After entering a google search, I ran across a post on Debunking Christianity on Josephus. The author -- Harry McCall -- titled his post “Why Josephus’ So-called Testimonium Flavianum Must be Rejected.” The sum total of the post, however, was a few snippets from a leading Josephan scholar, Louis Feldman, about problems with the authenticity of the Testimonium. Those familiar with my writings will know that I have a lengthy article online defending the partial authenticity of the Testimonium. (JP Holding was also nice enough to invite me to revise the article to defend both Josephan references to Jesus in his book, Shattering the Christ Myth).
In the comments of Harry McCall's DB post, John Loftus directed McCall to my online article, stating, “before you posted this I was persuaded by most of what Christopher Price wrote about Josephus' passage here. Would you care to comment?.” In response, McCall said my article was “filled with false claims and mis-statements out of context!” He also accused me of “fabricating” facts, being "deceitful," and misrepresenting the views of Profs. L. Feldman, J.D. Crossan, Robert Funk, E.P. Sanders, and Paula Fredrikson.
It is disappointing to be accused of making false statements by someone making false statements about my work. It is also humorous to be "challenged" to answer questions no one let me know were being asked. Neither McCall or Loftus or anyone from DB informed me I was being called out, challenged, or accused of deceit. What is amusing is that before I even drafted a responsive comment at DB, other posters had proven McCall wrong on almost every assertion he made against my article. Nevertheless, despite being proved wrong by others commentors and my own comment (which requested an apology), McCall has not apologized or withdrawn his attacks.
What follows are McCall’s comments (in bold) and my responses.
Price states Feldmen as saying “According to leading Josephus scholar Louis H. Feldman, the authenticity of this passage "has been almost universally acknowledged" by scholars. (Feldman, "Josephus," Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 3, pages 990-91).”
In fact, the Testimonium Flavianum is not what Feldman is talking about here! So lets quote the Anchor Bible in context: “Moreover, the fact that Josephus refers to Jesus in his reference to James the brother of “the aforementioned Christ” (Ant 20.9.1 / 200) - a passage the authenticity of which has been almost universally acknowledge- indicates that Jesus had been mention previously.”
McCall claims I am misrepresenting Prof. Feldman despite the fact that McCall and I agree that Prof. Feldman was not referring to the Testimonium here but to Josephus’ reference to James, the brother of Jesus. I have never claimed that Prof. Feldman said the Testimonium (which is the first reference in Antiquities) was universally acknowledged as authentic. I said that Feldman claimed the second reference, to James, was so acknowledged:
It is not the purpose of this article to address the arguments of the few commentators - mostly Jesus Mythologists - who doubt the authenticity of the second reference. According to leading Josephus scholar Louis H. Feldman, the authenticity of this passage "has been almost universally acknowledged" by scholars. (Feldman, "Josephus," Anchor Bible Dictionary, Vol. 3, pages 990-91). Instead, this article focuses on arguments regarding the partial authenticity of the TF.
I was pointing out that my article was going to focus on the Testimonium rather than the second reference (to James and Jesus) because the second reference is much less disputed. It appears that McCall’s claim of deceitfulness is projection. Or sloppiness. Or ignorance. Perhaps McCall does not know that the Testimonium is the first reference to Jesus in Antiquities and that the reference to James and Jesus is the second. In any event, the claim against me is false because it rests on McCall’s misrepresentation about what I claimed in my article.
And again Price claims, “In his book Josephus and Modern Scholarship, Professor Feldman reports that between 1937 to 1980, of 52 scholars reviewing the subject, 39 found portions of the TF to be authentic.” I have this book in my personal library and if Mr. Price would provide a page number, I sure its another proof text out of context.
A common theme throughout McCall’s post and comments is his claim to have this or that book by Feldman or some other scholar, or to have attended this or that lecture by a scholar. It has become clear that he is not getting his time or money’s worth because he seems to be generally ignorant of their contents. In any event, Peter Kirby directed me to Feldman's assessment of Josephan scholarship and he reports the same numbers in his reading of Feldman here.
