The Josephus Testimonium: Let’s Just Admit It’s Fake Already

Stylized and modern iconographic drawing of a bust of Joephus, essentially imaginary.A new article just beats this dead horse deader still. Hat tip to Vridar and Peter Kirby. Honestly. The evidence that the Testimonium Flavianum (or TF) is entirely a late Christian forgery is now as overwhelming as such evidence could ever get. Short of uncovering a pre-Eusebian manuscript, which is not going to happen. All extant manuscripts derive from the single manuscript of Eusebius; evidently everything else was decisively lost.

The new article is by Paul Hopper, Distinguished Professor of the Humanities Emeritus at Carnegie Mellon University, “A Narrative Anomaly in Josephus: Jewish Antiquities xviii:63,” in Monika Fludernik and Daniel Jacob, eds., Linguistics and Literary Studies: Interfaces, Encounters, Transfers (2014: de Gruyter), pp. 147-169 (available at

So in addition to all the evidence I and other scholars have amassed (summarized, with bibliography, in On the Historicity of Jesus, ch. 8.9), including the fact that what was once thought to be an Arabic testimony to a pre-Eusebian version of the text actually derives from Eusebius (as proved by Alice Whealey), and the peer reviewed article by G.J. Goldberg that proved the TF was, as a whole unit, based on the Gospel of Luke (and thus even if Josephan, not independent of the Gospels) and my own peer reviewed article (now reproduced in Hitler Homer Bible Christ, ch. 19) that added even more evidence, including proving the other brief mention of Jesus  in Josephus was also fake (an accidental insertion made centuries after Josephus wrote), and the literary evidence produced by Ken Olson that the TF is far closer to Eusebian style than Josephan style, now Paul Hopper shows that grammatical and structural analysis verifies all of this.

For those who want to understand how this new evidence from Hopper works to produce that conclusion, here is a quick summary:

  • (1) Hopper shows the author of the TF consistently used finite verbs differently than Josephus does.

We have seen that aorist verbs [in Josephus] typically report single prominent actions associated with the protagonist of the story. They play a crucial role in the event structure of the narrative, and while they cannot alone support the story line, they work to anchor clusters of other kinds of verbs to create episodes. This could hardly be said of the aorists in the Testimonium, however. The aorists here seem to belong in a different genre altogether, one which argues and defends rather than reports.

In other words, the TF is written as apologetics, not history. And Josephus wasn’t a Christian apologist. Indeed, as Hopper points out:

There is an element of protest in the voice of the author of the Testimonium that is impossible to attribute to Josephus, the sober historian: “There must be some truth in all this, because his followers haven’t gone away, in fact they haven’t stopped worshipping him.”

Grammatical analysis and content thus converge to support the same conclusion.

  • (2) Hopper shows the author of the TF consistently used oblique and passive language to insert Pontius Pilate into its story, contrary to what Josephus had been doing in the whole Pontius Pilate sequence before that.

As Hopper says,

Pilate, the decisive Roman boss of the other three Pilate episodes, ruthless scourge of the Jews and despiser of their laws, now appears as the compliant puppet of the Jewish hierarchy. … [and a]gain, the grammatical structure of the Testimonium is at odds with that of the sequence of Pontius Pilate, in which the chief protagonist is Pilate himself.

In other words, through a stark and bizarre switch in verb forms, the distinctively Christian apologetic that tried to downplay Pilate’s role in murdering Jesus—characteristic of all the Gospels—suddenly is voiced by Josephus, out of joint with Josephus’s remaining treatment of Pilate, and the whole purpose of Josephus’s Pilate sequence (to portray Pilate as a self-motivated, and thus solely-to-blame, callous agitator against the Jews), as if he were a puppet of a distinctly Christian voice, and forgot why he was narrating these events about Pilate in the first place? Not likely.

  • (3) “The time organization in the Testimonium is strikingly different from that of the surrounding text.”

By which Hopper means:

For example, the narrative of [Pilate’s stealing temple money to fund an aqueduct] is filled with particular details—the rioters shouting insults, the Roman soldiers going among the crowd in Jewish dress, the order to the demonstrators to disperse, the overreaction of the soldiers, and the bloody suppression of the riot. At each point we know not only what the actors did, but why they did it, and what the causes and effects of their actions were. [This] episode, like the other episodes involving Pontius Pilate, has an event structure. Time in these episodes is …qualitative time…experienced by individual actors.


