Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Origen and Josephus, Part 3

Each of the three times that Origen refers to what Josephus wrote about James, he uses the phrase adelphon Iesou tou legomenou Christou. This is an exact match with the current text of Ant. 20 – rendered in William Whiston’s translation, quoted in Part 1 of this series, as “brother of Jesus who was called Christ”. More striking still is that Origen uses it each time when referring to what Josephus actually said. When offering what Josephus should have said, Origen’s language about Christ consists of these phrases: “Christ who was a prophet,” “not accepting Jesus as Christ,” and “conspiracy against Jesus.” When offering his own opinion about whose death caused the war, Origen refers to “Jesus Christ the Son of God.”

The situation with James is similar. Origen elsewhere identifies him by other means and in fact tends to reproduce whatever term is used by the writer he is referring to – for example by referring to Paul’s words about James and reproducing Paul’s phrase, “the brother of the Lord.” Origen does seem to report twice that Josephus called James “the Just”, which of course is not in Antiquities and may indicate what was in the developed tradition that served as Origen’s source. That scenario makes some sense, because a tradition that saw Josephus as ascribing great righteousness to James would naturally imagine him as employing the great address, James the Just.

It has been argued that Iesou tou legomenou Christou (“Jesus who was called Christ”) could be a Christian phrase because, though absent from the writings of the church fathers preceding Origen, it is found in the New Testament. The exact form of the phrase that Josephus and Origen use is not in the New Testament, but we do find slightly different forms. In Matthew 1:16, Iesou ho legomenos Christos (RSV translation, “Jesus the one called the Christ”) culminates the author’s famous genealogy, and in John 4:25 it appears without the name of Jesus, as an abstract reference to the Messiah, on the lips of the Samaritan woman during her interview with Christ. In Matthew 27:17 and 27:22, Pilate twice uses another form, Iesou ton legomenon Christon (in the RSV, “Jesus who is called Christ”). I am working without a knowledge of Greek, but a simple search of the Greek New Testament for legomenos, legomenon and legomenou turns up 22 references to names like Jesus Christ, Simon Peter, Thomas Didymus, Jesus Justus, etc., and place names like Golgotha. The same search in the longer Antiquities turns up 33 references, also including both personal and place names.

It is, in short, a common way of talking about people, and not just for a historian. Origen writes elsewhere (see Against Celsus 1.66 and 4.28) about the fact that Jesus is called “the Christ”; and Justin Martyr (First Apology, chapter 30) refers to Jesus as one whom Christians “call Christ.” This indicates that Christians, no less than a Jewish historian, could speak in an abstract tone about what Jesus was called.

However, when Origen refers to Josephus, he uses the exact words from Ant. 20. And he uses the same phrase in two separate works written years apart, so something in his mind always connects Josephus with the phrase. We have, in short, a number of indications that Origen is quoting something – either independent Christian writing, a Christian interpolation into the full work, or the original passage in the full work. As I’ve argued, it’s unlikely that he had the full work on hand, so he was probably quoting one or more independent Christian writings containing developed traditions about Josephus and the war.

How well, then, does Origen serve as a witness to the text of Ant. 20? Does the second-hand nature of his witness mean that he is possibly misrepresenting the text as it stood in his time? That is possible, but I'll turn in Part 4 to the possible trajectories for interpolations and an authentic text.

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