Monday, June 15, 2009

Examining Ehteshaam Gulam's Deceptive Use of Josephus

Here Gulam attempts to use Jesus' non-existence arguments against the historicity of the crucifixion. By dismissing the non-Christian evidence as such (in line with the extremely unsound hypothesis of G.A. Wells he cites in Who Was Jesus?) he is dehistoricizing Jesus. This approach is rather unsound.

The manner by which he approaches this is a clear demonstration of his inadequacy in historical investigation and complete ignorance of historical scholarship. For Josephus' accounts he states:

Josephus Flavius, the Jewish historian, lived as the earliest non-Christian who mentions a Jesus. Although many scholars think that Josephus' short accounts of Jesus (in Antiquities) came from interpolations perpetrated by a later Church father (most likely, Eusebius), Josephus' birth in 37 C.E., well after the alleged crucifixion of Jesus, puts him out of range of an eyewitness account. Moreover, he wrote Antiquities in 93 C.E., after the first gospels got written! Therefore, even if his accounts about Jesus came from his hand, his information could only serve as hearsay.

As is evident in his first sentence he is tainted greatly by the fringe Christ Myth theorists. He states Flavius was the earliest non-Christian to mention "a Jesus". Josephus mentions other Jesus' who we know are not the historical Jesus we have in mind. For example, there is Jesus the son of Sapphias (Wars 20.4.566) and Jesus the brother of John (Antiquities 7.1.298). Any reading of the primary source material (Josephus' various texts) or secondary text will make this fact abundantly clear.

The second point made is that, "many scholars" believe that Josephus' mentions of Jesus of Nazareth came from later interpolations. This is simply incorrect. Most scholars do not think this.

The shorter mention of Jesus:

... so he assembled the sanhedrin of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others,[1]

In line with the New Testament accounts we have James the brother of Jesus. This mention is not doubted by any major scholar as anything other than authentic. Also to note, this text is recounting a history that we do not find in the New Testament. Therefore, we have reliable extra-biblical witness to the events of Jesus and his early ministry.

This text in light of Gulam's snide 'a Jesus' remark makes it clear that this Jesus (of others mentioned in Josephus) is the Jesus we are after. The brother of James and the one who was called the Messiah (Christ).

Regarding the authenticity:

"Josephus (Ant. 20.200) describes how the high priest Ananus took advantage of the death of the Roman governor Festus in A.D. 62 to organize a mob to stone James, whom he identifies as "the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ." Few scholars have questioned the genuineness of this passage."
Professor Edwin M. Yamauchi

The next mention of Jesus is where we have some problems. This is a longer text that shows some Christian embelishment. However, the fact that Josephus mentioned Jesus here is not a question of doubt.

At this time there appeared Jesus, a wise man. For he was a doer of startling deeds, a teacher of people who received the truth with pleasure. And he gained a following both among many Jews and among many of Greek [meaning “Gentile,” that is, non-Jewish] origin. And when Pilate, because of an accusation made by the leading men among us, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him previously did not cease to do so. And up until this very day, the tribe of Chris tians (named after him) has not died out.

What do scholars have to say on the authenticity?

"In the part of this embellished text that VIRTUALLY ALL REGARD AS AUTHENTIC Josephus describes Jesus as a teacher and wonderworker who was accused by the leading men (i.e., ruling priests) before the Roman governor."
Bruce Chilton, Craig A. Evans, Jacob Neusner, 'The Missing Jesus' p.21

So, from Josephus we can take away 10 facts that most scholars agree upon:
(1) Jesus was known as a wise and virtuous man, one recognized for his good conduct. (2) He had many disciples, both Jews and Gentiles. (3) Pilate condemned him to die, (4) with crucifixion explicitly being mentioned as the mode. (5) The disciples reported that Jesus had risen from the dead and (6) that he had appeared to them on the third day after his crucifixion. (7) Consequently, the disciples continued to proclaim his teachings. (8) Perhaps Jesus was the Messiah concerning whom the Old Testament prophets spoke and predicted wonders. We would add here two facts from Josephus’ earlier quotation as well. (9) Jesus was the brother of James and (10) was called the messiah by some.[2]

Gulam goes on to say that the source was probably Chrisitans anyway - however, this need not be so. A probable scenario as suggested by Marcus Borg is that "he learned about Jesus from non-Christian Jews, probably before moving to Rome in the 60s. Perhaps this is how non-Christian Jews commonly spoke about Jesus." (Marcus Borg, Jesus p.31)

As is evident, the scholars present a very different picture to that Gulam would insist everyone think

1. Josephus, Flavius ; Whiston, William: The Works of Josephus : Complete and Unabridged. Peabody : Hendrickson, 1996, c1987, S. Ant 20.200
2. Habermas, Gary R. ; Habermas, Gary R.: The Historical Jesus : Ancient Evidence for the Life of Christ. Joplin, Mo. : College Press Pub. Co., 1996, S. 195