By contrast, the temporality of the Testimonium is chronic…that is, it is part of the general temporality of human history. It takes place in a more remote perspective of slow changes and general truths; it is…the time of social movements and social reorganization. It has a bird’s-eye view of its subject, scanning the entire life of Jesus and his influence in no particular order, anachronistically … . In the Testimonium there are happenings but no events, because events in order to qualify as such must be integrated into an eventive frame, that is, a story, and must have sequence and causal interconnections … . So the Testimonium belongs to a different kind of time from the rest of the Jewish Antiquities. The temporality of the Testimonium derives from its presumed familiarity to its audience, which in turn is more compatible with a third century or later Christian setting than a first century Roman one.

Yep. In fact, it makes no sense for Josephus to use that kind of temporal narrative style, when he doesn’t anywhere else here, or pretty much anywhere else in the Antiquities at all. This is exactly, however, how Christians would write it.

  • (4) Indeed, not just its organization of time, but the absence of plot indicates the same conclusion.

As Hopper explains:

The [aqueduct] story is a narration in which a situation is established and the characters interact, and there is a resolution. It has a plot in the way that recent narrative theorists have stipulated … . The same is true of the other two Pilate episodes, that is, the [legionary standards] episode and the Samaritan Uprising. The careful crafting of emplotment is an essential part of Josephus’s skill as a historian. The Testimonium has no such plot. From the point of view of its place in Josephus’s Jewish Antiquities, it does not qualify as a narrative at all. The Testimonium could not be understood as a story except by someone who could already place it in its “intelligible whole”, the context of early Christianity. The Testimonium gains its intelligibility not through its reporting of novel events but by virtue of being a “repetition of the familiar” … [as in] familiarity to a third century Christian readership, not to a first century Roman one. It is not just that the Christian origin of the Testimonium is betrayed by its allegiance to the Gospels, as that without the Gospels the passage is incomprehensible.

Yep. This confirms points I made to the same effect in OHJ (pp. 332-37).

  • (5) The TF makes no sense to Josephus’s intended narrative; it only makes sense to Christians who needed it there.

In particular:

The Testimonium is anchored in a radically different discourse community from that of the rest of the Jewish Antiquities. The Testimonium reads more like a position paper, a party manifesto, than a narrative. Unlike the rest of the Jewish Antiquities, it has the same generic ambiguity between myth and history that [has been] noted in the Gospels as a whole. … [And as such i]t serves to validate the Christian claim of the crucifixion of the sect’s founder during Pilate’s administration, and, by positioning its text within that of the genre “history”, with its ethos of truth, to warrant the historical authenticity of the Gospels. But told as a series of new events to a first century Roman audience unfamiliar with it, the Testimonium would have been a bizarre addition and probably quite unintelligible.

He’s right. Again, see my detailed analysis of this very point in OHJ. Hopper finds the TF does not fit the genre of history at all (unlike the rest of Josephus), but rather fits fairly well the genre of Christian creeds. Which is a dead giveaway as to who actually wrote it. Hopper demonstrates this with grammatical commonalities as well as its obvious content similarity.

As Hopper concludes:

[In the TF, both grammatically and thematically, the] responsibility for the death of Jesus lies with Josephus’s fellow-countrymen, the Jews, not with the Romans, and in this too the Testimonium is hard to reconcile with Josephus’s denunciation of Pilate’s crimes against the Jews. The Josephus of the Testimonium is represented as aligning himself with the Christians (versus the Jews) and admitting that the blame for the crucifixion of Jesus the Messiah lies with the Jews; it need hardly be said that such an admission on Josephus’s part is inconceivable.

Thus, grammatical and narrative analysis establish the TF as entirely a Christian production.


Altogether, I find Hopper’s analysis conclusive. His own summary is spot on:

The narrative grammar of the Testimonium Flavianum sets it sharply apart from Josephus’s other stories of the procuratorship of Pontius Pilate. The most likely explanation is that the entire passage is interpolated, presumably by Christians embarrassed at Josephus’s manifest ignorance of the life and death of Jesus.

