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Did Matthew Write in Hebrew? Did Jesus Institute the Lord’s Supper? Did Josephus Mention Jesus? Weekly Readers’ Mailbag July 9, 2016

Was the Gospel of Matthew written in Hebrew?  Did Jesus have a Last Supper?  And does Josephus mention Jesus’ brother James?  These are the three questions I will be addressing in this week’s Reader’s Weekly Mailbag.   If you have any question for me to address, let me know!




Just a short question: is there any possibility that Matthew gospel’s was written in Hebrew or Aramaic ?


There was a long tradition throughout early and medieval Christianity that maintained that Matthew – commonly called the “most Jewish” of the Gospels – was written in Hebrew (or Aramaic).  Given its heightened Jewish concerns (see, for example, 5:17-20, verses found in no other Gospel), wasn’t it probably written to Jews in their native language?

There are two preliminary points to be made.  First, a number of scholars doubt if Matthew, or his community, was Jewish.  It is widely thought, instead, that Matthew portrays a Jesus who insists that his followers keep the Jewish law precisely because they were not accustomed to doing so, that is, that they are gentiles who have entered into a Christian community and are just learning that this community needs to follow the dictates of Scripture.

Second, even if Matthew and his audience were Jewish, that would not be evidence that he wrote in Hebrew or Aramaic.  Very few people wrote in Hebrew at this time, since the language of Palestine was Aramaic (a closely related language).  But there is little to suggest that Matthew’s Gospel was written in Palestine or to Aramaic speakers.   Few Jews outside of Palestine spoke Aramaic, and Jewish literature from outside (think Josephus, or Philo) was written in Greek.

There are compelling reasons for thinking Matthew wrote in Greek as well.  Here is one.  Since the 19th century it has been widely thought (on very convincing grounds that I won’t go into here) that Matthew used as one of his sources for his stories about Jesus the Gospel of Mark.   That would explain their massive word-for-word agreements in places.  But Mark was certainly composed in Greek.  Matthew therefore had to use a Greek version of Mark.  He copied it in places.  In Greek.  As a consequence, he must have been writing in Greek as well.  There’s no other plausible explanation for his verbatim alignments with Mark.


While Jesus’ last supper with his disciples is most likely historical, is the institution of the Eucharist itself historical? In other words, did Jesus really tell his disciples that the bread is his body, and the wine is his blood? Or is this something his followers invented after his death and resurrection? What are the arguments for or against its historicity? If we believe what Paul wrote in 1 Cor 11:23-25, it sounds like he received it directly from Jesus.



I don’t think there is any reason to doubt that Jesus had some kind of last meal with his disciples.  My own sense is that he did not know this would be his last meal.  It would take a book to explain why in full, but I do lay out a lot of the argument in my book Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium.  In short, I don’t think Jesus planned on being arrested, tried, convicted, and crucified.  Later Christians of course, certainly said that this was his plan.  But in my judgment they were explaining that he was not caught unawares but was fulfilling the plan of God that he knew from all along.

Even so, maybe he did see the writing on the wall and expect that his time was up.  Suppose he did.  Could he then have instituted the last supper, saying that the broken bread represented his body and the cup of wine represented his blood?

It is certainly possible, of course, and it is worth nothing, as the questioner points out, that he is attested as doing so not only in Mark (on which Matthew and Luke are dependent) but also before that in Paul, who says that he got this information “from the Lord.”   My sense is that Paul is not saying that Jesus personally told him this when he saw him alive after his crucifixion, but that he has learned this and believes that it has come straight from heaven (just as I have had Christians tell me what “the Lord has taught me.”  I don’t think Jesus really showed up one day with a blackboard to sketch out his thoughts for them).

It is also my sense that this passage in Paul does not represent what Jesus really said at his last meal.  The passage presupposed that Jesus death was to be an atonement for sin.  That certainly was the later Christian belief.  But I don’t think it is what Jesus himself thought.  Jesus had a completely different message about what was about to happen with the coming of God’s kingdom on earth and his role in it.  Later, as Christians after Jesus’ death, told stories about Jesus’ last days, they reinterpreted his final words in light of their own beliefs, and the “institution of the Lord’s supper” became a fixed part of the Christian ritual, obviously prior to the writings of Paul.

In Did Jesus Exist? you mention that you shall tackle the James the brother of Jesus part in Josephus’ writing (p. 59). But you never did. What happened? Did it get edited out or what?


Ha!  I have never noticed this.  I did say that I was going to discuss the question, and I got off on another point, and never returned to it!   I’m not sure I’ve ever done that before.  But if I have, I’m sure one of you will point it out to me.  (!)

On p. 59 I am talking about the two references to Jesus in the writings of the first-century Jewish historian Josephus. I spend almost all my time on the first reference in book 18, the so-called “Testimonium Flavianum,” an entire paragraph devoted to Jesus.  I argue that, contrary to what some people have claimed, the bulk of the paragraph probably was indeed written by Josephus, even though a later Christian scribe has clearly inserted some Christian views into it (about Jesus being the messiah who was raised from the dead in fulfilment of the prophets, views that Josephus himself certainly did not have.)

The second reference that I apparently had planned to discuss comes in book 20, where Josephus refers to the summary execution of James, whom he calls “the brother of Jesus, who is called the messiah.”   I wanted to discuss the matter (as I point out on p. 59!) because this brief reference to Jesus seems to presuppose that the reader knows whom he is talking about based on what they have already read.  In other words, Josephus is indicating which of the many Jesuses he elsewhere discusses he is referring to now, “the one who is called the messiah.”   If that reading of him is correct, then it would mean that he did indeed already discuss Jesus.  And that would suggest that the passage of book 18 really does go back to Josephus, it is not a later insertion into his writing (even if a scribe altered it in some ways.)

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Suggestions for Further Reading on the Pentateuch
Another Creation Story



  1. Avatar
    kitketcham  July 9, 2016

    In the second paragraph, first sentence, of your answer to the second question, the word “nothing” seems to me a typo. Did you mean “noting”, rather than “nothing”? “It is worth ‘noting’, as the questioner points out” OR “It is worth ‘nothing’ certainly put two different slants on the sentence.

    • Avatar
      kitketcham  July 9, 2016

      Oops, should be third paragraph of second question.

