Friday, December 14, 2007

Jesus According to the Testimonium Flavianum

Joseph ben Matthias, the Jewish historian. Image source:

The Antiquitates Judaicae or Jewish Antiquities is a work that was completed in 93 or 94 CE by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus (or Joseph ben Matthias)./1/

Note: The original Greek text from Josephus is no longer extant; the text available for the Antiquities is based on Greek manuscripts of the eleventh century. 

In the history of literature, chapter 18:63-64 of the Jewish Antiquities is often referred to as Testimonium Flavianum, “the Testimony of Flavius (Josephus)” to Jesus; (and in what follows it will be noted as the Testimony). 

The text of the Testimony which is quoted below is that found in Louis H. Feldman’s translation of the Jewish Antiquities./2/

“About this time there lived Jesus, a wise man, if indeed one ought to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats and was a teacher of such people as accept the truth gladly. He won over many Jews and many of the ­­­­Greeks. He was the Messiah. When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us, had condemned him to be crucified, those who had in the first place come to love him did not give up their affection for him. On the third day he appeared to them restored to life, for the prophets of God had prophesied these and countless other marvelous things about him. And the tribe of the Christians, so called after him, has still to this day not disappeared.” (Antiquities 18:63-64)

The Problem of Authenticity

Since the sixteenth century, the authenticity of the Testimony has been widely debated. John P. Meier has distilled four positions which have emerged in this long debate:/3/ 

1) The Testimony, in its entirety, is a Christian interpolation into Josephus’ text; 
2) While there are signs of heavy Christian redaction, some mention of Jesus (perhaps a pejorative one) in the original text of the Testimony led a Christian scribe to substitute a positive, Christian text; the original wording, as a whole, has been lost, but some traces of what Josephus wrote may still be found; 
3) The text is basically what Josephus wrote; the two or three insertions by a Christian scribe can be easily isolated from the non-Christian core; 
4) In its entirety, the Testimony is exactly as it was written by Josephus. 

In the modern scholarship, the literature on this debate is enormous,/4/ but a large number of scholars judge the “basic kernel” of the Testimony to be authentic./5/ This kernel consists of everything in the above quotation, except for the words in italics which are considered to be those from a Christian interpolator./6/ 

The reasons advanced for the authenticity of the Testimony stripped of those three Christian additions are apparently exhaustive./7/ 

But, if most of the Testimony is as originally written by Josephus, the next question is whether or not that authentic material is an account of actual history. 

As an historian, Josephus most likely used certain sources, written and/or oral, and this likelihood then raises the question of the historical value of those sources. 

There is also the question of the influence of Josephus’ personal feelings when he interpreted what he accepted as history. 

Concerning this, Per Bilde, after doing a comprehensive study of Josephus’ works, maintains that “to a high degree, Josephus’ personal engagement and his personal interpretation of the historical material appears to be offset by a passionate historical interest in what actually took place.”/8/ 

Shaye J. D. Cohen is of the opinion, on the one hand, that in Josephus’ account of the events of the Jewish War (66-70 CE), he “can invent, exaggerate, over-emphasize, distort, suppress, simplify, or, occasionally, tell the truth. Often we cannot determine where one practice ends and another begins. Thus it is easy to destroy Josephus’ account, but nearly impossible to construct a more truthful one.”/9/ 

But, on the other hand, Cohen is convinced that Josephus “still retained significant echoes of the original, especially of the documentary material.”/10/ 

In harmony with this, Helen K. Bond expresses her judgment that, as long as Josephus is used with caution, he is still an historical source of unique rank and his records are “generally trustworthy.”/11/

As to the matter of Josephus’ use of a source, John P. Meier has stated that “all opinions on the question of Josephus’ source remain equally possible because they remain equally unverifiable.”/12/ 

Yet, in a recent study, G. J. Goldberg has come to the conclusion that the Testimony and the simplified or “dedramatized” version of the Emmaus narrative in the Gospel of Luke (Luke 24:19-21; 24:25-27) both have a very early Jewish-Christian source which each author used independently, with Josephus producing an interpreted historical report and Luke creating a narrative account./13/