Because P. Kirby was an atheist at the time, I doubt that he can be accused of distorting Prof. Feldman to promote Christianity. In any event, if McCall can be bothered to actually read his shelved Feldman book, he should check out pages 704-707, where Feldman goes through his scholarly assessment of the Josephan field scholar by scholar.
Mr. Price is arguing like Louis Feldmen believes the Testimonium Flavianum is authentic and only needs to convince other of the same. This is a total perversion of what Dr. Feldman believes!
Mr. Feldman was the Solomon-Tenenbaum Lecturer in 1997 at the University of South Carolina and his topic was "Jesus in Josephus: Focus on the Testamonium Flavianum". I have the audio tape of the lecture and if anyone thinks that is what Mr. Price says is correct about Dr. Feldman, I would be happy to make a copy of the tape for you.
In fact, I do claim that Prof. Feldman believes partial authenticity is likely. And so does he, as other commentors noted in response to McCall’s post. Probably the most easy to find reference by Prof. Feldman concluding the likely partial authenticity of the Testimonium is from his Loeb Classic Library series of Josephus:
The most probable view seems to be that our text represents substantially what Josephus wrote, but that some alterations have been made by a Christian interpolator.
Louis H. Feldman: Editor, Josephus, Jewish Antiquities Books XVIII- XIX, of The Loeb Classic Library, page 49.
This is not contradicted by the selective parsing of McCall's opening post. Prof. Feldman routinely discusses arguments both for and against the Testimonium’s authenticity. Indeed, in my article I refer to Prof. Feldman’s arguments on both sides of the issue. McCall quoted some of Prof. Feldman’s analysis of the against arguments but none in favor of partial authenticity. In any event, I have backed up my assertion that Prof. Feldman favors partial authenticity and McCall has no counter conclusion by Prof. Feldman against. Simply quoting Prof. Feldman when he is describing one side of the argument and ignoring him when he describes the other side -- as McCall does -- is not persuasive.
Mr. Price again states: “Notably, the consensus for partial authenticity is held by scholars from diverse perspectives. Liberal commentators such as Robert Funk, J. Dominic Crossan, and A.N. Wilson, accept a substantial part of the TF as originally Josephan. So do Jewish scholars, such as Geza Vermes, Louis H. Feldman, and Paul Winter and secular scholars such as E.P. Sanders and Paula Fredrikson.”
I have personally sat in lectures with Robert Funk and John Crossan and Prices is again fabricating his facts!! Mr. Price would do well to review the late Robert Funk’s “Honest to Jesus”.
McCall disputes my claim that Profs. Crossan and Funk accept the partial authenticity of the Testimonium, citing lectures and one of Funk's books (though without any page or chapter reference). Perhaps McCall is confused, as many skeptics are, about the difference between authenticity and partial authenticity. I do not claim that Crossan and Funk accept full authenticity. I do not accept full authenticity. They favor partial authenticity and I was explicit about that in my article.
Profs. Crossan and Funk are not Jesus Myther fanatics, so I am not sure why McCall finds it so hard to believe that they would accept the likelihood of partial authenticity. Nor does McCall cite anything by Crossan or Funk that disputes my assertion. In any event, here are my supporting cites:
In J.D. Crossan's Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, he -- like J.P. Meier -- notes likely Christian interpolations in italics and accepts the rest of the Testimonium as authentic. He then states, "Without them, Josephus' account is carefully and deliberately neutral. He does not want, apparently, to be embroiled in any controversy about this Jesus. . . . So he was cautiously impartial and some later Christian editor delicately Christianized his account, but only to the extent that it was at least plausible and credible for the Jewish Josephus to have written it." Page 162.
Robert Funk writes in The Acts of Jesus, that Jesus' death at the hands of Pilate is "all but certain, because attested also by Josephus and Tacitus, two ancient historians, that: -There was a person named Jesus, who was executed by the authorities during the preference of Pontius Pilate (26-26 C.E.)." Page 133. He also cites Josephus in other parts of the book as evidence for historical events in Jesus' life.
