Josephus (c37-100 AD)
Josephus is a highly respected and much-quoted Romano-Jewish
historian. The early Christians were zealous readers of his
native of Judea, living in the 1st century AD, Josephus was
actually governor of Galilee for a time (prior to the war of
70 AD) the
very province in which Jesus allegedly did his wonders. Though
not born until 37 AD and therefore not a contemporary witness
to any Jesus-character, Josephus at one point even lived in Cana,
the very city in which Christ is said to have wrought his first
two major tomes are History of The Jewish War and The
Antiquities of the Jews. In these complementary works, the
former written in the 70s, the latter in the 90s AD, Josephus
mentions every noted personage of Palestine and describes every
important event which occurred there during the first seventy
years of the Christian era.
At face value,
Josephus appears to be the answer to the Christian apologist's
In a single
paragraph (the so-called Testimonium Flavianum) Josephus confirms
every salient aspect of the Christ-myth:
existence 2. his 'more than human' status 3. his miracle working
4. his teaching 5. his ministry among the Jews and the
Gentiles 6. his Messiahship 7. his condemnation by the Jewish
priests 8. his sentence by Pilate 9. his death on the cross 10.
the devotion of his followers 11. his resurrection on the 3rd
day 12. his post-death appearance 13. his fulfillment of divine
prophecy 14. the successful continuance of the Christians.
just 127 words Josephus confirms everything now that is a miracle!
A MINUTE ...
a single writer before the 4th century not
Justin, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Tertullian, Cyprian,
Arnobius, etc. in all their defences against pagan
hostility, makes a single reference to Josephus wondrous
century Church 'Father' Origen, for example, spent half his life
and a quarter of a million words contending against the pagan
writer Celsus. Origen drew on all sorts of proofs and witnesses
to his arguments in his fierce defence of Christianity. He quotes
from Josephus extensively. Yet even he makes no reference
to this 'golden paragraph' from Josephus, which would have been
the ultimate rebuttal. In fact, Origen actually said that
Josephus was "not believing in Jesus as the Christ."
did not quote the 'golden paragraph' because
this paragraph had not yet been written.
It was absent
from early copies of the works of Josephus and did not appear
in Origen's third century version of Josephus, referenced in
his Contra Celsum.
knows nothing of Christians
It was the around the year 53 AD that Josephus decided
to investigate the sects among the Jews. According
to the gospel fable this was the period of explosive
growth for the Christian faith: " the churches
... throughout all Judaea and Galilee and Samaria
... were edified... and ... were multiplied." – Acts
This is also the time of the so-called "Council
of Jerusalem" when supposedly Paul regaled the
brothers with tales of "miracles
and wonders" among
the gentiles (Acts 15.12).
And yet Josephus knows nothing of all this:
"When I was sixteen
years old, I decided to get experience with the
various sects that are among us. These are three:
as we have said many times, the first, that of
the Pharisees, the second that
of the Saduccees, the third,
that of the Essenes. For I thought
that in this way I would choose best, if I carefully
examined them all. Therefore, submitting myself
to strict training, I passed through the three
groups." – Life, 2.
Josephus elsewhere does record a "fourth
sect of Jewish philosophy" and reports
that it was a "mad distemper" agitating
the entire country. But it has nothing to do with
Christianity and its superstar:
"But of the fourth sect of
Jewish philosophy, Judas the Galilean was
the author. These men agree in all other things
with the Pharisaic notions; but they have an inviolable
attachment to liberty, and say that God is
to be their only Ruler and Lord.
They also do not value dying any kinds of death,
nor indeed do they heed the deaths of their relations
and friends, nor can any such fear make them call
any man Lord ...
And it was in Gessius Florus's
time that the nation began to grow mad
with this distemper, who was our procurator,
and who occasioned the Jews to go wild with it
by the abuse of his authority, and to make them
revolt from the Romans. And these are the sects
of Jewish philosophy." – Antiquities
Nothing could better illustrate the
bogus nature of the Testimonium than
the remaining corpus of Josephus's work.
1. How could
Josephus claim that Jesus had been the answer to his messianic
hopes yet remain an orthodox Jew?
The absurdity forces some apologists to make the ridiculous
claim that Josephus was a closet Christian!
2. If Josephus
really thought Jesus had been 'the Christ' surely he would have
added more about him than one paragraph, a casual
aside in someone else's (Pilate's) story?
In fact, Josephus
relates much more about John the Baptist than about Jesus!
