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“Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works—a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to bim both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. He was (the) Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him ; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day” (Ant. XVIII., iii. 3). The language is plainly that of a Christian, and not such as would be held by a Jew. Nor can it have proceeded from one so near the alleged events of Christianity as Josephus, who, sixty years after the atonement said to have been made by the Messiah, would not have had to point to the fact that he still had a following “at this day” as a noteworthy circumstance. Fortunately this passage not only reveals itself as one which could not have come from the pen of a devout and consistent Jew such as Josephus, but it has been introduced so clumsily as at once to make it apparent that it is an interpolation. In the previous section (the second) Josephus describes a commotion in Jerusalem in the time of Herod, concluding with these words : “And since the people were unarmed, and were caught by men prepared for what they were about, there were a great number of them slain by this means, and others of them ran away wounded ; and thus an end was put to this sedition.” The fourth section then begins in evident continuation of the subject. “About the same time also another sad calamity put the Jews into disorder.” The passage respecting Jesus fills section third, which has thus been thrust in to the interruption of the real thread of the author's discourse. That it formed no part of the original work of Josephus is made apparent by the testimony of Origen. He tells us what was attributed to Josephus up to his day. Josephus had spoken of John the Baptist, and of James the brother of Jesus, but not otherwise of Jesus himself. “Now this writer,” he states, “although not believing in Jesus as the Christ, in seeking after the cause of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, whereas he ought to have said that the conspiracy against Jesus was the cause of these calamities befalling the people, since they put to death Christ, who was a prophet, says nevertheless—being, although against his will, not far from the truth—that these disasters happened to the Jews as a punishment for the death of James the Just, who was a brother of Jesus (called Christ).” “If then,” he adds, “he says that it was on account of James that the desolation of Jerusalem was made to overtake the Jews, how should it not be more in accordance with reason to say that it happened on account (of the death) of Jesus Christ, of whose divinity so many churches are witnesses ” (Against Celsus, I., xlvii). Had there been in the writings of Josephus that passage which we now have respecting Jesus, Origen could not have failed to have made use of it in his argument with Celsus, when occupied in bringing before him the testimony of Josephus. On the contrary, he has to admit the absence of any sufficient notice of Jesus by Josephus, and to endeavour to account fo: his silence. The interpolation, consequently, must have been made after the time of Origen, who is said to have written about the middle of the third century. That the passage is a fabricated one is also evidenced by the circumstance that at one time it stood in the account of the Wars verbatim as we find it in the Antiquities (Wars, II., ix. 1, note).
The ascription of the downfall of Jerusalem to the stoning of James the Just, imputed by Origen and Eusebius to Josephus, no longer appears in the works of Josephus. It is traceable to the time of Georgius Syncellus, about A.D. 790 (Whiston's Josephus, App. Diss. I.). In what part of the works of Josephus it stood is uncertain. Origen, in his Commentary on Matthew, appears to refer to it as being in the 20th chapter of the Antiquities, while in Hieronym. de Vir. Illustr. in Josepho it is alluded to as standing in the 18th chapter. The Alexandrine Chronicle refers to an account of the stoning of James as in the 5th chapter of the Wars, which is no more there (Josephus, App. Diss. I.). The proper place for the notice of the alleged death of James, and the acceptance of the event by the Jews as the cause of the judgment sustained by them in the downfall of Jerusalem, would assuredly be the History of the Wars, and it is singular if it made its appearance only in the Antiquities. The passage being withdrawn amounts to an admission of its spuriousness, and the whole action of the insertion and the withdrawal exhibits the unscrupulous manner in which the records left to us by Josephus have been tampered with. Possibly when the forged passage respecting Jesus had established itself, the opinion of Origen that the fall of Jerusalem was properly ascribable to Jesus having been put to death, rather than to the martyrdom of James, may have led to the removal of the statement respecting James as involving an obvious inconsistency.
The notice we have remaining of the death of James is this :-"Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others (or some of his companions); and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned” (Ant. XX. ix.). After what has foregone respecting the death of James, as described by Josephus, this passage may well be questioned. It is much against it that no such statement regarding James appears in its appropriate place in the History of the Wars. And it is fatal to it that Josephus is here made to know of Jesus as represented to have been the Christ, and yet had said no more of his remarkable assumptions and asserted actions.
