The Testimonium Flavianum

Now that Fox News has shot itself in the foot again and inadvertently made a Muslim scholar’s book about Jesus a bestseller and the talk of every town (which one can only assume from their interview of Reza Aslan is exactly the opposite of what they were hoping for), common concepts and terminology in the Jesus historicity debate are going mainstream and becoming familiar to ordinary people everywhere (even more so than after the best-selling release of Bart Ehrman’s book Did Jesus Exist?, which I demonstrated to be terrible; although that, too, has primed the pump of popular discourse in this matter).

The experts have weighed in and found Aslan’s book Zealot to be, well, basically bad. From a historical perspective. As a writer everyone agrees he’s top notch. And even as history he’s not wholly wrong. But there’s a lot wrong. From mistakenly not knowing the Sea of Galilee is a fresh water lake and not, ahem, an actual saltwater sea, to misinforming the public on the status of certain debates in the field, to engaging in scholarship of convenience (ignoring evidence against his case or conveniently declaring it forged or fabricated…without any reason other than that it contradicts his hypothesis–although to be fair, even the experts who criticize him do this…a lot), to oversimplifying facts, and other common foibles, he makes his case look stronger than it really is. (See the reviews of Dale Martin [service intermittent], Stephen Prothero, Joseph Loconte, and Anthony Le Donne.)

This is a bit like the pot calling the kettle black (see chapter 1 of my book Proving History), but even then the kettle is still black.

But I’m here to talk about one particular issue his book has popularized: the Testimonium Flavianum.

Aslan uses that technical term when he discusses the passage it refers to in the ancient Jewish historian Josephus (of the latter first century), in a note (Zealot, p. 220), and the internet has done the rest. (There has long been a Wikipedia entry on the Testimonium Flavianum, which will explain to you where the phrase comes from and what it refers to, and even provides a translation.)

Aslan concurs with many scholars that this passage is a complete forgery (“interpolated” into the text by later Christian scribes), although he inadvertently implies there are no scholars who disagree, a gaffe some reviewers have taken him to task for. I actually agree with Aslan, and in fact I can see no logically valid or sound reason to disagree with him, but it is true that he badly worded his statement of scholarly consensus on this matter, and didn’t give clear reasons for his own conclusion.

Aslan assumes the other reference to Jesus Christ elsewhere in Josephus (which refers to a certain “James, brother of the so-called Christ” being executed) is authentic, and he even uses this to conclude no logical argument can be made that Jesus didn’t have brothers (Zealot, pp. 35-36) and that his Zealot thesis is correct (pp. 198-201). The fact that it is not authentic and is certainly an accidental interpolation that occurred in the late third century (two centuries after Josephus wrote) one can perhaps excuse Aslan for not knowing, because in our field we have shitty databases and it’s almost impossible to keep up with current scholarship on a subject in result. But now you know. And down go his two arguments from it.

In a previous blog post (Jesus in Josephus) I discussed my peer reviewed article demonstrating that this other reference to Jesus was accidentally inserted by a Christian–and that article also has a brief section and note on why the longer paragraph (the actual Testimonium Flavianum, or TF, which Aslan rightly rejects) is certainly wholly a fabrication (in this case not accidental), and in that blog post I also cited and discussed another peer reviewed article (by G.J. Goldberg) corroborating that latter conclusion (finding that the TF is rife with vocabulary and parallels from the Gospel of Luke…and it has long been noted that the evidence indicates Luke used Josephus as a source, and not the other way around, e.g. Luke and Josephus).

Now Ken Olson has weighed in. Olson has long advocated the hypothesis that the TF was forged and inserted by the Christian historian Eusebius (the first author ever to notice and quote the TF, in the early fourth century). He had his critics, but only just this year took them on in a devastating analysis that all but clinches his case and knocks down every argument his critics had. (Required reading on this point is now Ken Olson, “A Eusebian Reading of the Testimonium Flavianum,” in Eusebius of Caesarea: Tradition and Innovations [Harvard University Press, 2013], pp. 97-114.)

In defense of Aslan’s conclusion (not necessarily his wording), Olson has blogged about how the most common arguments against Christian authorship of the TF are ironically among the best arguments for its forgery by Eusebius (a Christian): see The Testimonium Flavianum, Eusebius, and Consensus. In that analysis (well worth reading) he cites his past and present work, and that of his critics, and mentions why they are wrong. Combined with his chapter in Eusebius of Caesarea, I think the case is now pretty strong that Eusebius did indeed fabricate the TF.

Or…that Pamphilus of Caesarea did.

This is a possibility Olson does not consider, but that I think deserves equal attention. My impression from the work of Eusebius is that he is kind of a doof and didn’t actually know where passages like this came from. I suspect he is not the forger. But Olson’s evidence entails that if Eusebius is not the forger, then his teacher and predecessor almost certainly is, and that’s Pamphilus of Caesarea. We have almost none of what was written by that man, thus we can’t check directly, but all the evidence Olson finds of Eusebian authorship of the TF could be remnants of vocabulary, idioms, and ideas Eusebius inherited from his teacher. And the timeline fits (I argue the accidental interpolation in the other passage occurred under Pamphilus’s watch as well, since it’s clear Eusebius didn’t know that had occurred, as I show in my article, yet it must have occurred after Origen, as I also show in my article, and Pamphilus was Origen’s successor; I also demonstrate there that all present copies of Josephus derive from the copy Eusebius held in his library, which was Pamphilus’s library, inherited from Origen).

Either way, Olson’s case is extremely robust, ensuring a very high probability that the TF is a forgery of Eusebius or Pamphilus, and occurred sometime in the latter third or early fourth century. And at any rate is certainly wholly a Christian forgery. All objections to that conclusion are met collectively by Olson’s latest chapter and my latest article (and I’ll be adding more to the case in my next book, On the Historicity of Jesus). Attempts to rescue the TF should be declared dead.


  1. gshelley August 14, 2013, 10:16 am

    Any chance of a general review of Zealot? From what I heard in interviews, Aslan just assumes there was a historical Jesus, because this is what nearly everyone thinks and goes on from there. He could give more details in the book, but as it isn’t a book about whether there was a Historical Jesus, just what sort of Historical Jesus there was, this would have to be fairly brief.

