Questions on the Jewish historian Josephus Flavius


Q: Which surviving version of Josephus is closest to what he originally wrote?

A: It is probably the shorter version. First we will show the differences, then the evidence for three views, and then the conclusion of various scholars.

The Differences:

The Latin version has the underlined parts, and the tenth century Arabic version does not.

"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 then ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day." (Antiquities of the Jews 18.3.3, written about 93-94 A.D.) (Taken from Josephus : Complete Works. Kregel Publications 1960. This is a combination of the William Whiston translation (1867) and the Standard Edition published by Porter and Coates, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania)

Evidence for the Underlined Parts:

This text, with the underlined parts, is quoted in: Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History 1.11 (324 A.D.).

Hieronym. De Vir. Illustr (400 A.D.)

Isidorus Pelusiota book 4 letter 225.

Macarius in Actis Sanctorum tome 5 p.149 ap. Fabric. Joseph p.61 (unknown time)

Cedrenus. Compendium Historia p.196 (c.1060 A.D.)

Zonaras Annal. Tome 1 p.27 (c.1120 A.D.)

Gotfridus Viterbiensis Chron. P.366 e Vers. Rufini (c.1170 A.D.)

Platina de Vitis Pontificum (c.1480 A.D.)

The following did not quote Josephus but said that Josephus openly called Him the Christ.

Sozomen’s Ecclesiastical History book 1 chapter 1 (440 A.D.)

Cassiodorus in the Three-Part History e Sozomeno (510 A.D.)

Chronicles of Alexandria p.514,526,527,584,586 (640 A.D.)

Johan. Malela Chronicles book 10 (c.850 A.D.)

Photius Codex book 48 I Codex 238, Codex 33 (c.860 A.D.)

Glycus Annal. P.234 (c.1120 A.D.)

You can read the text of these in Josephus : Complete Works p.640-643.

Also, the style of the underline parts appears to match the rest.

Evidence Against the Underlined Parts:

The tenth century Arabic does not have this, and Latin version does. The Latin version says so much about Christ that one would wonder why Josephus was not a Christian. As a point of fact, the early Christian scholar Origen says that Josephus did not believe Jesus was the Messiah in Against Celsus 2.47; 2.13. F.F. Bruce in The New Testament Documents: Are They Reliable p.108 conjectures that Josephus might have in fact wrote this but that Josephus was being sarcastic. However, nothing in the Latin version betrays any sarcasm. In Josephus : Complete Works, the Appendix on p.644 says that Josephus is calling Jesus the Christ [Messiah] merely because He was one of a number of people who were presented as the Messiah, without implying that Josephus himself believed that.

Was Either One Accurate?

Pro: Tertullian is silent on Josephus, and Clement of Alexandria records what Josephus said about some years but nothing relating to Christ.

Con: So many sources mention at least the basic Arabic version that it would be improbable that all of these sources were totally wrong. Even sources such as Origen that state Josephus did not believe Jesus was the Messiah imply that Origen read in Josephus’ works where he mentioned Jesus. The quote from Origen (as given in the Appendix of Whiston’s translation is in part: "for Josephus testifies in the eighteenth book of his Jewish Antiquities, that John was the Baptist, and that he promised purification to those that were baptized. The same Josephus, also, although he did not believe in Jesus as Christ, when he was inquiring after the cause of the destruction of Jerusalem, and of the demolition of the temple, and ought to have said that their machinations against Jesus were the cause of those miseries coming on the people, because they had slain that Christ who was foretold by the prophets, he, though as it were unwillingly, and yet as one not remote from the truth, says, these miseries befell the Jews by way of revenge for James the Just, who was the brother of Jesus that was called Christ;"

Conclusion - The Arabic is More Accurate

New Testament scholar R. T France says the following at

"Virtually all scholars are agreed that the received text is a Christian rewriting, but most are prepared to accept that in the original text a brief account of Jesus, perhaps in a less complimentary vein, stood at this point /2/. Josephus' passing mention of 'Jesus, the so-called Messiah' in Antiquities XX.200 is hard to explain without some previous notice of this Jesus, especially since Josephus elsewhere makes no reference to Christianity, nor even uses the term Christos of any other figure. The different and less 'committed' version of the Testimonium preserved in a tenth-century Arabic quotation from Josephus/3/, while it is unlikely to represent the original text, does testify to the existence of an account of Jesus in Josephus' work underlying the Christianized text. But reconstruction of what Josephus wrote is necessarily speculative."

The Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics p.382 says "The genuineness of this passage has been questions by scholars from all areas of belief because it seems doubtful that a Jew who lived and worked outside the Christian context would have said such things about Jesus…. Despite these concerns, there are reasons in favor of accepting most of the text as genuine. … Even without portions that are likely Christian interpolations, this test is an extraordinary witness to the life, death, and influence of Jesus.


For more info see the Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics p.253-254, 382 and Dissertation I in the Appendix of the translation of Josephus by Whiston.