20 votes, average: 4.90 out of 520 votes, average: 4.90 out of 520 votes, average: 4.90 out of 520 votes, average: 4.90 out of 520 votes, average: 4.90 out of 5 (20 votes, average: 4.90 out of 5)
You need to be a registered member to rate this post.

Do Any Ancient Jewish Sources Mention Jesus? Weekly Mailbag

I recently received a succinct but very important question about whether Jesus is ever mentioned by any Jewish sources of the first century.

The premise behind the question is that if Jesus was the miracle-working son of God who was healing the sick, casting out demons, and raising the dead – wouldn’t everyone be talking about him, all the time?  It turns out, the answer is – we don’t know!  We have hardly any Jewish writings from his time and place.

At the end of the first century we do have the copious and massively important historical writings of Flavius Josephus, and there is one passage in particular where he does indeed refer to Jesus.  The passage is typically called the “Testimonium Flavianum” (that is, “Flavius [Josephus’s] Testimony to Jesus”).  But did Josephus actually write this passage?  Or has it been inserted into his work by a later scribe?  Or did a later Christian scribe “touch it up” a bit?

Here is the simple but crucial question I have received.



How much of the Testimonium Flavianum do you think is original?



I will put my response in terms of the broader question of Jewish sources (of any use) for the life of Jesus.  I have taken this from my book The New Testament: A Historical Introduction


In contrast to pagan sources, we have very few Jewish texts of any kind that can be reliably dated to the first century of the Common Era. There are references to Jesus in later documents, such as those that make up that great collection of Jewish lore and learning, the Talmud. This compilation of traditions was preserved by rabbis living in the first several centuries of the Common Era. Some of the traditions found in the Talmud may possibly date back to the period of our concern, but scholars have increasingly realized that it is difficult to establish accurate dates for them. The collection itself was made long after the period of Jesus’ life; the core of the Talmud is the Mishnah, a collection of rabbinic opinions about the Law that was not written until nearly two centuries after his death. Moreover, Jesus is never mentioned in this part of the Talmud; he appears only in commentaries on the Mishnah that were produced much later. Scholars are therefore skeptical of the usefulness of these references in reconstructing the life of the historical Jesus.

There is one Jewish author, however, who both wrote during our time period (before 130 c.e.) and mentioned Jesus. The Jewish historian Josephus produced several important works, the two best known of which are his insider’s perspective on the Jewish War against Rome in 66–73 c.e. and his twenty-volume history of the Jewish people from Adam and Eve up to the time of the Jewish War, a book that he titled The Antiquities of the Jews.

Scores of important, and less important, Jews, especially Jews in and around Josephus’s own time, are discussed in these historical works. Jesus is not mentioned at all in Josephus’s treatment of the Jewish War, which comes as no surprise since his crucifixion took place some three decades before the war started, but he does make two tantalizingly brief appearances in the Antiquities.

One reference to Jesus occurs in a story about the Jewish high priest Ananus, who abused his power in the year 62 c.e. by unlawfully putting to death James, whom Josephus identifies as “the brother of Jesus who is called the messiah” (Ant. 20.9.1). From this reference we can learn that Jesus was known to have a brother named James, which we already knew from the New Testament (see Mark 6:3 and Gal 1:19), and that he was thought by some people to be the messiah, although obviously not by Josephus himself, who remained a non-Christian Jew.

Josephus’s religious perspective has made the other reference to Jesus a source of considerable puzzlement over the years, for he not only mentions Jesus as a historical figure but also appears to profess faith in him as the messiah—somewhat peculiar for a person who never converted to Christianity.

Probably the most controversial passage in all of Josephus’s writings is his description of Jesus in book 18 of The Antiquities of the Jews.

At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one should call him a man. For he was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who receive the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek origin. He was the Messiah. 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. For he appeared to them on the third day, living again, just as the divine prophets had spoken of these and countless other wondrous things about him. And up until this very day the tribe of Christians, named after him, has not died out. (Ant. 18.3.3)

This testimony of Jesus has long puzzled scholars. Why would Josephus, a devout Jew who never became a Christian, profess faith in Jesus by suggesting that he was something more than a man, calling him the messiah (rather than merely saying that others thought he was) and claiming that he was raised from the dead in fulfillment of prophecy?

