5. A Eusebian Reading of the Testimonium Flavianum

Ken Olson
In his laudatory Life of Constantine, written shortly after the emperor’s death in 337, Eusebius of Caesarea gives an account of a battle Constantine fought against his colleague and rival, Licinius, the emperor of the eastern part of the empire. Eusebius presents a speech that he claims Licinius made to his troops just before he was defeated in battle by Constantine. Eusebius has Licinius say:
The present occasion shall prove which of us is mistaken in his judgment, and shall decide between our gods and those whom our adversaries profess to honor. For either it will declare the victory to be ours, and so most justly evince that our gods are the true saviours and helpers; or else, if this God of Constantine’s, who comes from we know not whence, shall prove superior to our deities (who are many, and in point of numbers, at least, have the advantage), let no one henceforth doubt which god he ought to worship, but attach himself at once to the superior power, and ascribe to him the honors of the victory. Suppose, then, this strange God, whom we now regard with ridicule, should really prove victorious; then indeed we must acknowledge and give him honor, and so bid a long farewell to those for whom we light our tapers in vain. But if our own gods triumph (as they undoubtedly will), then, as soon as we have secured the present victory, let us prosecute the war without delay against these despisers of the gods.
Eusebius Life of Constantine 2.5.3–4 [1]
Eusebius then assures his readers: “Such was his speech to those present. The author of the present work was given this information shortly afterwards by those who personally heard his words” (Eusebius Life 2.5.5). [2]
Modern scholars have long been skeptical about Licinius’ speech as recorded by Eusebius. Some defended Eusebius by claiming that he merely reports in good faith what his sources told him. [3] In recent scholarship, however, there seems to be a tendency among commentators to ascribe the composition of Licinius’ speech to Eusebius himself. In their 1999 translation and commentary on the Life of Constantine, Averil Cameron and Stuart Hall comment:
Eusebius claims (2.5.5) to have heard about Licinius’ speech (2.5.2–4) shortly afterwards from those actually present, though he had not mentioned it at the relevant place in Ecclesiastical History 10.9; more probably it is his own invention. He uses the speech to heighten the religious character of the conflict, and makes Licinius himself concede that his defeat will prove Christianity true. [4]
If Cameron and Hall are correct, Eusebius apparently provided his own allegedly outside witness to the truth of Christianity. Might there be other cases where Eusebius has employed this technique of prosōpopoeia, “face-making” (or “character-crafting”), to further his own argument in the voice of another? [5]
This brings us to the topic of this chapter. [6] In current scholarship, the brief passage about Jesus found in the manuscripts of Josephus’ Antiquities, called the Testimonium Flavianum (Antiquities 18.63–64) is often considered to be an independent source for material about the historical Jesus. This places it alongside the Gospels of Mark and John and the hypothetical Q document as one of several sources to which the criterion of multiple attestation may be applied. [7] This criterion, widely considered to be one of the strongest of the criteria of authenticity used in historical Jesus research, posits that any data found in more than one independent source is more likely to be historical. Parts of the Testimonium are commonly used in historical Jesus scholarship as supporting evidence for reconstructing various aspects of Jesus’ career, especially those having to do with his miracle-working, his teaching, and his trial and execution.
The passage has been controversial for some time. There is some evidence that the Testimonium was rejected by Jews in the Middle Ages, but as this evidence comes second-hand through Christian sources, we do not have an especially good idea as to why they did so. [8] In the sixteenth century, some Christian scholars began to reject the text on the grounds that it seemed to be a Christian confession of faith greatly at odds with what the non-Christian Jew Josephus says elsewhere in his works. Some earlier interpreters tried to reconcile this discrepancy by suggesting that Josephus in fact confessed the truth about Jesus yet continued to be a Jew and not a Christian. [9]
Few scholars would resort to such an explanation today. More commonly, scholars who wish to retain the Testimonium as an authentic Josephan text have adopted one or both of two methods. The first is to interpret the text in ways that seem less Christian or even hostile toward Jesus. By this method of interpretation, Josephus may have written the text, but it does not mean what Christians before the Enlightenment took it to mean. Josephus may have intended at least some parts of the text, especially those that others have taken as Christological confessions, to be read ironically. [10] The second is to alter the text, usually by omission of the most overtly Christian material, and possibly altering or adding material so that the passage becomes more negative toward Jesus and Christianity. [11]
Probably the dominant opinion on the Testimonium Flavianum in recent historical Jesus scholarship follows the second method and supposes that the received text is not what Josephus wrote, but that we can recover what Josephus wrote by conjecturally emending the passage. By removing the three most overtly Christian statements from the text, we are left with a “core” text that is Josephan in language and non-Christian in content. This is the approach taken by John Meier in his widely cited and influential treatment of the issue in the first volume of A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus. [12]
This approach is seriously flawed. The text does not divide easily into Christian and non-Christian sections on the basis of either language or content. [13] Both the language and the content have close parallels in the work of Eusebius of Caesarea, who is the first author to show any knowledge of the text. Eusebius quotes the Testimonium in three of his extant works: the Demonstration of the Gospel 3.5.106, the Ecclesiastical History 1.11.8, and the Theophany 5.44. The most likely hypothesis is that Eusebius either composed the entire text or rewrote it so thoroughly that it is now impossible to recover a Josephan original.
In the course of defending his proposition that this summary description of Jesus is not conceivable in the mouth of an ancient Christian, Meier asks: “What would be the point of a Christian interpolation that would make Josephus the Jew affirm such an imperfect estimation of the God-man? What would a Christian scribe intend to gain by such an assertion?” [14] This is an excellent question and one that deserves an answer. The question itself reveals a key assumption made by Meier and other scholars who have examined the issue. They assume that the interpolation (or interpolations) in the text of Antiquities 18 was composed by the scribes engaged in copying the manuscripts of Josephus and first appeared in its present context between Antiquities 18.62 and 18.65. This is possible, but there is a more likely alternative. The passage fits much better into the larger literary context it occupies in Eusebius’ work. Eusebius uses the passage as part of an extended argument that he makes in the Demonstration and later reproduces in the Theophany. [15] In this context, the Testimonium sounds very different from the way it sounds when Meier and other scholars read it as the work of Josephus. The theory of Josephan authorship controls their interpretation of the text. I will therefore offer a different reading of the text that highlights what the text might mean in the context of Eusebius’ work.
