Christian Colligation of Apologetics Debate Research & Evangelism
A Response to Ken Olson on Josephus and Eusebius (2d ed.)
By Christopher Price
I.     The Testimonium Flavianum
When it comes to non-Christian references to Jesus, none is more important than the discussion of Jesus found in Josephus' Antiquities at 18.3.3 (known as the Testimonium Flavianum or "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 to this day.
The passage contains some obvious Christian glosses that no Jew like Josephus would have written, such as Jesus being "the Christ" and "he appeared to them alive again the third day." However, the majority of scholars have concluded that much of the TF is authentic to Josephus. Perhaps the leading scholar on Josephus, Louis H. Feldman, surveyed the relevant literature on the Testimonium from 1937 to 1980 and found that of 52 scholars, 39 found some portions of the TF to be authentic. Peter Kirby's own review of the literature shows that the trend in modern scholarship has moved even more dramatically towards at least partial authenticity. "In my own reading of thirteen books since 1980 that touch upon the passage, ten out of thirteen argue the Testimonium to be partly genuine, while the other three maintain it to be entirely spurious. Coincidentally, the same three books also argue that Jesus did not exist." In my own article (http://www.bede.org.uk/Josephus.htm), I also conclude that the Testimonium is partially authentic.
II.     Eusebius as a Suspect
Ken Olson is one recent commentator who has concluded that the Testimonium is entirely spurious. In fact, Olson has written an article arguing not only that the entire Testimoniujm is interpolated, but that the interpolator was Eusebius of Caesera. At one point, Olson's article was available to the general public, but now it seems to be only available to members of the Jesus Mysteries discussion group.
In this article I respond to Olson's article and argue that the evidence is insufficient to conclude that Eusebius interpolated it.
III.     The Textual Evidence
A.     Eusebius' Dependence on Josephus
Olson finds it significant that "it is possible to say that every word in the Testimonium is also found elsewhere in Eusebius" and states that there are three "groups of words" found in the TF that are found in Eusebius but not in Josephus. He also admits that 1) every term (except, unsurprisingly, "Christian") used in the reconstructed Testimonium is also found elsewhere in Josephus' writings; and 2) there are two "groups of words" found in Josephus that are not in Eusebius. Olson, however, problematically gives much credence to the correlations with Eusebius while dismissing those with Josephus.
How should we decide what significant to give the respective "correlations"? Olson does not really address the question and ignores a rather obvious fact that significantly affects the analysis – had access to all of Josephus' writings and used them extensively as sources for his own writings. On the other hand, obviously, Josephus had no opportunity to be influenced by Eusebius.
Furthermore, Josephus is an important source – sometimes the only source – for much of Eusebius' Church History. "Josephus is Eusebius' main source for the history of the first century A.D. Eusebius is also fond of showing how Josephus supports the history presupposed by the writings of the New Testament." Eusebius, The History of the Church, ed. Andrew Louth, page 382. Indeed, Eusebius himself acknowledged that Josephus' writings were important to his own. "Since we have referred to this writer, it may be proper also to notice Josephus himself, who has contributed so much to the history at hand . . . ." Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History, Trns. Isaac Boyle, page 96.
The influence of his sources – including Josephus – on Eusebius was greater than might otherwise be supposed because he is known for his lack of creativity and a writing style borrowed from the "cut & paste" school of history. As noted by Dr. Louth:
More important though, is to notice what kind of material Eusebius inserts into his historical framework. Here he deserts classical precedent and remains essentially a chronicler (or an archivist). Whereas a classical historian told a story, and made up details such as a general's address to his troops on the basis of plausibility (and the historian's view of the character of the individuals involved and the policy they were pursuing), Eusebius hardly ever makes anything up. He quotes and summarizes. In Book 2 and Book 3 it is mainly Josephus, the Great Jewish historian, whose account (mainly from the Jewish War) Eusebius pillages for the first century.
Louth, op. cit., at xx.
Accordingly, the heavy reliance of Eusebius on Josephus may explain the similarities in language between Eusebius and the TF. At the very least, Olson's theory should allow for this fact. It does not.
Finally, as will be discussed in more detail below, it is over simplistic to simply note that “it is possible to say that every word in the Testimonium is also found elsewhere in Eusebius.” Eusebius was a prolific writer. Eusebius’ Church History, The Proof of the Gospel, and the Preparation for the Gospel, are massive works, with several other significant writings, such as the Martyrs of Palestine, Against Hierocles, the Life of Constantine, and the Theophany. Given the extent of Eusebius’ literary efforts, the fact that Eusebius wrote in the same language as Josephus, that Josephus’ own substantial writings greatly influenced Eusebius, it should come as no surprise that “every word” in the Testimonium can also be found in something Eusebius wrote. For Olson to offer a convincing argument based on common usage, more than just an occasion of use must be offered.
B.     The Relevant Phrases
In this section I address the TF phrases that Olson identifies as being unique to Eusebius and unique to Josephus and discuss the weight of such usage.
1. The terms unique to Eusebius are:
a. PARADOXWN ERGWN POIHTHS ("maker of miraculous works")
This is less probative than Olson suggests because although it contains a non-Josephan word, it also contains a Josephan phrase. As to the former, the term for "doer" here has been claimed not to be Josephan. But Professor Meier is aware of this argument and offers an explanation:
It is used elsewhere in Josephus only in the sense of "poet"; but Josephus . . . has a fondness for resolving a simple verb into two words: a noun expressing the agent and the auxiliary verb (e.g., krites einai for the simple krinein). Moreover, Josephus uses such cognates as poieteos, 'that which is to be done," poiesis, "doing, causing" (as well as "poetry, poem"), and poietikos, 'that which causes something" (as well as "poetic").