We have now to consider the passage in Josephus concerning John the Baptist, which is this:-“Now, some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod's army came from God, and that very justly, as punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist, for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism ; for that the washing (with water) would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away (or the remission) of some sins (only), but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness. Now, when (many) others came in crowds about him, for they were greatly moved (or pleased) by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion, (for they seemed ready to do anything he should advise), thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it should be too late. Accordingly, he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod's suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death. Now, the Jews had an opinion that the destruction of this army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and a mark of God's displeasure against him ” (Ant. XVIII. v. 2). This passage has met with better success than the others in which testimony for the personages of Christianity has been attributed to Josephus, and it is common to this day to acknowledge it as affording reliable evidence that Josephus knew, at all events, of John the Baptist, and thus wrote of him. My own view of the passage is far otherwise. It appears to me as clearly traceable to Christian hands interpolating the record of Josephus as is the case in any of the other instances. Josephus is made to interest himself in the character of John's ministry, and to take considerable pains to make it intelligible, and to recommend to others this person (whom the Christians accept as the forerunner of Christ). One within the pale of this ministry might so write, but scarcely one wholly outside the limits of Christianity, and who, if he had heard of Jesus as the Christ, must have rejected him. There is the same absurd idea as was advanced in the instance of the death of James, namely, that the Jews had gone out of their way to construe the ordinary events of history as divine manifestations made in support of the Christian cause. The context also plainly shows the passage to have been thrust in in the midst of another subject. The first section relates to the overthrow of Herod's army by Aretas, and ends thus,—“So Herod wrote about these affairs to Tiberius; who, being very angry at the attempt made by Aretas, wrote to Vitellius, to make war upon him, and either to take him alive, and bring him to him in bonds, or to kill him, and send him his head. This was the charge that Tiberius gave to the president of Syria.” The third section opens thus,—“So Vitellius prepared to make war with Aretas, having with him two legions of armed men.”
The second section has been introduced in interruption of the narrative, and obviously by another hand. Josephus was a necessary witness to the Christians, and it is thus that he has been made so.
Josephus has aimed at communicating whatever was of interest connected with his people. He is a laborious and conscientious writer, and his work describes what concerned the Jews in their religious standing as well as their secular history. He gives copious accounts of that interesting sect, the Essenes, whose tenets were so allied to what afterwards appeared as Christianity, that Eusebius, as we have seen, has not hesitated to claim the Therapeuts, a similar sect belonging to Alexandria, as actually Christians. Josephus has also described the known pretenders of those days to superhuman power, as well as other leaders who appeared and influenced his people, such as Judas and Manahem, who were Essene prophets—Judas the Galilean the founder of a sect, and Theudas, and a certain Egyptian, who were impostors, and led astray many (Ant. XIII. xi. 2; XV. X. 5 ; XVIII. i. 1, 6; XX. v. 1 ; XX. ix. 6). Scaliger's opinion of our author as an authority may here be referred to, as coming from an impartial and competent judge. “Josephus,” he says, “is the most diligent and the greatest lover of truth of all writers ; nor are we afraid to affirm of him, that it is more safe to believe him, not only as to the affairs of the Jews, but also as to those that are foreign to them, than all the Greek and Latin writers; and this, because his fidelity and his compass of learning are everywhere conspicuous” (Whiston's Josephus, App. Diss. I). Had the Messiah of the Jews appeared and offered himself to his people in the generation preceding Josephus, proclaiming his mission with many manifestations of divine power, so that the “fame ” of what he was doing in Galilee had spread itself “ throughout all Syria,” attracting “multitudes of people” to him “from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judea, and from beyond Jordan ” (Matt. iv. 24, 25); and had the work of the Messiah established itself after his death, drawing in many adherents to his name from among “ Parthians, and Medes, and Elamites, and the dwellers in Mesopotamia, and in Judea, and Cappadocia, in Pontus, and Asia, Phrygia, and Pamphylia,