PART 11 of my Historical Jesus series

“Rabbi Eliezer the Great says: from the day the Temple was destroyed, the sages began to be like scribes, scribes like synagogue-attendants, synagogue-attendants like common people, and the common people became more and more debased. And nobody seeks. Upon whom shall we depend? Upon our father who is in heaven. In the footsteps of the messiah insolence (hutzpah) will increase and the cost of living will go up greatly; the vine will yield its fruit, but wine will be expensive; the government will turn to heresy, and there will be no one to rebuke; the meeting-place [of scholars] will be used for licentiousness; the Galilee will be destroyed, the Gablan will be desolated, and the dwellers on the frontier will go about [begging] from place to place without anyone to take pity on them; the wisdom of the learned will rot, fearers of sin will be despised, and the truth will be lacking; youths will put old men to shame, the old will stand up in the presence of the young, “For son spurns father, daughter rises up against mother, daughter-in-law against mother-in-law a man’s own household are his enemies” (Micah 7:6). The face of the generation will be like the face of a dog, a son will not feel ashamed before his father. Upon whom shall we depend? Upon our father who is in heaven.” ~ Mishnah soter 9.5

The Mishnah preserves the fact that much of the blame for their dire circumstances comes from all the messianic figures who tried to strike a blow against oppression. In the footsteps of the messiah came suffering. In the immediate aftermath of the great revolt, (Roman Jewish war of 66-70 CE) messiahs were seen for bringing on trouble instead of being revered. This is also preserved in Josephus’ works who refuses to give the title messiah to any of these rebels who had been declared a king (and thus a king messiah). Instead Josephus alludes to that title for Vespasian. As stated in part 1 of my series of blogs on the historical Jesus, Josephus preferred to apply that title to Vespasian in his Roman propaganda, citing the Balaam prophecy (War 6.312-313). In part 2 of my blog series I gave a very important quote from Novenson who said “Josephus calls the Jewish insurgents “diadem-wearers” and not “messiahs.” Novonson said Josephus was not trying to hide the word but rendered it in a Roman idiom, actually highlighting these figures in a bad light. [1] Jesus being one of those messianic figures would have been described in a similar manner, I see no reason why Jesus would be the exception. Over the course of my other 3 parts in this series I see Jesus as the same as all the other Davidic militaristic messiahs and do not see why we should accept an exception in this matter either. It is the gospels that added the later pacific layer on top of Jesus. I have also shown in part one why it is extremely unlikely Josephus a Jew would have used the title messiah for Jesus which does not fit in with how he described all the other messianic figures. This also applies to the James passage found in Antiquities 20.9.1. I have already argued in part 1, that Josephus did not mention Christ in the Testimonium Flavianum, and here in this fourth part I will argue that he did not mention Christ in the James passage either.

          Allen [2] in his paper goes one step further than Richard Carriers’ [3] claim that the James passage in “Antiquities of the Jews” (AJ) contains an interlinear scribal error. Allen instead claims it was an actual Christian interpolation. I do think it was an inter linear scribal error just like Carrier suggested but I do not agree with the Jesus ben Damneus hypothesis. Josephus would never have introduced Ben Damneus twice (he is introduced at the end of Ant 20.9.1) as Carrier suggests. On Carriers’ hypothesis he would be introduced twice. The first time where Carrier speculated that it should read “James the brother of Jesus Ben Damneus.” The second time at the end of the passage. It also violates Josephus’ naming conventions. When Josephus references people to be a relation to siblings, it is because their parents are unknown or they had different parents. For example:

“brother of his, by the father’s side, whose name was Eliakim” (Antiquities 10.5.2).

So the Damneus idea is stretched.

I have a new theory how this came about.

Let us examine the line found in Ant 20.9.1, “James the brother of Jesus who is called Christ”. Why didn’t Josephus say “James son of Joseph” which is the proper Jewish form of address? Actually at the start of 20.9.1 there is a high priest Joseph mentioned who was deprived of his position by Agrippa, perhaps it was originally written >>James, son of Joseph<<.

