Kingdom of God

Part 15 of my Historical Jesus series.

“Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God?” (1 Cor. 6:9; Cf Rom. 14:17).

Here Paul has shown the reward for being righteous, [that is the covenantal right with God, of course Paul was offering his own covenant to the gentiles] they will enter the kingdom of god. 

“For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power.”(1 Cor. 4:20).

In this verse Paul talks about the Kingdom of God not just a future event but in the present tense. His converts are saints that are experiencing this kingdom right now. 

“I declare to you, brothers and sisters, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable…….the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.”(1 Cor. 15:50,52)

It was Paul that spiritualized the bodies that were to enter the kingdom of God, they would be made of the same stuff as angels, as seen above but that was only to accommodate the genitile understanding of resurrection in a spiritual body. To us platonic moderns, the angels are immaterial but to the ancients they were made of fine spiritual material. To the Jews it was going to be your own body restored would enter the kingdom of God:

“This is what the Sovereign Lord says to these bones: I will make breath enter you, and you will come to life. I will attach tendons to you and make flesh come upon you and cover you with skin; I will put breath in you, and you will come to life. Then you will know that I am the Lord.’” (Ezekiel 37:5-6)

What you can see by Paul’s epistles is that he changes and spiritualizes Jewish concepts. (See part 4). The Jewish concept Paul has taken over here was the banner call that was used by many messianic rebels, that the ‘Kingdom of the Lord’ was at hand. “Jesus’ own expectation that the Kingdom of God was near had apparently led his followers to expect a divine intervention in history and the establishment of God’s rule in the world, not just in the hearts and minds of a few.” [1]

Josephus also reports that this is also the banner of Judas the Galilean, he told his followers “they were they were cowards if they would endure to pay a tax to the Romans, and would, after God, submit to mortal men as their lords.” (War 2.118).

Mark has captured the political aspect of the ‘Kingdom of god’:

“Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near;” (Mark 1:14).

The gospel of Matthew attempted to change the political aspect, as he knew the Jews were expecting a physical kingdom and thus changed it to “Kingdom of heaven”. He wanted to make sure it would be understood as a spiritual concept. Chapter 13 of Matthew has a series of parables that are used to describe this spiritual Kingdom. It is not like the Kingdom right here on earth as described in the Tanakh but a spiritual reign of Christ. The seed that fails has “worries of this life” (Matthew 13:22) The second parable shows at the end of  time where there will be judgment that separates “the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (13:24-30,49-50).

It was Reimarus that first recognised that this concept was not otherworldly to the Jewish people, “God would allow the Messiah to come and release them from their misery, their bondage, and their oppressors, and would establish among them a magnificent kingdom, like unto David’s”. The Kingdom of God must be understood “according to Jewish ways of thought.” [2] The evangelists did not have to explain this expression, because it had a clear meaning to first century Jews. Jesus was the military Davidic messiah, he was the Danelic apocalyptic preacher. This lethal combination meant apocalyptic Jews were even more dangerous as they thought the end of the world was approaching, they could abandon their way of life and become revolutionaries.This is the historic Jewish layer that drove so many of these first century rebels. It was these layers of Jewish thought that drove Jesus. Reimarus was ahead of his time, he launched the higher criticism scholarship we have today with the publication of his writings in 1774. 

         The concept itself as understood by the first century Jews and used as a banner call by many of the rebels draws on the kingship that is ascribed to Yahweh in the Tanakh. 

“Of all my sons—and the Lord has given me many—he has chosen my son Solomon to sit on the throne of the kingdom of the Lord over Israel. He said to me: ‘Solomon your son is the one who will build my house and my courts, for I have chosen him to be my son, and I will be his father. I will establish his kingdom forever if he is unswerving in carrying out my commands and laws, as is being done at this time.’ (1 Chronicles 28:5-7)

King Solomon is Yahweh’s representative in the kingdom of god. He will sit on the throne of the kingdom of the Lord. [3]

The earth is the LORD’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it;” (Psalm 24:1)

Yahweh has full authority over his people and creation (i.e. land). God had promised the land through a covenant with Abraham (Gen. 12:2-3; 17:8; 26:4)

“Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom (βασιλείαν) to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.”(1 Cor. 15:24-25).

The references to Jesus’ kingdom’ basileian  (βασιλείαν), indicates that he was somehow considered a king [4]. Josephus reported that those who followed many a messianic rebel had also declared them a king. He described many of them as diadem wearers.

 “And now Judea was full of robberies. And as the several companies of the seditious light upon any one to head them, he was created a King immediately, in order to do mischief to the publick.” ( Ant. 17.10.8).

A title that was often applied to many messianic rebels from the first century Levant area was ‘King Messiah’ or anointed King, (in Greek, χριστὸς βασιλεύς). This is what Jesus is accused of in Luke 23:2 (where it is part of a noun phrase ending in εἶναι to be) – and thus has Jesus claiming himself to be an anointed king, (a ‘messiah’ King). The gospels make many claims in hindsight, but the reality is that many charismatic figures gathering a crowd would be declared a king.

The ‘king messiah’ was an expected figure from Jewish scripture, who would establish with God’s help, a “kingdom of god” right here on earth. He would restore Israel from foreign rulers after being imbued with the scriptures, “at the end of days”,(this is an eschatological concept which in Greek literally means ‘end of days’). This is typical of an apocalyptic Jew and since the time of Schweitzer [5] Jesus was thought of as an apocalyptic prophet. Bart Ehrman says all the earliest sources and Jesus’ sayings point to him being an apocalyptic prophet. [6] As Jesus is acclaimed to have said:

“Truly I tell you, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see that the kingdom of God has come with power.”, (Mark 9:1), 

This shows that this new kingdom was imminent. These are the typical sayings of an apocalyptic prophet (apocalypse is Greek for revelation) and many downtrodden peasants would rally around such a figure as all other hope is exhausted. A quote from Josephus demonstrates this nicely:

 “in adversity man is quickly persuaded; but when the deceiver actually pictures release from prevailing horrors, then the sufferer wholly abandons himself to expectation” (War 6.286)

Within the scriptures were many inspiring verses that would rally many of the downtrodden around a messianic figure, a rallying call such as:

 “The spirit of the lord yahweh is upon me because Yahweh has anointed me to preach good tidings to the poor he has sent me to heal the broken-hearted to proclaim to the captives liberty and to [those who are] bound the opening of the prisons.” (Isaiah 61:1, Cf Luke 4:16-20).

Many such charismatic figures appeared on the scene of the Roman province of Iudaea before and after Biblical New Testament times, some willing to lead, others not so willing to lead the crowds. They offered deliverance from the harsh conditions imposed on the lower class by the ruling class. This is reflected in Mark:

“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people.” At once they left their nets and followed him. When he had gone a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John in a boat, preparing their nets. Without delay he called them, and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men and followed him.” (Mark 1:17-20)

Or in Luke it is even more amplified:

“Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:52).

As Adolf Harnack said, these were similar to “a military oath of allegiance” and all these sayings were torn from their real historical context. [7]. The people were hoping for a liberator as seen in the Emmaus narrative in Luke 24:21 where it was expressed after Jesus’s death, “but we had hoped that he was the one who was going to liberate Israel.” Everything was wrong in the life of peasants in Jesus’s day, they were oppressed, overtaxed and over burdened. They worked hard and could not feed their families. The kingdom of god that was promised by messianic figures was going to fix everything with god’s intervention. That is why the gospels are the opposite of the background they were set in, they were describing a kingdom of god that Jesus was ushering in. A land of milk and honey where everybody gets healed and fed. There are clues left in the gospels of the real background, the one full of trouble and revolts, such as reported by Josephus.


At Qumran it shows the doctrine of the two messiahs ruling a diarchy as god’s representatives. Frank Moore Cross [8] believes the doctrine of the two messiahs found at Qumran has its roots in the restoration of a diarchy, that of a perfect King and a perfect High Priest, who “shall take office standing by the side of the Lord of the whole earth”. (Zechariah 4:14). People had hoped that these would come about at the end of days. This is known as an eschatological concept coming from the Greek ἔσχατος eschatos meaning “last” and -logy meaning “the study of”. These eschatological Jews hoped to establish a new kingdom right here on earth in the last days. This eschatological concept is most developed in two apocalypses written towards the end of the first century CE, 4 Ezra and 2 Baruch. 

           Cross goes on to explain that at Qumran, the Damascus Document, the Rule, the War Scroll, the Testamonia (4Q175) and the Testaments of twelve patriarchs all show the doctrine of the two messiahs. The double messiah concept shows a division of power that was already reflected from the time of Moses and Aaron. David, the ideal king of the old days, is taken as the archetype of the ideal king of this new eschatological age. Zadok, priest of David and high priest in Solomon’s temple, scion of Aaron is the archetype of the new Zadok, the messiah of Aaron.

     Sometimes you will get the expression “the messiah of Aaron and the one of Israel” ( CD XIV 19). Aaron being the priestly messiah and Israel is the secular messiah both of the projected diarchy that Frank is talking about.

     In Christianity (and to some degree later Rabbinical Judaism) the doctrine of the diarchy was replaced by the merging of the two figures into one. This was caused by the destruction of the Temple when the rule of the High Priest was permanently broken.

     The Dead Sea Scrolls shine a light on the eschatological salvation and also introduce the figure (or figures) of a messiah. They clarify the origins of messianic hope that plays such a central position in Christianity.


[1] Sanders, E. P., Paul: (A brief Insight), (Sterling, 2009), p.43.

[2] Reimarus, Hermann Samuel, Fragments From Reimarus, Consisting of brief critical remarks on the object of Jesus and His disciples as seen in the New Testament, (Forgotten Books, 2012), p.13-20. [Originally printed by Williams and Norgate, 1879)] It was first published by Lessing as “Fragments by an Anonymous Writer” in 1774-1778

[3] Gardner, Paul D., 1 Corinthians, Part 1, (Zondervan, 2021), lecture 13.

[4] Bermejo Rubio, Fernando, La invención de Jesús de Nazaret, (Siglo XXI de España Editores, S. A., 2018), ch 1.

[5] Schweitzer, The Quest of the Historical Jesus, A Critical Study of its Progress from Reimarus to Wrede, English Translation, (A.&C. Black, Ltd.,1910) First German Edition “Von Reimarus zu Wrede,” 1906.

[6] Ehrman, Bart D., Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium,(Oxford,1999), ch8

[7] Harnack, Adolf, Militia Christi, The Christian Religion and the Military in the First Three Centuries, (Fortress Press 1981), pp.26ff, First German edition Originally published: 1905

[8] Frank Moore Cross, Notes on the doctrine of the two Messiahs at Qumran and the extracanonical Daniel Apocalypse (4Q246), Current Research and Technological Developments on Dead Sea Scrolls, Volume 20, (Brill, 1996), edited by Parry & Ricks.



Part 14 of my Historical Jesus series

Richard Carrier claims, “The only Jesus Paul shows any knowledge of is a celestial being, not an earthly man. Paul’s Jesus is only ever in the heavens.” [1]

But that is simply not true, Paul’s revelatory being is of a dead person, not somebody who was “only ever in the heavens”. “Paul is working on the assumption that Jesus had in fact lived and died a few years earlier. When Paul claims that he no longer knows Christ “according to the flesh” (2 Cor 5:16), he is not describing his ignorance of the earthly Jesus but his failure to recognize the crucified Jesus as the Messiah. He knows that he has seen the Lord (1 Cor 9:1; 15:8; Gal 1:16) and would insist that these intrinsically revelatory appearances are as real and historical as the ordinary observation of other concrete persons and events……..No doubt, Paul’s Christ is not a purely mythological figure.” [2] 2 Cor. 5:16 doesn’t require the Corinthians to personally know Jesus on historicism as Carrier says, just that they knew of him is enough. Kata Sarka – according to the flesh, cannot refer to an otherwordly existence. (In the context of the letter Paul uses spiritual and fleshy people to mean spiritual and unspiritual, unspiritual cannot be applied to Jesus in the context of this verse, so it can only have one meaning of when Jesus was alive).

It is true as the first four words of James Tabor’s book, Paul and Jesus states, “Paul never met Jesus” [3] but that is not to say that Paul thought Jesus had never lived.

       Paul speaks of the community once having known of Jesus “according to the flesh”, but that it is now something they need to move on from. So if Peter, James and John are “pillars” of the movement, it stands to reason that they knew Jesus “according to the flesh”.

“From now on, therefore, we regard no one according to the flesh, even though we regarded Christ according to the flesh, we know him no longer in that way.” (2 Cor 5:16).

         A person who had lived previously could also be a revelatory person. Just because you see somebody in visions does not mean that they could not have lived previously.

Paul may not have known Jesus but he knew of him. The same goes for the community Paul is preaching in. The reason that Jesus had come to be understood as a revelatory being is due to the messiah mythology being applied to him in an apocalyptic matrix. The ‘expectant’ messiah was becoming otherworldly around this time. (Such as the heavenly messiah in the Melchizedek scroll).

To the Jewish apocalyptic matrix all ‘realized’ messiahs were human figures. An ‘expectant’ messiah was always the spirit of some past great person (example Moses or David) being reborn into a human realized messiah. (See part 7). This ‘realized’ messiah would rise up from among the people to restore god’s kingdom right here on earth. A ‘realized’ messiah was always understood by Jews to be a historic person, once the title was applied to a leading person that messianic aspiration was realized. As Justin Martyr puts into the mouth of his literary Jewish interlocutor, “we all expect the messiah to be born a human being from human beings.” (Justin Martyr, Dialogue with Typho 49.1). “Jesus is called Christos, anointed, the Greek equivalent of messiah 270 times in the Pauline corpus. If this is not ample testimony that Paul regarded Jesus as a messiah then words have no meaning.” [4] Why Paul thinks Jesus is a ‘realized’ messiah is the fact he thinks the new age has already started and Jesus is the ‘first fruits’ of this new age. A realised messiah will usher in the new age, establish a new ‘kingdom of god’ right here on earth. Jesus is the realized messiah as the kingdom is being ushered in and obviously understood by Jews as having recently lived. Paul also said he is coming back. (1 Cor 15:23; 1 Thess 2:19)

In part 4 I show the advanced concepts like those of the Dead Sea Scrolls were already there, (Paul was no innovative thinker, he was pulling all these existing Jewish concepts of a saving messiah that already existed). I explained how Paul transformed the messiah mythology (he translated the messiah concepts to a heavenly variety, see part 4) as he applied it to a historical person. It’s obvious Paul ran away with himself, thus the reason for contention with the Jerusalem Assembly. The gentiles, being new to these concepts, were delighted that Jesus was better than any of their mystery type religions’ saviour deity. Paul explaining Jewish concepts to what could be explained to a gentile mystery religion matrix is what changed this restorative theology (getting back Israel) to the Jews.

           Paul (like other Jews’ thinking on heavenly beings) literally thought Jesus was up there just above the clouds (1 Thess. 4:16) and was coming back, immanently, his audience must have been looking up, feeling the presence of this new deity type of angel.

        To unlock Paul’s epistles we have to use comparative literature of people with the same mindset. Paul’s epistles are apocalyptic and so are the Dead Sea Scrolls. 

         In a debate with Dr Richard Carrier, Dr Winchester [5] went to explain a lot of the apocalyptic ideas that Paul’s epistles held and what they had in common with the Dead Sea Scrolls (DSS) which were written by a wide diversity of Jews. Why the DSS were so valuable is that they give a cross section of a diverse amount of Jewish sects that existed just before the first century CE. 

         Dr. Winchester’s scholarship shows why Jesus had been a historical person, who after his death, his followers started to have visions of him. These visions were understood as a resurrected Jesus who was the “first fruits of those who have died” (1 Cor 15:20-23):

Following this Paul says Jesus was raised and that the other apostles had seen him. Paul and the other apostles all previously believed that Jesus had been alive, for according to apocalyptic Jews (especially seen in the book of Daniel), you had to be a living person before you could be resurrected. They all interpreted these sightings of Jesus in light of the apocalyptic idea of Resurrection. This mindset involved the idea of the dead being buried in the ground, in the earth and being raised again, literally in history on the last day of earth:

“And many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2)

Luke Timothy Johnson [6] explains that to Paul the resurrection was a new world eschatological concept. A new Adam is Paul’s analogy for the resurrection, actually the beginning of a new creation. For the first Christians Jesus was exalted or enthroned. Their use of Psalm 110 and the royal mythology is very important for understanding the resurrection. It was the favourite analogy used by the first Christians about the resurrection:

“The Lord says to my lord: “Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.” (Psalm 110).

This is language about enthronement. It is one of the most quoted psalms in the New Testament. Paul referred to it in 1 Corinthians 15:25, explaining the rule and dominion of Jesus the Messiah. Resuscitation is only mortality deferred and happens often in Jewish scriptures. The claim made about Jesus is that he is no longer mortal but sharing fully in the life of god. He sirs at God’s right hand as Lord (kyrios).

 “Therefore I want you to know that no one who is speaking by the Spirit of God says, “Jesus be cursed,” and no one can say, “Jesus is Lord,” except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Cor. 12.3)

Being in the Holy Spirit is the experience, Jesus being Lord is the conviction. The Holy Spirit could be explained as God’s energy field. Lord, kyrios is the title of god in the Jewish tradition. Divine existence is being ascribed to him. Jesus shares the power of god. In 1 Cor. 15:45 Jesus has become a life giving spirit. Only god can give life in the biblical tradition. Jesus is the source of the Holy Spirit which all followers can enter into. So Jesus is the source of this new life.

Paul says flesh and blood cannot enter the kingdom, so Paul is talking about a transformed body entering the kingdom of god. (1 Cor. 15.44) These bodies are made of pneuma, a substance that angels are made of. To the ancients pneuma was a material substance. So Paul believes in the new age people will have new bodies. So after his death Jesus has entered into a new form of existence. This is the reason for Paul thinking of Jesus as an angel.

In light of the apocalyptic idea of transformation, political rulers of the earth and the type of bodies we have will be transformed. The second part of Carriers’ claim of Jesus being “only ever in the heavens” is better seen as a post mortal understanding. Paul claimed that Jesus was a “man from heaven” (1 Cor. 15:47-49), angels are heavenly men. Gal. 4:14 pushes Paul’s perspective into fairly angelic territory according to Ehrman in How Jesus became God, “In [Galatians 4:14] Paul calls Christ an angel. […] In the context of the verse, Paul is reminding the Galatians of how they first received him when he was ill in their midst and they helped restore him to health. Paul writes: “Even though my bodily condition was a test for you, you did not mock or despise me, but you received me as an angel of God, as Jesus Christ.”[7] Ehrman uses the “as….as” argument to make his claim (cf 1 Cor. 3:1; 2 Cor. 2:17). As an expectant messiah or coming king could be described as an angel, it is not at all surprising that Paul would describe a historical figure who is believed to be the messiah and is now dead, as an angel.

       In the gospel of Mark, Jesus answers the Sadducees (who don’t believe in resurrection) “When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven.” Mark 12:25.

       Günther Juncker said, “Justin [Martyr] repeatedly refers to Christ as an Angel ……the primary source for Justin, and for all of the Fathers, appears to have been Isaiah 9:6. There Isaiah says that the Messiah’s name will be called “Angel of Great Counsel.” [8]

It was already in Jewish thought as John Collins states, “A few passages in the Septuagint attribute preexistence to the messiah”, or describe him as an angel. [9] So this pre existence was also attributed to Jesus after his death due to the messiah mythology. The divinity of a King was an honour given to the Ptolemy and Seleucid Kings and inherited by the Roman Empire where Octavian was known as “divi filius” (son of god). As discussed in this part the Caesar cults had a major impact on Christianity and added to the divinity of the messiah. There are some instances in the psalms and prophets in the Septugiant (LXX) that express messianic beliefs and “the strongest claims for the status of the King as God or son of god are found in the royal psalms, especially psalms 2,45, 72, 89 [LXX 88:27] and 110[LXX 109]” [10]

The pre existence concept can be seen better here :

 “May his name be forever, may his name flourish before the sun”. (Psalm 72:17 [LXX 71:17])

In the Targum Ps72  it is more suggestive of pre-existence with “and before the sun existed, his name had been appointed.” 1 Enoch 48:2 has the pre-existence of the messiah. The LXX Isaiah 9 describes the King as an angel. A major influence on messianism was the concept of a divinized king as seen in the royal psalms. Sons of god start to get described as angels in Enochic literature, the Dead Sea Scrolls (the Genesis Apocryphon, the Damascus Document, 4Q180), Jubilees, the Testament of Reuben, 2 Baruch, Josephus, and the book of Jude. In the Septuagint, Codex Alexandrinus, in Genesis 6:1-4, sons of god are replaced by angels. Deuteronomy 32:8 is very interesting having sons of Elohim or sons of El in two Dead Sea Scrolls (4QDtj and 4QDtq). In the Septugiant the same verse has “angels of God” (αγγελων θεου). The MT has “sons of Israel”.

      As William Horbery said in Jewish Messianism and the Cult of Christ, “expectations of angelic deliverers, and of beliefs that favoured mortals might be transformed into angels, … Further, particular attention has been given to the appearance in apocalypses and mystical texts of one exalted angel almost indistinguishable from God himself, like the ‘angel of the Lord’ in the Old Testament (compare the discussions of Exod. 23. 20 and Isa. 63. 9…). It is suggested that these conceptions of God and a great angel offer a possible key to the exaltation of Christ manifested in the New Testament and associated with his cult.” [11]

Paul thinks Jesus after his resurrection is now “life-giving spirit” (pneuma soopoioun) and powerfully present among his followers. Jesus as living Lord is the “person” who is the source of the spirit (the energy field) that changes them as persons and makes them a new creation and the authentic Israel. Paul’s conversion (Gal 1:16) was that God revealed his Son in Paul. The spirit of the Son entered Paul. Similarly, the spirit of the Son enters Christians generally and they become Sons of God. (Gal. 3:16) This is, obviously, a spirit possession cult, maybe not obvious to all. Modern translators try to say god revealed his son to Paul as in a vision but this is not what the Greek says. That is why to Paul, all the followers of this movement were known as “in Christ”.

            Professor Gary A. Rendsburg [12] sees both Paul and the community of Qumran using faith through a historical leader of the community.

“For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.” (Romans 1:17).