Many scholars have recognized that the problem can be solved by looking at how, and by whom, Josephus’s writings were transmitted over the centuries. In fact, they were not preserved by Jews, many of whom considered him to be a traitor because of his conduct during and after the war with Rome. Rather, it was Christians who copied Josephus’s writings through the ages. Is it possible that this reference to Jesus was beefed up a bit by a Christian scribe who wanted to make Josephus appear more appreciative of the “true faith”?

If we take out the Christianized portions of the passage, what we are left with, according to one of the most convincing modern studies, is the following:

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 both among many Jews and among many of Greek 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, has not died out. (John Meier, A Marginal Jew, 1991; vol. 1, p. 61)

If this is something Josephus wrote, as most scholars continue to think, then it indicates that Jesus was a wise man and a teacher who performed startling deeds and as a consequence found a following among both Jews and Greeks; it states that he was accused by Jewish leaders before Pilate, who condemned him to be crucified; and it points out that his followers remained devoted to him even afterward (Ant. 18.3.3).

It is useful to know that Josephus had this much information about Jesus. Unfortunately, there is not much here to help us understand specifically what Jesus said and did. We might conclude that he was considered important enough for Josephus to mention, although not as important as, say, John the Baptist or many other Palestinian Jews who were thought to be prophets at the time, about whom Josephus says a good deal more. We will probably never know if Josephus actually had more information about Jesus at his disposal or if he told us all that he knew.

No other non-Christian Jewish source written before 130 c.e. mentions Jesus.

Clearly, we cannot learn much about Jesus from non-Christian sources, whether pagan or Jewish. Thus if we want to know what Jesus actually said and did during his life, we are therefore compelled to turn to sources produced by his followers.

If you were a member of the blog, you would get meaty posts like this five days a week, every day of the week for all eternity.  Well, OK, for a long time.  And going back seven years (you can access all the old ones very easily).  So why not join?  It’s little money and less effort, and the blog raises money for important charities helping those in need!



Pilate Released Barabbas. Really??
Homosexuality in the Bible (and the Christian Church)



  1. Avatar
    godspell  March 10, 2019

    It seems like Josephus, who was at core a diplomat, is laying it on a bit thick there, even when you take out the Christian additions. These Christians to him are part of the larger Jewish monotheist community, even if many of them are pagan converts. He presumably recognizes Jesus as influenced by John, who he admired. Not a religious enthusiast himself, he still respects such teachers (think of all the liberal cosmopolitan writers who said nice things about Billy Graham, when he first appeared on the scene). He’s trying to stay on the good side of everyone who isn’t an out-and-out zealot. Josephus believes in getting along.

    And this paid unexpected dividends for him–posterity remembers him now because Christians took an interest in his work–the only place an educated non-Christian spoke well of Jesus, and of John, and documented the murder of James. One has to respect that they copied the entire work, which has proven invaluable for historians. In many ways, Christianity was less hindered by tribal suspicions than Judaism at this point in time, since so many different ethnic groups became converts.

    As you say, James was killed without the sanction of the Roman government, unlike his brother. Do we know much of anything about that, besides what Josephus tells us?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 11, 2019

      Jospehus’s account is the closest thing we have to a historical record. There are later legends, for example, in the much later Pseudo-clementines, but nothing of historical use.

  2. Avatar
    JohnKesler  March 10, 2019

    “f we take out the Christianized portions of the passage, what we are left with, according to one of the most convincing modern studies, is the following…”

    1) What is it about the study that is so convincing that allows one to discern which parts of an obviously doctored passage are “authentic”? 2) Why is Ant. 20.9.1 considered authentic, since “Jesus who is called the messiah” is the same wording used in Matthew 1:16? Should Ant. 20.9.1 not be viewed with suspicion too?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 11, 2019

      1. It seems highly unikely that a Jew would say that Jesus was the messiah who was raised from the dead. We have no record of Jews saying this, who were not also Christian. But since Josephus left us an autobiography, we know he never became a Christian. 2. Josephus is referring *back* to the earlier discussion of ch. 18, to indicate *which* Jesus (of the many he has already spoken of) he is talking about: this one, the one that some people claimed was the messiah.