He also reports in great detail the antics of other self-proclaimed
messiahs, including Judas of Galilee, Theudas the Magician,
and the unnamed 'Egyptian Jew' messiah.
It is striking
that though Josephus confirms everything the Christians could
wish for, he adds nothing that is not in the gospel narratives,
nothing that would have been unknown by Christians already.
3. The question of context.
Antiquities 18 is primarily concerned with "all sorts of misfortunes" which befell the Jews during a period of thirty-two years (4-36 AD).
Josephus begins with the unpopular taxation introduced by the Roman Governor Cyrenius in 6 AD. He presents a synopsis of the three established Jewish parties (Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes), but his real quarry is the "fourth sect of philosophy ... which laid the foundation of our future miseries." That was the sect of Judas the Galilean, "which before we were unacquainted withal."
At the very point we might expect a mention of "Christians" (if any such sect existed) we have instead castigation of tax rebels!
"It was in Gessius Florus's time [64-66] that the nation began to grow mad with this distemper, who was our procurator, and who occasioned the Jews to go wild with it by the abuse of his authority, and made them revolt from the Romans; and these are the sects of Jewish philosophy."
"Nor can fear of death make them call any man Lord." Sound a tad familiar?
Chapter 2 notes the cities built to honour the Romans; the frequent changes in high priest (up to Caiaphas) and Roman procurators (up to Pontius Pilate); and also the turmoil in Parthia.
Chapter 3, containing the Testimonium as paragraph three, is essentially about Pilate's attempts to bring Jerusalem into the Roman system. With his first policy – placing Caesar's ensigns in Jerusalem – Pilate was forced to back down by unexpected Jewish protests in Caesarea. With his second policy – providing Jerusalem with a new aqueduct built with funds sequestered from the Temple, Pilate made ready for Jewish protests. Concealed weapons on his soldiers caused much bloodshed.
At this point the paragraph about Jesus is introduced!
Immediately after, Josephus continues:
"And about the same time another terrible misfortune confounded the Jews ..."
There is no way that Josephus, who remained an orthodox Jew all his life and defended Judaism vociferously against Greek critics, would have thought that the execution of a messianic claimant was "another terrible misfortune" for the Jews. This is the hand of a Christian writer who himself considered the death of Jesus to be a Jewish tragedy (fitting in with his own notions of a stiff-necked race, rejected by God because they themselves had rejected the Son of God).
With paragraph 3 removed from the text the chapter, in fact, reads better. The "aqueduct massacre" now justifies "another terrible misfortune."
4. The final assertion, that the Christians were "not extinct at this day," confirms that the so-called Testimonium is a later interpolation. How much later we cannot say but there was no "tribe of Christians" during Josephus' lifetime. Christianity under that moniker did not establish itself until the 2nd century. Outside of this single bogus paragraph, in all the extensive histories of Josephus there is not a single reference to Christianity anywhere.
5. The hyperbolic
language is uncharacteristic of the historian:
"... as the divine
prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful
things concerning him."
This is the
stuff of Christian propaganda.
6. The Testimonium is a rather short for a genuine digression in the narrative of Josephus (the material surely was deserving of more attention than it gets). But a copyist, working with scrolls of a fixed length, would have had little space to play with.
In fact, the
Josephus paragraph about Jesus does not appear until the beginning
of the fourth century, at the time of Constantine.
that great Church propagandist and self-confessed liar-for-god,
was the first person known to have quoted this paragraph of Josephus,
about the year 340 AD. This was after the Christians had become
the custodians of religious correctness.
of antiquity were torched by the Christians. Yet unlike the works
of his Jewish contemporaries, the histories of Josephus survived. They
survived because the Christian censors had a use for them.
They planted evidence on Josephus, turning the leading Jewish
historian of his day into a witness for Jesus Christ ! Finding
no references to Jesus anywhere in Josephus's genuine work, they
interpolated a brief but all-embracing reference based purely
on Christian belief.
Do we need
to look any further to identify Eusebius himself as the forger?
by the imperial propagandist every Christian commentator for
the next thirteen centuries accepted unquestioningly the entire Testimonium
Flavianum, along with its declaration that Jesus was
in the twenty first century scholars who should know better
trot out a truncated version of the 'golden paragraph' in a
scurrilous attempt to keep Josephus 'on message.'
