The most important extra-biblical references to Jesus are found in the writings of Josephus. Although some have questioned the authenticity of the passages, modern scholarship has rightly recognized that one of them is completely authentic and the other, though embellished by Christian scribes, provides an authentic core of material confirming much about Jesus. This article thoroughly examines the authenticity of the disputed reference to Jesus, the Testimonium Flavianum referred to hereafter as the "TF".
|Arguments for Partial Authenticity of the Testimonium|
|Objections to the Authenticity of the Reconstructed Testimonium|
|What Can We Learn About Jesus from Josephus?|
Who Was Josephus?
Josephus ben Matthias is the best known ancient Jewish historian. He was born in 37 CE, only a few years after Jesus' execution. Josephus was well educated in biblical law and history. On his mother's side he was a descendent of the Hasmonean Kings. On his father's side he came from a priestly family. Josephus counted among his friends Agrippa II. His life took some dramatic turns in 66 CE, when the Jews in Palestine revolted against Roman rule. Although Josephus was only 29 at the time, he was given command of the Jewish forces in Galilee. His forces were no match for the Romans and were utterly defeated. Josephus survived, however, and became an advisor to the Roman general Vespasian by prophesying that the general would become the Roman Emperor. Not so amazingly, in 69 CE Vespasian did become Emperor. As a result, Josephus' stock went up and Vespasian returned to Rome to run the Empire. Vespasian's son, Titus, was given the responsibility of completing the war against the Jews. Titus used Josephus as an interpreter and spokesman to the Jewish forces in Jerusalem. Josephus was berated by the Jews of Jerusalem after he repeatedly called on them to surrender to the Roman forces. Eventually, in 70 CE, the Romans crushed the revolt and destroyed Jerusalem.
Josephus returned with Titus to Rome, where he was awarded for his service with a house and a pension. With time and resources, Josephus turned to writing of history. In the 70s, he wrote Jewish Wars, which provided a chronicle of the wars of the Jewish people. He thereafter in the 90s wrote a much broader history of the Jewish people, Jewish Antiquities.
Two References to Jesus
Josephus' writings cover a number of figures familiar to Bible readers. He discusses John the Baptist, James the brother of Jesus, Pontius Pilate, the Sadducees, the Sanhedrin, the High Priests, and the Pharisees. As for Jesus, there are two references to him in Antiquities. I will recount them in the order in which they appear.
First, in a section in Book 18 dealing with various actions of Pilate, the extant texts refer to Jesus and his ministry. This passage is known as the Testimonium Flavianum referred to hereafter as the "TF".
Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ, and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him; for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians so named from him are not extinct at this day.
Jewish Antiquities 18.3.3
Second, in Book 20 there is what could be called a passing reference to Jesus in a paragraph describing the murder of Jesus' brother, James, at the hands of Ananus, the High Priest.
But the younger Ananus who, as we said, received the high priesthood, was of a bold disposition and exceptionally daring; he followed the party of the Sadducees, who are severe in judgment above all the Jews, as we have already shown. As therefore Ananus was of such a disposition, he thought he had now a good opportunity, as Festus was now dead, and Albinus was still on the road; so he assembled a council of judges, and brought before it the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ, whose name was James, together with some others, and having accused them as lawbreakers, he delivered them over to be stoned.
Jewish Antiquities 20.9.1
The Testimonium Flavianum
It is not the purpose of this article to address the arguments of the few commentators - mostly Jesus Mythologists - who doubt the authenticity of the second reference. According to leading Josephus scholar Louis H. Feldman, the authenticity of this passage "has been almost universally acknowledged" by scholars. (Feldman, "Josephus," Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 3, pages 990-91). Instead, this article focuses on arguments regarding the partial authenticity of the TF.
Although Josephus' reference to the martyrdom of James is universally accepted by critical scholars, there has been more controversy over the fuller reference to Jesus. The TF contains some obvious Christian glosses that no Jew would have written; such as "he was the Christ" and "he appeared to them alive again the third day."
A strong majority of scholars, however, have concluded that much of the TF is authentic to Josephus. In his book Josephus and Modern Scholarship, Professor Feldman reports that between 1937 to 1980, of 52 scholars reviewing the subject, 39 found portions of the TF to be authentic. Peter Kirby's own review of the literature, in an article discussing the TF in depth, shows that the trend in modern scholarship has moved even more dramatically towards partial authenticity: "In my own reading of thirteen books since 1980 that touch upon the passage, ten out of thirteen argue the Testimonium to be partly genuine, while the other three maintain it to be entirely spurious. Coincidentally, the same three books also argue that Jesus did not exist." (Kirby, Testamonium Flavianum, 2001). Though my own studies have revealed a similar trend (about 15 to 1 for partial authenticity, with the exception being a Jesus Mythologist), I do not believe that it is a coincidence that it is Jesus Mythologists who are carrying the water against the partial authenticity theory. Even the partial validity of this one passage is enough to sink their entire argument.
Notably, the consensus for partial authenticity is held by scholars from diverse perspectives. Liberal commentators such as Robert Funk, J. Dominic Crossan, and A.N. Wilson, accept a substantial part of the TF as originally Josephan. So do Jewish scholars, such as Geza Vermes, Louis H. Feldman, and Paul Winter and secular scholars such as E.P. Sanders and Paula Fredrikson. Even Jeff Lowder, co-founder of the Secular Web, recognizes the merits of the partial authenticity theory. (Lowder, Josh McDowell's Evidence for Jesus: Is it Reliable? 2000). Paula Fredrikson sums up the state of the question among scholars: "Most scholars currently incline to see the passage as basically authentic, with a few later insertions by Christian scribes." (Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews, page 249).
Those scholars who accept the "partial authenticity" theory conclude that - at a minimum - something similar to the following reconstruction of the TF was likely original to Book 18:
At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man. For he was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who receive the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following among many Jews and among many of Gentile origin. And when Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so. And up until this very day the tribe of Christians (named after him) had not died out.
(per Meier, op. cit., page 61).
The strong majority opinion of scholars is not without justification. As discussed below, there are many arguments of varying weight which support this view.
1. An Authentic Core of Josephan Language and Style
Perhaps the most important factor leading most scholars to accept the partial-authenticity position is that a substantial part of the TF reflects Josephan language and style. Moreover, when the obvious Christian glosses -- which are rich in New Testament terms and language not found in the core -- are removed or restored to their original the remaining core passage is coherent and flows well.
We can be confident that there was a minimal reference to Jesus . . . because once the clearly Christian sections are removed, the rest makes good grammatical and historical sense. The peculiarly Christian words are parenthetically connected to the narrative; hence they are grammatically free and could easily have been inserted by a Christian. These sections also are disruptive, and when they are removed the flow of thought is improved and smoother.
(James H. Charlesworth, Jesus within Judaism, pages 93-94).
Also Graham Stanton states "Once the obviously Christian additions are removed, the remaining comments are consistent with Josephus's vocabulary and style." (Stanton, The Gospels and Jesus, page 143). The most recent and comprehensive study of the TF was done by John P. Meier in A Marginal Jew, Volume 1. As stated by Meier, "[m]any key words and phrases in the Testimonium are either absent from the NT or are used there in an entirely different sense; in contrast, almost every word in the core of the Testimonium is found elsewhere in Josephus--in fact, most of the vocabulary turns out to be characteristic of Josephus." (Meier, op. cit., page 63).
Below I break down the TF phrase by phrase to examine its linguistic characteristics and style:
a. Now there was about this time, Jesus
The digression and introductory phrase are typical of Josephus. As noted by Steve Mason, "[t]he opening phrase 'about this time' is characteristic of his language in this part of Antiquities, where he is weaving together distinct episodes into a coherent narrative (cf. Ant. 17.19; 18.39, 65, 80; 19.278)." (Mason, Josephus and the New Testament, page 171). Additionally, the use of the simple name "Jesus" favours Josephan authorship. A Christian would be more likely to use the term "Jesus Christ" or "Christ Jesus. In all of Ignatius' seven authentic letters he refers to "Jesus Christ" 112 times, "Christ Jesus" 12 times, "Christ" 4 times, and "Jesus" only 3 times (Robert Grant, The Apostolic Fathers, Vol. 4, page 7). Another example is Polycarp. In his letter he ten times refers to "Jesus Christ" and never once to "Jesus." Though certainly not determinative, this is suggestive and more consistent with authorship by Josephus than a Christian interpolator.
b. A wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man,
Although the phrase "wise man" sounds positive, it almost certainly is not a Christian addition. That it is followed by the obvious interpolation "if it be lawful to call him a man" indicates that the interpolator found the description of Jesus as a "wise man" to be woefully inadequate. So, he remedies this insufficient estimate of Jesus by clarifying that there is good reason to doubt he was just a man. "A Christian scribe would not deny that Jesus was a wise man, but would feel that label insufficient for one who has believed to be God as well as man." (Meier, op. cit., page 60). Mason adds: "As it stands, the reticence to call Jesus a man seems like a rejoinder to the previous, already flattering statement that he was a wise man. It seems more like a qualification of an existing statement than part of a free creation." (Mason, op. cit., page 171; See also France, op. cit., page 30: "Thus the clause 'if indeed one should call him a man' makes good sense as a Christian response to Josephus' description of Jesus as (merely) a 'wise man', but is hardly the sort of language a Christian would have used if writing from scratch.").
