I am currently reading your book “Reasons for Belief”. I’m not that far into yet but I wanted to point out that the passage that you use from Josephus to support the miracles of Jesus is considered to be a Christian interpolation and therefore not reliable. From what I understand, several passages from Josephus are suspect and I’m not sure if they can be used to prove the existence of Jesus.


You are correct that there is very good reason to believe that part of the famous little section in Josephus is an interpolation. I mention this in a footnote in the book.  Below is a little set of notes I used in a class I taught about this issue recently. I will complete my comments below this section.

2. Flavius Josephus (AD 38-100) Writing about AD 94 under Domitian. Concerning events he had indirect knowledge of. Josephus was a Pharisee. Jewish historian who was a turncoat, switching from the Jewish rebel side to Rome to serve under Nero and Vespasian. Josephus is a relatively reliable historian.

The “Testimonium Flavium” (Antiquities 18:3.3)

About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, [if indeed one ought to call him a man]. For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. [He was the Messiah.] When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. [On the third day he appeared to them restored to life], for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvelous things about him. And the tribe of Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.

Agapius, an Arab Christian in 9th century quotes what was probably the original, leaving out the parts in parenthesis. Note the passage reads grammatically well without the parts in parenthesis.

Note: Josephus also reports the martyrdom of “James, the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ” (Antiquities 20:20)


Now for my comments. Serious scholars of this section of the Antiquities of Josephus generally agree that Josephus mentioned Jesus in this section of his history, but that, unfortunately and unwisely, a Christian believer with a sincere motives interpolated extra phrases to amp up the passage, making it even more convincing. We look at this and cringe, of course. This interpolation had the effect of making the passage less, not more powerful because it made the entire passage by Josephus about Jesus to be suspect. Fortunately, a translation of Josephus into Arabic by a man named Agapius really helps us here. This translation was from several centuries later, showing that the Christian interpolater probably did his unfortunate deed several centuries after Josephus wrote. It contains the section by Josephus, but without the parts in brackets. If you look at the shortened version it makes complete sense and is gramatically superior than the one with the interpolated section. The most likely correct view is that Josephus wrote this section on Jesus but a zealous but unwise Christian added the parts in brackets, hoping to make it even more convincing. I have read many on this subject and for those without a strong agenda one way or another, this seems to be the consensus.

You say that “several passages from Josephus are suspect.” I believe that this is an exaggeration. What are these “several passages?” I believe you have read from someone who is biased against the reliability of Josephus. The fact is that you cannot trust the biased Christian interpreters or the biased anti-Christian interpreters about Josephus. The person saying that there are several suspect passages ought to supply his “several passages” but as far as I know, this is an exaggeration, intended to undercut the reliability of the bona fide mention by Josephus of Jesus.

It is also worth noting that, as far as I know, there is no evidence of tampering with the Antiquities passage about the death of “James, the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ.”

I hope this helps.

John Oakes

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