“Clearly no one who relies on the law is justified before God,because “the righteous will live by faith.” (Galatians 3:11)

Paul and the community of Qumran use faith through a historical leader of the community. Both make use of Habukkah.

 “But the righteous shall live by his faith,” (Hab2:4).  

Both Paul and the Dead Sea community use pesher to say that faith is directed through their leader, Christ in the case of Paul, the Teacher of Righteousness in the case of the DSS sect.

 “This concerns all those who observe the Law in the House of Judah, whom God will deliver from the House of Judgment, because of their suffering and because of their faith in the Teacher of Righteousness.” (1QpHab 8:1–2). 

Both Paul and the DSS sect use this passage to say that their respective communities should show faith in their historical founding members.       

          Paul’s epistles were based on a now obsolete belief system where Satan is in control of this age right now. The same can be seen in the DSS, but this prince of darkness was known as Belial. Belial is mentioned many times in the Scrolls;  Rules of the Community (Manual of Discipline) (3 times) the War Scroll (9), the Thanksgiving Hymns (4), the Psalms and Psalms Pesher (2), and some other miscellaneous texts (7). Pauls epistles are primarily concerned with the overthrow of bad angels. Everything that is going bad out in the real world would be Satan or Belials fault. 

In both the epistles and DSS there are also good angels who fight the bad spirits. God will send a messiah who is going to join humans on earth on the last days (eschatological mindset where god will bring in the kingdom of god right here on earth in the last days). In both the epistles and some scrolls the messiah is going to be of “the seed of David” ie somebody descended from the line of David. (4Q174 III: 1-9 and Romans 1:3; Cf Jeremiah 23:5; b.Talmud Rosh Hashanah 25a; Eusebius,EH 3.19; 3.20.1-6).

Another apocalyptic idea is that humans were buried and would rise on the last days and they can also have eternal life. Some will be raised in eternal life and in Daniel it says others will be condemned and held in contempt. There will be sin and atonement made for sin.

Some passages in Paul’s epistles are better understood with what we know about apocalyptic Jews as revealed in the DSS. 

Other examples also fit the historical Jesus, all examples taken together argue that Paul was using a recently dead person who was thought of as the messiah by his followers:

• Galations4:4 “Born of a woman”.

Apocalyptic Jews used this phrase “born of a woman” to say that somebody was a human. The scroll 4Q264 addresses God writing “man among your glorious works as why he can be born of a woman”. Another example  1 QS (Community Rule) 11.21 – it says man is “one born of woman… shaped from dust has he been”. 

The phrase always refers to actual people and not celestial people.

Even if Paul uses the word γενόμενον (to be made/to become or as Carrier insists ‘manufactured’) instead of the proper Greek word to be born – γεννάω , this is not a problem as this word to be made – γενόμενον is used in other Greek literature meaning to be born. Example in Josephus Ant.1.303; 7.154; Plato, Republic 8.553, γενόμενον is used to mean born. 

 Also ‘born of  a woman’ is found in the Book of Job LXX 11:12;14:1;15:14;25:4. and Sirach 10:18, all in relation to earthly born people.

It’s a common enough Jewish idiom even Matthew’s Jesus describes John the Baptist with the very similar phrase as “of those born of woman” (γεννητοῖς γυναικῶν).

Also in that verse he says “under the law”. This refers to his mother as being born under Torah law. [13]

•Romans 9:5 where Jesus is the messiah, “whose are the fathers, and of whom is the Christ, according to the flesh, who is over all, God blessed to the ages.” Jesus being the messiah (Christos), a term used by apocalyptic Jews to refer to human figures, (in the case of a realized messiah, discussed further on in this chapter). No other ancient source calls an Angel a messiah.(In the book of Daniel, Michael is seen as an angelic deliverer but is not a messiah). An Angel was never referred to as a messiah but a messiah could sometimes be described as an angel. An important nuance when determining historicity. As Jesus was thought to be from the house of David, a messiah or king in the line of David could be described as god, son of god or an angel:

“the house of David shall be like Elohim, like the angel of YHWH.” (Zech 12:8).


[1] Richard Carrier, On the Historicity of Jesus: Why We might have Reason to Doubt (Sheffield: Sheffield Phoenix, 2014), p. 515. Emphasis original.]

[2] Samuel Byrskog, “The Historicity of Jesus, How do we know that Jesus existed?” in Handbook for the Study of the Historical Jesus, Ed. Tom Holmén and Stanley E. Porter, , Vol. 3, Part 2, (Brill, 2011), p.2189-2190.

[3] Tabor, James, Paul and Jesus: How the Apostle transformed Christianity, (Simon & Schuster, 2012), p.1.

[4] Collins, John J. The Scepter and the Star, (Bantam Doubleday Dell, 1995), p.2.

[5] Dr. Winchester in a debate with Dr. Carrier can be seen here:

[6] Johnson, Luke Timothy, Jesus and the gospels, (The Great Courses, 2004), Lecture 2.

[7] Bart Ehrman, How Jesus became God, The exaltation of a Jewish Preacher from Galilee, (HarperOne, 2014), p.253.

[8] John J. Collins and Adela Yarbro Collins, King and Messiah as Son of God. Divine, Human, and Angelic Messianic Figures in Biblical and Related Literature, page xiii and especially ch3.

[9] ibid,56.

[10] Horbury, William, Jewish Messianism and the Cult of Christ, (SCM Press, 2012), p.119-20.

[11] Günther Juncker, “Christ As Angel: The Reclamation Of A Primitive Title,” Trinity Journal 15:2 (Fall 1994), p. 225.

[12] Gary A. Rendsburg, Ph.D., Lecture 9, The Dead Sea Scrolls, The Great Courses 2010.

[13] Gathercole, Simon, The Historical and Human Existence of Jesus in Paul’s Letters, Journal for the study of the historical Jesus, 16 (2018), p.186-188.


PART 13 of my Historical Jesus series

Let us now take stock of the last 12 parts of this series, we will do a sum up while analysing the Titulus Crux. The relic itself is not real, but there would have been an original (obviously now lost). The way the gospels report it actually argue in favour of its historicity.  “If [the titulus] were invented by Christians, they would have used Christos, for early Christians would scarcely have called their Lord ‘King of the Jews.’ ” [1] Given that the Titulus inscription has no allusions to the Tanakh and therefore more of an apologetic for what really happened rather than a symbolic meaning which is not found, “and could thus not have been prompted by a desire to bring the record of Jesus’ last hours into accord with divine prediction”. [2]

There are other incidents where criminals held placards where the accusation was written on a placard as they were executed. Suetonius mentions two times of placards showing the crime committed by a slave. [3]. Some evidence for such titulus signs are seen in examples shown in Dio Cassius, Roman Histories 5:3,7 and Suetonius, Gaius Caligula 32. [4]. Jesus was one in a long line of messianic rebels before and after New Testament times. The Titulus Crux has shown that Jesus was executed by the Romans (and not the Jewish authorities) for sedition. In Mark’s brief description of Jesus’ trial, the title “King of the Jews” comes up six times. That must be the foundation and analysis of what charges would have been used. [5] This was a royal title claimed by many messianic rebels. “βασιλεὺς [King] is seen as the confirmation of a claim that had political connotations and was liable to punishment as an attempt at rebellion.” [6] Giving the Titulus Crux to Jesus suggests a top rebel leader. The Titulus as it stands establishes the early Christians as rebels against Rome. The “titulus was meant to refer to the crime of laesa majestas ….The claim to be a king was according to this view eo ipso a challenge to the emperor. [7] In practice for the time of Pilate, “the princeps [unofficial title used by the Roman emperors from Augustus] held the tribunicia potestas [powers equivalent to those of a tribune without actually being one], his main office, he was by no means a king and the populus Romanus was still regarded as the very majestas. True, the laesa majestas populi Romani and that of the princeps was already considered as a crime and trials took place in Tiberius’s time especially after the fall of Sejanus. (Tac. Ann. iv. 70; cf Suet. Tib. 61) other examples are Considius Proculus (Tac. Ann. vi. 18) and Paconius (Suet. Tib. 61). See also Suet. Tib. 58. [8]

“everyone who makes himself a king sets himself against Caesar.” …” They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.’ John 19:12,15.

You can make the following points about the historical context of the times:

– a messiah was a military figure, (as Jesus was a peasant, a “priestly messiah” was out of the question. (See part 4)

– most of the messianic figures in Josephus and up to Kockba led revolts. (See part 7).

– the one mention of Jesus in the first century outside the Bible is right in the middle of the rebel passages. (The Testimonium Flavianum in Josephus Antiquities). (See part 1)

– the reason the TF was changed is because Josephus described him as a messianic rebel. (See part 2)

– all the anti Christian polemics were working off of this as Christians did not have the power to change the books until the time of Eusebius. (See part 3)

– the NT itself is one big cover up apologetically embarrassed that Jesus got crucified for sedition. (See part 5)

– the gospels preserve his crime king of the Jews (as discussed in this part).

– it all fits the historical context, none of the other hypotheses fit the historical context.

Those in the line of the rebel thesis started with Reimarus, (the man that launched higher criticism) continued to Eisler, SFG Brandon and now Bermejo-Rubio. Much of the thesis involved the fact that the gospels did not clean up the zealot sayings that were left in the gospels. (Part 5). These cover ups stick out like a sore thumb and do not go with the gospel stories. The gospel stories are a cover up for what really happened. The cover-ups also indicate a historical person. The cover ups such as:

• the crucifixion, an execution only carried out for going against the Roman Empire. The blasphemy charge is a cover up for this, (Part 5).

•Gospel of Matthew goes out of his way to say Jesus fulfilled (pléróō, πληρόω) all the requirements of the messiah, obvious propaganda as he did not. (The Messiah was supposed to restore God’s Kingdom right here on Earth, by the time Matthew was writing, the opposite had happened. The Temple (God’s house) was obliterated by the Romans in 70 CE).

•The cover up such as Jesus being from Nazareth instead of being a Nazorean. (Part 9).

.•The polemics against James, attempts by the gospels and Acts to write him out, yet he was the succeeding leader. (To be discussed in a later part). The rebel thesis fits the historical context, explains a lot of what we actually have in the New Testament a lot better than any alternative thesis.

As Bart Ehrman said:

“I should point out that there are aspects of the crucifixion narratives that stand up to historical scrutiny, as embodying historical fact rather than Christian theology. As one salient example: all of our accounts agree that Jesus was crucified on the order of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate, and that the death sentence was imposed because Jesus claimed to be the “king of the Jews,” a political charge of treason against the state (thus, independently, write Mark and John; see also the Gospel of Peter). Moreover, this charge was inscribed on a placard over Jesus’ head on the cross. This information is attested in a range of independent sources and accords perfectly well with what we know about the Roman administration of justice in first-century Palestine.” [9].


Here Mark 15:26 lists the inscription as:

“ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων”

“The King of the Jews”

Matthew 27:37 expands it:

“*οὗτος ἐστὶν* ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων”

“*This is* the King of the Jews”

Luke 23:38 reverts back to Mark’s shorter version:

“ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων”

“The King of the Jews”

There were multiple attempts by scribes to harmonize Luke 23:38 towards John 19:20, by enumerating the languages, where several mss say that the inscription was written (in some undisclosed location) in Hebrew, Roman (Latin) and Hellenic (Greek). Other manuscripts omit this reference (perhaps harmonizing with the synoptics). The original order that Textual Critics favor is Hebrew, Latin, Greek, The scribes of Codex Washingtonianus and 1194 actually have “Hebrew, Roman, Hebrew” by mistake. 

In John 19:19, Pilate himself wrote: 

“Ἰησοῦς ὁ Ναζωραῖος ὁ βασιλεὺς τῶν Ἰουδαίων”

“Jesus the Nazorian the king of the Jews”

Note that this is not the “Nazarene” spelling (Ναζαρηνός).

Ev. Petr. 11

“καὶ ὅτε ὤρθωσαν τὸν σταῦρον, ἐπέγραψαν ὅτι οὗτος ἐστὶν ὁ βασιλεὺς τοῦ Ἰσραήλ.”

“And when they had set the cross upright, they inscribed that this is the King of Isreal. “ 

The gospel of Peter having, “King of Israel” implies a Jewish source or perspective. We find a parallel in the gospel of John.

“Rabbi, You are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”. (John 1:49).

The following in the gospel of John fits the historical context:

“Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” (John 6:15).

This would match what was reported in Josephus’ Antiquities:

 “And now Judea was full of robberies. And as the several companies of the seditious light upon any one to head them, he was created a King immediately, in order to do mischief to the publick.” (Ant. 17.10.8).

Conditions of 30s Palestine were very harsh, the rebellious rallied around anyone that was charismatic whether they wanted the attention or not. Horsley on the dire conditions of the Jewish peasants due to conquest, bad administration, civil wars and famine asks “why so many hundreds, even thousands of Jewish peasants, were prepared to abandon their homes to pursue some prophet into the wilderness, or to rise in rebellion against their Jewish and Roman overlords when the signal was given by some charismatic “King” or to flee to the hills to join some brigand band. Peasants generally do not take such drastic action unless conditions have become such that they can no longer pursue traditional ways of life.” [10]. SFG Brandon summed up the whole situation:

“The accounts which Josephus gives of these years [From Judas the Galilean to 70 CE] tell only of Roman maladministration and the reaction, often violent, of the Jews. Moving in and out of this sorry tale are those whom he calls ‘brigands’, but who were in fact…patriots who conducted resistance operations from strongholds in the mountainous desert country” [11].

Just because Jesus was a rebel, that does not mean I wish to place a judgment value on him, for objective history it is better to report happenings without judgment values as we ourselves are not living through the conditions these peasants had to endure.  “As we (depending on our sympathies) spoke of ‘freedom fighters’, ‘brothers’, ‘communists’, ‘rabble rousers’, and so on, men of first century Palestine (depending on their sympathies) spoke of ‘messiahs’ ‘prophets’, ‘deceivers’, ‘brigands’, ‘charlatans’. Jesus was located in these two ranges of variation- he won attention as a miracle worker, and was executed as a messiah, a would-be ‘King of the Jews’” [12]

          John’s gospel suggest that the failure of Jesus’s movement falls on the collaborating Sanhedrin, who betrayed him because they feared the Roman backlash. 

“What action are we taking?’ they said. ‘This man is performing many signs. If we leave him alone like this the whole populace will believe in him. Then the Romans will come and sweep away our temple and our nation.’ (John11:47-48).

All the gospels absolve Jesus as a failed messiah, that’s ok as there was little chance of success for any of these messiahs, it was handy for the evangelists to have a good reason for failure – betrayal. (In the gospel of Peter, he simply blames the Jews). Here a failed revolt was made a success by saying “what if” he wasn’t betrayed. These gospel stories and the likes would give hope, to learn from failed revolts, to go again. Bar Kochba briefly succeeded as a messianic figure in 135CE. Whatever stories or traditions that John picked up in his gospel, he has put his own theological twist upon them and helped to turn any zealous group into a spiritual group.

Candida Moss astutely shows in the aftermath of this movements failure, the movement as a whole, being persecuted suggests they were suspected as revolutionaries:

“If we give any credence to the apocryphal acts and believe that the apostles attracted large crowds, then we have to concede that the apostles might have been viewed as revolutionaries. If they were arrested, then the charges levied against them may have been insurgency or inciting unrest among the people. As the death of Jesus shows, Romans had no problems executing people who caused trouble or could potentially start a rebellion. They were taking elementary precautions.” [13] Christians were executed for being Christian before 110 CE according to Pliny’s letter to Trajan.

There is real life and there is gospel life, Jesus could very well be a sanitized version of a real life leader of the downtrodden, burdened conquered people.



[1] A. Fitzmeyer, The Gospel According to Luke I–IX (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1981), 773.

[2] Winter, Paul, On the Trial of Jesus. (De Gruyter, 1974), p.138

[3] Paul Maier, “The Inscription on the Cross of Jesus of Nazareth.” Hermes, vol. 124, no. 1, 1996, pp. 58–75, fn. 9, 10.

[4] Suetonius, Caligula 32.2. See also Domitian 10.1 and Cassius Dio, History 54.3.7, who describes a condemned slave led through the forum with an inscription announcing the reason for his death by crucifixion.

[5] Lawson, Christopher, What if the Historical Jesus was the heir to the Throne? A Reconstruction based on the First Century Dead Sea Scrolls, (Freedom Publishing, 2017).

[6] Winter, Paul, On the Trial of Jesus. (De Gruyter, 1974), p.138

[7] E. Bammel, “The Titulus” in Jesus and the Politics of His Day. Ed. Ernst Bammel,  C. F. D. Moule, (Cambridge, 1984), p.357.

[8] ibid and fn. 33

[9] Bart Ehrman, Peter, Paul and Mary Magdalene, 222-3.

[10] Horsley, Richard and Hanson, John S.,  Messiahs Prophets and Bandits, Popular movements in the time of Jesus, (Winston Press, 1985), p.50

[11] SFG Brandon,Jesus and the Zealots, A study of the political factor in Primitive Christianity, (Manchester University Press, 1967), p.107.

[12] Smith, Mortan, Jesus the Magician, (Barnes & Noble, 1978), p.19

[13] Moss, Candida, The Myth of Persecution, How early Christians invented a story of martyrdom, (Harper, 2013), ch 4.


Historical Jesus


PART 10 of my Historical Jesus series

Some of the less well known figures that failed to get a mention in Josephus first book War, made it into his later book Antiquities. Even the minor insurrectionists that did make it into War, barely register a mention and are quickly moved over. Josephus preferred to talk about himself and made a good chunk of the book about his exploits as commander of the Galilean forces, especially the battle between himself and Vespasian at Jotapata in 67 CE. These other messianic figures were not major players in the lead up to the Roman Jewish War 66-70 CE. By the time Josephus was writing Antiquities some of those other figures that were not thought of off hand while writing War were now included. Josephus had by then, full access to the imperial and senatorial records. Josephus was very good friends with Titus and made full use of the imperial secretary Epaphroditus. He dedicated his book Antiquities to Epaphroditus.  

The level of detail that Josephus knew of Caligulas assassination, the plot and its aftermath meant that Josephus main source for this was a Roman source. As Goud says a senatorial and a pro Claudian source, together with a third Jewish Herodian source was used. [1] This is an advantage that Josephus had over even other imminent Roman historians such as Tacitus who claimed he did not have access to imperial records. (Histories 4.40). Van Voorst argued that Tacitus did not get his information from Christians as can be seen for his contempt for Christians. He also did not use Jesus’s name. Tacitus using the textus restitutus (reconstructed in part 2) would easily explain this. Van Voorst has suggested that Tacitus could have gotten his information about Christians and Nero’s fire from the Acta Senatus (archives of the Senate). [2]

          Miriam Pucci Ben Zeev explores what Josephus’ major sources were. [3] The archives of Roman, Jewish and the diaspora were all used but Zeev thinks that Josephus only stated the Roman archives as a literary device to impress his Roman readers. Phrases like this would indeed impress his Roman readers but were made very generally:

“Moreover, we could read to you many decrees of the senate and tablets deposited in the Capitol to the same effect…” (Ant. XVI, 48), which closely echoes what Josephus writes in Ant. XIV, 188 (“the decrees of the Romans … are still to be found engraved on bronze tablets in the Capitol”) [4]

That really he used the Jewish sources both in Judea and the diaspora. In her examination of these sources she has seen that “official documents preserved, by inscriptions and papyri. Senatus consulta, decrees and letters written by Roman magistrates, imperial edicts, mandata and Greek decrees quoted by Josephus follow the general structure and use the same language, vocabulary and style.” [5] Josephus also used the lost books of Nicolaus of Damascus, (Herod the Great’s historian) and the archives in Jerusalem expanded by Agrippa. Zeev quotes Willrich on this:

“King Agrippa seemingly used many acta on behalf of the Jews in his meetings with Caligula in order to emphasize how great the discrepancy was between the intentions of Caligula and the whole tradition of the Roman policy toward the Jews…. What Philo has Agrippa say is most probably only the essence of a very long and well grounded apologetic writing which contained documents in favor of the Jews coming from all parts of the world, Alexandria, Ephesus, Asia and Jerusalem. Agrippa had the fortune to be able to increase the material, because the archives of Jerusalem were at his disposal. There were a lot of documents from the very beginning of the diplomatic relations between the Jews and the Greco-Roman world, among them not only documents connected with the motherland but very probably a great collection of acta (as Niese pointed out) which had been collected by Nicolaus of Damascus on occasion of the great trial in 15 BCE in Ionia.” [6]

                  One of the Acta, from the Jerusalem archive, and Josephus does state that Jewish literature was taken in the aftermath of the war, was the Acta Pilati. One such figure, the ‘Samaritan’ who only got a mention in Josephus second book Antiquities, shows that Josephus would have used such records as Acta Pilati (not the Acta Pilati that was forged but an original document that no longer exists) as a source. Another similar figure where Josephus would not have thought of while composing War was a certain man, may have been referred to as ‘the Galilean’ in the Roman or Herodian records, (cf Ant 18.3.3), and here too Josephus would have had to go to the Acta Pilati for his information.

By the time the church fathers were writing they acknowledged the Acti Pilati, but made up completely what was in them. They would not have had access to these and just made incredible claims that Pilate was reporting the divinity of Jesus and that he had resurrected (Martyr 1 Apology 35; Tertullian Apology 5,21). 

Justin Martyr pretended the Acta backed up his claims (Martyr probably never saw the real Acta) Claims such that the prophets Isaiah and King David had foretold of the messiah, and to Martyr this meant of course this was Jesus as “these things did happen, you can ascertain from the Acts of Pontius Pilate.” (Martyr 1 Apology 35).

Tertullian gave even a more fantastic account where “Tiberius accordingly, in whose days the Christian name made its entry into the world, having himself received intelligence from Palestine of events which had clearly shown the truth of Christ’s divinity, brought the matter before the senate, with his own decision in favour of Christ.” (Tertullian Apology 5).

Of course Tertullian did not know what was in the Acta Pilati, but was also ignorant of what province Pilate was governor of:

“But the Jews were so exasperated by His teaching, by which their rulers and chiefs were convicted of the truth, chiefly because so many turned aside to Him, that at last they brought Him before Pontius Pilate, at that time Roman governor of Syria; and, by the violence of their outcries against Him, extorted a sentence giving Him up to them to be crucified.” (Tertullian Apology 21).

