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Josephus the Satirist? A Clue to the Original Form of the "Testimonium Flavianum"

Josephus the Satirist? A Clue to the Original Form of the "Testimonium Flavianum"

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Testimonium Flavianum
Testimonium Flavianum

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Center for Advanced Judaic Studies, University of Pennsylvania

Josephus the Satirist? A Clue to the Original Form of the "Testimonium Flavianum" Author(s): Albert A. Bell, Jr. Source: The Jewish Quarterly Review, New Series, Vol. 67, No. 1 (Jul., 1976), pp. 16-22 Published by: University of Pennsylvania Press Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/1454525 . Accessed: 27/09/2011 09:53
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By ALBERT A. BELL, Jr., Durham, 'THERE ARE FEW PASSAGES extant North Carolina author,

in any ancient

which have been more frequently, or perhaps with greater shew of reason, the subject of debate, than the account suppos'd to be given of Christ by Josephus in the eighteenth book of his Antiquities." So wrote Nathaniel Forster in I749.1 The debate has hardly slackened in the intervening two centuries.2 The two extreme positions are that the entire passage (Ant. XVIII, 63-64) is a fabrication, as R. Eisler,3 E. Norden,4 and others assert, or that it is genuine as it stands, as F. C. Burkitt,5 A. G. Harnack,6 and F. Dornseiff 7 argue.
1 A Dissertation upon the Account Suppos'd to have been given of Jesus Christ by Josephus, BeiTngan attempt to shew that this celebrated Passage, some slight corruptions only excepted,may reasonably beesteem'd
genuine (Oxford, 1749), p. 7.
2 For bibliographies of the vast literature on the subject see L. H. Feldman, Studies in Judaica, I, Scholarship on Philo and


of the Loeb Classical Library edition of the Antiquitates Judaicae, transl. by H. St. John Thackeray et al. (Cambridge, Mass., 1965). L. Wahleb, "Zum Testimonium Flavianum. Ein kritischer Bericht
iiber den Stand


(New York, I963) and Appendix

K of vol. IX

is a useful survey of earlier literature. More recently S. Pines, An Arabic Version of the Testimonium Flavianum and its Implications (Jerusalem, I97I) has contributed to the discussion. 3 "Flavius Josephus on Jesus Called the Christ," JQR XXI (1930),
4 "Josephus und Tacitus fiber Jesus Christus und eine messianische Prophetie," Neue Jahrbich. f. d. klass. Altertum XXXI (I913), 637-666. 5 "Josephus and Christ," Theologisch Tijdschrift XLVII (I913),

der Frage,"

Revue Benedictine




i-6o, esp. 21-30.

6 "Der jiidische Geschichtsschreiber Josephus und Jesus Christus," Internat. Monatsschr. fiir Wiss. Kunst und Technik VII (I913), I037-1068. 7 "Zum Testimonium Flavianum," Zeitschrift f. d. neutest. Wiss. XLVI (I955), 245-250.




In true Hegelian fashion a synthesis also emerges in the position that Josephus made some unfavorable mention of Jesus at this point which a pious Christian scribe altered.8 Since Origen in the mid-third century says that Josephus did not think Jesus was the Christ,9while Eusebius 10and all subsequent Christian writers cite the passage in its present form, it is generally conceded that the Testimonium,whatever its original content, took the shape in which we know it in the late third or early fourth century. S. Zeitlin even identifies Eusebius himself as the author of the passage.1 The passage does have some Josephan stylistic characteristics and, if a fabrication,is one of the better ones of antiquity. But "the most probable view", as L. H. Feldman concludes,12is that our text is basically Josephus' with Christian alterations. This raises the perplexing question of what Josephus had originally said that so offended some Christian scribe that he felt compelled to alter it. Most scholars reconstruct the passage with a neutral tone, to this effect: "Jesus lived at about this time, a notable teacher who was reputed to have performed miracles. He was put to death by the procurator Pontius Pilate." As a devout Pharisee Josephus could have said something of this sort. But would the Christians have felt it necessary to tamper with it? Tacitus says nothing any more offensive about Jesus,13and a Tes8 E. Bammel, "Zum Testimonium Flavianum," in JosephusStudien: Untersuchungen zu Josephus, dem antiken Judentum und dem Neuen Testament. Otto Michel zum 70. Geburtstag gewidmet, ed. by

0. Betz et al. (G6ttingen,

9 Comment. in Matt. XIII, 55; Contra Celsum I, 47.
10 Eccl. Hist. I, 11.7; Demonstr. Evang. III, 5.I05. 11 "The Christ Passage in Josephus," JQR, (I927-28),

1974), pp. 9-22.