Furthermore, the phrase "wise man" is characteristically Josephan. And its context and how Josephus uses it elsewhere are especially matched to its use in the TF:
He uses the designation “wise man” sparingly, but as a term of considerable praise. King Solomon was such a wise man (Ant. 8.53), and so was Daniel (10.237). Interestingly, both men had what we might call occult powers—abilities to perform cures and interpret dreams—of the sort that Jesus is credited with in the testimonium.
(Mason, op. cit., page 171).
Leading Jewish scholar Geza Vermes agrees that there is a connection between the use of the term for Daniel and Solomon and the TF's description of Jesus:
Of these, Solomon and Daniel are the most obvious parallels to Jesus qua wise men. Both were celebrated as masters of wisdom. Hence it is not surprising to find the epithet 'teacher' follows closely the phrases under consideration in the Testimonium.
(Geza Vermes, The Jesus Notice of Josephus Re-Examined, Journal of Jewish Studies, Spring 1987, page 3).
Finally, an often overlooked argument about the use of "wise man" is that it would have a "pejorative connotation" to Christians. In 1 Corinthians 1:24, 30, the wisdom of man is put in a very negative light. In Matthew 11:25 and Luke 10:21, "the wise" are compared unfavourably to "babes." Indeed, such a term is not used by Christians in their early literature to describe Jesus. Vermes, op. cit., page 5. This adds yet more weight to the argument for partial authenticity. As Vermes concludes, "no stylistic or historical argument" can be "marshalled against the authenticity" of this phrase. (Ibid).
c. for he was a doer of wonderful works,
The term for "doer" here has been claimed not to be Josephan. But Professor Meier is aware of this argument and offers an explanation:
[I]t is used elsewhere in Josephus only in the sense of "poet"; but Josephus . . . has a fondness for resolving a simple verb into two words: a noun expressing the agent and the auxiliary verb (e.g., krites einai for the simple krinein). Moreover, Josephus uses such cognates as poieteos, 'that which is to be done," poiesis, "doing, causing" (as well as "poetry, poem"), and poietikos, 'that which causes something" (as well as "poetic").
(Meier, op. cit., page 81).
Furthermore, it is not all that unusual for ancient Greek authors to use occasionally a word in an unusual way. The undisputed epistles of Paul have their share not only of hapex legomena but also of Pauline words and phrases that Paul uses in a given passage with an unusual meaning or construction. Especially since Josephus is dealing in the Testimonium with peculiar material, drawn perhaps from a special source, we need not be surprised if his usage differs slightly at a few points.
(Meier, op. cit., page 83 (emphasis added)).
On balance therefore, there is nothing about this term that counts against authenticity.
One the other hand, Mason confirms that the term "startling/incredible deeds" (paradoxa) is Josephan: "Josephus often speaks of “marvels” and “incredible” things in the same breath, as the testimonium does. He even uses the phrase rendered “incredible deeds” in two other places, once of the prophet Elisha (Ant. 9.182; cf. 12.63)." (Mason, op. cit., page 171). Yet this term is nowhere used in the New Testament to describe Jesus' miracles. Nor is it used in early Christian literature prior to its citation by Eusebius.
The reason Christians generally avoided this term is that it could just as easily be interpreted in a neutral or even negative way, such as "controversial deeds." Professor Van Voorst notes that the phrase "is ambiguous; it can also be translated 'startling/controversial deeds.'" (Jesus Outside the New Testament, page 78). Professor Vermes notes that "paradoxa" is not an unambiguous reference to a Godly miracle. In fact, "students of Josephus seem to agree that the word best expressing his notion of 'miracle' is" a different Greek term that Vermes translates "sign." This is especially true when the issue concerns an extraordinary deed achieved by a man of God (Vermes, op. cit., page 7). Josephus does not use the unambiguous term, but uses "paradoxa." According to Vermes, "paradoxa" is simply too neutral standing alone to be a positive attestation. Though Josephus uses this term for Moses and Elisha, he goes out of his way to explain that the deeds described there were from God.
The Jesus notice, though verbally closely related to the Elisha passage, lacks a positive evaluation by Josephus. His is a fairly sympathetic but ultimately detached description: he reports traditions concerning Jesus, but he is personally not committed to them.
(Vermes, op. cit., page 8).
Such a neutral reference would be expected from Josephus, but not from any Christian interested in inserting the interpolation in the first place.
d. a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure.
The phrase "receive the truth with pleasure" is characteristically Josephan.
In particular, Thackeray, the prince of Josephan scholars, who went so far in his study of Josephus' language as to compose a lexicon to Josephus for his own use so as to see how precisely each word is used in Josephus and whether there is evidence of shifts of style in various parts of his works due to his "assistants" or to other reasons, noted that the phrase 'such people as accept the truth gladly' is characteristic of the scribe in this part of the Antiquities, since the phrase appears eight times in books 17-19 (supposedly the work of the Thucydidean assistant) and nowhere else in Josephus.
(Louis H. Feldman, "The Testimonium Flavianum, The State of the Question," Christological Perspectives, Eds. Robert F. Berkley and Sarah Edwards, page 188).
The concentration of the phrase "received the truth with pleasure" in these three chapters serves as even stronger evidence for authenticity. Furthermore, it is unlikely that a Christian would have used such a phrase to describe Jesus or Christians. As Professor Feldman notes, "Christian interpolation is unlikely, since the word in the New Testament and in early Christian writings had a pejorative connotation." (Ibid). Van Voorst agrees, "because Christians generally avoid a positive use of the word 'pleasure,' with its connotation of 'hedonism,'  it is difficult to imagine a Christian scribe using it here about Jesus' followers." (Van Voorst, op. cit., 90).
e. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles.
This statement probably could not have been written by a Christian because it so obviously contradicts the portrait of Jesus' ministry in the Gospels. Indeed, it directly contradicts several assertions made by the Gospel about Jesus and Gentiles.
In the whole of John's Gospels, no one clearly designated a Gentile ever interacts directly with Jesus; the very fact that Gentiles seek to speak to Jesus is a sign to him that the hour of his passion, which alone makes a universal mission possible, is at hand (John 12:20-26). In Matthew's Gospels, where a few exceptions to the rule are allowed . . . we find a pointedly programmatic saying in Jesus' mission charge to the Twelve: 'Go not to the Gentiles, and do not enter a Samaritan city; rather, go only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 10:5-6). The few gentiles who do come into contact with Jesus are not objects of Jesus' missionary outreach; they rather come to him unbidden and humble, realizing they are out place. For Matthew, they point forward to the universal mission, which begins only after Jesus' death and resurrection (28:16-20). While Mark and Luke are not as explicit as Matthew on this point, they basically follow the same pattern: during his public ministry, Jesus does not undertake any formal mission to the Gentiles; the few who come to him do so by way of exception.
Hence the implication of the Testimonium that Jesus equally won a large following among both Jews and Gentiles simply contradicts the clear statements about the Gospels. Unless we want to fantasize about a Christian interpolator who is intent on inserting a summary of Jesus' ministry into Josephus and who nevertheless wishes to contradict what the Gospels say about Jesus' ministry, the obvious conclusion to draw is that the core of the Testimonium comes from a nonChristian hand, namely, Josephus'. Understandably, Josephus simply retrojected the situation of his own day, into the time of Jesus. Naive retrojection is a common trait of Greco-Roman historians.
(Meier, op. cit., page 64-65).
Accordingly, this statement is much more likely to be authentic to Josephus than a Christian invention. The notion that it served some apologetic purpose of Eusebius, as argued by Olson and Kirby, is erroneous. As I suggest below, Olson's theory of Eusebian interpolation is unpersuasive and his explanation of Eusebius' use of TF for apologetic purposes is particularly misguided. Moreover, it fails to account for Josephus' substantial influence on Eusebius. (See, Eusebius, The History of the Church, ed. Andrew Louth, page 382).
f. He was the Christ,
This is clearly an interpolation using blatantly New Testament language about Jesus. A Jew such as Josephus would not refer to Jesus as the Messiah. But, if a Christian had written the entire TF, he would likely have placed this phrase earlier in the passage. As Meier notes:
"He was the Messiah" seems out of place in its present position and disturbs the flow of thought. If it were present at all, one would expect it to occur immediately after either "Jesus" or "wise man," where the further identification would make sense.
Meier, op. cit., page 60.
Some scholars have argued that this phrase originally was "he was thought to be the Christ," but that the interpolator changed it because he could not let such a statement stand. "And if ... Josephus had written 'he was the so-called Christ' (ho legomenos Christos), it would have been natural for a Christian reviser to leave out legomenos." (France, op. cit., page 30). Although Meier disagrees, such a tentative phrase would actually make sense after explaining the nature of Jesus' ministry. And it would especially make sense as an explanation that Jesus had "gained a following both among Jews and among many of Greek origin." So, while "he was the Christ" is obviously not original to the text and is out of place, it is possible -- perhaps likely -- that the TF originally stated that "he was thought to be the Christ." Indeed, based on the manuscript evidence, this reconstruction is likely.
g. and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross,
The mention of Pilate is neutral, as it would be used by a Jewish historian or a Christian familiar with the Gospel narratives. Thus, it does not favour either theory.