Meier, op. cit., page 81. Furthermore, it is not all that unusual for ancient Greek authors to use a word in an unusual way not in accord with their normal tendencies.
The undisputed epistles of Paul have their share not only of hapex legomena but also of Pauline words and phrases that Paul uses in a given passage with an unusual meaning or construction. Especially since Josephus is dealing in the Testimonium with peculiar material, drawn perhaps from a special source, we need not be surprised if his usage differs slightly at a few points.
Meier,op. cit., page 83 (emphasis added).
One the other hand, the term "startling/incredible deeds" (paradoxa) is Josephan: "Josephus often speaks of “marvels” and “incredible” things in the same breath, as the Testimonium does. He even uses the phrase rendered “incredible deeds” in two other places, once of the prophet Elisha (Ant. 9.182; cf. 12.63)." Mason, op. cit., page 171. Yet this term is nowhere used in the New Testament to describe Jesus' miracles. Nor is it used in early Christian literature prior to its citation by Eusebius. In sum, given that the phrase “startling/incredible deeds” is typical of Josephus, that Eusebius is undisputedly indebted to Josephus, that the New Testament and earlier Christians failed to use this term, the possibility that Eusebius’ use of this term elsewhere is merely a coincidence or inspired by the Testimonium itself cannot be ruled out and may be the more likely explanation.
b. EIS ETI TE NUN ("not extinct to this day")
Although Olson claims that this exact phrase is not found in Josephus’ writings, Twelftree notes that “it is in the style of Josephus, cf. J.W. 2:494; Ant. 8:277; 15:80; 18:58.” Twelftree, op. cit. page 306. The abrupt ending is something of a mystery, but could be an editorial deletion or some other corruption in the manuscript tradition. Such omissions are common in the Antiquities textual tradition. Citing a study by G.L. Richards in the Journal of Theological Studies (xliii, at 70, 1941), F.F. Bruce notes, "[i]t has also been pointed out that omission of words and short phrases is characteristic of the textual tradition of the Antiquities . . . ." The New Testament Documents, page 109.
c. TWN CRISTIANWN... TO FULON ("the tribe of Christians ")
Josephus in fact uses the phrase "tribe of" often to describe a variety of different groups. As R.T. France notes, "Josephus uses the word both for the Jewish 'race' and for other national or communal groups." The Evidence for Jesus, page 30. Josephus uses the term to refer to each of the tribes of Israel. He uses it to describe various Gentile nationalities and ethnicities, as well as the female gender (13.16.6). Josephus even uses the term to describe a swarm of locusts (2.14.4). Clearly, therefore, this phrase is typically Josephan. The only difference is the use of the term "Christian." But that is to be expected. Whereas Eusebius's writing focused on Christians, Josephus only had occasion to mention them here. Again, it seems the more likely explanation is that the Testimonium influenced Eusebius’ use of this phrase or the similarity is a coincidence.
2. The terms unique to Josephus are:
a. hHDONHi DECOMENWN ("receive with pleasure")
The fact that this uniquely Josephan phrase is in the Testimonium is strong evidence of the Testimonium’s authenticity. Not only is it found not found in Eusebius’s writing, but is part of the unique concentration of that phrase in the later books of Antiquities. The research of legendary Josephan scholar Thackeray reinforces this point:
In particular, Thackeray, the prince of Josephan scholars, who went so far in his study of Josephus' language as to compose a lexicon to Josephus for his own use so as to see how precisely each word is used in Josephus and whether there is evidence of shifts of style in various parts of his works due to his "assistants" or to other reasons, noted that the phrase 'such people as accept the truth gladly' is characteristic of the scribe in this part of the Antiquities, since the phrase appears eight times in books 17-19 (supposedly the work of the Thucydidean assistant) and nowhere else in Josephus.
Louis H. Feldman, "The Testimonium Flavianum, The State of the Question," Christological Perspectives, Eds. Robert F. Berkley and Sarah Edwards, page 188.
Additionally, it is unlikely that a Christian would have used such a phrase to describe his own movement. As Professor Feldman notes, "Christian interpolation is unlikely, since the word in the New Testament and in early Christian writings had a pejorative connotation." Ibid.
b. PRWTWN ANDRWN ("principal men")
Since this phrase is so common in Josephus, the fact that it was not used by Eusebius elsewhere is very significant. Again, it is striking and forceful evidence of Josephan authorship.
3. The Use of the Name "Jesus"
The simple use of the name “Jesus” is more likely to come from Christians were much more likely to link Jesus with his title, such as “Jesus Christ” or “Christ Jesus,” or even simply use his title as a name, “Christ.” In all of Ignatius' seven authentic letters he refers to "Jesus Christ" 112 times, "Christ Jesus" 12 times, "Christ" 4 times, and "Jesus" only 3 times. Robert Grant, The Apostolic Fathers, Vol. 4, page 7. Although I have not done an exhaustive review of Eusebius’ writings on this point, it seems that he too was much more likely to use the fuller terms to describe Jesus. In the first book of his Proof of the Gospel, Eusebius refers to “Jesus Christ,” “Saviour Jesus,” or “Jesus the Son of God”, seven times. But nowhere in Book I does he simply refer to “Jesus.” Much the same is true of his first book of this Preparation of the Gospel, where he refers to “Jesus Christ” three times but never to simply, “Jesus.” In his second book of The History of Church, Eusebius refers to “Christ” over ten times, but never to “Jesus” (except when citing other sources). Thus the unelaborated use of the name “Jesus,” seems more likely to come from the hand of Josephus.