(“But the king deprived Joseph of the high priesthood”~ Ant20.9.1).

Instead of >>”brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James”<<

If a scribe came across what could have been originally written by the hand of Josephus-  “James son of Joseph”, he would automatically think “the brother of Jesus”. Origen may have also automatically thought this was the same James that was “the brother of Jesus, who is called Christ”. A scribe familiar with Origen’s writings could write this very phrase in the inter-linear column. Later scribes would mistake this as part of the text and may have added “who was called Christ”. This “James son of Joseph” may have got Origen thinking that this is James the Just when he did his exegesis in attributing it to the fall of Jerusalem. If the interpolation was of Origen school, he may have been influenced by what Origen has written before, as we will examine now.

“the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James” to describe James is seen in three passages taken from Origen’s writings:.:

1. COM, X, 17 / 5268: “James the brother of Jesus who is called Christ”;

2. Cels, I, 47: “James the Just, who was a brother of Jesus called Christ”; and

3. Cels, II, 13: “James the Just, the brother of Jesus who was called Christ”.

Origen mentions Josephus’ reference to James on four occasions: twice in his COM, X, 17 / 5268 – 5269, once in Cels. I, 47 and again in his Cels. II, 1

I will reproduce some of Origen’s Commentary on Matthew 10.17

“Flavius Josephus, who wrote the Antiquities of the Jews in twenty books, when wishing to exhibit the cause why the people suffered so great misfortunes that even the temple was razed to the ground, said, that these things happened to them in accordance with the wrath of God in consequence of the things which they had dared to do against James the brother of Jesus who is called Christ. And the wonderful thing is, that, though he did not accept Jesus as Christ, he yet gave testimony that the righteousness of James was so great:” (Comm. Matt. 10.17)

As seen below, “called Christ” has gospel tradition and seen from the quote, Origen discusses a passage instead of quoting it. The phrase “James the brother of Jesus who is called Christ” is pulled from gospel tradition. In the very next line then Origen writes “though he did not accept Jesus as Christ” so we can see “called Christ” was not pulled from the James passage. Same is going on with Contra Celsum 2.13 where Origen writes, “Josephus says, of James the Just, the brother of Jesus who was called Christ.” We know “James the Just” is not quoting the passage and neither is “who was called Christ.”

This makes much more sense than Carriers explanation and it fits as there is a high priest named Joseph deposed at the start of the passage. It makes for a very intriguing high priest rivalry where Ananus the Elder had dominated the high priesthood for most of the preceding decades, with eight high priests all coming from his family. It was Ananus II that had James executed. The Romans did not consider it illegal as they only removed Ananus from office, it was the fact he convicted James in the absence of a Roman official, an interregnum of procurators had existed and therefore the Great Sanhedrin had overstepped its authority and had upset the Romans.

A very good reason for suspecting that the James passage (or at least the words “who was called Christ”) was not original to Josephus was the fact that Josephus did not like to use the term ‘Christ’ in relation to Jesus.

You can see this by two comments from Origen.

CONTRA CELSUM 1.47 ( Origen)

“Now this writer [i.e. Josephus], although not believing in Jesus as the Christ….”


“And the wonderful thing is, that, though he did not accept Jesus as Christ, he yet gave testimony that the righteousness of James was so great; and he says that the people thought that they had suffered these things because of James.”


The participial phrase “(who is/who was) called Christ” (c.f. Antiquities, does not actually include the verb “to be”. This is simply added into the English translation.

This is literally what it says in Greek:

“…and *having brought* before them (the council) the brother of Jesus, who *being called Christ*, *James – his name*…”

The participial phrase indeed matches the gospels. There is NO implication of PAST TENSE in «Ἰησοῦ τοῦ λεγομένου Χριστοῦ». And there’s no way to rephrase it to imply a present tense more explicitly.

