Saturday, January 03, 2009

Josephus, Jesus, and Messiah

The Testimonium Flavianum reads:

And there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if indeed it is necessary to call him a man, for he was a doer of paradoxical works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure, and many Jews on the one hand and also many of the Greeks on the other he drew to himself. This man was the Christ. And when, on the accusation of some of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first loved him did not cease to do so. For he appeared to them on the third day, living again, the divine prophets having related both these things and countless other marvels about him. And even till now the tribe of Christians, so named from this man, has not gone extinct.

Much of this text is disputed and I'm interested only in the reference to Jesus as a messianic claimant and whether it is authentic to the testimonius. The current form, "This was was the Christ" is obviously a Christian interpolation or ammendment. Yet in favour of the authenticity of a messianic reference to Jesus in the testimonium Flavianum, Alice Whealey ("The Testimonium Flavianum in Syriac and Arabic," NTS 54 [2008]: 573-90) draws attention to the Testmonia preserved by Michael the Syrian (twelth century) and Jerome (fourth century) which independently attest to a reading of "he was thought to be the Messiah" and this corresponds to Origen's claim (Comm. Matt. 1.15) that Josephus did not believe in Jesus as the Messiah. A variant is also found in the Arabic chronicles of Agapius of Hierapolis (tenth century) "he was perhaps the Messiah". In light of this, there probably was a reference to Jesus as Messiah in the testmonium, but probably in a way that held that the messianic status of Jesus was dubious. Christian scribes who transmitted the text of Josephus removed this dubiety from the testimonium and inserted instead, "He was the Messiah". Alternatively, Jerome's version may be an assimilation from Ant. 20.200 and the question in my mind is whether λεγομενον (and its Syrian and Arabic equivalents indeed impliy dubiety as in the English "so-called" or whether it is more like the German "sogenannten"). Jesus "being-called Messiah" is also found in Mt. 27.17, 22 and Justin, Dial. 32 where it does have pejorative undertones. Overall, I think there was a Messiah reference in Ant 20.200 and probably in Ant. 18.63 but it was spruced up (rather than interpolated) by a Christian scribe.

See further the discussions by Stephen Carlson at Hypotyposeis. See also the collection of sources at Ben Smith's Text Excavation.


Doug Chaplin said...

I like the discussion in Meier's Marginal Jew

Michael F. Bird said...

I agree, it's a good well rounded discussion by Meier. I'd basically modify Meier's view that "He was the Messiah" is an interpolation to a scribal ammendment on some "Messiah" reference in Josephus.

David Reimer said...

Those without access to NTS might be interested in a paper Whealey delivered at SBL in 2000 which can be read online (linked on this page).


David Reimer