The first century Jewish Historian, Flavius Josephus, is who Christians lean on for independent corroboration of the existence of Jesus. We know that Josephus didn’t say that Jesus existed in the part of his Jewish Antiquities which contains references to Jesus, saying he was wise, a miracle worker, crucified and seen again after his death and the founder of the Christians, for it is a forgery. We call it the Testament of Flavius. However there is another reference later on in the Antiquities. In Book 20 to be precise.



"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 Sanhedrin 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 Sanhedrin 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"  (Jewish Antiquities, Book 20).


What if the names are tampered with?  What if it was actually, "he assembled the Sanhedrin 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." The tradition that this Jesus figure was stoned was strong among the Jews for centuries.


Or what about, "he assembled the Sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of James, who was called Christ, whose name was Jesus, 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"?  James should have been the Christ if his dead brother was under the rules of succession.  Christ means simply king.


Jesus death is seen as the root cause of the destruction of Jerusalem.  That is what the New Testament says.  Lending support to the idea that the Josephus Jesus is not the gospel Jesus, we read, "I should not mistake if I said that the death of Ananus was the beginning of the destruction of the city (of Jerusalem), and that from this very day may be dated the overthrow of her wall, and the ruin of her affairs, whereon they saw their high priest, and the procurer of their preservation, slain in the midst of their city."


If Josephus really did write that James was the brother of the so-called Christ, Jesus (as in the one we know), that still manages to weaken the evidence for Jesus.  He says that James was accused falsely of breaking the Law of Moses.  But James as regards his Jewish obligations did break the Law.  The gospels say that certain parts of the Law don’t apply any more but nobody could expect the Jews or their leaders to heed such a claim. If James taught such a thing then he broke the Law. If James taught that Jesus was the Christ then he broke the Law for that is blasphemy.


The author of the gospel of Luke and Acts mined Josephus to write his "history" about Jesus and related matters.  The story of James' death by stoning is curiously absent.  Was it not in the Josephus of his day?
Book 20 seems to assume the reader knows who Jesus is. Mentioning that he was the brother of the so-called Christ, Jesus, seems random. Giving the bare facts about James was enough to identify him. Leaving out the reference to his being the brother of Jesus leaves us with more than enough to see what James this is. We know from Justin Martyr a few decades later that Christ was not well-known so why is Christ mentioned as if to help identify who this James is?


Hegesippus wrote about James the brother of the Lord in such a way that it is clear the early Church had secret teachings and his Jewish fans were horrified to find out in the end that James believed in Jesus.  If this was a secret cult what had it to hide?  Was Josephus being sarcastic that James was the brother of a myth?  Hegesippus should be taken fairly seriously for he agrees with Josephus that James was stoned.


Copyist mistake?


 It is possible that the descriptive detail that this man James was "the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ" could have been scribbled into the margin as a note and was eventually incorporated into the text by mistake.


But Christians say that it seems then that we would be wondering what James this was so the real Josephus had to say he was the brother of Jesus and since there were lots of Jesuses he had to say it was Jesus called Christ (page 39, He Walked Among Us).

He did give some details about James and his death, enough to identify him, so this argument is simply wrong. There was no need for the bit about him being the brother of the so-called Messiah so it probably was a copyist's mis-clarification or a note that got into the passage. That could be why it is so brief and non-committal. Some say Christians would not insert it for it proved nothing - but they would if they thought Josephus meant the James who was Jesus' brother and wanted to clarify that and then made it non-committal in relation to Jesus for Josephus was known to have been an unbeliever.


Forged reference to Christ?
Josephus wrote that if a story was false and nobody says so until twenty years later that is no good. Read his Jewish War 1:15, Against Apion 1:55.  If he mentioned Jesus and somebody told him there was no Jesus would he listen?  It would have been decades after Jesus.  Even if he did mention Jesus we must remember he is still not necessarily stating Jesus as a fact.