Goldberg’s hypothesis is very instructive, for if it can be shown to contain the correct analysis, then Josephus’ references to the role of Jewish leaders in interrogating and accusing Jesus and to that of Roman authorities in passing the death sentence on him have stronger historical grounding and make more certain the existence of a pre-gospel tradition about those developments./14/

With regard to this matter of Josephus’ sources, Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz/15/ take the view that perhaps Josephus had contacts in Rome with a Christianity of the type reflected in Luke; at the same time, they note that Josephus’ roots in Palestine make it possible that he also used reports and popular traditions current in Jerusalem. 

Crossan is among those scholars who are of the opinion that “the basic kernel” of the Testimony is authentic. 

As Crossan puts it, the Testimony contains “basic historical facts”, namely that there was a movement initiated by Jesus, there was an execution because of that movement, and there was a continuation of the movement./16/

As Crossan interprets the Testimony, it is a writing which reveals how Jesus and the Jesus movement looked to Josephus, a prudent, diplomatic, and cosmopolitan Roman Jew, in the last decade of the first century. 

Josephus saw that movement as marked by miracles and teachings, conversion of Jews and Greeks, roles played by “our men of highest standing” and by Pilate, the occurrence of crucifixion, and still the movement’s continuation. 

The problem with Crossan’s interpretation however lies in the speculation he does concerning the legal basis of Jesus’ execution. 

Pilate and the “Men of the Highest Standing Amongst Us” 

In the Testimony, the words “When Pilate, upon hearing him accused by men of the highest standing amongst us (tōn prōtōn andrōn par hēmin), had condemned him to be crucified...” are considered by most scholars to be in keeping with the actual historical developments. 

However, for Crossan, these words do not point to any investigation of Jesus, even to any kind of trial of Jesus. Rather, what lies behind these words is “a standing agreement between Caiaphas and Pilate” that, during the Passover celebrations, any subversive action against the Temple or the populace would be met by immediate crucifixion of those found responsible, in the conviction that such action would be a warning and deterrent to others. Of course, it is possible that such a standing agreement was in effect. 

Still, it must be questioned whether such an agreement was indeed implied by the above-quoted words. Who were these “men of the highest standing amongst us,” and what did they do? 

Based upon Josephus’ writings and the New Testament, most probably they were, we infer, members of the ruling priestly aristocracy together with their associates,/17/ including the Pharisees who claimed to be the party of accurate and specific understanding and rigorous observance of the Torah/18/ (see Josephus: Jewish War 2. 162-3; cf. 1.108-109; Antiquities 13. 171-3; Life 191; Acts 26:5; 22:3). 

They based themselves and were active primarily in Jerusalem, but they also made periodic visits to villages and towns outside of Jerusalem/19/ (see Mark 3:22; 7:1; Matthew 15:1; Luke 15:1). 

In keeping with their role in the ordinary Judaean political processes,/21/ the Pharisees must have been consulted about the formulation of the accusations made against Jesus. In order to formulate those accusations, the Jewish leaders would have taken the initiative/21/ to hold a meeting, during which they could investigate possible criminal activities of Jesus. 

Their conclusions would then be formulated as accusations and forwarded to the Roman governor. This use of an investigative process was the same as that used by the High Priest Ananus, in the mid-60s, against James the Just, the leader of the Jerusalem community of Jewish Christians (see Acts 15:1 ff., 21:17 ff.); and this resulted in James’ execution by stoning (Antiquities 20.200)./22/

Another part of the Testimony that is most likely in harmony with actual historical developments is the picture of the involvement of the Roman governor in sentencing Jesus, on the basis of the accusations brought against him by the Jewish leaders. 