The reference to "principal men" is very common in Josephus, but has no counterpart in the Gospels or in any other early Christian literature. A Christian would be much more likely to refer to "the Jews" or "the Sanhedrin", or even the "Sadducees" and/or "Pharisees." Accordingly, it is typically and uniquely Josephan. As for the phrase "among us," it is often used by Josephus (Preface of Antiquities 1.3; Antiquities 10.2.2; 12.6.2; 14.10.1; 15.3.2; and 15.10.5).
Steve Mason has argued that the phrase "principal men among us" is unusual because Josephus elsewhere only uses the phrase "principal men" to refer "of Jerusalem" or "of the city." (Mason, op. cit., page 169). Yet this provides little support for the total interpolation theory. As Mason himself admits, "Josephus often speaks of the “leading men” among the Jews with the phrase used in the testimonium, especially in book 18 of Antiquities (17.81; 18.7, 99, 121, 376)." (Mason, op. cit., page 169). That this phrase has a higher concentration of occurrences in Book 18 is credible evidence that we have here a stylistic occurrence that attests to heavy influence of one of Josephus' assistants, or at least a peculiar focus on the term by Josephus in Book 18. Given the unusual focus on that phrase in this Book, it is not surprising that it would find itself used in conjunction with the very common Josephan phrase "among us." Notably, Mason does not find this usage as in any way conclusive as evidence against partial authenticity. As he notes, "although some of the language in the testimonium is odd, we have no linguistic basis for dismissing the whole paragraph." (Mason, op. cit., page 170). Indeed, Mason favors the partial interpolation theory (Ibid., page 171).
Finally, unlike the Gospels, this phrase simply notes that Jesus was crucified at the instigation of some of the leading Jewish men. This bland reference makes more sense for Josephus than it would for a Christian writer, who would be more eager to describe how their motives in killing Jesus were improper or at least unjustified.
h. those that loved him at the first did not forsake him;
Steve Mason argues that the phrase "they did not forsake" must be "be completed by the translator, for it is left incomplete in the text; the action which his followers ceased must be understood from the preceding phrase. This is as peculiar in Greek as it is in English, and such a construction is not found elsewhere in Josephus' writing." Mason, op. cit., page 169. Two other scholars, however, note that this phrase is characteristic of Josephus. Professor Van Voorst states that "'Those who had first loved him did not cease [doing so]' is characteristically Josephan in style...." (Van Voorst, Op. cit., page 90). Professor Yamuchi similarly notes that this phrase "conforms to Josephus' characteristic style." (Edwin M. Yamuchi, "Jesus Outside the New Testament" in Jesus Under Fire, Eds. Michael J. Wilkin and J.P. Moreland, page 213).
Perhaps the reason that it appears to be "left incomplete in the text" is because the text itself is deficient. Such omissions are common in the Antiquities textual tradition. Citing a study by G.L. Richards in the Journal of Theological Studies (xliii, page 70, 1941), F.F. Bruce notes, "[i]t has also been pointed out that omission of words and short phrases is characteristic of the textual tradition of the Antiquities . . . ." (Bruce, The New Testament Documents, page 109). At present, therefore, there seems to be insufficient reason to doubt that this passage is Josephan.
i. for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him.
This is a clear Christian confession, akin to the creedal "according to the scriptures" of 1 Corinthians. 15:5. But at least part of it fits with Josephus' style:
Although the phrase “divine prophets” sounds peculiar at first, there is a close parallel in Josephus’ description of Isaiah (Antiquities. 10.35). Even the word used for what the prophets “announced” is commonly used by Josephus in conjunction with prophecy.
(Mason, op. cit., page 171).
So part of this phrase shows Josephan characteristics, but as presently articulated has at least been altered by a Christian scribe. Perhaps the best solution is the reconstruction proposed by Robert Eisler: "For it seemed to his followers that having been dead for three days, he had appeared to them alive again, as the divinely inspired prophets had foretold." (Eisler, The Messiah Jesus and John the Baptist, page 61). By attributing the belief in resurrection to his followers, rather than himself, Josephus would simply be noting one of the main beliefs of the Christians.
j. And the tribe of Christians so named from him are not extinct at this day.
Use of the phrase "the tribe of" has been recognized by many scholars as being typical of Josephus. Even uniquely so. But Kirby relies on Steve Mason to argue that this phrase is "peculiar":
Josephus uses the word "tribe" (phyle) eleven other times. Once it denotes "gender," and once a "swarm" of locusts, but usually signifies distinct people, races, or nationalities: the Jews are a "tribe" (War 3.354; 7.327) as are the Taurians (War 2.366) and Parthians (War 2.379). It is very strange that Josephus should speak of the Christians as a distinct racial group, since he has just said that Jesus was a Jew condemned by Jewish leaders. (Notice, however, that some Christian authors of a later period came to speak of Christianity as a "third race.").
(Mason, op. cit., pages 169-70).
As even Mason's own examples show, however, Josephus does not restrict his usage of the phrase "the tribe of" to "distinct racial group[s]." (emphasis added). Nor do I find it reasonable to argue that Josephus would have thought of Christians simply as Jews. After all, though Jesus was a Jew, the TF is quite clear that Christians were both Jews and Greeks. Thus, they were not simply a Jewish sect in Josephus' eyes but a group that was distinct from the Jews and the Greeks. Given that the phrase "tribe of" is used with diversity in Josephus -- referring to a variety of groups, to females, and to locusts -- there is nothing unusual about its use here. Indeed, it is hard to take seriously the notion that Josephus would have felt free to use the phrase "tribe of" to describe bugs but not Christians. Thus, the phrase "tribe of" used by Josephus to describe Christians should be seen as characteristically Josephan.
Furthermore, "calling Christians a 'tribe' would also be unusual for a Christian scribe; a follower of a missionizing faith would be uncomfortable with the more narrow, particularistic implications of this word." (Van Voorst, op. cit., page 90). As Van Voorst notes, Eusebius -- whose writings were heavily influenced by Josephus' -- was the first Christian to use such a term for Christians. Accordingly, it is more reasonable to believe that Josephus applies this term to Christians than it is to suspect an early Christian interpolator invented it.
k. Summary of the Linguistic Evidence
Having reviewed each phrase in the TF, we are now in a position to evaluate the evidence.
The following phrases are characteristic of Josephus:
(i) At this time there appeared;
(ii) a wise man;
(iii) startling deeds;
(iv) receive the truth with pleasure;
(v) leading men;
(vi) among us;
(vii) those who had loved him; and,
(viii) the tribe of.
The following phrases are obvious Christian glosses:
(i) if it be lawful to call him a man, and
(ii) He was the Christ. (However, the latter phrase was likely "he was thought to be the Christ" or some rough equivalent).
Then there is a passage that contains obvious Christian sentiment and characteristic Josephan language:
(i) for he appeared to them alive again the third day; as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him.
In conclusion, a substantial amount of the TF is characteristically Josephus and only a few phrases are obviously Christian. Moreover, many of the phrases that are characteristically Josephan are absent from the New Testament and other early Christian literature (such as "wise man" and "leading men"), and/or are phrases or terms that Christians would likely have avoided using (such as "startling deeds," and "received the truth with pleasure"). Add in a phrase that any Christian scribe would have known was erroneous ("he gained a following among many Jews and among many of Gentile origin") and a compelling case exists that the core of the TF is authentic. Cementing the case is that the TF actually is coherent and flows better without the obvious Christian glosses.
2. The Reference to James the Brother of Jesus Suggests and Earlier Reference to Jesus
The validity of Josephus' reference to James' Martyrdom increases the likelihood that the TF is also valid. In Josephus' reference to James, he refers to Jesus as "the so-called Christ" without further explanation. Because the reference to Jesus is likely meant to specify which James Josephus was discussing, it is probable that Josephus had already explained to his audience the significance of Jesus the so-called Christ.
Josephus does not feel that he must stop to explain who this Jesus is; he is presumed to be the known fixed point that helps locate James on the map. None of this would make any sense to Josephus' audience, which is basically Gentile, unless Josephus had previously introduced and explained something about him.
(Meier, op. cit., page 62).
Jewish Scholar Paul Winter agrees:
If . . . Josephus referred to James as being 'the brother of Jesus who is called Christ,' without much ado, we have to assume that in an earlier passage he had already told his readers about Jesus himself.
(Paul Winter, "Josephus on Jesus and James," in History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ, ed. Emil Schurer, Edinburgh, 1973, page 432).
Within Josephus’ narrative, this phrasing is best explained by his wish to recall his earlier reference to Jesus (Ant. 18.63–64), thus: “this man was the brother of the one I mentioned before.” It might also be that Josephus means to indicate something of the accusations brought against James: just as his brother was condemned by some Jewish leaders, so also James ran afoul of Ananus. But if Josephus did not think James’ actions worthy of death, that might support the view that the original form of the testimonium was similarly mild.
(Mason, op. cit., page 173).
To the extent that readers accept the unanimous scholarly consensus for the authenticity of the Book 20 reference, this argument adds considerable weight to the partial-authenticity theory. However, other than that an earlier mention of Jesus also mentioned Christians or Christ, it gives us little guidance as to its content.
