Peter Kirby's Straw Man Best Case For Jesus: Josephus

 photo josephusPictureLestrange_zpscvlt84sr.jpg

Peter Kirby is a gifted armature in Biblical research. He knows an incredible amount for a message board poster. He also runs an impressive message board and he prevents it from being contaminated by Christians and people who disagree with him by removing their posts under the guise of cleaning up the board. This is how he got me off the board when my presence there threatened him since he was unable to combat my superior knowledge. I've been running message boards for 15 years and I've never found too many posts to be a problem,. I also find it odd that he just happened to take off all the posts that he could not answer,

Little did he know that in so doing he has called down upon himself the wrath of Atheistwatch! When the readers of this blig learn this, both of them will be very angry, Kirby had made the statement that the case for Jesus' historicity is very weak and that his bog piece, The Best Case for Jesus:
Historical Jesus, proves this. That is pretty arrogant because it assumes that he can make the best case. So let's look at what he missed. "Fair’s fair. Let’s try to make the best possible case for the historical existence of Jesus. One never learns about an issue completely unless they are willing to look at it from more than one angle..."[1]

He Starts with extra biblical sources, the most important first: Josephus.He alludes to F. Bermejo-Rubio  exemplary argument for the historicity of Jesus as his starting point. His first argument, drawing upon this source, argues based upon Josephus' use of the term Christ:  "It is scarcely imaginable, first of all, that Josephus would introduce the very word for the concept of “Christ” here, so assiduously avoided elsewhere in his many volumes of Jewish history, without something by way of an explanation, particularly one with the goal of creating distance and disavowal." He goes on:
 Nor, secondly, should we imagine that this passage of credal simplicity (so Hopper) emanates from the pen of Josephus, who would surely have managed to make some kind of explicit comment regarding the preaching and execution of Jesus or the movement called the Christians. We can see this in comparison with Josephus’ treatment of similar figures such as John the Baptist, Judas the Galilean, Theudas, or Honi the Circle-Drawer, who all elicit enunciated statements of approval or disapproval from Josephus.
So essentially, treat this as one argument, is saying "if ere Jo I would have written it differently." Really it's a bit more of a serious argument than that, saying uncharacteristic of Jo's writings. Since it comes in a passage argued by some to be forged then it is only logical to compare it to his usual style Is it really so out of character for him? First of all, most scholars admit the passage has been tweaked. That means some things are added, but the whole passage is not made up by a forger, there's core of Josephus' actual writing.[2] perhaps the word Christ is one of them. That doesn't mean the basic existence of Jesus is in question because there is a core passage that most scholars accept. James Tabor understands that core to be this:

Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man IF IT BE LAWFUL TO CALL HIM A MAN, for he was a doer of wonders, A TEACHER OF SUCH MEN AS RECEIVE THE TRUTH WITH PLEASURE. He drew many after him BOTH OF THE JEWS AND THE GENTILES. HE WAS THE CHRIST. When Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, FOR HE APPEARED TO THEM ALIVE AGAIN THE THIRD DAY, AS THE DIVINE PROPHETS HAD FORETOLD THESE AND THEN THOUSAND OTHER WONDERFUL THINGS ABOUT HIM, and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day" (Antiquities 18:63-64).[3]

Of course the blue represents the forgery. If we take that out:
Now there was about this time Jesus a wise man. . He drew many after him  When Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men among us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him,, and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day" (Antiquities 18:63-64).
Kirby says he should have mentioned "the preaching and execution of Jesus or the movement called the Christians." he does two out of three. He may not have used the word Christ. Perhaps it's a bit uncharacteristic of Jo not include some of his teachings, although he may not have known them. But we can't base the whole issue on that one detail,

Now Kirby is supposed to be giving us the best case for Jesus, but it's a "left hand shake," he's using a poor defense to give himself a good straw man to attack. His defense uses the emendation argument that I justvgave to save the TF from the criticisms he just made, then he concludes in favor of interpolation rather than "amendation," (his word--what I call "Tweaking." ?The balance of actual evidence, in my estimation, points to the interpolation, rather than amendation,"  So he basically argues that the best defense would be explaining why Jo doesn't tlk about Jesus, This is so obviously a straw man, he's made the case as week as possible calling it "argument from silence." Glossing over the fact that the whole Jesus myther thing is an argument from silence.