4. The Significance of Typically Josephan Language
It is also important to consider how much of the Testimonium is typically, though perhaps not uniquely, Josephan. A passage in Josephus’ writings that sounds like Josephus should not be viewed with suspicion because someone else also uses the same phrase. This is especially true here, where Eusebius was a prolific writer and he extensively used Josephus’s writings as source material. Thus, the parts of the Testimonium that are typical of Josephan usage though also found in Eusebius’ writings should count towards Josephan authorship. I review typically Josephus parts of the Testimonium in this section.
The very first line of the Testimonium is demonstrably Josephan. It begins, “Now about this time there appeared Jesus . . . .” As noted by Steve Mason, "[t]he opening phrase 'about this time' is characteristic of his language in this part of Antiquities, where he is weaving together distinct episodes into a coherent narrative (cf. Ant. 17.19; 18.39, 65, 80; 19.278)." Steven Mason, Josephus and the New Testament, page 171. So not only is this kind of introduction typically Josephan, just as with the phrase “receive with pleasure” it fits in with a cluster of such usages in this part of Antiquities.
Furthermore, the phrase "wise man" is characteristically Josephan. And its context and how Josephus uses it elsewhere are especially matched to its use in the Testimonium:
He uses the designation “wise man” sparingly, but as a term of considerable praise. King Solomon was such a wise man (Ant. 8.53), and so was Daniel (10.237). Interestingly, both men had what we might call occult powers—abilities to perform cures and interpret dreams—of the sort that Jesus is credited with in the Testimonium.
Mason, op. cit., page 171. Leading Jewish scholar Geza Vermes agrees that there is a connection between the use of the term for Daniel and Solomon and the Testimonium's description of Jesus:
Of these, Solomon and Daniel are the most obvious parallels to Jesus qua wise men. Both were celebrated as masters of wisdom. Hence it is not surprising to find the epithet 'teacher' follows closely the phrases under consideration in the Testimonium.
Geza Vermes, “The Jesus Notice of Josephus Re-Examined,” Journal of Jewish Studies, Spring 1987, page 3.
On a whole, there are several phrases that although also used by Eusebius in some context, appear to be typically Josephan. Such passages support partial Josephan authorship rather than Eusebius forgery. Two other phrases from the Testimonium are uniquely Josephan and not found in Eusebius. Of the three phrases Olson argues are found in Eusebius but not Josephus, one of them is an expected derivative of a typically Josephan phrase. Finally, the use of the simply name, “Jesus,” is more likely to be from Josephus than Eusebius. All told, the linguistic evidence weighs decidedly against the theory that Eusebius is the author of the entire passage.
IV.     TF Manuscript Traditions Independent of Eusebius
Another problem with the theory that Eusebius invented the Testimonium is that were Greek manuscripts of Josephus’ Antiquities which contained the Testimonium but were independent of Eusebius. The most notable difference between these manuscripts and the one used by Eusebius is the description of Jesus. All of the extant Greek manuscripts and all three of Eusebius' references to the Testimonium state that Jesus “was the Christ." However, there is persuasive evidence of Antiquities manuscript traditions that did not contain the phrase "he was the Christ." Rather, these traditions either made no association with being a Christ or merely stated that "he was called the Christ.”
De Excidio Hierosolymitano, also known as “Psuedo-Hegesippus” recounts the Testimonium but never notes that Josephus called Jesus "the Chris." The omission is significant because the author was used the Testimonium as a polemic for the divinity of Christ.
Writing around 30 years after Eusebius, Psuedo-Hegeippus quoted the Testimonium early in the fourth century. Psuedo-Hegesippus itself was cited early in the fifth century and the oldest relevant manuscript dates from the sixth century. Here is the text:
The Jews themselves also bear witness to Christ, as appears by Josephus, the writer of their history, who says thus: 'That there was at that time a wise man, if (says he) it be lawful to have him called a man, a doer of wonderful works, who appeared to his disciples after the third day from his death, alive again according to the writings of the prophets, who foretold these and innumerable other miraculous events concerning him: from whom began the congregation of Christians, yet he was no believer, because of the hardness of his heart and his prejudicial intention. However, it was no prejudice to the truth that he was not a believer, but this adds more weight to his testimony, that while he was an unbeliever and unwilling, this should be true, he has not denied it to be so.
Pseudo-Hegesippus has cited every positive statement about Jesus in support of in his argument that Jesus was divine, except one. He notes that Jesus was wise, recites the "if it is lawful" reference, notes that he did "wonderful works," and records that he "appeared to his disciples" and that he did many other miraculous things. However, Pseudo-Hegesippus fails to note that Josephus claimed that Jesus was the Christ. In fact, he understands that Josephus was an unbeliever. It is very unlikely that Ambrose would have ignored such a strong attestation of Jesus -- if it existed in his manuscript. It seems, therefore, that his manuscript did not contain that phrase, though it is possible that he would leave out a statement that "he was called the Christ" because it implied disbelief.
Further evidence that Psuedo-Hegesippus is independent of Eusebius and the manuscript tradition he issued is provided by Alice Whealey:
Other than Josephus, its sources are all Latin or, like the Bible, available in Latin translation. For example, it used the Latin rather than Greek version of 1 Maccabees. Eusebius’ works were not yet available in Latin when it was written in the late fourth century.
Alice Whealey, Josephus on Jesus, page 31.