Since, in the context of the current form of the text, Jesus is assumed to have died previously, it is totally appropriate to translate it in English as “…was called…”. The Greek phrasing should be totally non-controversial.

The same expression “called Christ” is both John 4:25 and Matthew 1:16: “of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ.” The phrase is found in a similar form in Matthew two more times, then in 27:17 and 27:22; and the author of the Gospel of Matthew has Pilate both times designating Jesus as that “Jesus who is called Christ”. The manner of letting a non-Christian witness identify Jesus as the one who was “called Christ” can accordingly be traced back to the Gospels. This would reasonably imply that it would not have felt unnatural for a Christian person with knowledge of the Gospel accounts to designate Jesus as the one called Christ, if he later found that Josephus ought to have mentioned Jesus.

“Called Christ” are the EXACT SAME phrase in different grammatical cases (nominative for ‘subject’, accusative for ‘direct object’ and genitive for ‘possessive’).

So what we observe in the English translations is a juxtaposition of the tense forms of “to be”, where past tense (“was”) is appropriate for Josephus and Origen (narrating events after Jesus’ death); while present tense (“is”) is appropriate for the Gospels (narrating events during Jesus’ life). English translators are forced to make a choice, while the Greek authors were not bound by such rules.

Ἰησοῦ τοῦ λεγομένου Χριστοῦ (genitive).

(Iêsou tou legomenou Christou)

Jesus who (was) called Christ

(Antiquities of the Jews 20:200).

Ἰησοῦς ὁ λεγόμενος Χριστός (nominative)

(Iêsous ho legomenos Christos)

Jesus, who (is) called Christ (Matt 1:16).

ὁ λεγόμενος Χριστός (nominative)

(ho legomenos Christos)

he] who ( is)called Christ (John 4:25).

Ἰησοῦν τὸν λεγόμενον Χριστόν (accusative)

(Iêsoun ton legomenon Christon)

Jesus who (is) called Christ (Matt 27:17).

Ἰησοῦν τὸν λεγόμενον Χριστόν (accusative)

(Iêsoun ton legomenon Christon)

with Jesus who (is) called Christ (Matt 27:22).

The only other early author (apart from the disputed Josephus) to mention James before the close of the second century C.E. is Hegesippus (cf. Fragments from the Acts of the Church; Concerning the Martyrdom of James, the Brother of the Lord, from Book 5), who as early as c. 165 – 175 C.E. tells his reader in great detail that James (as brother of the Lord) was hurled from the top of the Temple and then because he survived this attempt on his life he was then summarily stoned to death. Hegesippus also tells us that this happened immediately before the destruction of the Temple by Vespasian and as such it would point to a date of c. 68 – 70 C.E.

If this account is in any way accurate it means that the JP is in direct contradiction to both the date as well as the manner and circumstances of James’ death (The JP states that James was stoned along with “others” after due trial and sentencing by a high priest).

As Eisenman pointed out in his book James, the brother of Jesus, the issue is further compounded by the fact that, by the fourth and fifth centuries it was more normal for the mainstream church to defer from referring to Jesus as having flesh and blood brothers. In this regard, it will be recalled that in his DVI, 2 Jerome (c. 347 – 420 C.E.) maintains that James was Jesus’ cousin and the biological son of Mary of Cleophas. Jerome stresses that James was not the son of Joseph by another wife.

Although, in his Contra Celsum. II, 22, Origen makes it clear that he thinks that the death of Jesus was the ultimate cause for the destruction of the Temple, he repeatedly makes mention of Josephus’ reference to James in his many writings. He records Josephus as blaming the death of James for the destruction of Jerusalem and as has been clearly shown, Origen recurrently employs the almost identical phraseology as found in the JP today.

So to sum up, Josephus never introduced a figure twice in one passage. I have suggested a much better hypothesis where there was a high priest Joseph at the start of the passage. Ant 20.9.1 is about high priest rivalry and the stoning of this James in the interregnum of governors. If the passage originally read “James son of Joseph ” that would have given any scribe a hard-on and made him write in the interlinear column —- the brother of Jesus. It would have made all those commenting on it think it was a passage about James, when really this particular James may have had nothing at all to do with Christianity in the first place.