In a novel embellishment
to the notion of an orthodox Jew giving testimony of Jesus,
defenders of the faith have in
recent times tossed an Arabic version of the Josephus text
on to their pile of dubious evidence.
The Arabic recension was brought to light in 1971 by Professor
Schlomo Pines of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Pines
himself remained cautious about claims of untampered authenticity
but the brethren have no such reservations, such is their
desperation to keep Josephus in the witness stand for Jesus.
The work in question
is actually a history of the world to the year 941/942
penned by a Christian Arab bishop,
of Hierapolis. His World History preserves, in Arabic translation,
a version of the Testimonium minus the most obvious
But what does
a 10th century copy actually prove?
that the Arabic passage itself dates from the 4th century
are untenable (written Arabic barely existed at such
an early date). Moreover Agapius was a Melkite Christian
at a time of intensifying Islamization of his native
Syria. What he wrote was political correctness for his
A new Shia Hamdani dynasty had been established barely
50 miles away in Aleppo. Its first prince, Sayf ad
of the state"), began a century of persistent attacks
against Byzantium. Agapius' paraphrase of a Syriac
Josephus from a Greek original rather significantly
mentions JC's "condemnation
to die" but not the actuality of
it and of JC being "alive" 3 days
later – in
other words, a carefully balanced compatibility with
view of a Jesus
as a prophet
who did not die on the cross.
In short, the
Arabic Josephus is no evidence of the Christian godman
and serves only to confuse the unwary.
was also an historian, a rival to Josephus, and from
the same region. Perhaps his work was not as easily doctored his
histories did not make it through the Christian Dark
Age and are as they say "lost to us"!
have read the chronology of Justus of Tiberias ...
and being under the Jewish prejudices, as indeed
he was himself also a Jew by birth, he makes not
one mention of Jesus, of what happened to him,
or of the wonderful works that he did."
Patriarch of Constantinople, 9th Century
apologists, for their own convenience, blur the distinction between
evidence of Jesus and evidence of Christians.
is rather as if a child who believed in the Tooth Fairy was
to be presented as evidence that the Tooth Fairy really existed.
There is no
doubt that Christians existed, from the early years of
the second century certainly, and as heretical
Jews and under diverse names up to a generation earlier.
Belief in a Messiah (a 'Christ' in Greek) was endemic among
the Jews after all.
in a celestial Christ does not equate to belief in a flesh-and-blood
'Jesus of Nazareth' and when the 'heretical' and
'gnostic' views of early Christians are examined 'Jesus of
Nazareth' is noticeably absent. And to press the point, even
a belief in a 'Jesus of Nazareth' does not make him a
reality it is only the belief that is a reality.
Christian apologists compound their suspect 'logic' by recruiting
notable pagans as witnesses, writers who were doing their best
to faithfully report on a suspect cult. And as ever in the history
of Christianity, in the hands of its scribes, forgery augments
what the ancient writers actually wrote, the better to bring
unbelievers to the One True Faith.
the Younger (61-115 AD)
AD, in correspondence between Emperor Trajan and the provincial
governor of Pontus/Bithynia, Pliny the Younger, reference is
made to Christians for the first time. Pliny famously reports
to his emperor:
asserted, however, that the sum and substance of their fault
or error had been that they were accustomed to meet on a
fixed day before dawn and sing responsively a hymn to
Christ as to a god, and to bind themselves by oath, not
to some crime, but not to commit fraud, theft, or adultery,
not falsify their trust, nor to refuse to return a trust when called upon to do so." – Pliny to Trajan, Letters
Pliny is relaying what those arrested said they believed (and
there is no reference here to a 'Jesus.')
Pliny had convened
trials of Christians, not because of their beliefs but because
he had 'forbidden political associations' which he obviously
suspected them of forming. He continues:
I judged it all the more necessary to find out what the
truth was by torturing two female slaves who were called
deaconesses. But I discovered nothing else but depraved,
Some of those
arrested recanted, worshipped the imperial image and state gods,
and cursed Christ. But Pliny is uncertain how to proceed with
numerous others in what he describes as a widespread 'contagion'
and asks Trajan for guidance. Trajan's celebrated reply is:
"They are not
to be sought out; if they are denounced and proved guilty,
they are to be punished, with this reservation, that whoever
denies that he is a Christian and really proves it -- that
is, by worshiping our gods -- even though he was under suspicion
in the past, shall obtain pardon through repentance."
Is the exchange of letters genuine?