Finally, Pseudo-Hegesippus follows the order of events reported by Josephus rather than the order preserved by Eusebius; first discussing the Testimonium and then the passage about John the Baptist. Eusebius, in Church History, discusses Josephus’ reference to John the Baptist first and then the Testimonium. Moreover, Pseudo-Hegesippus includes Josephus’ discussion of Paulina, ignored by early Christian writers, but which immediately follows the Testimonium in Antiquities. Accordingly, the evidence strongly suggests that Pseudo-Hegesippus relied on a manuscript of Antiquities that was independent of the one used by Eusebius.
Origen does not recount the Testimonium, though he is aware of the passage referring to James and states that Josephus did not believe Jesus was the Messiah. But Andrew Criddle, guest-blogging at Hypotyposeis, raised the possibility that Origen’s Commentary on Matthew reveals his awareness of the Testimonium. The possibility was first raised by renowned Josephan scholar William Whiston in an Appendix to his Complete Works of Josephus.
At Book 10, Chapter 17, Origen comments on Matthew 13:54-56:
He came to His hometown and began teaching them in their synagogue, so that they were astonished, and said, "Where did this man get this wisdom and these miraculous powers? Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not His mother called Mary, and His brothers, James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And His sisters, are they not all with us? Where then did this man get all these things?
After discussing theories about Jesus’ brothers, Origen quotes refers to Josephus and quotes his reference to “James, the brother of Jesus.” Right after quoting Josephus, Origen states:
and perhaps by these things is indicated a new doubt concerning Him, that Jesus was not a man but something diviner, inasmuch as He was, as they supposed, the son of Joseph and Mary, and the brother of four, and of the others--the women--as well, and yet had nothing like to any one of His kindred, and had not from education and teaching come to such a height of wisdom and power.
The reference to Jesus not being a man but something diviner brings to mind the Testimonium’s statement, “if it be lawful to call him a man.” Making a literary contact more likely is that Origen has already explicitly quoted Josephus and that it is here that Origen remarks that Josephus did not believe Jesus was the Christ. The latter statement has been taken by many to indicate that Origen knew of a version of the Testimonium that expressed skepticism of Jesus’ messianic claim. Thus, as noted by Criddle, “It does in fact seem plausible IMO that Origen, expounding a Gospel passage about the implications for his identity of Jesus' words and works, is alluding to the passage in the TF where the words and works of Jesus make it questionable whether he should be called a man.”
Jerome -- writing at the end of the Fourth Century -- also cites to the Testimonium and notes that Josephus merely stated that Jesus was "called the Christ."
Josephus in the 18th book of Antiquities, most expressly acknowledges that Christ was slain by the Pharisees, on account of the greatness of his miracles.... Now he wrote concerning our Lord after this manner: "At the same time there was Jesus, a wise man, if yet it be lawful to call him a man; for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of those who willingly receive the truth. He had many followers both of the Jews and of the Gentiles -- he was believed to be the Christ. And when by the envy of our principal men, Pilate had condemned him to the cross, yet notwithstanding those who had loved him at first persevered, for he appeared to them alive on the third day, as the oracles of the prophets had foretold many of these and other wonderful things concerning him: and the sect of Christians so named from him are not extinct to this day.
As with Pseudo-Hegesippus and perhaps Origen, Jerome's manuscript was different than the one used by Eusebius in that it lacked the definitive statement "he was the Christ." Louis Freedman notes:
An examination of the citation shows that though he is clearly quoting, Jerome says that Jesus credebatur esse Christus. Hence his text said not that Jesus was the Messiah, but that he was believed to be a Messiah. This would fit the statement, noted above of Origen, to whom Jerome was so indebted, that Josephus did not admit Jesus to be the Christ.
Feldman, op. cit., page 184.
Whealey, however, concludes that Jerome was dependent on Eusebius because he elsewhere is indebted to him and that Jerome “is known to have followed others’ citation of Josephus rather than checking Josephus first-hand.” Whealey, op. cit., page 30. But Whealey’s conclusion rests on the notion that Eusebius’ reference to “he was the Christ” is not original to Eusebius, but is itself the result of later interpolation. In her opinion, Eusebius originally cited a version of the Testimonium that likewise stated Jesus was “called the Christ” and that later scribes altered it to state, “he was the Christ.”
My problem with this reconstruction is that may be unduly speculative. Not only does this theory require that scribes altered all of the manuscripts of all three of Eusebius’ references to the Testimonium, but that scribes also successfully altered all of the surviving manuscripts of Josephus’ antiquities as well. Although the manuscript evidence for Eusebius’ writings and Josephus’ Antiquities are limited, it is odd that no trace of such alterations survived. In any event, even if the references to Jesus being the “so-called Christ” are dependent on Eusebius’s version of the Testimonium, they are still problematic for Olson’s theory. Why would Eusebius go through the trouble of fabricating the Testimonium and then express doubt as to Jesus’ messianic status? As discussed more fully below, this would not fit into Olson’s reconstructed apologetic purpose of Eusebius. Thus, even if Whealey is correct and Jerome does not refer to a Testimonium tradition independent of Josephus, it remains unlikely that Eusebius fabricated the entire Testimonium.
In any event, that Jerome sometimes did not consult Josephus when quoting him does not mean that he had never reviewed the Testimonium in the manuscript of Antiquities or learned of its contents from another source. So, although the question of Jerome’s independence is less clear than that of Pseudo-Hegesippus, it is still possible that he wrote independently of Eusebius.
