Did Flavius Josephus provides corroborative evidence for Christian claims?

Is it true that the first century C.E. Jewish historian Flavius Josephus provides corroborative evidence for the Christian claims concerning the alleged messiahship, resurrection, and divinity of Jesus? Let's find out.

Answer: Jesus is mentioned twice in the works of Josephus. Jesus' name appears once in identifying "a man named James, the brother of Jesus who was called the Christ" (Jewish Antiquities XX. 9. 1. [200]), in which case Josephus is focusing on James, not Jesus.

Elsewhere, Josephus mentions Jesus in a statement that seemingly confirms his personal belief in Jesus as the "Messiah": "About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the Greeks. He was the Messiah. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing among us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvelous things about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared (Jewish Antiquities XVIII. 3. 3 [63-64]).

Josephus' alleged positive statement about Jesus is spurious. The attestation that Jesus was the Messiah, the suggestion that he was more than human, the acceptance of his resurrection and the affirmation that his activities were foretold by the Hebrew prophets is a third century Christian forgery. Origen (c. 280) explicitly states that Josephus "did not believe in Jesus as Christ" (Contra Celsum Book 1. 47). Eusebius (c. 324), however, does know of this passage (Ecclesiastical History 1. 11). Quoting from the Christian interpolated text of Josephus, Eusebius writes: "About the same time, there was a certain Jesus, a wise man, if indeed it is proper to call him a man. This was Christ. Pilate . . . inflicted the punishment of the cross upon him . . . [but] those who had been attached to him before did not, however, cease to love him: for he appeared to them alive again on the third day, according to the holy prophets, who declared these and innumerable other wonderful things respecting him" (Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 1. 11). Apparently, a change was made in the text during the interval between 280 C.E. and 324 C.E. whereby it was no longer obvious, as it was to Origen, that Josephus did not believe in Jesus.

Moreover, Josephus considers the revolutionary zealots and apocalyptic messianists responsible for the Jews' revolt against Rome and the consequent destruction of Jewish sovereignty. His loyalty to Rome and his strong sense of self-preservation would make doubtful any suggestion that he would risk his safety by affirming as Messiah a person whose followers the Imperial government held in disfavor.

© Gerald Sigal