It's worth noting that unlike the 247 letters Pliny himself prepared for publication (so-called books 1-9), book 10, which contains the celebrated letters "96" and "97", was published posthumously and anonymously. "It is surprising," says Betty Radice (translator of the Penguin edition), "that no more letters were to be found in the imperial files or among Pliny's personal papers to add to this record of the relations between one of the best of Rome's Emperors and his devoted servant." On the other hand, Tertullian (c. 160-220 AD) discusses the letter and refers to Trajan's reply in his Apology, chapter 2, which suggests authenticity:
" We find that even inquiry in regard to our case is forbidden. For the younger Pliny, when he was ruler of a province, having condemned some Christians to death, and driven some from their stedfastness, being still annoyed by their great numbers, at last sought the advice of Trajan, the reigning emperor ..."
Pliny's ignorance of Christians
Pliny was a lawyer in Rome before going to the east. He was only a child when the "persecution of Christians by Nero" supposedly took place but his guardian Verginius Rufus was a high-placed commander at the time, loyal to Nero. Following Nero's suicide, Rufus actually declined an offer from the army of the Rhine to become emperor himself. Any "lurid massacre" of Christians, if it had taken place, could have been told to Pliny as a child – but in later life he recalls no such thing.
At the age of 17 Pliny inherited his uncle's extensive estates after the elder Pliny died in the eruption of Vesuvius. Rich and talented, and with impeccable connections to the highest echelons of the Roman state, Pliny began a distinguished career. He served on the imperial staff in Syria, a centre – one is led to believe – of energetic Christian activity, but again it left no mark on Pliny.
Rising rapidly through the ranks of quaestor, tribune and praetor, while still in his thirties the bright young aristocrat was appointed state prosecutor at four major public trials of provincial governors. Such a career would have made any incumbent aware of "persecution" of Christians, if indeed there had ever been any such thing. But Pliny reports none of it.
Pliny survived the persecution of the Stoic opposition during the reign of Domitian (81-96). The emperor actually made him a senator, even though several of Pliny's Stoic friends were executed. Subsequently Pliny went on to become consul, state priest, and finally, governor of Bithynia-Pontus.
Curious, is it not, that such a well-placed, well-educated Roman grandee, directly and intimately involved in the Roman judicial system at the highest levels, and a friend of historians Tacitus and Suetonius, should – in the second decade of the 2nd century – remain so ignorant of Christians and the persecution of them – unless, that is, they were nothing other than an obscure, and insignificant bunch of fanatics and the "persecution" is a fable?
"Having never been present at any trials concerning those persons who are Christians, I am unacquainted not only with the nature of their crimes, or the measure of their punishment, but how far it is proper to enter into an examination concerning them."
The real value
of this correspondence (the only example of its kind
to survive the Christian dark age) is not that it
is some 'proof' of Jesus's existence (which it manifestly
is not) but evidence of the toleration of Roman jurisprudence
in the 'golden age' of the Empire. Says Trajan:
posted accusations ought to have no place in any
prosecution. For this is both a dangerous kind of
precedent and out of keeping with the spirit of our
age." – Trajan to Pliny, Letters 10.96-97.
this ruling of the 'pagan' Trajan in 113 AD with that
of the Christian Inquisitors thirteen centuries later for
whom 'anonymous accusations' and 'seeking
out' of heretics was the modus operandi!
Suetonius (c.69140 AD)
in any of Suetonius's writings does he mention 'Jesus of Nazareth.' Suetonius did write
a biography called Twelve Caesars around the year 112
AD and of Emperor Claudius he says:
"As the Jews
were making constant disturbances at the instigation of one
Chrestus, he expelled them from Rome."
Jesus in Rome
in 54 AD? Of course not. But the unwary can be misled by this
does not equate to 'Christ' in English but to 'the good' in Greek (and for a definitive study of the manuscript evidence see here).
It was a name used by both slaves and freemen and is attested
more than eighty times in Latin inscriptions. Clearly, Suetonius
was explaining why the Jews (not Christians) were expelled
from Rome and is referring to a Jewish agitator in the 50s not
to a Galilean pacifist of the 30s. Yet even this report is questionable. The historian Cassius
Dio gives a more convincing account of the same Claudian "expulsion":
the Jews, who had again increased so greatly that by reason
of their multitude it would have been hard without raising
a tumult to bar them from the city, he did not drive them out,
but ordered them, while continuing their traditional mode of
life, not to hold meetings." – Roman History, 60.6.
