Monday, December 17, 2012

Challenged Again on Testimonium Flavianum

A What were the texts? 1) somewhere else : The Question of Contemporary Evidence, 2) No, true enough Acharya, Varro did not write about Jesus ..., 3) What a blooper, Dan Barker from Atheist League!, 4) 1st C Historians, Wikipedia Category, 5) HGL's F.B. writings : Critiques of Testimonium Flavianum, 6) Assorted retorts from yahoo boards and elsewhere : ... on "Contemporary Historians Not Mentioning Jesus" (Answering aekara1987), 7) Φιλολoγικά/Philologica : Challenged Again on Testimonium Flavianum,

B How were they transmitted? 1) somewhere else : Laci Green likes strawmen?, 2) Variation on the Scriptoria Game,

Before I touch on the subject, being Testimonium Flavianum and the conversation I had today about it, I will say a little about myself. I am a Christian. Assuming I would cease to be a Christian, I consider that possibility a great misfortune if it were to come to pass; and if Christianity were not the truth, it would still be unmanly to give in and admit it out of sheer cowardice or covetuousness. But even if out of rational argument I were to make such an admission - but I will not, nor will I forsake rationality for avoiding apostasy - the values it teaches are still what I consider the true values.

If I were for one moment to consider atheism as such true, I would still feel ashamed of the company of people like the atheists who have blotted out decency after decency, with the help and sometimes leadership of semi-atheist non-devout half apostate Christians and Jews. Especially in the XXth C. after WW-I and early XXIst. I would still take pleasure in living as well as I could after Christian rules and shame in failing therein. I would still think marriage is between one man and one woman, and has for purpose to multiply and fill up the Earth. I would feel sorrow at no longer being able to use my Christian apologetics as part of my livelihood. Because I think I have been doing something good therein, enough good to make certain people angry at me for it.

Now, the conversation was about like this, first between a Greek and another man:

Gk: - You say that "God has said" but WHO has he said it to?
Other man: (I could not hear)
Gk: WHOM to?
Other man: (I could not hear)
Gk: If you say that God has said it, to WHOM did he say it?
Other man at other table: Oh shut up, you are sick if you discuss that.

When I entered the corridor with five shower cabins, I met the Greek, we had previously talked to each other.

I: God spoke TO Moses and AS Jesus Christ TO the Apostles. And proved it by the miracles wrought by both.
Gk: If you take an example I have to agree the example is factual before you can use it.
I: Quite so, but if you do not agree, you must state why.
Gk: There is no documentation.
I: The Exodus is documentation by and about Moses, the Gospels about Jesus.
Gk: That is not documentation.
I: Then on what grounds do you accept that WW-I happened?
Gk: It is documented.
I: Well, so is Moses and Jesus in Exodus and Gospels.
Gk: That is no documentation. It is a fairy tale.
I: How come you do not say so about the documentation of WW-I?
Gk: It is History.
I: So is Exodus, so are the Gospels.
Gk: No, they are not in History.
I: What do you mean by "in history"?

Eventually it became clear he was asking for independent evidence. I cited nothing about Moses, though I could have cited Amenemhet III as a possible identification of the Pharao who ordered the boy children of Israel slain in the cradles. But the independent evidence for Gospel is more interesting:

Gk: There were lots of historians who would have wanted to write about such an extraordinary thing if it had been happening then and there.
I: No, I have studied the question ...
(I jotted down the blog url for somewhere else blog and asked him to search on it:

1st C. Historians (full title: "1st C. Historians, Wikipedia Category")
<- click this link)

... and there were not right after Jesus Christ's death and Resurrection any Roman Historians except the Gospels Writers.
Gk: Oh, ok, the Gospel Writers were Historians, but so were others.
I: No, right then and there there were only those.
(If he looked up my article I hope he knows I meant with the qualifications: a) interested in major contemporary events, b) whose writings have been preserved to our time: you had Historians who ceased writing about when Jesus started His public life, or who concentrated on ancient history or who concentrated on extraordinary curiosities but avoided anything important, or ... a shady but existing category: who wrote then, about important contemporary events, but whose writings are NOT PRESERVED).
Gk: Josèphe (Flavius Josephus, we were speaking French).
I: He is not contemporary. He is quite a bit later.

