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Thursday, July 26, 2012

The Case Against the Josephus Passages

(Excerpted from my online essay "The Historicity of Jesus Christ")

Out of all the supposed sources for Jesus’ existence, Josephus is the only one that comes close to being a near contemporary. This is not to say that his account was written particularly close to Jesus’ time; it wasn’t. Josephus was born years after Jesus’ death, with his account of Jesus supposedly written some sixty years after Jesus’ death. Josephus wrote his Antiquities of the Jews in either 94 or 95 CE, which contains two disputed passages that many see as historical evidence for Jesus.

The first of these passages in Antiquities is referred to as the Testimonium Flavianum (XVIII, 33). The passage in question reads:

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 among 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.[1]

This passage has been subjected to decades of heated debate. Almost all scholars today accept that this passage is a Christian forgery added into Josephus’s writings centuries after he lived. What scholars do not universally agree upon, however, is how much of it is a forgery. Many argue that this passage is on the whole genuine, with some Christian interpolations added in. Some of the most obvious indications of interpolation are the parts of the passage that sound Christian to begin with. Josephus was an orthodox Jew, and no Jew would ever have referred to Jesus as the “Christ.” The passage also has somewhat of a positive tone in discussing Jesus, something an orthodox Jew would also have never written. But again, it has been argued that this passage is at least somewhat authentic, or at least authentic enough to show that Josephus really did speak of Jesus.

However, there is good reason to think that the entire passage is in fact a forgery. First off, there are other aspects of the passage that seem extremely un-Josephus like, rather than just the Christian sounding parts. For starters, Josephus talks of “divine prophets,” even though he does not indicate who these prophets are, which is very unlike Josephus, who was always very thorough in documenting his sources of information. There is also Josephus’s usage of the word “Gentile.” Josephus, who was writing for a Roman audience, never used the word Gentile to describe non-Jews in any of his other writings.

But by far the two most obvious indications that the entire passage is a forgery are the fact that it breaks the flow of Josephus’s writings and that there is absolutely no mention of it until the fourth century. With regards to the first point, the Testimonium ends with a discussion of Jesus’ resurrection, but the very next sentence of the next paragraph in Antiquities reads, “About the same time also another sad calamity put the Jews into disorder.” This does not fit the tone of the Testimonium. It does, however, fit the tone of the previous paragraph before the Testimonium, which discusses Pilate sending his soldiers to massacre a large crowd of Jews in Jerusalem. That would clearly fall under the category of “sad calamity.” With the Testimonium completely omitted, the two paragraphs flow seamlessly into each other.

With regards to the second point, the Testimonium is not mentioned by a single person until the fourth century by church father Eusebius. This is extremely odd, as numerous earlier Christian authorities were known to have poured over Josephus’s writings, including Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Origen and Hippolytus,[2] yet not one of these people ever mentioned the Testimonium. Origen in particular had used Josephus extensively, with his own writings being full of references to Josephus. And yet, when the skeptical Roman Celsus asked what miracles Jesus had performed that made him godly, Origen answered him by saying that Jesus had performed many miraculous actions, “[but] what source could we use other than the gospels?”[3] Furthermore, Origen had used Josephus to prove the existence of John the Baptist, and while doing so noted that Josephus “did not believe in Jesus as Christ.”[4]

These facts, when taken together, demonstrate that in all likelihood the Testimonium Flavianum is a complete forgery. And it is quite interesting that the first person to make mention of this passage was Eusebius, being that he was known to have forged data in order to defend the Christian faith. Though he has been touted by the Catholic and Orthodox Churches as “the Father of Ecclesiastical History,” Richard Carrier notes that “Eusebius was either a liar or hopelessly credulous, and either way not a very good historian.”[5]

If a passage mentioning Jesus was genuinely written by Josephus, what would it have looked like? It would have most certainly been unflattering, as Josephus was known to have bashed other supposed messiahs that he didn’t believe in. Furthermore, there are parts of Jesus’ story that Josephus likely would have mentioned without needing to speak about Jesus at all. An example would be Herod’s slaughter of the innocents. We previously established that only the Gospel of Matthew was known to have recorded this event. But Josephus did not write about this event, even though he was known to have written extensively on the atrocities that Herod committed. This only further confirms that this event in Matthew was a mythical story.

So, in the case of the Testimonium, we are left with a passage that does not sound like it was written by Josephus, is not mentioned by any Christian authorities until hundreds of years after it was supposedly written, and when it is finally mentioned it is by a church father who was known to have forged information. The probability of this passage being at all genuine would seem to be practically zero. However, there are still those who believe that Josephus did mention Jesus in another of his writings.