      • Avatar
        JohnKesler  March 11, 2019

        Bart wrote:
        1. It seems highly unikely that a Jew would say that Jesus was the messiah who was raised from the dead. We have no record of Jews saying this, who were not also Christian. But since Josephus left us an autobiography, we know he never became a Christian.

        I realize why the obviously Christian parts are ruled out. But why do scholars assume that there’s a non-Christian original? Since the text was obviously tampered with, why assume that any of it is authentically from Josephus?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 12, 2019

          Because everything else in Josephus probably goes back to Josephus, including his descriptions of other religious figures, preachers,apocalyptic prophets etc — there’s no reason to think he wouldn’t have a brief mention of Jesus as well as all the others.

        • Avatar
          godspell  March 12, 2019

          I have another question to pose–why only question what Josephus says about Jesus? Why does his mentioning similar figures to Jesus who have not led to the founding of a an influential living religion never provoke any skepticism?

          Or did I just answer my own question?

          You don’t get good history by going in with your mind firmly made up. “I don’t want this to be true, so let me look for some way to go on believing it isn’t.”

          And strangely, we find this approach most strongly delineated among those who want to believe Jesus was God, and those who want to believe he never was at all.

          And in the middle, we find good history.

      • Avatar
        SeptimusHM  July 17, 2019

        If the reconstructed passage of Ant.18.3.3 that you present is correct then why do you say that Josephus is referring *back* to Ant.18.3.3 in Ant.20.9.1 when the reconstructed Ant.18.3.3 doesn’t talk about Jesus being thought of as the messiah at all? The reconstruction got rid the only mention of messiah in that passage. Am I missing something here?

        • Bart
          Bart  July 19, 2019

          Good question! I don’t have my books here with me (I’m out of the country), but I think the argument does not involve the phrase “who is called the messiah” but simply the fact that James is identified simply as “the brother of Jesus.” If Jesus had not already been mentioned (i.e. *this* particular Jesus), the backward association wold not make any sense.

          • Avatar
            SeptimusHM  July 19, 2019

            Sorry for my continued confusion (I understand if you’re too busy to answer since you’re out of the country) but I thought your argument was that the phrase “who is called the messiah” is used by Josephus to identify *which* Jesus James was the brother of, since Josephus wrote about several people named Jesus. But if Josephus never previously wrote about people thinking Jesus was the messiah, as is the case in John Meier’s reconstructed Testimonium Flavianum, then how would Josephus’ readers know which Jesus was the one known as the messiah? Please correct me if I’m wrong as I could just be confused.

          • Bart
            Bart  July 21, 2019

            Ah, maybe so. I’ll have to look at the argument again. Sorry. Josephus does clearly refer back to the earlier reference here (for the reason I mention). The problem is, as I know I have talked about, that we probably don’t have the original form of the Testimonium from book 18. POssibly, e.g., instead of it saying “He was the messiah” (which clearly Josephus would not have said), the original said “He was CALLED the messiah.” In that case the scribe who edited the passage to make it more Christian would have simply dropped out the one word. (Or substituted “was called — Greek LEGOMENON” for the word “was.” I’ll have to think more about it.

  3. Avatar
    Silver  March 10, 2019

    Re 1 John 5:7 if I may please.
    I know that this is a disputed passage and it is said that it does not appear in the best manuscript tradition. However, I note that it still features in a number of translations. In some of these I have seen it rendered as ‘and these three are in agreement’ (e.g. NIV and Berean Study Bible) rather than as ‘and these three are one’. Is the former an acceptable translation of the Greek? If so, it seems to me that this avoids claims to a justification of the Trinity. (It could also be seen to reflect the claim that the passage ‘I and my father are one’ (John 10:30) also implies ‘at one’ / ‘in agreement’ as is argued by Jehovah’s Witnesses.)