3. The Testimonium is Present in All Manuscripts
As Professor Meier notes, "the Testimonium is present in all the Greek manuscripts and in all the numerous manuscripts of the Latin translation." (Meier, op. cit., page 62). There are 42 extant Greek manuscripts and 171 Latin manuscripts. Perhaps significant is that the Latin translation was created in the Sixth Century. (See Louis H. Feldman, "Josephus: Interpretative Methods and Tendencies," in Dictionary of New Testament Background, page 591). The probative value of this is not great, however, because all of the Greek manuscripts date no earlier than the 10th or 11th centuries, though some of the Latin manuscripts date back as early as the 9th century. But, a study of the references to the TF by Christian writers demonstrates that multiple manuscript traditions by the time Eusebius refer to the TF. This at least moves back the existence of the TF in different manuscript traditions to around the third century. Because all of these references contain some tampering, however, this manuscript evidence does not lend direct support to the partial-authenticity theory.
4. No Connection with John the Baptist
Josephus fails to make any connection between John the Baptist -- who he discusses at length -- and Jesus. In the minds of early and later Christians, this would have been inconceivable. The temptation to modify or link Jesus to John the Baptist in Josephus' Antiquities would have been irresistible.
A final curiousity encompasses not the Testimonium taken by itself but the relation of the Testimonium to the longer narrative about John the Baptist in Antiquities 18.5.2 116-19, a text accepted as authentic by almost all scholars. The two passages are in no way related to each other in Josephus. The earlier, shorter passage about Jesus is placed in the context of Pontius Pilate's governorship of Judea; the later, longer, passage about John is placed in a context dealing with Herod Antipas, tetrarch of Galilee/Perea. Separated by time, space, and placement in Book 18, Jesus and the Baptist (in that order!) have absolutely nothing to do with each other in the mind and narrative of Josephus. Such a presentation totally contradicts - indeed, it is the direct opposite of the NT portrait of the Baptist, who is always treated briefly as the forerunner of the main character of Jesus. Viewed as a whole, the treatment of Jesus and John in Book 18 of The Antiquities is simply inconceivable as the work of a Christian of any period.
(Meier, op. cit., page 66).
This argument standing alone may be insufficient, but it does add substantial weight to the partial-authenticity theory.
5. Textual Variants in the Manuscript Tradition Suggest an Authentic Core
There is persuasive evidence that earlier Antiquities manuscripts lacked the phrases "he was the Christ" and "if indeed it is right to call him a man."
First, Ambrose (or Pseudo-Hegesippus) -- despite using the TF as a polemic for the divinity of Christ -- never notes that Josephus called Jesus "the Christ." Writing around 30 or so years after Eusebius, he quotes from the TF:
The Jews themselves also bear witness to Christ, as appears by Josephus, the writer of their history, who says thus: 'That there was at that time a wise man, if (says he) it be lawful to have him called a man, a doer of wonderful works, who appeared to his disciples after the third day from his death, alive again according to the writings of the prophets, who foretold these and innumerable other miraculous events concerning him: from whom began the congregation of Christians, yet he was no believer, because of the hardness of his heart and his prejudicial intention. However, it was no prejudice to the truth that he was not a believer, but this adds more weight to his testimony, that while he was an unbeliever and unwilling, this should be true, he has not denied it to be so.
Ambrose has cited from the TF every positive statement about Jesus to use in his argument that Jesus was divine. He notes that Jesus was wise, recites the "if it is lawful" reference, notes that he did "wonderful works," and records that he "appeared to his disciples" and that he did many other miraculous things. However, Ambrose completely fails to note that Josephus claimed that Jesus was the Christ. In fact, he seems to understand that Josephus was clearly an unbeliever. It is very unlikely that Ambrose would have ignored such a strong attestation of Jesus -- if it existed in his manuscript. Clearly, his manuscript did not contain that phrase (though it is possible that he would leave out a statement that "he was called the Christ" because it implied disbelief). Therefore, this citation of the TF strongly suggests that within 30 years of Eusebius' writings, there existed a Greek manuscript tradition of Antiquities that omitted the phrase "he was the Christ."
Second, Jerome -- writing at the end of the Fourth Century -- also cites the TF and explicitly differs from Eusebius' version by noting that Josephus merely stated that Jesus was "called the Christ."
Josephus in the 18th book of Antiquities, most expressly acknowledges that Christ was slain by the Pharisees, on account of the greatness of his miracles.... Now he wrote concerning our Lord after this manner: "At the same time there was Jesus, a wise man, if yet it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of those who willingly receive the truth. He had many followers both of the Jews and of the Gentiles -- he was believed to be the Christ. And when by the envy of our principal men, Pilate had condemned him to the cross, yet notwithstanding those who had loved him at first persevered, for he appeared to them alive on the third day, as the oracles of the prophets had foretold many of these and other wonderful things concerning him: and the sect of Christians so named from him are not extinct to this day.
As with Ambrose, Jerome's manuscript was different than the one used by Eusebius in that it lacked the definitive statement "he was the Christ." As Alice Whealey notes, "the fact that the passage is quoted by Jerome in a slightly variant form in this period, which reads, 'he was believed to be the Christ' rather than the textus receptus' 'he was the Christ' is not proof of Jerome's own doubts about its authenticity, as is occasionally alleged. Rather, it is evidence that in addition to the textus receptus a variant version of the Testimonium in Greek was still in circulation in late antiquity." (The Testimonium Flavianum Controversy from Antiquity to the Present, 2000 SBL Josephus Seminar). Louis Feldman agrees:
An examination of the citation shows that though he is clearly quoting, Jerome says that Jesus credebatur esse Christus. Hence his text said not that Jesus was the Messiah, but that he was believed to be a Messiah. This would fit the statement, noted above of Origen, to whom Jerome was so indebted, that Josephus did not admit Jesus to be the Christ.
(Feldman, op. cit., page 184).
Third, there is a Syriac version of the TF that is referenced in the 12th century work, compiled by the Patriarch of Antioch, Michael the Syrian, which lends even more support to Jerome's version of the TF. While tracking our current TF more or less, the Syriac version departs from it by stating that "he was believed to be the Christ" rather than "he was the Christ." And as Whealey notes, "Latin and Syriac writers did not read each others' works in late antiquity. Both, however, had access to Greek works. The only plausible conclusion is that Jerome and some Syriac Christian (probably the seventh century James of Edessa) both had access to a Greek version of the Testimonium containing the passage 'he was believed to be the Christ' rather than 'he was the Christ.'" (Whealey, op. cit. at 10, n. 9).
Finally, an Arabic version of the Testimonium recounted in the Tenth Century work, "Book of the Title." The author was Agapius, a Christian Arab and Melkite bishop of Hierapolis. His recitation of the TF did not come to light until 1971. It is translated thus:
At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. And his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them after his crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.
This version lacks some of the obvious Christian interpolations, such as "he was the Messiah" and "if he can be called a man," though apparently adds glosses such as "and his conduct was good," and "he was known to be virtuous." James Charlesworth, a leading New Testament scholar at Princeton, states that this Arabic version "provides textual justification for excising the Christian passages and demonstrating that Josephus probably discussed Jesus in Antiquities 18." (James Charlesworth, "Research on the Historical Jesus Today: Jesus and the Pseudigrapha, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Nag Hammadi Codices, Josephus, and Archeology," Princeton Seminary Bulletin, vol. Vi, page 110).
This version provides additional evidence that "he was the Messiah" was not a part of earlier Antiquities manuscripts, but also indicates that "if he can be called a man" was not in some manuscripts. Furthermore, this is the only citation of the TF that I have found which is equivocal about the resurrection, noting only that "they reported" that Jesus appeared alive. I am sceptical that any Christian would intentionally soften the attestation to Christianity's most important miracle. The better explanation is that the author was relying on a manuscript that claimed only that Jesus' followers claimed he was resurrected. Though I am sceptical of claims that this Arabic version is the authentic TF, it provides reason to believe that the most prominent Christian glosses were not a part of earlier manuscripts.
In summary, the manuscript evidence shows that at least one of the blatant Christian interpolations ("he was the Christ") was not a part of earlier versions of the TF. This alone adds weight to the partial authenticity theory because it shows that earlier versions were even more Josephan than our present one. But there is also evidence that other blatant Christian interpolations may have been absent from the earliest form of the TF. All told, this shows that the linguistic evidence assessed above is probably tilted against partial authenticity because it counts Christian additions we now know were likely not present in the TF's earlier forms. Thus, the manuscript evidence assessed here enhances the already strong linguistic arguments for Josephan authorship of the core of the TF.
6. There is No Christian Track Record of Such Whole Cloth Invention
Kirby quotes Mason as arguing that an interpolation is unlikely because "[t]o have created the testimonium out of whole cloth would be an act of unparalleled scribal audacity." (Mason, op. cit., page 171). Kirby dismisses Mason's argument by noting that a Christian interpolator did invent references to Jesus out of whole cloth in the Slavonic Josephus. I do not believe, however, that Kirby's presentation does Mason's argument justice. Here is Mason's complete argument:
They have noted that, in general, Christian copyists were quite conservative in transmitting texts. Nowhere else in all of Josephus’ voluminous writings is there strong suspicion of scribal tampering. Christian copyists also transmitted the works of Philo, who said many things that might be elaborated in a Christian direction, but there is no evidence that in hundreds of years of transmission, the scribes inserted their own remarks into Philo’s text. To be sure, many of the “pseudepigrapha” that exist now only in Christian form are thought to stem from Jewish originals, but in this instance it may reflect the thorough Christian rewriting of Jewish models, rather than scribal insertions. That discussion is ongoing among scholars. But in the cases of Philo and Josephus, whose writings are preserved in their original language and form, one is hard pressed to find a single example of serious scribal alteration. To have created the testimonium out of whole cloth would be an act of unparalleled scribal audacity.