The second supposed reference to Jesus found in Josephus’s writings is what has come to be known as the “James Passage.” This passage in Antiquities (XX, IX, 1), reads:

…when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity. Festus was dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled a Sanhedrim of judges and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.[6]

This passage, if it be genuine, would demonstrate that Jesus existed and had a brother named James. But is this passage a forgery as well? Unlike the Testimonium, very few scholars believe so, as it appears to be too short to be an interpolation that would have been added in. But is this passage a genuine reference to Jesus of the Gospels? Though it speaks of Jesus and his brother James, the passage in full does not appear to be consistent with the biblical account of James’ death. This passage refers to James being stoned amongst a group of people; while all other accounts of the death of “James the Just” discuss him being killed alone by an angry mob.[7] Furthermore, as noted by D. M. Murdock, “Josephus’s James died some seven years prior to the death of the New Testament's ‘James the Just.’”[8]

But what about the referral to Jesus as being “called Christ?” Josephus never uses the term “Christ” or “Messiah” anywhere else in his writings, not even to describe his own choice of messiah, Emperor Vespasian. And if the Testimonium did not refer to Jesus as “Christ,” this term would have meant nothing to his Roman audience. Though this gives the appearance of speaking of Jesus of the Bible, there may be an alternative explanation. For in the same passage, Josephus later writes about how the Jews were outraged by this execution, and they complained to King Agrippa, who took the high priesthood from Ananus “and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest.”

What we first note about this section of the passage is that the Jewish people were for some reason outraged by James’ execution. If this James was truly James, the brother of Jesus, then why would they be upset? Most conservative Jews would have considered a Christian leader to be a hated cult leader, so there would be no reason for them to be outraged by his execution. Secondly, there is the matter of the other Jesus that Josephus mentions in this passage. Who is this Jesus? As it turns out, he may very well be the same Jesus who is James’ brother. This would make perfect sense when one considers the context. Basically, Josephus is telling us that after Ananus has this “brother of Jesus” killed, the Jewish people are angered. So in response, King Agrippa takes the high priesthood from him and makes Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest. If this Jesus, son of Damneus, is the same Jesus mentioned before, then that would explain why the punishment was to depose Ananus and install in his place the brother of the man he unlawfully killed.

But what about the title of “Christ” applied to this Jesus though? According to historian Richard Carrier and David Fitzgerald, this was most likely an accidental scribal interpolation of a marginal note. According to their analysis:

It looks exactly like what a scribe would write in the margin to himself to indicate that he thinks this ‘Jesus’ is ‘the one called Christ.’ But it interrupts the sentence, and though it is not bad Greek per se, it is clunky and confusing. Remove that awkward phrase and the sentence reads even more smoothly.[9]

Therefore, the phrase “who was called Christ” is not an interpolation, but rather an accidental marginal note. If this is the case, then taken together with all the information we have discussed, it would seem that the Jesus that Josephus is discussing is not Jesus of the Gospels, but rather Jesus the brother of James, who were both the sons of Damneus.

To summarize, the two passages in Josephus’s Antiquities that supposedly mention Jesus apparently do not discuss Jesus at all. The first passage is in all likelihood a forgery, and the second passage is genuine, but discusses an entirely different Jesus all together. With this information, we can ultimately conclude that Josephus made absolutely no mention of Jesus of the Gospels at any time in his writings. And unfortunately, this brings the number of non-biblical first century references to Jesus down to zero.

There are of course other sources which are claimed to have discussed Jesus, but they are all just as spurious and problematic as all the other sources we have discussed.[10] But the two Josephus passages teach us an important lesson in analyzing the historical evidence for Jesus. Before any source can be deemed to be valid, it must first meet at least two criteria; that a) the source can be shown beyond a shadow of a doubt to be authentic and not a forgery (or at least authentic enough) and b) the source is actually talking about the subject in question. It would seem that in the case of the two Josephus passages, they each only meet one criterion. In other words, the Testimonium Flavianum clearly meets the second criteria, but not the first. And likewise, the “James Passage” meets the first criteria, but not the second.

For more information, see:
Josephus Unbound: Reopening the Josephus Question
Josephus on the Rocks (a revised and expanded study of Josephus' references to Jesus)
The Jesus Forgery: Josephus Untangled
Does Josephus prove a historical Jesus?
Titus Flavius Josephus discussed in Who Was Jesus? Fingerprints of the Christ
The Jesus Forgery: Josephus Untangled (Freethought Nation forum thread)
Non-Christian Testimony for Jesus?