And here he is reporting on the Acta:

“All these things Pilate did to Christ; and now in fact a Christian in his own convictions, he sent word of Him to the reigning Cæsar, who was at the time Tiberius.” (Tertullian Apology 21).

According to Eusebius using Tertullian’s authority says “Pontius Pilate informed Tiberius of the reports” of “resurrection and ascension of our Saviour (EH 2.2.1) and “that Tiberius referred the matter to the Senate, but that they rejected it” (EH 2.2.2).

As Paul Winters said, “In second century literature there are sporadic allusions to minutes, acta, supposed to have been taken at Jesus’ trial on Pilate’s order. Such references are of an apologetic nature …… The writers making such allusions made them without having access to any official archives” [7] The anti Christian polemics also reworked the real Acta Pilati, making Eusebius comment that these Acta Pilati reported by the anti-Christian pagans were forged for their propaganda:

Having therefore forged Acts of Pilate and our Saviour full of every kind of blasphemy against Christ, they sent them with the emperor’s approval to the whole of the empire subject to him, with written commands that they should be openly posted to the view of all in every place, both in country and city, and that the schoolmasters should give them to their scholars, instead of their customary lessons, to be studied and learned by heart. (Eusebius, EH 9.5.1)

“The memorials against us and copies of the imperial edicts issued in reply to them were engraved and set up on brazen pillars in the midst of the cities, — a course which had never been followed elsewhere. The children in the schools had daily in their mouths the names of Jesus and Pilate, and the Acts which had been forged in wanton insolence.” (Eusebius, EH 9.7.1). 

These anti-Christian pagans would have worked from the original Acti-Pilati to create their particular polemics during the reign of Emperor Maximins. What we have now is a Christian Acts of Pilate, now known as the Gospel of Nicodemus. This is a pious forgery to counteract the reworked Emperor Maximins Acta Pilati (but now destroyed). Emperor Maximin Acta Pilati had reworked the original Acta Pilati. Emperor Maximin Acta Pilati were seen as the polemic Acts of Pilate, so the stories of the gospels were transposed onto a new Christian Acts of Pilate so that it was thoroughly reworked. Even though thoroughly reworked there is still evidence of the previous Acts of Pilate released by Emperor Maximin that is contained in the gospel of Nicodemus. Passages such as where Pilate informs the Jews that Jesus heals by the god Asclepius: 

“Pilate saith unto them: By what evil deeds? They say unto him: He is a sorcerer, and by Beelzebub the prince of the devils he casteth out devils, and they are all subject unto him. Pilate saith unto them: This is not to cast out devils by an unclean spirit, but by the god Asclepius.” (Acts of Pilate, ch. 1, First Greek form).

 It shows even the Christianizing of the Acts of Pilate still left in some of the pagan bits, thus it looks like the Maximins Acts of Pilate rewritten. The original Acta Pilati is completely lost. We saw the same thing happen in regard to the TF, the Emmaus narrative in Luke was used in reworking an original negative TF.

         So to sum up, for Josephus to include the minor figures in his later book, Antiquities, would have had to consult the Archive records, (being the Flavian footstool he would have had full access to the Roman and the means to get the Jewish). For such minor figures as the ‘Samaritan’ or ‘the Galilean’ (i.e. Jesus), he would have had to consult the Acta Pilati (originally found in Jerusalem Archive along with the other Acta and confescated by the Romans after the war, these Acta Pilati no longer exist). The early Church fathers acknowledged the Acta Pilati but made up what was inside them. Meanwhile the anti Christian polemics made use of their version of Acta Pilati to which Eusebius complained and protested. It was from the time of Eusebius that Christians had full power of the books and must have destroyed these damaging Acts of Pilate. A new Counterforgery Acts of Pilate (Gospel of Nicodemus) was composed as a counter narrative. It is suspected they simply reworked the pagan Acts of Pilate. In turn the pagan Acts of Pilate would have reworked the original Acts of Pilate. It was the original Acti Pilati that Josephus would have made use of in composing his history for Antiquities. This would argue for an independent source for Christianity. This puts Jesus’ historicity on the same level as all those other messianic figures found in Josephus works.

        I think it’s very plausible there was an original TF that described Jesus as a seditious leader as attested in the anti Christian polemic. This is what Eusebius was covering up. This is the reason for the interpolation.

       Paul attests the crucifixion, granted he doesn’t attest under Pilate. As Whealey has shown the Josephus’ passage as having existed, (not created ex nihilo) even if we can’t use the reconstruction as evidence, we can use the fact that it existed as a negative original. Even without reconstruction it is in the middle of the Pilate passages and therefore it can be used for crucifixion under Pilate. I believe Josephus got his information from other than Christians, just like he probably got his information from other than Samaritans about the ‘samaritan’. Josephus was very good friends with Titus and had the full use of the imperial secretary- Epaphroditus. Christians, Samaritans, Sicarii, or any other such messianic group were well below Josephus’ feet, his consultations would have been the records.

        These anti Christian polemics of Jesus being a seditious leader can even be seen in the gospel of Luke. As we see in Luke 23, Jesus was considered dangerous enough to raise a sedition:

“…the Sanhedrin says to Pilate “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be, a king Messiah.” So Pilate asked Jesus, “Are you the king of the Jews?” “You have said so,” Jesus replied. (Luke 23:2-3)

Elsewhere Pilate said, “You brought me this man as one who was inciting the people to rebellion.”

(Luke 23:14).

As was common for many messianic leaders, to raise a crowd was a dangerous occupation and usually would end up getting you executed, this is all reflected in the gospel of John:

“Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin.

“What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.” Then one of them, named Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, spoke up, “You know nothing at all! You do not realize that it is better for you that one man die for the people than that the whole nation perish.”

(John 11:47-50).

       I see the Jesus movement as reactionary as he lived in bad times. I am not placing any judgment value on the term seditious leader, Jesus lived during very bad times. If you study the position of the Testamonian Flavianum, and read the paragraph before the TF, (i.e.Ant 18.3.2), a load of unarmed Jews were slaughtered by Pilates men. In modern times U2 sang a song “Sunday Bloody Sunday” about the killing of a load of unarmed Irish protesters, which started a 30 year guerrilla war. I see the Jesus movement as the same type of reactionary resistance movement, where Jesus got crucified for sedition (king of the Jews).

The reconstructed TF suggests Jesus led a movement of two groups, the Judaens and the Galileans into revolt (reflected in Marks impossible event of the Temple cleansing but works as a literary construction) causing his execution by crucifixion.

      So to sum up some of the points of this blog, we see the anti-Christian polemics having an independent source to the gospels and the main source I suspect was the original TF. Josephus I suspect got his information from records archives as he was well in with Titus. The original TF was the corroborating evidence for Jesus before it was overwritten. This puts Jesus on the same level of historicity as all those other messianic figures found in Josephus works.


[1] Goud, Thomas E., The Sources of Josephus “Antiquities” 19, 480 ff. [Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, Vol.45, no.4 (1996), pp. 472-482].

[2] Van Voorst, Jesus outside the New Testament, An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence, (William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000), p.50-1.

[3] Ben Zeev, Miriam Pucci, Jewish Rights in the Roman World, The Greek and Roman Documents Quoted by Josephus Flavius, (Mohr Siebeck, 1998), p.388-408.

[4] ibid, p.390

[5] ibid, p.357-368, quote at 357.

[6] Willrich,H., Judaica: Forschungen zur hellenistisch-judischen, History, ed. J.H. Hayes, J.M. Geschichte und Literatur,(Gottingen 1900), (supra, note 5), pp. 42-47. Cit op Zeev, ibid, p.391.

[7] Winter, Paul, On the Trial of Jesus, (De Gruyter, 2nd Ed., 1974), p.1.



PART 9 of my Historical Jesus series

The most convincing aspect of Jesus’ historicity is that he belonged to a messianic group of Nazoreans. The gospel of Matthew redefined the meaning of Nazorean to say it was a person who came from Nazareth, this may work in English or Greek but in Aramaic/Hebrew the two words have nothing to do with each other, (The name Nazareth is not in any way related to the title “Nazorean” discussed below). Chilton noticed in the gospels their handling of the term nazorean: “But more is going on here. Jesus is rarely called “of Nazareth” or “from Nazareth” . . . He is usually called “Nazoraean” or “Nazarene.” Why the adjective, and why the uncertainty in spelling? The Septuagint shows us that there were many different transliterations of “Nazirite”: that reflects uncertainty as to how to convey the term in Greek . . . Some of the variants are in fact very close to what we find used to describe Jesus in the Gospels. . . .”[1]

There are two possible origins for the word nazorean, either explanation would denote a sect as opposed to a geographical location as the origin. 

          First explanation was given by J. S. Kennard who sees Nazirites as a title for the separated coming from Numbers 6. [2]. It comes from the noun נזיר (nazir) or from the verb נזר (nazar), to separate or consecrate, (or to dedicate oneself). The Hebrew base for Nazirite is NZR. With the term Nazarite, the Greek letter zeta is rendering the Hebrew letter zayin.  So this gives the Hebrew base as NZR, as opposed to NZTR discussed next.

       The second possible origin of the word nazorean comes from the Hebrew base NTZR, from which comes two Hebrew words that are identical (except for their vowels). The first word is netzer נֵצֶר as given by Laupot [3] who sees the name derived from Isaiah 11:1 which connects the Hebrew word ‘netzer’ (branch) NTZR [4] to the Greek transliterated word Ναζωραῖος and Ναζαρηνός (nazorean). This word ‘netzer’ comes from the exact same Hebrew base for ‘keepers’ as discussed next. (Hebrew did not have vowels so words can only be interpreted from their context). Branch was used as a term for the royal descendant of King David, so important to all Jewish messianist groups. All messianist Jewish groups claimed descent from the house of David. Isaiah 11:1 used netzer to refer to a Meshiach (Messiah).

       Another meaning from NTZR was “Keepers /Guardians of the covenant” from the collective plural Hebrew word “nazorim”.  They were also followers of the messianic heir who was called the Branch (“netzer”).  These followers called themselves “netzerim”. 

       The phrase “keepers of the covenant” or “guardians of the covenant” (“natsorim ha brit”) appears repeatedly as a sectarian name in the DSS. In Aramaic the collective plural word for “keepers” (as in jail-“keeper”, or “guardian”) is “natsorim” “natzorim” “nazorim” (all variant transliterations of nun, tsadi, resh, mem) [compare Hebrew “shomrei”, a root word for Samaritans]. The Acts of the Apostles admits that this was a sectarian name [“NazOraios” with an omega (Ω) in Greek showing it was derived from Aramaic “NazOrim” and not from the place name NazAreth].[5].

        In the Talmud, Jesus is known as Yeshu ha notsri as seen in the manuscripts, (Avodah passages) also a derivation from branch.

       William Smith says Nazorean occurs “without any suggestion of tendency, especially in Acts, and more than all, it is used in the plural as the name of the new religionists (Acts 24:5) : Tertullus describes Paul as a ringleader of the heresy of “the Nazoreans.” It seems impossible that this name should have become their vulgar designation, unless it had been a very early and important designation……In Mark the epithet is so distinctive that it is put into the mouth of the maid as the name of the arrested one: “Thou also wast with the Nazarene (Jesus)” (Mark14:67). All this indicates that this epithet was from the start highly distinctive and familiar, a name in itself, which would be passing strange, if it was indeed derived from a most obscure village otherwise unknown.” [6] Of course the gospel of Mark suggests Capernaum as Jesus’ hometown. Capernaum was really the hometown of Jesus in the gospel of Mark:

-Mark 2:1 When Jesus returned to Capernaum after some days, it became known that he was at home.

-Mark 2:15 : While he was at table in his house

-Mark 3:20: He came home …

       Dr R M Price has seen why Jesus’ epitaph was changed –  “Christians could no longer imagine their Lord had himself been simply a “believer” [ie a Nazorean] like themselves, so they inferred that his famous epithet that had denoted he had hailed from Nazareth” [7].

     Schonfield saw the main reason for this change: “The name he bears, Jesus the Nazorean, has northern sectarian implications….” [8]. If you wanted to cover up the implication of the name for a sectarian group of Nazoreans, a convenient way would be to say the name derived from being from Nazareth. Both Luke and Matthew copying an earlier MSS of Mark 1:9 do not have Mark’s one mention of Nazareth. As Turton [9] says Mark 1:9’s reference to Nazareth “does not appear in the parallel passages in Matthew or Luke. In Luke Jesus goes to the baptism from Galilee, but there is no Nazareth. Luke’s evidence is even more compelling, given according to Ehrman [10] that the birth narratives, chapter 1 and 2 are later additions to Luke, therefore Luke had not already introduced Jesus as being from Nazareth. Turton goes on to say, “ this is the only use of the word “Nazareth” in Mark; all other usages are a Greek word, nazarhnos, generally translated as “Nazarene.” “Nazarene” can mean either a sectarian designation, or “of (the location of) Nazara,” but it cannot mean “of Nazareth.”

As Carrier noted “there is no good reason Jesus was called a nazorean (Mt. 26:71; Lk18:37; Jn.18:5-7 and 19:19) and his followers nazoreans other than that this term originally was unconnected with Nazareth and originally was a sect. Nazoraios has no grammatical connection to nazar, Nazaret or Nazareth. Nazor- and nazar- are completely different routes. Matthew knows no other spelling than Nazoraios (Nazorean) and he was using Mark as a source.” [11].The name Nazareth is not in any way related to the title “Nazorean” because sectarian names did not denote a location.  

      Nazoraios has no grammatical connection to nazir, (root of Nazirite). “Natzor” and “nazir” are completely different roots.  The “z”s are the major difference in the root. The “z” in Nazareth is the letter tsadi in Hebrew.  The “z” in “Nazirite” is the letter zayin in Hebrew. Nazareth: נָצְרַת (with tsadi) and Nazarite: נזיר (with zayin) are not related. The words are not at all related in any way. [12] A person from Nazareth would be a Nazarethenos or Nazarethaios from the Greek and if it were in Hebrew then Nazareth would be Nazrat and a person from Nazareth is then a Nazrati, but never a Nazarene or Nazorean. Further, there were movements to separate Jesus towards sophisticated Greek culture and away from Judaism, and in particular to distance him from extreme fundamentalist Judaism, (especially a messianist group such as the Nazoreans. At the time of composing the gospels after the Roman Jewish war, all messianists were looked on with suspicion).

       David Oliver Smith [13] sees that Nazareth breaks the chiastic structures that the gospel of Mark was so fond of. It is possible that Mark’s Original Gospel at 1:9 had “Nazarene,” and “Nazaret” is a later redaction. There are a several reasons that the use of “Nazaret” in this verse is suspicious:

1. Mark identified Jesus as “Nazarēnou” four times (there are different endings for the different cases) and 1:9 is the only time “Nazaret,” is used. While absolute consistency is not required, it is curious that 1:9 is different from the other four times.

2. Matthew eliminated Mark’s “Nazarene” in all of Matthew’s passages that are parallel to Mark’s use of “Nazarene.” At Matt 3:13 when Jesus is coming to be baptized he describes Jesus as “the Jesus from the Galilee” eliminating the “Nazarene” or “of Nazareth,” whichever was there originally in Mark. At Matt 2:23 Matthew says that Jesus and family move from Egypt to Nazareth, and he adds that this fulfills the prophecy that he would be called a “Nazōraios” (Nazorean).

3. Mark usually used an article before “Jesus” as he did at 1:14 “came the Jesus into the Galilee,” as did Matthew at Matt 3:13, just quoted. However, an article is not found before “Jesus” at 1:9 in Canonical Mark. This may be evidence of a later redaction.

4. If “of Nazareth” found at 1:9 was originally “Nazarene,” there would be an exact match of three words in the (K, K’) stich of the chiastic structure in which Chapter 1 of Mark is paired with the passion from 14:33-16:8. This, of course, is a self-fulfilling prophesy, but given the previous ten matches and the following four matches, it could well be that Mark intended an exact word match with this stich. Perhaps in the original Gospel both 1:9 and 16:6 identified Jesus as a “Nazarene/Nazorean’.

       Matthew tries to cover up Jesus’ association with some pre-Christian insurrectionist ‘sect of Nazoreans’ but has retained the use of the term in his gospel (luckily for us). He can do this as he has redefined the term to mean it as somebody coming from Nazareth—— therefore he didn’t have to stop using the term nazoraios. The term must have been too well known, not to use.

He does it in this verse here: Matthew 2:22-23

“Having been warned in a dream, he withdrew to the district of Galilee, and he went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets, that he would be called a Nazorean.” 

This reason is not found anywhere in the Tanakh that through the prophets, he shall be called Nazorean. As we have seen Matthew in downplaying Jewish messianism and downplaying the bad connotation of the term nazorean. He does this by redefining the origin of the term to that of a person coming from Nazareth.

       Even if Jesus was born in Nazareth, the fakery of the gospels trying to get Jesus from Nazareth to Bethlehem to fulfill prophecy and have him born there, is an argument in favour of Jesus being born in Nazareth. (I do not argue for a dichotomy, just because Nazorean has nothing to do with being from Nazareth, does not mean that Jesus was not born in Nazareth. If he was born in Nazareth, the gospel of Matthew used this fact to cover up the real meaning of being a nazorean). This is clever as nazorean had northern sectarian messianic connotations. This is part of the sanitizing process we see in relation to Jesus, furthering him away from opprobrious roots. The gospels being written post Roman Jewish war, meant Jesus could not be associated with Jewish messianist to ensure the survival of this movement. 

       The latest archaeology by Prof.Dark on Nazareth shows the rebellious times of Jesus. Discovered were special silos with features that were cut into by narrow burrow-like tunnels characteristic of hiding places from the period of the Jewish Revolts. In the “artificial underground spaces” the  “earliest features were rock-cut pits for the storage of crops (silos), cisterns for water storage, and installations for the production of wine and olive oil.” [14] Some of these underground food storage units were used as hiding places for people during the troublesome times Jesus was born into.

       “This leads to the further puzzling question: if Jesus, as the Gospels say, chose Peter as the leader of the Church, why were the Nazarenes, after Jesus’ death, led not by Peter, but by James . . . a person who is not even mentioned in the Gospels as a follower of Jesus in his lifetime? This is the kind of contradiction that, if logically, considered, can lead us to the true picture of the history of Jesus’ movement in Jerusalem, as opposed to the picture which the later Church wished to propagate.” [15]. All this shows one of many cover ups, such as the importance of Jesus’ brother in leading the movement after Jesus’ death.

[As an interesting side note: The translations of “Nasorean/Nazorean” (natsorim ha brit keepers) are the same as the translations for Samaritans/Shomrim.  Samaritan in Hebrew: ࠔࠠࠌࠝࠓࠩࠉࠌ, that’s a transliteration Shamerim ( שַמֶרִים‎, ‘Guardians/Keepers/Watchers (of the Torah)’. We have another interesting similar sect operating around Samaria and not Judah, that of the Mandaeans the descendants of John the Baptist group. It shows this group was similar to the Nazorean group led by Jesus. This all plays in well with the propaganda of the Good Samaritan in Lukes gospel.]

It’s worth ending this paper with a quote from Dr R M Price:

“Despite the rendering of many English Bible translations, Jesus is very seldom called “Jesus from Nazareth” in the Gospels. Mark calls him “Jesus the Nazarene,” as does Luke twice (Mark 1:24, 10:47, 14:67, 16:6; Luke 4:34, 24:9), while Matthew, John, and Acts always call him “Jesus the Nazorean” (Matt. 26:71; John 18:7, 19:19; Acts 2:22, 3:6, 4:10, 6:14, 22:8, 26:9), with Luke using this epithet once (Luke 18:37, the Bar-Timaeus episode, where he has replaced Mark’s “Nazarene” with it)……the difference between “Nazarene” and “Nazorean” does give us reason to suspect that the familiar epithet does not after all denote Jesus’ hailing from a village called Nazareth. “The Nazarene” would imply that, but not “the Nazorean.” That seems to be a sect name, equivalent to “the Essene” or “the Hasid.” Epiphanius, an early Christian cataloguer of “heresies,” mentions a pre-Christian sect called “the Nazoreans,” their name meaning “the Keepers” of the Torah, or possibly of the secrets (see Mark 4:11, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but to those outside all is by way of parable”). ….”Nazorean” occurs once unambiguously in the New Testament itself as a sect designation, in Acts 24:5: “a ring leader of the sect of the Nazoreans.” ….. It should be clear that such a scenario, while quite natural historically, is offensive to the Christological beliefs of some, since it presupposes Jesus was a disciple, that he needed to learn religion. How could that be if he were the incarnate Son of God? Harold Bloom (The Anxiety of Influence [Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1997]) describes “the anxiety of influence’ as the reluctance to acknowledge the degree to which one’s “distinctives” are owed to one’s predecessors..” [16]


[1] Chilton, Bruce, “James in Relation to Peter, Paul, and Jesus,” in Bruce Chilton and Jacob Neusner, eds., The Brother of Jesus: James the Just and His Mission (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2001), pp.155–56.

[2] Kennard, J. S., “Was Capernaum the Home of Jesus?” Journal of Biblical Literature 65, no. 2 (June 1946): pp.131–41; and “Nazorean and Nazareth,” Journal of Biblical Literature 66, no. 1 (March 1947): pp.79–81, responding to W. F. Albright’s reply in “The Names Nazareth and Nazoraean,” Journal of Biblical Literature 65, no. 4 (December 1946): pp.397–401.

[3] Laupot, Eric , Tacitus’ Fragment 2: The Anti-Roman Movement of the “Christiani” and the Nazoreans,Volume:54 (2000), Vigiliae Christianae, p.233

[4] ‘netser’ meaning branch which conceptually meant descendants as in descendants of the Davidic line, a concept so important to Jewish messianism. This word transliterates to Ναζωραῖος and Ναζαρηνός I.e. nazorean. The branch was meant as the royal descendant of King David.

The transliteration of “tsadi” in English can be “ts” or “tz” or “z”, therefore sometimes you will see netzer or netser.

[5] Lawson, C. H., Reconstructing Jesus: What if the historical Jesus was the heir to the throne? A reconstruction based on the First Century Dead Sea Scrolls. (Hamilton, Ontario: Freedom Publishing, 2019) pp.15-16.

[6] Smith, William Benjamin, Meaning Epithet Nazorean (Nazarene), The Monist , January, 1905, Vol. 15, No. 1 (January, 1905), 27-6. Published by Oxford University Press.

[7] Price, R.M., Deconstructing Jesus ch2, footnote 25. Also notice Matthew alters Marks use of rabbi/teacher and the way Mark uses Lord to merely mean sir. Matthew alters this so only outsiders call Jesus Rabbi but insiders call him Lord. In Christianity Kyrios (Lord) is used here in relation to the resurrected Jesus. To Matthew Jesus is not just a Rabbi, no he is a Lord in the exalted sense, no longer just one of Jewish sect. Even the exception to this rule is telling where Judas calls him rabbi.

[8] Schonfield, Hugh J., The Passover Plot, (1st edition 1965), Special 40th Anniversary Edition: The Disinformation Company 2005, p.39.

[9] Turton, Michael A., Historical Commentary on the Gospel of Mark.

[10] Bart Ehrman blog: Did Luke originally have chapters1-2?

[11] Carrier, On the Historicity of Jesus, ibid, ch10 fn34.

[12] A full discussion of the etymology between Nazareth and Nazorean is discussed on this forum:

Basically one is with a ז and the other is with a צ.

The difference is one of the hardest thing for non-Hebrew speakers to figure out. 

‎נזר is like Nazerth and ‎נצר Is like the Nazarenes/Nazoreans..

[13] Smith, David Oliver, Unlocking the Puzzle, Wipf and Stock, Eugene, (2016) pp.33-4.

[14] Dark, Ken, Roman-Period and Byzantine Nazareth and its Hinterland (The Palestine Exploration Fund Annual), (Routledge 2020).

As cited by Elliot, Mark, The Archaeology of Nazareth in the Early First Century, here in this blog Mark Elliot gives an outline of the findings in Prof. Ken Darks book:

[15] Maccoby, The Mythmaker, Paul and the invention of Christianity, (Harper Collins: Barnes & Noble, 1986) p.120

[16] Price, R M, The Incredible Shrinking Son of Man: How Reliable Is the Gospel Tradition? (Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books, 2000), pp. 51–54.

Christ, Christianity and Jewish Messianists.

PART 8 of my Historical Jesus series

Jewish Messianists.

Christianity started out as just one of many groups of Jewish messianists. The term itself ‘Christianity’ or christiani in Latin originally referred to groups of Jews who followed a leader whom they believed was one anointed with oil (Heb. Mashiach) by God.  

“Christianoi is a Latinism (Christiani), on the model of Herodianoi (Herodians), or Kaisarianoi (Caesareans) – that is, supporters of or members of the faction which regarded the one named as their leader. This suggests that the title was coined by Roman authorities in Antioch who recognized the growing body of followers of the one known as ‘Christ’ as a significant faction within the melting-pot of Jews and Jewish adherents in Antioch.” [1]

          As seen in Josephus many minor insurrectionists were seen as messianic figures where an actual historical figure rose up and was expected to lead the peasants out of oppression from the Romans. With God’s intervention he would restore God’s kingdom. Many a messianic rebel played this messianic card.

         A parallel was found in the Roman Republic. Here the consuls would select a “dictator” at a time of crises, he would receive power of an absolute “imperiam”. The Israelites would select “one whose head had been smeared with oil” to deliver them from immediate crises.

        The Jews were downtrodden and oppressed [2] and expected a warrior type figure to rise up and usher in a new Kingdom of God. This meant the existing power (that is the Romans) would be done away with and a new power, a diarchy of a Priest messiah and a King messiah would rise up to rule. Frank Moore Cross believes the doctrine of the two messiahs found at Qumran has its roots in the restoration of a diarchy, that of a perfect King and a perfect High Priest, who “shall take office standing by the side of the Lord of the whole earth”. (Zechariah 4:14). At Qumran, the Damascus Document, the Rule, the War Scroll, the Testamonia (4Q175) and the Testaments of twelve patriarchs all show the doctrine of the two messiahs. The double messiah concept shows a division of power that was already reflected from the time of Moses and Aaron. [3]

         It was the king messiah that would lead them out of trouble. Josephus reports many sporadic revolts against the localized maladministration of the Romans. Many messianic figures were reported in Josephus works, (Josephus often says that they were declared a king or diadem wearers) and many of the downtrodden Jews had believed these charismatic figures would lead them out of oppression from the Romans. 

         One of the titles thrown at Jesus in the gospels- ‘King Messiah’ or anointed King, (in Greek, χριστὸς βασιλεύς) is the same title that was applied to many messianic rebels . This is what Jesus is accused of in Luke 23:2 (where it is part of a noun phrase ending in εἶναι to be) – and thus has Jesus claiming himself to be an anointed king, (a ‘messiah’ King). 

Let us now look at evidence from Tacitus. Tacitus’ Annals cut off around 66 CE before the Jewish Revolt and the destruction of Jerusalem. Tacitus’ Histories is likewise incomplete, ending in early 70 CE when it is believed to have recorded events through to 96 CE. 

     Back in 1861 Jacob Berays [4] noticed that Sulpicius Severus, a Christian writer born in the mid-fourth century used Tacitus as a source in his best known work, Chronicle or Sacred History, written in 403 CE. James D. G. Dunn suggests that the citation may come from the lost portion of Annals, noting that it “breaks off in book 16, when his account had reached the year 66, before the outbreak of the Jewish War”. [5].

I go with Louis Feldman myself where he says “most scholars have . . . adopted the suggestion of Bernays that Sulpicius’s source was none other than a lost portion of Tacitus’ Histories.” [6] The gap in Tacitus Histories is thought to be preserved in Sulpicius Severus Chronica 2.30.6-7. This piece that is preserved is known as: Tacitus’ Fragment 2. Laupot makes the case in his paper [7] that Sulpicius used Tacitus as a source:

“ [The] evidence takes the form of the discovery of a significant statistical relationship among the following three words: The metaphor (1) stirps (Latin for branch, descendants) used to describe the (2) Christiani (Latin for messianists) in fragment 2, and (3) Ναζωραῖος and Ναζαρηνός; (Nazorean), describing the New Testament sect associated with the Χριστιανούς (Christians) of Acts 11.26. The connecting link among, as well as the common source for, the three words listed above appears to be the Hebrew netzer (branch, descendants-apparently influenced by Isa 11.1), which both translates into stirps and transliterates into Ναζωραῖος/Ναζαρηνός;”

          Laupot mistakenly thinks that the ‘Christiani’ in frag. 2 were a particular group that revolted against Rome in the first Jewish revolt of 66-73 CE. [8] I will show that this was a generic term for Jewish messianists.

Sulpicius, Chronicle2.30.6-7:

(2.30.6) It is reported that Titus first deliberated, by summoning a council of war, as to whether to destroy a Temple of such workmanship. For it seemed proper to some that a consecrated Temple, distinguished above all that is human, should not be destroyed, as it would serve as a witness to Roman moderation; whereas its destruction would represent a perpetual brand of cruelty. 

(2.30.7) But others, on the contrary, disagreed-including Titus himself. They argued that the destruction of the Temple was a number one priority in order to destroy completely the religion [per Severus. Tacitus or another classical author would have used the word superstitio (alien religious belief). Compare Hist. 5.8 and Ann. 15.44 (exitiabilis superstitio)] of the Jews and the Christiani: For although these religions [i.e., superstitiones] are conflicting, they never the less developed from the same origins. The Christiani arose from the Jews: With the root removed, the branch [stirps] is easily killed’. [9].

Josephus gives a parallel to this account in War 6.236-243, but this is a biased account in favor of Titus. Severus has probably preserved Tacitus’ less biased account.

       Laupot doesn’t think the Christiani in Tacitus are the same Christians as “Pauls Christians” (Laupots expression). [10] But they could be! All Christiani meant is Jewish messianists! 

       No Christian can accept rebellious beginnings and as such many lacunae exist (such as the Caligula/Claudius gap in the Annals). Ivan Prchlík [11] has made the interesting observation on the missing years of 29–31 in Tacitus Annals, the loss in “book V would also become well explicable when some monk angry about the way Tacitus had spoken of Jesus in it would have damaged it.” If Jesus was mentioned as a rebel here, this would explain the destruction and non preservation of this section better than as Carrier has said, that Jesus was not mentioned at all. This would not be enough of a reason to tear out these pages. Carrier is right about the deliberate cutting though, “That the cut is so precise and covers precisely those two years is too improbable to posit as a chance coincidence.” [12] Edwin Johnson has said in his book Antiqua Mater that the Romans used the term Christiani as a name for Jewish Messianists. [13]. He brilliantly explains that Roman commentators of the time simply named any messianic Jews as Christiani. (A movement that followed a messiah figure, this figure was usually a militaristic figure). The passage above also explains why the sectarian group at Qumran were destroyed after the Roman Jewish war, all Messianists who were so troublesome during the war were destroyed by the Romans. It is worth repeating the last line of the quote above in light of this:

“The Christiani arose from the Jews: With the root removed, the branch [stirps] is easily killed’.”

(Sulpicius, Chronicle 2.30.7).

Here Christiani simply meant all the rebellious Jewish messianists that caused so much trouble in the Roman war. The nazorean movement that Jesus joined only started to adopt the name Christiani for themselves in the second century as attested by their 2nd century document- The Acts of the Apostles [14]. The use of the term Christians is used anachronistically in Acts 11:26, but was more likely only adopted by this Nazorean group at the time of composition. “Christianity first appears in our sources once again in the early second century, that is, in the Apostolic Fathers (Ignatius, Magn. 10.1-3; Rom. 3.3; Phil. 6.1; Mart. Pol. 10.1).” [15] James Dunn went on to say that in Antioch that many Greeks and God-fearers or ‘judaizers’ were during this period attracted to Jewish ways and mixed themselves with the Jewish com­munity. Josephus shows that this was typical of many places. (War 2.462-3; 7.45). [16] This is where Laupot has gone wrong thinking Tacitus was commenting on an actual sect instead of just all Jewish Messianists in general. This in turn also suggests that the Jesus messianic group had rebellious beginnings.        

       Laupot is right in seeing how these Roman commentators described these messianic Jews.

It should be noted that “Tacitus’ description in Annals 15.44 of the “Christiani’s” superstitio as dangerous (exitiabilis), sinister (atrocia), an evil (malum), etc. and Suetonius’ portrayal of the “Christiani” in Nero 16.2 as following a “new and dangerous [malfica] superstitio.”[17] Pliny the Younger (who was on about the actual Jesus sect) accuses them of being  “infected by this contagious superstition.” (Pliny the Younger, Book 10, Letter 96). 

       This of course makes sense of Seutonius’ so called mention of Jews in Life of Claudius 25.5 about a Chrestos that got thrown out of Rome during the reign of Claudius. He did not mean the Jesus movement as some apologist scholars equate this Chrestos (a common slave name) with Christ but Jewish Messianism in general. Jesus would hardly be living in Rome in 49 CE! Jewish messianism and religio-political revolt go hand in hand. There were other expulsions of Jews such as reported in 139 BCE. Also in 19 CE reported in Seutonius, Tiberius 36: 

 “He abolished foreign cults in Rome, particularly the Egyptian and Jewish, forcing all citizens who had embraced these superstitions to burn their religious vestments and other accessories.” 

This makes more sense as the Jesus movements were hardly in Rome during the reign of Claudius. (Cf Acts 18:2, where Paul is said to have met two of these expelled messianic Jews. Acts associating with these religious-political rebellious types just shows the common traits between early Christianity and rebellious Jewish Messianists).

As Edwin Johnson [18] comments, Tacitus “could have known nothing of the distinction between believers in a Messiah and believers in the Messiah, Jesus. In writing of the event of the year 70, he enables us to understand how the Messianic expectation shaped itself to the thought of a Roman.” And…

“Our explanation then of the passage in Tacitus is that the term Christiani had for him a value altogether different from that which it has long borne for us and the history of the world since the great Messianic illusions faded away…. [Messianists] who were inflamed with those ardent and passionately confident hopes of the downfall of the Roman Empire and of the establishment of a kingdom of Hagioi and the elect which are reflected in the Book of Enoch and the Apocalypse.[19]

       This of course shows that Roman commentators did not mean what we think they meant when they used the term ‘christiani’. They did not mean Christianity but Jewish messianism. And the type they meant was the troublesome type, the type that gave them so much trouble during the Roman Jewish war. Later the Christian movement adopted this term in the 2nd century but were originally known as the Nazoreans.

Tacitus omits the name Jesus, so if he was using my reconstructed TF, this would be consistent as Josephus (we know through textual criticism) did not seem to know Jesus’ name either.

Helen Bond in her latest book “The first biography of Jesus” says that the gospel of Mark:

“accounts for the air of persecution that hangs so heavily over this work, [Mark 4:17; 8:34; 10:37–40; and 13:9–13], persecution that broke out brutally and unexpectedly under Nero in 65 CE, and might well have continued to threaten the community of Christ followers after the war.” 

 A knowledge of the Flavian triumph, celebrated in Rome in 71, might also explain the “anti-triumph” motif that several scholars have detected in Mark’s account of the crucifixion.” [20].

There is an apparent allusion to Nero in Revelation via gematria that adds weight to Neronian persecution and its relevance to the Jesus Christians. (Revelation 13:18). Schmit recognises a “particular segment of the crucifixion narrative (Mark 15.16-32) evoking a Roman triumphal procession, and that Mark designs this ‘anti-triumph’ to suggest that the seeming scandal of the cross is actually an exaltation of Christ.” [21]. Winn using Schmidt’s paper lists these parallels:

  1. the Markan reference to the ‘Praetorian’ that parallels the presence of the Praetorian Guard at a Roman triumph (15.16);
  1. the Markan reference to the presence of an ‘entire cohort’ at Jesus’ trial that parallels the presence of such a unit at a Roman triumph (15.16);
  1. Jesus being adorned with a purple robe, a garment also worn by the Roman triumphator (15.17);
  1. Jesus adorned with a crown of thorns, paralleling the triumphator who wore a laurel crown (15.17);
  1. Jesus receives mock honor from Roman soldiers, paralleling the honor given to the triumphator (15.18-19);
  1. Jesus’ triumph culminates at Golgotha, ‘the place of the skull’, and a Roman triumph culminates at the Capital, named for a skull that was found when the buildings’ foundation was laid (Mk 15.22; Livy 1.55);
  1. Jesus is offered and refuses wine to drink, paralleling the offer of wine to the triumphator who refuses the offer (15:23);
  1. immediately after the offer of wine Jesus is crucified, whereas a bull is sacrificed directly after the triumphator refuses wine (15:24);
  1. Jesus is crucified between two thieves while the triumphator was usually seated between two people (15:27);
  1. after his death Jesus is hailed ‘Son of God’ by a Roman centurion, a common claim for a triumphant Roman emperor (15:39). [22]

       The mockery of Jesus as a Jewish king finds an approximate parallel in Philo Flaccus 6.36-39; On the occasion of King Agrippa I’s visit to Alexandria the people seized a lunatic named Carabbas. As Agrippa was not popular the local populace staged a mock coronation on poor Carabbas. The evangelist interest in portraying Jesus as Caesar’s rival has made him correspond this periscope more closely with Agrippa I story found in Flaccus 6.36-39. The Carabbas incident shows the mocking these messianic rebels would have got at their execution. No doubt Mark used this incident to write his gospel.

[(Cf Isaiah 50:6-7; 4 Macc. 6:1-30, for treatment of Eleazer; 1 Macc. 10:20,62 for the purple robe reference.)

Also cf Josephus War.6.301-309 for similarities with Jesus Ben Ananias.]


This brings the historical Jesus back down to the reality and context of his own time. A man born in troubled times when the residents of Sepphoris were wiped out, he died in troubled times when he was crucified for sedition. The gospel of Matthew has Jesus born around the time when Publius Quinctilius Varus who brought three legions into Israel, after sacking Sepphoris, he went onto Jerusalem and crucified 2000 Jews. (War. II, §75; Ant. XVII, §295). The reason Jesus was crucified has been wiped from Josephus, but all the indications are for a rebellion. Jesus was a “King Messiah” a title claimed by most messianic rebels, his followers were messianists, referred to by Roman observers as ‘Christiani’ (followers of a messiah figure). This derogatory term used by the Romans for troublesome messianic Jews (who caused them so much trouble in the Roman Jewish war) was eventually adopted by the Jesus movements (the Nazoreans/Galileans) as seen from their second century document -Acts of the Apostles.


[1] Dunn, James D. G., The Partings of the Ways, Between Christianity and Judaism and their significance for the character of Christianity, 2nd Ed. (SCM Press, 2006) p. xv.

[2] Graeme Lang, Oppression and Revolt in Ancient Palestine: The Evidence in Jewish Literature from the Prophets to Josephus, Sociological Analysis,  Vol. 49, No. 4, Oxford Press, (Winter, 1989), pp. 325-342

[3] Frank Moore Cross, “Notes on the doctrine of the two Messiahs at Qumran and the extracanonical Daniel Apocalypse (4Q246)”, From the Conference on the Texts from the Judean Desert in 1995, Current Research and Technological Developments on Dead Sea Scrolls, Volume 20, edited by Parry & Ricks. (1996).

[4] Berays, Jacob, “Uber die Chronik des Sulpicius Severus,” in Jahresbericht des jiidisch-theologischen Seminars “Fraenckelscher Stiftung” (Breslau, 1861).

[5] Dunn, James D, Beginning from Jerusalem (Christianity in the Making, vol. 2), (Eerdmans, 2008), p. 58, fn. 25.

[6] Feldman, Louis H., Studies in Hellenistic Judaism, (Brill, 1996), p.2

[7] Laupot, Eric , Tacitus’ Fragment 2: The Anti-Roman Movement of the “Christiani” and the Nazoreans,Volume:54 (2000), Vigiliae Christianae, p.233

[8] Laupot, ibid, p.234

[9] Laupot, ibid, p.234

[10] Laupot, ibid, p.234

[11] Prchlík, Ivan, Tacitus’ knowledge of the origins of Christianity, Acta Universitatis Carolinae, Philologica 2/ Graecolatina Pragensia, (2017), p.107.

[12] Carrier, Richard, On the Historicity of Jesus, ibid, p.303.

[13] Johnson, Edwin, Antiqua Mater: A Study of Christian Origins, (Trübner & Co., Ludgate Hill, 1887), ch1.

[14] Pervo, Richard I., Dating Acts: Between the Evangelists and the Apologists (Polebridge Press, 2006).

Pervo comes to the conclusion that Acts of the Apostles has a date range of 110-120 CE due to its use of Paul’s epistles, Pastorials and Josephus.

[15] Dunn, ibid, p. xvii.

[16] Dunn, ibid, p. xv, fn 23.

[17] Laupot, ibid, p.237.

[18] Johnson, ibid, p.5

[19]  Johnson, ibid, p.6-7.

[20] Bond, Helen, The First Biography of Jesus, Genre and Meaning in Mark’s Gospel, (William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 2020) Introduction.

[21] Schmidt, T.E. 1995 ‘Mark 15:16–32: The Crucifixion Narrative and the Roman Triumphal Procession’, NTS 41, pp.1-18.

[22] Winn, Adam, Tyrant or Servant? Roman Political Ideology and Mark 10.42-45, Journal for the study of the New Testament 2014, Volume: 36 issue: 4, pp. 325-352.



PART 6 of my Historical Jesus series

  • The Influence of the Maccabees

         Torrents has said the beliefs and imagination of the Jewish population subjected to the Roman yoke were inspired by the exploits of the Maccabees, who freed the Jews from Greek domination. The Maccabeans’ independence dream remained constantly alive in popular imagination. This is seen as most of book one of Josephus War is taken up with Maccobean history and also 4 Maccabees was being composed in the first or second century. The Maccabees were priests and kings.[1]

1 Macc 3:19

Victory in battle does not depend on who has the largest army; it is the Lord’s power that determines the outcome.

That quote reflects the expectation of God’s intervention in any revolt that these messianic rebels instigated, thus a mindset that made them like a loaded gun.

Geza Vermes sums this era up where the Maccabees “restored the Jewish worship, which had temporarily been transformed by Antiochus into the cult of Olympian Zeus, whose statue he had installed in the holy place in Jerusalem. The upheaval caused by the Hellenists, aided and abetted by Jewish upper-class allies, inaugurated a feverish anticipation of the final age, of the eschatological and apocalyptic era, which was expected to culminate in the arrival of the final Redeemer, the King-Messiah, foretold by the biblical prophets and anxiously awaited by pious Jews dreaming of freedom under God.” [2]

Paula Fredriksen has said the Maccabees “thus served as a model of piety to later generations oppressed by the power of Rome. The great hope, in light of Maccabean success, was that the restoration of Israel could be inaugurated or achieved militarily by warriors whose piety matched their prowess—a combination of attributes that characterized no less a person than Israel’s first king and God’s messiah, David.” She went on to say that the people who lived through these events drew no distinction between the political and religious spheres: “armed insurrection was an expression of religious hope.” [3]

           N T Wright, has explained that Judas Maccabee, against the odds beat the Seleucids with a type of guerilla warfare, that together with their piety showing politics and religion were completely mixed:

“Judas Maccabaeus and his companions accomplished the unthinkable, and organized a protracted insurgency that routed, and eventually wore out, the Seleucid forces. Antiochus IV abandoned the campaign against the Judean rebels….

Then, three years to the day after the Temple’s desecration (25 December 164 BC), Judas cleansed and reconsecrated it. A new festival (Hanukkah) was added to the Jewish calendar to celebrate the event. The Maccabean revolt became classic and formative in the same way as the exodus and the other great events of Israel’s history. It powerfully reinforced the basic Jewish worldview, as you might find it in many passages, for instance Psalm 2.”[4]

James D G Dunn has seen:

“the term ‘Judaism’ (Ioudaismos) first appears in literature in 2 Maccabees (2.21; 8.1; 14.38). These passages clearly indicate the emergence of a self-understanding determined by and expressive of the Maccabean resistance to Syrian oppression. The term itself was evidently coined as a counter to ‘Hellenism’ (hellenismos – 2 Macc. 4.13) and ‘foreignness’ (allophylismos – 2 Macc. 4.13; 6.24). That is to say, for the author of 2 Maccabees, ‘Judaism’ was the summary term for that national and religious identity which was marked from the first by its unyielding insistence on maintaining distinctive and defining Torah practices like circumcision and food laws (1 Macc. 1.60-3; 2-46; 2 Macc. 6).”[5]

Much of religion and politics were inseparable. The Lord’s Prayer is concerned with the strife of the peasants hoping they get enough to eat and to cancel their debts. (“Give us this day our daily bread; and forgive us our trespasses”). John Dominic Crossan tells us that the “Our Father” contains retributive justice like that contained all over the Prophets and Psalms, in his book “The greatest Prayer”. It tells of the kingdom of god that is to come,(“thy Kingdom come… on earth as it is in heaven”), a kingdom that was to be established right here on earth. (Daniel 2:44). “The Lord’s Prayer is … both a revolutionary manifesto and a hymn of hope.” [6]

The War Scroll (1QM) at Qumran also shows where religion and politics, even that of violence are completely mixed. Gmirkin believes the War Scroll – in part practical, in part eschatological – should be understood against the highly charged historical background of the Maccabean crisis”. [7] This scroll describes the final battle between the sons of light and and the sons of darkness. This compares to gospel of John:

 “Believe in the light while you have the light, so that you may become children of light.” (John 12:36).

  • Influence of Antipas

There are clues left in the gospels of the real background, the one full of trouble and revolts, such as those reported by Josephus. The background atmosphere you could cut with a knife. Not only downplayed by the gospels but even downplayed by translations, one downplaying is held in Matthew 4:12 where Jesus retreats to Galilee as a safe haven. As Bruce Chilton writes, “Many translations water down the meaning of anakhoreo [ἀνεχώρησεν, anechōrēsen] in Matthew’s Greek, giving us “he withdrew.” That is because they ignore the fraught political context that the execution of John by Herod Antipas produced for all John’s disciples.” [8]

       Paula Fredriksen gives an overview of the political entities under Roman rule at the time of Jesus:

“…for the whole of Jesus’ lifetime, the Galilee was an independent Jewish territory ruled by Herod Antipas, one of the sons of Herod the Great. Another of Herod’s sons, Archelaus, had once ruled Judea. The reign of both sons began only with their father’s death, in 4 “B.C.E. But Archelaus proved inept, and Augustus finally removed him in 6 C.E. Thereafter, Judea—and Judea alone—was placed under Roman provincial rule. No Roman authority presided over the Galilee.

The Roman provincial governor or “prefect,” together with his three thousand troops—local pagans in the employ of Rome—exercised authority only in Judea.” [9]

           “After Herod’s death, three of his sons divided the kingdom. Archelaus’s rule of Judea (4 BC – AD 6) was vicious and feared. He was titled an “ethnarch” (ruler of a nation) ….. after “both Samaritans and Jews to appeal to Augustus for his removal, this materialised in 6 CE when his territory was placed under the jurisdiction of Roman governors.

        Antipas retained his rule over Galilee and also controlled Perea, the region east of the Jordan River (4 BCE – 39 CE). Because he ruled a “part” of the kingdom, he was officially called tetrarch. “Antipas rebuilt Galilee’s ancient capital, Sepphoris, and made it his base. “Later Antipas built a new capital for himself on the western shore of the Sea of Galilee, calling it Tiberius.

Philip ruled as tetrarch over the northern regions of the kingdom (4 bc – ad 34): Gaulanitis, Auranitis, Batanea, Trachonitis, Paneas, and Iturea. These areas were chiefly Hellenistic, and he found little difficulty leading them. He built Caesarea Philippi (to distinguish it from Caesarea on the coast) as his capital.” [10]

In Mark 8:15 Jesus tells his disciples to watch out for the yeast of Antipas and Luke 13:32 describes Antipas as ‘that fox’. Another allusion is the “reference to ‘a rod, shaken by the wind’ in Matthew 11.7 may have contained a critical reference, barely veiled, to Antipas itself, which used that symbol on the coins he minted.”[11].

Capernaum (Jesus’ hometown, Mark 2:1) “was also on the border with Philip’s territory and thus a tax station for commerce moving down the highway. If Jesus was ever pursued by Antipas, he could “just slip across the border by boat (Mark 6:45). [12]

  • The Son of man:

The ‘“primitive Christian community …. was a primarily eschatological group, which expected the end of the world immediately and the return of Jesus as judge. [13] “The earliest church fathers developed it further, underlying the two natures of Jesus being fully human and fully god, thus taking “important steps away from the historical Jesus…..” They have “Jesus arrive on earth as man and God before using the two referential titles Son of man and Son of God.” [14] This is the reason that the son of man title eventually got applied to Jesus by the evangelists and developed by the church fathers as I will explain next.

The son of man became a fixed title with eschatological connotations in the Synoptics. Originally this term just meant “human being” but developed in Daniel 7 (cf 4Q246) into an eschatological figure who would judge mankind at the end of days. The book of Enoch developed on this concept. “…..those behind the Parables of Enoch [1 Enoch 37-71] are Jews who were interpreting the Son of Man in Daniel in creative ways about 100 years after the composition of Daniel. These Jews seem to be the ones who alone developed the concept of the Son of Man who will come in the near future to serve as the cosmic and eschatological Judge.” [15] Christians derived this title from the book of Daniel, a known Jewish resistance apocalyptic book, resisting the Seleucid persecution of Jewish culture. As discussed above, apocalypticism was usually mixed up with planned military action as seen from the war scroll in the DSS. This apocalyptic redeemer, used by the gospels, was influenced by a resistance book. As Ehrman stated Jesus’ later followers assumed the son of man referred to Jesus himself, but yet earlier strata of the gospels show that Jesus himself was referring to a cosmic judge at the end of the age, for example in Mark:

“If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels. ‘”(Mark 8:38;cf 13:26, 14:62).

Ehrman has shown that this goes against the general gospel references that show the title applied to Jesus; this gives it a greater likelihood of belonging to a more original tradition of Jesus expecting this “son of man” to come. [16] In the next part I will be discussing that all the messianic figures in the lead up to the Jewish Roman War belonged to some sort of Joshua cult, seeing Joshua as some sort of militaristic role model in their fight against Rome. The Son of man reminds you of an angelomorphic figure that came to Joshua’s assistance in Joshua 5. ( (Joshua 5:13-4). This Son of man title for a divine being who was to appear as a cosmic judge at the end of time appears in Jewish literature before (Daniel, Enoch) and after (Fourth Ezra) the time of Jesus.

        I think the ‘son of man’ tradition goes back to Jesus believing some cosmic judge to appear at the end of time, lots of Jews believed this as seen from Jewish literature. 

        What Mark is doing is reworking the the ‘son of man’ tradition. I’m going to leave a quote from a book by Borg and Crossan- The Last Week to demonstrate my point:

“Peter confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, but far from applauding him, Jesus “sternly ordered them not to tell anyone about him” (8:29–30). Such injunctions to silence in Mark usually do not mean, “You have it right, but keep it secret,” but rather, “You have it wrong, so keep it quiet.” In other words, “Please, shut up!” Peter and the others may well have been imagining Jesus as a militant messiah who would free Israel from Roman oppression using violent means, and it was that notion that Jesus wanted to discourage.

But right after that wrong and silenced misunderstanding about Jesus as Messiah comes that correct and open announcement of Jesus as Son of Man: “Then he began to teach them that the Son of Man must undergo great suffering, and be rejected by the elders, the chief priests, and the scribes, and be killed, and after three days rise again. He said all this quite openly” (8:31– 32a). Jesus names himself as Son of Man,” [17]

The general bodily resurrection (Cf 1 Cor. 15) became part of the apocalyptic eschatology due to the problem of martyrdom during the Seleucid persecution of homeland Jews in the 160s BCE. Where was god’s justice for these executed bodies of martyrs? Daniel 12:2-3 explains the general resurrection of the dead at the end of the age. In 2 Maccabees 7 “a mother and her seven sons refuse to deny God and disobey Torah even while being tortured to death. The dying words of the mother’s second and third sons insist that their tortured bodies will be returned to them by God’s future justice.” [18]

With the “efflorescence of apocalyptic writings: Daniel, the Dead Sea Scrolls, various apocryphal literature. The production of such texts, and the missions of various charismatic figures who left no writings—John the Baptizer, Jesus of Nazareth, Theudas, the Egyptian, and those men whom Josephus refers to collectively as the “signs prophets”—continued as Israel was caught up in Rome’s bumpy transition from republic to empire, in the uncertainties of Roman hegemony (especially following Herod’s rule, 37–4 B.C.E.), and ultimately in two devastating wars against Rome (68–73 C.E. and 132–35 C.E., Bar Kokhba’s revolt).” [19]

The Hazon Gabriel or Gabriel’s vision is an inscription on the stone discovered in 2000 (also known as the messiah stone) and is believed to have been created by followers of the Messianic leader, a group of people who followed him and he was killed during his war against the Romans. Israel Knohl [20] believes the messiah claimant to be Simon of Peraea (Ant. 17.10.6) who died four years before Jesus was born. This movement also tried to survive upon the death of their messiah claimant. This is the only literature left for this particular messianic movement, so we are spoiled with the amount of literature left in the aftermath of the Jesus movements, epistles, gospels and an apocalyptic piece by John of Patmos.


[1] Torrents, José Montserrat, Jesús, El Galileo Armado, (edaf 2011), ch 3 and 7.

[2] Vermes, Geza, Who’s Who in the Age of Jesus, (Penguin UK, 2006), p.4.

[3] Fredriksen, Paula, From Jesus to Christ, The Origins of the New Testament Images of Jesus, 2nd Ed. (Yale, 2000), p.78-79.

[4] Wright, N. T. and Bird, Michael F., The New Testament in Its World, An Introduction to the History, Literature and Theology of the First Christians, (Harper Collins, 2019), ch 5.

[5] Dunn, James D. G., The Partings of the Ways, Between Christianity and Judaism and their significance for the character of Christianity, 2nd Ed. (SCM Press, 2006), p. xvi

[6] Crossan, John Dominic, The Greatest Prayer, Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of the Lord’s Prayer, (Harper, 2010), p.4.

[7] Gmirkin, Russell, The War Scroll and Roman Weaponry Reconsidered, Dead Sea Discoveries, Vol. 3, No. 2 (Brill., 1996), pp. 89-129.

[8] Chilton, Bruce, Rabbi Jesus, An intimate biography, (Random House Inc.;Doubleday, 2008), Ch4, fn 1.

[9] Fredriksen, Paula, When Christians Were Jews, The first generation, (Yale University Press, 2018), p.19.

[10] Gary M. Burge, Lynn H. Cohick, and Gene L. Green, The New Testament in Antiquity: A Survey of the New Testament Within Its Cultural Context, (Zondervan, 2009), p.42-43.

[11] Bermejo-Rubio, Fernando, La invención de Jesús de Nazaret, (Siglo XXI de España Editores, S. A., 2018), ch. 6.

[12] Gary M. Burge, Lynn H. Cohick, and Gene L. Green, The New Testament in Antiquity: A Survey of the New Testament Within Its Cultural Context, (Zondervan, 2009), p.132.

[13] Casey, Maurice, The Solution to the ‘Son of Man’ Problem, (T&T Clark, 2009), p.1-2.

[14] Piñero, Antonio, ¿La verdadera historia de la Pasión de Jesús?, essay in La Verdadera Historia De La Pasión, Según la investigación y el estudio histórico, Piñero, Antonio, and Segura, Eugenio Gómez, Ed. (Edaf, 2011), p.116

[15] Charlesworth, James H., “Did Jesus Know the traditions in the Parables of Enoch?” essay contained in Parables of Enoch: A Paradigm Shift (Jewish and Christian Texts),James H. Charlesworth and Darrell L. Bock, Ed. (T&T Clark, 2013) p.174.

[16] Ehrman, Bart, Jesus, Apocalyptic Prophet of the new millennium, (Oxford, 1999), ch 9.

[17] Borg, Marcus J. and Crossan, John Dominic, The Last Week: What the Gospels Really Teach about Jesus’s Final Days in Jerusalem (SPCK Publishing; 1st Edition,2008), p.93

[18] ibid, p.173.

[19] Fredriksen, Paula, Paul, The Pagans Apostle, (Yale, 2017), p.27.

[20] Knohl, Israel, The Messiah before Jesus, (University California Press, 2000).


Analysis of the Testimonian Flavianum

PART 2 of my Historical Jesus series

“How can you say, ‘We are wise, And the law of the LORD is with us’? Look, the false pen of the scribe certainly works falsehood. ~Jeremiah 8:8 (NKJV).

Here is the model textus restitutus of Ant 18.3.3:

“And there is about this time a certain man, a sophist and agitator. He was one who wrought surprising feats. A teacher of men who revered him with pleasure. Many of the Judaens, and also many of the Galilean element, he led to himself; he was believed to be a King: [For he opposed paying the tax to Caesar.] And many souls were roused, thinking that thereby the tribe of Judaens could free themselves from the Romans. [He claimed the Temple would be destroyed and that not one stone would be standing on another and that it would be restored in three days.] And, when on the accusation of the first men among us Pilate condemned him to be crucified. Many of his followers, the Galileans and Judaens were slain and thus checked for the moment. The movement again broke out with great abundance when it was believed he appeared to them alive. Those that followed him at first did not cease to revere him, their leader in sedition and this tribe/group has until now not disappeared.” ~ Proposed original of Ant18.3.3.


The portions that are in brackets [ ] are outside the evidence available but it would be unrealistic to have no reason for Jesus’s execution. Without its inclusion, the reconstruction would be vacuous [1]. Josephus would have given a reason. He would have also given a famous prediction that these messianic types usually gave. The reason for Jesus’ execution, seems to have been an issue with the paying of Roman tax – an issue well attested in all the gospels and many of the apocryphal gospels. Also given is a crazy messianic claim typical of these messianic figure types. (Discussed in part 7)

For ease of reference I will color code the following:

The textus receptus in English.

The textus receptus in Greek.

The reconstructed TF in English.

The reconstructed TF in Greek.

Here is the first line of the TF:

And there is about this time Jesus, a wise man,

Γίνεται δὲ κατὰ τοῦτον τὸν χρόνον Ἰησοῦς σοφὸς ἀνήρ

And here is the proposed change:

And there is about this time a certain man, a sophist and agitator.

Γίνεται δὲ κατὰ τοῦτον τὸν χρόνον ἀνήρ τις ταραχτικός τε σοφιστής

Here are the reasons:

First word:

•‘there arose’


•For the first word in the passage ‘γίνεται’ (there arose) Robert Eisler has observed, “The verb Γίνεται (Ginetai) does, however, occur quite frequently in Josephus, particularly at the beginning of paragraphs; but the subject of the sentence is then almost without exception a word such as θόρυβος (tumult), or στάση (rebellion), or ταραχή (trouble), or some such term…..” [2].

He then goes on to give many examples in footnote 2: War 1,4,7 § 99; 1.4.2 § 85; 1.12.1 § 236; 1.33.2 § 648; 1.8.6 § 171; 1.10.10 § 216; 4.3.13 § 208; Antiquities 18.9.1 § 310; 19.9.2 § 366; 20.2.6  § 51; 20.6.1 § 118; 20.8.7 § 173. [3]

As the passage before and after the TF are negative describing tumults and as Eisler observed that many a time Josephus often put in a word describing a tumultuous situation, I have included the word ‘agitator’ ταραχτικός in the reconstruction.

Second phrase:




‘certain man’

ἀνήρ τις

•The interpolation of the TF into Slavonic Josephus War also does not name Jesus in the passage but refers to him as “there appeared a certain man”~Slavonic War 2.9.3/4.

It is not unusual for Josephus not to know the name of a popular messianic figure. Case in mind is the ‘Egyptian’ (War 2.13.5) who led a revolt of thousands and featured in both Antiquities and War yet he could only call him the ‘Egyptian’. Same goes for the ‘Samaritan’. (Ant 18.5.1).

•There is a variant found in one of the manuscripts (Codex A of Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History 1.11.7 (Dem. ev. 3.5.105). This reading offers the pronoun τις after Ίησούς referring to “a certain Jesus.” I have used this word ‘certain’ in the reconstruction, but instead of a certain Jesus, I have said a ‘certain man’. This is the same reading as the Slavonic. This derogatory expression argues against the TF being made up of whole cloth. (This phrase ‘τις’ was also used for Judas the Galilean, War 2§118). No scribe would have interpolated the word τις but this phrase could have escaped a copyist attempting to interpolate the original TF. The use of ‘certain’ suggests a figure not well known. The qualification of ‘certain’ would only be omitted if the figure was well known.

       All scholars recognize that the Slavonic has been destroyed with Christian gloss as explained very well by Van Voorst:

“The Slavonic Josephus reflects the growing Christian tendency to excuse Pontius Pilate for Jesus’ death and to blame the Jews, even to the point of saying that the Jews themselves crucified Jesus. To make this point, the Slavonic version has to ignore Josephus’s original statement that Pilate crucified him….The  Slavonic Testimonium uses the New Testament extensively at several points to develop its story.” [4].

But then Van Voorst goes on to say that the Slavonic does “not provide an authentic textual alternative to the main Testimonium Flavianum in the Jewish Antiquities.” [5]

        So after he said that Christians were trying to bolster up the TF he fails to explain why they dropped his name “Jesus” and title “Christ”. That is my point that Van Voorst does not explain (or notice) if the Slavonic came from the textus receptus found in the MSS of Antiquities. Of course it is easier to explain if the Slavonic came from a Greek exemplar that existed before Eusebius fiddled with it. It would explain it perfectly if it came from an exemplar before Eusebius added the words ‘Jesus’ and ‘Christ’.

        A number of Greek words taken over literally by the Russian, (Eg: igemon, metropolja, archierei, skinopigja, katapetasma, aramatji), which just shows that the Slavonic is working off an early Greek exemplar.[6].

       I never agreed with Eisler that it came from an Aramaic original, that’s where Eisler got it wrong but it did come from a pre Eusebian Greek exemplar!

       The Slavonic is so bloated, it is laughable. The most telling part of Slavonic is the fact that it says so much about Jesus except his name. This suggests that this particular line of transmission has preserved the notion that Jesus was not named in the original TF.

Third phrase:

‘a wise man’

σοφὸς ἀνήρ


‘sophist and agitator’

ταραχτικός τε σοφιστής

•Josephus usually uses the expression σοφὸς ἀνήρ ‘a wise man’, as his highest praise for people. There is only two cases where he uses it: King Solomon and the prophet Daniel; it is not a phrase he uses for the messianic leaders he reports. Usually it is not σοφὸς (wise) but σοφιστής (sophist).

Example: In War 2 §118, Judas the Galilaean is described as having σοφιστὴς ἰδίας αἱρέσεως (sophisticated ideas).There is a clue this word sophist was originally written when Justin Martyr says:

 “He was no sophist, but His word was the power of God.” (1Apol.14). 

Justin had heard off of his interlocutor that Jesus was a sophist, information he may have got off the TF. 

Cross reference this with what Lucian wrote in his satire called The Passing of Peregrinus:

“Furthermore, their first lawgiver persuaded them that they are all brothers of one another after they have transgressed once, for all by denying the Greek gods and by worshipping that crucified sophist himself and living under his laws.” (Lucian, Peregr. Proteus, ch. xiii).

It is common knowledge that Jesus was a sophist, information that was easily accessed and out in the public. Information easily got from Josephus Antiquities.

• Jesus is not named in this reconstruction as explained above. As damaged as the Slavonic is with Christian gloss, it is on a different transmission line than the Arabic and Michael the Syrian recension. Therefore it is valuable as it came from a pre Eusebian Greek exemplar.

         The fact Jesus is not named and the fact of the TF being a negative original could explain why Origen never cited this passage in all his works, (but he did acknowledge it). Most church fathers would simply quote the gospels (discussed below) when it came to Jesus, as the gospels had a glorious history of Jesus as opposed to any negative history found anywhere else (such as a negative TF).

The next section:

if one may properly call him a man.

εἴγε ἄνδρα αὐτὸν λέγειν χρή

•Meier has seen this line interpolated by Eusebius along with the line he was the Messiah. [7] Ken Olson evaluates this phrase in the wider context of where Eusebius made use of this phrase in an argument contained in Demonstratio Evangelica, book III (Demonstration of the Gospel). [8] He cites the TF at Dem. Ev. 3.5.106. Here Ken shows “Eusebius is carrying on an extended defense of the incarnation and answering the charges of critics of Christianity. One of these is Porphyry’s argument against the divinity of Jesus.” [9] What makes us suspicious that Eusebius interpolated this phrase is that he needed to show both the human and divine nature of Jesus. Also a Jewish hand could never have written this.

Therefore we will cut this section out of our reconstruction.

The next phrase:

He was one who wrought surprising feats

ἦν γὰρ παραδόξων ἔργων ποιητής

•This could be original and not touched because Christian redactors would have seen the word παραδόξων (paradoxōn) as miraculous. Josephus could have used this particular word more negatively to describe Jesus as doing ‘strange deeds’, in the same vein of other false prophets he reported on. It can also translate as “the maker of strange works”. Josephus would not have meant miracles, except as a type of wonder worker, but later Christian scribes would have thought that was what Josephus meant, thus ensuring the survival of this particular line. [10]. Whealey [11] explains that this is not a preferred description Eusebius would have for Jesus and therefore looks like he inherited this from the original TF. One passage Eusebius has in his Commentaria in Psalmos (PG23 1033d-1036a) where he comments on Psalm 85:8-10 LXX, Eusebius “characterises many of the prophets as παραδόξων ἔργων ποιητής”, ([those who] wrought surprising feats). He “thereby indicates that παραδόξων ἔργων ποιητής was not a term that adequately conveyed the full stature of Jesus, since for Eusebius Jesus was Gods pre existent logos and not just παραδόξων ἔργων ποιητής like all the prophets before him” [12]. An original TF has influenced Eusebius to use this term of phrase. Olson’s argument that it was made up by Eusebius is refuted by Whealeys investigation on how Eusebius used this description elsewhere. (As used in Commentaria in Psalmos (PG23 1033d-1036a) discussed above).

Here is the second line of the TF:

a teacher to those who receive the truth with pleasure.

διδάσκαλος ἀνθρώπων τῶν ἡδονῇ τἀληθῆ δεχομένων


A teacher of men who revere / worship him with pleasure.

διδάσκαλος ἀνθρώπων τῶν σεβομένων αὐτὸν ἡδονῇ

•The second line is witnessed by the recension found in Eusebius Demonstratio evangelica iii 5. Whealey does say that the MSS of the Demonstratio is later than that of the Theophania MSS, but that does not follow which is the later reading. 

Josephus usually uses the words διδάσκαλος , “teacher,”  and σεβομένων ‘who reveres or worship’ in a sarcastic negative way. A Christian copyist who had noticed this and changed ‘who worship’ (σεβομένων) to replace it with ‘ who receive’ (δεχομένων). We saw the same thing when another Christian copyist had deleted the derogatory τις.

Next line:

and many Jews, and also many of the Greek element, he led to himself;

καὶ πολλοὺς μὲν Ἰουδαίους, πολλοὺς δὲ καὶ τοῦ Ἑλληνικοῦ ἐπηγάγετο


and many of the Judaens, and also many of the Galilean element, he led to himself

καὶ πολλοὺς μὲν Ἰουδαίους, πολλοὺς δὲ καὶ τοῦ Γαλιλαίου ἐπηγάγετο

• I replaced the line, “and many Jews (a Christian translation of Judaens, same word), and also many of the Greek element, he led to himself;” With “and many of the Judaens, and also many of the Galilean element, he led to himself” as the original line sounds Paulinist. As Paula Fredriksen said, Josephus “is the only one of our early sources to name gentiles (those “of Greek origin”) as among Jesus’ original followers. No New Testament source corroborates this claim,…. the movement that formed after Jesus’ death seems to have involved gentiles only eventually and tangentially, and not from its very initial stages.” [13] Fredriksen thinks that this was written anachronistically by Josephus but as Rosen-Zvi and Ophir noticed about Josephus is that the syntactic construction is playing on the Jew/Gentile binary, which is not a feature of Josephus’ language anywhere else. [14] In fact, having Jews and Greeks join together in any sort of movement from the time of Herod the Great to the Jewish Roman War 66-70, is extremely unlikely. As Steve Mason commented, “the appearance of charismatic prophets, militants, and sicarii; and the immediate background to the war itself (e.g., events in Caesarea, deteriorating relations with Greek cities, the intervention and defeat of Cestius Gallus” [15] [Legate of Syria who led a legion into Judea in 66 to wipe out the revolt].

Therefore it is more likely that Eusebius swapped out Ἑλληνικοῦ (Greek) for Γαλιλαίου (Galilean). Also the Greek does suggest two groups as ἐπηγάγετο means the source of, the spring of. It is tantalizing that the Jesus movement was big enough to lead two groups of people into a revolt! One from his area of Galilee who came down for the Passover, joining with those more local from the south, the Judaens. A failed revolt consisting of two groups would see one side blaming the other. Judas Iscariot may be a literary construction in the gospels (discussed below) to represent the Judean element being at fault for the failure. The size of this messianic group would explain that the Jesus movement was big enough to make it into Josephus. [16] It shows Jesus leading a full-on revolt of at least two groups before he got executed. Jesus was not a nobody, a nobody would not make it into Josephus and be the cause of the rise of the NT literature. Romans crucified for sedition, they were never interested in common thieves. Crucifixion was used as a deterrent to rebellion. “Jesus was condemned to aggravated death. If we look at the ten chapters [Roman Law,] by which this type of death was inflicted on individuals of pilgrim and humble status, we will see that only two of them can be taken into consideration: popular uprising and crime of lesa-majesty.” (law of Treason, lex maiestatis) [17] (Cf The Digesta 48:1, 3)

       There was a two-fold advantage for Eusebius to replace the word “Galileans” with the word “Greeks”.  Firstly he would get rid of a negative rebellious connotation by getting rid of a ‘Galilean’ reference. Secondly having ‘Greeks’ makes this movement sound universal, Eusebius wished to confirm Jesus’ “letter” (this was made up by Eusebius) to King Agbar.  (H.E. I.13.1). Also the early followers of Jesus were known as Galileans, as attested by Epictetus, Diss. 4.7.6. Circa 110-115CE (Cf Luke 13:1-2; Mark 14:70):

 “Well then, if madness can cause people to adopt such as attitude towards these things [not being scared at the swords of tyrants] and habit too, as in the case of the Galileans, can’t reason and demonstration teach people that God has made all that is in the universe, and the universe itself as a whole, to be free…” (Diss. 4.7.6)

This passage shows that Christians were known to be persecuted by the Emperor Nero, and Epictetus had been within close proximity to the Emperor’s household. Also Epictetus’ opprobrious mention of the Galileans means they could just as easily have been messianic rebels. The gospel of Mark may also have preserved the fact that this movement was Galilean:

 “Again he denied it. After a little while, those standing near said to Peter, “Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean.” (Mark 14:70).

Josephus views the Galileans as a separate ethnos. (E.g. War 3 § 42). He views them condescendingly; they mainly reside in the urban centres of Galilee. Thiel says that Josephus described them as “restive and emotional mob ready to ignite at the slightest indignation” [18]

This, together with that the textus receptus says “of the Greek (nation)” and not “Greeks” in the plural, shows that Eusebius was working with something that was already there. There is no other instance in Josephus of his referring to “Greeks” in this exact way, but there is an instance where he refers to the Galilean ethnos.

Next bit:

He was the Christ.

ὁ χριστὸς οὗτος ἦν.


He was believed to be a King.

ἐνομίζετο βασιλεὺς εἶναι

• As with many messianic figure followers reported in Josephus works, they usually declared the would be leader a King, (this is a messianic title). Many messianic figures in Josephus works such as Simon of Pereae, a slave of Herod the Great (Ant 17.10.6) and Athronges the shepherd (Ant 17.10.7 ) were declared King (βασιλεὺς) at a drop of a hat. This is a common theme throughout Josephus, this line is telling: 

“And now Judea was full of robberies. And as the several companies of the seditious light upon any one to head them, he was created a King immediately, in order to do mischief to the publick.” (Josephus, Ant 17.10.8).

This theme of popular messianic figures expected to lead the disgruntled has gospel tradition too, example:

“Jesus, knowing that they intended to come and make him king by force, withdrew again to a mountain by himself.” (John 6:15).

Also the Titulus crux, where Jesus’ crime was stated “King of the Jews” points to sedition.

Therefore I replaced “he was the Christ ” using Jerome’s Latin recension with the more primitive phrase “he was believed to be the Christ”. For the Greek I used the verb νομίζω (consider) i.e. “ἐνομίζετο”. I also replaced Christ (χριστὸς) with King (βασιλεὺς) as Josephus did not use this term for all the other messianic figures. If you read Josephus you would be surprised with how many messianic contenders were declared to be a king. Therefore I used the term ‘King’ in this reconstruction. Origen stated that Josephus did not like to use the term “Christ” in relation to Jesus. Josephus preferred to apply that title to Vespasian in his Roman propaganda, citing the Balaam prophecy (War 6.312-313). In a lecture, Henry Abramson explains why Josephus could not have wrote ‘Christos’ in this passage, “When Josephus uses the word Mashiach, [hebrew for Christ] that’s like game over, end of time, that’s like resuscitation of the dead. The world ends as we know it. We go into a brand new period of history unlike anything we had before. For him to go on to write another few volumes with only one passage about this one event is just beyond belief… a modern analogy is to say we have found intelligent alien life but we will finish this lecture. Another impossible event.” [19] Of course the word ‘Christ’ does fit into Paul’s letters as Paul is describing the end game. Paul’s epistles do describe this brand new age of history already started by Jesus the messiah, Jesus being ‘first fruits’ is the first of the dead to resurrect.

Next section:

[For he opposed paying the tax to Caesar.]

And many souls were roused, thinking that thereby the tribe of Judaens could free themselves from the Romans.

[ἀντεῖπε γὰρ τὸ διδόναι κῆνσον Καίσαρι.]

πολλαὶ δὲ ψυχαὶ συνεχύθησαν ὡς οὕτως τὸ τῶν Ἰουδαίων φῦλον ἐλευθερώσῃ ἑαυτό ἐκ τῶν Ῥωμαίων.

•A new line added in brackets as there was no reason given for Jesus Crucifixion rendering our current TF vacuous. There was originally a reason which I suspect was cut out. The reason I add this reason is that it is well attested in all the canonical as well as many of the apocryphal gospels. Many of the gospels have a controversy over paying tribute to Caesar (Matt 22:15-22; Mark 12:13-17; Luke 20:20-26; Papyrus Egerton 2:3). “We have found this man subverting our nation. He opposes payment of taxes to Caesar and claims to be a King Messiah.” (Luke 23:2). There could have been a mention of this in the original TF, that was cut out. If Josephus had originally described Jesus as a messianic rebel, in particular one who had advocated tax resistance, there would have been a strong motive to eliminate that from the record.

       In the following sentence contained in the Slavonic TF could have come from an original TF, “And many souls were roused, thinking that thereby the Jewish tribes could free themselves from Roman hands.” The word tribe is also in the last sentence of the TF.

Next Section also in brackets:

[He claimed the Temple would be destroyed and that not one stone would be standing on another and that it would be restored in three days.]

[ὁ δ’ ἔφη ὅτι καταλυθῇ ὁ ναός τ’ οὐ μὴ ἀφεθῇ ὧδε λίθος ἐπὶ λίθον τ’ οἰκοδομήσῃ ἐν τρισὶν ἡμέραις]

• Ian Mills in an interview with Derek Lambert on his Mythvision podcast [20] thinks Jesus actually made this crazy claim of an miraculous event of the destruction and restoration of the Temple. (Many messianic figures made crazy claims as seen from the ‘Egyptian’ and ‘Theudas’ discussed later in this paper). Mills thinks that when the Temple really got destroyed that this was a memorable prophecy. This in turn meant the gospel of Mark included it in his gospel, with a qualifier that it was a false report. Ian Mills drawing from E P Sanders, Jesus and Judaism, says the gospels are uncomfortable with a failed prophecy of Temple destruction. (Mark 13:1-31). Mark is writing after the destruction, and therefore highlighting this prophecy of Jesus.Jesus proclaims that the Messiah, the “Son of Man” in “great power and glory” would return within the lives of some of the people listening to him. He links the blessed event of his second coming with the destruction of a Jerusalem and it’s famous Temple. It is very unusual for those trying to glorify Jesus, to put in a failed prophecy, it is not something you makeup from scratch. If you keep reading into Mark’s gospel, onto the trial of Jesus (Mark 14:57-59) you will read about people falsely accusing Jesus that he will destroy the Temple and rebuild it:

“Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: “We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple made with human hands and in three days will build another, not made with hands.’” (Mark 14:57-58).

While Jesus was on the cross people mocked him about it:

“Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, “So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!” In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. “He saved others,” they said, “but he can’t save himself! Let this Messiah, this king of Israel, come down now from the cross, that we may see and believe.” Those crucified with him also heaped insults on him.” (Mark 15:29-32)

Mark knows his readers are well aware of the prophecy and tries to refute it. You do not try to refute a non-existent failed prophecy, that is one of the reasons for suspecting that this prophecy was circulating. 

[After the ‘Egyptian”’s failed revolt, I can picture those around him, mocking him as to why the walls of Jerusalem didn’t come tumbling down. I discuss the Egyptians’ crazy messianic claim later in this paper. The belief he may have had about being a messiah would have been shattered like what happened to other messianic movements in the event of failure. Without gods intervention- they can’t be the messiah. Really Jesus was not unique and had similar problems experienced by other messianic types. The gospel of Mark tries to get around peoples opposition to Jesus being the messiah by inventing a literary construct of the messianic secret]. 

John 2:19 also had this prediction of destroying the Temple and rebuilding it in three days. Mark is in denial about the prediction whereas John spiritualized it. 

       Stephens speech also has it about the prophecy in Acts:

“They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against this holy place and against the law. For we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and change the customs Moses handed down to us.” (Acts 6:13-14).

Even the gospel of Thomas has this prophecy, saying 71:

“I will destroy this house, and no one shall be able to build it again.”

Next section:

And, when on the accusation of the first men among us Pilate had condemned him to a cross.

καὶ αὐτὸν ἐνδείξει τῶν πρώτων ἀνδρῶν παρ’ ἡμῖν σταυρῷ ἐπιτετιμηκότος Πιλάτου

•Paul Winters, an expert in Jewish and Roman Law in first century Palestine sees this line as genuine. “The balanced distinction between ἐνδείξει (verb ένδείχνυμι) writ of indictment, attributed to Jewish leaders, and the act of awarding sentence (επιτιμάν σταυρῷ) is not likely to be the work of a Christian interpolator …Such an interpolator would scarcely have been content with reproaching Jewish leaders for drawing up an indictment against Jesus whilst stating that the imposition of sentence by crucifixion was an act of Roman justice.” [21]

•Shlomo Pines [22] had thought this line was not in the original TF as the Agabius Arabic version does not blame the Jews for the death of Jesus. The key phrase “at the suggestion of the principal men among us” reads instead “Pilate condemned him to be crucified”. But Whealey has proved that the Agapius version is a paraphrase. She proved this as she showed Michael the Syriac recension used the same source. Therefore it is most likely that this line is original. [23].

John 11:47-50 reflects the collaborating High Priest’s fear of the danger posed by a messianic figure:

Then the chief priests and the Pharisees called a meeting of the Sanhedrin. “What are we accomplishing?” they asked. “Here is this man performing many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.”

This is also backed up in 1 Thessalonians 2:14-15:

For you, brothers, became imitators of God’s Assemblies in Judea, which are in Christ Jesus: You suffered from your own people the same things those Assemblies suffered from the Judeans….. [24]

The Dead Sea Scrolls mention an earlier high priest, seen as a collaborator, whom they dubbed the “Wicked Priest,” (“cohen resha” mentioned in 1QpHab; cf 4QpPsa) which shows one need not read the Josephus business about priestly involvement in Jesus’ execution as a product of vilification by Christian interpolators.

Next section:

Many of his followers, the Galileans and Judaens, were slain and thus checked for the moment.

πολλοὶ τῶν αὐτὸν ἀγαπησάντων, τῶν Γαλιλαίων τε καὶ τῶν Ἰουδαίων, ἀπώλοντο. οὕτως δ’ αὐτίκα κατέσχοντο.

•Tacitus made use of the TF, he also used other parts of Josephus works as a source.(see footnote 2). I propose that we can reconstruct part of this line . 

“and thus checked for the moment” from Annuls 15.44.3 which has “repressaque in praesens exitiabilis superstitio” “and the pernicious superstition was checked for a moment”

Next section:

The movement again broke out with great abundance, when it was believed he appeared to them living again

αὖθις ἐνεωτερίσθη εἰς ἀφθονίαν, πιστευσάντων ὅτι ἐφάνη αὐτοῖς πάλιν ζῶν

•Again Annuls 15.44 comes into play here with the following line-  rursum erumpebat, non modo per Iudaeam, “then broke out again, not only through Judea”  

“when it was believed he appeared to them living again” is close to the Textus Receptus.

Next section:

those who loved him from the beginning did not forsake him

οὐκ ἐπαύσαντο οἱ τὸ πρῶτον ἀγαπήσαντες

When Celsus was quoting the TF, he did not see that line, in his copy, the following line could have been there:

those that loved him at first did not cease [worshipping],

οὐκ [ἂν] ἐπαύσαντο [σέβειν] οἱ τὸ πρῶτον ἀγαπήσαντες,

only Him, who is their leader in sedition.

εἰ μὴ καὶ τοῦτον, ὅσπερ ἐστὶν αὐτοῖ τῆς στάσεως ἀρχηγέτης

•We have seen the word for “to worship, or to revere” (σεβομένων) in line two as attested by Eusebius, Demonstratio evangelica iii. 5. This word is again seen in Contra Cels. 8.14.

We see this when Origen is quoting Celsus’ book The True Doctrine:

“If you should tell them that Jesus is not the Son of God, but that God is the Father of all, and that He alone ought to be truly worshipped, they would not consent to discontinue their worship of him who is their leader in the sedition.” (Origen quoting Celsus in Contra Celsum 8.14)

The church fathers are all denying what was common knowledge to the ancients (especially the church fathers’ interlocutors) about Jesus. As Origen answers against Celsus disagreeing with him: “Jesus is, then, not the leader of any seditious movement, but the promoter of peace.” (Contra Cels. 8.14). Origen was denying what Celsus could have picked up as common knowledge that would have been contained in an original TF, that Jesus was the leader of a seditious movement.

Next phrase:

And even still to this day the tribe of Christians, named from this man, has not been lacking.

εἰς ἔτι τε νῦν τῶν Χριστιανῶν ἀπὸ τοῦδε ὠνομασμένον οὐκ ἐπέλιπε τὸ φῦλον.


And this tribe/group has until now not disappeared.

εἰς νῦν ἀπὸ τοῦδε οὐκ ἐπέλιπε τὸ φῦλον τοῦτον

•In a survey of Eusebius use of the term φῦλον (tribe/group) we find he usually used it for groups of people he generally disliked such as the examples Whealey [25] provides: Contra Hieroclem 22; praeteritio XIII 15.5; d.e. IV 9.12; Eusebius use of this term disparagingly makes it likely the term τὸ φῦλον came from the hand of Josephus.

•Eusebius used his own phrase for “still to this day” εἰς ἔτι τε νῦν when he was interpolating the word Christians. It was Louis Feldman who noticed this and saw this as evidence of Eusebius tampering. [26] It’s unlikely Josephus used the word ‘Christians’ which Louis Feldman also noted, “The passage refers to “the tribe of the Christians,” but it is unlikely that Josephus referred to the Christians as a new nation, distinct from Jews and gentiles. The word “Christians” is found nowhere else in the works of Josephus. [27] But Josephus as caught in another manuscript had used his own phrase for “still to this day” εἰς νῦν as Whealey has detected and reconstructed the original Josephean phrase for “until now” as the phrase εἰ τε νῦν was found in Oecumenius’ Commentarian in Apocalypsium that quotes the final sentence of the TF. Whealey thinks the sigma from εἰ was dropped as two of the oldest MSS have the phrase εἰς τε νῦν (W and A). [28] It’s a minor change but shows tampering which is what I argue for anyway. Eusebius used the phrase “still to this day” in place of Josephus using the phrase “until now”.

A few more points:

• As we can see our textus restitutus is larger than the textus receptus. Eisler noticed that there was more space left for the TF than the size of the textus receptus. “In the Codex Vossianus, now in the University Library of Leyden, …. we have the Testimonium at the end of the second book of the War…….. The whole insertion is not the work of the scribe but an addition written by a second hand, from which it follows that the original scribe had purposely left a blank for such an insertion. Of the curious fact that the space thus provided was far too large for the insertion of the usual Testimonium Flavi­anum I can offer no other explanation than that the scribe found a passage of just this length in his original [version]…..” [29]

• The TF could not have been neutral because of what was written before and after it. I stated the Galileans were slain because of the opening line of the passage after the TF:

 “About the same time also another sad calamity put the Jews into disorder..” (Ant 18.3.4)

and also see what was written before it:

“Who laid upon them much greater blows than Pilate had commanded them; and equally punished those that were tumultuous, and those that were not. Nor did they spare them in the least.“(Ant 18.3.2)

•Significantly, the TF is to be found right in the very middle of the rebel passages. This argues against an ex nihilo interpolation, since it is highly unlikely that Christian scribes would have chosen to put their testimony to Jesus right in the middle of the rebel section of Antiquities. This observation supports the rebel paradigm for Jesus. This is underappreciated.

•The incident that happened in Ant18.3.2 reminds me of unarmed protesters being shot in Northern Ireland that started a 30 years guerilla war. This gives me a suspicion that the Jesus movement was reactionary in its resistance. Luke’s gospel picks up on this:

“Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish.’” (Luke 13:1-5).

•Church fathers before Eusebius would have had both histories of Jesus, that of the gospels and that of the passage found in Antiquities. The gospels shed the best possible light on Jesus with their glorification. The original negative TF would have shed a very bad light. Put yourselves into the shoes of these church fathers and ask yourself, if you were discussing Jesus, would you use those histories that put Jesus in the best possible light or would you use that negative passage. This is what P. R. Coleman-Norton prescribed when he examined John Chrysostom’s use of Josephus. For all his reports of Jesus he went to the gospels. [30]


[1] Allen, Dave, An Original Negative Testimonian, The Journal of Higher Criticism Volume 15 Number 1, (2020), 67-90.

I released a paper on Dr R M Prices Journal of Higher Criticism of the same name as chapter 3 of my book. I have since updated on the advice of Dr Price whose main objection is that my first reconstruction was a bit vacuous. This was so because I had attempted to reconstruct what we can reasonably know, (what was originally written) using all the variants of the TF. But it still would not reflect the reality that a reason would have to be given for Jesus’ crucifixion (all the gospels reflect a taxation issue) and what kind of movement Jesus represented (which is contained in the anti-Christian polemic discussed at length in chapter 4 of my book). I am indebted to Stephen Nelson for advising on the reconstruction Greek text.

[2] Eisler, Robert, The Messiah Jesus and John the Baptist, ibid (English Translation), 50.

[3] ibid, footnote 2.

[4] Van  Voorst, Robert  E., Jesus Outside the New Testament, An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence, (Eerdmans, 2000), p.87-88.

[5] ibid, p.87

[6] Robert Eisler, The Messiah Jesus and John the Baptist, ibid, (English Translation), p.130.

[7] Meier, John P., A Marginal Jew ,Rethinking the Historical Jesus Volume one: The Roots of the Problem and the person, (Doubleday, 1991), p.60.

[8] Olson, Ken, A Eusebian Reading 

of the Testimonium Flavianum, Eusebius of Caesarea Tradition and Innovations, Edited by

Aaron Johnson and Jeremy Schott. Center for Hellenic Studies (2013), 101-3.

[9] ibid, 101

[10] Twelftree, Graham H., Jesus the miracle worker, (InterVarsity press, 1999) p.254.