    1. I see no need to review it. That’s been done by numerous competent people already (see my links). There are hundreds of books like this. It’s a waste of time reading them, because they all operate from assumptions I (and others) have already proved invalid (the point of my book Proving History).

  2. How do you explain why so-called critical books about Jesus like these, and even more absurd ones like The DaVinci Code get so much traction, and yours and others (Doherty, Ellegard, Thompson etc.) with much more substantial scholarship and arguments are virtually ignored both by the public and the scholarly community.

    1. The same reason everyone reads Dan Brown but no one reads Raymond Brown.

      The same reason everyone knows who Deepak Chopra is but no one knows who Philippa Foot is.

      The same reason everyone knows Richard Dawkins but no one knows Gary Drescher.

      And so on.

      (Obviously the “no ones” here are hyperbole, but you get the drift.)

  3. I know lots of Christians hang their hat on Josephus…but my standard is somewhat different.

    I have asked for a contemporaneous eyewitness non-mythic (ie, the various “gospels, both in and out of the canon) reports of this Jesus guy. Of course, you and I both know such a thing does not exist.

    Since Josephus wasn’t born until after the alleged events, he could not have been an eyewitness. Done and done. So, in the larger sense, it doesn’t matter at all what Josephus wrote or did not write about Jesus. You show me a contemporaneous eyewitness report; then we’ll talk.

  4. and inadvertently made a Muslim scholar’s book about Jesus a bestseller

    -It was #2 on the Amazon bestseller list before the Fox interview occurred, and it had fallen to at most #8 on the Amazon bestseller list when the interview occurred, IIRC.

    1. It’s dancing around the top ten (e.g. it’s #5 right now). I don’t know what it’s sales rank history was, though (is there a link for that?). But I assume these days the Amazon top ten is a fair indication of what’s being most read across the country.

  5. Richard, you wrote: “In a previous blog post (Jesus in Josephus) I discussed my peer reviewed article demonstrating that this other reference to Jesus was accidentally inserted by a Christian …”

    Are you sugesting that because your article was peer reviewed, this article has to be right and your conclusion true? If not, what does peer review of an article or book mean concerning the reviewed text?

    Cordially, Bernard

    1. Are you sugesting that because your article was peer reviewed, this article has to be right and your conclusion true?

      Stop being ridiculous, Bernard.

      If not, what does peer review of an article or book mean concerning the reviewed text?

      It means it is not some random article or book someone wrote, but something that passed formal academic quality review by qualified experts in the field, and met the high standards of scholarship mandated by a leading research journal.

      Imagine a Venn diagram: all articles written (circle A) in a tiny corner of which is the vastly smaller number of all articles that are probably correct or even if incorrect are essential to address on the subject they are on (article B). Circle A is so gigantic, an article being in it cannot be sufficient reason to even bother caring about it much less reading it or heeding it; but circle B is small and crucial, and thus an article in there is a must-read and probably a must-heed. Now imagine a circle around that one (circle C) which contains “all articles in formally peer reviewed research journals” — it is almost as small as circle B and nowhere even remotely as large as circle A.

      Now do the math.

      From the model described, it’s simple geometry.

  6. Gshelley,the assumption of existence was the first thing which struck me, even as I heard others wax poetic about his book. I shall pass on this one too.

  7. Mark Neunder August 14, 2013, 2:38 pm

    Your conjecture that Pamphilus is the culprit would gain in probability (no?) if it could be confirmed he was guilty of other fabrications or forgeries, as suggested by these notes in wikipedia:

    The canons of the alleged Council of the Apostles at Antioch were ascribed by their compiler (late fourth century) to Pamphilus (Adolf von Harnack, Spread of Christianity, I, 86-101.)
    A Summary of the Acts of the Apostles among the writings associated with Euthalius bears in its inscription the name of Pamphilus (Patrologia Graeca LXXXIX, 619 sqq.)

    1. Unfortunately, those could be later attributions, and thus not the responsibility of Pamphilus. False and mistaken attributions of works was actually relatively common in Christian literature of the period.

  8. Hidden Scrolls August 14, 2013, 4:52 pm

    Reza was asked, in a recent interview, about his view that as a poor Jew living in a poor village, Jesus was likely illiterate. In “Jesus and His World,” Craig Evans argues that Jesus was probably literate, but did not have scribal training from a recognized rabbi or sage. He bases it on John 7:15 which, as he says, has the Greek words “grammata oiden” that is “knows letters” and does not mean having no education whatsoever. I think Reza has the most convincing argument though (I also think the next verse explains the true motive of the authors). Doesn’t Reza’s view reflect the general consensus?

    1. This is a point of disagreement among scholars.

      The most common view is that he would be illiterate, but there are those who disagree, and the main problem with that is not John (a Gospel that is almost certainly entirely bogus and thus reflects no true historical information at all…a conclusion many scholars share with me), but the fact that even from as early as Mark he is routinely hailed as “Rabbi,” a title generally only given to men actually schooled in a rabbinical college or tutorship (all Rabbis were both literate and worked a manual trade, like carpentry or stonework or sandalmaking). There is also the general sociological-anthropological fact that religious innovators, leaders, and founders are almost always educated (despite legends that quickly grow that they were not), so it would actually be unusual for Jesus to have garnered any significant following or developed any significant new or profound teachings without some schooling (not impossible, but unusual, hence improbable).

      For example, there is no way the superbly educated Paul would defer to illiterate fishermen (e.g. Peter and James and John) when his knowledge of the scriptures and his social status would be so vastly greater than theirs (facts he would lord over them constantly), and there are other reasons to suspect the claim that they were illiterate fishermen is fabricated (just as Muslims made up the claim that Mohammed was illiterate, therefore his composing the Koran is miraculous, when in fact he came from one of the wealthiest mercantile families in Arabia and could not possibly have avoided an education and was in fact a member of the elite…assuming he, too, existed, as there are scholars who doubt that, but that’s out of my field). And in turn, a crew of educated men like that would not defer to some illiterate carpenter from Galilee. Ergo, by chain of reasoning, Jesus was probably as educated as they were and Paul was.

