Category Archives: Testimonium Flavianum

The Historical Approach to the New Testament

When I think of an Historical Approach to the New Testament, the first thing I think of is the historical accuracy of the content. The second thing I think of is the historical context: literature under Roman occupation, under Rome dealing with an uprising, under Rome putting down an uprising, under Rome not wanting to deal with another rebellion anytime soon; under Rome which put an end to the biblical Jesus’s earthly ministry, under Rome which, very importantly, supplanted or usurped the Son of Man’s Kingdom of Heaven/Righteousness–Rome which didn’t necessarily come like a thief in the night, but certainly did steal Jerusalem, took away the treasures of the Temple, destroyed the City, destroyed the Temple, destroyed Temple Judaism, destroyed Masada.

When I think of an Historical Approach to the New Testament, I think primarily of what was written no later than 95 Common Era. Maybe a modern investigative reporter or an archaeologist can uncover something to add to biblical accounts circa 27 – 36 Common Era (for Jesus). But then again, historical accounts about Jesus and all his wonders needs to have been written no later than 40 Common Era. The flurry of gospels were written after: 1) the death of other Jewish purists a) King Izates [50 C.E.], b) Queen Helena [no later than 56 C.E.], and c) James the brother of Jesus [64-66 C.E.; 2) the start of the Jewish Revolt in 66 or 67 Common Era and/ or when sacrifices for the well-being of the Roman Emperor stopped; 3) the Destruction of the Temple by Rome, 70 CE; and 4) the end of the Jewish Revolt, 73 C.E. The flurry of gospels being written after all these suggest an impetus not of the wonders of Jesus 27 – 36 C.E. but the need for a collection of writings that calm the rebellious nature of Roman subjects. And, that’s what the New Testament is, a book to build character away from rebelling against Rome.

Given Rome’s indispensable contextual value, we must explore even further the great story of a man sacrificed so others can live. When we do this, we come to the historian Livy (64 or 59 BCE to 17 CE). For the full reference, see The History of Rome 8,9. Briefly, the following: “Decius exclaimed: Valerius, we need the help of the gods! Come now, you are a state pontiff[!, I’m adding emphasis on the word pontiff] of the Roman people–dictate the formula whereby I may devote myself to save the legions…” Decius Mus was did lose his life for victory which is a model for victory in Jesus. The sacrifice of Jesus is palatable for Roman ears where Christianity survived in Roman Christianity. Decius Mus saved a military advance and that was the military good news. Decius Mundus would be a savior of the world, a Christian claim. The character Decius Mundus appears in the second of three passages in Antiquities of the Jews, written by the Roman historian, Josephus. The first passage is the Testimonium Flavianum where Josephus speaks of Jesus being crucified by Pilate and appearing to loved ones after his death. Jesus who died to save others (only he was taken from the Garden of Gethsemene, saving his disciples from capture, let alone saving people by dying for the sins of the world) is linked to Decius Mus who died for his followers, let alone Rome or whatever the stakes were in the battle being fought. So, Jesus is Decius Mundus who appears to a loving devotee on the third day. Josephus, an insider to Rome’s patronage of Christian literature, whistleblows a fact of Christianity to us at the end of the Decius Mundus passage and in the third passage of the three.

So, a historical approach to the New Testament brings its readers to the mountains of Christian History: Rome’s governance of Palestine, the gospels/military good news of Rome’s keeping the peace in the area, Rome’s historians, Rome’s propaganda to quell descent, Rome’s theft of the treasures of the Temple, Rome’s theft of Temple Judaism and Jesus’s Kingdom of God/Heaven/Righteousness.

Atwill’s Cranked-up Jesus Richard Carrier Blogs Freethought Blogs Review

Richard Carrier believes Jesus was not crucified on Earth. Richard Carrier has a reading comprehension problem. When asked for his peer-reviewed article which will show whether or not he has examined the Testimonium Flavianum as a sarcastic inclusion by Josephus, he does not provide the name of the journal and the name of the article so a person can search for it at a seminary library.

“Others propose that Josephus included the passage so as to curry favor with the Christians, because he was in trouble with his own Jewish compatriots. Still others interpret the passage as intended sarcasm, though the argument for that view is too convoluted to summarize here.”
– p. 234 of Josephus and the New Testament, Second Edition by Steve Mason

In a thorough examination, even challenging views must be heard for a final decision to be claimed. One version of the sarcasm view is not all that convoluted. Joseph Atwill advises that one simply read the passage after the Testimonium Flavianum and see 1) Decius Mundus as a sarcastic reference to Savior of the World/Mundus and 2) Decius Mundus appeared to one who loved him on the third day, as did Jesus appeared to those who loved him on the third day.

Re: Page 225-227 of Josephus and the New Testament, Second Edition by Steve Mason

My reply:
I would like to introduce my reply with a preview of the bottom line, which is beyond page 227, but on page 236, and I quote: “…since most of those who know the evidence agree that [Josephus] said something about Jesus, one is probably entitled to cite him as independent evidence that Jesus actually lived, if such evidence were needed. But that much is already given in Josephus’s reference to James (Ant. 20.200) and most historians agree that Jesus’ existence is the only adequate explanation of the many independent traditions among the NT writings.”

What you have written is this:

The most credible alternative theory of Christian origins is that Jesus began life as a celestial being, known only through private revelations, who was believed to have been crucified and resurrected in the lower heavens. The Gospels were the first attempts to place him in history as an earthly man, in parables and fables meant to illustrate Christian theology and ideals. Their picture of Jesus then became the most successful among the competing varieties of Christianity over the ensuing generations, and the eventually triumphant sects only created and preserved documents supporting their view, and very little supporting any other.

To date the best case presented for this hypothesis is by amateur historian and classics graduate Earl Doherty (in his two books, The Jesus Puzzle and Jesus: Neither God Nor Man). My own forthcoming book, probably titled On the Historicity of Jesus, inspired by his work, will be the first making the case for this hypothesis to pass academic peer review. It will be published this February by the publishing house of the University of Sheffield.


Moving on, if you would have mentioned the title of the article and the journal, I could have been on my way to Dallas Theological Seminary or Bridwell after work or on a weekend to do some reading. Your comment 145.1 does not give me and other readers that information. So your criticism is premature. I REALLY WANT TO READ WHAT YOU’VE WRITTEN ON THIS TOPIC.

Now, I want to clash directly with what you’ve written: “Josephus is just listing disasters that increased tensions between the Romans and the Jews. None of those disasters are commentaries on Christianity. They are simply things that happened that increased tensions between the Romans and the Jews.”

My reply, the Decius Mundus passage is a story about a believer in Isis. The Decius Mundus passage did not make the zealots and rebels more angry at Rome! You are mistaken. ON page 226, Mason even relates this not to an expulsion of Jews from Rome but an expulsion of Egyptians from Rome. I direct the readers of this post to score this point to me.

What Mason does say about the Isis Decius Mundus incident is this: it shows both that the Jews are no worse than other national groups and, second, and more important: Jews share the morals of the Romans.

Steve Mason does not catch the connection of Jesus appearing to believers on the third day and Decius Mundus appearing to a believer on the third day. So, your claim, Richard Carrier, is wrong: the Decius Mundus – Isis passage was not written to give a count of incidents that fueled the rebels, bandits, and zealots. So, while you thought you scored a point on me, I’ve justified my statement, and on top of that, I’ve proven your reading comprehension of page 226 of Mason’s book is in error.