I am sorry I am not sure I haven't passed the occasion in which this was said:

Gk: Only the Christian writers say he made any miracles.
I: No. Talmudic writers say he was a sorcerer. Calling someone a magician is a kind of admission he made miracles.
Gk: But that is in the Gospels!
I: No, in the Talmud.

In any debate of whether Christ made the miracles or whether he existed, or whether Jews hate him, one will hear people deny the passages in the Talmud about for instance one "carpenter son of a carpenter" are about Jesus. But elsewhere secular historians of our times will very gladly use Talmudic material as a second look at Jesus. One exhibition in a museum in Sigtuna, about tattooing, includes a reference to Jesus according to Talmudic writers tattooed (in Egypt) with the Holy Name. Another Swedish Historian will make a reference to Judas Ischariot as, according to Talmud, a better magician than Jesus (I will spare you the details).

Back to Josephus. And first I admit I was probably wrong in saying Flavius* proves he has a LXX rather than a Masoretic text: the evidence I looked at is equal in both texts except for lifespans at the time of such and such's birth, and Flavius does not give that in the I book of Jewish Antiquities. Instead of trying to enumerate everything we said, I and the Greek about Josephus, I will try to enumerate correctly his points first:

  • Josephus nowhere speaks about Jesus.
  • We know he was a Jew and a Pharisee, so he cannot have spoken well or admiring about Jesus.
  • Testimonium Flavianum (yes, here it comes) is an interpolation:
    • Because of what we know about Josephus.
    • Because it is linguistically discrepant from the rest of his work. I am sorry to say the Greek man said the Testimonium was so much better Greek than the rest of Josephus who wrote a very vulgar and boorish Greek. I answered that I did not believe that.

Now, let us get to the last point. Either he made the point up on the spot just to have some answer, or he used it as reverse psychology, to make me verify that Josephus usually wrote a very good Greek and Testimonium does not live up to it. It is at least certain that it does not suddenly change dialect. It is not as if the Rest of Antiquitates were in Koiné and Testimonium in Doric or Aeolic. It is not as if "and he showed himself to them on the third day having life again" had "autoisin" instead of "autois", or as if any clause with a possible "an" in it has Homeric "ke" instead. Nor is it that either surroundings or itself stick up against the other as Cockney against Oxford English. Anyone claiming a purely linguistic discrepancy has a very hard case to prove because he has his subjective feelings about Greek style to go from.

But IV book of Maccabees has also been attributed to Josephus, and modern scholarship has tried to identify a linguistic or stylistic discrepancy between IV Maccabees on the one hand and Antiquitates and Bellum Iudaeicum on the other hand. So, they are better in Greek than Eusebius and St Jerome? Not all that likely.

The argument about some writer always writing in one style and another work written in another style being necessarily from another author is very weak. If you know anything about Social Linguistics, you will know that each person has parallel standards to choose from and each context has parallel standards which could theoretically be applied to it. There are not exactly parallel standards about every letter. But English at least has two standards about R after vowels (pronounced or silent) and two about ending -ing/-in' (when not a noun, at least), and the conjugation "I, we, you, they know, he, she, it knows" along with "I, we, ye, they know, thou knowest, he, she, it knoweth" along with the substandard "I, he, she, it, we, you, they knows". Not to mention pronouncing "letter" as "letter" or "ledder" or "le' 'er". One combination of such alternating standards can be typical of a writer or speaker (none of above English examples would show in writing except the two written standards of conjugation), but it is not as if he had sworn an oath never to use more than one of these standards in each case. When populations change standards it is because they for sometime waver between them. And if populations are able to waver between linguistic standards, it is because individuals are able to waver between them.

I know linguists have for instance found Apocalypse much less Greek than Gospel and the Letters of St John at least somewhat more purely Greek than the Gospel. But St John may have wavered in his mastery of Greek, like learning Greek better after writing the Apocalypse (the Gospel being written later than it according to traditional hagiographies), and also it is possible that what struck such and such a linguist as not quite good Greek in Apocalypse would not have stricken any false note back in Greek ears (especially of Jewish origin, though separated from the Jewish sect by Jamnia) when it was written. So, no, even if the Greek man I was talking to has said the reverse, that Josephus wrote a good Greek but the Testimonium Flavianum is bad Greek, even if he had said that, I would not have believed it was possible to ascertain linguistically. Except of course if it was so obvious that anyone excepting it back in Eusebius' time would have been pretty idiotic. And in that case, how come it was not detected?