Eusebius wrote the Demonstration for a Christian audience, both to instruct them in the truth of the Christian faith and to counter pagan and Jewish criticisms of Christianity. Among the pagan critics to whom Eusebius was responding was Porphyry of Tyre, but they included Eusebius’ contemporary Hierocles and the earlier critic Celsus as well. [16] Eusebius’ rhetorical technique is to present the criticisms made by pagan critics of Christianity anonymously. He explicitly cites Porphyry several times, but always to establish a point in favor of Christianity. This makes it difficult to know exactly which critic made the criticism to which Eusebius is responding, except where that criticism can be documented from an outside source.
In the Demonstration, Eusebius is responding to the argument that Christianity is an unreasonable belief. The Christians not only deserted the Hellenic traditions of their ancestors but, having adopted the scriptures of the Jews, deserted Judaism as well, and erroneously interpret the Jewish scriptures and the Messianic prophecies contained therein as referring not to the Jews but to themselves. Eusebius uses the Demonstration to defend the intellectual respectability of Christianity. The main argument of the work is that Jesus and Christianity are indeed the subject of the Hebrew scriptures and the fulfillment of the prophecies in them.
In Book III of the Demonstration, the book in which the Testimonium is found, Eusebius is carrying on an extended defense of the incarnation and answering the charges of critics of Christianity. One of these is Porphyry’s argument against the divinity of Jesus. Departing from other pagan critics like Celsus who had disparaged Jesus, Porphyry said that Jesus was one of the wise men of the Hebrews, but that the Christians had mistakenly taken him to be divine. [17] Porphyry attributes his information to oracles of the gods Apollo and Hecate. Eusebius quotes a truncated form of one oracle in the final chapter of Book III, but we can establish a fuller text of these oracles from citations in Augustine’s City of God 19.23 and Lactantius’ Divine Institutes 4.11. [18]
What Eusebius is seeking to show in Book III is that Jesus has not only a human nature, but a divine one as well. He goes about this by arguing that Jesus’ coming as Christ was foretold in prophecy, that he was not a deceiver but a teacher of true doctrines, that he performed superhuman feats, and that he did not perform these feats by sorcery. At the end of Book III, Eusebius concludes that a man who was not a sorcerer but a man of good character (as Porphyry himself allowed he was), yet could perform wonders beyond human ability, must necessarily have been superhuman in his nature. [19] As an ostensibly outside witness to the fact that the man Jesus was not merely human in his nature but evidenced the things foretold of the Christ in prophecy, the Testimonium represents an encapsulation of Eusebius’ argument. It therefore has its most plausible Sitz-im-Leben in the pagan-Christian controversies of the fourth century. This was the period in which the question of whether Jesus was merely a wise man or something more was being debated. The first half of the Testimonium seems to address precisely this issue. While the manuscripts and the external witnesses do contain significant variants, for simplicity I will give a translation of the text based on Niese’s critical edition of Josephus’ Antiquities, with the sections Meier takes to be interpolated in italics:
About this time arose Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man, for he was a maker of miraculous works, a teacher of human beings who receive the truth with pleasure, and he won over both many Jews and also many from the Gentiles. This one was the Christ. [20]
Meier argues that “This one was the Christ” is an interpolation, both because it is clearly a Christian profession of faith and because it “seems out of place in its present position and disturbs the flow of thought. If it were present at all, one would expect it to occur immediately after either ‘Jesus’ or ‘wise man’ where further identification would make sense.” [21]
But Meier’s reading does not do justice to the text as it stands. Meier is quite correct in arguing that the statement “this one was the Christ” is an overt Christian confession, but his assertion that it is out of sequence in its current position fails to recognize the internal logic of the passage. The Testimonium initially labels Jesus a wise man, but then immediately puts in question whether the word “man” is adequate to describe him, and offers three reasons for doing so: first, “because he was a maker of miraculous works”; second, because he was “a teacher of human beings who receive the truth with pleasure”; third, because “he won over many Jews and also many from the Gentiles.” Immediately following these three facts about Jesus, the Testimonium declares: “This one was the Christ.” [22] It would seem reasonable to suppose that the identity of Jesus as the Christ (a suitable label for Jesus), and not merely a wise man (a true but inadequate classification for Jesus), is established based on the three reasons that have been given in the text.
The term “maker of miraculous works” παραδόξων ἔργων ποιητής, contrary to what one frequently finds in the literature on the Testimonium, is far more characteristic of Eusebius than of Josephus. Josephus never elsewhere uses the word ποιητής in the sense of “maker” or “doer” rather than “poet.” Nor does he ever elsewhere combine a form of ποιέω with παράδοξος in the sense of wonder-working. The combination of παράδοξος and ποιέω to mean “wonder-working” is extremely common in Eusebius and occurs more than a hundred times. With the disputed exception of the Testimonium itself, the word ποιητής modified by παραδόξων ἔργων does not show up anywhere in the Thesaurus Linguae Graecae database of extant Greek literature before Eusebius, who uses this combination of words ten times outside the Testimonium, [23] usually of Jesus, but also of God. He says, for example, that God became “a maker of miraculous works” for the emperor Constantine in Life of Constantine 1.18.2. Two features of the way the term is used in the Testimonium are noteworthy. First, Eusebius uses the fact that Jesus was a “maker of miraculous works” in the Demonstration to show that Jesus was beyond human in his nature. In Demonstration 3.3.20, Eusebius says that he has been discussing Christ as though he had only a common human nature and will now move on to discussing his diviner side. The next section begins with his first use of the term παραδόξων ἔργων ποιητής as a label for Jesus (3.4.21). [24] Eusebius appears to be using the term to suggest that Jesus was more than an ordinary man, just as the Testimonium uses it to justify questioning whether it is proper to call Jesus a man. Second, Eusebius frequently claims that it was foretold in prophecy that the Christ would be a miracle-worker, and once even that he would be a παραδόξων ἔργων ποιητής (Ecclesiastical History 1.2.23), and this would seem to be implied by the Testimonium as well.