    • Bart
      Bart  March 11, 2019

      The words “the three are one” are found in 1 Jn 5:8, as part of the original text (referring to the spirit, the water and the blood). “In agreement” doesn’t work too well here, since they are not people. The same words, when applied to the Father, the Word, and the Spirit — in teh later addition to the text — also mean “are one,” but the translator is explaining what, in his opinion, that means — that they are “in agreement” (as opposed to being “one in essence”)

  4. Avatar
    David91  March 10, 2019

    Being raised a Catholic I always believed that Jesus was very famous in his own time. That was before I learned about historical context and the way the gospels were written. It seems to me that Jesus was almost a nobody, only known by those who believed in him or followed him. The miracles themselves, splendorous as they were, not attested by multiple sources. It is a shame really, being brought up in a way to believe Jesus was very important and many believed in him but in fact real evidence about him is scarce and the gospel written much later after his death. Not only that, but the gospel writers would edit some stories to fit their theological ideas of the time.

    @Dr Ehrman I have been following this blog for some time. I have wrote a paper about Pilate and his trials in the gospels. Can I upload it here as a guest post please ?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 11, 2019

      Congratulations on your paper! I’m afraid I only allow for guest posts from published scholars in the field. Sorry! But I hope you get good feedback elsewehre on your paper!

    • Telling
      Telling  March 11, 2019


      I turned to metaphysics early in my life and found answers to fill in the blanks of the New Testament Bible.

      With Dr. Ehrman’s help (from his books and the blog) I’m filling in a lot of blanks, but continue to see the Bible as a legitimate source, probably accurate on most of what Jesus said, but spun by the Church (mainly Paul) in a way that cannot be logically accepted.

      Miracles are subjective to the period and beliefs, individually and societal. In fact, I had an experience early on (one which turned me to metaphysics) where I without any doubt learned that any or all of the biblical prophesies _could_ be true. It is because we create our reality mentally, and we evolve out of the dreaming state, not the physical world for there is no physical world, it is illusion.

      But the centerpiece of the Church is the Crucifixion and Resurrection, and it makes no sense. We are eternal beings, death is illusion, and so there would be no reason for the Master to “prove” overcoming of death by rising from the dead. It is utter nonsense, but I am convinced fully that Jesus WAS the Master who came to teach essentially metaphysics, same thing as Hinduism, Buddhism, and most other ancient religions and Masters.

      And so the Church does serve the purpose of recording generally the Master’s teachings (the most recent Master in our recorded history). With a metaphysical background, sayings and parables of Jesus come to life, they make sense..

  5. Telling
    Telling  March 10, 2019

    I have a question regarding what is, and what isn’t, a “reliably dated” first century document.

    Clearly the six undisputed letters of Paul fall into this category. But before we date the canonical gospels, can you offer what documents (apart from considering the four gospels) are reliable first century texts? And a followup: Why they are?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 11, 2019

      It’s a very difficult task. The best way to know for sure is if it is quoted widely in texts that you can place, for other reasons, in the early *second* century (since then they would need to be written previously). And so it appears, e..g, that around 110 CE Ignatius knows Matthew. And Matthew almost certainly was based on Mark. So both are probalby first century.

      • Telling
        Telling  March 11, 2019

        That would mean that apart from dating the canonical gospels, and apart from Paul’s letters, there is no reliable first century document? Is that right?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 12, 2019

          It’s debated, but most of the books of the NT — with the exception of 2 Peter — are usually dated to the first century.

  6. Avatar
    lmabe10  March 10, 2019

    I’ve been wondering something about “original” texts. Obviously, we don’t have any from the NT. How would scholars know that they had found originals? Even if manuscripts were able to be dated during the suspected time of authorship, is it possible to verify them as originals?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 11, 2019

      It would be very, very difficult to say that a ms is the original, as opposed, say, to the first copy. It’s much much easier to show that a ms is *NOT* the original. Which is true of all our mss!

  7. Avatar
    Nexus  March 10, 2019

    Thank you for writing on Josephus. I have so many questions because, in my eyes, it seems so plain to see that these really look like interpolations. I’m willing to be convinced.

    1) How would Josephus’ audience interpret the word messiah in the James passage? Would they know its connotation or would they read it more like ‘Jesus the guy covered in oil’?