Out of all the Bandits, messiahs and prophets dealt with by Josephus in the lead up to the Roman Jewish War 66-70CE, there are two exceptions to the rule of a negative portrayal. That is Jesus and John the Baptist.

I suspect it was not just the TF that was changed. The same would have happened to the Baptist passage. We all know how Josephus felt about messianic figures and he usually described them in a negative way. I will give one speculative example to show how easily this could be done.

Here’s an extract from the Baptist passage:

And when the others banded together for they were highly delighted (ήσθησαν) to listen to his words-Herod feared that the powerful influence which he exercised over men’s minds might lead to some act of revolt ; (Ant18.5.2)

ἥσθησαν ‘they were glad’ may have been a correction for ἤρθησαν ‘aroused’ to revolt.

By cleverly changing one letter ρ -> σ, would have toned down the whole passage, hiding the real reason Herod had the Baptist executed, mainly because he roused the crowd to sedition. It changed it from a political calling by the Baptist. It makes John as naive (αγαθός, agathós) and Herod Antipas as arbitrary. [4]

The following on baptism was meddled with:

“For in exactly this way one receiving the baptism appeared to him not to be obtaining a payment for their sinful deeds, but for purification of the body, inasmuch as the soul was already completely purified by righteousness.” [5]

Christians did not like that baptism atoned for sins, (it’s as if this would bypass Christ), so they negated the passage by putting in the word “not” and “but”. We have textual evidence where Rufinus’ Latin variant reverses the meaning of the Greek by saying that baptism can serve to wash away sins. In Origen’s copy it hadn’t been interpolated yet: “John the Baptist, baptizing for the remission of sins” as reported in Cels 1.47.

       In the DSS community rule we have an example where Jews found that baptism did atone for sins in the ritual baths. (1QS 3:6–12. Cf 4Q414 and 4Q512 which discuss the purification, repentance and atonement in more detail). Elsewhere in Life 11, Josephus says of Bannus “washing with cold water day and night frequently for sanctification, and I became his zealot.” 

This shows that there was originally a passage there that Christians had to “fix”, just like the TF, Christians would not have meddled with such passages if they did not originally exist.

       The Slavonic also knows nothing of John being imprisoned at Machaerus which makes more sense, as this castle was lost to Herod due to his war with Aretas. It simply says John was imprisoned, this is more original than the textus receptus of the Baptist passage (Ant18.5.2) as in the paragraph before (Ant18.5.1) Josephus says that the castle was subject to Arestas [Some MSS such as Niese are not clear on this].

Both executions are very different, Johns on a whim of a single Jewish ruler for fear of fuelling revolutionary instincts, where Josephus is very critical of Antipas action, saying that God destroyed his army because of it. Even in the spruced up version of the TF do we not find even a hint of criticism directed against Pilate. In the Baptist passage we do find sympathy for John. Jesus was crucified which carries a seditious overtone. All this points to the passage to being originally negative.



[1] Novenson, Matthew V., The Grammar of Messianism: An Ancient Jewish Political Idiom and Its Users, (Oxford, 2017), p.147-8.

[2] NPL Allen, Clarifying the Scope of Pre-5th Century C.E. Christian Interpolation in Josephus’ Antiquitates Judaica (c. 94 C.E.),chapter 4, 291-328.

[3] Richard Carrier, “Origen, Eusebius, and the Accidental Interpolation in Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.200” in the Journal of Early Christian Studies (vol. 20, no. 4, Winter 2012), pp. 489-514.

[4] Robert Eisler, The Messiah Jesus and John the Baptist, (English Translation), (Lincoln MacVeagh the Dial Press, 1932) p.68-9.

[5] Richard Carrier, Mason on Josephus on James. Carrier discussed the Baptist passage on this blog:



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