(Mason, op. cit., page 171).
Because the Slavonic Josephus was likely created almost a thousand years after Eusebius' first mentions the TF -- and is found in none of the Latin or Greek manuscripts of Josephus -- Mason's point stands. Indeed, that Kirby can only point to one example that occurred hundreds of years later and never found acceptance in other manuscript traditions adds credibility to Mason's argument. Though this argument does not demonstrate partial authenticity standing alone, it strikes a sober note of caution against assuming that any tampering means wholesale invention.
Although the partial authenticity theory has persuaded the majority of scholars, it has been criticized. I discuss the leading objections below:
1. The Burden of Proof
Some have argued that because most parties agree that there was some tampering with the text, the entire TF should be presumed an interpolation. While I agree that evidence of some tampering mitigates the usual strong presumption that the text found in all the manuscripts is original, to presume it is unauthentic as a result takes us beyond the evidence and should therefore be rejected. If the evidence only demonstrates tampering of part of a text, that is all the evidence can show. This is especially true where, as here, the corrupt text is easily severable. This means that if the remaining text is coherent and can stand on its own without the corrupt portions of the text, there is no reason to go beyond the evidence. Indeed, one of the more persuasive arguments for the partial authenticity theory is that the text is not only coherent without the corrupted portion, but flows better and makes more sense without the obvious glosses. Additionally, Mason's point above about the lack of a track record of such complete interpolations should give added caution to such a drastic shift in the burden of proof. Thus, this "objection" is more question-begging than analysis. Accordingly, it seems best to review all of the evidence and see which theory is supported by a preponderance of it.
2. The TF is "Unusually Short" for Josephus
This argument asserts that the passage in Josephus is "unusually short" to match Josephan style. Of course, the chapter and section headings are not original to the text. Nor have I seen a discussion of how such a determination was made. So, I have some scepticism that this conclusion has been strongly supported. In any event, if the characterization of the passage as unusually short is true, it seems less likely to have been added by a Christian. Such an interpolator would have a lot to say. A Christian who was creating out of whole clothe a reference to Jesus would be describing the man he believed to be the most important figure in all human history and an incarnation of God. Although such a short description might be unusual for a Christian, it would be perfectly understandable for a Jew like Josephus.
The results of a Christian's strong motive to characterize Jesus so highly can be seen by examining what all agree was a complete interpolation by a Christian scribe: the Slavonic Josephus. The Slavonic Josephus was written in Old Russian. The main addition referring to Jesus is over 400+ words long and adds many more details about Jesus activities. Thus, "his nature and form were human, but his appearance was superhuman and his works divine," "in many respects he opposed the Law and he did not keep the Sabbath according to the custom of our forefathers," "a hundred and fifty assistants joined him, and a multitude of the populace," and that Pilate released Jesus "because he had healed his wife when she was dying." (Inserted after Jewish Wars 2.9.2, 169). There were other additions: "[the temple curtain] had . . . been suddenly rent when they delivered to death through bribery the doer of good," "they had put guards all around his grave‑‑thirty Romans but a thousand Jews" (Jewish Wars 5.5.4, 214), and a reference to the writing placed on Jesus' cross identifying him as "Jesus, a king who did not reign . . . ." (Jewish Wars 5.5.2, 195).
Given the Christian perspective on Jesus' importance (whether in the thirteenth or the third century), this is unsurprising. On the other hand, if the partial authenticity theory's reconstruction is valid, it's length is consistent with what may be Josephus' view of Jesus - a rather neutral account about a religious leader who appeared, may have been unjustly killed, and left behind a movement known to Josephus' readers.
Against this conclusion I have seen it argued that a Christian scribe may not have known how much space he had to work with while adding the TF. This arguments is not well taken. I am sceptical that any scribes would have let this prevent them from adding a few more lines about Jesus. Even if he had to "slight" some of the many passages that Christians would have found completely irrelevant, there would have been little problem in adding a few more comments about God incarnate. I am sceptical of an argument that postulates that concerns over the length of the scroll would allow an interpolator to add 130 words about Jesus Christ, but not 30 or 50 more. This was certainly no barrier to the Slavonic Josephus.
3. The Lack of a Reference to Jesus in Josephus' Former Work--Wars
Some, including Earl Doherty, have argued that Josephus' failure to mention Jesus in his prior work of Jewish Wars evidences that he failed to do so in Antiquities. This argument adds nothing to the case against partial authenticity. These two works, though sharing the same author, are very different in scope and breadth. It actually would have been surprising if Josephus had mentioned Jesus in Jewish Wars.
As Professor R.T. France states:
His Jewish Wars, written shortly after the event, and based to a large extent on his own experience, begins with a sketch of Jewish history from the Maccabaean period, before focusing for the bulk of its seven books on the events of the years AD 66‑73. This is not, therefore, such a likely place to look for references to Jesus . . . . But Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews is a more ambitious if less carefully researched work, covering the whole period from the creation to AD 66, and devoting no less than six of its twenty books to the century from the reign of Herod the Great to AD 66.
(France, The Evidence for Jesus, page 25)
Furthermore, because the Antiquities passages discussing John the Baptist and James are more lengthy than the TF, but are absent from Wars, it is not surprising that the TF would likewise be absent. Additionally, there are other events mentioned in the New Testament and Antiquities that were not mentioned in Jewish Wars, such as the Famine during the days of Claudius and the account of the sudden death of Herod Agrippa I.
In an attempt to save this argument, Doherty argues that because the two references to Pilate preceding the TF in Antiquities were mentioned in Jewish Wars we would expect the TF to be included as well. See Earl Doherty, The Jesus Puzzle, page 222. This argument is overly simplistic. Jewish Wars is largely about the war that resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem 70 CE. The two references to Pilate that precede the TF in Antiquities were relevant to the war because they contributed to the Jewish uprising that lead to the war. Nothing about the death of Jesus, however, would have been seen by Josephus as contributing to the war (Jewish and Roman leaders were involved in his death). Proving this point is that the two passages in Chapter 18 that follow the TF in Antiquities are similarly irrelevant to the Jewish uprising and also not to be found in Jewish Wars. Simply put, the TF and the two following passages were not relevant to the Jewish Wars, but they were relevant to a comprehensive history of the Jewish people.
4. The TF is Similar to the Reference to John the Baptist
In his list of arguments against authenticity, Kirby cites to R. Joseph Hoffmann's comment that "the language used to describe John is very close to the language used to describe Jesus, leading some to theorize that the original version of the Antiquities carried no reference to Jesus at all."
This appears to be a non-sequitur. Even if true, why would it prove that the TF is a complete interpolation? Why would a Christian interpolator set out to describe Jesus in a similar way as John the Baptist? It is more likely that someone like Josephus would have seen Jesus and John as similar types of figures deserving similar descriptions. They gathered disciples and were popular with the people. Despite their popularity, they lead no revolt, but were executed anyway.
It seems more likely that the similar tone about John and Jesus supports the "neutral" reconstruction of the TF:
Josephus' report on John is also a descriptive treatment of a popular religious movement with political implications. Josephus depicts John as a good man who attracted large crowds by his teaching, as Jesus did. John, like Jesus, leads a reform movement within Judaism. Also, both leaders are killed unjustly, John on the suspicion that he might lead a popular revolt against Herod. Differences also exist, of course. John did not work miracles, the Romans are not involved [although there client King is], and Josephus does not indicate that his movement continues. Nevertheless, that Josephus can write sympathetically about a controversial figure like John the Baptizer indicates that he could write a neutral description about Jesus as well.
(Van Voorst op.cit., page 98).
5. The TF Does not Fit the Context of The Surrounding Passages
It has often been argued that the TF does not fit well within the context of Chapter 18. This objection is unpersuasive. It appears that the narrative about Jesus fits in here better than anywhere else. Expecting a small digression such as the TF to fit its context exactly appears counterintuitive. Digressions, especially unimportant ones, by definition are not good fits within the context of the overall discussion.
In the present case, one wonders whether any greater link need exist for Josephus than the fact that the account of Jesus (who is crucified by Pilate) is preceded by a story about Pilate in which many Jews are killed (Ant. 18.3.2, 60‑62) and is followed by a story in which the tricksters are punished by crucifixion.
(Meier, op. cit., page 86).
Even Jeffrey Lowder, co-founder of the Secular Web, could "see no reason to believe the Testimonium occurs out of context." Even if it could be said to be out of context, Lowder remarks "that would still not make it likely that the passage is an interpolation. It was common for ancient writers to insert extraneous texts or passages which seemingly interrupt the flow of the narrative (whereas today the material would be placed in a footnote)." (Lowder, Josh McDowell's Evidence for Jesus: Is it Reliable? 2000).