      One must add to this that the Sermon on the Mount, for example (as well as other teachings attributed to Jesus) requires literary knowledge (such as the ability to read and make arguments from the unique qualities of the Greek translation of the Torah), so anyone who wants to rescue Jesus’ teachings is reducing the prior probability further that he was uneducated (some scholars find other sections to derive from Aramaic, which is debatable, but not relevant to this point). In fact, of course, a Rabbi teaching in Galilee wouldn’t be building speeches out of the Greek Septuagint, so really this evidence suggests that Jesus never said these things and they were made up by later men who were educated.

      Which gets us full circle back to the real question: the literacy and education of Jesus is moot if he never even existed in the first place. And I am fairly convinced he didn’t.

    2. Phillip Hallam-Baker August 20, 2013, 3:44 pm

      An illiterate Jesus really makes no sense in any scheme of things.

      It is possible to argue that the gospels are extremely mythologized accounts of an actual Jesus who was not a rabbi, not a political leader, etc. But these seem vanishingly unlikely. What we do know of Judaism at the time was that it was heavily based on a literary culture. Even if the majority of carpenters were illiterate, literacy was an essential qualification for being a rabbi and a Jesus who isn’t qualified as a rabbi isn’t qualified to be Christ.

      Looking at the TF, one phrase that leaps out at me is ‘if it be lawful to call him a man’. Now just why would anyone who was not a Christian use that particular phrase, particularly when it is followed up with mentioning that he was crucified?

      I don’t think the TF is an accidental interpolation. It looks too much like something a Christian trying to put words in Josephus’s mouth. And they really can’t fit unless Josephus has converted to Christianity in which case we would expect his histories to be chock full of Christ.

      But in any case, all the TF would demonstrate is that the historicity of Christ was asserted as fact a hundred years after his purported birth, 30 years after the destruction of the temple, 60 years after his purported death. Josephus is not an eye witness, if the TF is genuine he is working from the Christian gospels or redactions thereof. So Josephus can’t in any way validate Mark because there is no reason to believe that Josephus is working from an independent source.

    3. Yes, the TF is a deliberate interpolation. It’s the other reference in Josephus that is accidental.

      And yes, even if the TF were authentic, it cannot be shown to be independent of the Gospels as a source (directly or through intermediaries). It therefore is useless as evidence.

      (You will often see apologists and even secular scholars who should know better saying they can’t prove a ref. like that has a Gospel as a source, therefore it counts as evidence, but that’s logically invalid. You have to prove independence before you can assume independence as a premise. Otherwise it’s at best 50/50, and therefore argues for nothing.)

    4. Phillip Hallam-Baker August 22, 2013, 2:54 pm

      Even the tendentious editors on the Wikipedia page admit that pretty much everyone accepts that the TF has been at least partially falsified. But they cling to the claim that ‘most scholars agree’ that there was an original mention that was expanded.

      Which is of course nonsense since nobody can show what parts are original and which parts are forged. But in any case once it is admitted that the TF has been substantially corrupted by later Christian apologists the value of the TF as evidence of historicity is lost.

      The stupid part of it all is that the mythology theory hangs together much better as theology (sorry Richard!).

      What I have always considered nonsensical in Christianity is the idea that the people born before the word made flesh are condemned to eternal purgatory at best.

    5. The juggernaut of consensus also plagues Q research. When someone says “most scholars say x” they often leave out that all those scholars say x because y, and y has been multiply refuted by the minority of scholars who reject the consensus. But everyone keeps citing the same refuted scholars. As if the state of the field can’t change until they admit their mistake or drop dead. Most won’t even know they made a mistake because they won’t have ever even read the refutations of y; some are even dead, and thus can’t do so, yet still are cited as authorities on the subject; while others simply refuse to admit they were wrong, and cling to their conclusions with rationalizations, usually resting ultimately on unspecified gut opinions, which is a methodological problem that plagues the whole of history as a discipline (and many in this latter category are, surprise, Christian apologists).

  9. Diana MacPherson August 14, 2013, 4:58 pm

    You are kinder than I when you say, “one can perhaps excuse Aslan for not knowing, because in our field we have shitty databases and it’s almost impossible to keep up with current scholarship on a subject in result.” I’m not nearly as generous; Aslan has asserted that he holds a doctorate in “the history of religions” or a doctorate in “the sociology of religions”, which regardless if these credentials are disputed in a Washington Post article if he really has anything like those credentials, he should be familiar with doing good historical research. This book kind of drives me nuts because the thought of people getting their history all mixed up just drives me crazy!

    1. That’s unfair of the Washington Post, and reflects ignorance of academics and how expertise is framed in professional contexts.

      His doctorate is in sociology, and his specialization was religion. And he has a BA in religious studies and a master’s in theological studies.

      So it is entirely acceptable for him to say his doctorate was in sociology of religion. (Such an explicitly named degree might not even exist.)

      To give you an example, my diploma says I have a doctorate in “history” (full stop), even though I received it from the department of ancient history for completing the requirements for a doctorate in that department specifically (and not, say, the American history department, much less any sort of generic “history”). Moreover, my doctorate was completed with four “major subjects” (of my choosing, in which I completed oral exams and related coursework, and private tutoring and advising by world renowned experts), but none are listed in any formal way on my diploma, they’re just in my school records–these were ancient philosophy, ancient religion, historiography (i.e. ancient historians and their methods), and the decline of the Roman Empire. My actual dissertation, meanwhile, was in ancient science. I also received extensive training in other fields (two years worth altogether of papyrology, paleography, and Greek linguistics, for example), which don’t have actual “majors” in them, yet a doctorate in “history” through the ancient history department with the kind of coursework I did would be sufficient to qualify me as a “papyrologist,” for example (even though there is no such thing as a doctorate in “papyrology”–although I did not complete as much work as would warrant saying I had a doctorate in papyrology, nevertheless I am a trained expert in it, and the only way someone would ever be able to say they have a doctorate in papyrology there would be to get a doctorate in history, and just specialize in papyrology, as at least one of the four required graduate major subjects).

      Thus, I can legitimately say I have a doctorate in ancient history, ancient philosophy, ancient religion, ancient science, or Roman studies. They are all the same thing in actual fact, given my actual school records and transcripts, even though my diploma does not contain this information. It just says “history.”

      As to your other points…

      …if he really has anything like those credentials, he should be familiar with doing good historical research.

      Although that’s true (and his specializations were in historical sociology), insofar as one should allow that he can be sufficiently trained and thus should not assume he’s not, in my experience sociology departments don’t train their graduate students well in historical periods and methods (or not as well as history departments do) and thus they often come across as much weaker at it than more directly trained historians (Rodney Stark is a paradigm example: great sociologist, lousy historian; but no one seems to have told him that).

      This book kind of drives me nuts because the thought of people getting their history all mixed up just drives me crazy!

      To be fair, I could say this of at least a third of the books about Jesus produced by the supposedly better trained academics specializing in Jesus studies. (Only the most notorious examples being Ph.D.’d Christian apologists.)

      I found Bart Ehrman made numerous fundamental mistakes, for example, that may well be worse than the mistakes Aslan made.

      That’s actually not an uncommon finding. Aslan is generally in good company as far as that goes.

    2. Diana MacPherson August 15, 2013, 6:52 pm

      Yes, I take your points about his degrees and that’s why I didn’t really value what he Washington Post was harping on (I have a Classics degree but no one gets that so I say Classical Archaeology – because then I come off like Lara Croft or Indiana Jones and I have been known to say I have a degree in Latin or Greek because I studied those for several years too and people also know what that is).

      I think the difference with this book and Ehrman’s is that this one is more main stream but damn, I didn’t know about the sociology trained folk….that’s a bit disappointing but can I be all smug and superior about it too? 😉 I’ll read your linked article too – thanks!

  10. I was going to say, despite all my fellow liberals on facebook going bonkers over the “worst interview on FOX news evur,” I was thinking to myself, “But isn’t Reza Aslan generally full of shit himself?” What are the odds his book on Jesus is worth anything? Not that “bullshit mountain” (as Jon Stewart says) can’t outweigh even that… I just didn’t feel like doing the nuanced, comparative shit weighing analysis and so I moved on.

  11. What do you think of the oddity that Eusebius says the TF is located after the passage about John the Baptist, when in fact it is located in a completely different spot?

    Is it possible our extant copies of Josephus come from copies that didn’t have the TF at all, but that it was added by a later scribe who read Eusebius, noticed the TF was missing, and then added it himself?

    1. Eusebius doesn’t say the TF came after the Baptist passage. That’s in English translations, but not the Greek. Eusebius actually wrote

      tauta peri tou Iôannou dielthôn, kai tou sôtêros hêmôn kata tên autên tou suggrammatos historian hôde pôs memnêtai…

      “Having covered these things concerning John, he also [covers] our savior in the same historical treatise, recollecting in the following way…

      The idiom does not require the meaning that the one followed the other. It simply means Josephus covered both. That Eusebius specifies it’s in the same history indicates he certainly wasn’t saying the one followed the other (as if that’s what he meant, he wouldn’t have to say that it was in the same treatise).

      As to your hypothesis, Eusebius quotes the TF on multiple occasions in multiple works and identifies it as in the Antiquities of Josephus. He would not do that if it wasn’t there (even if that means he put it there so he could say that).

  12. RJohnson August 14, 2013, 7:07 pm

    Richard- you have piqued my curiosity. How exactly does an “accidental interpolation” happen?

    I remember when my daughter was a toddler and we told her “no” to a piece of candy because supper was coming in ten minutes. She came back five minutes later to explain she was just playing with it and it accidentally fell in her mouth. Technically possible- but not likely.

    1. From my article (pp. 490-91, sans footnotes with extensive citation of scholarship):

      As manuscripts were copied by hand, it often happened that text became accidentally skipped over or left out. When this error was noticed upon proofreading (when no erasure or “do over” was practical), the omitted text would be written in the margins or between the lines, sometimes with a mark indicating its place (in much the same way modern editors indicate corrective insertions even now). But scribes and scholars also often scribbled the equivalent of “footnotes” (and glosses and passage labels and other notes and commentary) in the margins or between the lines of manuscripts, sometimes again with a mark indicating its place (to which the note refers). As there was no standard notation for distinguishing marginal notes from accidentally omitted text, we have countless examples of such notes being accidentally interpolated into the text of other manuscripts. A later scribe simply mistook the marginal note as accidentally omitted text and, upon creating a copy, “rectified” the error by “reinserting” it, thus creating an altered sentence that appears to be what its author originally wrote, but is not.

      According to manuscript specialist F. W. Hall, “the casual jottings of readers and correctors are often imported into the text” in this way, hence he dedicates an entire section in his manual on textual criticism to “insertion of interlinear or marginal glosses or notes” as a common cause of erroneous interpolation in manuscripts. Robert Renehan agrees that “marginal confusions . . . occur frequently in mss.,” giving several examples (e.g. §35 shows several “marginal scholia which have been incorporated into the text” of Epicurus’s letters, in some cases, entire sentences). In his own brief survey, Miroslav Marcovich documents at least thirty-three examples of this kind of mistake in the works of the early church fathers, and he was not even trying to be comprehensive. The standard manual on textual criticism by Maas thus includes this as a common error to look for.

      Once such a note was made, any reader could interpret it as omitted text and thus even quote that text with the note interpolated. And when a copy was made (as when an aging or damaged manuscript was renewed, or an additional copy was produced for distribution), the interpolation would be included without any mention of the fact that the text had ever read any other way. From then on, the reader would be unable to know where the inserted text originated from or even that it had been inserted. All subsequent copies would appear likewise. All along, however, it would just have been an innocent mistake.

  13. Neil Johnson August 15, 2013, 12:10 pm

    Correct me if I’m wrong, I believe Fox News (and most everyone else) completely missed the fact that the Muslim faith believes in the historical “Jesus the Prophet”. Hence there is no surprise for this non-blasphemous (from a Muslim perspective) take on the historical Jesus from a Muslim author.

  14. Thanks so much for this! I’ve been wanting to write a blog post on the Testimonium Flaviunum for a long time, now, but for some reason I was having trouble finding any direct scholarship on the authoring of the passage that didn’t suggest that passage was a complete forgery. Most of what I could find insisted it was at least partially legitimate.

    Any chance the articles you mentioned (including yours) are accessible without a paywall/membership? I can’t afford these things… 🙁

    1. To get articles for free, get a library card at your local public library, and ask the reference librarian if you can get articles through ILL (interlibrary loan), and order them. Usually they send you a xerox (or sometimes a PDF) for free or for a very nominal fee (although the xerox you usually have to pick up at the library, they don’t mail it to your home). You can’t get chapters in books that way usually, but you can often ILL the book itself and make your own copy (or just read it and return it under deadline like any other library book).