When I look on wikipedia on the article "Josephus on Jesus", I find another type of linguistic argument. Jesus is a "doer of wonders" and Josephus uses "poietes" for "doer." Elsewhere in Josephus "poietes" always means "poet."

Accepted as a fact. I have not done that research, I cannot pretend there are other places in Josephus where "poietes" means "doer", those who have done the research have been cited in the wiki as saying there are no such places. But that does not mean I have to accept this as an argument. How many other places in Josephus is there anything at all that can be translated as "doer"?

If it comes to "wrongdoer" or "doer of evils" (both of which are plausible to find elsewhere in Josephus) he might have used either something from a verb like "adikein" or with a separate word meaning doer might have chosen something meaning "perpetrator" - something which might not have been appropriate for a phrase with an objective genitive meaning something good.

Now, I looked the passage up in Jewish Antiquities, Book 18.iii.3 or 18:63-64 in the Loeb edition. Editor in footnotes refers to a few theories, one of which is that the passage was originally much more antichristian and was tampered with and another of which is that he tried to win favour with the "rising Christian sect" (rejected as not plausible) and he also gives four arguments "against" Josephan authorship. Number 4 is linguistic or stylistic, and as we shall see it is not quite against.

(4) There are several stylistic peculiarities (e.g., των πρωτων ανδρων παρ' 'ημιν is not the way that Josephus refers to the Jews), though Thackeray and Richards and Shutt have noted a number of Josephan idioms, such as 'ηδoνη δεχεcθαι and τριτην εχων ημεραν.

I have already suggested a solution as to παραδoξωv εργωv πoιητηc in the singularity of the concept. As to how Josephus referred to the Jews, he is not attributing the initiative of the crucifixion to the Jews in general but to their foremost men. The other linguistic or stylistic peculiarities I do not have here. I may look them up in another book later and add them in a footnote type comment.

Let us take a look at the other three arguments against the Testimonium:

  • Josephus as a Pharisee could not have written that Jesus was the Messiah,
  • Origen (Contra Celsum i. 47 and Comment. in Matt. xiii. 55) states that Josephus did not believe in Jesus as the Christ,
  • The passage breaks the continuity of the narrative which tells of a series of riots.

Number 2 is no more than an argument for number 1 (which itself has Josephus' Pharisaism for other argument, I will call it 1bis), so let's first dispose of number 3 which is easy: although Josephus does not tell of the rioting scene before Pilate "We want Barabbas" and "Crucify" and "If you release him you are no friend of Caesar", he knew very well that the riot had taken place and therefore, despite his discretion about that part, he does not feel the passage stands out.

I am of course presupposing as an explanation what I am trying to prove among other things by the passage as a genuine one, namely that the Gospel is true. Some would consider this "circular reasoning", I do however distinguish "circular proof" from "circular explanation". A and B can presuppose each other if one presupposition is like explanation and the other like proof. It is only if A presupposes B as proof and B presupposes A as proof also, that nothing is proven. It is only if A presupposes B as explanation and B presupposes A as explanation also, that nothing is explained. But anyone wanting to use argument n°3 must either prove from other consideration that no rioting took place before the crucifixion, or prove that psychologically it is impossible to miss a discrepancy if one leaves out the rioting. To use this argument, you basically must prove that it is not just non factual but impossible that Josephus for instance a) wrote it with the rioting in it among other rioting records and then b) struck out the rioting part in order not to incriminate the mass of Jews in the crucifixion.

That leaves us with n° 1, testified acc. to n° 2 by Origen and acc. to n°1bis by his being a Pharisee.

I submit that both reasonings are inadequate. Origen may have been wrong. Pharisees may have wavered about Jesus Christ. Indeed, according to the Gospel, though they as a group are his enemies, saying he has "an unclean spirit" and "does not follow the traditions of the elders" there are individual exceptions, namely Nicodemus who comes to him in secret, Joseph of Arimathea who buries him, Gamaliel who asks for patience until God has given a sign about the endurancy of Christianity. And Josephus actually cites Christianity as still enduring:

"ειc ετι τε vυv τωv Xριcτιαvωv απo τoυδε ωvoμαcμεvov oυκ επελιπε τo φυλov"

"And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared."

