Friday, November 17, 2006

Origen and Josephus, Part 4

Having found that Origen uses a phrase exactly like one in Antiquities 20, it is natural to ask if someone took his phrase and put it there. That indeed is one possible trajectory, and comparing it with other possible ones is our next task.

There are three basic scenarios.

1. An interpolation into Ant. 20 takes place after Origen.

An early interpolation is placed into one of Josephus’ works (e.g., Wars of the Jews). This interpolation uses convincingly non-Christian language, including a phrase about Christ that resembles some references [by non-Christian characters] to Christ in the NT, and a way of identifying James (without an honorific) that is unattested in Christian literature. This interpolation contains or gives rise to a tradition about Josephus’ admiration for James the Just. For some reason the interpolation, which does not appear in surviving manuscripts, is not preserved. But Origen picks up the phrases of the interpolation and attests to the tradition about Josephus, probably doing so second-hand. A new interpolation is then made into Ant. 20, prompted by Origen’s witness and based on his or the original interpolator’s phrasing. The interpolator does not try to restore, from Origen’s words, the putative Josephan discourse about James and the war; he chooses instead to interpolate a few words into an already standing sentence in Ant. 20, one which tells of a man who shares with James the Just a death by stoning, a commonly occurring first name, and possibly a brother bearing another such first name (depending on what is proposed for Josephus’ original composition). The interpolator is not dissuaded by any differences between the James in Ant. 20 and the Christian leader about whom many traditions have probably accrued (e.g., in Hegesippus). He simply believes that Josephus wrote in Ant. 20 about James the Just without recognizing him or knowing that his brother was actually Jesus Christ (against Origen’s testimony that Josephus knew who James the Just was). Or he intends to deceive others into accepting this bare reference as authentic and valuable – even though it does little to corroborate Origen’s story or his insistence that Jesus should have been Josephus’ main subject when searching for what caused the war. This interpolation is accepted widely and survives, eventually migrating into all the manuscripts.

2) An interpolation into Ant. 20 takes place before Origen.

Soon after the publication of Antiquities, a Christian scribe chooses to interpolate a few words into an already standing sentence in Ant. 20, one which tells of a man who shares with James the Just a death by stoning, a commonly occurring first name, and possibly a brother bearing another such first name (depending on what is proposed for Josephus’ original composition). The interpolator is not dissuaded by any differences between the James in Ant. 20 and the Christian leader for whom he probably has other traditions (if he did not himself invent the man). He simply believes that Josephus wrote in Ant. 20 about James the Just without recognizing him or knowing that his brother was actually Jesus Christ. Or he intends to deceive others into accepting this reference as authentic. He chooses language that will look like the authentic writing of a non-Christian: a phrase about Christ that closely resembles the speech of some non-Christians in the recently appearing Gospel of Matthew; and a way of identifying James (without an honorific) that is unattested in Christian literature. This interpolation is accepted widely, eventually migrating into all the manuscripts. It gives birth to Christian traditions about Josephus’ admiration for James the Just. Origen attests to these traditions and reproduces the phrases of the interpolation, probably doing so second-hand.

3) No interpolation takes place.

Josephus writes in Antiquities 20 about James and a certain Jesus “who was called” Christ. His short reference gives birth to Christian traditions about Josephus’ admiration for James the Just. Origen attests to these traditions and reproduces the phrases of the interpolation, probably doing so second-hand.


It should be noted that the first two options are not yet complete, because making them so would take us far afield from the topic at hand – Origen’s bearing on the Josephus question. But we can at least point to what is missing – and there are a few things, other than the lengthier explanations that would be needed for the various implausible items I’ve highlighted in each option.

Option #1 must also make a plausible case for the first of its two interpolations. This involves finding a good place for it in Josephus’ works, proposing the interpolator’s intention, describing how he changed the text, and giving some explanation for how and why all the subsequent manuscripts returned to the text as we see it today, presumably without any of the changes leaving a trace.

If option #1 is written without that prior interpolation, the scenario grows simpler in one sense, but another problem returns. The prior interpolation offered a simple way to explain the existence of Origen’s tradition about Josephus as well as each one of its details; without the interpolation we would need another solution (see Part 1).

