For my write-up today on The Cambridge History of Judaism, Volume Three: The Early Roman Period, I will blog about something that Morton Smith says on pages 512-513 of his essay, “The Troublemakers”. The topic is a reference to Jesus in Antiquities 18:63-64, which states the following (according to William Whiston’s translation):
“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 is debate about how much of this passage is authentic, as some hold that it is partially authentic, while others say that it is not authentic at all, but rather was a Christian interpolation. You can read some of the pros and cons in the wikipedia article here. (And I don’t want to read a bunch of bull about how wikipedia is not a good source. In many cases, it is not, but there are times when its articles are well documented and present solid information, as is the case with its article “Josephus on Jesus”.)
Morton Smith argues that the passage is partially authentic. He says that the passage “probably reported the crucifixion, as ordered by Pilate, and ended as it now does: ‘Even to the present the clan of Jesus, named after him, has not died out.'” Smith offers two reasons for the partial authenticity of the passage. First of all, Smith interprets Antiquities 20:200, which talks about a Sadducean high priest executing James “the brother of Jesus”, as a cross-reference to Antiquities 18:63-64. Second, Smith states that “Josephus liked to commemorate holy eccentrics; besides Jesus and John he told of Judas the Essene (Bell. 1.78-80), another Jesus, son of Ananias (Bell. VI.300-9), etc.” On page 513, Smith talks about Josephus’ discussion of characters purporting to do miracles. One of them, an Egyptian prophet, became invisible after his followers were defeated (Antiquities 20:172), and Smith compares that to Jesus becoming invisible in Luke 24:31. Smith’s point appears to be this: If Josephus reported on holy eccentrics and their movements, why should we assume that everything he says about Jesus and the Jesus movement is a Christian interpolation? Granted, Josephus most likely did not proclaim Jesus to be the Christ and the fulfillment of the Hebrew prophecies, but would it be so extraordinary for him at least to mention Jesus and the Jesus movement, since he talked about other purported holy men and their movements?