D.     Greek Sources
Theodoret was a Christian author of the fifth century who stated, in his Commentary on Daniel, that Josephus did not believe that Jesus was the messiah. Obviously, such a statement does not square with Eusebius’ (received) quotes of the Testimonium stating that Jesus was the Christ. Moreover, as noted by Whealey, Theodoret demonstrates knowledge of Antiquities independent of Eusebius. Since he unlikely could have made that statement based on Eusebius’ references to the Testimonium, he likely knew of a version of the Testimonium that contained a more dubious statement about Jesus’ messianic status. As discussed above, Whealey thinks it is possible that such a version was found in Eusebius’ original manuscripts that were only later altered. I think it more likely that Theodoret knew the truth from the horse’s mouth.
Isidore was another Christian writer from the fifth century. He was well acquainted with Antiquities but apparently not with Eusebius, as he nowhere quotes the latter. Whealey, op. cit. page 37. While indicting Jews for their disbelief, Isidore cites the section of the Testimonium which states that Jesus was a “teacher of those who receive the truth with pleasure.” He lauds Josephus while doing so, noting that he “considered it worthwhile to yield to the truth of matters.” Nevertheless, Isidore never mentions that Jospehus stated that Jesus was the Christ. Given his appreciation for Josephus’ truth-telling, it seems highly unlikely that Isidore would have overlooked such a helpful statement had it been present in the Antiquities’ manuscript to which he had access. The best explanation is that Isidore had access to a version of the Testimonium that was independent of Eusebius.
E.     Semitic Sources
There are two other Christian writers of interest. Both authors, however, wrote much later than the others we have discussed. First, in the mid-tenth century, there is Agapius, the Patriarch of Antioch. In his version of the Testimonium it states Jesus “was perhaps the Messiah.” Second, there is Michael the Syrian, writing in the late-twelfth century. His version of the Testimonium states that Jesus “was believed to be the Messiah.” According to Whealey, both authors did not derive their Testimonium versions directly from Antiquities but instead likely received it, indirectly, from Eusebius. Ibid. at 39. Although it appears true that these authors were more familiar with earlier parts of Antiquities than the latter (wherein the Testimonium is found), I remain unconvinced that the only possible source for their Testimonium. Obviously, if they are dependent on Eusebius, they do not stand as evidence against Olson’s theory, except to the extent they show that the original version of Eusebius’ Testimonium stated only that Jesus was thought to be the Christ – which would not fit into any credible apologetic purpose on the part of Eusebius. Yet it is possible, though not assured, that these are independent witnesses to an original version of the Testimonium independent of Eusebius.
In sum, it appears that the evidence for a manuscript tradition containing the Testimonium that is independent of the one used by Eusebius is strong. As a result, the manuscript traditions count heavily against the theory that Eusebius invented the Testimonium.
V.     Purported Apologetic Purposes
The crux of Olson's argument is that the Testimonium so perfectly fits Eusebius' apologetic purposes that it must have been his invention. After reviewing Olson's article, I reviewed Eusebius' Proof of the Gospel (Demonstratio Evangelica), Adversus Hieroclem, Church History (Historia Ecclesiastica), and Theophany. While Olson may offer some insights into what Eusebius' apologetic purposes were, he has inaccurately evaluated the importance and use (or non use) Eusebius makes of the Testimonium in furtherance of those purposes. In sum, Olson places much more value on -- and makes more creative use of -- the Testimonium than Eusebius did.
Olson spends much time discussing Adversus Hieroclem (AH), Eusebius' earliest relevant writing. Although I generally accept Olson's characterization of the nature of Eusebius' argument therein, it lends no support to Olson’s overall case. As even Olson admits, nowhere in AH does Eusebius cite, quote, refer, or allude to Josephus. Because of this obvious fact, Olson is forced to try and make the AH relevant to the actual references to the Testimonium in other Eusebian writings. This attempt is awkward, forced, and unpersuasive. The fact is that with one unimpressive exception (which actually works against Olson's argument), Eusebius never uses the Testimonium as Olson claims he does.
A.     Defending Jesus’ Miracles
Olson argues that Eusebius crafted the Testimonium in order to defend Jesus against charges that his miracles were a result of wizardry. Here is Olson’s argument:
At the end of chapter four and the beginning of chapter five of the third book of the Demonstratio Evangelica, Eusebius promises to refute those who the either deny that Jesus worked any miracles at all or that, if he did, it was by wizardry (GOHTIXA) and deception (D.E. 109). Near the end of chapter five, Eusebius produces the Testimonium, which encapsulates the arguments he has made in the chapter, or elsewhere in the book, and attributes them to Josephus.
Despite Olson's characterization, Eusebius never uses the Testimonium to rebut an accusation of wizardry against Jesus. Rather, the only language Eusebius ever highlights in the Testimonium is the language about Jesus winning over many of the Jews and Greeks. And the awkward way in which Eusebius tries to make the language fit his own argument suggests that Eusebius is making do with the material available rather than inventing the Testimonium to specifically fit his own arguments.
A recent scholar commenting on Olson's argument also noted the disconnect between Olson's characterization of how Eusebius uses the Testimonium with how the Testimonium is actually used in his writings:
Olson notes that the earliest citation of the TF appears in Eusebius' Demonstratio, in the context of a defence of Jesus as a genuine miracle worker against the charge that he was a wizard and deceiver (3.5.102 f.). With this context in mind, he argues that much of the TF can be seen as created to refute precisely this accusation. In this vein he places particular emphasis on the references in the TF to Jesus as a wise man, to the reception of his true message with pleasure, and to the stalwart persistence of the disciples' belief in him after his death. But Olson's observations in this regard are not powerful. While it is true that Eusebius' citation of the TF occurs in the context of an attempt to argue for the genuineness of Jesus' miracles, it is notable that what he chooses to emphasize from the TF are not the phrases which Olson seems to put so much store by. Rather Eusebius picks up on the TF's statement that Jesus attracted to himself many Jews and many Greeks to prove that 'he must evidently have had some extraordinary power beyond that of men.' In fact Eusebius appears to realize that such an assertion about Jesus is problematical, not least because it points to a reality which did not pertain either at the time Eusebius was writing or in Jesus' ministry. Hence he seeks to support the assertion by reference to the Acts of the Apostles and what was known about Christianity up to the outbreak of the Bar Kokhba revolt.