Kirby attempts to salvage this objection by arguing that "the real difficulty is the way that Josephus begins the subsequent paragraph with a reference to 'another outrage,' a reference that skips over the Testimonium entirely and points to the previous section." But this argument fails to give due consideration to the digressive nature of Josephus' writings in general and the TF in particular. As Meier quotes Thackery, "Josephus was a patchwork writer." (Meier, Op. cit., page 86, fn. 54). Furthermore:
We have emphasized another aspect of Josephus' work: his inveterate sloppiness. Texts suitable for tendentious revision as well as passages which contradict his motives are sometimes left untouched. The narrative is frequently confused, obscure, and contradictory.
(Shaye J.D. Cohen, Josephus in Galilee and Rome, page 233).
Nor should we think it strange for any writer to refer back past what Lowder describes as a footnote. Given the digressive nature of the TF and the "inveterate sloppiness" of Josephus, requiring the literary precision Kirby demands is unjustified. This argument adds little of value to the discussion.
6. Does the Tenor "ring true" for Josephus?
Doherty argues that "the entire tenor of such an 'original' does not ring true for Josephus. In the case of every other would-be messiah or popular leader opposed to or executed by the Romans, he has nothing but evil to say." (Doherty, op. cit., page 210-11). As pointed out above, Josephus has no problem describing John the Baptist in neutral-to-moderately favourable terms. Yet John the Baptist was put to death by the Rome-appointed-ruler Herod. That Josephus would have seen Jesus in similar terms, though apparently unrelated in ministry, is not at all unlikely.
But Doherty continues:
To judge by the Christians' own record in the Gospels and even some of the epistles, 'the tribe of Christians' toward the end of the first century was still a strongly apocalyptic one. It expected the overthrow of the empire and established authority, along with the transformation of the world into God's kingdom. What would have led Josephus to divorce this prevailing Christian outlook - for which he would have felt nothing but revulsion - from his judgment of the movement's founder?
(Doherty, op. cit., page 212).
There are a number of loaded terms in this argument. Doherty offers no discussion about Christianity's supposed "strongly apocalyptic" nature. Nor does he show what that term might suggest to early Christians, much less to the Romans. While I have little doubt that first century Christians expected the return of Christ, characterizing this as the "overthrow of the empire" is misleading. Indeed, Paul, who no doubt thought that the soon return of Jesus might be imminent, advises Christians to respect their Roman authorities:
Every person is to be in subjection to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those which exist are established by God. Therefore whoever resists authority has opposed the ordinance of God; and they who have opposed will receive condemnation upon themselves. For rulers are not a cause of fear for good behaviour, but for evil. Do you want to have no fear of authority? Do what is good and you will have praise from the same; for it is a minister of God to you for good. But if you do what is evil, be afraid; for it does not bear the sword for nothing; for it is a minister of God, an avenger who brings wrath on the one who practices evil.
Additional evidence of this can be gleaned from Acts, which highlights Paul's Roman citizenship and occasionally shows Roman officials as sympathetic to Paul's message (Acts 13:12). Not the stuff of a hardcore political movement. So, whatever form Christian apocalyptic thought took, it could make room for being good Roman citizens.
Furthermore, Doherty's argument does not take into account what the Romans thought of Christians. Even if Doherty was right in how he describes Christian attitudes, they would be irrelevant unless known to the Romans. Yet he provides no evidence that such suspicions were imminent in Roman minds near the time Josephus wrote Antiquities. Even Romans who wrote a decade or two later, though obviously having low opinions of Christians, do not speak of them as a revolutionary threat. Tacitus, refers to Nero's persecuting the Christian following his blaming them for the great fires in Rome. Though Tacitus clearly dislikes Christians, he notes that public sympathy was aroused by the persecution ("there arose a feeling of compassion; for it was not, as it seemed, for the public good, but to glut one man's cruelty, that they were being destroyed"). Tacitus disliked Christian because of their "mischievous superstition," not because of any overtly anti-Roman expressions or activities.
Even more relevant to our question are the references Pliny the Younger makes to Christians. Pliny wrote to Emperor Trajan to submit his treatment of Christians for review. He undertook to learn what "crimes" the Christians were committing:
They asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery, not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so. When this was over, it was their custom to depart and to assemble again to partake of food - but ordinary and innocent food. Even this, they affirmed, they had ceased to do after my edict by which, in accordance with your instructions, I had forbidden political associations. Accordingly, I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved, excessive superstition.
Pliny, Letters 10:96
Pliny had no information that the Christians were engaged in or espousing the overthrow of the Roman Empire. He hardly would have omitted such suspicions in his letter to the Emperor. When Emperor Trajan responded, he approved Pliny's treatment of Christians, but commanded that "[t]hey are not to be sought out." If the Romans had any suspicions that Christians were advocating -- or even just preaching about -- the overthrow of the Roman Empire, such a command is incomprehensible.
Finally, Doherty argues that Josephus would not have portrayed Jesus in a neutral or semi-positive light given that Pilate had him executed. "Regardless of what he may have thought about the character of Pilate, if Pilate had executed Jesus, then there had to be—in official Roman and Flavian eyes—a justification for doing so." This is not very convincing. Despite Doherty's argument about Josephus writing a pro-Roman history, he has no problem criticizing Pilate. In fact, "Josephus's descriptions of the governor are quite negative." (Paul Barnett, Jesus and the Rise of Early Christianity, page 145). In Jewish Wars, Josephus singles Pilate out for negative treatment and as being at least partially responsible for escalating tensions between the Jews and Romans. He gets much the same treatment in Antiquities. Indeed, Josephus appears to lay part of the blame for the war on Pilate's provocation of the Jews by, among other things his decision to move a Roman army into Jerusalem to "overturn the laws of the Jews," (Antiquities 18.55), and seizing the sacred treasury of the Temple to build an aqueduct in Jerusalem (Antiquities 18:60-62). Indeed, Rome recalled Pilate as a failure of a leader because of his slaughter of a large group of peaceful Samaritans.
But when this tumult was appeased, the Samaritan senate sent an embassy to Vitellius, a man that had been consul, and who was now president of Syria, and accused Pilate of the murder of those that were killed; for that they did not go to Tirathaba in order to revolt from the Romans, but to escape the violence of Pilate. So Vitellius sent Marcellus, a friend of his, to take care of the affairs of Judea, and ordered Pilate to go to Rome, to answer before the emperor to the accusations of the Jews.
(Jewish Antiquities 18.85-89).
Josephus obviously thinks Pilate acted wrongly in moving troops into Jerusalem, overturning Jewish laws, bringing effigies of the Emperor into the city, seizing money from the treasury, and slaughtering the Samaritans. Josephus closes out the scene by having Pilate recalled in disgrace and never mentions him again. Accordingly, the notion that Josephus would have been reluctant to have Pilate act without justification or even in the wrong -- if Josephus means to imply any such thing -- is misplaced.
7. The Phrase "the tribe of Christians so named from him" Requires the Earlier Phrase "He was the Christ."
Some have argued that the partial reconstruction is untenable because without the phrase "He was the Christ" the statement "the tribe of Christians so named from him" is incomprehensible. In defense of his reconstruction, Meier has commented:
But as Andre Pelletier points out, a study of the style of Josephus and other writers of his time shows that the presence of 'Christ' is not demanded by the final statement about Christians being 'named after him.' At times both Josephus and other Greco‑Roman writers (e.g., Dio Cassius) consider it pedantry to mention explicitly the person after whom some other person or place is named; it would be considered an insult to the knowledge and culture of the reader to spell out a connection that is taken for granted.
(Meier, op. cit., page 61).
Additionally, considering that Josephus was writing in Rome after 90 CE, it's likely that his audience would be at least familiar with "the tribe of Christians" and their founder, Christ.
Christianity was well known by that time in Rome and Jerusalem. In fact, there was already a relatively large community of Christians in Rome itself that had been founded 40‑50 years earlier. They gained notoriety -- and even public sympathy -- as a result of Nero's persecution of Christians in the 60s CE. And two Roman officials writing about 10 years or so after Josephus wrote Antiquities knew quite well that Christianity was founded by Christ.
To dispel the rumour, Nero substituted as culprits, and treated with the most extreme punishments, some people, popularly known as Christians, whose disgraceful activities were notorious. The originator of that name, Christus, had been executed when Tiberius was emperor by order of the procurator Pontius Pilatus. But the deadly cult, though checked for a time, was now breaking out again not only in Judaea, the birthplace of this evil, but even throughout Rome, where all the nasty and disgusting ideas horn all over the world pour in and find a ready following.
Tacitus, Annals XV: 44
Pliny too makes it clear he was aware that Christians derived from "Christ":
I decided to dismiss any who denied that they are or ever have been Christians when they repeated after me a formula invoking the gods and made offerings of wine and incense to your image, which I had ordered to be brought with the images of the gods into court for this reason, and when they reviled Christ.... They had met regularly before dawn on a determined day, and sung antiphonally a hymn to Christ as if to a God....
Pliny, Letters 10:96
Given that Roman officials writing within about 10-20 years after Antiquities knew that Christians were named for their founder, it seems likely that Josephus' audience would have known of this fact without having it spelled out. Or, Josephus could have reasonably expected his readers to understand that fact by the way he wrote the TF.