The description of Jesus as “a teacher of human beings receiving the truth with pleasure” has caused some difficulties for the theory of authenticity because it seems to be calling Jesus’ teachings the truth. Some scholars have advocated conjecturally emending the word from τἀληθῆ to τ’ ἄλλ’ ἤθη, “other customs” to avoid the difficulty. [25] Others have argued that the word ἡδονή (“pleasure”) has a distinctly negative connotation in New Testament usage (and thus presumably other early Christian usage as well), but Josephus employs the word in both positive and negative senses. [26]
Meier finds it difficult to be precise about what this text might mean for Josephus:
The Greek phrase τῶν ἡδονῇ τἀληθῆ δεχομένων could imply simple-minded enthusiasm, even self-delusion. Yet, while possible, that is not necessarily the sense. We may have here one example of what Josephus is doing throughout the Testimonium: carefully writing an ambiguous text that different audiences could take in different ways.
Meier 1991:76n19
Meier thus posits that Josephus deliberately crafted an ambiguous text so that we cannot be sure what he means by it.
We can find a much better explanation of what the text actually says if we investigate the possibility that Eusebius wrote it. In two different works (In Praise of Constantine 17.11, Martyrs of Palestine 6.6), Eusebius praises Christians who undergo martyrdom with ἡδονή (“pleasure”), and in his comments on Psalm 67.4 (PG 23 col. 684D) he speaks of delighting in divine pleasure in the presence of God. [27] Eusebius, like Josephus and other writers, recognizes both good and bad forms of pleasure.
Like the phrase “maker of miraculous works,” the phrase διδάσκαλος ἀνθρώπων (“teacher of human beings”) is also more characteristic of Eusebius than of Josephus. Neville Birdsall, who tentatively rejected the authenticity of the Testimonium based on an examination of its language, observed that the word διδάσκαλος followed by the recipients, rather than the contents, of the teaching in the genitive is extremely rare in Josephus. It is found only at Jewish War 7.444, [28] where Josephus places both the recipients and the content of the teaching in the genitive. [29] Eusebius on the other hand calls Jesus a “teacher of human beings” elsewhere in the Demonstration and he even claims it was foretold in prophecy that the Christ would be a “teacher of human beings” (Demonstration 3.6.27, 9.11.3; note also the variants in 3.7.6 and 5.Proem.24). In another case, Eusebius identifies Jesus as the savior of human beings and the teacher of barbarians and Greeks alike and places the recipients of the teaching in the genitive (Demonstration 5.Proem.25). In all of these cases the content of Jesus’ teaching is εὐσέβεια, religion or piety, and in two of them specifically the “true religion,” a term which he defined in the introduction to his Preparation for the Gospel as worship of the one God who is creator of all (Preparation 1.1). That is likely to be the meaning here, because Eusebius does sometimes use the neuter plural τὰ ἀληθῆ to denote the monotheistic religious beliefs of the ancient Hebrews which Jesus re-instituted by teaching them to his disciples, as in Demonstration 4.13, where Eusebius says:
He taught them truths (τὰ ἀληθῆ) not shared by others, but laid down as laws by Him or by the Father in far distant periods of time for the ancient and pre-Mosaic Hebrew men of God.
Demonstration 4.13.169 [30]
Taken together, all of this suggests that when the text describes the recipients of Jesus’ teachings as “human beings receiving the truths with pleasure,” it is neither polemical nor intentionally ambiguous. It means that Jesus taught the truths about the One God to those who were willing to receive them.
The statement that “he won over both many Jews and also many from the Gentiles,” has been one of the main points brought in support of the position that the text is partially authentic. A number of scholars contend that a Christian would not have said that Jesus won over many Jews and Gentiles because the gospels portray Jesus’ mission as being only to the Jews and that the mission to the Gentiles did not begin until after his death. [31] But here we have to acknowledge that what the gospels say to modern readers is not necessarily what they said to ancient interpreters. [32]
Eusebius introduces the Testimonium in the course of his defense of the witness of the disciples as given in the gospels. Following his citation of the Testimonium and brief mentions of Acts and the Jewish bishops of Jerusalem, he says:
Thus the whole slander against his disciples is destroyed, when by their evidence, and also apart from their evidence, it has to be confessed that many myriads of Jews and Gentiles were brought under His yoke by Jesus the Christ of God through the miracles that he performed.
Demonstration 3.5.109 (emphasis mine) [33]
Eusebius not only accepts the Testimonium’s claim that Jesus won over many Gentiles, but exaggerates the number—“many myriads”—and claims that this is the testimony of the evangelists as well. Nor is this the only context in which Eusebius claims that Jesus attracted Gentiles during his ministry. In Demonstration IV, 10, Eusebius lists among other deeds of Jesus during his incarnation: “He set all that came to Him free from age-long superstition and the fears of polytheistic error” (4.10.14). [34] He is presumably not referring to Jews. In Demonstration 8.2, Eusebius claims that “by teaching and miracles He revealed the powers of His Godhead to all equally whether Greeks or Jews” (8.2.109). [35] In the Ecclesiastical History, Eusebius introduces the story of the conversion of King Abgar and the city of Edessa by saying: “The divinity of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ became famous among all men because of his wonder-working power, and led to him myriads even of those who in foreign lands were far remote from Judea, in the hope of healing from diseases and from all kinds of suffering” (1.13.1). [36] In Book VII, he also tells of a statue of Jesus in Caesarea Philippi erected to honor Jesus’ healing of the woman with a flow of blood. Eusebius comments: “And it is not at at all surprising that those Gentiles, who long ago received benefits from our Savior, should have made these things” (7.18.4). Whatever we may suppose as to whether Jesus attracted Gentiles during his ministry, we should allow that Eusebius thought he did. Further, Eusebius devotes the entirety of Book II of the Demonstration to answering the charge that the Christ was promised to the Jews. Eusebius argues, to the contrary, that the hope of the Christ was promised equally to the Jews and Gentiles and that the Christian church contains both Gentiles and the remnant of the Jews.