  2. Avatar
    moose  July 9, 2016

    Mr. Ehrman. I shall refer to a meaningless pericope in both Matthew and Luke, and then perhaps try to show its real meaning.
    Matthew 12,42:”The Queen of the South will rise at the judgment with this generation and condemn it; for she came from the ends of the earth to listen to Solomon’s wisdom, and now something greater than Solomon is here.”
    Why on earth would Jesus say that the Queen of Sheba shall rise at the judgment and condemn this generation? This has no meaning as it is written.
    But the thing is that we find the exact same pericope, only slightly more elaborated, in the Clementine Homily 11, Chapter XXXIII: “The unlying One Himself has taught us, saying to those who neglected to come and listen to Him, ‘The queen of the south shall rise up with this generation, and shall condemn it; because she came from the extremities of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon: and behold, a greater than Solomon is here,’ and ye do not believe Him.”
    Here again we see a comparison between Solomon and Jesus. The question is why? Why would the Queen of Sheba have a say in that matter?
    The answer may lie in The Passion Story. The cornerstone the builders rejected…
    I would like to hear your view on this specific pericope.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 10, 2016

      The Clementine Homilies, of course, are getting the passage from Matthew. What he appears to mean is that the fact that the Queen of Sheba understood whom she was dealing with makes her far superior, and so less subject to judgment, than the Jewish leaders of Jesus’ own day, who do not understand whom they are dealing with.

      • Avatar
        moose  July 10, 2016

        There is also this possibility that both Matthew and the author(s) of the Clementine Homilies got this passage from a common Q-source, I guess?

        • Bart
          Bart  July 11, 2016

          The author of the Homilies was writing in the fourth century, so it seems pretty unlikely that he would have had access to Q, but plenty of access to Matthew.

  3. talmoore
    talmoore  July 9, 2016

    Dr. Ehrman, my sense of the claim by Papias that Matthew was written by the actual disciple Matthew in Hebrew is that there was, at some point, a Hebrew (or Aramaic) document that was the inchoate or incipient form of what came to be called the Gospel of Matthew. This original Hebrew document is probably the very first written source of the words (and possibly deeds) of Jesus that both Mark and Q (and possibly Thomas) are based on. In all likelihood it was simply a list of Jesus’ quotes in Hebrew and/or Aramaic that were remembered by the disciples post-Crucifixion and quickly written down so that the disciples could interpret Jesus’ “prophetic” words (similar to how Jewish exegetes would interpret, say, Isaiah and other “prophecies”) as a means of guiding the movement and planning out the future. It’s possible the tradition of Matthew writing this document comes from the actual historical Matthew being the most literate of the disciples, making him the de facto secretary/scribe of the group, and so that’s why the document is attributed to him. From that original Hebrew/Aramaic list of words and deeds were constructed the Greek versions of Mark and Q (and possibly Thomas), and from there the Greek Matthrew. By the time the Greek version of Matthew was written (maybe third, fourth…twelfth generation manuscript?) most of the semiticisms of the original Hebrew/Aramaic document were buried under layers of redaction and gloss. Of course, this is all speculation.

    As for the historicity of the eucharist, it’s certainly not unreasonable to presume that Jesus performed the blessing of the wine and matzah during the Passover Seder. That, after all, it is the duty of the pater familias, which, in that circumstance, Jesus would have been. The question is did he actually say the breaking of the maztah symbolized his (soon to be) broken body, and did he actually say the pouring of the wine symbolized his (soon to be) spilled blood? He almost certainly did not say those things. However, it can easily be imagined that right after the traumatic events of the arrest and crucifixion that the remaining disciples came to think of Jesus’ blessing over the matzah and the wine as symbolic of what was to come, and, therefore, the disciples came to conflate their own imaginings of the symbolism with an outright expression by Jesus himself of such a symbolism. In other words, the disciples saw, in hindsight, that the breaking of the matzah and the pouring of the wine symbolized Jesus’ death, so they eventually began to misremember the actual events of the Seder, retrojecting their conjecture into mouth of Jesus himself. This is all the more likely seeing how the disciples had convinced themselves that Jesus must have seen his own death coming (because, as a prophet, Jesus would have to have seen it coming, right?).

    • Bart
      Bart  July 10, 2016

      My sense is that later claims that Matthew was written in Hebrew are based on Papias, and that Papias was not referring to the book we call Matthew (one major point: he says that it is a collection of Jesus’ sayings — Logia — and that is not true of our Matthew)

      • talmoore
        talmoore  July 10, 2016

        Yeah, that’s why I speculate that the original “Hebrew Matthew” was a post-Crucifixion recording of Jesus’ prophetic words in Hebrew and/or Aramaic, and that original document was the source of all later gospels’ Jesus quotes (and possibly some deeds). It began with just his remembered words, and then, gradually, interpretations of those apothegms were added as glosses. And then those glosses became fully integrated into the text. The logia were later placed within certain contexts (Sitz im Leben) to serve a theological/christological purpose — such as the streitgespräch — and these passages were eventually given a narrative order (cf. Luke 1:1-4). My speculation is that it was such a piecemeal process: Jesus’ (remembered) apothegms in Hebrew and/or Aramaic –> Aramaic gloss interpreting those apothegms incorporated into complete blocks of logia –> Blocks of logia (possibly translated into the Greek at this point) placed within Sitz im Leben contexts (e.g. streitgespräch) –> Finally, those narrative chucks being organized into complete narratives (the canonical extant Gospels).

  4. Avatar
    Steefen  July 9, 2016

    You say Matthew was not written in Hebrew or Aramaic. Few people wrote in Hebrew at this time.

    Two Questions:

    1) Was I Maccabees written in Hebrew or Aramaic?
    1 Maccabees is a book written in Hebrew by a Jewish author after the restoration of an independent Jewish kingdom, about the latter part of the 2nd century BC. The original Hebrew is lost and the most important surviving version is the Greek translation contained in the Septuagint.

    2) Were the Dead Sea Scrolls written in Hebrew or Aramaic?

    Bar Kokhba Letters (איגרות בר כוכבא) – Fifteen military letters were found stored in a leather waterskin in Cave 5/6 of Nahal Hever, known as the Cave of the Letters. All of the letters in this bundle were written by men who were involved with the administration of Shim‘on b. Kosiba, the leader of the Bar Kokhba Revolt, and most were written in Shim‘on’s name.