On this point, Raymond E. Brown’s note should be kept in mind: “[W]hen the Jews or their leaders had come to a decision about a prisoner, Roman independence was preserved. [A] Roman trial of Jesus conducted independently of a preceeding Jewish trial or interrogation and keeping open the possibility of release or condemnation is not implausible. There is nothing in the Gospels to suggest a mere confirmation of the Jewish sentence.”/23/

In Josephus’ account of the treatment of Jesus, son of Ananias (Jewish War 6.5.3; #300-309) who had cried out against Jerusalem and the Temple, there is another depiction of the role played by a Roman procurator (Albinus [62-64 CE]) in investigating an accused Jewish person (no Roman condemnation is included in this depiction). 

Josephus in Antiquities 20.5.4; # 115-17 tells us about the procurator Cumanus (48-52 CE) who executed a soldier for tearing up publicly a copy of the Law of Moses, blaspheming against it; the soldier was executed because he had committed a public outrage. 

Then, too, there is the statement by the Roman historian Tacitus that Pontius Pilate sentenced Jesus to die by crucifixion (Tacitus, Annals 15.44.3). 

And, we know, from the time of the Emperor Augustus (31 BCE-14 CE), the Roman prefect or his deputies in Egypt had the authority to conduct judicial processes of “status examination” on both Roman and non-Roman citizens./24/

In sum, therefore, we have evidence to conclude that, in the first century CE, a Roman governor or prefect could play a determining role in a judicial procedure ― investigation and/or trial ― of an ordinary citizen or non-citizen./25/

And this means that, in the case of Jesus, there is no need to postulate a standing agreement between Caiaphas and Pilate that would cause Jesus’ immediate execution without some investigation or trial. 

Josephus’ Testimony is actually very clear: Jesus was put to death by crucifixion, and before his execution there was some kind of interrogation and trial carried out by Jewish leaders and the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. 


/1/ Josephus lived from 37/38 until sometime after 100 CE, and came from a priestly family in the Jerusalem aristocracy. 

/2/ Josephus: Jewish Antiquities, Book XVIII-XX, translated (based on eclectic Greek texts, the earliest one dates from the eleventh century), edited and annotated by Louis H. Feldman (Cambridge, Massachusetts/London: Harvard Univ. Press/William Heinemann, 1969 [19651]) 48-51, in LCL 9 (9 vols; translated, edited and annotated by Henry St. John Thackeray, Ralph Marcus, Allen Wikgren and Louis H. Feldman); 

See Louis. H. Feldman, “Flavius Josephus Revisited: the Man, His Writings, and His Significance”, Aufstieg und Niedergang der römischen Welt (ANRW) II. 21.2, ed. W. Haase & H. Temporini (Berlin/New York: de Gruyter, 1984) 763-862. 

/3/ See John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew, 1.56-69, 70-88, esp. p. 59; “Jesus in Josephus: A Modest Proposal”, Catholic Biblical Quarterly 52 (1990) 76-103, esp. 81f.; cf. Zvi Baras, “Testimonium Flavianum: The State of Recent Scholarship”, in Michael Avi-Yonah and Zvi Baras (eds), Society and Religion in the Second Temple Period (London: W.H. Allen, 1977) 303-13, 378-85; idem, “The Testimonium Flavianum and the Martyrdom of James” in Louis H. Feldman and Gohei Hata (eds.), Josephus, Judaism and Christianity (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1987) 338-348, esp. 339; Steve Mason, Josephus and the New Testament (Peabody, Massachusetts: Hendrickson, 1992) 163-175. 

/4/ In Feldman’s lists of modern scholarship (1937-1980): 83 studies on the Testimony in general; 11 studies on the Testimony’s references to Jesus; 1 study on Josephus’ sources for the Testimony; 14 studies on the phrase “He was the Messiah”; 5 studies on Origen and Eusebius in relation to the Testimony; 7 studies on the context of the Testimony; 10 studies on the language of the Testimony; 3 studies on Jesus’ appearance according to the reconstructed original Testimony; 17 studies on the Arabic and Syriac versions of the Testimony — in totality 156 studies. 

