Metro State Atheists

Promoting Science, Reason, and Secular Values

“The Jesus Fraud” Blog Series-Con Argument #1 (Flavius Josephus)

The writings of Falvius Josephus have been touted by Christians and some non-Christians alike as being indisputable evidence that the Jesus of the New Testament, Jesus Christ of Nazareth, was a historical figure that actually existed.  The evidence for this view has be stated in a previous blog.  In this blog, I will critically examine this claim and show that not only is it not sufficient evidence to show that Jesus of Nazareth really existed but the evidence for the claim has been cherry picked and greatly flawed and thus isn’t all evidence for the existence of the historical, real Jesus of Nazareth.  The sentence that is cited as evidence is “the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James” (Source:  I was astonished by this, until I found the sentence in the paragraph in question.  In order to make an objective test, let us examine the paragraph in full, not it part, as the proponents have done.

“1. AND now Caesar, upon hearing the death of Festus, sent Albinus into Judea, as procurator. But the king deprived Joseph of the high priesthood, and bestowed the succession to that dignity on the son of Ananus, who was also himself called Ananus. Now the report goes that this eldest Ananus proved a most fortunate man; for he had five sons who had all performed the office of a high priest to God, and who had himself enjoyed that dignity a long time formerly, which had never happened to any other of our high priests. But this younger Ananus, who, as we have told you already, took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, (23) who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews, as we have already observed; when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority]. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king [Agrippa], desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified; nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a sanhedrim without his consent. (24) Whereupon Albinus complied with what they said, and wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest.”(Source: The Antiquities of the Jews, CH20, Paragraph 9:1)

One should take notice of something quite striking; the bolded text above doesn’t say “Jesus of Nazareth”.  It says “Jesus, the son of Damneus”.  Strictly deriving from context, there is nothing inconsistent in asserting that the James mentioned in the line in question, which is italicized and underlined in the text above, is the bother of the Jesus mentioned in the bolded line.  Context dictates this since they are not separated explicitly (ie Josephus didn’t say that Jesus, the son of Damneus is not the same as Jesus brother of James who they called Christ).  Also, there exists no break in the story such that anyone could assert they are different people in the context.  It is quite common for writers to be general about the mention of a name, in this case of Jesus in the italicized and underlined line, and then when the story begins to center around that aforementioned character, to be far more specific about the character, as in the bolded line.  Furthermore, Christ is Greek  means nothing more than “the anointed one”.  Literally, this means that one would be blessed with or covered in [holy] oil. (Sources:, Greek meaning of Christ)  It wouldn’t be out of the question, as far I know, that a “high priest” such as “Jesus, the son Damneus” was, would be called a Christ, an anointed one.  So from this line of reasoning, we have a different Jesus than the one of bible who is contemporary of Josephus who not only could very well had a brother named James.

However, this could also be where the Gospel writers got their Jesus of Nazareth who had a brother named James.  This proposition isn’t all all out of the realm of possibility in the slightest, for several reasons.

  • Around the time Josephus was writing, it has been well established that there was rampant Jewish Messiahism among some groups of Jews in modern-day Israel.
  • Although the earliest possible date for the first Gospel, of what would become the New Testament, is 70ad; the earliest, physical, dated Gospel of Mark dates, approximately, to around the year 90ad.  This would give ample time to the author of the Gospel of Mark to construct his Jesus character based on the high priest, Jesus, the son of Damneus.  The author of Mark obviously would have embellished the story, which is also not out of the question.  Further, as the above point indicates certain groups were actually looking for the Messiah and thus had a bias towards those who appeared to have the features of the Messiah.
  • The name of Jesus was quite common in the first century, and even before.  This can be demonstrated by the fact that there exists an apocryphal Old Testament book called “Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach” which is considered part of the “Deuterocanon”. (Source: Early Jewish Writings)  Although this writing isn’t in the canonized bible, Jewish or Christian, it does show that the name Jesus wasn’t a particularly unique name in the biblical scheme of things.

