I get lots of responses to these YouTube videos from atheists and skeptics. One of the most common objections to The Real Jesus concerns Myth #1: “The Historical Jesus is different from the Jesus of the Bible.” This briefly mentions the so-called Testimonium Flavianum, the testimony of Flavius Josephus, the first century Jewish historian who mentions Jesus Christ and Christianity a few times in his works.
The common reaction is, “This was a FORGERY!” or “Josephus was a FRAUD!” But most people criticizing the validity this passage – or the reliability of Josephus as a historian – don’t know too much about it. They are repeating the widely accepted conclusion that this passage on Jesus from Josephus’ Antiquities may have been interpolated due to two suspicious phrases that make Josephus sound like a Christian. The consensus is that a Christian scribe may have tried to elucidate Josephus for his Christian audience.
Contrary to what you might hear, the passage is judged authentic by most scholars once the perceived Christian additions are removed. And whether the passage has been altered greatly or with just a few minor words or phrases added, Josephus’ references to Jesus, James and John the Baptist are an authentic witness that validates first century Gospel stories.
I get a more than a little tired of answering this objection in the short 500 character responses allowed on YouTube. Skeptics want to believe the passage is a forgery and don’t want to go and do the research for themselves. So I wanted to briefly deal with this in a short video response. I decided to interview the well-known Internet apologist, J.P. Holding, and ask him some questions.
1. What is an interpolation?
2. Do most (or all) of ancient writings contain interpolations?
3. What is the difference between an interpolation and a forgery?
3. Are there any credible modern scholars who believe that the Josephus passage in question has not been interpolated?
4. Are there any who think it is an outright forgery?
5. What is the consensus of the textual critics on what the passage must have originally read like? How can we be certain of this?
6. What about the other passage containing the phrase “the brother of Jesus who was called Christ”?
And just for fun: I hear a lot of comments about why there are not records of the crucifixion of Jesus in “Roman records.” They think that somehow the argument from silence applies here, even though there is not one existing “crucifixion record” from Judea during the time of Jesus’ crucifixion. People don’t know how common an occurrence crucifixion was in the first century. People also don’t know that Josephus’ description of crucifixion closely matches that of the Gospels in recounting what happened with Jesus’ body.
7. How many times does Josephus describe or record crucifixions in his History? Does any of this information corroborate the record of Jesus body being taken from the cross and buried?
Nay, they proceeded to that degree of impiety, as to cast away their dead bodies without burial, although the Jews used to take so much care of the burial of men, that they took down those that were condemned and crucified, and buried them before the going down of the sun” (Josephus Wars 4.5).
Compare this with Gospel account about Joseph of Arimathea.
Now behold, there was a man named Joseph, a council member, a good and just man. He had not consented to their decision and deed. He was from Arimathea, a city of the Jews, who himself was also waiting for the kingdom of God. This man went to Pilate and asked for the body of Jesus. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen, and laid it in a tomb that was hewn out of the rock, where no one had ever lain before. That day was the Preparation, and the Sabbath drew near” (Luke 23:50-54).
My neighbor and Jesus Seminar scholar, John Dominic Crossan, thinks that Jesus’ body must have been eaten by dogs, despite this passage by Josephus and despite having no evidence or documents to back this up.
And on a related note:
8. What about the idea that Luke and Acts were written in the second century and that similar passages in Luke and Acts were based on Josephus (and not vice versa)?
These and other questions are answered in the Real Jesus DVD and you may see a preview of it on The Real Jesus Vlog at YouTube.