Already both Olson and Goldberg, with their own independent analyses, demonstrated the TF isn’t Josephan from an analysis of its vocabulary (which is more Eusebian and Lukan than Josephan). Goldberg allows the possibility that it isn’t Josephan because Josephus may have copied his source slavishly, but since Josephus never did that with any other source he used, we can dismiss that as so much special pleading; at best, Josephus’s practice elsewhere gives this excuse a very low prior probability. Now Hopper has demonstrated the TF isn’t Josephan from an analysis of its grammar. He shows not only that the TF is a unified passage (and not some layered passage, something that Christians only tinkered with), also demonstrated by Goldberg with completely different yet convergent evidence (that as a unity it too conspicuously aligns with the Emmaus narrative in Luke to have been ginned up that way later), but that it is also unified by grammatical practices too unusual for Josephus to have been written by him. Thus, it definitely wasn’t.

Especially with all the other evidence stacked on: its uncharacteristic narrative style (including its bizarre brevity and naive simplicity); the narrative illogic of its position in the text; its not being known to Origen or anyone else before Eusebius a century later; its containing patently ridiculous and fawning remarks only a Christian would make.

So just get over it already.

It’s fake.


  1. favog May 4, 2015, 9:54 am

    I was under the impression that everyone except the fundies had admitted that already, long ago …

  2. How much of his arguments still apply when using the alleged “genuine” part of the Testamonium? There is a lot of the Testamonium that almost everybody, Christians included, accept as interpolation. Thus, it is argued that only a relatively small portion was genuine. I know of course that you don’t accept that argument. But, for argument’s sake, consider the alleged “genuine” portion, how much of his arguments still apply?

    1. Goldberg as well as Hopper show that there can’t be a “genuine” part. At every level it has the same grammatical and non-narrative chronic-temporal structure. So there can’t have been some sub-version that was later fixed up. Because any such proposed sub-version has all the same non-Josephan defects Hopper points out.

      Meanwhile Goldberg’s evidence entails that a later fix-up would entail positing an incredible coincidence: that the edits just happened to turn the entire thing, in its every part, into a twenty-point alignment with the Emmaus narrative in Luke? Too improbable to assume—which is why Goldberg agrees there are only two credible explanations of what he discovered: Josephus “slavishly” copied Luke, even though Josephus never uses sources that way; or none of it was written by Josephus.

      For an even further demonstration of that fact, see my breakdown of every sentence of the TF in OHJ. I prove only one sentence could possibly have been written by Josephus (given his style and practices everywhere else), “and there was about this time Jesus, a wise man.” Upon which no story follows. And now Hopper demonstrates that that sentence can’t have been written by Josephus either, since it violates the structure, grammar, and purpose of Josephus’s Pilate sequence.

    2. P.S. The vocabulary of that one sentence is also non-Josephan, BTW, since the phrase kata touton ton chronon (“around this time”) appears nowhere else in Josephus’s writings. Josephus repeatedly, thus normally, uses the phrase kata touton ton kairon (“around this time”). You know who uses kata touton ton chronon a lot? Eusebius.

  3. Daryl Carpenter May 4, 2015, 1:24 pm

    And Josephus wasn’t a Christian apologist.

    As an interesting side note, William Whiston, 18th century translator of Josephus, thought this was actually the case: what Josephus said in the Testimonium meant he was a Christian. I guess this was the pre-critical viewpoint of 200 years ago, although I can’t imagine everyone then going along with it (it does require ignoring the rest of Josephus’ literary output, where he doesn’t make any mention of what would have been a monumental event in his life).

    Who knows, perhaps it will be another few centuries for the view that the passage is authentic but retouched slightly by Christians to change into seeing it as a complete forgery. Hopefully it won’t take that long, but given Bart Ehrman’s continuing support of historical criteria to determine authentic gospel saying/events despite being showed they don’t work, I can’t see him changing his views on Josephus anytime soon.