    Bar-Kokhba letters. Of fifteen letters, most were written in Aramaic and Hebrew, and two in Greek.

    Dr. Ehrman, between these two time posts of military leaders, you say writing in Hebrew fell out of favor.

    And we have the Damascus Document which speaks of the Teacher of Righteousness
    The Book of the Covenant of Damascus (the Zadokite Documents or the Damascus … The book is written in biblical Hebrew, free from Aramaisms.

    • Bart
      Bart  July 10, 2016

      Yes, when I’m saying that few people wrote in Hebrew, I mean that some did but not most. The common language of communication was Aramaic in Palestine (hence the Bar Kochba letters), and outside of Palestine it was not much used at all. Hebrew less. If you wanted to write a Gospel in, say, Antioch or Alexandria, you almost certainly write it in Greek.

      • Avatar
        Steefen  July 11, 2016

        Antioch (one of the two–you’re probably referring to Syria) and Alexandria;

        why not Yavne (University at Yavne)?

        At Yavne there seems to be an attempt to adopt the Immaculate Conception.

        Rabbi Johanan (ben Zakkai) replied: Woe to the nation that attempting to hinder the Holy One when he accomplishes the redemption of his children: who would throw his garment between a lion and a lioness when these are copulating?
        – Talmud IV Sanhedrin 106a

        Yes, James was dead by the time the Gospels were dated; so, the “conservatory of Jewish Culture ” (Yavne) and 2) the Jerusalem Church outside of Jerusalem after the Temple’s destruction have nothing written in Jesus’ native language?

        If you wanted to write a Gospel in Rome, that would be Greek also, yes?

        • Bart
          Bart  July 12, 2016

          I don’t think any of the Gospels was written in Palestine. Rome: yes, definitely Greek

          • Avatar
            Kazibwe Edris  July 31, 2016

            what detective clues can one use to prove that the text definitely was written in italy?

            for example, the greek in italy would have differences to the greek used greece?

            for example one may have “indian english”
            “american english”

            i heard that the latinism in marks greek prove that it was not written in palestine.

            what do you think doc?

          • Bart
            Bart  August 1, 2016

            It’s very hard indeed to prove where a Greek writing was written in antiquity. Latinisms could be found anywhere that Latin was known (including Palestine)

  5. Avatar
    dragonfly  July 9, 2016

    Is another reason people thought Matthew was written in Aramaic because tradition is it was written by the disciple Matthew, who would have spoken Aramaic? And also because of Papius comments on Matthew?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 10, 2016

      Yes, that’s part of it, although the also attributed Mark and John to Aramaic speaking Jews, bu thought they were written in Greek.

  6. Avatar
    godspell  July 10, 2016

    I find Jesus’ described behavior in his final days very hard to explain if he did not believe he was going to die soon–in fact, the behavior we see is that of someone who is actively courting death, and a very specific kind of death.

    You know as well as I do that people with a religious calling have actively sought martyrdom, or at least anticipated it (Martin Luther King Jr. is a modern example). I know why you don’t think Jesus was one of them–because you think he expected to be an earthly king. But that is no less of an assumption than the ones Jesus’ followers made after his death. It’s based on a selective reading of something he may or may not have said. But we have so much more evidence he never expected to rule over this world in the flesh.

    He goes to Jerusalem, where he knows he has many enemies, and where the power of the Roman state is strongest. He openly defies the Jewish authority there, which is the same as defying Roman authority, which is asking to die. He remembers what happened to John the Baptist, his teacher, who he considered to be his equal in the eyes of God. He’s not a fool. He knows he can be killed.

    He tells his followers to procure weapons–but very few. They show him two swords, and he says that’s plenty. So he doesn’t plan any kind of insurrection. And then he reportedly then tells them to put their swords away–as if that was the only reason he wanted them to have weapons to begin with. As if he’s got some kind of demonstration in his head that he wants to make happen in the real world. A drama to be acted out.

    Suppose what happened was, to some extent, what he expected to happen–what he planned for. Why else is he described as being so afraid? Wouldn’t devout followers of a man they believed to be Messiah–and eventually God incarnate?–describe their leader as fearless? But he’s described as being in mental agony, awaiting his fate. Because the memory of his fear was too strong to erase. Because it was too integral a part of the story. Because he knew he was going to die. Because he’d gone to some pains to make sure he would, and much as he believed it was necessary, the prospect of a slow painful death still terrified him, as it would anyone.

    Even if he had earlier entertained ideas of kingship, his ideas could have changed. He could have decided this was not the plan God had for him. That he was to be the Paschal sacrifice. That he would die, and his followers would live–that there was something he had to prove. A test he had to pass.

    Ecce homo, Bart.

  7. Avatar
    brandon284  July 10, 2016

    Is it your contention, Dr. Ehrman, that Jesus’ words at the Last Supper were later inserted into the Markan text to reflect later Christians view of the Atonement? Or do you think Jesus’ words are historical and how would the disciples react to this? Wouldn’t a prediction of death nullify their views of him as a Messiah figure?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 11, 2016

      No, I think Mark’s text originally had these words. But I don’t think they go back to Jesus. They represent views of Jesus’ death in Mark’s community.

      • Avatar
        brandon284  July 11, 2016

        Interesting. Is it commonly believed that all four Gospels were written for specific communities? That would be the impetus for writing these texts.

        • Bart
          Bart  July 12, 2016


          • Avatar
            brandon284  July 12, 2016

            Any reading references for the Gospels and their communities? Fascination stuff.

          • Bart
            Bart  July 13, 2016

            I think the best thing done was Raymond Brown’s book on the Gospel of John: The Community of the Beloved Disciple.

  8. Avatar
    jhague  July 11, 2016

    Is it also true that Jews generally would not have participated in anything that symbolized eating a human body or symbolically partaking of human blood?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 12, 2016

      Well they certainly could not consume blood, and being told to do so would not have been a good idea.

  9. Avatar
    seahawk41  July 12, 2016

    Mathew 21:5 has the (in)famous misinterpretation of Zechariah 9:9 that claims Jesus rode into Jerusalem on an ass *and* on its foal. Could this be evidence that Matthew didn’t even understand Hebrew? I.e., he didn’t comprehend the structure of Hebrew poetry?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 13, 2016

      Yes, one famous scholar, John Meier, has used this point to argue that hte author could not be Jewish.

