One among the many irrefutable proofs of the resurrection of Our Lord Jesus Christ that even serious non-Christians are forced to contend with is the testimony of Flavius Josephus, first-century Jewish historian and eyewitness to the remarkable fulfilment of Our Savior’s prophesies regarding the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70. Bp. Eusebius praises Josephus for the accuracy of his reporting, which agrees admirably with Scripture. For the saints and for us, the testimony of Christian historians like St. Matthew, St. Mark, St. Luke, St. John, etc. is infinitely superior to that of any Jewish or pagan historian, ancient or modern, but we should know that modern secularists treat Josephus almost like a secular bible when it comes to the history of first-century events. So imagine just how shocked they must be to find this clear and explicit testimony to the Resurrection of Jesus in the Antiquities of Josephus!
Flavius Josephus, Antiquities XVIII, Chapter III, Para. 3:
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 wonderful works; a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was [the] Christ. And 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 ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him. And the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct at this day.
- This historical testimony attests to all the most important facts in the life of Our Lord Jesus Christ: His divine Wisdom, His astonishing miracles, His lofty doctrine, His powerful preaching attracting men and women from all races and cultures; His crucifixion under Pilate and glorious resurrection in accordance with what the great prophets of Israel had written. It shows that all this was almost universally known among the Jews of the time, even those hostile or indifferent to the Gospel.
- The testimony is so clearly Josephan that it throws all secular critics into the greatest and insuperable difficulties; they have no choice but to desperately plead that it is a forgery to maintain their secularism. But this is an absurd and farcical pretense. The passage fits perfectly with all we know of Josephus’s style and vocabulary; it has unique expressions as “tribe of Christians” and calls Jesus “a wise man,” etc. that occur nowhere else. As the C.E. notes, moreover, “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.”
III. Its authenticity was universally taken for granted for centuries. From the same C.E. article, “Third, Eusebius (“Hist. Eccl”., I, xi; cf. “Dem. Ev.”, III, v) Sozomen (Church History I.1), Niceph. (Hist. Eccl., I, 39), Isidore of Pelusium (Ep. IV, 225), St. Jerome (catal.script. eccles. xiii), Ambrose, Cassiodorus, etc., appeal to the testimony of Josephus; there must have been no doubt as to its authenticity at the time of these illustrious writers.”
We can note that Josephus, like Gamaliel and others, may have been content with discreetly operating within the synagogue — among a number of other possible explanations for why he was not baptized. Regardless, this clear testimony from a historian so universally regarded as credible is convincing proof that the Jews of Jesus’s time were well acquainted with the fact of His Resurrection.
Like the holy Shroud of Turin, and the 500 eyewitnesses to the Resurrection, and the heroic lives and martyrdoms of the holy apostles sealing and confirming their testimony to Jesus and His resurrection in their blood, the Testimonium Flavium, as it is called, affords no small proof of the Resurrection! It must command the attention of every serious inquirer into Christianity.
Some of the early Christians knew that Josephus believed in Christ and so regarded this great historian with much respect. His conversion, like that of Rabbi Gamaliel, should be another clear call to non-Christians to believe in Jesus Christ and be saved. It should confirm the wavering in the Faith. And it should console the faithful that the Lord God we serve has done and is able to do astonishing things.
Josephus, the son of Matthias, priest of Jerusalem, taken prisoner by Vespasian and his son Titus, was banished. Coming to Rome he presented to the emperors, father and son, seven books On the captivity of the Jews, which were deposited in the public library and, on account of his genius, was found worthy of a statue at Rome. He wrote also twenty books of Antiquities, from the beginning of the world until the fourteenth year of Domitian Cæsar, and two of Antiquities against Appion, the grammarian of Alexandria who, under Caligula, sent as legate on the part of the Gentiles against Philo, wrote also a book containing a vituperation of the Jewish nation. Another book of his entitled, On all ruling wisdom, in which the martyr deaths of the Maccabeans are related is highly esteemed. In the eighth book of his Antiquities he most openly acknowledges that Christ was slain by the Pharisees on account of the greatness of his miracles, that John the Baptist was truly a prophet, and that Jerusalem was destroyed because of the murder of James the Apostle. He wrote also concerning the Lord after this fashion: “In this same time was Jesus, a wise man, if indeed it be lawful to call him man. For he was a worker of wonderful miracles, and a teacher of those who freely receive the truth. He had very many adherents also, both of the Jews and of the Gentiles, and was believed to be Christ, and when through the envy of our chief men Pilate had crucified him, nevertheless those who had loved him at first continued to the end, for he appeared to them the third day alive. Many things, both these and other wonderful things are in the songs of the prophets who prophesied concerning him and the sect of Christians, so named from Him, exists to the present day.