The fact that Jesus taught the true religion not only among Jews, but among Gentiles as well, is what allows the conclusion that follows in the Testimonium: “This one was the Christ”. In the second chapter of Book III of the Demonstration, three chapters before he introduces the Testimonium, Eusebius presents a lengthy argument that Jesus is the prophet like Moses whose coming was foretold in Deuteronomy 18. Both Moses and Jesus had worked miracles. Both Moses and Jesus had taught the truth about the One God. But while Moses had taught this truth only among Jews, Jesus was the first to have taught the true religion of the One God not only among Jews, but to human beings of all nations. It is the fulfillment of prophecies about the Christ that allows the Testimonium to conclude at this point in the text that, in fact, this one was the Christ.
The proposed reading for the first half of the Testimonium, therefore, is that it puts in question whether it is adequate to call Jesus a man and concludes that he was not only a man, but the Christ. The justification for this conclusion is that he was a maker of miraculous works, taught human beings the truth about the one God, and brought over not only Jews but Gentiles as well—that is, all people regardless of nationality or prior religious affiliation. These are things which Eusebius claims elsewhere were foretold about the Christ in prophecy. [37]
The second part of the Testimonium, with the section Meier and many other scholars take to be interpolated in italics, reads:
Although, on the accusation of the first men among us, Pilate condemned him to the cross, those who adhered at first did not cease, for he appeared to them on the third day, living again, as the divine prophets had spoken these and myriads of other wonders about him. And still to this day the tribe of Christians, named after him, has not failed. [38]
I have followed Meier here in translating the initial genitive absolute as a concessive clause. [39] On Meier’s reading, the second half of the Testimonium suggests that the author of the text is surprised that Jesus’ following continued after Jesus’ death. Meier says:
The implication seems to be one of surprise: granted Jesus’ shameful end (with no new life mentioned in the core text), one is amazed to note, says Josephus, that this group of post-mortem lovers is still at it and has not disappeared even in our own day. [40]
Meier is again quite correct in understanding that the text communicates that the continuance of Christianity after Jesus’ death is surprising. But if we read the text as it stands and include the claim that Jesus appeared to the disciples alive again, we have an explanation for this surprising event. Moreover, this is a key argument that Eusebius makes for the reliability of the disciples’ report of the resurrection earlier in the same chapter of the Demonstration in which he produces the Testimonium. Eusebius, like the Testimonium, finds the behavior of the disciples surprising. He says: “surely they had all seen the end of their teacher, and the death to which He came. Why then after seeing His miserable end did they stand their ground?” (3.5.39); and again: “I ask you how these pupils of a base and shifty master, who had seen His end, discussed with one another how they should invent a story about Him which would hang together?” (3.5.113). [41] Eusebius’ argument in this part of the chapter is that the disciples’ continued adherence to Jesus’ teachings and the subsequent success of their mission is inexplicable apart from the reality of the resurrection appearances, which demonstrated the truth of what Jesus taught. Later in the Demonstration, Eusebius enumerates the reasons for the resurrection itself and ranks as number five Christ’s need to give his disciples ocular proof of life after death so that they would have the courage to preach his message to all nations (Demonstration 4.12). In his later work In Praise of Constantine, Eusebius ranks this reason for the resurrection first (Tricennial Orations: On Christ’s Sepulcher 15.7).
In addition, some of the language used in this section of the Testimonium is paralleled in Eusebius’ work, but not in Josephus. These include: καὶ ἄλλα μυρία (“and myriads of other things”), which occurs eight times elsewhere in Eusebius’ work; [42] τῶν Χριστιανῶν . . . τὸ φῦλον (“tribe of Christians”), which occurs twice elsewhere; [43] and εἰς ἔτι τε νῦν (“to this very day”), which occurs six times elsewhere. [44] Some scholars have suggested that the author of the Testimonium, in saying that the tribe of Christians has not died out until now, expects or even desires that it will come to an end, but this inference is unnecessary. [45] In Ecclesiastical History 1.3.19, Eusebius argues that Jesus alone, “out of all those who have ever yet been until now (εἰς ἔτι καὶ νῦν), is called Christ among all men,” [46] and he by no means expects or desires that this will change. Perhaps a closer parallel to the Testimonium is in Eusebius’ Commentary on Psalms: “the Pharisees and Sadducees have disappeared (ἐξέλιπον) so much that no mention is made of them even till now (εἰς ἔτι νῦν), nor is their name preserved among the Jews” (PG 23 col. 684C). [47] Both the failure of the Sadducees and Pharisees in the Commentary and the success of the Christians in the Testimonium exhibit one of the principle themes of Eusebius’ historiography: whatever does not come from God will fail, but what comes from God cannot be stopped. [48] The fact that Christianity has not failed, but continues to this day despite all that has been thrown against it, is proof of its truth.
