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The Witness of Josephus


Flavius Josephus is regarded as the premier first century Jewish
historian. His writings have been quoted by hundreds of authors,
including many of the world's most respected scholars. Josephus came
from a priestly family and became a Pharisee at the age of 19. He was
appointed Commander of the Jewish army under Roman occupation. After
the rebellion by the Jews, Josephus was captured by the Roman general
Vespasian. During this time, Josephus became a great historian.

Although Josephus lived after the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, he was
closely associated with the experiences of that generation. In his
book, Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus makes a statement that is
contested by those who reject the existence of a historical Jesus.
Here, Josephus writes:

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 received 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. (Book 18, ch. 3)
This statement by Josephus has been the center of considerable debate
and controversy. Those who reject its authenticity contend that these
words were not written by Josephus but rather were added by the
Christian church in an attempt to strengthen its argument that Jesus
was real and that He was the Christ.

There is, however, a credible authority which can shed considerable
light on this issue. William Whiston is a scholar who translated the
works of Josephus into English. Whiston provides the following
observation concerning the authenticity of Josephus' words regarding

Since we meet with several important testimonies in Josephus, the
Jewish historian, concerning John the Baptist, the forerunner of
Jesus of Nazareth, concerning Jesus of Nazareth himself, and
concerning James the Just the brother of Jesus of Nazareth; and since
the principal testimony which is concerning Jesus of Nazareth himself
has of late been greatly questioned by many, and for me who has ever
declared my firm belief that these testimonies were genuine, to set
down fairly some of the original evidence and citations I have met
with in the first fifteen centuries concerning them; and then to make
proper observations upon that evidence, for the reader's more
complete satisfaction. (The Works of Flavius Josephus, Appendix p.
Whiston went on to explain that after exhaustive examination of
Josephus' writings, he concluded that the texts being questioned
were, in fact, genuine. He drew this conclusion because their style
was consistent with that found in Josephus' other writings.

Whiston also provided a list of highly respected historians who
quoted the writings of Josephus and considered them authentic
regarding John the Baptist, James, and Jesus Christ. These authors
included Tacitus in 110, Justin Martyr in 147, Origin in 230,
Eusebius in 324, Ambrose in 360, Hieronym in 400, Isidorus in 410,
Cassiddorus in 510, Anastasius in 740, and Johan in 850.

Whiston further pointed out that it would be impossible to have such
a volume of honorable and accurate testimony regarding John the
Baptist and James, whose lives were predicated on the life of Jesus,
and then refuse to accept same testimony regarding Jesus who was of
greater importance than the other two. (p. 819)