  10. Avatar
    bobnaumann  July 14, 2016

    If Matthew had written in Hebrew, he relied on the Septuagint for the Greek mistranslation of Isaiah 7. Or did he use this to fit his theology?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 15, 2016

      Right, that’s a problem. He definitely depended on the Septuagint!

  11. TWood
    TWood  July 15, 2016

    I thought Irenaeus was the first to assign names to the four canonical gospels… and that Martyr did not but does quote all four as the “Memoirs of the Apostles”… but Papias is before both… so IF (I know it’s a big IF)… but if Papias does mean Matthew’s gospel then this places Matthean authorship earlier than the late second century (by Irenaeus)… aside from Papias’ Matthean claim… are there any other authorship claims for any of the four gospels before Irenaeus?

    Related question… the Muratorian Fragment (also circa late second century I believe) mentions Luke and John and probably Matt and Mark originally… is it certain that the Mur. Frag. is dependent on Irenaeus? If not, wouldn’t this be two late second century independent sources for the names of all four gospels?—meaning it’s possible Martyr didn’t know what some in Papias’ era did know (that these four apostles were the supposed authors of the gospels)?

    • Bart
      Bart  July 17, 2016

      1. Yes, that’s right. If he’s referring to our Matthew. 2. No, I don’t think anyone imagines the Muratorian Fragment was dependent on Irenaeus. They are representing different strands of the same tradition.

      • TWood
        TWood  July 17, 2016

        Thanks. Three quick follow ups.

        1. Marcion and Cerinthus both used at least parts of a canonical gospel (Luke and Matt respectfully). Did they name authors (doesn’t Papias also say Mark wrote a gospel from Peter’s view?)

        2. Is there any other mention (aside from Papias) of something like a gospel written by Matt, Mark, Luke, John before the era of Irenaeus?

        3. Is the scholarly consensus today that Papias is not referring to cananical gospels of Matt and Mark which makes Irenaeus and Muratorian Frag the earliest records of them?

        • Bart
          Bart  July 18, 2016

          1. Did Maricon and Cerinthus name Mark? No 2. No. 3. No.

          • TWood
            TWood  July 18, 2016

            Sorry… I just want to make sure I asked question three clearly… You’re saying most scholars DO think Papias IS referring to the canonical gospels of Matt and Mark? I thought most scholars did not…

          • Bart
            Bart  July 19, 2016

            Yes, that’s right. Most do think that.

          • TWood
            TWood  July 19, 2016

            Interesting… last questions on this:

            1. I have read a range of dates for Papias’ writings… what’s your best estimation on when Papias *possibly* ascribes Matt and Mark to the gospels?

            2. Papias says “For I did not think that information from the books would profit me as much as information from a living and surviving voice.” This seems to mean that Papias was not basing his information on written sources at all, but on second hand oral info from those who claimed to know the original disciples. Is that about right?

            3. Papias seems to make a distinction between the apostle John and John the Elder. Is the consensus of scholars today that Papias is referring to two different Johns?

          • Bart
            Bart  July 20, 2016

            1. Probably 130 or so 2. Yes, he prefers oral traditions 3. It’s not clear if Papias diffentiated between the two Johns or if that was Eusebius in explaining Papias.

          • TWood
            TWood  July 20, 2016

            I asked my first question badly (it was really two questions)… sorry… Here is my question better asked (I hope). With one follow up question.

            1. Marcion used an abridged version of Luke’s gospel and Cerinthus used Matthew’s gospel. Is there any evidence that either Marcion or Cerinthus attributed Luke or Matthew as the authors of “their gospels.”

            2. How do we know Marcion and Cerinthus used Matt and Luke, respectively? Asked another way, do we have surviving versions of “their gospels” or is it because later figures like Irenaeus say those are the gospels they used?

          • Bart
            Bart  July 23, 2016

            We don’t know what Cerinthus had — we don’t have any of his writings. But no there is no evidence that either one of them named their Gospel; with Marcion he apparently just called it “The Gospel.” We don’t have much of anything for Cerinithus, but for Marcion we have quotations of his text by Tertullian and two other authors, and these appear in most instances to be most similar to Luke, and TErtullian identifies his text as Luke, modified.

  12. Avatar
    VincitOmniaVeritas  July 23, 2016

    Hello Dr. Ehrman,

    I’m a prospective graduate student in classical studies here in Canada who is an interested reader of your books, as well as on the historical Jesus and the beginnings of Christianity.

    I am aware that you are scheduled to debate Robert Price sometime later this year, and I felt I needed to inform you of my own research on why Josephus is such an important piece of why the historical Jesus did exist. The fringe people, such as Price, who excessively doubt Jesus’ historicity dismiss the material by Josephus by claiming that he had to have received his information about Jesus from the Gospels (Luke or Mark) and only from Christians. This is blatantly false, and below are my arguments which address why this is the case and which I feel you will find useful, even though you are likely already aware of such points. Josephus’ sources about Jesus not only included non-Christian sources encountered by Josephus during his life in Judaea who witnessed or heard of Jesus, but is is those sources who are likely the chief origin of his information.

    As you know, Josephus makes two references to Jesus in his “Antiquities of the Jews”. The first, the TF, is widely accepted to have an authentic core which was altered and interpolated by later Christian writers to fit into orthodox church teaching. The second subsequently referred to Jesus as the brother of James, who Josephus mentions as facing the Sanhedrin. This second depiction of Jesus is almost universally regarded as authentic. These likely came from non-Christian sources due to the following arguments:

    1) The original authentic core of the Testimonium Flavianum could not have come from the Gospel accounts or only from Christians in Rome. At the time Antiquities was written between 90 and 95 AD in Rome, the Gospels of Luke-Acts or Mark only had just recently been written down and compiled into the basic form recognizable today. The singular copy or few copies that may have existed at the time Josephus wrote Antiquities in Rome would have been extremely precious to the fragile, heavily persecuted Christian community at that time in Rome and elsewhere in Italy. There is no plausible way they would have permitted a non-Christian, like Josephus, to have had access to such highly-guarded texts.

