Jesus' Reliability in Early Jewish Text

In AD 70 the city of Jerusalem, the supreme court of the Sanhedrin, the Rabbinical writings and the dominion of the priestly families all fell. The Pharisees were the only party of Judaism that could carry out the much-needed reconstruction, and they did this on a strictly spiritual level excluding all political aspects.

Their leader was the son of Zakkai by name Yohanan, their central command was located at the southwest of Palestine, at Jamnia or Jabneh. In this new structure, their first president was Yohanan and they reconstituted the Sanhedrin as a preeminent court for the body of religious laws. In the New Testament, ‘’the tradition of the elders’’ was mentioned, this had been orally passed on from age to age, expanding with the years. The first move towards classifying this material was then laid down.

The second move was achieved by the great Rabbi Akiba, he was the first to organize it as a topic. His work was reviewed and preceded by his student Rabbi Meir upon his brave demise in AD 135 after the victory of Rome against Barkokhba's rebellion. The entire code of religious laws is known as the Mishnah, it was brought to completion by Rabbi Judah the then president of the Sanhedrin from 170 to 217 at about AD 200. In Palestine and Babylonia, a group of analysts chose the completed Mishnah as their object of study.

The Mishnah and Gemara of the Palestine schools combined are known as the Talmud (Jerusalem Talmud) and were completed at about AD 300. The Babylonian Talmud, which was much bigger, continued to develop for two centuries, then in the year 500, it was dissolved in writing.

The Mishnah is a law code, and the Talmud analyzes on this code, there are very few references to Christianity with the few written being very hostile, even at that it does show that they acknowledged the existence of Jesus. 

According to the earlier Rabbis whose opinions are recorded in these writings, Jesus of Nazareth was a transgressor in Israel; he rejected the words of the wise, rehearsed enchantments and led the people astray. He said he had not come to diminish the law but to add to it.

He had five disciples who healed sick people in his name. He was hung on the eve of Passover for misdirecting the people and for heresy. Some of his names directly or indirectly bear testimony to the Gospel.

The name Ben-Pantera (‘Son of Pantera’) alludes a Roman soldier called Panthera, although to Christians who believe in the virgin birth of the Lord the name refers to the corruption of the Greek parthenos (‘virgin’) but still, not all who referred to him by this name believed in his virgin birth. The name Ha-Taluy (‘The Hanged One’) refers to his passing.

Towards the end of the first century AD and the start of the second, there appears to have been a contention between some Jewish circles as to if some particular Christian works known as the Euangelion (Greek for Gospel) should be perceived as the canonical or not.  

According to Matthew the Euangelion was an Aramaic form of the Gospel, Matthew was the most loved Gospel of the Christians in Palestine and their surrounding territory.

Rabbi Yohanan and Rabbi Meir made unpleasant plays on words on the word Euangelion by re-arranging its vowels to peruse 'Awengillayon or 'Awongillayon, which means ‘Iniquity of the Margin’ or ‘Sin of the Writing tablet’.

These references prove that there was a link between the orthodox Pharisee and the Jewish Christians which is comprehensible if we recall that the New Testament of the early Palestinian church included trusting individuals from the Pharisaic party and a some Jews who were 'all devotees for the law' (Acts xv. 5, xxi. 20). 

After AD 70 the Gentile churches were progressively disposed to discount the Jewish Christians as sinful and sub-Christian, as such Jewish Christians supposedly had more contact with other Jews than with them.

There were reasons to believe that those exiled from the Jerusalem church who settled in Transjordan by the year 70 had basic reasoning with certain Essene gatherings and might have included the leftovers of the Qumran people.

Josephus was a Jewish historian born to a priestly family in AD 37. At nineteen years of age, he joined the Pharisaic party. In AD 63 he made a visit to Rome and took note of the might of the empires.

During the Jewish War in AD 66 he was made ruler of the Jewish forces in Galilee, he defended the stronghold of Jotapata against the Romans as best as he could, unfortunately, he had to escape with forty others to a cave, but it then seemed the cave was already taken so they all agreed to commit suicide, and by a stroke of luck he and one other survived. He further convinced his fellow survivor to surrender themselves to the Romans after which he would go on to win the heart of the then Roman commander Vespasian by predicting his promotion to the imperial rule and this actually came to pass in AD 69. 

During the attack on Jerusalem Josephus worked with the Roman general headquarters and even served in the Palestinian summon as a translator for Titus, Vespasian's son, and successor when he wanted to make an announcement to the ambushed tenants.

After the fall of the city and pounding of the insubordination, Josephus settled in Rome as a prisoner and client of the emperor and took on his family name, thus he was now known as Flavius Josephus. This did not go down well with his countrymen who looked at him as a double traitor, he did, however, write the history of their nation to get on their good side.

His historical writings incorporate a History of the Jewish War, from 170 BC to AD 73, first composed in Aramaic for the advantage of the Jews on the easternmost part of the Empire, and after that, it was written in Greek; an Autobiography, which he protects his behavior against other Jewish scholars like Justus of Tiberias, who in his record of the war had taken a lesser perspective of the role portrayed by Josephus; two books against Apion, where he shields country against the anti-Semitic calumnies (some of which sound very current) of Apion, an Alexandrian schoolmaster, and different authors; and twenty books of Antiquities of the Jews, which records the historical backdrop of his country from the earliest starting point of Genesis down to his own time.

Without his recorded works of the history of Palestine in the New Testament, we would have been very short on sources of information, so it is a good thing he survived the downfall of his nation. 

In the pages of Josephus, we meet numerous figures who are notable to us from the New Testament: the Roman heads Augustus, the magnificent family of the Herods, the legislative head of Syria; Pilate, Felix, and Festus, Tiberius, Claudius, and Nero; Quirinius, the high consecrated families-Annas, Caiaphas, Ananias, procurators of Judaea, the Pharisees and Sadducees; et cetera. ; Against the foundation in which Josephus gives we can read the New Testament with more prominent comprehension and intrigue.

In Acts v. 37, Gamaliel talks about Judas the Galilean who drove a rising in the days of the taxing, for this we go to the pages of Josephus, and locate the story of this rising both in his War (ii. 8) and in the Antiquities (xviii. 1). 

Josephus additionally recounts an impostor named Theudas (Ant. xx. 5.1) who showed up soon after AD 44; however, the Theudas specified by Gamaliel thrived before Judas the Galilean in AD 6, regardless Gamaliel's discourse was made between 30 to 33. It is pointless to assume that Luke executed a time misplacement by misunderstanding Josephus (the weight of proof is against Luke's having perused Josephus); Josephus tells that when Herod the Great passed at (4 BC) there were numerous such inconveniences, The starvation in the times of Claudius (Acts xi. 28) was additionally noted by Josephus.

If Luke tells us Christians were sent as helpers on a particular occasion to Jerusalem, Josephus tells us how some helpers brought food and aid to the same occasion in Jerusalem; for example, Luke spoke about the sudden death of Herod Agrippa I, in Acts xii. 19-23, this same occurrence was also in a way recorded by Josephus (Ant. xix. 8. 2) somewhat agreeing with Luke’s outline, although both events are independent of each other. 

This is a story written by Josephus: 'When Agrippa had ruled over all Judaea for three years, he went to Strato's Tower (now called the city of Caesarea) where he honoured Caesar by exhibiting shows which hosted provincial officials along with those promoted to recognized positions and inaugurating the shows as a festival for the emperor’s welfare”. 

“On the second day of the shows he put on a magnificent robe, made of silver and wonderful weaving; as the sun came out its rays shone on the robe and it glittered brightly which triggered fear and trembling at all on-lookers. Instantly his flatterers called out to him as a god with words which were not to his advantage, saying “Be propitious! If hitherto we have revered thee as a human being, yet henceforth we confess thee to be superior to mortal nature.”

‘’The lord did not reprimand them, but soon after he gazed up and saw an owl sitting on a rope over his head, and instantly remembered it as a messenger of evil as it was previously a messenger of good, a stroke of grief pierced his heart with severe tummy aches followed by violent attacks”.

“So he was conveyed rapidly into the royal residence, and word went out that he would soon die… He was in pains continuously for five days from the tummy ache before finally passing on at this time he was 54 and the seventh of his reign”.  

On the other hand according to Luke, the king's stroke in biblical language occurred because ‘the angel of the Lord smote him’. The parallels between the two records are self-evident, as is also the absence of collusion, it is worthy of that note to acknowledge that the Greek word for ‘angel’ according to Luke (Angelos) is also used for the word ‘messenger’ which was applied by Josephus in his own account. However, some early Christian Fathers appear to have thought so.

The Tyrians may well have exploited this celebration to be openly reconciled to the king. By and large, going by Eduard Meyer an impartial student of history we may total up the examination of the two records in his words: ‘’in outline, in data, and in the general conception, both accounts are in full agreement’’. By this, we are certain that Luke's record bears an assurance that it is as authentic as that of Josephus’.

 Furthermore, Josephus talks about James the sibling of our Lord and John the Baptist, recording the demise of each in a way plainly free of the New Testament, in such a way that it is obvious there is no interference of the Christian interpolation in either entry; In Ant. xviii. 5. 2 we read how Herod Antipas, the tetrarch of Galilee, was crushed in the fight by Aretas, lord of the Nabataean an Arabs, the father of Herod's first spouse, whom he left for Herodias.

Josephus goes on to say: ‘‘Now some of the Jews thought that Herod’s army had been destroyed by God and that it was a very just penalty to avenge John, surnamed the Baptist. For Herod had killed him, though he was a good man, who bade the Jews practice virtue, be just one to another and pious toward God, and come together in baptism.’’ 

He further explained that baptism was satisfactory to God as far as they did it not to obtain a reduction of specific sins if the spirit had been purified by righteousness, but rather for the purging of the body. He became fearful that his power of persuasion over men was becoming great and might lead to a rising because they gathered around him listening to his teaching as they were greatly moved by them. He figured it better to seized and killed than to apologize should he fall into trouble later on after a revolt had occurred.

 Due to Herod's suspicion, John was sent to Machaerus in chains and killed there. The Jews believe that this caused God to punish Herod by bringing disaster on his army. 

There are contrasts between this and the Gospel account: as per Mark I. 4, John ‘proclaimed a baptism of repentance for remission of sins’, while Josephus says that John's baptism was not for the reduction of sins; and the narrative of John's demise is given a political importance by Josephus, while in the Gospels it happened because of John's reprimand of Herod's marriage to Herodias.

It is possible Herod figured he could solve two problems at once by detaining John; and with respect to the discrepancy about the importance of John's baptism, we can trace the tradition to the New Testament, apart from being reordered earlier than that of Josephus (the Antiquities were published in AD 93), they give a more knowledgeable record of events from the religious-historical perspective. 

Josephus honestly appears to credit John with the baptismal precept of the Essenes, known to us as the Qumran texts. In any case, the general blueprint of the story in Josephus affirms the Gospel record. 

The Josephus entry was known to Origen (c. Promotion 230) and to Eusebius (c. AD 326). Later in the Antiquities (xx. 9. 1), Josephus portrays the oppressive demonstrations of the priest Ananus after the passing of the procurator Festus (AD 61) in these words: ‘’But the younger Ananus who, as we said, received the high priesthood, was of a bold disposition and exceptionally daring; he followed the party of the Sadducees, who are severe in judgment above all the Jews, as we have already shown. As therefore Annus was of such a disposition, he thought he had now a good opportunity, as Festus was now dead, and Albinos was still on the road; so he assembled a council of judges, and brought before it the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ, whose name was James, together with some others, and having accused them as law-breakers, he delivered them over to be stoned.’’ This entry, similar to the past one, was additionally known in Origen and Eusebius. This passage, like the previous one, was also known Origen and Eusebius. 

A Jewish Christian author named Hegesippus in AD 170 wrote a detailed narrative of the passing of James the Just (as the Lord's brother was called). The record in Josephus is vital in light of the fact that he calls James ‘the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ’, so as to recommend that he had officially made some reference to Jesus. 

Furthermore, we do discover a reference to Him in every single surviving duplicate of Josephus, the so-called Testimonium Flavianum in Antiquities xviii. 3. 3. Josephus portrays the problems which denoted the procuratorship of Pilate and proceeds to say: ‘‘and there arose about this time Jesus, a wise man if indeed we should call him a man; for he was a doer of marvelous deeds, a teacher of men who receive the truth with pleasure. He led away many Jews, and also many of the Greeks. This man was the Christ. And when Pilate had condemned him to the cross on his impeachment by the chief men among us, those who had loved him at first did not cease; for he appeared to them on the third day alive again, the divine prophets having spoken these and thousands of other wonderful things about him: and even now the tribe of Christians, so named after him, has not yet died out.’’ 

This is an interpretation of the content of this section as it was handed down to us, and we realize that Eusebius even cites it twice; One reason why many have decided to regard it as a Christian interpolation is that Origen says that Josephus did not believe Jesus to be the Messiah nor proclaim Him such. It was certain that Josephus was not a Christian but yet highly improbable that an essayist who was not a Christian should utilize the articulations above, and there is no hint of criticism in his text; the manuscript evidence is as consistent and abundant as it is for anything in Josephus. However, it might be that Origen knew about this passage earlier.

 Being that Josephus’ text was transmitted by Christians and not by Jews it wouldn’t have been surprising if his reference to Jesus had a more Christian tone to it. If we decide to look closely at his text it could be that he had a bit of humor in his tone. 

If we decide to call him a man, it might be a sarcastic reference to the Christians' belief in Jesus as the Son of God. That this man was Christ could have meant he was the Jesus commonly called the Christ. Such reference is regardless suggested by the later statement that the Christians were shouted at Him. This text gives confirmation to the fact that Christians are called after him. 

The Testimonium Flavianum has actually been accepted by some acute critics. The section unquestionably contains lingual qualities often portrayed by Josephus as shown by the late Dr. H. St. John/Thackeray (the most recent British expert on Josephus) and a few others.

It has additionally been called attention to that the exclusion of short expressions is normal for  the Antiquities, which makes it less demanding to understand how a word such as “so-called” had become obsolete before Christ, for expressions as ‘as they said’, ‘as they say’ and ‘for he appeared to them'.

These recommended expressions are appealing, the previous particularly, on the grounds that the very expression 'the so-called Christ' was used in the section where Josephus related the demise of James. Two different emendations have much to praise them. One is a recommendation of Thackeray, that rather than 'the truth' (Greek alethe) we should read 'strange things' (Greek aethe).

The other is a recommendation of Dr. Robert Eisle, the passage which originally read as: ‘‘and there arose about this time a source of new troubles, one Jesus. Should after inclusions of these emendations read as; “and there arose about this time a source of new troubles, one Jesus, a wise man. He was a doer of marvelous deeds, a teacher of men who receive strange things with pleasure. He led away many Jews, and also many of the Greeks. This man was the so-called Christ. And when Pilate had condemned him to the cross on his impeachment by the chief men among us, those who had loved him at first did not cease; for he appeared to them, as they said, on the third day alive again, the divine prophets having spoken these and thousands of other wonderful things about him: and even now the tribe of Christians, so named after him, has not yet died out.’’ The italics this time mark the emendations. 

This adaptation of the Testimonium has removed some devices which made it difficult while still preserving the worth of the message.

This kind of contempt is somehow more obvious because of the editing. Thus we agree that Josephus made reference to Jesus which gives testimony to (a) His reputation for being a wonderworker, (b) His date, (c) His execution under the Pilate through the information of the Jewish rulers (d) his being sibling of James (e) his messianic claim, (f) his being the organizer of the clan of Christians and most likely (g) the faith in His becoming alive once again