After Jamnia council (80-90 A.D.) it becomes ritually illegal for Jews or Pharisees at least to make such considerations. Can we know for certain he was loyal to it?

I cited in the conversation with the Greek the fact that Maccabees IV is attributed to him and accepted by Romanian Orthodox Church as presumptive proof he converted to Christianity before he died. But even if he did not, even if IV Maccabees was not by him or parts of Christianity accepted a book by an adversary, that does not mean he cannot have asked himself questions and at one time - when he was writing Antiquities - been considering Christianity in a favourable light. Now, what do we know about his life?

Unlike what the Greek said in the conversation we had, we do not know that he would have written about his conversion if he had converted to Christianity. None of his works is an autobiography as far as I know and even if one were, we can not be sure he continued such a thing after becoming Christian. C. S. Lewis among other resolutions when he converted to Christian faith took a farewell from his diary writing. What the French call "nombrilisme" - staring at one's own bellybutton, figuratively speaking - is not very much thought of among Christians, generally.

Here is what the book cover of the Loeb edition tells us:

Josephus, Flavius, soldier, statesman and writer in Greek, was a Jew born at Jerusalem about A.D.37. A man of high descent, he early made himself learned in Jewish law and Greek literature [editorial comment: guess why I took it as a bad joke when told his usual Greek is below the level of Testimonium Flavianum!] and became a Pharisee. After pleading in Rome the cause of some Jewish priests he returned to Jerusalem and in A.D.66 tried to prevent revolt against Rome, managing for the Jews the affairs of Galilee. ...

Now, if he was in Galilee, that can have given him another perspective on Christianity than what he learned among Pharisees. And we do not even know for a fact he learned his ways among the worst opponents of Christianity.

... In the troubles which followed he made his peace with Vespasian. Present at the siege of Jerusalem by Titus, he received favours from these two as emperors and from Domitian and assumed their family name Flavius. ...

Now, if Domitian is the persecutor who sent St John to Patmos, and if he also favoured Flavius Josephus, THAT might be a kind of argument that he "could not have written it". But before making it, try to verify that the favours received from Domitian were not before Domitian became a persecutor, or that the Testimonium as such (with possibly the rest of Antiquities) is not from that time. And the mere fact he was among the imperial set excludes the notion of his narrowmindedly clinging only to what "his Pharisaic surrounding" thought of Christianity. The Flavian dynasty are not quite a Pharisaic surrounding. It may even - depending on modes of socialising - have been a surrounding that excluded him by then from Pharisaic Judaism. Remember how they refuse to enter the house of Pilate? Remember how one of their reproaches against Jesus Christ is that he frequented Romans?

... He died after A.D.97. He was a man who lost faith in his country. ...

Whereafter the cover presentation adds that the two chief works were History of the Jewish War with its prequel Jewish Antiquities. And that some minor works are not genuine (that may be that editor's opinion of IV Maccabees, for instance). Now, if he "lost faith in his country" (which may also be the editor's opinion and not true) he may have gained faith in someone or something else. Roman Empire? Jesus Christ? Who knows. He may even have written Testimonium Flavianum in an ironic mood. But even so he would hardly have recorded things that noone was claiming.

What we do know is that Testimonium Flavianum is in all of the Greek copies of the work.

We also know that the codices do have χριcτoc in the passage.

Richard and Shutt - obviously arguing from the supposition that "Josephus cannot have written it as such" - "emend" it to χριcτoc λεγoμεvoc - their theory is that Josephus showed his irony with the one word λεγoμεvoc and that a Christian editor, far from adding anything simply removed the word λεγoμεvoc with its offensive connotation of "so called".

But if we stick to the codices, to the manuscripts, we find no such irony in Josephus to remove. In that case, we may be looking at someone who considered becoming a Christian - or who avoided it for practical reasons even while finding reasons to believe. If he knew Domitian well, we can either suppose he avoided becoming a Christian because his patron persecuted such - or that his becoming Christian provoked in part the persecution. In the latter case - how come he was not martyred?

One possibility is friendship from the Emperor's side. Goering spared a Jewish family that he knew and when challenged told his subordinate "here it is I who decide who is Jew". My grandfather met them when he visited the Holy Land. Domitian can well have done the same for Josephus. And the reflections in IV Maccabees about the heroism of Eleazar in face of his friendly persecutors (who offered him basically the same thing) can well have been made for his regrets about accepting to be reckoned as "not Christian".