    Further to this point is that if the original, authentic TF core was taken only from Christian accounts, then why would it need to be altered and have an interpolation ?? An account which was solely a Christian redaction of the time would have no need to be later altered in the way it has. The TF was altered by later Christian writers most likely because the authentic core by Josephus described him as the way the actual, historical Jesus of Nazareth was, which likely differed in many significant ways from the Gospel narratives, and especially that he was a man and not divine. Jesus was also described as what he most likely was, a wandering ascetic, wise man, sage, radical prophet, or rebellious zealot who was a follower of John the Baptist, and part of some messianic/apocalyptic sect within the wider ascetic Essene religious division, who are also described in Josephus’ works.

    2) Josephus’ depictions of Jesus are of a similar length to that of other similar figures he described from Galilea. As an incredibly thorough historian, Josephus would not have written about Jesus without receiving such information from sources he deemed trustworthy. With that said, he mentions Jesus twice, which is more than he mentions other similar Messianic figures, such as Theudas or Menachem ben Judah.

    The length of Josephus’ description of Jesus in the original authentic version of the TF can also be presumed based on the current altered and interpolated form. This account of Jesus was of a similar length and character to how Josephus described other rebel, Messianic or prophetic figures in his works such as Theudas, John the Baptist, and others. Theudas, like Jesus, is also only described by Josephus in his Antiquities of the Jews, and not in The Jewish War.

    3) Josephus likely did receive his accounts about Jesus from non-Christian sources during his early life in Judaea between 37 and 70 AD. Josephus was born in Jerusalem around 37 AD, and spent most of his life prior to the First Jewish-Roman War in Judaea. Thus, in Jerusalem or surrounding areas he would have likely encountered or heard about the first apostles themselves, other followers of Jesus and non-Christians in Judaea who would have heard about or witnessed Jesus and/or his family.

    Perhaps most importantly, Josephus himself served as a Jewish military commander and lived in Galilea between 60 and 70 AD, the same region where Jesus, his family and his apostles were from, and where most of Jesus’ life was spent. This presents the possibility of Josephus encountering ordinary residents in the area who would have heard about or known Jesus or his family. Additionally, Josephus, as a rebel commander leading some Jewish groups in this area against Roman rule at the time, would have encountered the exact types of Jewish religious zealots in the area who would have most likely heard about Jesus and/or encountered him themselves, as well as similar figures. This is also likely why Josephus was able to have such detailed accounts on other Jewish rebels and religious figures of Galilea and northern Judaea of the time, such as Judas of Galilee, his sons James and John, Menachem ben Judah, Theudas, “the Egyptian”, John the Baptist, Simon of Peraea, etc., even when some of them lived a few years or decades before he was born.

    Therefore, Josephus’ accounts he received of Jesus as the ascetic sage likely came to him during his life in Judaea, likely when he was living specifically in Galilea, and were as much as or even mostly from non-Christian sources. The authentic passages are simply not in a form which would have been solely based on accounts from the tiny Christian community in Rome circa 94-95 AD. They are instead based on the accounts Josephus heard himself in Judaea, and especially Galilea, between 37 and 70 AD. His closeness, both geographically and temporally, to those non-Christians in Judaea who would have encountered Jesus is why these passages are so important as major evidence to why some historical figure of Jesus most likely existed.

    I hope some of this helps your own research, debates and discussions, and any feedback you can provide would be helpful to my own research in this area on the historical Jesus and the early Christian community.


    Evan B

    • Bart
      Bart  July 24, 2016


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      VincitOmniaVeritas  July 29, 2016

      An additional piece of information I wish to add here Dr. Ehrman is also the fact that Josephus spent three years, during his late teens, in the Judean desert and Peraea, and thus possibly the Decapolis, Samaria and Galilea as well, with a teacher named Banus. He also spent time during this spiritual journey with the Pharisees, Sadducees, and most interestingly, the ascetic Essenes. He thus would have likely heard about Jesus from non-Christian sources during this time period, in addition to his early years in Jerusalem and his years in Galilea between 65 and 70 AD. The Essenes may have been the wider branch from which Jesus, John and other radical prophets emerged from. This is detailed in his autobiographical work “The Life of Flavius Josephus”, which may have been an addendum to his “Antiquities of the Jews”.




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        VincitOmniaVeritas  July 30, 2016

        “And when I was about sixteen years old, I had a mind to make trim of the several sects that were among us. These sects are three: – The first is that of the Pharisees, the second that Sadducees, and the third that of the Essenes, as we have frequently told you; for I thought that by this means I might choose the best, if I were once acquainted with them all; so I contented myself with hard fare, and underwent great difficulties, and went through them all. Nor did I content myself with these trials only; but when I was informed that one, whose name was Banus, lived in the desert, and used no other clothing than grew upon trees, and had no other food than what grew of its own accord, and bathed himself in cold water frequently, both by night and by day, in order to preserve his chastity, I imitated him in those things, and continued with him three years. (3) So when I had accomplished my desires, I returned back to the city, being now nineteen years old, and began to conduct myself according to the rules of the sect of the Pharisees, which is of kin to the sect of the Stoics, as the Greeks call them.”

        From “The Life of Flavius Josephus”

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    VincitOmniaVeritas  July 28, 2016

    I have other arguments and reasoning, which along with the current available historical evidence, point to the very likely existence of the historical Jesus. An important one which you may find useful involves the comparison with other major figures of the Judeo-Christian tradition. The likelihood of the historical Jesus must factor in the historicity of the numerous similar Jewish Messiah-claimants, zealots, radical preachers, prophets and other religious figures who either preceded Jesus, came after him or were contemporaneous with him, specifically from 1st century Galilea, Peraea, Gaulanitis (Golan) and the Decapolis. The presence and character of such figures adds a lot of weight to the existence of an original historical Jesus figure, which the Christian movement initially began from.

    Nearly all of the major and minor prophets, and many other figures of the Old Testament, and especially of Second Temple, strictly monotheistic Judaism, were likely historical figures. Their respective Biblical narratives, just as those of Jesus, were based on historical figures and varying degrees of historical events, which then became embellished, euhemerised and/or mythologized by those who passed on the events orally, and the Biblical writers who copied the stories down. There is historical evidence, and in general a great deal of likelihood, for the historical existence of many of the major figures of the earlier Old Testament like Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, David, Solomon, Josiah, Elijah, Amos, Hosea, Isaiah, Ezra, etc.

