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Article 75 - Josephus' Testimony...

Josephus' Testimony of Jesus
An Older Manuscript of Josephus

Jon Gary Williams
The Jewish historian Josephus is reported to have made the following statement which has been used to show, from a secular standpoint, that Jesus was a historical figure.
"Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonders, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew many after him both of the jews and the gentiles. He was the christ. When Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and then thousand other wonderful things about him, and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day." (Antiquities 18:63-64).
This passage by Josephus has been for centuries the most cited piece of non-Christian testimony to the earthy life of Jesus. Tacitus and Pliny mentioned Jesus briefly, as did Josephus in another shorter passage in his Antiquities. But this amazing paragraph appeared to be especially significant, coming from a supposedly unbiased source. Yet, critical scholars began to question whether such a passage would have been written by a non-Christian. It was suspected, and rightly so, that this statement attributed to Josephus was a reworking done by some later Christian copyist. In time this passage fell into general disfavor.

However, a clearly more authentic version of Josephus' testimony has surfaced. Professor Shlomo Pines, a Jew and professor of philosophy at Hebrew University in Jerusalem, announced the discovery of a long-overlooked text of the Josephus passage in a 10th century Arabic copy. This was closer to what Josephus originally wrote than the three 11th century Greek copies of Josephus often cited.

Here is the older Arabic passage:
"At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus, and his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon their loyalty to him. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive. Accordingly they believed that he was the Messiah, concerning whom the Prophets have recounted wonders."
Now compare this with the passage from the 11th century Greek copies of Josephus, in which remarks were added to enhance the nature of Jesus.  

Pines' 10th century version merely describes Jesus as "a wise man," whose "conduct was good," and who "was known to be virtuous." Also, it does not mention details of the Jewish leaders in Jesus' trial. As to the resurrection, Pine's version says this was only a claim: "His disciples ... reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion and that he was alive; accordingly, he was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders."

While intending to magnify Jesus through Josephus' work, whoever altered this text ended up making Josephus' testimony suspect to later generations. In his effort to enhance Jesus, he only weakened the credibility of the text.

It is important to notice that once restored to its more original reading, Josephus gives us a true historical reference to Jesus.