Josephus & Tacitus

Excerpts from "THE CHRIST" By John E. Remsberg.

Josephus

Late in the first century Josephus wrote his celebrated work, The Antiquities of the Jews, giving a history of his race from the earliest ages down to his own time. Modern versions of this work contain the following passage:

"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 receive 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, Chap. iii, sec. 3).

For nearly sixteen hundred years Christians have been citing this passage as a testimonial, not merely to the historical existence, but to the divine character of Jesus Christ. And yet 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, a believer in the divinity of Christ. Josephus was a Jew, a devout believer in the Jewish faith -- the last man in the world to acknowledge the divinity of Christ. The inconsistency of this evidence was early recognized, and Ambrose, writing in the generation succeeding its first appearance (360 A.D.) offers the following explanation, which only a theologian could frame: "If the Jews do not believe us, let them, at least, believe their own writers. Josephus whom they esteem a very great man, hath said this and yet hath he spoken truth after such a manner; and so far was his mind wandered from the right way, that even he was not a believer as to what he himself said; but thus he spake, in order to deliver historical truth, because he thought it not lawful for him to deceive, while yet he was no believer, because of the hardness of his heart, and his perfidious intention."

Its brevity disproves its authenticity. Josephus' work is voluminous and exhaustive. It comprises twenty books. Whole pages are devoted to petty robbers and obscure seditious leaders. Nearly forty chapters are devoted to the life of a single king. Yet this remarkable being, the greatest product of his race, a being of whom the prophets foretold ten thousand wonderful things, a being greater than any earthly king, is dismissed with a dozen lines.

It interrupts the narrative. Section 2 of the chapter containing it gives an account of a Jewish sedition which was suppressed by Pilate with great slaughter. The account ends as follows: "There were a great number of them slain by this means, and others of them ran away wounded; and thus an end was put to this sedition." Section 4, as now numbered, begins with these words: "About the same time also another sad calamity put the Jews into disorder." The one section naturally and logically follows the other. Yet between these two closely connected paragraphs the one relating to Christ is placed; thus making the words, "another sad calamity," refer to the advent of this wise and wonderful being.

The early Christian fathers were not acquainted with it. Justin Martyr, Terullian, Clement of Alexandria, and Origen all would have quoted this passage had it existed in their time. The failure of even one of these fathers to notice it would be sufficient to throw doubt upon its genuineness; the failure of all of them to notice it proves conclusively that it is spurious, that it was not in existence during the second and third centuries.

As this passage first appeared in the writings of the ecclesiastical historian, Eusebius, as this author openly advocated the use of fraud and deception in furthering the interests of the church, as he is known to have mutilated and perverted the text of Josephus in other instances, and as the manner of its presentation is calculated to excite suspicion, the forgery has generally been charged to him. In his Evangelical Demonstration, written early in the fourth century, after citing all the known evidences of Christianity, he thus introduces the Jewish historian: "Certainly the citations I have already produced concerning our Savior may be sufficient. However, it may not be amiss if, over and above, we make use of Josephus the Jew for a further witness" (Book III, p. 124).

Chrysostom and Photius both reject this passage. Chrysostom, a reader of Josephus, who preached and wrote in the latter part of the fourth century, in his defense of Christianity, needed this evidence, but was too honest or too wise to use it. Photius, who made a revision of Josephus, writing five hundred years after the time of Eusebius, ignores the passage, and admits that Josephus has made no mention of Christ.

Modern Christian scholars generally concede that the passage is a forgery. Dr. Lardner, one of the ablest defenders of Christianity, adduces the following arguments against its genuineness: 

"I do not perceive that we at all want the suspected testimony to Jesus, which was never quoted by any of our Christian ancestors before Eusebius.

"Nor do I recollect that Josephus has anywhere mentioned the name or word Christ, in any of his works; except the testimony above mentioned, and the passage concerning James, the Lord's brother.

"It interrupts the narrative.

"The language is quite Christian.

"It is not quoted by Chrysostom, though he often refers to Josephus, and could not have omitted quoting it had it been then in the text.