    Turning to the TF:
    2) Does Josephus mention earlier what the ‘truth’ is?
    3) Do you know how he uses the word ‘tribe’ in other contexts?
    4)a) Why do modern scholars retain the word Christian? There is no mention of Jesus being the messiah earlier in the amended TF.
    4)b) Weren’t they called followers of ‘the way’ around that time?
    5) Do you think that the TF fits into the text before and after the TF? Doesn’t the surrounding text make more sense without the TF?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 11, 2019

      Too many questions for me to address! Pick one at a time and I’ll take it on. But, as to the first, yes, the term “messiah” was in common usage in josephus’s day, to refer to the future deliverer of Israel sent by God (usually seen as a great human warrior/leader)

      • Avatar
        Nexus  March 11, 2019

        Okay, will do. I’ll try to let the questions trickle out.

        I’m unclear if your answer includes the Romans of the wider empire. I do know that all in Judea and Galilee and the Jewish Diaspora would know what the “one anointed with oil” meant. I’m under the impression that Josephus wrote Antiquities as an apologetic document with the Romans as the intended audience. Reading the Greek would most Romans know the full connotation of anointed one?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 12, 2019

          Yes, Jews living outside of Palestine would know. Would Romans? Depends. Some would certainly know this was a Jewish belief; others would find it an odd title.

    • Avatar
      Nexus  March 24, 2019

      I think I can short circuit many of my several questions with these two following questions.

      1) You mention a “most convincing modern” study of the TF. Does this study look through all of the Antiquities of the Jews for the words and opinions of Josephus for comparison to the TF? The comment that I’ll post below shows why I suspect this is not the case.

      2) Could you give me the citation for that study?

    • Avatar
      Nexus  March 24, 2019

      I think that original TF would not have had Jesus teaching the ‘truth’. Two more plausible sentences would be:
      a) For he was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who receive the [scripture/law] with pleasure.
      b) For he was a doer of startling deeds, and a teacher of people.

      Let’s see why. Josephus uses the word ‘truth’ hundreds of times. I used ctrl+F through all of Josephus’s Antiquities searching for ‘truth’. It seems that he uses the word truth in only two ways. One could be considered to be about the facts of humans in the recent past, which were usually in the context of someone being dishonest: things that were done, said, or believed by humans. The second use is about the truth related to God: a conversation with God, what God instructed someone to do, or a prophecy. Josephus does seem to use it any other way. When he uses truth it relates to a fact about humans or God.

      This means that the TF has Josephus saying that Jesus was giving out prophecy *and* that prophecy is true. Why would Josephus, a devout Jew and a Pharisee, attribute this to a man he knows nothing about? Why would he not detail this prophecy that he believes is true? Since it is highly unlikely that he would, we must conclude that ‘truth’ must be removed from the TF.

  8. Avatar
    Nexus  March 10, 2019

    Some sources on the internet say that early Church leaders make no mention of these two passages for hundreds(?) of years even though the leaders had access to Josephus. Therefore, these passages are interpolations. I have not read these early sources so I cannot assess the claim. What do you make of their claim?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 11, 2019

      It doesn’t make much sense. How many church fathers even mention Josephus at all? (A couple?) And when they do, what is their reason? They are certainly not trying to use Josephus to show that Jesus was a myth! No one thought that until modern times. Everyone knew he was a Jewish preacher who got crucified. The first father to mention the “Testimony” is Eusebius.

  9. Avatar
    scroffler  March 10, 2019

    I’m wondering if you would consider a response or a follow-up post to clarify why scholars have confidence that *any* part of the Testimonium Flavinium is authentic, given its purely Christian chain of custody. I’ve seen a lot of perspectives on what parts of the TF should be ruled *out*, but not as much on why any of it can be ruled *in*. Alternatively, I’ve read that its construction on the whole is “Eusebian” (a claim I cannot hope to evaluate) and that early church fathers (such as Origen) never refer to it even when making commentary on Josephus.
    – SR

    • Bart
      Bart  March 11, 2019

      Every passage in Josephus was copied by Christian scribes. And so only those passages that appear to have any Christian theology in them are the ones that would be suspected as being Christian scribal alterations. The passage as reconstructed has nothing at all Christian about it. It’s Josephus describing Jesus as he describes lots and lots of Jewish figures in his day.

