Proverbs 18:17 may well have been commenting on arguments concerning the
Testimonium: "The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and
examines him." The present author was once firmly convinced that both
references in the Antiquities were authentic. After reading the study of Ken
Olson that shows the vocabulary of the Testimonium to be not Josephan but
rather Eusebian, I was inclined to regard both references as spurious. But now
that I have found evidence that the reference in 20.9.1 does not require an
earlier reference to Jesus, I am presently persuaded to regard the shorter
reference as authentic.
Even if one is convinced that the passages are interpolated, there is a
satisfactory explanation for the silence of Josephus on Jesus and Christianity.
W. D. Davies explains:
But it is still more likely that the silence of Josephus is due to the
character of his work: his career suggests what his aim was in his writings. He
desired to remain in the good graces of the Roman Emperor: to do so he avoided
in his history all that might offend Roman susceptibilities. To mention
Christianity, a Messianic movement that proclaimed another King than Caesar
(Acts 17:7), would be to expose Judaism, which in Rome might not be
distinguished from Christianity, to "guilt by association." Perhaps Josephus
would not cavil at discussing a dead Messianic movement, which no longer
offered any threat to Rome, but Christianity was alive and militant. The part
of prudence was to ignore it. (p. 66)
Maurice Goguel offers a similar explanation for what would be silence of
So complete a silence is perhaps more embarrassing for the mythologists than
for their opponents. By what right, indeed, should it be permissible to
conclude from it that Jesus never existed, and not permissible to deny that a
Christian movement existed in Palestine prior to the year 70? Since Josephus
has been silent not only concerning Jesus, but also concerning Christianity,
how is his silence to be explained? Uniquely by the character and the object of
his work. The writer desired to flatter the Romans and gain their good graces.
To do this he expunged from the picture he drew everything likely to offend or
to excite their apprehension. Thus it is that he has scarcely at all spoken of
the Messianic cult which nevertheless constituted the center of Jewish thought
in the first century. That he did so was because this cult was a menace to
Rome, for the Kingdom of the Messiah could only be built upon the ruins of the
Empire. (p. 36)
But assuming that at least the shorter reference is authentic, what can we
conclude from this? It shows that Josephus accepted the historicity of Jesus.
Simply by the standard practice of conducting history, a comment from Josephus
about a fact of the first century constitutes prima facie evidence for that
fact. It ought to be accepted as history unless there is good reason for
disputing the fact. Moreover, it is reasonable to think that Josephus heard
about the deposition of Ananus as soon as it happened. Ed Tyler points out in
correspondence, "The passage is not really about James, but about Ananus. It's
the tale of how Ananus lost his job as High Priest. So why would Christians in
Rome be the source for the tale of how a High Priest lost his job? Josephus was
close at hand when it happened, and was a man of some standing in the Jewish
community. I can't imagine that he missed it when it was news, and didn't find
out about it until he talked to some Christians about 30 years later." Thus,
Josephus' information about the identity of James brings us back to the period
prior to the First Jewish Revolt. If Josephus referred to James as the brother
of Jesus in the Antiquities, in all likelihood the historical James identified
himself as the brother of Jesus, and this identification would secure the place
of Jesus as a figure in history.
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