"It is not quoted by Photius, though he has three articles concerning Josephus.

"Under the article Justus of Tiberias, this author (Photius) especially states that the historian [Josephus], being a Jew, has not taken the least notice of Christ.

"Neither Justin in his dialogue with Trypho the Jew, nor Clemens Alexandrinus, who made so many extracts from ancient authors, nor Origen against Celsus, has ever mentioned this testimony.

"But, on the contrary, in chapter xxxv of the first book of that work, Origen openly affirms that Josephus, who had mentioned John the Baptist, did not acknowledge Christ" (Answer to Dr. Chandler).

Again Dr. Lardner says: "This passage is not quoted nor referred to by any Christian writer before Eusebius, who flourished at the beginning of the fourth century. If it had been originally in the works of Josephus it would have been highly proper to produce it in their disputes with Jews and Gentiles. But it is never quoted by Justin Martyr, or Clement of Alexandria, nor by Tertullian or Origen, men of great learning, and well acquainted with the works of Josephus. It was certainly very proper to urge it against the Jews. It might also have been fitly urged against the Gentiles. A testimony so favorable to Jesus in the works of Josephus, who lived so soon after our Savior, who was so well acquainted with the transactions of his own country, who had received so many favors from Vespasian and Titus, would not be overlooked or neglected by any Christian apologist" (Lardner's Works, vol. I, chap. iv).

Bishop Warburton declares it to be a forgery: "If a Jew owned the truth of Christianity, he must needs embrace it. We, therefore, certainly conclude that the paragraph where Josephus, who was as much a Jew as the religion of Moses could make him, is made to acknowledge Jesus as the Christ, in terms as strong as words could do it, is a rank forgery, and a very stupid one, too" (Quoted by Lardner, Works, Vol. I, chap. iv).

The Rev. Dr. Giles, of the Established Church of England, says:

"Those who are best acquainted with the character of Josephus, and the style of his writings, have no hesitation in condemning this passage as a forgery, interpolated in the text during the third century by some pious Christian, who was scandalized that so famous a writer as Josephus should have taken no notice of the gospels, or of Christ, their subject. But the zeal of the interpolator has outrun his discretion, for we might as well expect to gather grapes from thorns, or figs from thistles, as to find this notice of Christ among the Judaizing writings of Josephus. It is well known that this author was a zealous Jew, devoted to the laws of Moses and the traditions of his countrymen. How, then, could he have written that Jesus was the Christ? Such an admission would have proved him to be a Christian himself, in which case the passage under consideration, too long for a Jew, would have been far too short for a believer in the new religion, and thus the passage stands forth, like an ill-set jewel, contrasting most inharmoniously with everything around it. If it had been genuine, we might be sure that Justin Martyr, Tertullian, and Chrysostom would have quoted it in their controversies with the Jews, and that Origen or Photius would have mentioned it. But Eusebius, the ecclesiastical historian (I, 11), is the first who quotes it, and our reliance on the judgment or even honesty of this writer is not so great as to allow our considering everything found in his works as undoubtedly genuine" (Christian Records, p. 30).

The Rev. S. Baring-Gould, in his Lost and Hostile Gospels, says:

"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 argument 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)."

Dr. Chalmers ignores it, and admits that Josephus is silent regarding Christ. He says: "The entire silence of Josephus upon the subject of Christianity, though he wrote after the destruction of Jerusalem, and gives us the history of that period in which Christ and his Apostles lived, is certainly a very striking circumstance" (Kneeland's Review, p. 169).

Referring to this passage, Dean Milman, in his Gibbon's Rome (Vol. II, p. 285, note) says: "It is interpolated with many additional clauses."

Cannon Farrar, who has written in ablest Christian life of Christ yet penned, repudiates it. He says: "The single passage in which he [Josephus] alludes to him is interpolated, if not wholly spurious" (Life of Christ, Vol. I, p. 46).

The following, from Dr. Farrar's pen, is to be found in the Encyclopedia Britannica: "That Josephus wrote the whole passage as it now stands no sane critic can believe."