J. Carleton Paget, "Some Observations on Josephus and Christianity," Journal of Theological Studies, 52.2 (2001), page 562.
Paget's criticisms are on the mark. Frankly, when I finally obtained a copy of Proof of the Gospel, I was surprised at just how little use Eusebius makes of the Testimonium and how little it corresponds to Olson's characterizations. Here is another of Olson’s arguments:
"About this time arose Jesus, a wise man;" as we have seen, the "wise man" is for Eusebius the opposite of the GOHS, "wizard" or "deceiver." In_Adversus Hieroclem_ Eusebius argued that if he had to accept the supernatural feats attributed to Apollonius, he must regard him as a GOHS rather than a wise man (A.H. 5); here he has Josephus call Jesus a "wise man" and thus, implicitly, not a GOHS."
While Eusebius's primary concern in AH is with refuting the "wizard" accusation, he never uses the Testimonium to support his response. In fact, Eusebius makes no use of the Testimonium at all in AH. Indeed, nowhere in any of his writings does Eusebius refer to the Testimonium’s characterization of Jesus as a "wise man" to respond to accusations of wizardry.
I will recount here Eusebius' entire use of the Testimonium in Proof of the Gospel. Eusebius cites the Testimonium in a section designed to show that Jesus actually performed wondrous deeds -- not in a section designed to refute the idea that Jesus did those deeds by the use of wizardry and deception.
In a section styled, Against those that disbelieve the Account of Our Saviour's Miracles given by His Disciples:
And here they [the followers of Jesus] have set no false stamp on anything that is true in the incidents of shame and gloom, ought to be regarded as above suspicion in other accounts wherein they have attributed miracles to him. Their evidence then may be considered sufficient about our Saviour. And here it will not be inappropriate for me to make use of the evidence of the Hebrew Josephus as well, who in the eighteenth chapter of The Archeology of the Jews, in his record of the times of Pilate, mentions our Savior in these words: [text of TF deleted].
Proof of the Gospel, Bk. III, Ch. 6, 124.
Notably, Eusebius makes no further comment in the Proof of the Gospel about the Testimonium. He nowhere harkens back to the argument made in AH about Jesus being a wise man and a miracle worker. And even within the section on miracles, the only use Eusebius makes of the Testimonium is to point out that Jesus gained a large following. In other words, the focus of Eusebius' use of the Testimonium is Jesus' followers, not the Testimonium’s account of Jesus' miracles itself. And this falls into line with the preceding argument, which focused on how Jesus' followers recorded his deeds.
But even more problematic for Olson's characterization of Eusebius' use of the Testimonium to refute the accusation that Jesus performed miracles by wizardry is the fact that Eusebius only discusses that accusation in the Proof of the Gospel after quoting the Testimonium. Almost directly after Eusebius uses the TF to focus on how many people Jesus drew to himself, Eusebius explains that he will leave that point and go on to refute the accusation that Jesus was a wizard:
Such being my answer to the first division of the unbelievers, now let us address ourselves to the second body. This consists of those, who while they admit that Jesus worked miracles, say that it was by a species of sorcery that deceived those who looked on, like a magician or enchanter. He impressed them with wonder.
Proof of the Gospel, Bk. III, Ch. 6, 125(b).
Obviously, Eusebius never uses the TF in the way that Olson implies. Accordingly, the entire line of argument employing the AH and the idea of refuting charges of wizardry provided no incentive for Eusebius to invent the TF.
B.     Jesus’ Followers Not Deceivers
Olson also argues that Eusebius crafted the TF in order to show that Jesus' followers "were not deceivers":
“A teacher of men who revere the truth;" Eusebius wants to show that Jesus' disciples, like their master, were not deceivers. They were men who revere the truth.
Olson provides no reference or quotations demonstrating that Eusebius ever used the Testimonium for this purpose. Nor could he. Eusebius simply never uses the Testimonium to make this point. He only uses it to point out how many followers Jesus gathered.
C.     Winning Over Jews and Gentiles
Next, Olson claims that Eusebius invented the Testimonium so that he could show that Jesus won over many followers:
[A]nd he won over many of the Jewish and even many of the Greek [nation]." It is sometimes argued that a Christian author would have known that Jesus did not attract many gentile followers during his ministry, but this is contradicted by Eusebius' testimony. Elsewhere he reports of Jesus that "by teaching and miracles He revealed the powers of His Godhead to all equally whether Greeks or Jews" (D.E. 400). The paired opposition of Jews and Greeks is especially common in the first two books of the Demonstratio, where Eusebius claims, "Christianity is neither a form of Hellenism nor a form of Judaism" (D.E. 11). It is, in fact, the re-establishment of the religion of the patriarchs, who worshiped the one God but did not have the restrictions of the Mosaic law, and thus was "that third form of religion midway between Judaism and Hellenism" (D.E.: Ferrar 8, Migne 25a). The MEN. DE construction used in the Testimonium situates the "nation" founded by Jesus nicely between the two other religions.
