Jesus in History and Myth

By R. Joseph Hoffmann; Gerald A. Larue | Go to book overview

Ellis Rivkin


Josephus and Jesus

I

The quest for the historical Jesus has been as alluring as it has been illusory. It has been alluring because the prize is well worth winning. It has been illusory because the only sources on which we can draw for a portrait of the historical Jesus render our quest hopeless. The Gospels, by blending as they do features of the historical Jesus with features of the risen Christ, leave the scholar with no sure method for separating the one from the other. Nonetheless, the quest goes on, in the hope that in another rereading of the Gospels the long-sought-for road to the historical Jesus will be found.

But if this is a road that will never be found -- because, in principle, it cannot be found -- by focusing on the Gospels, perhaps another road can be found that can lead us, however indirectly, to the historical Jesus. Such a road, I suggest, may be found in the writings of Josephus. For though he barely mentions Jesus either in The Jewish War or in the Antiquities, he does provide us with a highly reliable framework of time, place, structure, and circumstance that can be used as a filter for separating out the historical Jesus from the resurrected Christ in the Gospel stories.

I am aware, of course, that Josephus's credibility has been challenged on the grounds of his pro-Roman bias and his antipathy to the Jewish revolutionaries. But, as I shall seek to demonstrate, this challenge to Josephus's credibility is based on very shaky ground. For it fails to take note of the fact that Josephus's account of the road to war, as against his account of the war itself, is a devastating indictment of the way in which Roman emperors and procurators drove the Jewish people to such des-

____________________
Ellis Rivkin is Adolph Ochs Professor of Jewish History at Hebrew Union College-Jewish Institute of Religion.

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