"There are, however, two reasons which are alone sufficient to prove that the whole passage is spurious -- one that it was unknown to Origen and the earlier fathers, and the other that its place in the text is uncertain" (ibid).

Theodor Keim, a German-Christian writer on Jesus says: "The passage cannot be maintained; it has first appeared in this form in the Catholic church of the Jews and Gentiles, and under the dominion of the Fourth Gospel, and hardly before the third century, probably before Eusebius, and after Origen, whose bitter criticisms of Josephus may have given cause for it" (Jesus of Nazara, p. 25).

Concerning this passage, Hausrath, another German writer, says it "must have been penned at a peculiarly shameless hour."

The Rev. Dr. Hooykaas, of Holland, says: "Flavius Josephus, the well known historian of the Jewish people, was born in A.D. 37, only two years after the death of Jesus; but though his work is of inestimable value as our chief authority for the circumstances of the times in which Jesus and his Apostles came forward, yet he does not seem to have mentioned Jesus himself. At any rate, the passage in his 'Jewish Antiquities' that refers to him is certainly spurious, and was inserted by a later and a Christian hand" (Bible for Learners, Vol. III, p. 27). This conclusion of Dr. Hooykaas is endorsed by the eminent Dutch critic, Dr. Kuenen.

Dr. Alexander Campbell, one of America's ablest Christian apologists, says: "Josephus, the Jewish historian, was contemporary with the Apostles, having been born in the year 37. From his situation and habits, he had every access to know all that took place at the rise of the Christian religion.

"Respecting the founder of this religion, Josephus has thought fit to be silent in history. The present copies of his work contain one passage which speaks very respectfully of Jesus Christ, and ascribes to him the character of the Messiah. But as Josephus did not embrace Christianity, and as this passage is not quoted or referred to until the beginning of the fourth century, it is, for these and other reasons, generally accounted spurious" (Evidences of Christianity, from Campbell-Owen Debate, p. 312).

Another passage in Josephus, relating to the younger Ananus, who was high priest of the Jews in 62 A.D., reads as follows:

"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 Sadducees, who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all of 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 dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the Sanhedrim 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" (Antiquities, Book XX, chap. ix, sec. I).

This passage is probably genuine with the exception of the clause, "who was called Christ," which is undoubtedly an interpolation, and is generally regarded as such. Nearly all the authorities that I have quoted reject it. It was originally probably a marginal note. Some Christian reader of Josephus believing that the James mentioned was the brother of Jesus made a note of his belief in the manuscript before him, and this a transcriber afterward incorporated with the text, a very common practice in that age when purity of text was a matter of secondary importance.

The fact that the early fathers, who were acquainted with Josephus, and who would have hailed with joy even this evidence of Christ's existence, do not cite it, while Origen expressly declares that Josephus has not mentioned Christ, is conclusive proof that it did not exist until the middle of the third century or later.

Those who affirm the genuineness of this clause argue that the James mentioned by Josephus was a person of less prominence than the Jesus mentioned by him, which would be true of James, the brother of Jesus Christ. Now some of the most prominent Jews living at this time were named Jesus. Jesus, the son of Damneus, succeeded Ananus as high priest that very year; and Jesus, the son of Gamaliel, a little later succeeded to the same office.

To identify the James of Josephus with James the Just, the brother of Jesus, is to reject the accepted history of the primitive church which declares that James the Just died in 69 A.D., seven years after the James of Josephus was condemned to death by the Sanhedrim.

Whiston himself, the translator of Josephus referring to the event narrated by the Jewish historian, admits that James, the brother of Jesus Christ, "did not die till long afterward."

The brief "Discourse Concerning Hades," appended to the writings of Josephus, is universally conceded to be the product of some other writer -- "obviously of Christian origin" -- says the Encyclopedia Britannica.