We would also lose a simple explanation for Origen’s un-Christian way of identifying James. Origen’s accounts seem to credit Josephus with referring to James both as “brother of Jesus who was called Christ” and “the Just.” That is easily explained if Origen got the first phrase from an authentic or authentic-sounding passage in Josephus, and got the second one from a Christian tradition that interpreted Josephus as admiring James for being a just man. But if Origen had neither Ant. 20 nor a prior interpolation, then it becomes difficult to explain why he does not simply credit Josephus with using “James the Just” and leave it at that, instead of also invoking a phrase that would not express Josephus’ admiration and that would certainly not express Origen’s own attitude toward James. Indeed as Peter Kirby notes in his essay, “Testimonium Flavianum”, we lack another instance in ancient literature where an admiring Christian, when referring to James not in passing but as his subject, identifies James as "brother of Jesus."

Finally, the first two scenarios must describe how the interpolator interacted with the original text of Ant. 20 – that is, how he regarded or disregarded the exact words that he found, and how plausibly he was able to add and delete words. This can be particularly complicated for Ant. 20, where we find a larger non-Christian story that is integral to Josephus’ narrative; it cannot easily be lifted wholesale out of the book as a Christian forgery. At best we are looking at an editing of an already standing sentence. Once that editing process is laid out, we would need a plausible explanation for how all of the changed or deleted elements were lost in the manuscript record.

What all three options are missing as I’ve written them out is a full defense of a proposed original text. The first two options do not even propose a particular original, and would need something like, “brother of Jesus, son of Damneus.” It goes without saying that the original needs to be explained as plausibly Josephan. In the case of the Damneus proposal it would be good to have a prior instance where Josephus refers to two brothers in like manner. A plausible original might be constructed, but one cannot be assumed.

Option #3 proposes that the current text is the original, and we have spent some time already looking at the plausibility of the phrase, “Jesus who was called Christ” (see Part 3). We found the construction to be plausibly Christian or Josephan, and a case for interpolation needs some probability that the construction cannot be Josephan.

Three other issues tend to be raised when this text is disputed as the original:

1. Would Josephus identify a man by his brother?

2. Would he place the brother’s name first?

3. Would he mention Jesus and his moniker without some previous fuller introduction?

Let’s turn briefly to a few verses from Josephus’ work.

Kirby cites Wars of the Jews 2.12.8 §247, where Josephus writes, “After this Caesar sent Felix, the brother of Pallas, to be procurator of Galilee.” Josephus refers to Felix as someone’s brother (he does so again in Ant. 20.7.1 §137), and never refers to Felix in the more typical convention as someone’s son. Felix’s brother Pallas is not mentioned before or after in the work, and Josephus does not even tell us that Pallas is “called” anything.

Josephus refers 25 times in Whiston’s translation of Antiquities to a man as “brother of” someone else. A case possibly similar to Jesus and James is in Ant. 18.9.1 §314, where Josephus introduces two brothers who were without a father; he refers shortly afterwards to one of them as “Anileus, the brother of Asineus” (Ant. 18.9.5 §342). But the most conspicuous example is Aaron, “the brother of Moses” (e.g., Ant. 20.10.1 §225), who is never known anywhere in Antiquities by a family relation other than his brother.

Indeed the James that Paul meets in Galatians 1:19 is one such man who lived in Josephus’ own time. He was known within his circle and probably to the public, not as the son of a named father, but as the brother of the man who began the sect in which he, James, was a leader.

As for placing the family relation first, Josephus does so commonly.Bernard Muller provides the following examples:

Wars 2.21.1 §585
“a man of Gischala, the son of Levi, whose name was John”

Wars 6.8.3 §387
“one of the priests, the son of Thebuthus, whose name was Jesus”

Ant. 5.8.1 §233
“but he had also one that was spurious, by his concubine Drumah, whose name was Abimelech”

Ant. 10.5.2 §82
“and delivered the kingdom to a brother of his, by the father’s side, whose name was Eliakim”

Ant. 11.5.1 §121
“Now about this time a son of Jeshua, whose name was Joacim, was the high priest”

What we find in Antiquities 20 is characteristic of Josephus. The reader is left to decide which of the three trajectories is best.

Part 5 will be devoted to the Testimonium Flavianum.

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