      (Note that someone upthread says one of the Olson articles is available online, and that may be. In fact, I suggest searching each article on Google or Google Scholar to see if there are free copies already around. Sometimes the authors are allowed to host free copies on their university websites. Sometimes people post them illegally. And so on.)

  15. Giuseppe August 15, 2013, 10:42 pm

    Is desiderable, more than a review of Aslan’s book, a rapid review from you about Sid Martin The Secret of the Savior in Mark.
    I’m very uncertain if to take it or not. From the preview,

    I can see – to my modest opinion and without reading it before – that the link Golgotha/Capitol (”or place of the head”) seems pure parallelomania (à la Atwill, for not say Acharya), while his interpretation of Mark’s incipit – with Jesus that becomes first Israel, then Josuah, after David, etc… – is indeed more credible…

    About the link Gospels – Essenes, Verenna thinks there are not relations of any kind.


    1. Lots of things may have been intended by Mark’s symbolism. There is a difference between “that’s possible” and “we can prove that’s the case.” The idea of Jesus as personification is most likely true, IMO. But whether that supports every specific suggestion of what he or his story personifies is a wholly different question. This is not Atwillism.

      Judging solely from his description (I have not read the book), one can say, unlike Atwill, that Martin is at least working within the paradigm of a plausible cultural construct based on when and by whom the Gospel was written, and he isn’t relying on fallacies of probability overmuch (except insofar as he commits the possibiliter fallacy, but even mainstream scholars do that…a lot). In general, I’d say, neat idea. Can’t prove it.

      But Verenna is also correct that Martin does not seem to understand the historical background facts very well, or hugely over-simplifies if he does. Verenna’s point is that there were dozens of Jewish sects (he says possibly hundreds; I agree, possibly, although we only have evidence of at least ten and as many as thirty or so), so one cannot simply conclude that because Jesus and/or early Christianity “looks like” Essenism in some respects, that therefore it is Essenism. Many sects may have shared similarities with the Essenes…and yet were not the Essenes. Moreover, we know even the Essenes were divided into at least nine different sects. So there actually isn’t even an “Essene” sect but in fact many different ones.

      So we can’t in fact say Christianity or Jesus were arguing “Essenism.” We could say they appear to have been influenced by the Essenes or by similar traditions as influenced the Essenes, but that’s not the same thing. Moreover, several scholars have argued that in the Gospels, the positions Jesus takes are actually closer to what the Pharisees actually believed (and the “Pharisees” of the Gospels are something of a caricature that doesn’t really match the real Pharisees), or that Jesus/Christianity looks like a liberalization of the liberal branch of the Pharisees, arguing against the conservative branch. And so on.

      In short, the actual facts appear to be more complicated and inconclusive than Martin seems to be aware. And there is a lot of scholarship one would have to interact with first before such a treatise could be productive and useful to the academic community, and it doesn’t sound like Martin is doing that.

  16. Giuseppe August 17, 2013, 12:42 am

    Thanks, Richard, for the comment.
    inconclusive is the key word, if we had only the Gospels to be analyzed…

    …But luckily there is also Paul, the book of Revelation, Philo …

    1. I’m not sure what you are referring to. I said Martin’s argument regarding the symbolic intent of the Gospels is inconclusive. That is a thesis specifically about the Gospels, not Paul et al.

      I can only assume you mean Martin’s overall thesis (that Jesus was invented) can be challenged by evidence in Paul et al. I wasn’t speaking to that (my views on that point are far more complicated, and will be treated in my forthcoming book on the subject, On the Historicity of Jesus).

  17. Chad Spurling August 18, 2013, 8:10 pm

    Did you really just say up above that the Sermon on the Mount was based on Greek? I would love, love, love a lesson on that.

    1. Yes, its content is dependent on the Septuagint (and thus its composer not only knew Greek, but was relying on a Greek translation of the scriptures rather than the actual Hebrew).

      There is a section on this in MacDonald’s Two Shipwrecked Gospels, and it is treated by Thomas Brodie and Dale Allison in their respective contributions in The Sayings Source Q and the Historical Jesus, and by Dale Allison in Studies in Matthew and ‘The Structure of the Sermon on the Mount’, Journal of Biblical Literature 106 (1987), pp. 423-45.

  18. Phillip Hallam-Baker August 19, 2013, 2:18 am

    Zealot seems to be simply a retelling of the conventional tale highlighting the fact that the biblical Jesus was critical of the established clerical authorities and thus the hypocrisy of the Southern Baptist approach to Christianity. It isn’t going to be an interesting examination of the historicity of Jesus because he never doubts that Jesus is historical. He doesn’t seem to depart from orthodoxy at all or else Fox News would be screeching a different tune entirely.

    Christ Mythology has to demonstrate more than one single claim, for Christ myth to be true it is necessary for a sequence of events in which one gospel is a fictitious account that is then taken up and re-edited by other authors. Which does actually fit the theory that Mark was the first gospel and Mathew and Luke are extensions. Instead of having to posit a lost source ‘Q’, we consider instead the possibility that Mathew and Luke were ‘making stuff up’ to elaborate an otherwise bald and unconvincing narrative.

    If Mark was the ‘Twilight’ series of the day then Mathew and Luke are writing fan-fic. Mathew has all these parables and sayings he wants to work in. Luke finds transcripts of the trial of Peter and reworks Mathew into a two volume work. These are not forgeries, they are devotional works about a character known by all involved to be fictional. Meanwhile other churches are busy making alternative elaborations of Mark which will later be dismissed. A generation later the fact that Jesus is a fictional character has been forgotten and John writes the first of a long series of attempts to ‘find the real historical Jesus’.

    Even conventional scholars have to explain away the profusion of non-canonical gospels and why the canonical gospels should receive priority. Why is it that the canonical gospels chosen by the early church for political reasons should be considered more ‘historical’? It seems to me that Mathew and Luke should both be suspected of embellishing their tales even if Mark is a historical account.

    Forgery is usually a poor theory because it allows any conclusion to be drawn. But what we are looking at here aren’t acts of forgery, they are the exact opposite, they are acts of devotion.

    Luke is even including a key to the whole puzzle. We are to understand that the prodigal son didn’t really exist.