    1. A few years after writing the Antiquities, a book entirely devoted to a defense of Judaism and communicating it to Gentiles, Josephus wrote Against Apion to defend Judaism as the true religion against a critic, and wrote his Autobiography in which he pridefully describes his status as a Pharisee. Thus, it is beyond doubt that Josephus was not a Christian when he wrote the Antiquities.

  4. toejam May 4, 2015, 1:54 pm

    Carrier: “There are still a lot of non-fundies clinging to it. Like Bart Ehrman.”

    Ehrman “clings to it?” Really?

    Ehrman: “… whether the Testimonium is authentically from Josephus (in its pared-down form) or not probably does not ultimately matter for the question I am pursuing here. Whether or not Jesus lived has to be decided on other kinds of evidence from this” (Did Jesus Exist? p.65)

    1. I’m not sure what you think this says. Ehrman elsewhere affirms the pared down “version” is authentic. That’s clinging. That he says that it doesn’t matter whether it’s authentic or not for historicity is a completely unrelated proposition. Many people who even think the whole TF is authentic agree it does not count as evidence for historicity–because it cannot be established as independent of the Gospels.

  5. Ed May 4, 2015, 2:36 pm

    As I understand it, Josephus tended to write very in depth material. The Jesus stuff is so brief. If Josephus had even suspected that there was a man who had performed these miracles and had such an influence on society, he would have had a lot more to say.

    And unless he became a Christian, he wouldn’t have made the clear declarations of Christian faith found in the forged fragment. This seems to be a theme in early Christianity, though, including the gospels.

    Pilate feels guilty from the beginning about his role in the crucifixion. When the Sanhedren demands that he change the “King of the Jews” sight to “This man said that he was the King of the Jews”, he refuses–implying that he at least suspects there’s something to Jesus’s claims. A Centurian witnessing Jesus on the cross declares him to be divine.

    Big shot Joseph of Aramatheia turns out to be a secret follower. Nicodemus, another high ranking Jewish leader is fascinated by Jesus but too dense to understand his message. The unnamed “Rich Young Ruler” (also probably a religious authority) believes in Jesus but leaves him because he can’t stand to renounce his wealth.

    The Emperor himself tells one of the apostles (Peter or Paul, I forget which at the moment) that he has almost convinced him to become a Christian. The Christians seemed very keen to appropriate mainstream figures as supposed converts or at least admirers, even when such claims made little sense.

  6. Phillip Hallam-Baker May 4, 2015, 4:44 pm

    It is probably useful to look at the time Eusebius was working: When Constantine had just taken over the church. So this would be the point at which a bit George Orwell style revision of the existing histories would be required to make sure they support the new orthodoxy.

    1. As one of my articles linked above notes, I think it’s slightly more likely the insertion was made by Pamphilus, Eusebius’s teacher and predecessor, before Constantine. This was a dedicated Christian library at the time (in Caesarea), founded by Origen early 3rd century. So they didn’t need a state sponsor to motivate their meddling. Eusebius would have just inherited the books at that library in the state Pamphilus left them. But yes, it’s also possible Eusebius is the forger, and for political purposes.

  7. Phillip Hallam-Baker May 4, 2015, 8:14 pm

    There are three distinct sets of problems for folk relying on the passage as evidence:

    1) Even if the passage was genuine, it is a third hand account at best.

    2) The problems with the piece are so great that almost nobody claims it is completely genuine. It does not match the surrounding text, it is not something Josephus is likely to say, etc.

    3) It definitely passed through the hands of a known fabricator. (Yes if we accept it is a forgery, Eusebius is not necessarily the forger but that is another issue)

    Any one of these is enough to dismiss it as evidence.

    The other passage in book 20 seems to me to raise more problems for historicity than it answers. Why would Josephus introduce James as the brother of Jesus called Christ without further explanation of who this Jesus called Christ was?

  8. Andrew EC May 4, 2015, 8:30 pm

    I think it was Robert Price who noticed the following, which IMO is pretty conclusive evidence against the TF being partially authentic. Here’s the whole TF:

    About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who performed surprising deeds and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Christ. And when, upon the accusation of the principal men among us, Pilate had condemned him to a cross, those who had first come to love him did not cease. He appeared to them spending a third day restored to life, for the prophets of God had foretold these things and a thousand other marvels about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.