[11] Whealey, Alice, “Josephus, Eusebius of Caesarea, and the Testimonium Flavianum” in Josephus und das Neue Testament, edited by Christoph Böttrich and Jens Herzer (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007), pp.83-4.

[12] ibid, 84

[13] Paula Fredriksen, When Christians Were Jews, The first generation, (Yale University Press, 2018), page 80.

[14] Rosen-Zvi, Ishay and Ophir, Adi, Paul and the Invention of the Gentiles, The Jewish Quarterly  Review, Vol. 105, No. 1 (Winter 2015) pp.1-41.

[15] Mason, Steve, Flavius Josephus, Translation and Commentary, Volumne 1B, Judean War 2, (Brill, 2008), Preface, p.xv,

[16] Horsley, Richard A, What has Galilee to do with Jerusalem? Political aspects of the Jesus movement, (1996) HTS Teologiese Studies / Theological Studies, Vol. 52, No.1, pp.88-104.

[17] Torrents, José Montserrat, Jesús, El Galileo Armado, [Jesus, The Armed Galilean], (Jerusalem 2011) chapter 7.

[18] Thiel, Nathan, The Use of the Term “Galileans” in the Writings of Flavius Josephus Revisited, Jewish Quarterly Rebiew, University of Pennsylvania Press, Volume 110, Number 2, Spring 2020, pp. 221-244. (Quote from p.221).

[19] Abramson, Henry, Who was Josephus, the Roman Jew? Jews of Italy pt. 3, Part of the Jews of Italy series at, (2019).

[20] Sanders, E.P., Jesus and Judaism, (First Fortress Press, 1985) pp. 61-76.

Ian Mills in an interview with Derek Lambert on his Mythvision podcast (linked) drawing on the arguments of E P Sanders discussed in his book.–4UBCOo

[21] Winter, Paul, On The Trial of Jesus (De Gruyter 1974), p.40.

[22] Pines, Shlomo,  An Arabic Version of the Testimonium Flavianum and its Implications. (Jerusalem: Israel Academy of Science and Humanities, 1971).

[23] Whealey, Alice, The Testimonium Flavianum in Syriac and Arabic, New Test. Stud. 54, (Cambridge University Press, 2008), pp. 573–590.

[24] There are three options entertained in the scholarly community over 1 Thessalonians 2:13-16. (A) Full authenticity (even held by atheists Ehrman, Ludemann, Casey), (B) partial interpolation, and (C ) full interpolation.Reading the scholarly literature, it seems pretty evenly split between these three options.

I go for option (B) where I see a later anti-Semitic Christian inserted the following section as the interpolation: “ who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out. They displease God and are hostile to everyone in their effort to keep us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. In this way they always heap up their sins to the limit.The wrath of God has come upon them at last”

The partial interpolation also neutralizes the arguments provided by Richard Carrier for a full interpolation, in the following paper:

Carrier, Richard, ‘Pauline Interpolations’, Hitler Homer Bible Christ, The historical papers of Richard Carrier 1995-2013, (Philosopher Press 2014), pp. 203-11; Most of his analysis is only applicable to the passage when “But wrath has come upon them at last!” is included. 

Also referring to all Jews as much of Carrier argument seems to, just doesn’t work in context.

Carrier should concede this passage as being positive evidence of historicity as he does the brother James passage.

[25] Whealey, Alice, “Josephus, Eusebius of Caesarea, and the Testimonium Flavianum” in Josephus und das Neue Testament, edited by Christoph Böttrich and Jens Herzer (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007), pp.83-4.

[26] Feldman, Louis H.,  “On the Authenticity of the Testimonium Flavianum” ,  In Carlebach, Elisheva; Schacter, Jacob J. (eds.). On the Authenticity of the Testimonium Flavianum Attributed to Josephus. New Perspectives on Jewish-Christian Relations. The Brill Reference Library of Judaism. 33. (Leiden: Brill, 2012), p.26

[27] Feldman, Louis H., ibid, p.25

[28] Whealey, Alice, “Josephus, Eusebius of Caesarea, and the Testimonium Flavianum” in Josephus und das Neue Testament, edited by Christoph Böttrich and Jens Herzer (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007), pp.100ff.

[29] Eisler, Robert, The Messiah Jesus and John the Baptist, ibid, (English Translation), pp.68-9.

[30] Coleman-Norton, P. R. “St. Chrysostom’s Use of Josephus.” Classical Philology, vol. 26, no. 1, 1931, pp. 85–89.


The Original Testimonium Flavianum

Part 1 of my Historical Jesus series

“these self proclaimed wonder-workers found a ready following among the simple victims of the revolutionary activities of the Zealots.” ~Geza Verme. [1]

This is all that could possibly be known of Jesus if it had not been overwritten, here is what Josephus could have originally written in his great twenty volume book Antiquities of the Jews:

“And there is about this time a certain man, a sophist and agitator. He was one who wrought surprising feats. A teacher of men who revered him with pleasure. Many of the Judaens, and also many of the Galilean element, he led to himself; he was believed to be a King: [For he opposed paying the tax to Caesar.] Many were roused, thinking that thereby the tribe could free themselves from Roman hands. [He claimed the Temple would be destroyed and that not one stone would be standing on another and that it would be restored in three days.] And, when on the accusation of the first men among us Pilate condemned him to be crucified. Many of his followers, the Galileans and Judaens were slain and thus checked for the moment. The movement again broke out with great abundance when it was believed he appeared to them alive. Those that followed him at first did not cease to revere him, their leader in sedition and this tribe/group has until now not disappeared.” ~ Proposed original model of Ant18.3.3.

This, taken with the very few details that Paul provides in his letters, is all that could be known of the historical Jesus. 

As Schweitzer wrote in the concluding line in his famous book, The Quest for the Historical Jesus:

“He comes to us as one Unknown, without a name, as of old, by the lake-side, He came to those men who knew him not. He speaks to us in the same word: ‘Follow thou me!’” [2]

This original negative portrayal which I will analyse later in this series is the most we could have known about a historical Jesus if it had not been overwritten and tampered with by pious scribes. We cannot recover what is left as echoed by R. T. France and E. P. Sanders, but what we can do is build a model of the textus restitutus to what the Testimonium Flavianum may have looked like. (We will refer to this as the TF from now on, the TF is Josephus’ mention of Jesus in his book Antiquities). This is not a fruitless exercise as I agree with Whealey (see below) that there was an original TF. It is important to build a model of what Josephus could have written so that we can think outside the box, see it’s implications and come as close as we can to viewing the historical Jesus. As BeDuhn said when reconstructing Marcions New Testament, (The First New Testament), “The desire to recover the exact wording of Marcion’s texts has interfered with full appreciation of what we can learn about its overall content” [3] I do not claim to have what Josephus wrote but will build a model of what he may have written given that all scholars today know that the textus receptus of the TF has been tampered with. I do this using the framework of the TF, by using all variants of the TF and by making use of all the anti Christian polemics. These polemics seem to be working off of the TF.

Paul’s letters say very little about Jesus and only mention him in passing, giving instructions to newly formed churches. You get the impression Paul knows a lot more about Jesus but only mentions anything as the occasion arises. The gospels do the opposite to Paul and say a lot about him but did not seem to know much about him, as they used all previous literature (especially their use of the Tanakh) to tell Jesus’ story. [4] The gospels mostly provide allegorical backstories to Paul’s epistles. [5] They are biblical metaphors that propagate Jesus’ glory rather than just narrations. All over book 17 and book 18 of Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews is a long line of messianic pretenders, with similar passages just like the one reconstructed above. In part 7 we will deal with these other messianic pretenders just to show you the similar characters to the historical Jesus.

As Robert Eisler (who had a stab at reconstructing an original negative TF in his book) said, “Jesus was … an agitator of the lower orders; …. he was a magician who through sham miracles and with subversive words had incited the people to rebellion and as leader of a gang of desperate men had attempted to seize the royal crown of Judaea, as others had done before and after him.” [6]


First let us analyze the TF word for word and set forth reasons for thinking there was an original negative TF. Ken Olson has written a thesis showing the Testimonium Flavianum (TF) being more Eusebian than Josephean, [7] Eusebius was the first church father to introduce and reproduce it and therefore has come under suspicion of being the interpolator. Eusebius was the main redactor for the TF, and he was using it specifically in his propaganda fights with Porphyry of Tyre and Eusebius’ contemporary Hierocles and the earlier critic Celsus as well. Ken Olson explains why he used the TF specifically and therefore changed it specifically [8]. Hopper has shown that Eusebius used some existing Christian creeds in his endeavour to overwrite the TF. As he says, “Some credal elements are clearly present: Jesus was the Messiah; he was crucified under Pontius Pilate (passus sub Pontio Pilato, in the words of the Apostles’ Creed); he came back to life on the third day after his death; the movement founded by him the Christian church continues to flourish; he performed miracles; the biblical prophets foretold many details of his life.” [9] But the most likely outcome as Goldbergs study in 1995 shows is that the Emmaus narrative in Luke, which resembles the TF, could have been the source of the rewrite. [10]. Both the creedal statements and the rewritten TF are so similar to Luke’s verses 24:19-21;25-27, that you can see the Emmaus narrative being used as a framework for the rewrite of the TF.

Here is the extract so you can see the similarities with the textus receptus:

“The things concerning Jesus the Nazarene, who was a man, a prophet, mighty in deed and word before God and all the people; and how the chief priests and leaders of us delivered him over to a sentence of death and crucified him. But we had hoped he would be the one to liberate Israel. Yes, and besides all these things, is passing this third day today since these things occurred. […]” Then he said to them, “Oh, how foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have declared! Was it not necessary that the Messiah should suffer these things and enter into his glory?” And beginning from Moses and from all the prophets, he interpreted to them the things in all the scriptures about himself.” (Luke 24:19-21;24:25-27).

       Yet it is unlikely that Eusebius created the entire text ex nihilo. Carrier [11] dismisses the TF by comparing the Emmaus narrative to the textus receptus (passage found in the manuscripts of Antiquities). This argument that the TF was created ex nihilo using the Emmaus narrative is moot for two reasons. Firstly, the Luke narrative was used to rework the TF. Secondly it is only like the textus receptus found in the MSS of Antiquities and we know through textual variants that there were earlier versions of the TF. So as there is an earlier version you cannot dismiss it over the Emmaus narrative, (as this narrative would not match an earlier version). Other considerations Carrier brings up are adequately dealt with in my reconstruction, such as the unlikely situation of Josephus calling Jesus ‘Christ’. I agree with Carrier here on that point as Josephus reserved this title for Vespasian. Other considerations such as why Jesus was crucified and what kind of movement it was, is all adequately given in my reconstruction later in this chapter. Another question to consider was asked by John Meiers, “What would be the point of a Christian interpolation that would make Josephus the Jew affirm such an imperfect estimation of the God-man? What would a Christian scribe intend to gain by such an assertion? [12] Nobody to my mind including Ken Olson has adequately answered this question. Whealey explained in her response to Ken Olson [13] many of the words in the textus receptus are not unique to Eusebius. Whealey has shown that some phrases in the TF are more Josephean than Eusebian. Whealey explained in her response that many of the words in the textus receptus are not unique to Eusebius and in fact look like they were inherited from the original TF. The phrase “παραδόξων ἔργων ποιητής” doer of strange deeds would not be Eusebius first choice to describe Jesus. “παραδόξων specifically for Jesus’ deeds is seldom used in ante Nicean literature before Origen perhaps because the word only appears once in the New Testament for one of Jesus’s miracles (Luke 5:26) and in a context that could mean magic which had illegitimate connotations.” [14] (If Luke used Josephus as Mason has suggested that would tie in nicely actually) [15] .Whealey [16] explains that this is not a preferred description Eusebius would have for Jesus and therefore looks like he inherited this from the original TF. One passage Eusebius has in his Commentaria in Psalmos (PG23 1033d-1036a) where he comments on Psalm 85:8-10 LXX, Eusebius “characterises many of the prophets as παραδόξων ἔργων ποιητής, and thereby indicates that παραδόξων ἔργων ποιητής was not a term that adequately conveyed the full stature of Jesus, since for Eusebius Jesus was Gods pre existent logos and not just παραδόξων ἔργων ποιητής like all the prophets before him” [17]. It’s obvious that an original TF has influenced Eusebius to use this term of phrase and not like Olsen argues made up by Eusebius. 

          As Whealey said Origen knew of some form of the TF. [18] First of all his assertion that Josephus did not believe Jesus as the Christ (Contra Cels. 1.47). He saw some version of the TF that did not even mention Jesus was the Christ. It’s not good enough to say Josephus would not have acknowledged Jesus as the messiah because he is Jewish- why would he even mention this assertion unless Jesus was mentioned. There is no reason to bring that up unless in Origen’s copy a mention about Jesus, missing the line “he was the Christ” existed. Another reason we know Origen was aware of the TF was his remark that the Jews do not connect John with Jesus nor the punishment of John with that of Jesus (Contra Cels. 1.48). In Antiquities it does not connect the Baptist movement with the Jesus movement. Also the execution of John and Jesus are not related or connected in any way. 

             Origen is very perturbed that Celsus “disbelieves the appearance of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove” (Cels. 1.43). This is as an argument Origen starts to highlight in chapter 40 and continues arguing against right up to chapter 48. This has upset Origen so much that he begins to throw everything and the kitchen sink at this. In chapter 47 he cites three passages out of Josephus’ Antiquities in defense that the belief is and should be reasonable for a Jew. He cites the Baptist passage saying John was baptizing for the remission of sins. As he was using the TF passage he asserts (regretfully) that Josephus did not believe Jesus as the Christ and they put Jesus to death. He then moves onto what he thought was the James passage, saying James’ death was the cause of the fall of Jerusalem. Then, just like as Josephus reports it, Origen says in the next chapter 48 that “For the Jews do not connect John with Jesus, nor the punishment of John with that of Christ.” In the Baptist passage Christianity has nothing to do with the Baptist movement as reported in Josephus, neither does Josephus connect John or Jesus’s execution.

           Origen did not quote the TF as it was negative. There are other examples of Origen knowing of documents without quoting them. He was aware of the two epistles 2 John and 3 John without ever quoting them. Origen could not quote a negative TF in light of his fights with Celsus. It is more likely that it was Celsus quoting the TF making it difficult for Origen to combate him. The TF would have been negative but not hostile, just the same as all the other passages of messianic pretenders. As Whealey says, “Origen’s claim that Josephus did not believe in Jesus as the Christ does not match the statement of the Textus Receptus Testimonium ‘ ὁ Χριστὸς οὗτος ἦν.’ It has also been argued however, that Origen’s certainty that Josephus did not believe in Jesus as the Christ must be derived from some sort of Testimonium…. Origen… statement that ‘the Jews do not connect John with Jesus, nor the punishment of John with Jesus’. It is precisely Antiquities18 that mention both the execution of Jesus and of John without in anyway connecting the two events or figures”.[19]

       As Bart Ehrman in his book Did Jesus Exist? has said it is too short to read like a Christian apocrypha. [20] It is more likely that Eusebius simply “improved” the TF with the help of the Emmaus narrative onto the framework of the original negative TF in available manuscripts. Steve Mason states “if the Christians had written the paragraph from scratch, they might have been expected to give Jesus a little more space than John, and to use language that was more emphatically Christian”. [21]. Paget notes that it is odd for a wholesale interpolation to place the Jesus passage before the Baptist passage instead of the in the order found in the Canonicals. [22] This argues in favour of Josephus placing these two messianic figures in this order. Also of note Bermejo-Rubio says “It is not really an internally consistent paragraph, but rather a kind of hybrid text, which betrays the presence of at least two distinct hands in its redaction. A wholly genuine text or a complete forgery would have probably resulted in a more homogeneous passage.”[23] To me it must have been negative because Origen never used it, it would have been useless as a defense against Celsius (but he did acknowledge it in Contra Cels. 1.47). There is no reason for Origen to assert that Josephus did not call Jesus the Christ unless he saw a passage about Jesus. 

Next I will deal with Feldman’s arguments as he wrote in 1982, “A point that has not been appreciated thus far is that despite the value that such a passage [the Testimonium Flavianum] would have had in establishing the credentials of Jesus in the church’s missionary activities, it is not cited until Eusebius does so in the fourth century. This is admittedly the argumentum ex silentio, but in this case it is a fairly strong argument against the authenticity of the passage as we have it, especially since we know that Justin Martyr in the middle of the second century (Dialogue with Trypho 8) attempted to answer the charge that Jesus had never lived and was a mere figment of Christian imagination. Nothing could have been a stronger argument to disprove such a charge than a citation from Josephus, a Jew, who was born only a few years after Jesus’ death.” [24] This is a position he reiterated in 2011. [25]. Feldman is wrong on both points here:

1. Origen asserted that Josephus did not like to call Jesus the ‘Christ’…. well there is only one way he could have known that.

2. Typho was denying Jesus was the ‘Christ’ by saying a messiah was not born yet, not that Jesus was not born yet. As Origen did not have Jesus “was the Christ” in his copy of Josephus, Martyr could not have used it in this argument. It was only in Fieldman senior years he changed his mind completely on the authenticity of the TF. Yet the two points above discredit his reasons for doubting its authenticity.

        In 1992 Schreckenberg and Schubert noticed that the Testimonian was absent from an ancient Table of contents (argumenta) [26]. Etienne Nodet [27] has shown that all that meant is that Josephus did not consider it important and has shown what was not already mentioned generally in his earlier book War 2, did not generally make it into his table of contents. So it is entirely expected that the TF also would not make it in. Peter Kirby [28] mathematically tested this, he noted a relationship between material that is not mentioned in the table and material that is not mentioned in War 2 (as the majority, about 75%, of the material not in the table is also not in War 2 but only 25% of the material not in the table is in War 2). 


[1] Geza Verme, Jesus the Jew, 98-9

[2] Schweitzer, Quest for the Historical Jesus, p. 401

[3] Jason D. BeDuhn, The First New Testament, Marcion’s Scriptural Canon, p.8.

[4] To see how much the gospels used the Tanakh see R M Price, Christ Myth Theory and its problems, 60-260. To see how much Homer influenced the gospel of Mark, see Dennis R MacDonald, Homeric Epic and the gospel of Mark.

[5] Tom Dykstra, Mark canonizer of Paul, ch.1.

[6] Robert Eisler, The Messiah Jesus and John the Baptist, English Translation, (1932),11; his reconstructed negative TF is on p.62.

[7]  Ken Olson, “Eusebius and the Testimonium Flavianum,” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 61 (1999): 305–22.

Also see “A Eusebian Reading of the Testimonium Flavianum”, Ken Olson

[8] Ken Olson blog, A Eusebian reading of the Testimonium Flavian.

[9] Hopper, Paul J., A Narrative Anomaly in Josephus: Jewish Antiquities xviii:63. Linguistics and Literary Studies: Interfaces, Encounters, Transfers Eds. Monika Fludernik and

Daniel Jacob. Berlin: de Gruyte,160.

Compare in Greek the similarities of the Apostles creed and the TF:

σταυρωθέντα τε ὑπὲρ ἡμῶν ἐπὶ Ποντίου Πιλάτου, καὶ παθόντα, καὶ ταφέντα, καὶ ἀναστάντα τῇ τρίτῃ ἡμέρᾳ κατὰ τὰς γραφὰς…

Cf. the Testimonium:

παρ᾽ ἡμῖν σταυρῷ ἐπιτετιμηκότος Πιλάτου

…ἐφάνη γὰρ αὐτοῖς τρίτην ἔχων ἡμέραν πάλιν ζῶν τῶν θείων προφητῶν…

[10] Gary J. Goldberg, Ph.D, The Coincidences of the Emmaus Narrative of Luke and the Testimonium of Josephus, Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 13 (1995) pp. 59-77

[11] Richard Carrier, On the historicity of Jesus, ch8.

[12] John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew ,Rethinking the Historical Jesus Volume1, 64.

[13] Alice Whealey, “Josephus, Eusebius of Caesarea, and the Testimonium Flavianum” in Josephus und das Neue Testament, edited by Christoph Böttrich and Jens Herzer (Tübingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2007) 73-116.

[14] ibid, 82.

[15] Steve Mason, Josephus and the New Testament, ch6.

[16] Alice Whealey, ibid, 83-4.

[17] ibid, 84.

[18] Alice Whealey, Josephus on Jesus, 16-7.

[19] ibid,16

[20] Did Jesus Exist?, Bart Ehrman, ch2.

[21] Steve Mason, Josephus and the New Testament,171.

[22] J. Carleton Paget, “Some Observations on Josephus and Christianity,” Journal of Theological Studies 52, no. 2 (2001):539–624.

[23] Bermejo-Rubio, Fernand, Was the Hypothetical Vorlage of the Testimonium Flavianum a “Neutral” Text? Challenging the Common Wisdom on Antiquitates Judaicae 18.63-64 Journal for the Study of Judaism, 2014, Volume 45; Issue 3.

[24] Feldman, 1982: “The Testimonium Flavianum: The State of the Question.” In Christological Perspectives: Essays in Honor of Harvey K. McArthur, 182

[25] Feldman, “On the Authenticity of the Testimonium Flavianum Attributed to Josephus”, in New Perspectives on Jewish-Christian Relations, Elisheva Carlebach and Jacob J. Schacter (ed.s), Brill, 2011, pp. 13-30, p.15

[26] Schreckenberg, Heinz; Schubert, Kurt, Jewish Historiography and Iconography in Early and Medieval Christianity., (Van Gorcum. 1992b). p.58

[27] Nodet, Etienne, “Josephus and Discrepant Sources,” in Flavius Josephus: Interpretation and History, edited by Jack Pastor, Pnina Stern, and Menahem Mor, (Brill 2011), pp. 266-269.

[28] Kirby, Peter, The Greek Table of contents to Antiquities 18,

A blog in the following link:



PART 3 of my Historical Jesus series

“And after such statements, showing his ignorance even of the number of the apostles, he proceeds thus: “Jesus having gathered around him ten or eleven persons of notorious character, the very wickedest of tax-gatherers and sailors, fled in company with them from place to place, and obtained his living in a shameful and importunate manner.” Let us to the best of our power see what truth there is in such a statement. It is manifest to us all who possess the Gospel narratives, which Celsus does not appear even to have read…….” (Origen, Contra Celsum 1.62.)

