Saturday, November 3, 2007

Fact #1-Jesus Died by Crucifixion-Can Josephus Justify this Claim?

Continuing my review of Hambermas and Licona's book The Case for the Resurrection of Jesus, I'm going to start looking at the facts which they consider undisputed. The first is the claim that Jesus died by crucifixion.

When you consider that in fact most of scholarship does assume that Jesus was crucified, it's a little surprising to discover the paltry evidence on which this claim is based. I will here consider the first major piece of evidence used to support this claim by Habermas and Licona.

They start on page 49 by stating that the gospels record it. They haven't argued that the gospels should be considered reliable, so this doesn't get us too far. So they next list what I suppose they consider their major piece of evidence. They assert that Josephus records that Jesus died by crucifixion.

This to me is already an obvious clue that we really don't have much to go on here. Everybody knows that the famous Testimonium Flavianum is a text that is at a minimum heavily edited by Christians. Josephus is an orthodox Jew that owes his very life and station to the claim that Emperor Vespasian is in fact the Messiah. Yet in the TF Josephus supposedly asserts that Jesus is the Messiah, that he supposedly is so wise and wonderful that it is not clear that we should call him a mere man, that he also performed miraculous deeds, and that after being crucified he was reported to have appeared to his followers after three days in accordance with many Jewish prophesies that had been made about him previously.

Christians admit this can't be what Josephus said, but they want to preserve at least a portion of this. Otherwise there are absolutely zero non-canonical references to Jesus in the 1st century, which is a little strange when you consider the great stirs he supposedly caused. So Christians speculate that perhaps there was a central core to this text that did refer to Jesus. That may be. But it's hard to say. Especially when you consider that the text flows quite naturally without the TF and also that no writer Christian or non prior to Eusebius in 315 knows anything of the TF despite the fact that some of them were familiar with Josephus' Antiquities of the Jews and used them.

Maybe Josephus did write something about Jesus. But can we really know what it was he might have written? How can we be sure he actually mentioned the crucifixion? It's just too bad for modern historians that early Christians could not resist the temptation to unethically modify the text to suit their own agenda. There may have been something there, but how can we ever know? And how can we base a foundational historical claim on such a flimsy piece of data?

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