    Partial authenticists concede that the first highlighted passage is an interpolation (i.e., a forgery), but argue that the second is authentic. This view makes absolutely no sense. Let’s unpack: (1) The first bolded line is obviously inauthentic beyond any possible argument; Josephus was a Jew and plainly didn’t believe Jesus was “the Christ,” and even if he had, Josephus would have defined what in the hell “the Christ” meant to his audience (as he does throughout the rest of the Antiquities. So pretty much even die-hard fundamentalists have to concede that’s one out.

    (2) But if you remove “He was the Christ” from the TF, then the second bold-italicized sentence — “And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared” — makes absolutely no sense! So that sentence can’t be authentic, either.

    The further problem is that the second bold-italicized sentence is one of only three sentences that the partial authenticists think is original to Josephus; once you get rid of it, you’re left with “About this time there lived Jesus. Pilate condemned him to a cross.” — and those two sentences are very, very unlikely to have been original to Josephus for obvious reasons of style and tone.

    1. Correct.

      The defenders have thus switched to the argument that the passage originally said “he was believed to be the Christ.” They cited the Arabic text as evidence, as it does say that. But Alice Whealey proved the Arabic derives from Eusebius. “Believe to be” is thus a later corruption, not the original text.

      Whealey herself still tried defending it as original with a wildly implausible argument (that dozens of other texts were changed to “he was,” rather than only one changed to “he was believed to be”). See OHJ, p. 337, n. 88 for why her argument makes no sense.

  9. The very simple fact that Origen never once mentions Josephus as a witness of Jesus, while mentioning him as one for John the Baptist, should have swatted this one down ages ago. Eusebius is a God-damned (heh) liar, and the amount of damage he’s done is incalculable…

    1. Technically Origen does mention Josephus as a witness to Jesus, as a witness to James, but what Origen attributes to Josephus actually comes from Hegesippus (and contradicts Josephus). I demonstrated this in my peer reviewed article on the matter (reproduced in Hitler Homer Bible Christ). Origen shows no awareness of the James passage now in Josephus.

  10. Drudge16 May 5, 2015, 5:14 am

    It looks more and more probable that Josephus did not write the TF. The only points that keep me in doubt are 1.) the possibility that the TF was originally much longer and negative (not even neutral) towards Jesus and 2.) the Origen reference to Josephus not thinking Jesus was the messiah. These are really the only two points left in favour of a Josephan origin. But the first requires such thorough rewriting that, in effect, it is indistinguishable in its result from an outright insertion. And the second obviously rests on the supposition that Origen knowing that Josephus was Jewish was not enough for him to make the comment he made. So the case can (IMO) still be made that it may have originated with Josephus in some manner, but it’s certainly less likely than that it was a later insertion.

    1. (1) is a possibiliter fallacy (Proving History, ch. 2, axiom 5); it also contradicts the evidence of Origen (who is not aware of any such passage in Josephus, as he would have to have made a defense against it).

      (2) is simply a way to say in Greek “Josephus was not a Christian,” hence a paraphrasis for “Josephus was a Pharisaic Jew” (as his autobiography says so, and it was written after the Antiquities), as you infer.

  11. =8)-DX May 5, 2015, 8:36 am

    Can I just say: taking temple money to build an aquaduct seems like a wonderful proposition from my point of view. Can we do the same with the Vatican and maybe build high-speed rail everywhere?

    Also, thanks for the insightful article, I wasn’t aware Ehrman supported any of the TF and this post was actually a manageable size =).

  12. Howard Bannister May 5, 2015, 12:32 pm


    The Emperor himself tells one of the apostles (Peter or Paul, I forget which at the moment) that he has almost convinced him to become a Christian.

    I think you have conflated two different points–Paul is appealing to the Emperor, but the person ‘nearly convinced’ in that passage is King Agrippa. (Acts 25, 26)

    But your overall point is indeed correct–all of a sudden people in authority are just wowed by the amazing oration of stuff like “Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead?” (seriously, trying to read Acts 26 and see anything there that would get a ‘you almost convince me!’ is kind of staggering, post-Christianity)

  13. Alif May 5, 2015, 1:38 pm

    I wonder: are scrolls, manuscripts, books or autographs berid somewhere in the middl east till some serendipitus discovery? Is an estimation of the remaining quontity possibl?
    Can’t we xray the ground or summat to find out?
    I wonder with no postal system how did paul’s letters even survive (well, those that did) ?