    Specific attention, however, must be given to the numerous major prophets and radical preachers of Judaism, who like Jesus were subsequently attributed special significance and varying levels of divine or semi-divine attributes. These figures and their respective narratives in scripture have many similarities to the Gospel narratives of Jesus. In all of the cases of these figures, historical persons were subsequently attributed divine qualities to varying degrees by the writers. Even an unquestionably historical figure like the Achaemenid Emperor Cyrus the Great, who liberated the Jews from captivity in Babylon, was subsequently considered an anointed one – a “Messiah” figure – by the writers of the Hebrew Bible. With this in mind, there clearly is not a major precedent in Judaism for Jews to concoct a purely fictional, mythical human figure from nothing which has become an important figure for members of the faith. There is, by contrast, a very strong precedent of historical figures being subsequently euhemerised and mythologized, and attributed divine or semi-divine characteristics and titles. This is not only in the case of the prophets of Judaism, but the case for other Jewish Messiah-claimants, including those close to the time and place of Jesus. In fact, there has never been one case in the entire history of Second Temple, highly monotheistic Judaism, of ANY Messiah-claimant or similar figure being purely fictional, mythical or concocted. All of the Messiah-claimants and similar prophets have been historical figures. The narratives about Jesus would thus most likely follow the existing and predominant pattern within Jewish religious circles of the embellishing, euhemerising, mythologizing or exalting of an actual, historical person.

    Besides Jesus, the other radical prophets, Messiah-claimants and/or Jewish religious rebels from Galilea and Peraea in 1st century Judaea mentioned by Josephus (either in ‘Antiquities of the Jews’ or ‘the Jewish War’):

    Judas, son of Hezekiah – The Jewish War and Antiquities

    Simon of Peraea – The Jewish War and Antiquities

    Athronges – The Jewish War and Antiquities

    Judas of Galilee – The Jewish War and Antiquities

    Judas of Galilee’s sons James and Simon (both executed around 46 AD) – Antiquities

    John the Baptist – Antiquities

    “The Samaritan” prophet – Antiquities

    Menahem ben Judah (revolt in 66 AD, possible grandson of Judas), possibly related to Menahem the Essene – The Jewish War

    Theudas – Antiquities

    “The Egyptian” prophet – the Jewish War and Antiquities

    The “anonymous Prophet” – Antiquities (20.188); possible connection to the historical Jesus ?

  14. Avatar
    novotnycurse  July 30, 2016

    Testimonium Flavanium: “widely accepted to have an authentic core” Evan

    If it’s widely accepted, I would have to question the gullibility and credibility of these scholars.

    1/ Context is crucial. We need to read the preceding paragraphs (1 & 2) in Chapter 3, then examine paragraphs 4 & 5.
    The Josephus passage (paragraph 3) is utterly out of context. This awkward positioning is suspicious and reeks of complete forgery and not just partial interpolation.

    2/ The authentic core argument is, in any case, legally flawed. If an extract is deemed false in key sections, then this surely inevitably contaminates the rest of the extract. The attempt to filter our the phoney parts and cling to some kind of authentic residue is of dubious value.

    It would be interesting to pass the Josephus material over to a Forensic Linguist such as John Olsson and see what they think.

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      VincitOmniaVeritas  July 30, 2016

      The vast majority of scholars, almost all, agree there the TF had an originally authentic core, and that this was later altered to some degree.

      In fact, the evidence available shows that indeed Josephus wrote the original TF in his own style, and possibly based on a Christian document:


      1) The passage is not “out of context” whatsoever. The only reason you are claiming this is because you are erroneously treating the TF in its altered form. You are not referring to it in its original, authentic form, which is not out of context whatsoever. The original authentic piece is written clearly in Josephus’s style, using words specifically used by him throughout his works. Furthermore, the mention of Jesus at this juncture follows very much the time period in which Josephus was describing, circa 25 – 36 AD, when Pontius Pilate was Prefect of Judaea. The preceding and succeeding paragraphs are discussing Pilate and this time period. The mention of Jesus in the original TF here, which itself includes a mention of Pilate, thus ties in very much with both the preceding and succeeding paragraphs.

      Most importantly, the brief mention here of Jesus is common is Josephus’s works in that it is of similar length and character to that of similar, apocalyptic prophets or figures, such as that of Theudas, “the Samaritan” prophet, “the Egyptian” prophet, “the anonymous Prophet”, and Judas of Galilee’s sons.

      2) The authentic core argument is thus not “flawed” at all, and it is essentially the most likely scenario based on the evidence from a similar passage in Luke, and Josephus’s descriptions of similar prophets. This is why nearly every scholar in this area agrees the TF in its original form is authentic. The subsequently altered parts have been discerned for several years now (please read the links provided), and just because a passage contains later alterations, does NOT negate the authenticity of its original content whatsoever. There are countless historical documents which contain subsequent alterations and interpolations of original contents, but this has never detracted from the importance of the original, authentic core of such documents. This is especially the case when the original form can be easily discerned.

      As for your comments about “passing this on to a forensic linguist”, the TF has already been analyzed by various academics, including expert linguists in this area, which is why its original, authentic core has been discerned.

      You also need to remember that the TF accompanies and is connected to a later mention in Book 20, Chapter 9 of Antiquities where Jesus is mentioned,as the brother of James, which is almost universally regarded as authentic and has no alterations or interpolations.