I do not expect to be able to overturn the majority opinion of modern scholarship in the course of a short chapter. There are several other pieces of evidence that different scholars have cited as reasons for accepting at least the partial authenticity of the text, such as the passage mentioning James the brother of Jesus in Antiquities 20.200, Origen’s claims in Against Celsus 1.47 and Commentary on Matthew 10.17 that Josephus did not believe Jesus to be the Christ, Agapius’ tenth century Arabic version of the text, and the very presence of the text in the manuscript tradition of Josephus. [49]
What I have tried to show here is that many of the usual reasons given to support the authenticity of the text are weak or reversible, and this is particularly true of arguments about Josephan language and non-Christian content. Further, arguments about negative tone and ironic or ambiguous readings are almost entirely subjective. Our ability to perceive them depends on who we think wrote the text in the first place. The frequently employed argument that the language is “Josephan,” and therefore must either come from Josephus himself or be a masterful forgery, runs into difficulties especially in places where we find parallels in Eusebius but not in Josephus. Such language, of course, could still conceivably have been used by Josephus. It is impossible to prove absolutely that it was not. But it is difficult to see how it can be used as a positive argument for authenticity. And if we adopt the hypothesis that Eusebius is so deeply influenced by the Testimonium that he has imitated not only its language but its apparent Christology as well in several of his works, this seems not only improbable but comes near to removing the hypothesis of authenticity from any possibility of falsification. The confidence that many scholars place in the Testimonium or its reconstructed core text is misplaced.
The discussion offered here, if correct, contributes to our understanding of Eusebius as an author, polemicist, and preserver of Hellenistic Jewish texts. He has frequently been recognized for his extensive use of quotations. I have argued here that, at least in this one highly charged case, Eusebius not only used quotations, he also produced one and his production was carried over into the manuscripts of Josephus’ Antiquities. [50] The suggestion that Eusebius has sometimes been guilty of misattribution is in itself hardly novel. Sabrina Inowlocki has recently drawn attention to the passage Eusebius attributes to Philo in Demonstration 8.2.402d–403. Rather than directly quoting the passage in which Philo discusses the incident in which Pilate brought golden shields with inscriptions into Jerusalem from Embassy to Gaius 299, Eusebius attributes to Philo a passage combining language drawn from Josephus’ account from Antiquities 18.55–59 with his own redaction which has Pilate bringing images into the temple itself. [51] In that instance, of course, the Eusebian passage was not carried over into the manuscripts of Philo.
Is it plausible to think that in other cases Eusebius may have influenced the transmission of the texts he used as sources? There are, in fact, a few cases where Eusebius’ influence on the manuscript tradition of Josephus is hardly disputable. Alice Whealey has pointed out that the sixth-century Latin translators of the Antiquities did not provide original translations of the Testimonium Flavianum or the passage about John the Baptist in Book XVIII, but used the existing translations of those passages from Rufinus’ Latin version of Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History. [52] In the Greek manuscript tradition of Josephus, there is a note at the end of the table of contents attached to Book I of the Antiquities: “The book covers a period of 3008 years according to Josephus, of 1872 according to the Hebrews, of 3,459 according to Eusebius.” [53]
Beyond these specific cases, there is the more general question, which David Runia has addressed, of the role that Caesarea played in the transmission of Hellenistic Jewish texts. Runia argues, for example, that our manuscripts of the works of Philo are all descended from a single Caesarean exemplar. However, he sets aside the works of Josephus as outside the scope of his study:
It is not likely that the Caesarea library was alone responsible for the survival of these works, which soon after their publication gained a lasting popularity among Christians, and to a lesser extent, pagan readers.
Runia 1996:477–478
Runia’s description of the Josephan corpus as a whole, however, does not apply to the Antiquities, and particularly not to Books XI–XX. As Whealey has argued, the earliest Christian writers to discuss Josephus were concerned mostly with Against Apion and the Jewish War. Origen and Eusebius are the first Christian authors to show unmistakable familiarity with the Antiquities, [54] and Porphyry is the only pagan author who does. The full extent of Eusebius’ influence on both Christian interpretation of Josephus and on the transmission of Josephus’ text remains an open question. In the particular case of the Testimonium, however, it seems very likely that Eusebius’ work influenced the transmission of the Greek manuscripts of Book XVIII of the Antiquities.

Works Cited

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Inowlocki, S. 2006. Eusebius and the Jewish Authors: His Citation Technique in an Apologetic Context. Leiden.
Kofsky, A. 2002. Eusebius of Caesarea Against Paganism. Boston and Leiden.
Mason, S. 2003. Josephus and the New Testament. Peabody, MA.
Meier, J. 1991. A Marginal Jew. Volume 1: Rethinking the Historical Jesus. New York.
———. 1994. A Marginal Jew. Volume 2: Mentor, Message, and Miracles. New York.
Morlet, S. 2009. La Démonstration Évangélique d’Eusèbe de Césarée: Étude sur l’apologétique chrétienne à l’époque de Constantin. Paris.
Olson, K. 1999. “Eusebius and the Testimonium Flavianum.” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 61:305–322.
Paget, J. C. 2001. “Some Observations on Josephus and Christianity.” Journal of Theological Studies 52:539–624.
Pervo, R. 2009. Acts: A Commentary. Minneapolis.
Runia, D. 1996. “Caesarea Maritima and the Survival of Hellenistic Jewish Literature.” In Caesarea Maritima: A Retrospective after Two Millenia, ed. A. Raban and K. Holum, 476–495. Leiden.
Sanford, E. 1935. “Propaganda and Censorship in the Transmission of Josephus.” Transactions and Proceedings of the American Philological Association 66:127–145.
Schott, J. 2005. “Porphyry on Christians and Others: ‘Barbarian Wisdom’, Identity Politics, and Anti-Christian Polemics on the Eve of the Great Persecution.” Journal of Early Christian Studies 13.3:277–314.
———. 2008. Christianity, Empire and the Making of Religion in Late Antiquity. Philadelphia.
Schreckenberg, H. 1972. Die Flavius-Josephus-Tradition in Antike und Mittelalter. Leiden.
Schwartz, D. 2002. “Should Josephus Have Ignored the Christians?” In Ethos und Identität: Einheit und Vielfalt des Judentums in hellenistisch-römischer Zeit, ed. M. Konradt and U. Steinert, 165–178. Paderborn/München/Wien/Zürich.
Simmons, M. 1995. Arnobius of Sicca. Oxford.
Whealey, A. 2003. Josephus on Jesus: The Testimonium Flavianum Controversy from Late Antiquity to Modern Times. New York.
———. 2007. “Josephus, Eusebius of Caesarea, and the Testimonium Flavianum.” In Josephus und das Neue Testament, ed. C. Böttrich and Jenz Herzer, 73–116. Tübingen.
Wilken, R. 1978. “Pagan Criticism of Christianity: Greek Religion and Christian Faith.” In Early Christian Literature and the Classical Intellectual Tradition, ed. W. Schoedel and R. Wilken, 117–134. Paris.
———. 2003. The Christians as the Romans Saw Them. New Haven and London.


[ back ] 1. Eusebius 1890:992, E. C. Richardson’s translation.
[ back ] 2. Translation Cameron and Hall 1999:97.
[ back ] 3. Richardson in Eusebius 1890:992n7.
[ back ] 4. Cameron and Hall 1999:232. (I have altered the format of the references given in the quotation.) Similarly, in his commentary in the recent Brepols edition of the Life of Constantine, Horst Schneider finds Licinius’ speech to be the work of Eusebius in both its form and content (Bleckmann and Schneider 2007:43n240).
[ back ] 5. Eusebius also employs pros ō popoeia in Demonstration 1.6.64–67, writing in the voice of Jesus or the personified gospel teaching, and also 3.4.48–3.5.59, in which he satirizes the idea that Jesus’ disciples were charlatans by writing a speech in the voice of the supposed charlatans. In both of these cases, he writes in the first person, but makes no effort to represent the speech-in-character as anything but his own composition.
[ back ] 6. The argument presented here, that Eusebius is the true author of the Testimonium, is a substantial reformulation of the thesis I articulated earlier in Olson 1999:305–322. In particular, I no longer think it necessary to suppose that Eusebius may have intentionally adopted Josephan phrases in particular cases in his “second edition” (i.e. the version of the Testimonium found in the Ecclesiastical History) in order to sound more like Josephus. Eusebius’ language does not appear to go beyond what might be expected in an author employing pros ō popoeia or the variations in wording found in any author. I have also brought out the relationship between the contents of the Testimonium and the larger argument Eusebius is making in the Demonstration of the Gospel more clearly. In his recent review article on the Testimonium Flavianum, Louis H. Feldman has also argued for the identification of Eusebius as the author of the received text (2012:13–30). The thesis of Eusebian authorship of the Testimonium has been criticized by James Carleton Paget (2003:539–624) and at greater length by Alice Whealey (2007:73–116). While I will give a more detailed response to their criticisms in my forthcoming dissertation, in this chapter I have set out some of the major reasons for my disagreement with their positions.
[ back ] 7. Meier 1991:91, 92, 98; 1994:621–622.
[ back ] 8. See the discussions in Sanford 1935:136–139; Schreckenberg 1972:117–118; Whealey 2003:58–61.
[ back ] 9. See Whealey 2003:86–89.
[ back ] 10. This is the general position of the recent treatments of Whealey 2003, 2007; and Bardet 2002, though both allow that a few words may have been altered in transmission and Bardet expresses caution toward arguments based on tone.
[ back ] 11. Meier 1991:56–68, discussed further below, falls largely within this approach, though he also argues for the possibility of deliberately ambiguous meanings in the parts of the text he considers authentic.
[ back ] 12. Meier 1991:56–88.
[ back ] 13. In his comparison of the vocabulary and usage of the Testimonium with that of the New Testament and of Josephus, Meier notes that in the parts of the passage he considers to be Christian interpolations: “In a few cases, the usage is more Josephan that that of the N[ew] T[estament] . . . Hence, in the case of the three interpolations, the major argument against their authenticity is from content” (Meier 1991:83n42). I am skeptical of Meier’s initial assumption that the language of the New Testament can serve as a representative sample for the language used by early Christians. While Christian writers were undoubtedly influenced by the language of the New Testament, they were by no means limited to it.
[ back ] 14. Meier 1991:64.
[ back ] 15. On the role of the Ecclesiastical History in the transmission of the Testimonium, see note 50 below.
[ back ] 16. See the discussion in Morlet 2009:272–283.
[ back ] 17. See Robert Wilken (1979:120–123; 2003:152–155). Michael Bland Simmons argues that Porphyry’s ostensible praise of Jesus is actually disparaging (1995:222–229). For a mediating position, see Jeremy Schott (2005:310–312; 2008:74–76).
[ back ] 18. Eusebius and Augustine explicitly name Porphyry as their source for these oracles. Andrew Smith provides a synopsis of the parallels between them in Porphyrius 1993:395–398. While Lactantius quotes (and subsequently discusses) an oracle of Apollo which refers to Jesus as wise in Divine Institutes 4.11, it is disputed whether he knew Porphyry’s work directly. I accept the common identification of the unnamed philosopher who wrote three volumes against the name and faith of Christians in Divine Institutes 5.3–11 as Porphyry. The best case for the identification is made by Digeser 2000:91–114.
[ back ] 19. For a discussion of Jesus’ miracles in Eusebius’ apologetics, see Kofsky 2002:165–214, especially 170–173.
[ back ] 20. Γίνεται δὲ κατὰ τοῦτον τὸν χρόνον Ἰησοῦς σοφὸς ἀνήρ, εἴγε ἄνδρα αὐτὸν λέγειν χρή· ἦν γὰρ παραδόξων ἔργων ποιητής, διδάσκαλος ἀνθρώπων τῶν ἡδονῇ τἀληθῆ δεχομένων, καὶ πολλοὺς μὲν Ἰουδαίους, πολλοὺς δὲ καὶ τοῦ Ἑλληνικοῦ ἐπηγάγετο· ὁ χριστὸς οὗτος ἦν (18.63).
[ back ] 21. Meier 1991:60.
[ back ] 22. The use of the imperfect verb is paralleled in Ecclesiastical History 1.4.12 in which Eusebius is identifying a figure he has been discussing with the Christ.
[ back ] 23. Ecclesiastical History 1.2.23; Demonstration of the Gospel 3.4.21, 3.5.59, 3.5.103, 3.7.4; Commentary on Isaiah 2.57.62; Life of Constantine 1.18.2; Commentary on Psalms PG 23 cols. 541, 984, 1033.
[ back ] 24. English translation in Ferrar 1920:1.126–127.
[ back ] 25. Dubarle 1977:52–53 prefers τ’ ἄλλ’ ἤθη to the alternative conjecture τὰ ἀήθη, and is tentatively followed by Whealey 2003:33.
[ back ] 26. Meier 1991:80–81n41.
[ back ] 27. ἡδονῇ τε θείᾳ ἐντρυφᾷν; Whealey 2007:85 argues that Eusebius uses the dative form ἡδονῇ in a negative or unfavorable sense, but fails to note this counterexample in her discussion. The problem with Whealey’s argument goes beyond merely missing a particular counterexample (she could always introduce further distinctions to exclude any counterexample); the more serious issue is that her initial assumption that grammatical case lends words positive or negative senses in Eusebius’ writings is insecure.
[ back ] 28. διδάσκαλος ἦν τῶν σικαρίων τῆς ψευδολογίας.
[ back ] 29. Birdsall 1984–1985:619.
[ back ] 30. Ferrar 1920:1.189.
[ back ] 31. Whealey 2007:86–87 takes this position, but her evidence shows that Jesus did not send his apostles on a mission to the Gentiles until after his resurrection. This does nothing to negate the evidence from Eusebius’ works stating that Jesus himself attracted Gentiles during his ministry.
[ back ] 32. A century ago, Walter Bauer noted the tendency of some later Christian writers to increase Jesus’ contacts with Gentiles during his ministry beyond what a strict reading of the gospels might suggest. He includes the Testimonium, which he took to be a Christian interpolation, among his examples (1909:344–345).
[ back ] 33. ὡς καὶ ἐκ τούτων λελύσθαι πᾶσαν τὴν κατὰ τῶν μαθητῶν αὐτοῦ διαβολήν, ὅτε καὶ πρὸς αὐτῶν καὶ δίχα τῆς αὐτῶν μαρτυρίας μυρία ὁμολογεῖται πλήθη Ἰουδαίων τε καὶ Ἑλλήνων αὐτὸς Ἰησοῦς ὁ Χριστὸς τοῦ θεοῦ, δι’ ὧν ἐπετέλει παραδόξων ἔργων, ὑφ’ ἑαυτὸν πεποιημένος. Translation from Ferrar 1920:1.144 (adapted). Both Whealey (2003:27; 2007:85–88) and Paget (2001:562) argue that the Testimonium’s statement that Jesus won over both Jews and Gentiles was problematic for Eusebius because it contradicts the gospels, but neither discusses this passage in which Eusebius attributes precisely this view to the evangelists, though Whealey does quote the passage earlier (2003:26). Whealey’s failure to note the significance of Demonstration 3.5.109 leads her to misinterpret the text that precedes it. She takes Eusebius’ statements about the Acts of the Apostles and the bishops of Jerusalem as an attempt to support the Testimonium’s claim that Jesus attracted multitudes of Jews and finds it significant that he produces no biblical or other evidence to support the Testimonium’s claim that Jesus also won over many Gentiles (2007:86–87). But this is a misreading of Eusebius’ argument. He is not trying to demonstrate the reliability of the Testimonium; he is using the Testimonium, Acts, and the bishops of Jerusalem as evidence supporting the reliability of the evangelists.
[ back ] 34. Ferrar 1920:1.183.
[ back ] 35. Ferrar 1920:2.135.
[ back ] 36. Translation from K. Lake 1926:1.85. Whealey objects to the use of Eusebius’ introduction to the story of King Abgar and the conversion of Edessa quoted here as an example of Jesus attracting a multitude of Gentiles during his ministry on two grounds. First, while Eusebius allows that Abgar petitioned Jesus, Jesus did not immediately grant Abgar’s request, but after his resurrection the disciple Thomas sent Thaddeus to Edessa, so the mission to Gentiles still began only after Jesus’ death. Second, the Syriac-speaking Edessenes are barbarians and not the “Greeks” (τοῦ Ἑλληνικοῦ) of the Testimonium, because, according to Whealey, Eusebius constantly differentiates between Greeks and barbarians throughout his works (Whealey 2007:87). Neither objection is sustainable. First, in the Abgar story Eusebius says that Abgar was one among the myriads that were led to (ἐπήγετο) Jesus in search of healing, which is enough to establish that Eusebius thought many Gentiles were led to Jesus during his ministry. That Abgar’s actual healing and the disciples’ mission to the Gentiles came about only later is irrelevant to the case. One cannot dismiss a relevant parallel on the basis of an irrelevant distinction. Second, while Eusebius does often differentiate between Greeks and barbarians on the basis of language in his works, in the Demonstration he also distinguishes between Greeks and Jews on the basis of religion. In this context, “Greek” has the more general sense of pagan or polytheist. See especially Demonstration 1.2.2: “Hellenism you might summarily describe as the worship of many gods according to the ancestral religions of all nations” and the discussion that follows it. Further, all of our ancient Latin and Syriac translators of the Testimonium understood τοῦ Ἑλληνικοῦ in the sense of “Gentiles” or “idolaters,” rather than “Greeks.” Nor is there warrant for Whealey’s implicit assumption that the myriads from outside Judea mentioned in Ecclesiastical History 1.13.1 were composed solely of Aramaic-speakers, nor for believing that Eusebius might have accepted the idea of Jesus attracting Aramaic-speaking Gentiles but not Greek-speaking Gentiles, nor for the assumption that Eusebius and other early Christians considered only those characters specifically identified as Gentiles in the gospels to be such (the story of the woman with the flow of blood, cited above, contradicts this assumption).