    All we need now is teknology to replay the past. some distance star’s urth’s inhabitants are seing Josephus penning his annals…..

  14. taber May 5, 2015, 3:22 pm

    Nice. There’s also an excellent review of Dr. Paul Hopper’s article on Josephus by Acharya S/Murdock and it was peer reviewed by Dr. Paul Hopper himself. She has been doing excellent work in this area. It’s time for the TF to be buried once and for all.

    Jesus passage in Josephus a forgery in toto, says Greek expert

    Jesus passage in Josephus a forgery, says expert

    ; )

  15. my only sticking point on the authenticity of the TF was Origens remark that Josephus did not accept Jesus as the Christ. However, over the weekend I listened to your debate (if indeed we can call it a debate) with the rappin Pastor (sorry I forget his name) where you explained Origen’s attitude to Josephus’s Judaism well enough to clear it up for me.

    I am a little confused at Ehrman’s change in attitude to the TF, as I remember one of his earlier books being entirely dismissive. The more cynical side of me see’s his volte face as entirely defensive.

  16. Vincent Guilbaud May 9, 2015, 9:26 am

    Wikipedia, Josephus on Jesus:
    “it is broadly agreed upon that it originally consisted of an authentic nucleus, which was then subject to Christian expansion/alteration. Although the exact nature and extent of the Christian redaction remains unclear, there is broad consensus as to what the original text of the Testimonium by Josephus would have looked like.
    Modern scholarship has largely acknowledged the authenticity of the reference in Book 20, Chapter 9, 1 of the Antiquities to “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James” and considers it as having the highest level of authenticity among the references of Josephus to Christianity.”

    “James Dunn states that there is “broad consensus” among scholars regarding the nature of an authentic reference to Jesus in the Testimonium and what the passage would look like without the interpolations.”

    Yet, these arguments from the ‘consensus’ of scholars are never given nor any reference to the work of E.Doherty, for example.
    Does Wkipedia inform or misinform here?

    1. None of that consensus is based on any valid argumentation. That’s the point. This article is precisely about that fact: citing a consensus that is based on nothing, based often even on falsehoods (e.g. that the Arabic fragment predates the Eusebian version) is no longer a valid way to argue. The arguments the consensus relies on have been refuted, again and again. In peer reviewed literature, too.

      It’s time for “the consensus” to stop clinging to what has been thoroughly debunked. It’s time for scholars in this field to stop generating and relying on a “consensus” that is frequently and embarrassingly based on no logic or evidence of any merit.

  17. Douglas Pearce February 8, 2017, 6:00 pm

    Hi Dr Carrier
    I wonder if you could shed some light on this.
    Tim O’Neill has suggested that the phrase:About this time (κατα τουτον τον χρονον) frequently appears throughout Josephus.

    Also , does Whealey insist in partial authenticity or does she also beleive the entire TF is fake. Sorry, I couldn’t make out if you stated her position.
    Thanks very much.

    1. Whealey believes it’s entirely authentic, but not because of the Arabic fragment (her reasoning to authenticity is wildly fallacious, but her demonstration that the Arabic goes back to Eusebius and not Josephus is unassailable).

      It does no good to find uses common in Josephus in the TF. Those uses are common in many authors, including Eusebius (who uses that same idiom several times in his works separately from his quoting Josephus: e.g. HE 6.32.1; PE 1.10.20; Comm. Psalm. 23.784.27). So they are not indicative of anything.

      After this weekend I’ll be blogging on this again, because I’ll have presented on this at the SBL regional meeting in Notre Dame and have a Q&A session to report on as well as summarizing my presentation for the public.

Add a Comment

I only publish comments by my patrons and anyone who or whose work I discuss in the article commented on. Comments must also follow good etiquette. Those who engage in dishonest, abusive, or harassing behavior may even be banned as commenters and patrons.