[1] Acharya S., Suns of God: Krishna, Buddha, and Christ Unveiled, pg. 382
[2] Cf. These and other examples are given in: Acharya, Suns of God, pg. 385
[3] Origen, Contra Celsum, 2.33, pg. 94 
[4] Ibid. 1.47, pg. 43
[5] David Fitzgerald, Nailed: Ten Christian Myths That Show Jesus Never Existed At All, pg. 98 (Nook edition)
[6] Acharya, Suns of God, pg. 391
[7] Cf. Fitzgerald, Nailed, pg. 101 (Nook edition)
[8] D.M. Murdock, Who Was Jesus? Fingerprints of the Christ pg. 91
[9] Fitzgerald, Nailed, pg. 104-105 (Nook edition)
[10] Cf. David Fitzgerald analyzes all of the most commonly cited sources for Jesus’ existence in Nailed, pg. 358-414 (Nook edition)

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Why "42" In The URL?

Two reasons.

1. is taken. Though judging from the look of it, the person who made it hasn't posted anything on it in seven years. Meh.

2. If you've read The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, all of your questions have now been answered. You know "42" is the answer to all. ;)

Monday, July 23, 2012

Fudged Vision

Do you ever have those days when you come across a video online that just makes your brain want to explode? Well today I found several of those. The YouTube channel visionfudge has many short videos dealing with Christian apologetics. Below are my three "favorite."

This video gives us the usual spin about the problem of evil, and how no matter what happens in the world, we should just "trust" God. Yep. Just keep on trusting that unseen babysitter cause he obviously has a plan for us. I especially love his comment about how "nothing is thrown our way that is beyond our strength to handle." Uh... not really the case for everyone who has ever died, don't ya think? Care to explain how this works for a small child who has cancer? Don't you think death by cancer was more than the child could handle? And you gotta love the usual talk of how "nobody is really good." I'll grant that no human on this earth is perfect. But there is such a thing as balanced justice. Would any rationale person conclude that everyone who died in the holocaust was imperfect enough to have had that done to them? And it's not like God hasn't interfered before to help those he felt were being treated unjustly (at least according to the Bible). If there really is a God, than we certainly should question why bad things happen to good people and vice versa, because it really doesn't make any sense. Unless of course there is no God. Then it makes perfect sense.

Here we get a nice little lesson about how "unique" Jesus is. Apparently no other religion forgives sin. Might be a good idea to actually read what these other religions teach before trying to tell us what they don't teach.
And Jesus certainly can be seen as unique due to his death and resurrection. Well, as long as you ignore this.

And finally...

I read this quote on Facebook and I think it summarizes the problem here nicely.
"Yep. All those children stricken with cancer and killed by natural disasters did things their own way, therefor he didn't help them. Makes perfect sense!"
Really people, let's be sensible here. This is the kind of thing that makes it so hard for me to take Christians seriously. I'm sure the makers of these videos are well intentioned, but the deliberate ignorance they're spouting is just too much. Visit their channel if you must, but please have some sort of fact-checker handy when doing so.

Friday, July 20, 2012

FAQ #8: What Is Nanothermite? Could It Have Been Used To Demolish The WTC Skyscrapers?

"Thank you, Adam Taylor for this well-written article." -Dr. Steven Jones

Written by Adam Taylor

In order to understand what nanothermite is, we first must understand what ordinary commercial thermite is. Thermite is a mixture of a metal and the oxide of another metal, usually aluminum (Al) and iron oxide (Fe2O3), in a granular or powder form. When ignited, the energetic Al-Fe thermite reaction produces molten iron and aluminum oxide, with the molten iron reaching temperatures well in excess of 4000° F. These temperatures are certainly high enough to allow cuts through structural steel, which generally has a melting point of around 2750° F.

There is also a variant of thermite known as thermate, which is a combination of thermite and sulfur, and is more efficient at cutting through steel. This form of thermite is believed to have been used in the demolition of World Trade Center Building 7. Although conventional thermite has the capability to cut through structural steel, it is technically an incendiary and not an explosive.

Nanothermite (also known as superthermite), simply put, is an ultra-fine-grained (UFG) variant of thermite that can be formulated to be explosive by adding gas-releasing substances. A general rule in chemistry is that the smaller the particles of the reactants, the faster the reaction. Nanothermite, as the name suggests, is thermite in which the particles are so small that they are measured in nanometers (one billionth of a meter). The authors of the peer-reviewed Active Thermitic Materials paper, which documents the discovery of these materials in the WTC dust, explain:
Available papers [by Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory and others] describe this material as an intimate mixture of UFG aluminum and iron oxide in nano-thermite composites to form pyrotechnics or explosives. The thermite reaction involves aluminum and a metal oxide, as in this typical reaction with iron oxide:
2Al + Fe2O3 ? Al2O3 + 2Fe (molten iron), ?H = -853.5 kJ/mole.
The public announcements of the development of nanothermite composite materials as explosives date back several years before 9/11. As Dr. Frank Legge points out , “ researchers were describing methods of preparing nano-sized particles, using them in superthermite, and calling such material ‘explosive’ in 1997. It would therefore not be correct to assert that by 2001, four years later, they would be unable to utilize the material in demolition.”

In additon, notes the following:
One of the critiques of theories that thermite was used to destroy the World Trade Center skyscrapers asserts that thermite preparations don’t have sufficient explosive power to account for the observed features of the buildings’ destruction. This criticism seems to be uninformed by knowledge of some of the aluminothermic preparations known to exist – particularly those being researched for military applications.
Indeed, as 9/11 researcher Kevin Ryan has shown, there is substantial documentation detailing how nanothermite has been formulated to be explosive. For example, a summary report released at the 2008 AIChE conference by chemists at the University of Houston describes how nano-thermite composites can be engineered to create explosives:
Nanoenergetic thermite materials release energy much faster than conventional energetic materials and have various potential military applications, such as rocket propellants, aircraft fuel and explosives. They are likely to become the next-generation explosive materials, as they enable flexibility in energy density and power release through control of particle size distribution, stoichiometry and choice of fuel and oxidizer.
Some critics have also claimed that neither thermite nor nanothermite has ever been used to demolish steel structures. Even if this assertion were true, it would not be proof in and of itself that these materials could not be used in demolition. As Dr. Legge notes:
It could be true, and probably is true, that the three buildings which came down on 9/11 were the first in which some variation of the thermite reaction was used in demolition. It is however not logical to say something cannot have happened merely because it had not happened before: there has to be a first time for everything. It is certainly true that thermite had been used many times in arson attacks prior to 9/11.
However, we find that thermite has in fact been used to demolish steel structures in the past. For example, Popular Mechanics itself documents that thermite was used in the demolition of structures such as the Skyride Tower in Chicago and the dome of the German Reichstag. Furthermore, experiments conducted by civil engineer Jonathan Cole have shown that ordinary thermate can be used to effectively cut through steel columns. And as described earlier, the effectiveness of nanothermite is much higher than that of ordinary thermate.

To read more about the thermitic materials that were involved in the destruction of the three World Trade Center towers, see the AE911Truth Evidence webpage and our original article about the discovery of these composites in the WTC dust.

(Original article:

(Also posted at Debunking the Debunkers)

Richard Carrier: The Historicity of Jesus

Awsome talk on the historicity of Jesus by Dr. Richard Carrier.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

God is a Nonexistent Babysitter

[I brought up this analogy in my "God's Atrocities" post, and I liked it so much that I decided to just do it as one post and expand on it.]

Consider this scenario:

You are a six-year-old child, and one night your parents tell you that they are going out for dinner. They tell you that they have hired a babysitter to look after you, just like any parent would do. However, they tell you that the sitter is not actually coming over to the house to watch you. Instead, the sitter is going to be keeping an eye on you from across the street. Your parents insist that even though you can't see or hear the babysitter, the sitter can hear and see you. You have never seen this babysitter before. You've never communicated with this person in any way whatsoever, whether directly (in person) or indirectly (phone call, texting, email, fax, skype, etc.). You don't know this person's name, or even if the person is male or female.

At most, your parents give you a brochure that discusses this person and what a great babysitter he or she is. It even comes with testimonials. However, the testimonials offer very little, contain contradictory information about the sitter (for example, one says the sitter doesn't get angry easily, but another talks about how the sitter has been angered numerous times), and only the first names of the testimonial authors are given (very common names, like "Matt," "Marcus," "Lucas," "Johnny," "Pete," "Dave," etc.). And ultimately, the brochure could in fact be fake. So with that, your parents leave you and go out to eat.

I think it's pretty obvious what's happened here. There clearly never was a babysitter at all. Your parents just wanted a night out with each other and didn't want to spend money on a sitter. So instead they just whipped up a fake brochure about some babysitter and put fake testimonials on it. And now the main question: if you can tell that this scenario is BS, why do you think any different of the idea of God? Have you ever found it odd that God has never spoken directly to you or anyone else? Don't you find it just a little bit strange that your main piece of evidence for God's existence is a book written thousands of years ago by unverifiable authors? As humans, we put our trust in those we know for a fact exist and can safely put our trust in. That's a burden everyone should meet. But God has not done this. So why should we bother trusting him and believing in him? In the beginning, mankind couldn't account for what existed in the natural world. They needed somebody to take care of them and the world. So they simply made up their own nonexistent babysitter to explain it all away.