T6 the phrase T&v XpLcrLavov& cpov,

In 231-255. Josephus on Jesus, with particular reference to the Slavonic Josephus and the Hebrew Josippon (Philadelphia, I93I), pp. 62 ff., he replies to criticisms of his argument, which is based on the fact that Eusebius is the only Christian author in the entire ante-Nicene corpus who uses
which is found in the Testimonium

Loeb Antiquities, IX, 5I, note b. 13 Annals XV, 44.



timonium Cornelianumwould have carried great weight in apologetic arguments in the first few centuries. Even Tacitus' statement that Jesus died per procuratorem Pilatum did not evoke the Nicene response et resurrexittertia die which one might expect from Christians determined to embellish any and all references to Jesus. His inoffensive, though accurate, statement was allowed to stand, as was Suetonius' casual reference,14while Josephus' was altered. The latter must therefore have been more anti-Christian than most of the proposed emendations. A suggestion made some years ago by C. Pharr about the original form of the Testimonium15 has gone unnoticed, but it seems to me to have merit and I would like to bring it up again in order to cite some supporting evidence of which Pharr apparently was unaware. Pharr notes that the context of the Testimoniumas it now stands is almost as great a problem as its own content. It breaks into a chronological account of Pilate's ill-starred procuratorship and is followed by the scandalous story of Paulina's seduction by the knight Mundusin Rome in A.D. 19. What possible connection, scholars have often asked, can there be between Jesus and this salacious episode? Since the Paulina/Mundusstory deals with a woman tricked into having sexual relations with a man posing as a god, Pharr concluded that Josephus had originally made some derogatoryreference to Jesus' alleged virgin birth which called this tale to mind and led him to insert it in order to ridicule the Christianclaim. This explanation has the advantage of letting Josephus remain a Jew in his attitude toward Jesus and of making his arrangement of material more logical. It has the decided disadvantage of being quite subjective. We must assume, on the basis of our own reactions, that the story of Paulina and Mundus appeared to Josephus as a parody of sorts of the
25.4. "The Testimony of Josephus to Christianity," of Philology XLVIII (1927), I37-I47.

14 Claudius

American Journal



Annunciation story and that he could depend on his readers to draw the same parallel. Lacking even a hint of literary evidence to support it, we are justifiably hesitant to accept this suggestion. But it can be shown that at least one reader of Josephus did make just such an association. In the late fourth century a Christianknown by the pseudonym Hegesippuswrote in Latin a work in five books on the fall of Jerusalem,16 adapted largely from Josephus' Bellum Judaicum. But he also incorporated other material, such as the Quo vadis story, for which he is one of our earliest extant sources. In II, I2.i he retells the story of Paulina and Mundus as an example of the ludibrium typical of the Rome which killed Christ. But he modifies the narrative in significant ways. In Josephus' longer version Paulina first refuses a large sum of money for her favors. Then Mundus'maidservant Ida arranges to bribe the priests of Isis, to whose cult Paulina is devoted, to summon her to their temple on the pretext that the god Anubis desires her company. She goes gladly and with her husband's permission and spends an eventful night with the disguised Mundus. The next day she rushes out excitedly to tell her lady friends the glad tidings. When Mundusconfrontsher with the truth she is, of course, shamed. Her husband reports the incident to Tiberius, who crucifies the priests, casts their cult image into the Tiber, and burns their temple to the ground.'7
16 The title is uncertain. I prefer, with the editors of the Patrologia Latina (XV, 2o16 ff.), to call it De excidio Hievosolymitanae urbis, which is attested by a tenth century ms., the oldest complete copy now extant. (I am less certain than Migne about its Ambrosian authorship.) Some scholars refer to it as De Bello Judaico, on the mistaken assumption that it is merely a loose translation of Josephus' work. V. Ussani hedged on the whole question, titling his edition of the text Hegesippi qui dicitur Historiae libri V (Vienna, I932; CSEL LXVI,

pars i).

17 H. R. Moehring, "The Persecution of the Jews and the Adherents of the Isis Cult at Rome, A.D. I9," Novium Testamentum III (I958-59), 301, somehow concludes that all this was to the benefit of the cult, since it "finds itself richer to the amount of 50,ooo drachmae."