Yet this sentence is still intelligible if an earlier statement about Jesus as (supposed) Messiah is omitted, because that Jesus is named Christ can be inferred from "the tribe of Christians named after him." This economic style of expression, which we saw above in Tacitus, is perfectly intelligible as it stands. In this stylish and astute way, Josephus can tell his readers that Jesus' followers are called Christians, and he can identify Jesus as the Christ without explicitly calling him this.
(Van Voorst, op. cit., page 96)
In any event, as discussed above, it is likely that the original TF did refer to Jesus as the "so-called" Christ, just as the passage in Ant. 20. This defeats the objection and creates no irresolvable problems.
8. A Table of Contents Without A Reference to the TF
Kirby cites to Louis H. Feldman's comment:
The fact that an ancient table of contents, already referred to in the Latin version of the fifth or sixth century, omits mention of the Testimonium (though, admittedly, it is selective, one must find it hard to believe that such a remarkable passage would be omitted by anyone, let alone by a Christian, summarizing the work) is further indication that there was no such notice . . . .
(Feldman, Judaism and Christianity, page 57).
Peter Kirby regards this as "an important and powerful piece of evidence, although one that doesn't get much attention." According to this perspective, Christians who created such a table of contents for Antiquities would included a reference to the TF, is such a reference existed.
It should first be noted that Feldman himself hardly finds this argument conclusive, because he accepts the partial authenticity of the TF. In any event, what really sinks this objection is that the table of contents was likely not created by Christians, but by Josephus or one of his assistants. That Josephus or one of his assistants would not see any point in highlighting what they spent so little time recording is hardly surprising and in no way suggests that the TF was absent.
Here is an English translation of the Table:
(i) How Quirinius was sent by Caeser to make an assessment of Syria and Judaea and to liquidate the estate of Archelaus.
(ii) How Coponius, a man of equestrian rank, was sent to be procurator of Judaea.
(iii) How Judas the Galilean persuaded the masses not to register their properties, until Joazar the high priest induced them to give heed to the Romans.
(iv) What and how many were the philosophical schools among the Jews and what rules they had.
(v) How Herod and Philip the tetrarchs founded cities in honour of Caesar.
(vi) How the Samaritans scattered bones of the dead in the temple and thus defiled the people for seven days.
(vii) How Salome the sister of Herod died leaving her estate to Julia the wife of Caesar.
(viii) How Pontius Pilate sought secretly to introduce busts of Caesar into Jerusalem, and how the people rose up against him and refused to permit it.
(ix) What happened to the Jews in Rome about this time at the instigation of the Samaritans.
(x) The bringing of charges against Pilate by the Samaritans before Vitellius, and how Vitellius compelled him to proceed to Rome to render an account of his actions.
(xi) The war of Herod the tetrarch with Aretas the king of the Arabians and Herod's defeat.
(xii) How Tiberius Caesar sent instructions to Vitellius to induce Artabanes the Parthian to send hostages to him and make war on Aretas.
(xiii) The death of Philip and how his tetrarchy became provincial territory.
(xiv) The voyage of Agrippa to Rome and how, after being accused by his own freedman, he was thrown into chains.
(xv) How he was released by Gaius after the death of Tiberius and became king of the tetrarchy of Philip.
(xvi) How Herod, upon making a trip to Rome, was banished, and how Gaius presented his tetrarchy to Agrippa.
(xvii) The civil strife of the Jews and Greeks in Alexandria and the dispatch of delegates by both groups to Gaius.
(xviii) The charges brought against the Jews by Apion and his fellow delegates on the score of their permitting no image of Caesar.
(xiv) How Gaius in his resentment sent Petronius to Syria as governor to open hostilities against the Jews if they did not agree to accept an image of him.
(xx) The disaster that befell the Jews in Babylonia because of the brothers Asinaeus and Anilaeus.
This book covers a period of thirty two years.
During our debate on the TF, Kirby and I learned that the table of contents was originally written in Greek before the sixth century. Thus, it is not a sixth century Christian creation. Additionally, we learned that Professor Thackeray had addressed the origins of the table of contents. According to Thackeray, the author of the table of contents was likely a Jew and possibly one of Josephus' assistants:
Josephus himself incorporated a rough summary of the whole in his proem, and though it is improbable that these more elaborate chapter headings are the product of his pen, they may not be far removed from him in date.
(Henry St. John Thackeray, ed. and trans., Josephus, vol. 4, page 637).
Thackeray goes on to suggest that the summaries were written by one of Josephus' assistants because "the phraseology occasionally suggests the hand of one of the author's assistants." Ibid. Given that no scholar was or is more familiar with the nuances of the style and linguistic characteristics of Josephus' writings, this opinion is entitled to substantial respect.
Finally, the original table does not refer to any of the features that would have interested Christians, such as John the Baptist, James the brother of Jesus, or the death of Herod. Such omissions make sense for a Jewish author, but not for a Christian one -- regardless of whether the TF existed. If Christians had originally created the table, they would not have left out those features which most interested them. The better explanation is that whoever created the summaries, they were not Christian. Thus, no significance can be gleaned from the fact that the table does not refer to the TF.
9. There are No References by Early Church Fathers to the TF Until Eusebius
One of the most common objections to the partial authenticity theory is that if the reconstructed TF was authentic, some Christian writer prior to Eusebius would have mentioned it. Although this argument is not without appeal, upon closer examination it fails to persuade. There simply is no reason to believe that the early Christians would have found the TF much use to their writings. Moreover, Roger Pearse has helpfully compiled all of the references to Josephus by the early Church fathers (Pearse, Josephus and Anti-Nicene Fathers, 2001). There are surprisingly few -- only around a dozen prior to Eusebius -- , showing that Josephus was not well known or often used by the early Church fathers.
Meier offers this further argument:
One possible explanation of this silence would jibe well with my reconstruction of the Testimonium and my isolation of the Christian interpolations. If until shortly before the time of Eusebius the Testimonium lacked the three Christian interpolations I have bracketed, the Church Fathers would not have been overly eager to cite it; for it hardly supports the mainline Christian belief in Jesus as the Son of God who rose from the dead. This would explain why Origen in the 3d century affirmed that Josephus did not believe Jesus to be the Messiah (Commentary on Matthew 10.17; Contra Celsum 1.47). Origen's text of the Testimonium simply testified, in Christian eyes, to Josephus' unbelief ‑‑ not exactly a useful apologetical tool in addressing pagans or a useful polemical tool in christological controversies among Christians.
(Meier, op. cit., page 79).
Earl Doherty has responded:
Meier's argument is that the Christian Fathers would have recognized that Josephus did not accept Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God, or believe that he had risen from the dead. The Testimonium witnessed to Josephus' unbelief and was therefore avoided. But should the apologists have found this disconcerting in a non‑Christian? They dealt with unbelief every day, faced it head on, tried to counter and even win over the opponent. Justin's major work, Dialogue with the Jew Trypho, did just that. Origen, in his own confrontation with Celsus, did not shy away from criticizing Josephus for attributing the fall of Jerusalem to God's punishment on the Jews for the death of James, rather than for the death of Jesus (see below). In fact, Origen refers to the very point which Meier suggests Christian commentators shied away from, that Josephus did not believe in Jesus as the Messiah. It hardly seems that the silence on Antiquities 18.3.3 by all the apologists prior to Eusebius can be explained in this way.
(Doherty, op. cit., page 209-10).
It appears that Doherty misses the central point. Meier does not pretend that Josephus unbelief was frightening or "disconcerting." Rather, Josephus' unbelief meant that the TF would have been of little use for their arguments. The only question is whether they would have turned to the TF -- unredacted -- to promote their apologies. Because Josephus denied Jesus was the Messiah, the apologetic value for that time was not very great (if it existed at all).
Doherty also argues that Christians at least would have turned to the TF to prove that Jesus did miracles. But this too is unpersuasive. Opponents of Christianity apparently accepted that Jesus performed wondrous feats, but tended to write them off as magic. This is exactly what Trypho the Jew did. He argued that Jesus' miracles were a result of magic learned while he was in Egypt. Given this situation, Josephus' neutral reference about Jesus' wonderful deeds would avail them little. Indeed, as discussed above, because "parodoxa" can carry with it a negative connotation -- "controversial deeds" -- use of the original TF may very well have undercut the Christian's argument.
Jeffery Lowder's comment is on point:
Assuming that contemporary reconstructions of the passage are accurate, it is difficult to imagine why the early church fathers would have cited such a passage. The original text probably did nothing more than establish the historical Jesus. Since we have no evidence that the historicity of Jesus was questioned in the first centuries, we should not be surprised that the passage was never quoted until the fourth century.
(Lowder, Josh McDowell's Evidence for Jesus: Is it Reliable? 2000)
10. Eusebius as the Interpolator
The argument that Eusebius himself interpolated the entire TF has been most recently advocated by Ken Olson. I have already addressed his arguments in my Response to Ken Olson on the Testamonium Flavianum. From the conclusion:
An examination of three types of evidence reveals that Olson's theory is unpersuasive. First, the internal evidence reveals distinctly, and sometimes uniquely, Josephan language in parts of the TF. Olson's attempt to point to uniquely Eusebian language is unavailing. Two of the phrases are arguably Josephan. Second, Olson completely ignores the probable existence of Antiquities manuscripts independent of Eusebius which also contain the TF. The existence of such manuscripts is fatal to this theory. Third, Olson's more important argument about Eusebius' apologetic purpose is entirely unconvincing. Simply put, Eusebius never uses the TF as Olson's theory predicts. In sum, Olson has failed to offer any serious reason to believe that Eusebius interpolated the TF.