But what about Honest to Jesus, which McCall claims disproves my representation about Funk favoring partial authenticity? In Honest to Jesus,Prof. Funk accepts most of the Testimonium as authentic, identifying the later Christian insertions in italics. Page 222 (1997 publ.). Funk then writes that "According to Josephus, Jesus was known as a sage who performed unusual deeds. he had a considerable following among both Judeans and Greeks. Those followers continued in their devotion to him after his death and formed a movement that took its name from him, a movement that was still in existence in Josephus' date late in the first century. While providing only a paucity of details, Josephus confirms the principal features otherwise attested of the historical Jesus." Ibid.
Although I do not know what McCall thinks he heard at those lectures, or thinks he read in Honest to Jesus, I am very skeptical that he heard or saw Crossan and Funk reject the Testimonium in its entirety.
I have read the autobiographical de-conversion story by Geza Vermas who retuned to Judaism from being a Roman Catholic priest and I know that the independent scholar the late Paul Winter had more in common with Judaism then Christianity.
I am not sure what to do with McCall’s references to Profs. Vermes and Winters. I said they were Jewish scholars who favored partial authenticity. Apparently McCall accepts that they accept partial authenticity and are Jewish. It looks like he wants to show that he knows something about these two scholars that I have already said.
It is odd how skeptics often do this; in effect name dropping scholars as if they are plutonium that no Christian has ever read or understood. At least when it comes to the Testimonium, this Christian was better informed about these scholars' views than the skeptic.
I would challenge Mr. Price to quote me text and page number where either E.P. Sanders or Paula Fredrikson state the Testimonium Flavianum as authentic! I have a number of their books on my book shelf.
It would have been nice, as a courtesy or to avoid looking like he is chest thumping, to have notified me of this "challenge." I might have run across the “challenge” sooner if I had been singled out in the opening post, but to bury it in the comments is a dubious way of issuing a challenge -- assuming McCall really wanted a response. In any event:
Regarding E.P. Sanders, check page 50 of The Historical Figure of Jesus: "It is highly likely that Josephus included Jesus in his account of the period. Josephus discussed John the Baptist and other prophetic figures, such as Theudas and the Egyptian. Further, the passage on Jesus is not adjacent to Josephus' account of John the Baptist, which is probably where a Christian scribe would have put it had he invented the whole paragraph. Thus, the author of the only surviving history of Palestinian Judaism in the first century thought that Jesus was important enough to merit a paragraph, no more, no less."
Regarding Paula Fredrikson, check her Jesus of Nazareth, King of the Jews. "Scholars have debated the historical merits of this passage, some (few, now) maintaining that the whole is authentic, others (another minority), that the whole is a Christian interpolation, that is a passage written into the manuscript by a later Christian scribe. Most scholars currently incline to see the passage as basically authentic, with a few later insertions by a Christian scribe. The passage rendered below follows the editorial judgments and English translation of John Meier . . . I give the Christian insertions in italics, the Josephan substratum in roman. . . ." Page 249.
Unlike Dr. Louis Feldman, who is a life long Josephian scholar, Christopher Price has no more use for Josephus than Strabo except as a tool to prove and promote Christianity.
I show much more respect for Prof. Feldman and Josephus than McCall, who is a better choice of comparison than the scholar himself. I note that Prof. Feldman makes arguments for and against authenticity, and accurately state his conclusion that he favors the likelihood of partial authenticity. It is McCall who uses Prof. Feldman as a bludgeon to serve his own ideological interests. Again, we either have projection or sloppiness operating on Debunking Christianity here.
End the final analysis, the objectivity or Dr. Feldman and the deceitful subjectively of Mr. Price speak for themselves!
Funny how McCall judged the analysis over before getting a response to his challenges. Of course it does not appear he really expected a response. In any event, I have refuted the accusation that I was deceitful. I never questioned Prof. Feldman’s objectivity. McCall, on the other hand, has made false accusations about my article and my character that he should retract.
Perhaps the greatest lament I have about this whole affair is that the Debunking Christianity members tout what accomplished Christians they were and how they left the faith after objectively examining their faith or following the path of reason instead of faith. Too often in their disputes, on ground of their own choosing, they seem incompetent in judging the facts and hopelessly biased in their presentation of the material. How sad to throw your faith away on your own incompetent assessment of the relevant facts.