  19. Giuseppe August 21, 2013, 10:59 am

    I’m not sure what you are referring to. I said Martin’s argument regarding the symbolic intent of the Gospels is inconclusive. That is a thesis specifically about the Gospels, not Paul et al.

    Exactly, inconclusive in this sense, the same of Brodie (in your review of his book-memory):

    The non sequitur is common among myth proponents: the Gospels are obvious contrived myths, therefore Jesus didn’t exist. The premise is true (many have well proved it already, but I will marshal the best evidence in my book on this next year). But the conclusion does not follow.


    The implicit question was: If you had only the Gospels – and not the other evidence (Paul, Philo, etc…) – you would are Jesus Agnostic and not Jesus Mythicist ?

    But perhaps I must wait to read your book to clear this point, It’s better 🙂 . Excuse my hurry.

    1. Close to correct. If it wasn’t for the authentic Paulines, we wouldn’t have such strong evidence that Jesus didn’t originally exist. We would have some small hints in extra-biblical evidence (and Acts), and the lower-than-even prior probability established by the Gospels–enough to doubt but not with certainty (hence agnosticism), although I think the odds he existed would still then be around .

      However, note that even with just the Gospels, the conclusion “therefore, Jesus more probably than not didn’t exist” would still be true, it’s just that that probability would not be strong enough to merit (what we would normally call) certainty (maybe 1 in 3 chance he existed). When we add in the other evidence (apart from Paul), it gets a little more certain (maybe 1 in 800). And when we add Paul, it starts to become reasonably certain (maybe 1 in 10,000).

    2. Bernard Muller August 21, 2013, 4:47 pm

      Dear Richard,

      I am most impressed by your math. Where did you get that from!
      The gospels (more so gMark) are not only about myths and Paul & the author of ‘Hebrews’ stated a human earthy Jesus.

      In Paul’s epistles & ‘Hebrews’, Jesus is described as a descendant of Abraham (Galatians l3:16), Israelites (Romans 9:4-5), the tribe of Judah (Hebrews 7:14), Jesse (Romans 15:12) & David (Ro1:3) and also requiring a woman in order to “come” as a Jew (Galatians 4:4). “The one man Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:15) “humbled himself” (Philippians 2:8) in a world of “flesh & blood”, as one of them (Hebrews 2:14a,17a), among sinners, some opposing him (Hebrews 12:3). There he was tempted (Hebrews 2:18, 4:15) (in the same way as other humans) and heard by (earthly) witnesses talking about salvation (Hebrews 2:3). This Jesus, at some time in the past a minister to the Jews (Romans 15:8) and an apostle (Hebrews 3:1), had a brother called James (Galatians 1:19), whom Paul met several times (Galatians 1:19,2:9) and Josephus knew about (Ant. 20).
      Let’s add to that Jesus was poor (2 Corinthians 8:9) and was crucified. What is the best location for that: earth or that celestial place below the moon?
      Furthermore, Jesus is described as heard speaking about salvation (Hebrews 3:1, 2:3) and had brothers (1 Corinthians 9:5, Galatians 1:19). Paul also mentioned Jesus was handed down at night (1 Corinthians 11:23) prior to the crucifixion, alluding it took place in “Zion” (Romans 9:31-33, 15:26-27).

      Of course, on all these points, you and other mythicists have come up with arguments against a natural reading.
      But let me say those arguments are very indirect, remote, weak, greatly biased, far-fetched and rather silly.
      Anyway, they can only raise some doubts or propose possibilities against a historicist understanding but that’s about it.

      Despite your claims, the maths are not in your favour.

      Cordially, Bernard

    3. Let me give you an example of how you are abusing the evidence, Bernard.

      You say:

      “Let’s add to that Jesus was poor (2 Corinthians 8:9).”

      So someone reading that checks the passage you cite. It says:

      “…though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor…”

      Oh. Wait a minute. So you are saying Jesus was a rich man, and gave his wealth away?

      Or are we looking at a metaphor? You have to pick.

      If a metaphor, then it doesn’t refer to any fact about his life. It is not about actual monetary poverty, it is about his giving up his powers rather than claiming equality with god: Philippians 2:6-7 (which again says he became a “slave,” which again unless you are claiming he was actually, legally a slave and thus had an owner and a bill of sale, you have to accept is a metaphor and not a literal fact about him, too).

      If his “being rich, and then becoming poor” is not a metaphor, then you have to believe the historical Jesus was a rich man, and gave his wealth away (and thus was not a poor carpenter from Nazareth, for example).

      Somehow I doubt you are willing to grant the latter (which is why you left out the detail of his being rich; it, um, complicated your argument).

      But even if you are saying that, then you are just acting like a biblical literalist and ignoring the obvious metaphorical context.

      Because the whole verse reads:

      “For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might become rich.”

      Oh. Wait. Paul surely does not mean that Jesus’ monetary poverty will make his followers literally rich (like some sort of ancient Joel Osteen prosperity gospel). That’s a metaphor. And if Paul is using poverty and wealth metaphorically in this passage…

      This just isn’t an argument for historicity. At all.

      And the same kinds of problems collapse your every other example.

      And you would know this if you would frakkin read our writings and actually respond to our frakkin arguments.

      But instead you just keep barging into threads like this, making hundred year old arguments we’ve answered a dozen times already, as if you just discovered something new we missed.

      This is too tedious to deal with. If you aren’t going to actually interact with our arguments, or even bother learning what they are, conversations with you are a waste of time.

      And that I’ve had to say this to you several times already over the years is pretty much why I am at the end of my rope with you.

  20. Mikael Smith August 22, 2013, 3:38 am

    Hi Richard!

    Could you provide me a small list of scholars that don’t think Jesus ever existed? If I recall correctly, you have made that list somewhere, but I can’t remember where.

  21. PeadarMacCionnaith August 22, 2013, 12:01 pm

    I’ve thought for some time (based on Josephan and Christian uses of ‘legomenos’ and alternative participles) that the Antiquities XX reference was an interpolation. However, it looks like someone got there first, and I’m not keeping up either! I know that the basic proposition that the phrase occurs several times in the gospels (and patristic writings) has been out there for some time, but not that its inauthenticity is now established as “fact” and pinned down to the late third century.

    Do you have some references for this? I’d be really interested.