Now he says something extremely telling as far as building the straw man. "Such an argument for the silence of Josephus regarding Jesus and the Christians was a commonplace of scholarship in the early twentieth century and speaks well of the critical acumen of these scholars, who did not confuse a need to find evidence for their conclusions with a need to find evidence where it cannot be found." he admires the scholars who rejected the TF because they are being honest, how honest is he? If he really read them he would see how their rejection of the TF was totally ideological. Alioce Whealy an important scholar from Berkeley tells us:
Twentieth century controversy over the Testimonium Flavianum can be distinguished from controversy over the text in the early modern period insofar as it seems generally more academic and less sectarian. While the challenge to the authenticity of the Testimonium in the early modern period was orchestrated almost entirely by Protestant scholars and while in the same period Jews outside the church uniformly denounced the text's authenticity, the twentieth century controversies over the text have been marked by the presence of Jewish scholars for the first time as prominent participants on both sides of the question. In general, the attitudes of Protestant, Roman Catholic, Jewish and secular scholars towards the text have drawn closer together, with a greater tendency among scholars of all religious backgrounds to see the text as largely authentic. On the one hand this can be interpreted as the result of an increasing trend towards secularism, which is usually seen as product of modernity. On the other hand it can be interpreted as a sort of post-modern disillusionment with the verities of modern skepticism, and an attempt to recapture the sensibility of the ancient world, when it apparently was still possible for a first-century Jew to have written a text as favorable towards Jesus of Nazareth as the Testimonium Flavianum.[4]

Pete probably knows  about the quote[5] Then we come to his anemic conclusion:

 If Josephus wrote that James, the brother of Jesus called the Christ, was executed, he did so because James identified himself as the brother of Jesus called the Christ. And if that is a fact, then we should leave it to others more obtuse than us to scribble about how his brother yet did not exist.In conclusion, Josephus is conclusive evidence for the historicity of Jesus if the references are authentic, and Josephus is valuable evidence of the non-historicity of Jesus if the references are inauthentic (by way of an argument from silence that is not without force). The literature justly focuses on this question, but it cannot be the only question we ask. There is other evidence available to us, and any balanced conclusion must rest on the balance of evidence.
His summary is like saying: "I guess maybe if the argument is proven then it's true but probably not." Notice how he asserts the value of argument from silence which is almost never forceful. The cased I make for Josephus is a lot stronger than this. For one thing he doesn't discuss much of the textual attestation to the passage.

It is crucial to note that we have other readings that have the same core information about Jesus but lack the same emminadations, because this proves that Eusbius didn't make up the core information about Jesus. It also proves that previous readings existed which lacked the emmindations but which did not lack the mention of Jesus. That builds the probability that Jospehus really did mention Jesus. That probality is very high.Professor Shlomo Pines found a different version of Josephus testimony in an Arabic version of the tenth century. It has obviously not been interpolated in the same way as the Christian version circulating in the West:"
"At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus, and his conduct was good, and he was known to be virtuous. And many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. And those who had become his disciples did not abandon their loyalty to him. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive. Accordingly they believed that he was the Messiah, concerning whom the Prophets have recounted wonders."[6]
 Syriac text.

Alice Whealy, Berkely Cal.The TF controversy from antiquity to present

In the second major twentieth century controversy over the authenticity of the Testimonium Flavianum, the erudite Near Eastern studies scholar, Shlomo Pines, tried to argue that the paraphrase of the Testimonium that appears in a Christian Arabic chronicle dating from the tenth century might be more authentic than the textus receptus Testimonium. 21 Reaction to Pines' thesis was mixed, but the most important piece of evidence that Pines' scholarship on Christian Semitic sources brought to light was not the Arabic paraphrase of the Testimonium that he proposed was more authentic than the textus receptus, but the literal Syriac translation of the Testimonium that is quoted in a twelfth century chronicle compiled by the Syrian Patriarch of Antioch (1166-1199). 22 It is this version of the Testimonium, not the Arabic paraphrase of it, that has the greatest likelihood of being, at least in some ways, more authentic than the textus receptus Testimonium because, as noted earlier, this version of the text agrees with Jerome's Latin version of the text in the same crucial regard. The medieval Syriac Testimonium that Pines uncovered is very strong evidence for what many scholars had argued since birth of the controversy over the text in the Renaissance, namely that Jerome did not alter the Testimonium Flavianum to read "he was believed to be the Christ" but rather that he in fact knew the original version of the Testimonium, which he probably found in Eusebius' Historia Ecclesiastica , which read "he was believed to be the Christ" rather than "he was the Christ. [7]

No textual evidence supports the charge that Origin or Eusbius made up the passage.All copies we have contain the quote.If it had been forged we should have some copies that don't contian it.

New Advent Encyplopidia:
"all codices or manuscripts of Josephus's work contain the text in question; to maintain the spuriousness of the text, we must suppose that all the copies of Josephus were in the hands of Christians, and were changed in the same way.

 Passage known prior to Eusebius

Nor is it ture that our first indication of the existence of the Passage begins with Eusebuis:

Again, the same conclusion follows from the fact that Origen knew a Josephan text about Jesus, but was not acquainted with our present reading; for, according to the great Alexandrian doctor, Josephus did not believe that Jesus was the Messias ("In Matth.", xiii, 55; "Contra Cels.", I, 47).
Silence of Early writters is explained
Second, it is true that neither Tertullian nor St. Justin makes use of Josephus's passage concerning Jesus; but this silence is probably due to the contempt with which the contemporary Jews regarded Josephus, and to the relatively little authority he had among the Roman readers. Writers of the age of Tertullian and Justin could appeal to living witnesses of the Apostolic tradition. (Ibid)[8]

Theb rother passage is rarely questioned. That in itself proves the historicity of Jesus.. The reasons for accepting th TF are overwhelming. If we need three such solid proofs we have the Talmud and Paul. We have more. but all of that latter.

[1] Peter Kirby, "The Best Case for Jesus: Historical Jesus," Peter Kiby (blog) (Jan 22 2015)
All references to Kirby will be from this source unless otherwise noted.

[2] Louis H. Feldman in "The Testimonium Flavianum: The State of the Question" in Christological Perspectives, Robert F. Berkey and Sarah A. Edwards (New York: Pilgrim, 1982) there are liberal scholars who leave the entire passage intact! (e.g. A.M. Dubarle, the French scholar). Feldman's count: 4 scholars regard as completely genuine, 6 mostly genuine; 20 accept it with some interpolations, 9 with several interpolations; 13 regard it as being totally an interpolation.
also see my page on Doxa.So, according Feldman, the vast majority of scholars (75 %) favor partial authenticity of the Testimonium. Some scholars who accepts that Josephus wrote something about Jesus: Lane Fox, Michael Grant, Crossan, Borg, Meier, Tabor, Thiessen, Frederiksen, Flusser, Charlesworth, Paul Winter, Feldman, Mason

[3] James Tabor, "Josephus on Jesus," Jewish  Roman World of Jesus, Josephus’ Testimony to Jesus, (Testimonium Flavianum)"Josephus, Antiquities 18. 63-64, Website URL:  (access 1/5/2016). 
 [4] Alice Whealey, Josephus on Jesus: The Testimonium Flavianum Controversy from Late Antiquity to Modern Times, Peter Lang Publishing (2003).

Alice Whealey is an independent historian specializing in the intellectual history of Europe, she received an M.A. in history in 1988, A M.A. in Demography in 1992, and Ph.D. in history in 1998 from U.C. Berkeley
 [5] It was discussed on his message board and rejected with better reason than that it contradicts their ideology:

"Philosopher Jay" whoever he is asserts after a ranting mock;

She mentions the challenge to the authenticity of the Testimonium in the early modern period was orchestrated almost entirely by Protestant scholars" and "Jews outside the church" who "uniformly denounced the text's authenticity." Apparently she believes the Protestant Pope was orchestrating some kind of challenge to the Catholic Pope and he tricked the "Jews outside the church" into going along. In fact, it was just about every scholar outside the Catholic Church who found the text wanting. I read the subtext here as saying that there was some kind of conspiracy of Protestants and Jews against the Catholic Church. One could just as easily say that in early modern times the Catholic Church held to its dogmatic position that the Good Catholic Eusebius was not an historical forger, while everybody else who was somewhat disinterested and impartial saw the clear evidence that TF was a forgery.
In the Twentieth Century, the change was that even Catholics admitted the document contained some important changes that Josephus could not have written. Instead of saying that the Catholic scholars, 300 years late, finally joined other scholars in questioning the document, (just as they were 300 years late in admitting that the Earth went around the Sun) she changes things around and blames secularism for the defection of catholic scholars to the "Academic world."

She then imagines that post-modernism is a rejection of modernism (instead of its triumph) and imagines that some kind of new consensus somehow supports her belief that "a first century Jew" wrote "a text as favorable towards Jesus of Nazareth as the Testimonium Flavianum." These a few of her logical gymnastics.
This dumbass thinks postmodernism is not an attack on modernism. Enough said. The usual cast of characters is involved in that, I am part of that train wreck. Kirby doesn't comment that I can see but it's his board.


[7] Whealey, op cit

[8] New Advent Catholic Encyclopedia, "Early Historical Documents on Jesus Christ," on line resource URL: accessed 1/4/2916.



Don McIntosh said…
Thanks for another informative critique.

Sometimes I wonder if these mythicist historians understand that history is not supposed to be exhaustive, nor can it be. In serving whatever purposes they may have had in mind, the writers of history (including the authors of source documents) must select what subjects to address and to what extent, and omit everything else de facto. Yet these mythicist arguments seem to argue just the reverse: "On balance there are more people who say nothing about Jesus than there are people who say something substantial about him. And as for those who say something substantial about him, well, they still say much less about him than could have been said."

That's all true. But of course that truth holds for anyone and everyone. As John notes with a bit of hyperbole, it holds especially (and ironically) for Jesus: "And there are also many other things that Jesus did, which if they were written one by one, I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written" (John 21:25).
The sad thing is Kirby knows better.
Anonymous said…
The New Advent page you cite clearly cites the article to Maas, A. (1910). Early Historical Documents on Jesus Christ. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. New Advent transcribed the 1910 article and put it on their page.

The paragraph you quote beginning "The work is entirely new" is from the original Preface in volume 1 (p. vi) of the Catholic Encyclopedia, published in 1907, which you can see here:

The Catholic Encyclopedia was entirely new when it was published (1907-1912). You can find Maas's article on the same site.

Fact checker
that doesn't mean it isn't being updated. what is the purpose of the staff they list? Even so it's not outdated. it hasn't become wrong over the century.
yea that was stupid mistake
I thought I was mistaken once before but it turned out to be wrong.

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