It is also said that Suetonius, in his Life
of Nero, described
Nero's persecution of the Christians:
were also inflicted on the Christians, a sect professing
a new and mischievous religious belief ...' (16.2)
We have moved
from 'rebellious Jews' to 'mischievous Christians'.
WAIT A MINUTE:
Rome during the reign of Nero (54-68 AD) ?
Would (could) Nero
have made such a fine sectarian distinction particularly
since there was no identifying faith document (not a single
gospel had been written) so just what would 'Christians'
Even St Paul himself makes not a single reference
to 'Christians' in any of his writings.
idea that a nascent Christianity immediately
faced persecution from a cruel and bloodthirsty pagan Rome
is an utter nonsense. For one thing, it is only in the
last third of the 1st century AD, that Christ-followers
emerged as a separate faction from mainstream Judaism.
Until then they remained protected under Roman law as Jews.
The irritation they caused to their more orthodox brethren
meant nothing to the pagan magistrates. Says Gibbon:
of the first Christians was protected by ignorance and contempt;
and the tribunal of the Pagan magistrate often proved the
most assured refuge against the fury of the synagogue."
Early Christ-followers called themselves 'saints', 'brethren', 'Brothers
of the Lord' and their critics used various names: Nazoreans, Ebionites,
'God fearers', atheists. The Jewish association remained strong throughout
the first century and when Christian sects got going in Rome in the second century
they were identified by their rival leaders Valentinians,
Basilidians, Marcionites, etc.
So little were
Christ-worshippers known in the Roman world that as late as the
90s Dio Cassio refers to 'atheists' and 'those adopting
Jewish manners'. Christians as a distinct group from the
Jews appear only late in the 1st century, not long before the
Jewish curse on heretics at the council of Jamnia (around 85
AD). The label 'Christian' itself only appears with the 2nd century Acts with
the story that the term 'began in Antioch' (11.26).
is that Suetonius's isolated sentence appears in a section on
Nero's 'good points.'
It should also
be noted that Suetonius does not associate punishment of the
Christians with the fire that swept Rome, a crucial part
of the later myth.
simply, the reference is a Christian forgery, added to Suetonius
to backup the work of the 5th century forger Sulpicius
Severus, who heavily doctored the work of another Roman
historian Tacitus with a lurid tale of brutal
persecution ('torched Christian martyrs') which immortalized
Nero as the first Antichrist in the eyes of the Christian church
(the second Antichrist being the reformist Luther).
Tacitus (c.55-117 AD)
The years 30 and 31 of Tacitus' account of the reign of Tiberius in the Annals are mysteriously missing. What might those lost chapters have said – or not said – about Jesus? Did Christian scribes have a reason to destroy them?
has no part in Tacitus's history of the Caesars. Except for one
questionable reference in the Annals he records nothing
of a cult marginal even in his own day.
117 AD, the Roman historian apparently wrote:
around for a scapegoat, and inflicted the most fiendish tortures
on a group of persons already hated for their crimes. This
was the sect known as Christians. Their founder, one Christus,
had been put to death by the procurator, Pontius Pilate in
the reign of Tiberius. This checked the abominable superstition
for a while, but it broke out again and spread, not merely
through Judea, where it originated, but even to Rome itself,
the great reservoir and collecting ground for every kind
of depravity and filth. Those who confessed to being Christians
were at once arrested, but on their testimony a great crowd
of people were convicted, not so much on the charge of arson,
but of hatred of the entire human race.
Their deaths were made farcical. Dressed in wild animals' skins , they were torn to pieces by dogs, or crucified, or made into torches to be ignited after dark as substitutes for daylight."
– Tacitus (Book 15, chapter 44):
As we have
seen, the term 'Christian' was not in use during the reign of
Nero and there would not have been 'a great crowd' unless we
are speaking of Jews, not Christians. 'Jewish/Christians' being
perceived by Roman authorities (and the populace at large) simply
as Jews meant that early Christ-followers also got caught
up in general attacks upon the Jews.
effects to dissemble their Jewish origins were detected by
the decisive test of circumcision; nor were the Roman magistrates
at leisure to enquire into the difference of their religious
– Edward Gibbon (Decline
of the fire which destroyed much of Rome in 64 AD was a capitation
tax levied on the Jews and it was the Jews throughout
the empire who were required to pay for the citys
rebuilding a factor which helped to radicalise many Jews
in the late 60s AD.
the first time would Christian scribes expropriated the real
suffering of a whole people to create an heroic 'origins' fable...