    1. PeadarMacCionnaith August 23, 2013, 10:36 am

      Many thanks for that Richard. Apologies in advance that my comments may be misplaced here (the ‘Jesus in Josephus’ discussion is cold). I agree with your conclusion that the phrase is a scribal interpolation, but am not convinced that it was necessarily accidental. You suggest that the possible replacement of ‘son of Damneus’ may be a case of the scribe assuming a dittographical error, but wouldn’t dittography refer to something that had already occurred in the text rather than something that occurs several lines later? Is there a compelling reason to assume ‘correction’ of a dittographical error rather than intentional forgery?

      If ‘son of Damneus’ had not been there, on the other hand, the formulation appears odd (are there other examples in Josephus were someone is initially introduced by their given name and/or whose brother they are, and only later given their full patronymic identity? James’s status as the brother of the soon to be High Priest is as you say important, but one would expect the full identification of the person whose brother he was first, and subsequent references to be shorter rather than the other way round?

      It is good to see your paper in a NT/Christian studies journal – are there others that you think are potentially more receptive to papers that may have ‘mythicist’ implications? Or others that would not take it?

    2. Oh, yes. Certainly it could have been intentional. In my article for JECS I describe scenarios whereby it came to be deliberately inserted. Although I assume in them it was innocently, one can imagine a less innocent motive as well. That’s not incompatible with the evidence. It’s just not necessary to explain it (and I would tend to think a deliberate emendation would be more extensive and not consist of simply inserting two words or replacing two words).

      In response to your general thoughts, though, I have a lot of experience with scribal error in manuscripts (it was a formal part of my graduate studies at Columbia), and I can vouch for the fact that the things scribes did were often not all that smart or intelligent, and sometimes real head scratchers. So arguments about what we think a scribe would surely do are often questionable unless you can back it up (at least in principle) with evidence of scribes having done exactly that, and often enough that you can consider it what they would typically do (or at whatever frequency your argument requires).

      To illustrate the point, the Aetna, a Latin poem written in the 1st century, is about 20% complete gibberish. Because scribes just kept copying it without reading it or paying attention to the errors they were replicating, and this kept happening over and over again, until the random errors that accumulated rendered sentences and whole paragraphs completely unintelligible. Yet scribes kept copying those gibberish sections as meticulously as ever. It’s crazy. But that’s what they did.

      And that’s not even a fraction of the weird stuff I’ve seen.

  22. Oh Richard,

    2 Corinthians 8:9 ““For ye know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that ye through his poverty might become rich.”

    Let’s look at the last words: do you really think Paul was telling his followers they would become materially wealthy?

    Let’s also consider:
    1 Corinthians 4:8 “Now ye are full, now ye are rich, ye have reigned as kings without us: …”
    Do you think Paul was telling his followers were materially wealthy?

    Let’s also consider:
    2 Corinthians 6:10 “As sorrowful, yet always rejoicing; as poor [Paul], yet making many [Paul’s followers] rich; as having nothing, and [yet] possessing all things.”

    Again, do you think Paul’s preaching was making his followers materially wealthy?

    It is clear here “rich” means “abounding (rich) with divine/spiritual gifts”.

    And Paul used different words for “poor” in his epistles, but they are always about material poverty.

    The next question, where do you get to be in poverty? All other “poor” in Paul’s epistles lives on earth. So why it would be different for Jesus in his “in poverty” phase? Can you establish someone can be in poverty in some celestial realm?

    Cordially, Bernard

    1. Richard, you wrote:

      “Oh. Wait. Paul surely does not mean that Jesus’ monetary poverty will make his followers literally rich (like some sort of ancient Joel Osteen prosperity gospel). That’s a metaphor. And if Paul is using poverty and wealth metaphorically in this passage…”

      Yes, that’s a metaphor, but only in part. “Poor” and “in poverty” are literal (as in other occurrences of the Greek words underlying “poor” in Paul’s epistles), but “rich” is not.

      I do not agree with Paul’s logic, but that’s what he meant. See 2 Corinthians 6:10 for confirmation: the (true) poverty of Paul makes his followers (spiritually) rich. And I do not think Paul wanted to be known as spiritually poor. But he claimed to be living in (true) poverty in 1 Corinthians 4:11.

      Cordially, Bernard

    2. You just made my argument for me, Bernard.

      In response to your last question, you would know the answer if you would ever, for once, actually read what mythicists write and actually pay attention to what their hypothesis is (if you did, you’d know that obviously a celestial incarnated archangel can be made poor in power).

    3. Dear Richard,

      You wrote: “you’d know that obviously a celestial incarnated archangel can be made poor in power.”
      And where would that concept be in the Pauline epistles? Or anywhere else? Or are we talking about a possibility?
      In the Paulines, “poor” alludes to only material poverty, never poor in power.

      I do not know all of what mythicists wrote, but who does? But I care about what Paul wrote in 2 Corinthians 6:10.

      Cordially, Bernard

    4. You clearly don’t understand the difference between a hypothesis (which explains evidence) and evidence for a hypothesis.

      Case in point: Where is a Jesus from Nazareth crucified by Pontius Pilate in Paul’s letters?

      Not there.

      Thus, we have two hypotheses, that have to be compared against what evidence there is. That’s how it works.

      And when it comes to that, I already noted you are misusing evidence.

      As another example (beyond the one I just laid out, which is already typical), I have already corrected you years ago on the “crucified in Zion” bullshit, which is not said in Paul’s letters, and I am not going around that again because you stubbornly wouldn’t listen last time, and I have no reason to believe you’ll listen now…clearly, since you evidently didn’t even remember that I already answered this to you, at length, before…you just keep repeating your same false claims, as if they were never refuted.

      Bernard, go away. Leave me the fuck alone and stop spewing your bullshit here. You don’t listen. You don’t learn. You are incapable of reasoning soundly or treating the evidence honestly.

  23. Phillip Hallam-Baker August 23, 2013, 2:25 am

    Why is ‘James brother of Jesus’ solid evidence for historicity even if true?

    Popes call themselves the vicar of Christ, monks address each other as brothers in Christ. It would not be at all unusual or remarkable for a religious leader to claim a family connection to the deity as a courtesy title.

    All we have as evidence of historicity are the TF which almost everyone admits is at least partially forged plus a few indirect mentions of James being the brother of Jesus.