In this book 20 of his work, the death by stoning of James, the brother of Jesus who Josephus gives the unenthusiastic appellation of the so-called Christ shows that he was sceptical about Jesus being the Messiah. It is usually believed genuine because it asserts nothing more about Jesus than that he was the so-called Christ and was the brother of James which seems to indicate that a forger would have put in something more exotic. But it could still have been forged. Maybe somebody put it in to discredit the perpetual virginity of Mary or to make Josephus look unreliable in relation to Christ. Or perhaps a Christian put it in to make evidence for the existence of Jesus and didn’t know of the earlier alleged reference which was by another forger. It would mean it was a forger who did not know that the Testament was itself a fake?
Suppose the person who forged the Testament of Flavius knew of this reference. This place in Book 20 if authentic would have been the perfect place to insert his Testament. Instead he stuck his Testament in a place that makes no sense at all. He didn’t even put it in where John the Baptist was mentioned. We have this forger as evidence that the mention of Jesus in this Book 20 passage was faked to make it look as if Jesus existed.
Josephus would have preferred to identify Jesus not as the man called Christ but as the criminal crucified by Pilate. Josephus hated messianic agitators and did not mention any without portraying them in a bad light which is why his reference to Jesus in this must be an interpolation. He would have liked to give the Romans confidence that they exterminated this alleged Messiah. The reference would have made Christ look like a failure.
Several fathers of the Church such as Origen testified that a glowing reference to James existed in book 20 and they kept the text for us. It differs from the current text indicating that this part of the work of Josephus was routinely tampered with and we can’t trust anything about it. Perhaps somebody trying to fix the text thought that the insertion about Jesus belonged in it and left it in. It doesn’t mean he was right though.
If you want to believe the book 20 reference is real, Josephus then denied the resurrection for it was supposed to prove that Jesus was the Christ and more than a man called Christ. He could have believed that Jesus swooned or something and came round but he didn't tell us anything. Because Josephus knew that calling anybody a Christ or saying they were called a Christ could still lead to people being led to rebel against his beloved Rome for many reading of the Christ would want to see who he was and if he had a bloodline therefore he would not have done it. He would not have mentioned Jesus at all. He had no need to.
Josephus never mentioned Jesus at all for the other place where he says that Jesus was the Messiah and rose from the dead etc was something a man in his position could not write gives us no reason to think that any of it was really written by Josephus either.
Christians or perhaps Jewish believers in Jesus fabricated the James passage too to maybe fake evidence for the existence of Jesus because he never existed. They lied about James. Even if we are wrong on all that then that still does not help the case for the existence of Jesus. We would have the right to assume that Josephus didn’t mention Jesus. And if Josephus doesn’t mention such an important figure as Jesus then clearly Jesus couldn’t have existed.
If the Jews were powerful enough to use the king to get Ananus fired for doing this to James as Josephus says then how could they have failed to save James? The story does not hold together. That is why it has to be the work of a forger in a hurry. That is why Josephus never mentioned Jesus here either.
The book 20 reference to Christ is evidence that if Josephus called Jesus the so-called Christ then the long bit about Jesus, the Testament, is inauthentic at least in part if not all inauthentic for it is certain that Jesus was a miracle working Christ. The idea that if the Testament is inauthentic then Josephus would not have written so briefly about Jesus here is wrong for if Jesus were obscure or unimportant and possibly non-existent we could expect him to get no more mention than that.



So-called Christ
Josephus calling Jesus the so-called Christ could mean that Jesus didn’t rise. That would only be the case if Josephus believed that Jesus was only supposed to become the Christ at his resurrection. Many early Christians, the adoptionists, taught that doctrine.  It is noted that Paul never once says that Jesus as man was the Christ but talks as if he became Christ at his resurrection.  Romans and Philippians gives clues that Paul should be interpreted as agreeing with adoptionism.  Josephus had to know something of Paul so it would not be surprising if our take on the so-called Christ appellation is right.