See his work Josephus and Modern Scholarship (1937-1980) (general editorship of Wolfgang Haase, Tübingen) (Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter, 1984) 679ff. 

And in Josephus. A Supplementary Bibliography (New York/ London: Carland Publishing, 1986), Feldman compiles 120 studies on the Testimony. 

See also Paul Winter’s bibliography on the pro’s and con’s put forth by scholars regarding the authenticity of the Testimony in his “Josephus on Jesus and James Antiquities xviii 3, 3 (63-64) and xx 9, 1 (200-3),” in Emil Schürer, The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ (175 B.C.- A.D. 135) (a new English version revised and edited by Geza Vermes and Fergus Millar; Edinburgh: T. &T. Clark, 1973), Excursus II, 1. 428-41. 

/5/ Louis H. Feldman, Josephus. Jewish Antiquities, Book XVIII-XX, LCL, IX, p. 49 n.b; “The Testimonium Flavianum: The State of the Question”, in R. F. Berkey and S.A. Edwards (eds.), Christological Perspectives (H.K. McArthur Festschrift; New York: Pilgrim, 1982) 179-199, 288-293, esp. 181, 199; Josephus and Modern Scholarship, 690; “A Selective Critical Bibliography of Josephus” in Louis H. Feldman and Gohei Hata (eds.), Josephus, the Bible and History (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1989) 330-347; “Flavius Josephus Revisited”, 822.

See also Paul Winter, “Josephus on Jesus and James”, 1. 428-41; On the Trial of Jesus (rev. and ed. T.A. Burkill and Geza Vermes; Berlin/New York: Walter de Gruyter, 19742) 40; S.G.F. Brandon, Jesus and the Zealots: A Study of the Political Factor in Primitive Christianity (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 1967) 359-64; The Trial of Jesus of Nazareth (London: B.T. Batsford, 1968) 151 ff; Zvi Baras, “Testimonium Flavianum: The State of Recent Scholarship”, 303-13, 378-85.

Additionally, see also James H. Charlesworth, Jesus Within Judaism (New York, etc.: Doubleday, 1988) 90-98; Crossan, Cross That Spoke, 93-94; Historical Jesus, 372-74; Jesus, 161-63, 197; Who Killed Jesus?, 5, 147, 208f; Meier, A Marginal Jew, pp. 56-88; “Jesus in Josephus”, 87; Steve Mason, Josephus and the New Testament, 173-74; E.P. Sanders, The Historical Figure of Jesus (London, etc.: Allen Lane Penguin Press, 1993) 50, 298n.3; Raymond E. Brown, Death of Messiah, 1. 373-76; Craig A. Evans, Jesus and His Contemporaries: Comparative Studies (Leiden, etc.: Brill, 1995) 42-45; idem, “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources”, in Bruce Chilton and Craig A. Evans (eds.), Studying the Historical Jesus: Evaluations of the State of Current Research (Leiden, etc.: Brill, 1998) 443-78, esp. 466-77. 

/6/ A Major argument that the words printed in italics are later Christian interpolations, is that all are “obviously Christian” and “interrupt the flow of what is otherwise a concise text carefully written in a fairly neutral — or even purposely ambiguous — tone”; see John P. Meier, A Marginal Jew, 1. 60-62; “Jesus in Josephus”, 85, 87. 

/7/ Summary of the principle arguments either for authenticity or against genuineness can be found in the sources cited above. 

See also Brown, Death of Messiah, 1. 374, and Meier’s arguments drawn from the text’s history, context, language, and christological content in A Marginal Jew, 1. 62-69; idem, “Jesus in Josephus”, 88f. 

See also Theissen and Merz’s discussion in The Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998; trans. John Bowden from the German Der historische Jesus: Ein Lehrbuch, 1996) 64-74. 