  24. Dear Richard,
    I do not see what I should be treated that way.
    And your responses to my postings are very indirect.
    About “crucified in Zion” (based on Romans 9:31:33 & 11:26-27), we argued that issue at length. You opposed my position but your objections were not convincing in my views and gave me no reason to change. Just because you refute someone does not necessarily mean you are right and the other wrong.
    Cordially, Bernard

    1. Exactly. What I miss is a comparative study of Paul’s use of “brother”. Is it clear from context or word-use that he intends a different meaning when talking about James than what he does when addressing fellow Christians as brothers. It’s very annoying that all discussion seems to focus on that passage, without drawing upon the rest of the letter(s).

  25. Mikael Smith October 13, 2013, 10:38 am

    Have you heard of Serge Bardet’s work about TF? I have not found it in English, only in French. He is trying to defend the authenticity of TF.

    1. Mikael Smith November 26, 2013, 5:34 am

      I found out, that the Bardet’s work is actually a book, 286 pages long (Le Testimonium Flavianum
      Examen historique. Considérations historiographiques). So it appears that what I found is not the work I thought it was, but somekind of summary of it.

      This site ( ) seems to give some kind of summary about the arguments Bardet used. I don’t know how accurate it is, but I guess it gives clues about the arguments.

    2. Ah. Thanks. The abstract there says he argues the interpolation occurred early second century. That can have no basis in fact. There is no evidence to support such a notion, and the evidence we do have refutes it.* Yet it appears his entire argument proceeds from that one unsupportable premise.

      * See my article on Josephus, pp. 492-94, which also refutes other elements of Bardet’s case, which resembles that of Alice Whealey; moreover, the articles of Goldberg and Olson, which I cite and discuss above, further destroy his case; all three authors published after him, so it appears his book is now obsolete.

  26. StephenCampbell:

    Good Morning,

    We have some people who are under the persuasian Jesus is historical and some who are not. A historian, Josephus, includes the Testimonium Flavianum. Josephus who lived in Galilee would have had access to adults who lived in Galilee from 30-33 Common Era when the biblical Jesus is ministering. Josephus’ account is important. Second, Josephus would also be aware of the oral tradition about the biblical Jesus after his death.

    Dr. Richard Carrier:

    The TF is rife with vocabulary and parallels from the Gospel of Luke…and it has long been noted that the evidence indicates Luke used Josephus as a source, and not the other way around.

    And not the other way around? What’s more important than Josephus using Luke as a source but Josephus using as sources the actual events as reported by witnesses in Galilee and oral traditions about Jesus’ life after crucifixion. Now, if Luke didn’t write these accounts down until more than 30 years later, Luke is not as important a historical source as the historian who spent time in both Galilee and Jerusalem. Did Luke even exist? Bart Ehrman raises questions about the original autographs of the canonical gospels. We do know, Josephus existed and his testimony about the existence of Jesus is a serious matter. Josephus says he was condemned to the cross but appeared to those who loved him.

    It is important to know whether or not Dr. Carrier considers the paranormal a fact. The specific refernces here are: 1) survival of consciousness after death and 2) the dead making their presence known to incarnate humans.

    Jesus is known to have been a great healer. The Talmud claims he went to Egypt to learn magical healing.

    Josephus does not say he appeared to his enemies. Jesus did not present himself to the priests.

    Is this line of the TF plausible: yes it is. The dead are alive and the communicate with us. Yes, there is a book by that name. The dead have been recorded, photographed, reincarnated, and they make birds move so mourners can see hope in a bird. They make us sense them.

    After reading the above blog and then the blog post by Ken Olson, as a guest blogger at The Jesus Blog, I have what I believe is a reasonable doubt.

    Peter Schafer in his book, Jesus in the Talmud, says given the references to Jesus in his book. These references do not establish Jesus as a historical person. I have reasonable doubts about that, but going further, when a Schafer leaves out two important references to Jesus, readers’ reasonable doubts increase, and the TF seems more legit than without considering one of the two references.

    Schafer misleads people into thinking he’s covered all the references to Jesus in the Talmud, but he fails to mention Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Sanhedrin 105a. This should have been added to his coverage of Jesus and Ancient Egyptian magic/sorcery. Ancient Egyptian creation myths are related to Sanhedrin 105a. Here, Balaam is Jesus because after reading Numbers chapters 22-24, it would not be the Balaam of the Torah who was practicing Egyptian sorcery but Jesus.

    An Egyptological perspective factors into an accurate concept of Jesus. One book that covers this subject is Insights on the Exodus, King David, and Jesus: The Greatest Bible Study in Historical Accuracy: The Hebrew and Christian Bibles, The Koran, and The Book of Mormon. This book of personal essays is authored by me. My pen is Steefen.

    Second, I don’t recall Schafer mentioning this either:

    Rabbi Simeon ben Lakish said: Woe unto “him who makes himself alive by the name of god.”
    Rabbi Johanan (ben Zakkai) replied: Woe to the nation that attempting to hinder the Holy One when he accomplishes the redemption of his children: who would throw his garment between a lion and a lioness when these are copulating?
    – Talmud IV Sanhedrin 106a

    Rabbi Lakish is referring to resurrection when it is written “makes himself alive.”
    Lion is a reference to Judah and the God of Judah. The God of Judah tried to redeem his people via Jesus, the Redeemer. He was rejected. Who is the lioness. We look to the story of the Redeemer in the New Testament; and, that person is Jesus’ mother, who was impregnated by God.

    Rabbi Zakkai was a contemporary of Josephus. Vespasian gave Rabbi Zakkai Yavne University; and, Rabbi Zakkai proclaims the Christian story. Josephus, also a rabbi, is given plains outside of Jerusalem as well; and Josephus gives us the TF.

    A university founder and president testifies support for the Christian story and so does a historian. We have a set of witnesses. I reasonably doubt one piece of the set can be discredited as unauthentic.

    Thank you.
    Stephen Campbell
    Pen Name: Steefen

    1. Possible does not mean probable. All you are declaring here are disjointed speculations without adequate evidence. There is no point in responding to comments like this. If you aren’t even going to address the published scholarship on Luke’s use of Josephus, I’m not going to address your speculations. You have to do the work if you want to be taken seriously. I’m not your tutor.

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