Hegesippus sums up Ant. XVIII, 65-71 in only eight lines, omitting Mundus' original offer to Paulina and Ida's role. The priests are bribed at once and Paulina comes to the temple. The love-making scene takes on comic aspects: amplexum petenti non negat, refert tamen utrum deus possit homini misceri. Ille promit exempla quod et lovem summum deorumAlcmena susceperitet Leda eiusdemconcubitu potita et plurimae aliae. Hegesippus then introduces the element of pregnancy, which is altogether lacking in Josephus: de se persuadetmulieri. To the quoqueet illa deum esse generandum Christian audience for whom he was writing this must surely have suggested the Annunciation in Luke I. The words used to describe Paulina's reaction (illa deum credidit, beatamse adserit),when compared to certain phrases in Luke's Gospel, heighten this impression.Elizabeth, for example, says to Mary, beata,quae credidisti(Luke I :44), and in the Magnificat Mary sings ex hoc beatamme dicentomnesgenerationes( :48). There is the additionalsimilarity of Marygoing to Elizabeth immediately after the visitation, just as we saw that Paulina had done. It would seem then that Hegesippus responded to the Paulina/Mundusstory as if it were a parody of the Annunciation. It would strengthen this argument if he could be shown to have consciously engaged in parody at some other point in his work. And in at least one passage he certainly appears to have done so. In De excidio I, 1.8 he follows closely the Josephan account (BJ I, 6I) of Hyrcanus bribing Antiochus VII Sidetes to raise his siege of Jerusalem. But he describes the withdrawing Antiochus as pretio emptus, the very phrase used in I Corinthians 6:20 and 7:23 of the person "redeemed" from sin. One's suspicion of a literary joke is heightened when Hegesippus adds that reppulit Hyrcanus auro, quemferro nequibat. Ennius had praised Manius, conqueror of the Samnites and Pyrrhus, in a strikingly similar clause: quem nemo ferro potuit superare nec auro.8 The use

fragment 373. Hegesippus' knowledge of Ennius is also indicated by the reference to Fabius Maximus in IV, Ii.

J. Vahlen,





1928; 3rd ed.),



of both phrases, originally applied with very positive connotations, in this shameful context of a bribe is almost certainly conscious parody. So, for whatever reasons, Hegesippus occasionally indulges his literary sense of humor. The fact that the Paulina/Mundus tale reminded him so strongly of the Annunciation story that he wrenched it out of the Antiquities to insert it into his recasting of the BellumJudaicum seems to offer strong support to Pharr's contention that the Testimonium Flavianum originally contained a derogatory reference to Jesus' virgin birth and was probably on the whole a negative statement about Jesus. As Bammel concludes (p. 22), "so stellt sich der Text in seiner Urfassung als die alteste erhaltene literarische Denunziation der Christen dar." This interpretation of the passage may also shed some light on the next episode (XVIII, 81-84) about an av·7p'Iou3aoto; who, having transgressed his nation's laws, fled to avoid punishment. Settling in Rome, he set himself up as one who
iyzayoet cLaocp6[ovv69p@v Trv Mwouaoc; and duped a

wealthy female proselyte named Fulvia into sending a large donation to the Temple at Jerusalem. But he and three cronies kept the gifts and lived off them themselves. The woman's husband informed Tiberius of the situation, and the emperor's investigation resulted in the banishment of the entire Jewish community from Rome.19 If, as has been seen to be likely, Josephus has just satirized the founder of Christianity, could not this passage, in light of its context, be understood as satirizing the new sect's foremost propagator, Paul? Several details suggest the comparison. The apostle's converts included large numbers of women, such as Lydia, his first convert in Europe (Acts
19 The similarities between the incidents are probably fortuitous, as is the fact that both husbands are called Saturninus. But R. S. Rogers, "Fulvia Paulina C. Sentii Saturnini," American Journal of



meant and that his wife was indeed named Fulvia Paulina,



argues that the same Saturninus





and Priscilla, who with her husband Aquila

accompaniedPaul on part of one of his journeys (Acts I8: I8). Women are prominently mentioned in the salutations to the letters to Colossaeand Rome. Paul had a number of different co-workers at various times, but he writes from Rome in Col. 4:IO-II that three-Aristarchus, Mark, and Jesus Justusare "the only men of the circumcision among my fellowworkers." And of course his collection of funds for the Jerusalem Christianswas a major aspect of his third missionary journey. He talks about it in three of his letters (Rom.

I Cor. I6:I-4;

II Cor. 8:I-9:

I5). The rewards

promised for generosity in II Cor. 9 are of the sort that could easily be taken by a skeptic as the lures of a charlatan. I offer this last interpretation as only a tentative solution to the knotty problem of how the Josephus passage fits into its present context. It admittedly rests entirely on the assumption that Pharr's original suggestion was correct. But I am confident that Hegesippus' treatment of the Paulina/Mundus story as a parody of the Annunciation lends considerable credence to Pharr's thesis that the TestimoniumFlavianum originally contained a derogatory account of the manner of Jesus' birth. At about the time the church came into control of the Roman Empire the offending remarkswere suppressed and Josephus became a witness for the prosecution.20 Hegesippus himself reveals how the Christiansused Josephus:
si nobis non credunt Iudaei, vel suis credant. Hoc dixit losephus (De excidio II, I2.I). It would not be surprising, considering

his intimacy with Constantine, if Eusebius did in fact rewrite the passage as part of the imperial policy.

"for its own theological and apologetic purposes," of appropriating the heritage of Judaism for itself.

Studies in Church History I (I964), 69-79, discusses the church's need,

J. Parkes, "Jews and Christians in the Constantinian Empire,"

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