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      VincitOmniaVeritas  July 31, 2016

      The TF listed here has in brackets () the sections which are either known to be inauthentic, later alterations, or could be:

      “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.” (Antiquities of the Jews Book 20, Chapter 9)

      The wholly authentic passage about Jesus as the brother of James:

      “Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others;”
      (Antiquities of the Jews, Book 18, Chapter 3)

      Now, observe here that the authentic form of the TF, and the mention of Jesus as the brother of James in Book 18, are in a very similar, brief format to that of the other apocalyptic prophets, zealots and/or radical preachers most similar to Jesus, and mentioned in Antiquities of the Jews:

      The “anonymous prophet” mentioned, circa 55-59 AD:

      “Festus sent forces, both horsemen and footmen, to fall upon those that had been seduced by a certain impostor, who promised them deliverance and freedom from the miseries they were under, if they would but follow him as far as the wilderness. Accordingly, those forces that were sent destroyed both him that had deluded them, and those that were his followers also.”
      [Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.188]

      Theudas, 44-46 AD:

      “It came to pass, while Fadus was procurator of Judea, that a certain charlatan, whose name was Theudas, persuaded a great part of the people to take their effects with them, and follow him to the river Jordan; for he told them he was a prophet, and that he would, by his own command, divide the river, and afford them an easy passage over it. Many were deluded by his words. However, Fadus did not permit them to make any advantage of his wild attempt, but sent a troop of horsemen out against them. After falling upon them unexpectedly, they slew many of them, and took many of them alive. They also took Theudas alive, cut off his head, and carried it to Jerusalem.” [Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.169-171]

      The “Egyptian” prophet, 52-58 AD:

      “About this time, someone came out of Egypt to Jerusalem, claiming to be a prophet. He advised the crowd to go along with him to the Mount of Olives, as it was called, which lay over against the city, and at the distance of a kilometer. He added that he would show them from hence how the walls of Jerusalem would fall down at his command, and he promised them that he would procure them an entrance into the city through those collapsed walls. Now when Felix was informed of these things, he ordered his soldiers to take their weapons, and came against them with a great number of horsemen and footmen from Jerusalem, and attacked the Egyptian and the people that were with him. He slew four hundred of them, and took two hundred alive. The Egyptian himself escaped out of the fight, but did not appear any more.” [Flavius Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.169-171]

      Judas of Galilee’s sons, James and Simon, 46 AD:

      “Besides this, the sons of Judas the Galilean were executed; I mean that they were the sons of that Judas who caused the people to revolt when Quirinius came to take an account of the estates of the Jews. The names of those sons were James and Simon, whom Alexander commanded to be crucified.” [Jewish antiquities 20.100-103]

      • Bart
        Bart  August 1, 2016

        My hunch is that more people on the blog would probably read your interesting posts if you could make them shorter. Just a hunch!

        • Avatar
          VincitOmniaVeritas  August 12, 2016

          Yes, I apologize for the excessive length, but my reasoning and evidence requires a great deal of text to get across.

          With that being said, I wish to summarize as concisely as I can a few key points as to why the evidence strongly supports the high probability for the existence of the historical Jesus:

          1) Josehpus’ account of Jesus in the the partially authentic (based on an original, unaltered core) Testimonium Flavianum in Book 18 of his Antiquities of the Jews, followed by his wholly authentic account of James as the brother of Jesus in Book 20.

          2) Josephus, while writing Antiquities in Rome circa 90 – 95 AD, was born and raised in Judaea from 37 AD, and lived there until the end of the First Jewish-Roman War around 70 AD. During this time, Josephus specifically lived in the areas of Peraea and the Galilee between 50 and 70 AD, the areas where Jesus lived and performed his ministry. While Josephus was living in these areas, he specifically spent time with Jewish religious groups, radical preachers, sages, prophets, zealots and rebels. This was especially the case when he spent his later teenade years learning from the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes, including spending three years between the age of 16 and 19 in Peraea and in the Judaean desert with a teacher named Banus. Josephus also spent the years between 65 and 70 in Galilea commanding Jewish rebel forces and zealots against Roman rule. He thus spent a great deal of time in the circles of the exact non-Christian and/or Christian Jews who would have heard about Jesus, his family and his followers. In other wrods, Josephus was close to those who would have been witnesses to Jesus or his followers, and is an extremely close historical source in terms of time and location to the historical Jesus.

          3) The Gospels (70 – 90 AD) and authentic Pauline Epistles (49 – 60 AD, especially Galatians, Philippians and 1 Corinthians) each give accounts and details about the life of Jesus. The earliest Gospel, Mark, has a highly historical composition describing Jesus more similarly to a Jewish apocalyptic prophet, while the latest one, John, is the least historical and presents Jesus more as the divine figure. There is thus a trend in the Gospels themselves of euhemerisation, or increasingly deifying a historical figure or prophet over time, similar to that done with most other major Jewish prophets, patriarchs and other figures in the Hebrew Bible.

          4) All other Jewish messiah claimants, whether before Jesus (e.g. Simon, Judas of Galilee, Athronges), contemporaneous with him, and those that came after him, were all historical persons. This itself follows the prophecy about the Jewish Messiah in that it has to be specifically a man, and a Jew. In the history of strictly monotheistic Second Temple Judaism there has never been one example of any Jewish group concocting and following a purely fictional Messiah or other deity apart from God (YHWH).

          5) Josephus describes in Antiquities of the Jews, the Jewish War and his autobiography numerous apocalyptic prophets, zealots and rebellious Jewish religious leaders similar to Jesus who were specifically common in Peraea and the Galilee between 30 and 60 AD. Several are named and described in a little bit more detail, including John the Baptist, “the Samaritan”, Theudas, Judas of Galilee’s sons James and Simon, “the Egyptian”, Menahem ben Judah, and the “anonymous prophet” between 55- 58 AD during the governance of Festus. Josephus clearly states there were also a great number of others during this time period, labeling them usually as “impostors”. At the same time, Josephus also describes several men, including leaders, religious figures and rebels, with the name of “Jesus”, and specifically many who were from the Galilee. Therefore, Josephus clearly describes that there was both a high number of apocalyptic prophets from the Galilee area between 30 and 60 AD, and at the same time there were many important figures named Jesus.

          It can be concluded then, based on the evidence described above, that the probability is strongly in favour of at least one of the apocalyptic prophets from Galilee between 30 and 40 AD being named Jesus, and this same figure had followers from this region who started the Christian movement.

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      VincitOmniaVeritas  July 31, 2016

      Your comment about context is especially flawed when you consider that Josephus is describing an incident involving Pontius Pilate in the preceding paragraphs, 1 and 2, to the TF in paragraph 3. Pilate is mentioned again in the TF itself in paragraph 3, and then is not mentioned again by Josephus for several paragraphs. Thus, paragraph 4, the one after the TF, is a break from the previous paragraphs in general which all involved Pontius Pilate, including the TF. With this in mind, the TF is very much in context and related to the passages about Pontius Pilate which preceded it. Finally, there is a similar disconnect between paragraphs 4 and 5. Paragraph 5 breaks from paragraph 4 with no connection to it in any context, suddenly speaking about a Jewish man who was expelled from Judaea and who ended up in Rome. This is the case for much of the entries on both Antiquities and The Jewish War.

