesus, the brother of James, who was called Christ. And this is the sole evidence we have for Jesus in early non-Christian sources. So, even if he was a historical figure, Jesus was not seen as anyone important even by Jewish historians, let alone the awe inspiring colossus of the age that the Gospels make him out to be.56

There is something else also of interest. In the passage in question, Josephus is speaking of the trial of James who he tells us was sentenced to be stoned (which was probably not true). Even if the account is false it highlights two things. First, for any violation of Jewish law in Jerusalem, the High Priest of the Temple had full authority to try and sentence all those who came under his jurisdiction; the Romans did not interfere in strictly Jewish affairs. Secondly, execution of criminals under Jewish law was by stoning, not crucifixion. As a result, if the account of the trial and death of Jesus given in the Gospels has any truth at all, it is that he had committed no crime under Jewish law. Crucifixion was the Roman method of execution. If Jesus was guilty of anything, he was guilty under Roman law of a crime that lay beyond the jurisdiction of the Jewish High Priest.

It follows therefore that the Jews had nothing to do with the death of Jesus, even

55 Eusebius had access to the works of an early Church historian. Hegesippus who lived in the 2nd century. His works were in existence as late as the 16th century, but then mysteriously disappeared. Baigent and Leigh (p. 191) suggest that a few copies might still exist in the Vatican archives. It is perhaps too much to hope that the archives will be thrown open to independent scholars.

56 I have left out the unflattering reference to Jesus in the Talmudic literature which adds nothing of historical value to our knowledge of the early Church. These are hodgepodge compilations from other sources in reaction to the aggressive propaganda of the Christians.

assuming it to be historical. On this Josephus and Tacitus are in complete agreement. Pinning the blame for the death of Jesus on the Jews is blatantly a later fabrication for which they have been made to pay a terrible price. It is the forgers again doing their nefarious work.

This casual (and dubious) reference to Jesus is the only one to be found in the vast body of historical writing available for the period. It is not unreasonable to suppose that Josephus the Jew, writing the history of his people would have had more to say about him had Jesus been the founder of a major religious sect - and that too around the time of the First Jewish War in which Josephus was himself a participant as a commander of Jewish forces. All Josephus has to tell us is that Jesus was called a Christ, or Messiah - even assuming the passage in the Antiquiries to be authentic. There is absolutely nothing about his divinity or importance - only that he was called Messiah, which, in light of what we now know from the Qumran texts only means that he was a leader or teacher belonging to the messianic Qumran community. Even this is contradicted by Origen who tells us that Josephus did not regard Jesus as a Messiah. All other references to Jesus, especially in Christian records, must be seen as later additions.

It is also worth noting that the great Rabbi Bar Hillel who is known to have lived during the period makes no mention of Jesus or his crucifixion. Hillel himself finds mention in the Bible under his Greek name of 'Ainon' where he is said to have been baptised by John the Baptist. (John 3.23) Hillel was close to Essene practices and might have been one himself. He was an important figure of the 'New Covenant' or the early Church. This tells us how far removed early Christianity was from the later Pauline Christianity.

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