Christian apologist for centuries ever quoted the passage
of Tacitus not
in fact, until it had appeared almost word-for-word in the
writings of Sulpicius Severus, in the early fifth century, where
it is mixed in with other myths. Sulpicius's contemporaries credited
him with a skill in the 'antique' hand. He put it to good use
and fantasy was his forte: his Life of St. Martin is replete
with numerous 'miracles', including raising of the dead and personal
appearances by Jesus and Satan.
story of Nero was embellished during the Renaissance into a fantastic
fable with Nero 'fiddling while Rome burned'. Nero took advantage
of the destruction to build his 'Golden House' though no serious
scholar believes anymore that he started the fire (we now
know Nero was in his hometown of Antium Anzio when
the blaze started.) Indeed, Nero opened his palace garden
for temporary shelter to those made homeless.
short, the passage in Tacitus is a fraud and adds no evidence
for a historic Jesus.
Update: The probing eye of science
11th century monk corrects Tacitus: "Goodies" to read "Christians"!
Ultraviolet photo of a critical word from the earliest known extant manuscript of Tacitus (second Medicean, Laurentian library, Italy).
The photograph reveals that the word purportedly used by Tacitus in Annals 15.44, chrestianos ("the good"), has been overwritten as christianos ("the Christians") by a later hand, a deceit which explains the excessive space between the letters and the exaggerated "dot" (dash) above the new "i". The entire "torched Christians" passage of Tacitus is not only fake, it has been repeatedly "worked over" by fraudsters to improve its value as evidence for the Jesus myth.
The truth may be that there was an original gnostic cult following a personified virtue, "Jesus Chrestos" (Jesus the Good). Consequently, they were called Chrestians, an appellation which seems to have attached itself at an early date to the sectarians of the "heretic" Marcion. Support for this possibility comes from the earliest known "Christian" inscription, found in the 19th century on a Marcionite church at Deir Ali, three miles south of Damascus. Dated to circa 318, the inscription reads "The meeting-house of the Marcionists, in the village of
Lebaba, of the Lord and Saviour Jesus the Good", using the word Chrestos, not Christos.
As a flesh-and-blood, "historical" Jesus gradually eclipsed the allegorical Jesus so, too, did "goodness" get eclipsed by "Messiahship". Justin, in his First Apology (4), about thirty years after the death of Tacitus, plays on the similarity in sound of the two words Χριστὸς (Christ) and χρηστὸς (good, excellent) to argue for the wholesome, commendable character of Jesus followers.
The Chrestianos Issue in Tacitus Reinvestigated by Erík Zara © 2009
the Rabbis Know Jesus?
a most ironic twist, Christian apologists sometimes
bring forward an ancient anti-Jesus slur,
circulated by the rabbis, as "evidence" that
their godman existed.
the earliest rabbinic writings – for example,
the Mishnah ("study") (of which
the Talmuds are later commentaries) – make no
reference to a "Jesus" character at all.
the vast corpus of material the closest we get
to such testimony is Mishnah Yevamot 4.13 which has a very
oblique reference to a 'peloni' (rabbinic
Hebrew for 'so and so') but nothing more:
ben Azzai has said: I found in Jerusalem a
book of genealogies; therein was written: That
so and so is a bastard son of a married woman."
reference could have been to anyone. Though difficult
to date the verse could well be a rabbinic counter-stoke
to Matthew's manufacture of a genealogy
for JC early in the 2nd century.
later, 2nd or 3rd century, rabbinical reference
is to a magician who had led some Jews into apostasy.
This is in an addendum to the Mishnah – 'Baraitha
Sanhedrin 43a' – which records the hanging
of a 'Yeshu' on the eve of Passover for sorcery.
It also adds that he had 5 disciples – Mattai,
Naqai, Netzer, Buni and Todah – not exactly
the familiar names!
century Tosefta (another supplementary
commentary on the Oral Law, even later than the Mishnah)
tells of an attempt to invoke the name of 'Yeshu
ben Pandira' to cure a rabbi of a snake bite
still, the references to Yeshu get more colourful.
Both Talmuds are
'late' constructions: the Jerusalem Talmud was
compiled in the early 5th century AD and the Talmud
of Babylon was compiled during the 6th century.