    • Avatar
      Teamonger  June 12, 2019

      For me, that Christian scribes would alter an existing passage seems far more likely than that they would invent a forged passage out of whole cloth, then insert into a seemingly random place.

      As for Origen, he did write concerning Josephus, “this writer… did not accept Jesus as the Christ”. Could that be circumstancial evidence that Origen had read the original, unaltered “Testimonium” which apparently contained a neutral or negative view about Jesus?

      Perhaps the altered line “He was the Messiah” originally said, “These followers wrongly believed that he was the Messiah”. Would be so easy for a scribe to omit a few offensive words…

      • Bart
        Bart  June 14, 2019

        Yes, scribes changed things far more often than they inserted brand new things.

  10. Avatar
    doug  March 10, 2019

    Where do you think Josephus may have gotten his information about Jesus?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 11, 2019

      It appears to be common knowledge, but not something people were talking a *lot* about — much like the majority of all the figures Josephus names and discusses in his books.

    • Avatar
      godspell  March 14, 2019

      Suppose somebody in a distant foreign country you are visiting, out of touch with the world, where nobody has the internet and English-speakers are rare (hey, North Korea!), asked you to write a brief explanation of who Richard Carrier is that he or she could translate for limited distribution among those who want to know more about what’s going on in the world around them? Obviously you had better compose it in such a way as not to aggravate the powers that be.

      Unlike most people on the planet, you are interested in the study of early Christianity, so you, unlike most people on the planet, have probably heard of him, have some familiarity with his ideas. He says Jesus is a mythical being mistaken for an historical figure. He, unlike most who claim this, has some training in relevant fields, though far less than most professional scholars. Bart Ehrman isn’t one of his biggest fans. He’s American (he is, right?) He has a small cult of fervent admirers who buy his videos and attend his lectures, and present him as proof that Jesus doesn’t exist, or at least that not 100% of scholars believe he did (99.99999%). He doesn’t publish a lot.

      Seriously, without Googling (something Josephus could not do) that’s all I could come up with, and I’m INTERESTED. And I have internet. Maybe you know more (maybe some people here have met him! Is he nice?) But probably not a lot more.

      So you write it up, along with a bunch of other things these people want to know about the outside world, doing the best you can, without any sources to draw upon other than conversations you’ve had about him with various people who know a bit more than you. It get deposited in some archive, and largely forgotten.

      Then it is discovered, many years later, by some people in this country who are admirers of Richard Carrier, and still don’t have any other sources than a few blurry bootleg videos to draw upon (which at least prove his existence, unless they’re faked), so they copy it, many times.

      However, you were not as respectful as they would prefer regarding their hero. So they leave most of what you wrote alone, but punch up the text relating to Carrier a bit. And all of a sudden, you’re calling Richard Carrier the supreme scholar of ancient Christianity. And Bart Ehrman sucks. 😉

  11. Avatar
    Pat  March 10, 2019

    In re: Testimonium Flavianum

    1. Estimated writing date of Matthew Gospel: 80-100 A.D.
    2. Estimated writing date of “Testimonium Flavianum”: 93-94 CE.

    IMO, based on the above dates, it’s possible:

    A. Josephus altered the phrase “Jesus who is called the Christ” (Matt. 1:16) to read “Jesus … called the Messiah,” OR
    B. Josephus heard or saw the phrase repeated by someone who heard it from another mid-to-late 1st century convert from Judaism who believed Jesus was a Jewish messiah character.

    This means, to me, the descriptions of Jesus recorded in book 18 of Josephus’ Antiquities was either unoriginal to Josephus, OR it was hearsay. Either way, the Testimonium Flavianum is likely spurious after being, as you said above, “beefed up a bit by a Christian scribe who wanted to make Josephus appear more appreciative of the ‘true faith’” as he (that scribe) understood it.

  12. Avatar
    AstaKask  March 10, 2019

    There’s a guy over in the forums who claims that Jesus is “the Samaritan Pilate slew, as Josephus records.” Why he presents this to an Internet forum rather than to scholars of the New Testament is anyone’s guess, but to your knowledge, is there to any reason to believe this is true?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 11, 2019

      Nope. You can say anything at all on the internet!