Tacitus

This Roman author, early in the second century, while serving as a pro-consul under Trajan in Bithynia, is reputed to have written a letter to his Emperor concerning his treatment of Christians. This letter contains the following:

"I have laid down this rule in dealing with those who were brought before me for being Christians. I asked whether they were Christians; if they confessed, I asked them a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; if they persevered, I ordered them to be executed.... They assured me that their only crime or error was this, that they were wont to come together on a certain day before it was light, and to sing in turn, among themselves, a hymn to Christ, as to a god, and to bind themselves by an oath -- not to do anything that was wicked, that they would commit no theft, robbery, or adultery, nor break their word, nor deny that anything had been entrusted to them when called upon to restore it.... I therefore deemed it the more necessary to enquire of two servant maids, who were said to be attendants, what was the real truth, and to apply the torture. But I found it was nothing but a bad and excessive superstition."

Notwithstanding an alleged reply to this letter from Trajan, cited by Tertullian and Eusebius, its genuineness may well be questioned, and for the following reasons:

1. The Roman laws accorded religious liberty to all, and the Roman government tolerated and protected every religious belief. Renan says: "Among the Roman laws, anterior to Constantine, there was not a single ordinance directed against freedom of thought; in the history of the Pagan emperors not a single persecution on account of mere doctrines or creeds" (The Apostles). Gibbon says: "The religious tenets of the Galileans, or Christians, were never made a subject of punishment, or even of inquiry" (Rome, Vol. II, p. 215).

2. Trajan was one of the most tolerant and benevolent of Roman emperors.

3. Pliny, the reputed author of the letter, is universally conceded to have been one of the most humane and philanthropic of men.

4. It represents the distant province of Bithynia as containing, at this time, a large Christian population, which is improbable.

5. It assumes that the Emperor Trajan was little acquainted with Christian beliefs and customs, which cannot be harmonized with the supposed historical fact that the most powerful primitive churches flourished in Trajan's capital and had existed for fifty years.

6. Pliny represents the Christians as declaring that they were in the habit of meeting and singing hymns "to Christ as to a god." The early Christians did not recognize Christ as a god, and it was not until after the time of Pliny that he was worshiped as such.

7. "I asked whether they were Christians; if they confessed, I asked them a second and a third time, threatening them with punishment; if they persevered I ordered them to be executed." That this wise and good man rewarded lying with liberty and truthfulness with death is difficult to believe.

8. "I therefore deemed it more necessary to inquire of two servant maids, who were said to be attendants, what was the real truth, and to apply the torture." Never have the person and character of woman been held more sacred than they were in Pagan Rome. That one of the noblest of Romans should have put to torture young women guiltless of crime is incredible.

9. The declaration of the Christians that they took a solemn obligation "not to do anything that was wicked; that they would commit no theft, robbery, or adultery, nor break their word," etc., looks like an ingenious attempt to parade the virtues of primitive Christians.

10. This letter, it is claimed, is to be found on but one ancient copy of Pliny.

11. It was first quoted by Tertullian, and the age immediately preceding Tertullian was notorious for Christian forgeries.

12. Some of the best German critics reject it. Gibbon, while not denying its authenticity, pronounces it a "very curious epistle"; and Dr. Whiston, who considers it too valuable to discard, applies to its contents such epithets as "amazing doctrine!", "amazing stupidity!"

Josephus, Tacitus, Pliny -- these are the disinterested witnesses adduced by the church to prove the historical existence of Jesus Christ; the one writing nearly one hundred years, the others one hundred and ten years after his alleged birth; the testimony of two of them self-evident forgeries, and that of the third a probable forgery.

But even if the doubtful and hostile letter of Pliny be genuine, it was not written until the second century, so that there is not to be found in all the records of profane history prior to the second century a single allusion to the reputed founder of Christianity.

To these witnesses is sometimes, though rarely, added a fourth, Suetonius, a Roman historian who, like Tacitus and Pliny, wrote in the second century. In his Life of Nero, Suetonius says "The Christians, a race of men of a new and villainous superstition, were punished." In his Life of Claudius, he says: "He [Claudius] drove the Jews, who at the instigation of Chrestus were constantly rioting, out of Rome." Of course no candid Christian will contend that Christ was inciting Jewish riots at Rome fifteen years after he was crucified at Jerusalem.