By this date the only source of information about
Jesus available to the rabbis was the Christians
themselves! But far from confirming anything found
in the gospels the rabbinic authors appear to have
confounded at least two Jesuses – a 1st century
BC Yeshu ben Pandira and 2nd century AD Yeshu
to Talmud Shabbat 104b, Sanhedrin 67a,
JC is apparently the son of an adulterous hairdresser
('Miriam Megaddela') and is executed in Lud. Talmud
Sanhedrin 107b, Sotah 47a, has the magician
Jesus worshipping a brick during the 1st century
BC reign of John Hyrcanus.
the 3rd century Church Father Origen is to be believed
(Contra Celsum 1.28) Celsus, the pagan
opponent of Christianity, writing in the late 2nd
century, had heard from Jewish sources the scandalous
rumour that the Christian hero was the result of
an illicit affair between Miriam, a young Jewess,
and a Roman trooper called 'Pantheras.' The woman
had been driven off by her husband when he discovered
she had got herself pregnant by a soldier of the
could hardly conceive of a more disreputable
pedigree for a would-be Jewish Messiah!
of course reveals the whole point of the slur:
to damn the iconic figure held high by apostate
Jews who, together with their gentile converts,
now formed the rival Christians. In comparison,
simply denying that the hero figure had ever existed would
have appeared weak and conveyed none of the scurrilous
insult of a bastardised racial impurity. The rabbis
responded to a fable with a lie of their own.
rumour probably originated among the rabbis shortly
after the Christians invented their nativity story,
in the late 130s.
"Darkness over the whole land"?
"And when the sixth hour was come, there was darkness over the whole land until the ninth hour." – Mark 15.33.
The death, like the birth of any great figure in antiquity, was meant to be accompanied by "signs and wonders" so there's no surprises that the author of Mark added this little frill.
When the author of Matthew copied the story from Mark, he added an even grander wonder:
"And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, And came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many." – Matthew 27.52-53.
For obvious reasons, apologists choose to ignore Matthew's wild fantasy but they are fond of claiming ancient pagan witnesses for the "darkness." Two names are banded about: Thallus and Phlegon. But the truth is we know next to nothing about either and our sources are all Christian scribes.
Apologists like to push Thallus into the 1st century to make him a "better witness" but all we can be sure of is that he wrote before Theophilus, a bishop in Antioch who mentions his name, at the end of the 2nd century. The probability is that Thallus is actually a 2nd century writer.
In any event, we have NO text written by Thallus himself. What we do have is a reference to Thallus in a 9th century work by Georgius Syncellus, a Byzantine churchman. Yet Syncellus doesn't quote the words of Thallus directly – he relies on a 2nd - 3rd century Christian writer called Julius Africanus (thought to be a Libyan). But Africanus himself has paraphrased Thallus, thus making the testimony of Syncellus no better than third-hand and unreliable.
Even allowing such dubious provenance for the "testimony of Thallus," just what does our pagan witness say? Africanus tells us that Thallus recorded a solar eclipse – and there is nothing at all unusual in an ancient observer recording such natural phenomena.
The twist is that Africanus says Thallus was mistaken, that he was really recording the darkness spoken of in the gospels! It is Africanus who makes the link to Jesus – not Thallus!
There is no doubt that Phlegon was a 2nd century writer, around the time of Hadrian. Phlegon merely recorded a great earthquake in Bithynia, which is on the coast of the Black Sea. Again, not Phlegon but the Christians who quote him make the link to Judaea and the crucifixion.
The Christian fraudsters concatenated Thallus' eclipse with Phlegon's earthquake (both "signs" planted in the gospels) to witness their fabulous nonsense, disregarding what was written, when it was written and which part of the world it referred to!
Thallus and Phlegon would have been horrified by this misuse of their work!
Tacitus [c.55 -117AD], The Annals, The Histories (Penguin, 1964)
Dan Cohn-Sherbok, The Crucified Jew (Harper Collins,1992)
Henry Hart Milman, The History of the Jews (Everyman, 1939)
Josephus [c.37-100AD], The Antiquities, The Jewish War (Hendrickson, 1987)
Leslie Houlden (Ed.), Judaism & Christianity (Routledge, 1988)
Frank Zindler, The Jesus the Jews Never Knew (American Atheists, 2003)
Suetonius [c.69AD-140AD], The Twelve Caesars (Penguin, 1980)
Norman Cantor, The Sacred Chain - A History of the Jews (Harper Collins,
Edward Gibbon, The Decline & Fall of the Roman Empire (1799)
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