The great doctor who gave us our Latin Vulgate Bible here explains that Josephus plainly testifies to these things as incontrovertible.
And St. Ambrose:
The Jews themselves also bear witness to Christ, as appears by Josephus, the writer of their history, who says thus: ‘That there was at that time a wise man, if (says he) it be lawful to have him called a man, a doer of wonderful works, who appeared to his disciples after the third day from his death, alive again according to the writings of the prophets, who foretold these and innumerable other miraculous events concerning him: from whom began the congregation of Christians, yet he was no believer, because of the hardness of his heart and his prejudicial intention. However, it was no prejudice to the truth that he was not a believer, but this adds more weight to his testimony, that while he was an unbeliever and unwilling, this should be true, he has not denied it to be so.
Here, the saintly bishop of Milan points out that the principal facts in the life of Christ, including His public ministry and miracles, His life and Gospel, His death and crucifixion, His burial and resurrection were so well known as to be undeniable even to those who did not openly confess Christ. If non-Christians say Josephus was not a Christian, this only adds all the more weight to his testimony. If they claim he became a Christian, then they should do so also.
Thus, modern skeptics, who are aware of the great credibility of Josephus but find this testimony inexplicable because of their a priori prejudice against Christianity, should come with the aid of grace to the realization that this testimony is absolutely true. Jesus Christ is really the promised Messiah, and He really died under Pontius Pilate on Nisan 14, 33 A.D. and rose from the dead on the third day.
Finally, two holy doctors explain why the fact of the Resurrection is so certain that, as the existence of God can be known from its effects in creation, so the Lord’s resurrection, which is the New Creation, can be known through its effects in history, in the lives of the apostles, and in those who converted.
For this reason therefore by the miracles [wrought by the Apostles] He renders the evidence of His Resurrection unequivocal, so that not only the men of those times — this is what would come of the ocular proof — but also all men thereafter, should be certain of the fact, that He was risen. Upon this ground also we argue with unbelievers. For if He did not rise again, but remains dead, how did the Apostles perform miracles in His name? But they did not, say you, perform miracles? How then was our religion instituted? For this certainly they will not controvert nor impugn what we see with our eyes: so that when they say that no miracles took place, they inflict a worse stab upon themselves. For this would be the greatest of miracles, that without any miracles, the whole world should have eagerly come to be taken in the nets of twelve poor and illiterate men!
St. Thomas Aquinas, in Summa Contra Gentiles, wrote:
The Divine Wisdom, that knows all things most fully, has deigned to reveal these her secrets to men, and in proof of them has displayed works beyond the competence of all natural powers, in the wonderful cure of diseases, in the raising of the dead, and what is more wonderful still, in such inspiration of human minds as that simple and ignorant persons, filled with the gift of the Holy Ghost, have gained in an instant the height of wisdom and eloquence. By force of the aforesaid proof, without violence of arms, without promise of pleasures, and, most wonderful thing of all, in the midst of the violence of persecutors, a countless multitude, not only of the uneducated but of the wisest men, flocked to the Christian Faith, wherein doctrines are preached that transcend all human understanding, pleasures of sense are restrained, and a contempt is taught of all worldly possessions. That mortal minds should assent to such teaching is the greatest of miracles, and a manifest work of divine inspiration leading men to despise the visible and desire only invisible goods. Nor did this happen suddenly nor by chance, but by a divine disposition, as is manifest from the fact that God foretold by many oracles of His Prophets that He intended to do this. The books of those prophets are still venerated amongst us, as bearing testimony to our faith. This argument is touched upon in the text: Which (salvation) having begun to be uttered by the Lord, was confirmed by them that heard him even unto us, God joining in the testimony by signs and portents and various distributions of the Holy Spirit (Heb. ii, 3, 4).
This so wonderful conversion of the world to the Christian Faith is so certain a sign of past miracles, that they need no further reiteration, since they appear evidently in their effects. It would be more wonderful than all other miracles, if without miraculous signs the world had been induced by simple and low-born men to believe truths so arduous, to do works so difficult, to hope for reward so high. And yet even in our times God ceases not through His saints to work miracles for the confirmation of the Faith.
Nishant Xavier lives in Chennai, India. He has an MBA in Financial Management and works in investment banking in Credit Suisse. He earlier worked at Bank of New York in its Chennai office. He makes time to preach the Gospel. His Passion is to preach to 100 Crore Souls before he dies. He is the Author of the upcoming Book: The Great Commission of Lord Jesus Christ: Distributing 150 Crore Bibles in India by 2033. For any important concern, send him a mail at [email protected] or connect with him on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn and YouTube.
What is the best interpretation for Traditional Catholics on the writings of Flavius Josephus?