Four reasons have been put forward for the authenticity of the Testimony: 

(1) The Greek text of the Testimony is found in all the surviving mss. of the antiquities and was cited with some variations in the early fourth century by Eusebius in his three works, firstly in Demonstratio Evangelica 3.5.124-25, secondly in Historia Ecclessiastica 1.9.3.; 1.11.7-8, and thirdly in Theophania which survives only in a Syriac translation. Some form of the Testimony may have been known in the early third century by Origen, who dealt with the fact that though Josephus mentioned Jesus he did not believe that he was the Messiah (see Contra Celsum 1.47; also Comm. in Matt. 10.17 on ­­­­­­­­13:55 [GCS 40.22]); 

(2) Minus Christian additions, the style of writing and a great deal of the vocabularies of the Testimony are Josephan; concerning Jesus the authentic Testimony reflects a “low christology” (He is sophos anēr, “a wise man”) in contrast to, for example, “high christology” of the third and fourth centuries which claimed divine sonship for Jesus; its literary context is in agreement with the whole context of Josephus’ reporting of the heightening tension between the Jews and Rome. 

A clear tendency of the canonical gospels to exculpate Pilate and to put all the blame and responsibility upon the Jews and their leaders does not cohere with the role given to them in the Testimony. 

Furthermore, outside the Testimony, there is no evidence in the first-century for any reference to Christians as “tribe” or “clan” (for genuine Josephus’ usage, see Jewish War 3.8.3; # 354: “the tribe of the Jews”); moreover, something dismissive if not hostile can be detected in the whole sentence in which this reference appears (that is, “to this day the tribe of Christians ... has not died out”) which was aimed at Christians of his own day most likely not by a Christian interpolator but by Josephus himself (see, e.g., Meier, A Marginal Jew, 1. 66; “Jesus in Josephus”, 95f.); 

(3) Josephus’ reference to Jesus in Antiquities 20.200 needs an earlier mention of Jesus to make intelligible the reference at this point; 

(4) An Arabic version of the account from the tenth-century preserved by Agapius contains little or no sign of Christian additions. One recent article advancing arguments against authenticity of the entire Testimony is K.A. Olson’s, “Eusebius and the Testimonium Flavianum”, Catholic Biblical Quarterly 61 (1999) 305-322. Comparing the Testimony to the works of Eusebius, Olson contends that the text was created by Eusebius himself to refute pagan attacks on Jesus’ character. 

Olson states that the text contains words or phrases peculiar to Eusebius, except for two phrases which are more typical of Josephus, i.e., “receive with pleasure” (hēdonē[i] talēthē dechomenōn) and “first men” (prōtōn andrōn); these were brought into the text by Eusebius when revising his earlier version (in Dem. Evangelica 3.5. 124-125) so as to make it more in keeping with Josephus, the result being the text which now stands in his Historia Ecclessiastica. A Christian scribe then took it from the Historia and inserted it into Josephus’ account of Pilate’s administration. 

I find out that Olson’s argument inconclusive on two grounds. 

First, it is not only the two phrases just-mentioned which belong to Josephus; rather, a good number of words or phrases which Olson claims as Eusebius’ actually come from Josephus. This fact should force us to be open also to the possible authenticity of certain parts of the Testimony. 

Second, if Olson is correct in claiming that Eusebius inserted only the two phrases peculiar to Josephus into his revision of the Testimony, whereas the remaining words and phrases are his own, it follows that Eusebius knew the Josephan vocabularies quite well. 

And, if so, why did he not compose the entire Testimony in harmony with Josephus’ vocabularies, either to convince his readers of the authenticity of the account or to hinder him from revising it? 

Also, why did Eusebius feel the need to add those two phrases only later? And why did Eusebius introduce his own phrase, “wise man”, but then qualify it by introducing another of his own phrases: “if indeed one should call him a man”? 

In so doing, is it not evident that Eusebius well knew that the phrase “wise man,” applied to Jesus, was Josephan? 

Is it not possible that Eusebius had the original text of the Testimony at his disposal, but considered it unfriendly or hostile to Jesus so that he felt urged to revise it by interpolating Christian confession into it, to make it usable in his polemic against non-Christians? 