      • Avatar
        Steefen  March 13, 2019

        Do you object to Josephus’s account that Pilate executed the Samaritan who wanted to show people objects at Mount Gerizzim?

        Is there a difference between the Samaritan execution and the execution in the Testimonium Flavianum?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 16, 2019

          I haven’t looked at it in thirty-five years I’m afraid!

  13. Avatar
    Matt2239  March 10, 2019

    If you subtract out the flourishes, then it reads very matter-of-factly. But which is more like other writings by Josephus about religious leaders — matter-of-factly, like the Associated Press, or with flourishes, like an ancient historian?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 11, 2019

      Both. Depends on whether it’s something he’s really invested in or not.

  14. Avatar
    dankoh  March 10, 2019

    One important aspect of the TF is its placement – it’s the last in a list of Pilate’s actions. Josephus isn’t interested in Jesus per se; he’s adding the crucifixion to all of Pilate’s other offenses. Jean-Pierre Lémonon makes the observation that Josephus pays more attention to Pilate than to most other Roman governors, suggesting that Pilate must have been a lot worse than the normal lot (who were bad enough).

    Another item to be considered is that Josephus wrote Antiquities in the 90s CE, when several gospels were in circulation and Christians were getting more notice, so Josephus may well have drawn on Christian sources for some of the TF material. (That’s in addition to later scribal emendations.)

    I would also refer you to Inowlocki: Eusebius and the Jewish Authors, and Alice Whealey: Josephus and Jesus (2003), one of the best TF studies I’ve seen. Inowlocki points out that Origen (c. Cel. 1.47) quotes Josephus in support of his argument that Pilate was a real person, but adds that Josephus did not believe in Jesus as the Christ, which gives us a terminus ad quo for the emendation.

    • Avatar
      John Murphy  March 11, 2019

      “…which gives us a terminus ad quo for the emendation.”

      Earliest or latest?

      • Avatar
        dankoh  March 12, 2019

        Earliest;; that is, the emendation could not have happened before then. Actually, Whealey points out that Eusebius in the IV century uses Josephus in a similar way, using language he would not have used had the TF mentioned Jesus as “the Christ,” which moves the terminus ad quo even later.

    • Robert
      Robert  March 12, 2019

      Hi, Dankoh.

      Have you seen Whealey’s 2008 NTS article on the Arabic and Syriac witnesses to the Testamonium? If so, I’d be very interested in your take on her disagreement with Shlomo Pines on the probable origins of Agapius’ version. A very interesting article. I can handle the Syriac, but not the Arabic.

  15. Avatar
    Jim  March 10, 2019

    Some conservative evangelical Christians claim that Josephus got his information about Jesus from Roman records. I don’t know if Josephus ever referenced where he got his information about Jesus from? Assuming the pared down version of Ant. 18 by Meier is the original version, where in your opinion do you think Josephus most likely got his information about Jesus from; from Roman records or from what Christians (in Rome) were saying about Jesus, or from Jewish elites he may have known, or elsewhere?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 11, 2019

      There isn’t any evidence of Roman “records.” I wonder what they’re thinking about. I would guess that Josephus simply knew by word of mouth that there were some people who had come to believe Jesus was the messiah.

      • Avatar
        dankoh  March 13, 2019

        Since at least 3 of the now-canonical gospels were probably written by the time Josephus wrote the Antiquities, do you think it likely that Josephus was aware of them and used them for some of his information?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 16, 2019

          No, I think it’s eminently unlikely. There’s no evidence that these circulated outside of small Christian communities until a century later. (Christians at the time made up something like 1/60 of 1% of the population of the empire….)

      • Avatar
        Steefen  March 13, 2019

        The Roman Empire did not keep records?

        • Bart
          Bart  March 16, 2019

          We have no record of any records in the Provinces, in Judea at all….

          • Avatar
            Steefen  March 17, 2019

            Caesarea was a Roman administrative center in Palestine. It is often referred to as Caesarea Palaestinae, or Caesarea Maritima, to distinguish it from Caesarea Philippi. The city became the capital of the Roman province of Judaea in 6 ce.