That Eisler (1931) reconstructs an originally very antichristian Testimonium (totally in accord with the Talmudic view of Jesus, see above), can be attributed to an itch in German professors to reconstruct the opposite of what we to all appearances have. Copernicus was partly Prussian and Wilamowitz - more directly relevant for textual criticism - is cited by Bowra as saying that the original Iliad had to be a pure Achilleid and the original Achilleid had to have Achilles successfully brutalising Hector's remnants. Some are still trying to "reconstruct" what earlier and lost stages of the Gospel redaction had to say about Jesus from Nazareth. Let nutballs be nutballs if they like, but do not insist I take the conclusions of such for "learning". Even if that were true, it would only confirm that Pharisees too accepted as fact that Jesus made mircales and never or seldom or not very successfully tried to say something like "we saw no miracles".

Hans-Georg Lundahl
Bpi, Georges Pompidou
St Gaël

*I might have been right about the rest though:

HGL's F.B. writings : Critiques of Testimonium Flavianum

Double update, 19-XII-2012:

After reading first chapters of first book of Antiquities, I know he followed LXX rather than a text close to Masoretic. He puts Flood at 2262 anno Mundi. Not at 1626 or whatever the Masoretic text has. I have also checked up his Vita, because he actually has one autobiography. Second to last paragraph tell of his peace with Vespasian. Last brings us up to Domitian, but does not tell any detail of these last years:

76. But when Titus had composed the troubles in Judea, and conjectured that the lands which I had in Judea would bring me no profit, because a garrison to guard the country was afterward to pitch there, he gave me another country in the plain. And when he was going away to Rome, he made choice of me to sail along with him, and paid me great respect: and when we were come to Rome, I had great care taken of me by Vespasian; for he gave me an apartment in his own house, which he lived in before he came to the empire. He also honored me with the privilege of a Roman citizen, and gave me an annual pension; and continued to respect me to the end of his life, without any abatement of his kindness to me; which very thing made me envied, and brought me into danger; for a certain Jew, whose name was Jonathan, who had raised a tumult in Cyrene, and had persuaded two thousand men of that country to join with him, was the occasion of their ruin. But when he was bound by the governor of that country, and sent to the emperor, he told him that I had sent him both weapons and money. However, he could not conceal his being a liar from Vespasian, who condemned him to die; according to which sentence he was put to death. Nay, after that, when those that envied my good fortune did frequently bring accusations against me, by God's providence I escaped them all. I also received from Vespasian no small quantity of land, as a free gift, in Judea; about which time I divorced my wife also, as not pleased with her behavior, though not till she had been the mother of three children, two of whom are dead, and one whom I named Hyrcanus, is alive. After this I married a wife who had lived at Crete, but a Jewess by birth: a woman she was of eminent parents, and such as were the most illustrious in all the country, and whose character was beyond that of most other women, as her future life did demonstrate. By her I had two sons; the elder's name was Justus, and the next Simonides, who was also named Agrippa. And these were the circumstances of my domestic affairs. However, the kindness of the emperor to me continued still the same; for when Vespasian was dead, Titus, who succeeded him in the government, kept up the same respect for me which I had from his father; and when I had frequent accusations laid against me, he would not believe them. And Domitian, who succeeded, still augmented his respects to me; for he punished those Jews that were my accusers, and gave command that a servant of mine, who was a eunuch, and my accuser, should be punished. He also made that country I had in Judea tax free, which is a mark of the greatest honor to him who hath it; nay, Domitia, the wife of Caesar, continued to do me kindnesses. And this is the account of the actions of my whole life; and let others judge of my character by them as they please. But to thee, O Epaphroditus, (27) thou most excellent of men! do I dedicate all this treatise of our Antiquities; and so, for the present, I here conclude the whole.

So, when he finished his autobiography, a) he has either completed Antiquities or an important part of it, b) Domitian may still have been alive, c) we do not therefore know from the Vita whether his possible Christian conversion occurred after writing the Vita, or whether he considered it but gave it up, or whether he had begun it but so far pushed it to the future. And we do not know with absolute certainty either whether the Antiquities he dedicated to Epaphoroditus with the Vita were all we have or only an early part of it. Book XVIII and following might have been taken on after this dedication./HGL

No comments: