The second reference is easily the most important and the most debated, since some of the words appear to be due to Christian interpolation. For instance, a portion of the quotation reports: Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats. . . . He was (the) Christ . . . he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him.^15
Since Josephus was a Jew, it is unlikely that he would have written about Jesus in this way. Origen informs us that Josephus did not believe Jesus to be the Messiah,^16 yet Eusebius quotes the debated passage including the words above.^17 Therefore, probably the majority of commentators believe that at least a portion of the citation (the distinctly “Christian” words, in particular) is a Christian interpolation. Yet, other scholars have also supported the original ending.^18 A mediating position taken by many holds that the passage itself is written by Josephus with the questionable words either deleted or modified. So the major question here concerns the actual words of Josephus.
13 Daniel-Rops, “Silence of Jesus’ Contemporaries,” pp. 19–21; Bruce, The New Testament Documents, pp. 102–103.
14 Antiquities20:9. The edition of Josephus used here is The Works of Josephus, transl. by William Whiston (Philadelphia: David McKay, n.d.).
15 Antiquities 18:3.
16 Contra Celsum1:47.
17 Ecclesiastical History, 1:XI.
18 Daniel-Rops, “Silence of Jesus’ Contemporaries,” p. 21.
There are good indications that the majority of the text is genuine. There is no textual evidence against it, and, conversely, there is very good manuscript evidence for this statement about Jesus, thus making it difficult to ignore. Additionally, leading scholars on the works of Josephus have testified that this portion is written in the style of this Jewish historian.^19 Thus we conclude that there are good reasons for accepting this version of Josephus’ statement about Jesus, with modification of the questionable words. In fact, it is possible that these modifications can even be accurately ascertained.
In 1972 Professor Schlomo Pines of the Hebrew University in Jerusalem released the results of a study on an Arabic manuscript containing Josephus’ statement about Jesus. It includes a different and briefer rendering of the entire passage, including changes in the key words listed above: At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. His conduct was good and (he) was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive; accordingly he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.^20
Of the three disputed portions, none remains unchanged. The initial problematic statement “if it be lawful to call him a man” has been dropped completely, recounting only that Jesus was a wise man. The words “he was a doer of wonderful works” have also been deleted. Instead of the words “He was (the) Christ” we find “he was perhaps the messiah.” The phrase “he appeared to them the third day” now reads “they (the disciples) reported that he had appeared to them,” which is an entirely true statement which was voiced by the first century eyewitnesses. Lastly, the statement that “the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him” has been drastically reduced to “concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders,” which concerns the messiah and possibly not even Jesus, according to Josephus. Therefore, while some words are completely deleted, others are qualified by “perhaps” and “reported.”