In short, could not this problem simply point to the complicated history of the transmission of the original Josephus’ Testimony, and not to the creative and editorial hand of Eusebius? 

/8/ Per Bilde also states that “No one can be in doubt that in a great many respects Josephus did not write merely to record history. 

Nevertheless, at the same time he claims as a historian he is primarily guided by regard for the historical truth. 

He maintains that the writer of history must not allow himself to be led by a desire to please and flatter; nor by a wish to excel in rhetorical style. 

Above all, the historian should remain impartial and suppress his own personal emotions. He should write soberly and objectively about the events he himself has experienced or which he has found well documented in historical sources.” 

According to Bilde, Josephus displays these principles in his prefaces to Jewish War (1.1-16) and Antiquities (1.1-4), but also in several other places, such as Jewish War 5.20; Antiquities 16.183-187; 20.154-156; Life 336-339, 357-367; Apion 1.1-56. 

Bilde comments that “(in Jewish War) Josephus’ intention is to represent the facts,... but at the same time... he wants to express his own emotions on what took place; he writes with grief for the misfortunes of the Jewish people, while at the same time, he endeavours to write accurately, painstakingly and impartially.” 

See his work Flavius Josephus Between Jerusalem and Rome: His Life, His Works and their Importance (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1988) 73, 192-95, 200. 

Yet, unbelievably, regarding the historical value of the Testimony, Bilde is of the negative opinion that “as such (the Testimony) was indeed looked upon and celebrated for centuries, but more recent investigations have shown that, at best, the text is partly genuine and most likely a thoroughly secondary Christian fabrication. Hence, we can disregard this text with good conscience” (pp. 222-23). 

/9/ Shaye J. D. Cohen, Josephus in Galilee and Rome. His Vita and Development as a Historian (Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1979) 181. 

/10/ Shaye J. D. Cohen, Josephus in Galilee and Rome, p. 47. 

/11/ Helen K. Bond, “New Currents in Josephus Research” in Currents in Research: Biblical Studies 8 (2000) 177f. [162-190]. 

/12/ Meier, A Marginal Jew, pp. 68, 64f ; “Jesus in Josephus”, 98, 94. 

/13/ G. J. Goldberg, “The Coincidences of the Emmaus Narrative of Luke and the Testimonium of Josephus”, Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha 13 (1995) 59-77; idem, “The Josephus-Luke Connection” in The Flavius Josephus Home Page (; idem, “Testimonium-Luke Comparison Table”; “Statistical Significance of the Testimonium-Luke Correspondences. Comparison with Other Early Jesus Descriptions”, “Quantitative Content Analysis of Jesus Texts”, “Content Analysis of Jesus Texts. Pairwise Analysis” (all in the same Home Page). 

/14/ Moreover, the fact that Luke 24 lacks the reference to Pilate’s role may permit one to suggest that Josephus’ Testimony could be closer to that early Jewish-Christian common source. 

/15/ Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz, Historical Jesus, 74 [64-74]. 

/16/ Jesus, 162-63, 197; Who Killed Jesus?, 5f. 

/17/ See Paul Winter, On The Trial of Jesus, p. 40 n.26, referring to Antiquities 20.251; Craig A. Evans, “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources” in Studying the Historical Jesus, 472-73; idem, “Authenticating the Activities of Jesus”, in Bruce Chilton and Craig A. Evans (eds.), Authenticating the Activities of Jesus (Leiden, etc.: Brill, 1999) 3-29, esp. 17-20. 

Although the central figure was the High Priest himself, the Jewish aristocracy, through which Roman rule worked (see Antiquities 20.251), included other officers of the Temple, the leading members of the high priestly families who were also members of the Sanhedrin, and certain relatives or descendants of Herod who played an influential role in Judaean affairs even though they did not occupy any formal office. 