Origen complained about what Celsus said in his book “The True Doctrine” as quoted in Contra Celsum 1.62. From this passage it shows that Celsus could have got his information from somewhere else other than the gospels. (He may have had a disapproving look at Christian literature but he had access to other sources on the Christians that I will examine here).

     I suspect many of the anti Christian pagans preserved in the apologetics of church fathers made use of an original negative Testimonium Flavianum (referred to as the TF from now on) before Christians had the power to change the wording of the original books. Christians did not control the books until the time of Eusebius, any pagan commentator could easily check any of Josephus works (without interpolations) in public libraries. It was Robert Eisler in his book The Messiah Jesus and John the Baptist that suggested the opponents of Justin Martyr and Origen made use of the original TF (therefore making them a pre-Eusebian witness of the TF). [1] Also another German scholar Franz Dornsieff [2] has said that Tacitus also made use of the negative original TF. It has been suggested that Tacitus got his information about Christians from his friend Pliny the younger. This may be true but the information Tacitus has about Christians is more than that Pliny would have given him and matches the TF on four points. It is probable that Tacitus would have received his information from both Pliny and a negative TF. Tacitus used this original Testimonium Flavianum before it mentioned ‘Christ’ or ‘Christians’. The original TF was about Jesus and his movement. It was G A Wells [3] that argued that the sources for Tacitus were not independant and therefore do not corroborate Paul’s epistles. In this series I argue that all the anti Christian polemic worked off of the original TF and that Josephus got his information from imperial or more local army records independent of Christians, for Josephus was on very good terms with Titus and the imperial secretary Epaphroditus. He did the same for the ‘Samaritan’ (Ant 18.4.1) and Theudas (Ant 20.5.1) who were not important enough to make into his first book, The Jewish War, but on consulting records included them in his more detailed second book Antiquities of the Jews. Many of these messianic groups including the Jesus movement saw Josephus as a traitor who sided with the Romans, so it is very unlikely they would offer him any information. 

To understand the historical context of the TF you have to understand that Jesus was only about as famous as many other messianic figures found in Josephus Works and to some extent he was even less famous than many of them. The gospels exaggerated out of all proportion the happenings around Jesus that nearly went unnoticed by his contemporaries. (I said nearly as I show that Jesus eventually got a mention in Josephus second book, Antiquities of the Jews).

Celsus mentioning the sailors matches what Crossan calls “fishy” stuff in the gospels. He talks about the 1st century boat discovered in Lake Kinneret or the Sea of Galilee as the gospel of Mark calls it. This “Ancient Galilee boat” had 12 types of wood in it showing the inferior repairs that had to be carried out to keep it afloat in hard economic times.[4] Crossan makes the observation that many of Jesus’s disciples were fishermen:

“Mary was from Magdala, whose Greek name, Tarichaeae, means “salted fish”. Peter moved from one fishing village, Bethsaida, to live with his wife and mother in law at another such village, Capernaum. (John 1:44, Mark 1:29-30). [It was Jesus’s hometown in Mark 2:1]. Also Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter (John 1:44). And as Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea – for they were fishermen….. as he went a little further he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John who were in their boat mending the nets … (Mark 1:16-19)” [5] Magdalas’ Greek named was Taricheae, which comes from Tarichos (“salted fish”). The fish taken from Lake Kinneret was cleaned and salted at Magdala and exported to Rome.

So you see the gospels have a tradition that this Jesus movement started among the hard pressed economically deprived fishermen of Galilee.

        We can see Celsus using Josephus Antiquities and the TF in a bundle of passages Against Celsus 3.5 – 3.8, in comparing Jesus to Moses as a rebel. For example:

“Immediately after these points, Celsus, imagining that the Jews are Egyptians by descent, and had abandoned Egypt, after revolting against the Egyptian state, and despising the customs of that people in matters of worship, says that “they suffered from the adherents of Jesus, who believed in Him as the Christ, the same treatment which they had inflicted upon the Egyptians; and that the cause which led to the new state of things in either instance was rebellion against the state.” (Origen, Contra Celsum 3.5)

“Hebrews, who had been unjustly treated, had departed from Egypt after revolting against the Egyptians” (Origen, Contra Celsum 3.6)

“that the Hebrews, being (originally) Egyptians, dated the commencement (of their political existence) from the time of their rebellion,” so also is this, “that in the days of Jesus others who were Jews rebelled against the Jewish state, and became His followers;

[And Origen does not deny revolt as the beginning of the movement!]

And yet, if a revolt had led to the formation of the Christian commonwealth, so that it derived its existence in this way from that of the Jews,” (Origen, Contra Celsum 3.7)

Josephus had told of the “Egyptian army had once tasted of this prosperous success, by the hand of Moses,” (Ant 2.10.2) and that he “might be the General of their army. (Ant 2.10.1) When the Egyptians had drowned “Moses gathered together the weapons of the Egyptians, which were brought to the camp of the Hebrews, (Ant 2.16.6) and established a Hebrew state, Moses had fought the Amorite King in Ant 4.5.2.

        In all Celsus comparisons of Moses with Jesus he also used the TF to see that Jesus was a rebel:

“that a revolt was the original commencement of the ancient Jewish state, and subsequently of Christianity.” (Origen, Contra Celsum 3.8)

“that in the days of Jesus others who were Jews rebelled against the Jewish state, and became His followers;” (Contra Celsum 3.7)

          As we have discussed in the last part, the lead up to Origen’s mention of the Testimonium Flavianum, a rather long argument developed against Celsus. Origen is very perturbed that Celsus “disbelieves the appearance of the Holy Spirit in the form of a dove” (Cels. 1.43). This is as an argument Origen starts to highlight in chapter 40 and continues arguing against right up to chapter 48. This has upset Origen so much that he begins to throw everything and the kitchen sink at this. In chapter 47 he cites three passages out of Josephus’ Antiquities in defense that the belief is and should be reasonable for a Jew. He cites the Baptist passage saying John was baptizing for the remission of sins. As he was using the TF passage he asserts that regretfully that Josephus did not believe Jesus as Christ and they put Jesus to death. He then moves onto what he thought was the James passage, saying James’ death was the cause of the fall of Jerusalem. Then, just like as Josephus reports it, Origen says in the next chapter 48 that “For the Jews do not connect John with Jesus, nor the punishment of John with that of Christ.” In the Baptist passage Christianity has nothing to do with the Baptist movement as reported in Josephus, neither does Josephus connect John or Jesus’s execution.

          Origen did not quote the TF as it was negative. There are other examples of Origen knowing of documents without quoting them. He was aware of the two epistles 2 John and 3 John without ever quoting them. Origen could not quote a negative TF in light of his fights with Celsus. It is more likely that it was Celsus quoting the TF making it difficult for Origen to combate him.

        Celsus is under the impression that Jesus was the leader of a seditious movement as described by Origen in another later passage here:

“Again Celsus proceeds: “If you should tell them that Jesus is not the Son of God, but that God is the Father of all, and that He alone ought to be truly worshipped, they would not consent to discontinue their worship of him who is their leader in the sedition…..[Origen denies what Celsus has just said by adding the following]… Jesus is, then, not the leader of any seditious movement, but the promoter of peace….”(Contra Celsum 8.14)

       As rebellion was the instigating cause of this movement and not great teachings or philosophy, it stands to reason that all these teachings were later attributed:

“Their union is the more wonderful, the more it can be shown to be based on no substantial reason. And yet rebellion is a substantial reason, as well as the advantages which accrue from it, and the fear of external enemies. Such are the causes which give stability to their faith.” (Contra Celsus 3.14)

Neither Tacitus nor Lucian are aware of Jesus’ name, Tacitus calling him “Christos,” [6] whereas Lucian calls him the “crucified sophist.” This suggests that they are not using Christian literature or getting their information from Christians as they would have been able to obtain his name from them. Calling him a sophist suggests Lucian was drawing from a source different from the gospels, such as the original TF that I have just reconstructed.

       The opponents of the church father apologetics all seem to be working off an original TF. For example, Justin Martyr answers his opponent, “He was no sophist, but His word was the power of God.” (1 Apol. 14 Cf Lucian, Peregr. Proteus, ch. xiii.). Justin’s interlocutor has got his charge that Jesus was described as a sophist, probably information that was contained in the TF. Judas the Galilean was also described as a sophist by Josephus at War 2 §118 σοφιστὴς ἰδίας αἱρέσεως (sophisticated ideas) and War 2 § 433:

“In the meantime one Manahem, the son of Judas that was called the Galilean (who was a very cunning sophister, and had formerly reproached the Jews under Cyrenius, that after God they were subject to the Romans), (War 2 § 433 cf War 2 §118).

       As Steve Mason says on his commentary on Josephus War book 2:

“Josephus will continue to call both Judas (War 2 § 433) and his son Menachem (War 2 § 445) sophists (σοφισταί). This is significant because he uses the word sparingly, reserving it with Platonic associations (cf. the Gorgias) for teachers who incite the young to rebellious action: War uses it otherwise only of the teachers who instructed their disciples to topple Herod’s golden eagle (1.648, 650, 655, 656; 2.10; cf. Ant. 17.152, 155). The only other application in Josephus is to the anti-Judean writers of Egypt, who are “reprobate sophists, deceiving the young” (Apion 2.236).[7]

               Here are some more examples that will build a picture of how the anti Christian polemicists viewed the Jesus movements. Firstly a quote of the pagan Caecilius Natalis written by one of the earliest of the Latin apologists for Christianity, namely Minicius Felix: 

“that a man fastened to a cross on account of his crimes is worshipped by Christians, for they believe not only that he was innocent, but with reason that he was God. But, on the other hand, the heathens invoke the Divine Powers of Kings raised into Gods by themselves; they pray to images, and beseech their Genii.”(Minucius Felix, Octavius ch29).


 “he who explains their ceremonies by reference to a man punished by extreme suffering for his wickedness, and to the deadly wood of the cross, appropriates fitting altars for reprobate and wicked men, that they may worship what they deserve.” (Minucius Felix,Octavius, ch9)

       From those two quotes we can see the Romans viewed Jesus Christ as a criminal with his cross.


       Lactantius a Christian writer and an advisor to the first Christian Roman emperor, Constantine I, complains about his interlocutor:

“But he affirmed that Christ, driven out by the Jews, gathered a band of nine hundred men and committed acts of brigandage’: ‘Christum … a Iudaeis fugatum collecta nongentorum hominum manu latrocinia fecisse.’ (Lactantius, Divine Institutes, Book v. Ch. 3.)

 He also stated in the same chapter:

 “If Christ is a magician because He performed wonderful deeds, it is plain that Apollonius, who, according to your description, when Domitian wished to punish him, suddenly disappeared on his trial, was more skilful than He who was both arrested and crucified.” And of course Lactantius hits back at these pagan critics, “…than from that very cross which you as dogs lick”. (ibid, Div. Inst. v.3).

       In the next passage quoted in full below Celsus makes the following claims, that Christ and members of his church have been put to death in a way appropriate to robbers and Celsus also asks what makes the two “robbers” crucified with Jesus any different from Jesus. Bear in mind the term ‘robbers’ (lestai, λῃσταί:sing; λῃστής, lestes: plural) was a term used by Josephus to mean brigands.

       “Celsus in the next place says, with indescribable silliness: “If, after inventing defences which are absurd, and by which you were ridiculously deluded, you imagine that you really make a good defense, what prevents you from regarding those other individuals who have been condemned, and have died a miserable death, as greater and more divine messengers of heaven (than Jesus)?” [Origen interjects here]: Now, that manifestly and clearly there is no similarity between Jesus, who suffered what is described, and those who have died a wretched death on account of their sorcery, or whatever else be the charge against them, is patent to every one. For no one can point to any acts of a sorcerer which turned away souls from the practice of the many sins which prevail among men, and from the flood of wickedness (in the world). But since this Jew of Celsus compares Him to robbers, and says that “any similarly shameless fellow might be able to say regarding even a robber and murderer whom punishment had overtaken, that such a one was not a robber, but a god, because he predicted to his fellow robbers that he would suffer such punishment as he actually did suffer,” it might, [Origen tries to answer the charge by Celsus] in the first place, be answered, that it is not because He predicted that He would suffer such things that we entertain those opinions regarding Jesus which lead us to have confidence in Him, as one who has come down to us from God. And, in the second place, we assert that this very comparison has been somehow foretold in the Gospels; since God was numbered with the transgressors by wicked men, who desired rather a “murderer” (one who for sedition and murder had been cast into prison) to be released unto them, and Jesus to be crucified, and who crucified Him between two robbers. Jesus, indeed, is ever crucified with robbers among His genuine disciples and witnesses to the truth, and suffers the same condemnation which they do among men. And we say, that if those persons have any resemblance to robbers, who on account of their piety towards God suffer all kinds of injury and death, that they may keep it pure and unstained, according to the teaching of Jesus, then it is clear also that Jesus, the author of such teaching, is with good reason compared by Celsus to the captain of a band of robbers. But neither was He who died for the common good of mankind, nor they who suffered because of their religion, and alone of all men were persecuted because of what appeared to them the right way of honouring God, put to death in accordance with justice, nor was Jesus persecuted without the charge of impiety being incurred by His persecutors.” (Origen, Contra Celsum 2.44).

       The Sefer Toledot Yeshu (Generations of Jesus), a Jewish anti gospel is also under the impression that the Jesus movement comprised of insurgents:

34 Now as he was fast in their hands, he answered and said to his fellows before the queen, Concerning me it was said, Who will rise up for me against the evil-doers ? And of them he said. The proud waters. Yea, of them he said, They have made their faces harder than a rock.

35 When the queen heard this she threatened the insurgents, and said to the wise men of Israel, See, he is in your hands. (Toledot ch iii, 34-35).

The Queen (dealing with the insurgent followers of Jesus) is a literary invention of the Toledot, but depending on what various manuscripts you use, she is either based on Queen Helena of Adiebene (who chronologically matches the historical framework of the Toledot) or Helena Augusta, Constantine I’s mother. 

        As Hasan-Rokem said:

“The “textual milieu” where Toledot Yeshu best fits in is neither Rabbinic literature nor the canonical gospels, but rather some texts of the early Christian literature known as apocryphal, both the gospels and in particular some of the apocryphal Acts of the Apostles, which carry on the prose tradition of the Hellenistic novel, which has also been found to reverberate, although in less consistent modes in late antique Jewish, rabbinic, literature.” [8]

While the Toledot is a late composition first mentioned in the ninth century by two different bishops, Agobard and Amulo, it drew from early apocryphal gospels. Robert M Price has said, “the Toledoth Jeschu [is] (dependent on a second-century Jewish-Christian gospel)”. [9] Hugh Schonfield speculates this could be the lost Gospel according to the Hebrews, of which we have only fragmented quotes. Schonfield has a tantalizing prospect with the following reasoning:

“This is all the more likely when it is remembered that it was the Jewish custom to name their books from the opening words. Thus Exodus is in Hebrew Shemoth from the opening words of this book ‘ we-ekh shemoth.’ The title Toldoth Jeshu (Generations of Jesus) must then have been taken from a book beginning with these words, The only known Gospel which does so is of course Matthew which opens with “The book of the Generations of Jesus,’ Now it was commonly held that the Gospel according to the Hebrews was the lost Hebrew Gospel of Matthew ; and it is possible that if this work should ever be recovered entire, it will show itself to be the basis of many of the Toldoth stories.” [10]

       Let us examine Mark and Matthew who also used the term “robbers,” lestai, the same term that is used in Josephus for brigands: 

“Then were there two robbers — (dyo lēstas ) crucified with him, one on the right hand, and another on the left. (Matthew 27:38).

“And with him they crucify two robbers (dyo lēstas); the one on his right hand, and the other on his left.” (Mark 15:27)

“And there were also two other malefactors (kakourgoi dyo), led with him to be put to death.” (Luke 23:32).

“And he bearing his cross went forth into a place called the place  of a skull, which is called in the Hebrew Golgotha: Where they crucified him, and two other with him, on either side one, and Jesus and the midst.” (John 19:17-18).

After the Roman Jewish war, all literature became the literature of fear. Note that it would have been absolutely critical for the movement to erase any recollection of disciples dying with Jesus. If they had, it would indicate that the movement at large had been condemned by the Romans. It would reveal the entire “conviction for blasphemy by the Sanhedrin” as a fraudulent fabrication. As Bart Ehrman [11] said when Jesus said to the High Priest that he will see the son of man coming on clouds, Caiaphas shouted – blasphemy, but it wasn’t blasphemy at all. (Mark 14:62-64). Neither was claiming to be the messiah blasphemous, that is only delivering the people into God’s kingdom. Many before and after Jesus claimed this title and never got accused of blasphemy (many got accused of sedition). Rabbi Shmuley Boteach made an entertaining observation that if Jesus or anybody else claimed he was god, “in a Jewish court, he or she would be told to go home and get a good night’s rest. Alternatively, such a person might be sent to an asylum. But a punishment of death would never have been issued because absolutely no one would take the claim seriously. In Judaism, blasphemy involves cursing God, not claiming to be God.” [12]

As the religion developed, it would also undermine the salvation concept of Jesus’ death as a unique sacrifice. As Paul Winters says, “No grounds must be given for the inference that Jesus was in any way connected with subversive activities such as those which had resulted in the recent rising. The Evangelists therefore contrived to conceal that Jesus had been condemned and executed on a charge of sedition.” [13] So we see a vigorous attempt by the Synoptic writers to disparage the two who died with Jesus, or in Luke’s case to disparage one and show the other as a random soul saved at the last minute.

The Synoptics wanted to brand those crucified with Jesus as “robbers”, whereas John would be more historical and see the others crucified as their own and would refer to them as others. John’s gospel also shows the real reason why Jesus ended up on the cross. “John’s gospel, in other words, depicts no full priestly council the night of Jesus’ arrest and, even more strikingly, no charge of blasphemy. For John, what motivates the Sanhedrin’s decision about Jesus—taken even before Jesus comes up to the city for the last time—is politics, not piety. The Sanhedrin fears Rome.”[14]

        It is quite likely the two who died with Jesus were followers. John says flat out that they were subject to arrest. The Synoptics show it was only Jesus, not the disciples, who was arrested — the conviction for blasphemy, the dramatic kiss of Judas which isolates Jesus only as the one to be arrested and led away, the invention of the moral corruption of the two who died with him. The remarkable thing is that the idea that the disciples were subject to arrest, and the inference that two may have been crucified with Jesus, survives in the gospel of John.


[1] Eisler, Robert, The Messiah Jesus and John the Baptist: According to Flavius Josephus’ recently rediscovered ‘Capture of Jerusalem’ and the other Jewish and Christian sources (Lincoln Macveagh,The Dial Press, New York; English ed. by Alexander Haggerty Krappe, PhD, January 1, 1931); examples given on page 51.

[2] Dornsieff, Franz, “Lukas der Schriftsteller. Mit einem Anhang: Josephus und Tacitus,” ZNW 35 (1936): 148-55.

Sir Roger L’Estrange in 1762 argued that Tacitus had read Josephus and that the Testimonium Taciteum was based on the Testimonium Flavianum, thus being evidence of its authenticity. This is found in his translation of Josephus:    

L’Estrange, Sir Roger, The Works of Flavius Josephus. Translated Into English by Sir Roger L’Estrange … To which are Prefixed, Two Discourses [by John Willes, with Notes by John Hudson] … The Sixth Edition, Etc: Volume 1, Flavius Josephus. Jan 1762.

The latest adherent of this thesis is Stephen S Carlson, who argues that there are many incidents where Tacitus is reliant on Josephus:

Stephan S Carlson, A Pre-Eusebian witness to the Testimonium, Hypotyposeis blog (2004).

[3] Wells, G. A., The Jesus of the Early Christians (London: Pemberton, 1971); ibid, Did Jesus Exist? (London: Pemberton, 1975; 2d ed., 1986); ibid, The Historical Evidence for Jesus (Buffalo: Prometheus, 1982); ibid, Who Was Jesus? (Chicago: Open Court, 1989); ibid, The Jesus Legend (Chicago: Open Court, 1996). As cited by Van Voorst, Robert E., Jesus Outside the New Testament, An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence, (William B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2000), p.13.

[4] Crossan, John Dominic, The Greatest Prayer, Rediscovering the Revolutionary Message of the Lord’s Prayer, (Harper, 2010), ch 6.

[5] ibid, p.122.

[6] Prchlík, Ivan, Tacitus’ knowledge of the origins of Christianity, Acta Universitatis Carolinae, Philologica 2/ Graecolatina Pragensia, (2017), pp.96 f.

Under UV light it showed that Tacitus had originally written ‘Chrestiani’. Ivan Prchlík says “Tacitus’ orthography of the names Chrestiani and Christus, as occurring in the passage … emphasized that the form Chrestiani had been the popular one.” Prchlík suggests Tacitus knew the originator of the movement had been Christos. He did not use the name Jesus. “In contemporary Greek, however, <ι> and  <η> were already pronounced in the same manner, and so the pagans, or at least a majority of them, coming across the title Χριστός certainly considered it a personal name“ just like the name Χρηστός is.

[7] Mason, Steve, Flavius Josrphus: Judean War 2, translation and commentary, Volume 1b, (Brill, 2008), p. 83.

[8] Hasan-Rokem, Galit, “Polymorphic Helena – Toledot Yeshu as a Palimpsest of Religious Narratives and Identities”, in Peter Schäfer, Michael Meerson, Yaacov Deutsch, Ed.s, Toledot Yeshu (“The life story of Jesus”) Revisted, (Mohr Siebeck, Tübingin, 2011), p.250.

[9] Price, R. M., Incredible Shrinking Son of Man, (Prometheus, 2003) p. 40

[10] Schonfield, According to the Hebrews, (London: Duckworth, 1937), p.24.

[11] Ehrman, Bart, Jesus, Apocalyptic prophet for the new millennium, (Oxford University Press 1999), p.220.

[12] Rabbi Shmuley Boteach, Kosher Jesus, (Gefen, 2012), p.102.

[13] Winter, Paul, On the Trial of Jesus, (Walter De Gruyter 1974), p.34.

[14] Fredriksen, Paula, When Christians Were Jews, The first generation, (Yale University Press, 2018), p.56-7.