      The TF also follows Josephus’ chronological order based on the rule of Prefects and Procurators of Judaea, where new paragraphs, events and figures are suddenly mentioned because they fall within the time period of a specific Roman governor’s rule in Judaea. These are often placed with a sudden break or disconnect from the context of the surrounding text and the subsequent paragraph, and is the case with the descriptions of Theudas, “the Egyptian” prophet and the “anonymous prophet”.

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    VincitOmniaVeritas  July 30, 2016

    Here you can see the comparison of Jospehus’s description of Jesus with those of similar apocalyptic prophets or Messiah-figures. The length and style of such descriptions are similar to the original, authentic part of the TF. Jesus is also mentioned twice by Josephus, which is more than for some of these, like Theudas. Similar to the TF, Josephus mentions these other prophets by first detailing which Roman Prefect or Procurator was ruling Judaea at the time. In the TF, Josephus starts with “about this time”, which refers to the preceding paragraph mentioning the time ruled by Pontius Pilate as Prefect. With “the Egyptian”, he also says “about this time”. With Theudas, he starts off by saying “while Fadus was procurator” :

    “The Samaritan”

    “The Egyptian”


    An “anonymous prophet”:

    Josephus describes several times the many figures, prophets, zealots and “impostors” who would be similar in many regards to the historical Jesus.

    Two religious “zealots” in particular, who were sons of Judas of Galilee named James and Simon, were mentioned as being specifically crucified between 44-46 AD while Tiberius Alexander was Procurator. This was clearly a very important event, but the incident is only mentioned very briefly, similar to Theudas, Jesus, “the anonymous prophet” and “the Samaritan”:

    “Besides this, the sons of Judas the Galilean were executed; I mean that they were the sons of that Judas who caused the people to revolt when Quirinius came to take an account of the estates of the Jews. The names of those sons were James and Simon, whom Alexander commanded to be crucified.” [Jewish antiquities 20.100-103]


    Josephus overall had a negative view toward nearly all the zealots and apocalyptic prophets described in his works. This is why the original TF core likely was more neutral or even negative in its treatment of Jesus.

    In fact, I think the original form and proper translation of the TF may have said Jesus “deceived” or “convinced” both many of the Jews and many of the Greeks. The current from has “He drew over to him (or won over) both many of the Jews and many of the Greeks”.

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    VincitOmniaVeritas  July 30, 2016

    Josephus states that during the reign of Felix (52 – 58 AD):

    “There was also another body of wicked men gotten together, not
    so impure in their actions, but more wicked in their intentions,
    which laid waste the happy state of the city no less than did
    these murderers. These were such men as deceived and deluded the
    people under pretense of Divine inspiration, but were for
    procuring innovations and changes of the government; and these
    prevailed with the multitude to act like madmen, and went before
    them into the wilderness, as pretending that God would there show
    them the signals of liberty. But Felix thought this procedure was
    to be the beginning of a revolt; so he sent some horsemen and
    footmen both armed, who destroyed a great number of them.” [Flavius Josephus, Jewish War 2.259]

    Considering the numerous apocalyptic prophets, religious zealots, rebels, etc. described in earlier decades by Josephus, including Judas of Galilee, his sons James and Simon, the “Samaritan”, John the Baptist, Theudas, etc.,there clearly were numerous “such men as deceived and deluded the people under pretense of Divine inspiration”. Not that Jesus “deluded” anyone, but clearly at least one of the numerous apocalyptic prophets between 20 and 45 AD active in Galilea, the Decapolis and Peraea had to have been the historical Jesus.

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    spazevedo  April 12, 2017

    The fact that the four gospels and Paul refer to the account of the Last Supper makes it more historically reliable (but not necessarily true). Paul has mentioned this indicates that it is a very old Christian tradition (there were a few years after the event). I insist: Did Jesus confide to the disciples that his death was about to happen (and even knew he would be betrayed by Judas)? If not (and if the speech “bread is his body and wine is his blood” has never happened), was living disciples (Peter, for example) that could have disproved the story that has spread among the early Christians (and spread by Paulo).Why, then, would the tradition remain?

    • Bart
      Bart  April 12, 2017

      It’s not found in the four Gospels, actually. It’s not in John. Matthew and Luke are dependent on Mark, so ultimately there are two sources for it, Mark and Paul. Could Peter have refuted it? If it didn’t happen, and he knew the story, and we had an author who explicitly asked him about it and wrote up the conversation, yes. But stories float around all the time that could be discredited by eye and earwitnesses (and are discredited), even in today’s world of mass media (one can think of thousands of examples over the past year in the realm of politics). But the stories still float around.

      • Avatar
        spazevedo  April 12, 2017

        Thanks for answering.

        Maybe Paul invented everything as a symbology to support his theology of Jesus’ death by atonement …

        P.S. When I said the four Gospels mention, I meant about the account of the Last Supper (John 13: 2), and not about the “eucharistic speech”. Therefore, I think that the event of a special and intimate meal between Jesus and his disciples (to celebrate Pesach) is historically reliable.

        • Bart
          Bart  April 13, 2017

          Fair enough! I agree that Jesus had a meal with his disciples before he was arrested — but he probably had a meal with them every evening! The meal in John, by the way, is not a Passover meal. It takes place on the day *before* the Passover meal (see 19:14)

  18. Avatar
    john76  May 28, 2017

    Mythicists sometimes cite Origen (Contra Celsum 1.47 and Commentary on Matthew 10.17), who certainly knew Book 18 of the Antiquities and cites 5 passages from it, as explicitly stating that Josephus did not believe in Jesus as Christ.  This seems to exclude Origen as being aware of the relevant passage in the Testimonium Flavianum as we have it today, but doesn’t it ALSO imply Origin’s copy of Josephus’ work did say “something” about Jesus, enough for Origen to conclude that Josephus didn’t think Jesus was the Christ? 

    • Bart
      Bart  May 29, 2017

      I’m afraid I haven’t looked at the passage in a long time, but based on your paraphrase, yes it would seem to indicate that.

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