The crafty would have us believe that Josephus did not call Jesus the so-called Christ but Jesus who was called Christ as if that made a difference. It still means that Josephus was sceptical or undecided. If Josephus did call him that then it was clearly contempt and sarcasm. YOU DO NOT SAY JESUS WAS CALLED THE CHRIST WHEN HE IS NOT CALLED THAT BY THE ROMANS OR THE JEWS BUT BY AN OBSCURE MINORITY SECT THAT WAS DESPISED BY EVERYONE. If they are right that Josephus just meant Jesus was called the Christ then the passage is undoubtedly an insertion by a forger. A forger doing that would do it to provide evidence for the existence of Jesus simply because there never had been a Jesus.
Why did he not call James, James the Just, which was James’ official nickname? He would have to avoid mentioning any alleged Messiahs for he was loyal to Rome. It makes no sense. James was called James the Just by everybody so why did Josephus use an unusual and uncommon way to speak of him? Because the passage has been interfered with by someone in a hurry and it has been corrupted.
Some say the reference to Jesus the so-called Christ is authentic because it is aware that Jesus was the Christ as in title not name which indicates that a Jew wrote it while Christians tended to use Christ as a surname. But the New Testament contains the title usage so there were scores of Christians who could have made the Christ reference as a title. The lies told in Christian books are infinite.


Messiah is not necessarily complimentary

Saul despite being bad and mad is still Messiah (1 Samuel 12:5). David as well (2 Samuel 23:1). And even apostate and opulent Solomon (1 Kings 1:39). Isaiah the prophet is anointed one or Messiah according to Isaiah 61:1. Elijah curiously is not despite being one of the most Jesus like figures in the Old Testament. But Elisha is in 1 Kings 19:15-16. None of these were saviour figures in any sense. Moses was but was never called a Christ or Messiah. Isaiah 45 shockingly has pagan King Cyrus called Messiah.


With all the problems around the word and the title, why did a Bible letter of John have such harsh words for those who said Jesus was not the Christ?  Clearly he must have been one bad candidate which is why it was such a sore point!


Not all think that the Jesus is Jesus of Nazareth.

One reason for thinking the Jesus in Josephus is Jesus son of Damneus is that Jesus the so-called Christ means Jesus the so-called anointed one - which can mean priest for priests were anointed. The term appears in Daniel 9:26 where it is "an anointed one." That is not Messiah or Christ for Messiah or Christ is denoted by anointed one. There is no definite article in Daniel or Josephus so Josephus should be understood as saying, "brother of Jesus called anointed one out of many". This does not read like he was calling Jesus a called Messiah or Messiah in any sense that matters.  It was just populist banter.


Trent Horn, Catholic writers says, "In ancient Judaism, the term was mashiach, or in English, Messiah.  Israel's kings, priests, and prophets were anointed with oil (1 Kings 19:16 Lev 4:3) and so they were considered messiahs and charged with leading God's people."  See his Counterfeit Christs.


Target audience


Why didn't Christians who were sceptical that Mary was always a virgin use the text to disprove the growing doctrine of the perpetual virginity of Mary and to show that James was stoned in the early years? The passage may look genuine but it is not. Somebody put it there. Either that or the ancient tradition that some people were spiritually the twin brothers of Jesus, notably St Thomas, could explain what was meant by declaring that James was the brother of Jesus.


Since Christianity had become a mainly Gentile religion we are told that he felt there was no harm in calling Jesus a so-called Christ. But if so, then he would not have stirred the Gentile feeling against the Jews for killing Jesus' brother and why be evasive about the would-be Christs who had tried and failed and who were forgotten by the Jews and then mention another failure? He knew that there were many secret Christians in Rome. Jesus was not mentioned in the original text.


Tampering has taken place.

What Josephus allegedly wrote about Jesus could be a forgery.  Even if it isn’t, it proves nothing that is of any help to those who seek to show that Jesus must have existed.  Josephus though a historian was under no obligation to verify the existence of men he mentioned in passing such as Jesus.  Jesus the so-called Christ reference says nothing about whether the evidence that Jesus lived was good or bad.

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