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Jesus Outside the Bible: Part 2 – Flavius Josephus


When addressing the historical nature of Jesus Christ, one issue repeatedly raised is the purported “evidence” of his existence to be found in the writings of Flavius Josephus, the famed Jewish general and historian who lived from about 37 to 100 CE. In Josephus’s Antiquities of the Jews appears the notorious passage regarding Christ called the “Testimonium Flavianum” (TF):

“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 wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him 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.” [1]

This surprisingly brief and simplistic passage constitutes the best proof of Jesus’s existence in the entire ancient non-Christian library comprising the works of dozens of historians, writers, philosophers, politicians and others who never mentioned the great sage and wonderworker Jesus Christ, even though they lived contemporaneously with or shortly after the Christian savior’s purported advent.

Despite the best wishes of sincere believers and the erroneous claims of truculent apologists, the TF has been demonstrated continually over the centuries to be a forgery, likely interpolated by Catholic Church historian Eusebius in the fourth century. So thorough and universal has been this debunking that very few scholars of repute continued to cite the passage after the turn of the 19th century. Indeed, the TF was rarely mentioned, except to note that it was a forgery. [2]

It is obvious to all that Josephus would never have said that Jesus “was the Messiah,” or that “he appeared alive to them again on the third day,” since this would mean he subscribed to Christian doctrine. And “if one ought to call him a man” is clearly a Christian reverential remark. Opinion is mixed about the ‘teacher of the truth’ reference. Some have suggested that instead of the blatant “he was the Messiah,” Josephus may have written that “he was believed to be the Messiah.”

When the evidence is scientifically examined, it becomes clear that the Josephus passage regarding Jesus was forged. Here is the famous passage again, with the widely-regarded forgeries in bold, though there is some variation on this among scholars:

“Now about this time there lived Jesus a wise man, if one ought 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 him 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 on the third day, as the holy prophets had predicted these and many other wonderful things about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.”

Let’s take a look at some of the evidence:

In addition, Josephus goes into long detail about the lives of numerous personages of relatively little importance, including several Jesuses. It is inconceivable that he would devote only a few sentences to someone even remotely resembling the character found in the New Testament. If the gospel tale constituted “history,” Josephus’s elders would certainly be aware of Jesus’s purported assault on the temple, for example, and the historian, who was obviously interested in instances of messianic agitation, would surely have reported it, in detail. Moreover, the TF refers to Jesus as a “wise man”–this phrase is used by Josephus in regard to only two other people, out of hundreds, i.e., the patriarchs Joseph and Solomon. If Josephus had thought so highly of an historical Jesus, he surely would have written more extensively about him. Yet, he does not.

The Suspect: Eusebius (c. 264-340)

It has been universally observed that the famous passage which we find in Josephus, about Jesus Christ, was never mentioned or alluded to in any way whatever by any of the fathers of the first, second, or third centuries; nor until the time of Eusebius, when it was first quoted by himself early in the 4th century in his Ecclesiastical History. The truth is, none of these fathers could quote or allude to a passage which did not exist in their times; but was to all points short of absolutely certain, forged and interpolated by Eusebius. The silence of all Christian commentators before him about such things is pretty good evidence that Eusebius himself was the interpolator.

Following is a list of important Christian authorities who studied and/or mentioned Josephus but not the Jesus passage:

Conclusion: Josephus No Evidence of Jesus

Although it may well be that we owe Josephus’ survival through the Middle Ages to the unknown Christian interpolator who gave us the Testimonium, it is time to release Josephus from his Christian captivity—and from the bonds of those who continue to claim him as a witness to the existence of a historical Jesus.

Here is a Jewish historian who was born and grew up in Judea shortly after Pilate’s governorship, with its presumed crucifixion of a Jewish sage and wonder worker, a man whose followers claimed had risen from the dead and who gave rise to a vital new religious sect. Here is an historian who remembers and records in his work with staggering efficiency and in voluminous detail the events and personalities and socio-political subtleties of eight decades and more. Can we believe that Josephus would have been ignorant of this teaching revolutionary and the empire-wide movement he produced, or that for some unfathomable reason he chose to omit Jesus from his chronicles?

Destroying the credibility of the Josephus references inevitably places a very strong nail in the coffin of the historical Jesus.

Thanks for reading,

Continue reading:

Jesus Outside the Bible: Part 1 – Historical Silence

Jesus Outside the Bible: Part 3 – Pliny, Tacitus and Suetonius


  1. William Whiston, The New Complete Works of Josephus, Kregel Academic, 1999. p 662
  2. Acharya S.; Suns of God: Krishna, Buddha and Christ Unveiled; Adventures Unlimited Press (October 15, 2004)
  3. For a more detailed criticism, in The Jesus Puzzle and his online article “Josephus Unbound,” secularist and classicist Earl Doherty leaves no stone unturned in demolishing the TF, permitting no squirming room for future apologists, whose resort to the TF will show, as it has done in the past, how hopeless is their plight in establishing a “historical Jesus.”
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