The core of the Jewish aristocracy, however, was composed of a few wealthy priestly families. The nineteen or so occupants of the High Priestly office between 6 and 66 CE were from only four highly influential families, who must have formed a fairly tight-knit clique in their control of Judean (and other Jewish) affairs. See Richard A. Horsley, “High Priests and the Politics of Roman Palestine. A Contextual Analysis of the Evidence in Josephus” in Journal for the Study of Judaism XVII/1, June 1986, 30-34 [23-55]; Emil Schürer, History of the Jewish People, 2.235-236; Joachim Jeremias, Jerusalem in the Time of Jesus (Philadelphia: Fortress, 1969) 147-182. 

/18/ The Pharisees’ self-understanding can be inferred from their name as pārôšîm which, they maintained, meant “the speci­­fiers”, namely, ones of “the party of accurate and specific observance of the law”; see A.I. Baumgarten, “The Name of the Pharisees”, Journal of Biblical Literature 102/3 (1983) 420, 426 ff. [411-428]. 

/19/ Richard A. Horsley, Archaeology, History, and Society in Galilee. The Social Context of Jesus and the Rabbis (Pennsylvania: Trinity Press International, 1996) 152-3; Martin Goodman, The Ruling Class of Judaea. The Origins of the Jewish Revolt against Rome A.D. 66-70 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1987, repr. 1988) 73; G. Vermes, Jesus and the World of Judaism (London: SCM Press, 1983) 31, 153 n.8. 

Though there remains no evidence outside the Christian gospels about the activities of the Pharisees as representatives of the Jerusalem authorities in Galilee during the early first century (except Josephus’ Life 196-97, the one and only mention in the whole of Josephus’ work, about three Pharisees and another delegation visiting Galilee, dispatched from Jerusalem, to effect his dismissal from the post of regional commander-in-chief), Horsley accepts the historical credibility of those Christian records: 

“Given the institutional political-economic-religious structure in first-century Palestine, if there was any representation of Jerusalem interests in Galilee, scribal retainers of the temple-state such as the Pharisees would have been the obvious candidates”. See Horsley, Archaeology, History, and Society in Galilee, 31, 33f. 

/20/ See also R. A. Horsley and John S. Hanson, Bandits, Prophets, and Messiahs: Popular Movements at the Time of Jesus (Minneapolis, etc.: Winston Press, 1985) 153, 157-59 [reviewed by T.L. Donaldson, “Rural Bandits, City Mobs and the Zealots”, Journal for the Study of Judaism in the Persian, Hellenistic and Roman Period 21 (1990) 19-40]; Martin Goodman, The Ruling Class of Judaea, 73f., 84, 150; Urban C. Von Wahlde, “The Relationship Between Pharisees and Chief Priests: Some Observations on the Texts in Matthew, John and Josephus”, New Testament Studies 42/4 (1996) 506-22. 

It should be remembered that “ordinary Judeans did not necessarily share the views of the Pharisees and often came into conflict with the priestly aristocracy” and that “it is highly doubtful that the high priesthood or its scribal ‘retainers’ (including the Pharisees) would have been able to mount a program by which the Galileans could have been effectively ‘resocialized’ into habitual loyalty to the Temple and the Torah (or the ‘laws of the Judeans’)” and that “the opposition between Jesus and the Pharisees is another aspect of the conflictual relations between Jerusalem rulers and the Galilean villagers”; see Horsley, Archaeology, History, and Society in Galilee, 182f. 

In the NT, in the references to the make-up of the Sanhedrin as “the priests, the elders, and the scribes”, there may have been Pharisees among the last-mentioned group, although the gospels do not stress it. The synoptic joining of scribes and Pharisees (some fifteen times) certainly gives this impression; in addition, there is mention in Matt. 27:62 of the Pharisees who together with the chief priests gathered before Pilate after the execution of Jesus; and in John 11:47 and Acts 5:34; 23:6 mention is made of the Pharisees as part of the Sanhedrin. See Brown, Death of Messiah, 340 n.26, 352 nn.52,53, and Appendix V, B2. 