[ back ] 37. See especially the first chapter of the Preparation for the Gospel on Eusebius’ conception of the role of Christ as the mediator of true religion to all human beings without distinction; see also John Robertson, Christ as Mediator: A Study of the Theologies of Eusebius of Caesarea, Marcellus of Ancyra, and Athanasius of Alexandria (Oxford University Press, 2007) 37–96, and particularly 60–70, on Christ’s role and the mediator of God to human beings.
[ back ] 38. καὶ αὐτὸν ἐνδείξει τῶν πρώτων ἀνδρῶν παρ’ ἡμῖν σταυρῷ ἐπιτετιμηκότος Πιλάτου οὐκ ἐπαύσαντο οἱ τὸ πρῶτον ἀγαπήσαντες· ἐφάνη γὰρ αὐτοῖς τρίτην ἔχων ἡμέραν πάλιν ζῶν τῶν θείων προφητῶν ταῦτά τε καὶ ἄλλα μυρία περὶ αὐτοῦ θαυμάσια εἰρηκότων. εἰς ἔτι τε νῦν τῶν Χριστιανῶν ἀπὸ τοῦδε ὠνομασμένον οὐκ ἐπέλιπε τὸ φῦλον (18.64).
[ back ] 39. Meier 1991:78n35. Meier finds the fact that the Testimonium does not deal with the question of why Jesus was condemned to death to be an argument for Josephus’ authorship (1991:65). As will be argued further below, I find, to the contrary, that the fact that the Testimonium introduces the denunciation and crucifixion of Jesus in order to describe the conditions under which his adherents did not abandon his teaching to be an argument in favor of Eusebius’ authorship.
[ back ] 40. Meier 1991:66.
[ back ] 41. Ferrar 1920:1.128; 130. As with many of his arguments in the Demonstration, Eusebius is expanding on an idea found in Origen (Against Celsus 2.56).
[ back ] 42. Demonstration of the Gospel 1.Proem.3, 1.7.4, 5.16.3; Ecclesiastical Theology 1.20.18; Commentary on Isaiah 1.62.81, 1.98.56, 1.98.58; Commentary on Psalms PG 23 col. 1080B. Meier, of course, does not consider these words to come from Josephus, but from a Christian interpolator (1991:61, 83n42).
[ back ] 43. Ecclesiastical History 3.33.2, 3.33.3. Whealey 2007:97–100 argues against the use of “tribe of Christians” as an indication of Eusebian authorship on the grounds that Eusebius uses the term in the Ecclesiastical History under the influence of a source. I think the point that Eusebius uses the term independent of Josephus stands regardless. Whealey’s supplementary point that Eusebius uses φῦλον to describe groups to which he is hostile is insecure (e.g. Eusebius is not polemicizing against stars when he refers to their “tribes and families” in Preparation 7.15.12).
[ back ] 44. Preparation for the Gospel 1.3.10, Demonstration of the Gospel 4.16.3; 9.3.7; Ecclesiastical History 2.1.7, Commentaria in Psalmos PG 23 col. 1305, Generalis elementaria introductio 168.15. The phrase εἰς ἔτι νῦν (with an occasional καί or τε inserted) occurs over a hundred times in Eusebius. The use of this phrase as evidence of Eusebius’ authorship is challenged by Whealey 2007:100–105, who presents a text-critical argument against ἔτι having stood in the Antiquities. Even if one accepted her case for the original reading of the Antiquities (and I am dubious), εἰς . . . τε νῦν is still found in the given cases in Eusebius and not in Josephus.
[ back ] 45. Meier 1991:66. Schwartz 2002:167 contends that the use of the negative formulation that the movement “has not ceased to exist” rather than positively saying that it continued to grow contradicts the positive tone of the rest of the Testimonium and is thus an argument for Josephan authenticity. The argument is insecure. The Testimonium contains two negated verbs: οὐκ ἐπαύσαντο and οὐκ ἐπέλιπε. The first has a near parallel in οὐκ ἐπαύοντο διδάσκοντες καὶ εὐαγγελλιζόμενοι in Acts 5:42, which may well have influenced it. In his commentary on Acts, C.K. Barrett notes: “οὐκ ἐπαύοντο is stronger than the imperfects of διδάσκειν and εὐαγγελίζεσθαι would have been” (Barrett 1994:301). Thus, the negated verbs in the Testimonium may readily be understood as litotes or negative iteration, rhetorical devices used to strengthen the statements made with them.
[ back ] 46. Translation Lake 1926:37.
[ back ] 47. I am indebted to Aaron Johnson for the reference.
[ back ] 48. This theme in Christian historiography goes back at least to Gamaliel’s speech in Acts 5:38–39.
[ back ] 49. I will be addressing those issues in a fuller treatment of Eusebius and the Testimonium Flavianum (forthcoming).
[ back ] 50. I have been arguing in this chapter that Eusebius composed the Testimonium following the line of argument he uses in the Demonstration and later in the Theophany. The form of the text found in the manuscripts of Josephus’ Antiquities, however, more closely resembles that found in the Ecclesiastical History, from which the scribes who copied the text of Josephus probably took it (unless Eusebius himself oversaw the insertion). A discussion of the dating of the composition of Book III of the Demonstration, the editorial history of Book I of the Ecclesiastical History, and the date and contents of the lost Against Porphyry will have to await fuller treatment elsewhere.
[ back ] 51. Inowlocki 2006:214–220, arguing against the view that the passage in the Demonstration quotes some unknown lost work of Philo.
[ back ] 52. Whealey 2002:34–35.
[ back ] 53. Translation Thackeray 1930:643.
[ back ] 54. Whealey 2003:1–29, especially 11–12, though allowing for the possible exception of a fragment of Irenaeus. Admittedly, Whealey’s case may be overstated. In particular, the theory recently revived by Steve Mason (2001:251–295) and Richard Pervo (2009:12) that the author of Luke-Acts may have known the Antiquities is a possibility. Nevertheless, the Antiquities was hardly a well known text before Eusebius.