However, let us take an aside and begin by assuming that this passage does refer to Jesus Christ.  What does this mean exactly?  Suspending what has previously been said in this work and simply starting with the assumption that the passage does, in fact, specifically refer to Jesus Christ of Nazareth of the New Testament tradition, we can better understand the positive implications promoted by believers, namely, that this passage is definitive evidence Jesus Christ of Nazareth of the New Testament tradition was a real historical figure.  The problem with this idea is that it is not “definitive” evidence.  Such a claim is vast overstatement.  This is due to the fact that one cannot assert the following isn’t a real possibility: Josephus may very well have been writing about a healer, seer and “moral teacher” being talked about and believed in at the time her wrote the passage above.  Problem is we have the first Gospel, Mark, being written about the same time, nearly 40 years after the supposed death of Jesus Christ, in the year 70ad (as said before this is earliest date scholars can agree upon based solely on context and the fact they are disregarding the notion that Mark was writing prophecy; how could he since he was writing history?  Furthermore, how reliable is a 40 year old, unverified story about a traveling preacher, of which there were many for a good part of the first century. (Source: Michael Shermer, from his appearance on Penn & Teller: Bullshit)).  If this is the case, then, like the first paragraph of the first book of the Antiquities of the Jews (discussed later in this paragraph in more detail), Josephus could simply be writing the story down as if it really happened when he had no way of knowing whether or not it really did or not.  This doesn’t say much for Josephus’ credibility which, as far as I know, has gone unchallenged.  Although it is true that Josephus was a fairly accurate and reliable historian, it should be pointed out that in the first paragraph of the first book of the Antiquities of the Jews that Josephus copies, nearly verbatim, the first chapter of the book of Genesis of the Torah (and/or Old Testament).  This is no surprising given that Josephus was a devote Jew.  However, the Genesis is not in anyway history.  At best it’s mythology.  It should be further pointed out that if the passage in question is authentic and speaking about Jesus Christ of Nazareth as spoken about in the New Testament, it is the only one from the First Century.  All other “historical” references to the figure, known as Jesus Christ, come to us much later, the earliest of these being the beginning of the second century, coming only with more Gospels which were mostly copies of the Gospel of Mark, with minor changes and embellishments.

Further, if the both the passage of Josephus is authentic and the Gospel tradition are to be reliable (which they are most certainly not, given the historical inaccuracies in them, which will discussed more detail in the next blog)  then, Jesus (according to the aforementioned tradition) would have caused quite a stir in then Roman province of Judea; claiming to be or having it claimed of him that he was the King of the Jews (direct challenge of Roman authority which wasn’t tolerated), claiming to be or having it claimed of him to be the Son of (the Living) God (same issue as the last), and causing a social disturbance in the Temple (which the Romans watched closely as to be able to quell any uprising or rebellion of any kind, no matter how small).  Also, Josephus leaves a majority of the story out, suggesting that it wasn’t a large or important movement of the day, given that, as mentioned before, there were many such “messiahs” walking the Earth in the first century.  However, assuming it was a big deal and Jesus was a real threat to Roman authority, there were a great many Roman historians who had a opportunity to write about him (and the fact that the Romans prevailed by killing him).  The Roman historians had every reason to write about him, insofar as they were able to defeat him and his “movement”, which it should mentioned constituted of, at minimum, 12 other men, 11 excluding Judas later in the story, and about 2 women, Mary his mother and Mary Magdalene.  So, this “world-changing-messianic” movement, had at most a total 14 people (not including Jesus himself).  This wouldn’t have been  much of a threat and one Roman historians would have been very inclined to record since the Governor of Judea, a member of the overall Roman governance system, was successful in stopping him and his “movement”.  Yet, to date, not a single document, produced by these many Roman historians of the day, has been provided to me or anyone else in the study of this issue, that mentions Jesus Christ of Nazareth of the New Testament tradition.

Thus, from the evidence and analysis given above, it is not likely that Josephus was writing about Jesus Christ of Nazareth of the New Testament tradition.  Also, even if it was truly authentic, it is not clear that it wasn’t written in a contrived way (just hearsay, as what he wrote in book 1, paragraph 1) or that it is terribly important given he is the ONLY source, outside of the Gospel stories, to “prove” Jesus Christ existed.  The bar I have set for the evidence that would definitively prove  the existence of Jesus is no higher than it is to prove that other ancient figures existed.  For example, for Alexander the Great, we have many  records of him that are not Greek or Egyptian in origin, which lends a great deal of credibility to the claim that Alexander the Great existed; this is of course aside from the monuments that bore his name and the military victories he oversaw and orchestrated.  Further, if this one reference by Josephus is not speaking of Jesus Christ of Nazareth of the New Testament tradition, then the one solitary piece of evidence outside the Gospels that he existed is no longer valid and it further unlikely that the Jesus Christ of Nazareth of the New Testament tradition never existed at all.

Joel Guttormson


Metro State Atheists

Sources are listed inline with the material or linked inline.


January 19, 2009 Posted by | atheism, Bible, Center For Inquiry, Christianity, creationism, First Century, god, Jesus, Jesus Christ, Jesus is Lord, New Testament, News, Old Testament, philosophy, Politics, Pseudoscience, religion, Rome, science, The Holy Bible | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 16 Comments