/21/ Craig A. Evans, “Jesus in Non-Christian Sources” in Bruce Chilton and Craig A. Evans (eds.), Studying the Historical Jesus: Evaluations of the State of Current Research (Leiden, etc.: Brill, 1998), pp. 443-78, esp. p. 477. 

/22/ Antiquities 20.200-202. As has been noted, the story is placed within the context of political events in Judaea in the mid-60s. The Roman governor, Porcius Festus, has died in office (62 CE), and the emperor Nero sends Albinus to replace him (62-64 CE). 

Having been granted control over the high priesthood by the Roman authorities, King Agrippa II bestows this priestly office on Ananus II. 

However, in the eyes of Josephus, the High Priest Ananus is not different from other Sadducees who “are savage beyond all (other) Jews” (Antiquities 20:199). 

To illustrate Ananus’ impetuous conduct, including atrocities, in Antiquities 20:203 Josephus relates how, having been convinced by a delegation that had come to him, the new governor, Albinus, became infuriated at Ananus’ improper action in bypassing the Roman governor’s approval which was necessary for convening the Sanhedrin and for passing the death sentence; and Albinus then wrote to Ananus, threatening punishment for this affront to the power of the Roman governor. However, King Agrippa steps in, and deposes Ananus from the high priesthood after only three months in office. 

/23/ Brown, Death of Messiah, 1. 715. 

/24/ About a hundred papyrus documents dated to the first three centuries CE record the process of status examination (epikrisis or eiskrisis) which was enforced on Roman or non-Roman citizens in Roman Egypt. 

Procedurally, an individual’s application for clai­ming the right to a particular status would be examined, verified and determined. If the applicant was properly qualified and his formal application was granted, the new status was then conferred and a certificate declaring the new status was issued. 

The official declaration of the new status of the applicant was important for, among other matters, claiming an inheritance or receiving other rights of citizenship, for example, enrollment in the military service or being wholly exempt from the poll-tax or having the right to reside in a province. 

Carroll A. Nelson in his Status Declarations in Roman Egypt (American Studies in Papyrology vol. XIX; Amsterdam: Adolf M. Hakkert, 1979) has studied a number of such papyrus documents and analysed the form and function of such status declarations in Roman Egypt. 

Of the papyrus documents Nelson has analysed, some, dated from the begin­ning (103 CE) to the end of the second century (188 CE), contain records of examinations directly by the prefect of Egypt or by his representatives upon Roman citizens and their dependents (slaves and freedmen) in matters such as establishing status or guaranteeing rights (pp. 40-46). 

Nelson states, “that the prefect or his deputies conduc­ted the examinations... means that the highest administrative office in the province handled the epikrisis of these citizens either because they were Romans or because their epikrisis involved something which was not or could not be handled on the nome [a province of ancient Egypt] or metropolis level of government.” (p. 44). 

Some of the papyri Nelson analysed (for exam­ple, P. Oxy II 257; P. Oxy X 1266; P. Oxy XII 1452; P. Oxy. XVIII 2186; PSI V 457; PSI VII 731) contain a reference to, or a citation from, a list or a documentary account dated to 4 or 5 CE (“in the thirty-fourth year of Augustus” [31 BCE - 14 CE]) (pp. 28-35). 

Con­clusively, Nelson stresses that “In the first place, all available evidence points to these declarations and the examinations for status as exclusively Roman procedures which probably were initiated during the reign of Augustus and were part of an administrative reorganization by the Roman government” (p. 66) and “through status declarations and the records which they provided for nome and provincial officials, the Roman government was able to administer and control more efficiently her citizens and subjects in Egypt.” (p. 67). 

/25/ Raymond Brown (Death of Messiah, 1.719) cautions that it would be wrong to imagine that the governor consulted law books every time he had to deal with a provincial accused of a crime. However, one can justifiably imagine that what governed the treatment of a noncitizen such as Jesus was not a specific law, but a general principle of maintaining order in a subject province.