Olson has hit upon the one use that Eusebius makes of the Testimonium in Proof of the Gospel. However, Eusebius' use of this part of the argument is -- at best -- awkward. The Testimonium clearly states that Jesus amassed many Greek and Jewish followers during his ministry, whereas Eusebius knows that is not the case. As Professor Robert Van Voorst puts it:
Anyone remotely familiar with the Gospel tradition knows that Jesus himself did not win over 'many Greeks' to his movement, even though "Greeks" here means Gentiles. While Jesus had a certain appeal to Gentiles, he certainly did not win them over in the same proportion as Jews, as the 'both ... and' construction and the repeated "many" suggest. This statement naively reads back the situation of Christianity at the end of the first century, when Christianity had many adherents from both Jewish and Gentile backgrounds. Once again, a Christian copyist probably would not make such a mistake.
Van Voorst, Jesus Outside the Gospels, page 90.
The Gospels are clear that Jesus' ministry was to the Jews, and it was his followers that were charged with taking the Gospel to the Greeks. And contrary to Olson’s characterization, Eusebius know this well. In fact, Eusebius relies on the Acts of the Apostles to show that it was Jesus' followers who actually attracted Greeks to Christianity. As Paget asks, "if Eusebius was the forger of the TF why would he have chosen not to emphasize those parts of the passage which Olson highlights as central to his concerns, emphasizing instead a part of the TF which appeared historically problematic?" Paget, op. cit., page 562.
C.     He Was the Christ
According to Olson:
"He was the Christ;" few or no modern scholars accept that this is Josephan as it stands. This is almost universally admitted to be an interpolation by a Christian writer, although it is not necessarily Eusebian.
Obviously, since supporters of partial authenticity agree that this passage is spurious, this section does not help Olson's argument. And, in fact, it poses a problem for it. If Eusebius invented this overt attestation of Josephus' belief in Jesus as the Christ, why does he take no advantage of it at all? Nowhere does Eusebius claim that Josephus, a prominent Jew, believed Jesus was the Messiah. Again, therefore, Eusebius misses an opportunity to make any use whatsoever of his literary creation. But the problem remains if the original passage – as discussed above – stated that Jesus was the “so-called Christ.” Olson offers no explanation for why Eusebius would invent the Testimonium only to call into question his overriding apologetic purpose. So whether Eusebius’ version of the Testimonium said that “He was the Christ” or something akin to “He was the so-called Christ,” it is unlikely that Eusebius himself is the origin for the passage.
E.     Jesus’ Faithful Followers
Olson argues that Eusebius crafted the TF in order to show that Jesus' followers were faithful to him:
"and although Pilate, upon an accusation from our rulers, condemned him to the cross, nevertheless those who had loved him earlier did not stop;" following a suggestion in Meier, I have translated the genitive absolute as a concessive, rather than a temporal, clause (Meier, 78, n. 35). Meier does not go on to explain why the author of this passage should choose to highlight Jesus' followers in the main clause and relegate Jesus' crucifixion to a subordinate position. The mention of the crucifixion in this sentence establishes under what conditions Jesus' followers did not abandon him. This is Eusebius' central argument in D.E. 3.5. Eusebius' opponents were not denying that Jesus was crucified by the Roman and Jewish authorities; this was probably a main part of their argument that Jesus was a GOHS. Eusebius, however, cleverly inverts this argument. If Jesus had been a deceiver, and his followers had been deceivers, would not self-interest have compelled them to abandon his teachings after they had witnessed the manner of his death at the hands of the authorities? The fact that they did not abandon Jesus after witnessing the punishments he had brought upon himself can only mean that the disciples had recognized some greater than normal virtue in their teacher. This argument is developed at great length in D.E. 3.5, but I shall quote only a part of it here, "Perhaps you will say that the rest were wizards no less than their guide. Yes - but surely they had all seen the end of their teacher, and the death to which He came. Why then after seeing his miserable end did they stand their ground?" (D.E. 111)."
As noted above, Eusebius never actually makes use of the Testimonium to defend the nature of Jesus’ miracle working. As noted above, it is only after Eusebius uses the Testimonium and moves on to another topic that he brings forth his arguments against the idea that Jesus was a wizard or deceiver: "Such being my answer to the first division of the unbelievers, now let us address ourselves to the second body. This consists of those, who while they admit that Jesus worked miracles, say that it was by a species of sorcery that deceived those who looked on, like a magician or enchanter." Eusebius never looks back. That is, he never once again refers to the Testimonium and therefore never uses it to refute this accusation against Jesus. Once again, Olson’s characterization of Eusebius’ use of Josephus is off the mark.
F.     Prophecy Fulfilled
Olson argues that Eusebius crafted the Testimonium in order to show that Jesus fulfilled Jewish prophecy:
Again we see that Olson has offered no reference to the Proof of the Gospel to show how Eusebius uses the Testimonium to support his argument about prophecy. And again it is because he cannot do so. Eusebius never refers or alludes to the Testimonium to support this argument. In fact, the Testimonium appears in a completely different section of the Proof of the Gospel than any arguments concerning prophecy. The argument from prophecy is made in Book II, but the Testimonium does not appear until Book III.
G.     Survived to “this Day”
Olson argues that Eusebius crafted the Testimonium in order to argue that Christianity's survival to the then present day indicated Jesus' legitimacy:
From that time to now the nation of Christians has not failed." In Adversus Hieroclem, Eusebius asks that those who consider Apollonius "a divine being and superior to a philosopher, in a word as one superhuman in his nature" to point out any of his effects that have lasted "to this day" (EISETI NUN; A.H. 7). Jesus according to Eusebius, has left such effects (EISETI KAI NUN; A.H. 4 x2). The word "Christians" is not found anywhere in Josephus, but "nation (FULON) of Christians" is found in Eusebius (H.E. 3.33.2, 3.33.3). In the first book of the Demonstratio, Eusebius argues that the Christians are the "nation" promised to Abraham (D.E.: Ferrar 10, Migne 25c). He uses the terms FULON, EQNOS, and LAOS, pretty much interchangeably, to describe Christianity.