            Excavations undertaken since 1950 have uncovered a Roman temple, amphitheatre, hippodrome (which seated 20,000), the aqueduct, and other ruins of Roman and later times. Of particular interest is a Roman inscription, found in 1961, which mentions Pontius Pilate, Roman procurator of Judaea at the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. This is the first mention of Pilate ever found that can be accurately dated within his lifetime.

            This spacious harbour, which Josephus compared favourably with that of Athens at Piraeus, was one of the technological marvels of the ancient world and helped make Caesarea a major port for trade between the Roman Empire and Asia.

            – Britannica.com

            I’m going to leave this exchange knowing an administrative center in the provinces would keep records; and, a major port for trade would conduct business with some foreign currency exchange records and trade records.

  16. Avatar
    forthfading  March 10, 2019

    Dr. Ehrman,

    It is obviously historically improbable that anyone actually worked miracles, see common sense found in your mind, but there seems to be many references to Jesus performing wondrous deeds. Different streams of tradition found within the New Testament such as Mark, John, “L” and “M” report the wonders along with this Jewish report. Was “miracle working” a common ability that rabbis were often credited with? Would you agree with Morton Smith’s conclusions in his book Jesus the Magician?

    Thanks, Jay

    • Bart
      Bart  March 11, 2019

      Not rabbis necessarily, but there were plenty of alleged “miracle workers” around. I wouldn’t say, with Smith, that Jesus *was* a magician — but it completely depends on how one defines that term. He was certainly perceived as one, by enemies. (“magician” tended to have negative connotations)

  17. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  March 10, 2019

    “The premise behind the question is that if Jesus was the miracle-working son of God who was healing the sick, casting out demons, and raising the dead – wouldn’t everyone be talking about him, all the time?”

    I see this argument a lot, but I have known some amazing and extraordinary people that nobody on this blog knows or will ever come to know. There aren’t any writings or news articles documenting their lives, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t done remarkable things. The same could be said for Jesus.

    • Avatar
      Pattycake1974  March 10, 2019

      Also, there’s probably people living today that will somehow make it through history a thousand years from now that none of us have even heard of. Popularity doesn’t equal importance.

      • Avatar
        Eric  March 12, 2019

        Good point. Pepys, for example, wasn’t a “nobody” in 17th century London, but few if any remembered him or his work (official capacity) two centuries later. Then they found his diaries, and he may now be one of the top three most famous personages of the Restoration (After Charles II and James II — and ahead of William Penn).

    • Avatar
      Matt2239  March 11, 2019

      Jesus and the apostles are the most unlikely and improbable historical figures of all time. His ministry lasted only three years and he was executed in a manner appropriate for social roadkill. But now, 2000 years after, there are 6 billion Bibles and 2 billion people all saying he rose from the dead.

  18. Avatar
    Pattycake1974  March 11, 2019

    The passage about Jesus in the TF doesn’t fit in very well with the rest of the narrative. I’ve wondered whether that particular paragraph discussed the execution of James rather than Jesus since the surrounding paragraphs are about calamities. The special acknowledgment given to James by Josephus puzzled Origen as well. Even Luke’s account of James in Acts is strange because there’s no recognition that he’s Jesus’s brother. Very confusing.

  19. Avatar
    Iskander Robertson  March 11, 2019

    is there evidence in matthew or mark that sin will continue to exist in heaven ? or in “the kingdom of god” ?
    is the christian belief that one has to be “perfect/sinless” to enter heaven contradicted by matthew and mark?

  20. Avatar
    John Murphy  March 11, 2019


    1. Has Richard Carrier’s theory re. Josephus’ other reference to Jesus and James (the one in Book 20) persuaded many scholars you know?

    2. Is there a scholar today who is considered *the* expert on Josephus?

    • Bart
      Bart  March 12, 2019

      1. No. I’ve never heard of any scholar who has been convinced — or who even reads him on topics connected with the historical Jesus, since he is not writing scholarship for scholars, but propounding his theories and views to convince non-scholars. 2. Yes, many. Louis Feldman, Steve Mason, Harry Attridge – -these are all very impressive scholars with massive expertise.

You must be logged in to post a comment.