The Testimonium Flavian, or Testimonium Flavianum, is a passage allegedly written by Flavius Josephus which is often used by Christians to support a historical Jesus. It appears in section 18.3.3 of Josephus' work Antiquities Of The Jews, and scolars disagree on whether the passage is genuine to Josephus or whether it is a late interpolation by a Christian redactor.
The passage as we have it reads:
"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."
There are three viewpoints taken by scholars on the passage:
- The passage, in its entirety, is genuine
- The passage is partly authentic but there have been Christian redactions
- The passage is a complete fabrication, possibly made by the fourth century Christian apologist Eusebius
Very few scholars take the first option. Passages such as "He was The Christ" would imply that Josephus was a Christian, when in fact he was Jewish.
There are, however, many defenders of the view that the passage is partly authentic. People who support partial authenticity restructure the passage to get rid of some of the more Christian elements, and come up with:
- "Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, for he was a doer of wonderful works. He drew over to him both many of the Jews and many of the Gentiles. 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. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day."
Arguments for (at least partial) authenticity
The typically Josephean language
Many of the phrases that are used in the Testimonium are typically Josephean.
Variations on the original suggest an authentic core
Present in all manuscripts
The Testimonium is present in all manuscripts that we have. However, this is not a strong argument for authenticity because the earliest manucripts we have do not date earlier than the ninth century, and for the Greek manuscripts, the earlist date is the 10th century. (Section 3--Arguments for authenticity)
Arguments against authenticity
Silence on the passage by church fathers
The passage is not quoted anywhere until we get to the fourth century. Origen, for example, never quotes it, despite the fact he wrote Contra Celsus in much detail, and relies on Josephus in other places in his work. As Earl Doherty writes:
"To give one specific example. In Book I, chapters 46, 67 and 68 of Contra Celsum, Origen reports that Celsus had disparaged the miracles of Jesus, accusing Jesus of having learned his wonder-working tricks from the Egyptians. Origen counters this by claiming that Jesus’ deeds were superior to anything contained in the Greek myths, and that Jesus performed his miracles in order to win people over to his commendable ethical teachings, something no Egyptian trickster could emulate. An appeal here to the declaration by Josephus, a respected Jewish historian, that Jesus had been a 'wise man' who performed 'wonderful works,' would have served to place Jesus and his miracles in the favorable light in which Origen is trying to cast them."
This is an important objection to the authenticity of the Testimonium, because a positive reference to Jesus is unlikely to be ignored.
The shortness of the passage
The passage is incredibly short for Josephus, and it is a short digression for a character Josephus thinks is a "wise man". The interpolation view explains this fact: scrolls in the ancient world were of limited size, and manuscripts were not written on more scrolls than the original, as this would have made the manuscript difficult for readers to consult.