Once again we have Olson referring back to an argument in the AH that Eusebius never links to the Testimonium and does not repeat in the Proof of the Gospel. In any event, why would Eusebius need to invent a source to support this argument? It was obvious to anyone that Christianity had survived to that day. Eusebius himself -- writing in the Fourth Century -- was evidence enough of that and by his time of Christianity had spread throughout the Roman empire -- which was much more authoritative a testament to Christianity's endurance than would have been a small notation from a First Century historian giving a small mention to Jesus and Christians.
H.     Missing Arguments
After learning just how little use Eusebius made of the Testimonium to support his apologetic purposes, it struck me how much Eusebius neglected to include in the Testimonium if he created it to support his arguments. Indeed, some of Eusebius' most important arguments against the charge of wizardry are nowhere to be found in the Testimonium.
Most notable of the Testimonium's omissions is its failure to mention Jesus' ministry as an exorcist. Eusebius' argues that Jesus and Christians were exorcists who drove demons away -- whereas wizardry requires the assistance of demons. In AH, Eusebius argues that Apollonius must have cooperated with demons to accomplish his "miracles," whereas Jesus and his followers are known for driving demons away (AH 4, Proof of the Gospel, Bk. III, Ch. 6 (132-33)), Eusebius notes that it is well-known that wizardry is accomplished by cooperating with demons. Ibid. Eusebius goes so far as to accuse Apollonius of using demons to accomplish his miracles). Yet, though the Gospels feature many stories of Jesus as an exorcist, nowhere is such a reputation attested in the Testimonium. Such an omission seems unthinkable if Eusebius created the Testimonium to prove that Jesus was not a wizard and his miracles were genuine.
Another unlikely omission is that although Eusebius argues about how important it was that Jesus and his followers would take no money for their works, the Testimonium nowhere mentions Jesus' teachings regarding helping the poor. Eusebius also notes, arguing against wizardry, that Jesus' followers were strictly forbidden to tolerate lustful thoughts or engage in sexual immorality, yet the Testimonium make no mention of this. Additionally, Eusebius focuses in on how Jesus never used incantations or incense and that his followers caused others to burn their witchcraft books and leave such a life behind, yet no mention of this is made in the Testimonium. The failure of the Testimonium to mention the content of Jesus' teachings -- especially the selling of worldly goods, the prohibition on accepting support, and commandments against lust -- is also inexplicable given their importance to his apologetic arguments against accusations of wizardry.
After reviewing Eusebius' writings, it is obvious that Olson’s' argument that "the Testimonium follows Eusebius' line of argument in the Demonstratio so closely that it is not only very unlikely that it could have been written by Josephus, but it is unlikely it could have been written by any other Christian, or even by Eusebius for another work" is demonstrably untrue. Eusebius makes little use at all of the Testimonium in Proof of the Gospel, and he continually overlooks and ignores the "line(s) of argument" that Olson thinks are so amazing. None of these links seem to have occurred to Eusebius. In conclusion, the "apologetic purposes" of Eusebius lend no support for Olson's argument and, instead, give strong reasons for doubting the idea that Eusebius was created the Testimonium. As Paget puts it, "his attempts to describe the motive for the forgery are unconvincing." Paget, op. cit., page 578.
An examination of three types of evidence reveals that Olson's theory is unpersuasive. First, the internal evidence reveals distinctly, and sometimes uniquely, Josephan language in parts of the Testimonium. Olson's attempt to isolate uniquely Eusebian language is unavailing and two out of three of the supposedly Eusebian phrases are arguably Josephan. Perhaps most important, Olson does out account for the fact that Eusebius was heavily dependent on the writings of Josephus. Second, Olson ignores the probable existence of Antiquities manuscripts independent of Eusebius which also contain the Testimonium. The existence of such manuscripts is fatal to his theory. Third, Olson's central argument about Eusebius' apologetic purpose is entirely unconvincing. Simply put, Eusebius never uses the Testimonium for the apologetics purposes that Olson ascribes to him and the Testimonium itself fails to include basic material about Jesus that would have advanced Eusebius’ apologetic purposes. In sum, Olson has failed to offer any serious reason to believe that Eusebius interpolated the Testimonium.
Eusebius, The History of the Church, ed. Andrew Louth, Penguin Books 1989
Feldman, Louis H., "The Testimonium Flavianum, The State of the Question," Christological Perspectives, eds. Robert F. Berkley and Sarah Edwards
France, R.T. The Evidence for Jesus Downer's Grove 1982.
Mason, Steven Josephus and the New Testament Hendrickson Publishers, 1992.
Paget, J. Carleton, "Some Observations on Josephus and Christianity," Journal of Theological Studies, 52.2 (2001)
Price, Christopher, “Did Josephus Refer to Jesus: A Thorough Review of the Testimonium Flavianum,” available online at http://www.bede.org.uk/Josephus.htm.
Geza Vermes, “The Jesus Notice of Josephus Re-Examined,” Journal of Jewish Studies, Spring 1987, page 3.
Whealey, Alice Josephus on Jesus, The Testimonium Flavianum Controversy from Late Antiquity to Modern Times Peter Lang Publishing, Inc. 2003.
©January 2007 Christopher Price
Questions or comments concerning this article or the use of this article should be directed to Christopher Price.