Significant is the silence of the forty Jewish and Pagan writers named in this chapter. This silence alone disproves Christ's existence. Had this wonderful being really existed the earth would have resounded with his fame. His mighty deeds would have engrossed every historian's pen. The pages of other writers would have abounded with references to him. Think of going through the literature of the nineteenth century and searching in vain for the name of Napoleon Bonaparte! Yet Napoleon was a pigmy and his deeds trifles compared with this Christ and the deeds he is said to have performed.

With withering irony Gibbon notes this ominous silence: "But how shall we excuse the supine inattention of the Pagan and philosophic world, to those evidences which were represented by the hand of Omnipotence, not to their reason, but to their senses? During the age of Christ, of his apostles, and of their first disciples, the doctrine which they preached was confirmed by innumerable prodigies. The lame walked, the blind saw, the sick were healed, the dead were raised, demons were expelled, and the laws of Nature were frequently suspended for the benefit of the church. But the sages of Greece and Rome turned aside from the awful spectacle, and, pursuing the ordinary occupations of life and study, appeared unconscious of any alterations in the moral or physical government of the world. Under the reign of Tiberius, the whole earth, or at least a celebrated province of the Roman empire, was involved in a preternatural darkness of three hours. Even this miraculous event, which ought to have excited the wonder, the curiosity, and the devotion of mankind, passed without notice in an age of science and history. It happened during the lifetime of Seneca and the elder Pliny, who must have experienced the immediate effects, or received the earliest intelligence of the prodigy. Each of these philosophers, in a laborious work, has recorded all the great phenomena of Nature, earthquakes, meteors comets, and eclipses, which his indefatigable curiosity could collect. Both the one and the other have omitted to mention the greatest phenomenon to which the mortal eye has been witness since the creation of the globe" (Rome, Vol. I, pp. 588-590).

Even conceding, for the sake of argument, both the authenticity and the credibility of these passages attributed to the Roman historians, what do they prove? Do they prove that Christ was divine -- that he was a supernatural being, as claimed? No more than do the writings Paine and Voltaire, which also contain his name. This evidence is favorable not to the adherents, but to the opponents of Christianity. If these passages be genuine, and their authors have penned historical truths, it simply confirms what most Rationalists admit, that a religious sect called Christians, who recognized Christ as their founder, existed as early as the first century; and confirms what some have charged, but what the church is loath to admit, that primitive Christians, who have been declared the highest exemplars of human virtue, were the most depraved of villains.

An unlettered and credulous enthusiast, named Jones, imagines that he has had a revelation, and proceeds to found a new religious sect. He gathers about him a band of "disciples" as ignorant and credulous as himself. He soon gets into trouble and is killed. But the Jonesists increase -- increase in numbers and in meanness -- until at length they become sufficiently notorious to receive a paragraph from an annalist who, after holding them up to ridicule and scorn, accounts for their origin by stating that they take their name from one Jones who, during the administration of President Roosevelt, was hanged as a criminal. The world contains two billions of inhabitants -- mostly fools, as Carlyle would say -- and as the religion of this sect is a little more foolish than that of any other sect, it continues to spread until at the end of two thousand years it covers the globe. Then think of the adherents of this religion citing the uncomplimentary allusion of this annalist to prove that Jones was a god!

ITEM: Josephus - Tacitus

ITEM: Gospel Oddities

ITEM: Gospels

ITEM: Acts, Catholic Epistles, and Revelation

ITEM: Sources of the Christ Myth

ITEM: The Epistles of Paul

GOSPEL CONTRADICTIONS:

1 THROUGH 72 THE INFANCY OF CHRIST

73 THROUGH 267 THE MINISTRY OF CHRIST

268 THROUGH 399 THE CRUCIFIXION OF CHRIST

400 THROUGH 469 THE CRUCIFIXION OF CHRIST / CONTINUED

470 THROUGH 610 HIS CHARACTER AND TEACHINGS

  

 

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Revealing the Spiritual duality of the Bible, for it serves neither God nor truth to try and rationalize irrational things the Bible has said of God.