There are some good reasons why the Arabic version may indeed be the original words of Josephus before any Christian interpolations. As Schlomo Pines and David Flusser, of the Hebrew University, have stated, it is quite plausible that none of the arguments against Josephus writing the original words even applies to the Arabic text, especially since the latter would have had less chance of being censored by the church. In addition, Flusser notes that an earmark of authenticity comes from the
19 Ibid.; Anderson, Christianity, p. 20; Bruce, The New Testament Documents, p. 108. Cf. also Bruce, p. 109 for the views of British historian H. St. John Thackery and Jewish scholar Joseph Klausner.
20 Charlesworth, Jesus Within Judaism, p. 95.
fact that the Arabic version omits the accusation that the Jews were to blame for Jesus’ death, which is included in the original reading.^21
After an investigation of the question, Charlesworth explains his view that Josephus’ original version is “both an interpolation and a redaction.”^22 But he provides three reasons why Josephus still wrote most of the passage: some of the words are very difficult to assign to a Christian writer, the passage fits both grammatically and historically, and the brief reference to Jesus in Antiquities20 seems to presuppose an earlier mention.^23
Charlesworth concludes that the Arabic rescension is basically accurate, even if there are still a few subtle Christian alterations. He concludes about this passage with some strong words: “We can now be as certain as historical research will presently allow that Josephus did refer to Jesus,” providing “corroboration of the gospel account.”^24
We conclude that Josephus did write about Jesus, not only in the brief statement concerning James, but also in this longer account. The evidence points to his composition of this latter passage with the deletion and modification of a number of key phrases which were probably interpolated by Christian sources.
What historical facts can be ascertained from the deleted and altered portions of Josephus’ statement such as those changes made in the Arabic version? (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.^25
There is nothing really sensational in such a list of facts from a Jewish historian. Jesus’ ethical conduct, his following, and his crucifixion by the command of Pilate are what we would expect a historian to mention. Even the account of the disciples reporting Jesus’ resurrection appearances (if it is allowed), has an especially authentic ring to it. Josephus, like many historians today, would simply be repeating the claims, which were probably fairly well known in first century Palestine. That the disciples would then spread his teachings would be a natural consequence.