(Price, Response to Ken Olson on the Testamonium Flavianum, 2003)
11. A Brilliant or Skilled Interpolator?
Once the evidence is in and partial authenticity seems the best explanation, the spectre of the "brilliant interpolator" is usually raised. Far from being established as factual, the "brilliant interpolator" tends to be a last ditch attempt to save one's presumed opinion about the TF. Nevertheless, I will discuss the many problems with the theory:
First, it is one of those theories that relies on the absence of evidence. The less evidence there is of an interpolation, the more often people resort to it and the stronger they believe the case to be. A theory that depends on a lack of evidence is not all that persuasive.
Second, textual criticism was not a body of inquiry prior to the 18th century. It is unlikely that an interpolator would even think it necessary to select various phrases from all over Josephus' writings to mimic his style in order to deceive 21st century sceptics.
Third, interpolators were more pious than professional. The whole purpose of interpolating something was to say what the original author did not and probably would not have said. This is shown by the Slavonic Josephus's obvious and extensive additions, as well as the blatant Christian glosses in the TF ("he was the Christ" and "if it indeed it is correct to call him a man").
Fourth, too many of the TF phrases that are Josephan are also terms that Christians would have avoided (such as "wise man," "pleasure," "leading men," and "paradoxical deeds"). It would be self defeating to so mimic Josephus' style that you had to imply inadequate, negative, and/or offensive statements and attributes to Jesus.
Fifth, the "brilliant interpolator" would not have described Jesus merely as a "wise man" only to have to add the clarification, "if indeed he can be called a man." Nor would he have placed "he was the Christ" in such an awkward spot.
Sixth, the blatant Christian glosses count against a brilliant interpolator. Someone trying to sound like Josephus would hardly make the obvious blunders found in the TF that give away the game ("he was the Christ," if it indeed it is correct to call him a man," and "he rose from the dead on the third day as foretold by the prophets"). Of course, it could be argued that the original interpolator's account was more neutral, and that later blundering scribes added the obvious Christian glosses. But, as alluded to in point four, this would defeat the purpose of the entire effort. What possible purpose could a Christian have in interpolating such a neutral account about Jesus when no one was arguing that he did not exist or denying that he was believed to have done some impressive deeds? And why unnecessarily use terms that cast so much doubt on your own creed? (such as the ambiguous term "paradoxa"). As noted by Professor Vermes, "[i]t would be meaningless to invent a testimony that did not support the belief of the interpolator." Vermes, op. cit., page 4.
Seventh, whatever linguistic similarities to Josephus (and dissimilarities to his own creed) the brilliant interpolator may have managed, the theory fails to explain other arguments favoring partial authenticity (no connection to John the Baptist, the likelihood of a clarifying reference for the reference to James the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ, the textual variants lacking one of the main Christian glosses, and the lack of a Christian track record of such wholesale inventions).
In summary, the case for partial authenticity is much stronger than the evidence assessed against it. Indeed, given that most of the arguments against partial authenticity are without merit, the complete interpolation theory seems based mostly on the simplistic notion that because there was some tampering with the text the entire TF must be a fabrication. By far, a preponderance of the evidence is best explained by the conclusion that Josephus wrote a mostly neutral account about Jesus that later Christians, finding the description inadequate, enhanced with some alterations and at least one addition to the text.
How Would Josephus Have Learned About Jesus?
Having concluded that Josephus originally did refer to Jesus, would he have been in a place to offer any reliable information about him? Yes. According to leading New Testament scholar E.P. Sanders, "[b]y the standards of the day, [Josephus] was a very good historian, and for some parts of his historical narratives he had excellent sources." (Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus, page 16). Moreover, having lived in Judaea and Galilee, Josephus would have been in an excellent position to learn from Jewish sources about the early Christians and Jesus. Indeed, according to Josephus' own writings, he was in Jerusalem at the time that James the brother of Jesus was martyred. Additionally, Josephus -- living as a member of the imperial family in Rome -- would have had unprecedented access to Roman records. That he obtained accurate information about other religious sects, such as the Essenes, the Pharisees, and the Sadducees, and a similar historical figure in John the Baptist, is undisputed. That he had similar access to such traditions about Christians and their founder is therefore also very likely.
But some argue that since Josephus likely learned about Jesus from Christians, his evidence is worthless. There are too many problems with such an accusation to take this charge seriously. Not the least of which is that, for Jesus Mythologists like Doherty, that the only story Christians were telling Josephus in the first century was of a historical Jesus would be very troublesome indeed. In any event, there is no reason to believe Christians were Josephus' source and good reasons to believe that they were not.
[T]hat explanation will not do. Firstly, the distinctively non-Christian terminology we have noted suggests that Josephus is giving his own account. Secondly, there is no reason whatever for Josephus to even mention Jesus and Christianity at this point in his work at all unless he was convinced that the career and execution of Jesus was an actual event which occurred during the governorship of Pilatus. And thirdly, Josephus, a Jew who lived for much of his life in Palestine, is in a very different situation from Tacitus to know whether what he is told is true or not, and to have an interest in checking what he is told. Nor does the rest of his work encourage us to believe that he was in the habit of talking to Christians or using them as source of information.
If then . . . Josephus did originally include an account of Jesus in his record of the governorship of Pilatus, we have every reason to be confident that he had his own good reasons for believing what he wrote to be true.
(France, op. cit., page 31).
Meier also points out that the notion that Christians are Josephus' source is unlikely given that he seems to know much more about Jesus than he does about Christians themselves. This is especially true if Meier is correct that the TF did not include a reference to the resurrection:
Yet there is a problem with supposing that Josephus used the oral reports of Christians as a direct source. Strange to say, the Testimonium is much vaguer about the Christians than it is about Jesus. If my reconstruction is correct, while the Testimonium gives a fairly objective, brief account of Jesus' career, nothing is said about Christian's belief that Jesus rose from the dead--and that after all, was the central affirmation of faith that held the various Christian groups together during the 1st century (cf. 1 Corinthians. 15:11). That Josephus drew directly on oral statements of Christians and yet failed to mention the one belief that differentiated them markedly from the wide range of Jewish beliefs at the time seems difficult to accept. My sense is that, paradoxically, Josephus seems to have known more about Jesus than he did about the Christians who came after him.
(Meier, op. cit., page 67).
In addition to the above, I would stress how unlikely it would be that Josephus would uncritically accept the word of a few members of a strange off-shoot of Judaism if Josephus had heard nothing of Jesus or Christians while he lived in Palestine for so many years. This is especially true of his reference to Jesus' brother James, given that Josephus was in Jerusalem at the time of James' martyrdom. Moreover, it is unreasonable to conclude that Josephus would have so uncritically taken their word for so many things, but then proceeded to repeat their account in such blatantly un-Christian language. Accordingly, given that this theory has so little to commend it, it is best seen as a last-ditch attempt to deny the historicity of Jesus (or at least the confirmation it offers for many of the Gospel details) rather than a viable historical alternative.
What Josephus Tells Us
What is the significance of Josephus' references to Jesus? Josephus provides valuable, independent confirmation of the existence, life, and ministry of Jesus of Nazareth. Leading scholar Luke T. Johnson offers the following opinion:
Stripped of its obvious Christian accretions, the passage tells us a number of important things about Jesus, from the perspective of a first-century Jewish historian . . . . Jesus was both a teacher and a wonder-worker, that he got into trouble with some of the leaders of the Jews, that he was executed under the prefect Pontius Pilate, and that his followers continued to exist at the time of Josephus' writing.
(Luke T. Johnson, The Real Jesus, pages 113-14).
F.F. Bruce breaks it down thus:
We have therefore very good reason for believing that Josephus did make reference to Jesus, bearing witness to (a) His date, (b) His reputation as a wonder-worker, (c) His being the brother of James, (d) His crucifixion under Pilate at the information of Jewish rulers, (e) His messianic claim, (f) His being the founder of the tribe of Christians, and probably, (g) the belief in His rising from the dead.
(F.F. Bruce, op. cit., page 112).
In summary, Josephus confirms the accuracy of the Canonical Gospels (and Acts) in the following recollections:
• The time frame that the Gospels place Jesus in,
• Jesus had a reputation for teaching wisdom,
• Jesus was believed to have performed miracles,
• Jesus had a brother named James,
• Some Jewish leaders were involved with Jesus' execution,
• Pilate was Prefect and had Jesus executed,
• Jesus was executed by crucifixion,
• Jesus was known as a messianic figure,
• Jesus was the founder of Christianity,
• Acts' portrayal of James as the leader of the Jerusalem Church is confirmed,
• The existence of early Jewish persecution of Christians in Jerusalem, and,
• That the early Christians reported that Jesus was raised from the dead as foretold by the Jewish prophets (based on Eisler's reconstruction and Mason's comments on linguistic similarities).
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