Josephus on Jesus

Historical Records of Jesus Christ



By R.A. Rajotte

Importance of Josephus

Josehus is considered one of the most significant, if not the single most important Historian of his era. He was a Jewish Priest, a pharisee, as well as a much cited Historian and scholar. From AD 75 to 79 he authored 7 books. He was despised by the Jews and viewed as a traitor. Yet despite all of this, he had not abandoned his Jewish faith. His most notable work, The Antiquities of the Jews, completed in 20 volumes traces the history of the Jews from the Garden of Eden to just before the outbreak of the revolt of AD 66 to 70.

Josephus makes mention of John the Baptist, but does not mention Jesus in connection with him. He mentions the Pharisees, the Sadducees, Pontius Pilate, and James the brother of Jesus. He also mentions the Essenes, a strict religious sect that founded the Qumran community [Also known as Damascus], where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.

Testimonium Flavianum

Only one passage in Antiquities of the Jews makes SPECIFIC mention of a Jesus who undoubtedly fits the Gospel narrative, he is described as a wise man crucified by Pilate. HOWEVER , This passage , known as Testimonium Flavianum has been the subject of extensive scholarly debate.

There is good reason to believe that the paragraph in which he describes Jesus is partly or completely a later forgery. The passage appears completely out of context, breaking the flow of the narrative, and is completely unrelated to the previous and subsequent sentence's. The Testimonium Flavianum, as the above passage has been come to be called is cited by Christian propagandists as confirmation of Jesus' existence

'About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats and as a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvelous things about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.'

Early Christian Church father Origen claims that Josephus didn't recognize Jesus as a Messiah, in direct contradiction to the above passage, where Josephus says, "He was the Messiah." Thus, we may conclude that this particular phrase was a later insertion.

Other early Christian writers never cite this passage, even though it would have suited their purposes. The passage is extremely pro-Christian. Josephus, a Pharisaic Jew, probably wouldn't write a complimentary passage about a man killed for blasphemy.



Most Biblical scholars reject the entire Testimonium Flavianum as a later Christian insertion. However, some maintain that Josephus's work originally did refer to Jesus, but that Christian copyists later expanded and made the text more favorable to Jesus. These scholars cite such phrases as "tribe of Christians" and "wise man" as being untypical Christian usages, but plausible if coming from a first century Palestinian Jew. Of course, a suitably clever Christian wishing to "dress up" Josephus would not have much trouble imitating his style.

Actual References to Jesus by Josephus

There are a number of references to 'Jesus' made by Josephus, however historians for the large part have failed to acknowledge or even notice them primarily because they are atypical of what we would anticipate of a humble pacifist preacher known as Jesus.

Jesus is mentioned again in the writings of Josephus, but in a fashion that is not immediately recognizable as the Gospel Jesus, because the "Gospel Jesus' was not really the Historical Jesus. In the Antiquities, Book 20, 200. James, the Brother of Jesus is also mentioned.

'Convened the Sanhedrin (the highest Jewish religious court / governing body). He had brought before them the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ, who was called James, and some other men, whom he accused of having broken the law, and handed them over to be stoned.' [not crucified]

Other Jesus characters in the writings of Josephus bear a resemblance to the Historical Jesus Christ. , they are cataloged below .

The 1st is Jesus of Gamala a Wealthy Galilean / high Priest/ Rebel Leader in the vicinity of Tiberias. Was in a position to give orders to Tiberians although under whose authority is not mentioned, possibly as a regional Governor. In the civil war in Judaea. He had debated with the besieging Idumeans, led by 'James and John, sons of Susa'. It didn't do him any good. As per legend When the Idumeans breached the walls he was executed.

The 2nd is Jesus of Shaphat {or Son of Shaphat / Ben Shaphat} also a Wealthy Galilean / high Priest?/ Rebel Leader in the vicinity of Tiberias. In the Jewish Revolt of 68AD this Jesus led rebel factions in Tiberias. Led a group that attacked Roman Commander Valerian and made off with his horses, he took refuge in Tiberias. When the city was about to fall he fled north to Tarichea on the Sea of Galilee.

The 3rd is Jesus ben Sapphias {or Son of Sapphias / Ben Sapphias } Referred to by Josephus as a rebel leader of a 'seditious mob of Mariners' {mariners being equated to as fishermen} in the vicinity of Tiberias. At one point he was the Governor of Tiberias. Was also a High Priest and a General appointed by 'Ananus'. In addition to the simile of names with Jesus of Shaphat, This Jesus's description and geography are very close to Jesus of Gamala and Jesus -Shaphat and Jesus ben Sapphias- they may all be the same person.

and finally Josephus mentions Jesus ben Ananus {Son of "Ananus "} Josephus states that this Jesus was a High Priest, and a rebel leader in the Galilee/ Tiberias area. Arrested and flogged by the Romans. Josephus gives a narrative reminiscent of the passion of Jesus, in which the bones of this Jesus were "laid bare".

'...most eminent of the populace had great indignation at this dire cry of his and took up the man Jesus and gave him a great number of severe stripes. Yet he did not say anything for himself, or anything peculiar to those that chastised him,... he went on with the same words...as the case proved to be, that this was a sort of divine fury in the man... he was whipped till his bones were laid bare, yet he did not make any supplication for himself, nor shed any tears.' -Josephus The Jewish War

All the above Jesus' are Wealthy Galileans with connections or relations to the High priesthood as well as political ties in Galilee, it is Highly unlikely that there were four Jesus' running around Palestine at the same time, all leading guerilla bands opposed to Rome and all hailing from Galilee. They are certainly second hand references , drawing from various resources with varying accreditations of the same Jesus- Jesus of Galilee, the actual Historical Jesus Christ.

Jesus of Galilee, the actual Historical Jesus Christ was not a pacifist preacher who turned the other cheek, he was a militant rebel leader, a zealot.

Luke 22:36 'He said to them, "But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don't have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.'

****************************************