Saturday, 10 October 2015

Josephus on Jesus - Review: "Origen, Eusebius and the Accidental Interpolation in Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.200" by Richard Carrier

A review of Dr Richard Carrier’s article ‘Origen, Eusebius and the Accidental Interpolation in Josephus, Jewish Antiquities 20.200’
(published in the Journal of Early Christian Studies, Winter 2012, Vol. 20, No. 4)

If you are not familiar with the topic, it’s this: extant copies of The Jewish Antiquities (AJ), a history written by Josephus, completed about 93AD, unfailingly contain two mentions of Jesus Christ. The first is a longer passage in AJ Book 18. The other is a passing comment in Book 20. The longer passage is sometimes called the Testimonium Flavianum (TF). The evidence that these texts provide for the historical Jesus is contested on the grounds of authenticity. That is: how much of this text was written by Josephus, and how much was interpolated by Christian scribes?

The main subject here is the passing comment in Book 20, and the scholarly understanding that the comment was known and quoted in ancient times. For example – and this is what Carrier’s article particularly contests - it is found in the work of 3rd century writer Origen: six words about Jesus and his brother James, verbatim as in AJ Book 20, together with material that seems to tie it to AJ 20. Also, in the 4th century writer Eusebius we find more extensive treatments which are more controversial and of lower evidential value (not least because Origen is the earlier witness). Carrier intends to disqualify Origen (and, with him, Eusebius) as a textual witness to the six words in AJ 20.

The six words are τὸν ἀδελφὸν Ἰησοῦ τοῦ λεγομένου Χριστοῦ (TON ADELPHON IESOU TOU LEGOMENOU CHRISTOU): translated literally as “the brother of the Jesus called Christ”, although you will see other translations of it here. You can see why it matters to some. As Josephus was a historian in the first century AD, and was not a Christian, his mention of a Jesus who some people called Christ - and the story that goes with it – is useful evidence. Neutrals and non-Christian scholars alike take this as plausible evidence of at least three historical markers:

  • that Jesus existed as a Jewish man
  • that some people said Jesus was the Christ (that is, the Jewish Messiah)
  • that he had a brother called James in Jerusalem

What Carrier argues is that this phrase is found in AJ 20:200 as a product of interpolation, and that this interpolation was accidental, an error by an ancient scribe making a copy. He thus sets out to demonstrate how TOU LEGOMENOU CHRISTOU got inserted into a copy of Josephus after the words TON ADELPHON IESOU.
This is a lengthy response, not my usual blogging, but a very detailed review of his article.
The text of Carrier’s article
I came to Carrier’s article with the preconceived idea that it would be making a significant new argument that might challenge and change my mind fundamentally about a small phrase in the text of AJ Book 20, a phrase which I had been regarding as authentic, as written by Josephus. I was open to the idea that I could be wrong. Was I expecting too much? One of the first challenges I faced with the article is in the writing itself, and I wonder if this was a result of the editorial process? It causes Carrier’s argument to become confusing at times. A few examples illustrate the problems as follows, and more are mentioned throughout this review.
Compare what Carrier variously says about the appearance in Origen of the words that are being contested. And remember the significance of this: the article is about six words. And for the avoidance of doubt, I am quoting below precisely what is in the article. The following errors are not mine. The article goes through three relevant passages in Origen in the following order.
1. On Origen’s Against Celsus 1:47, Carrier writes (page 500):
‘Origen is certainly not quoting Josephus here (neither does any sentence correspond verbatim to anything in Josephus nor does Origen specifically identify any of these words as being a quotation), but we do here see ὃς … ἀδελφὸς  Ἰησοῦ τοῦ λεγομένου Χριστοῦ “the brother of Jesus who was called Christ,” a nearly identical wording to that found in AJ 20.200...‘
Note that Carrier is correct in his awareness that these six words are ‘nearly identical’ to those in extant AJ 20.200, not ‘verbatim’.
2. On Origen’s Against Celsus 2:13, Carrier writes (page 500):
‘note that Origen gives the same line verbatim as appeared in the earlier passage (τὸν ἀδελφὸν Ἰησοῦ τοῦ λεγομένου Χριστοῦ)...’
That is an error. Self-evidently, the second is not verbatim as the first. Compare the two – the first begins with the word ‘who’ (in the nominative case) and the second with the word ‘the’ (in the accusative case):
ὃς … ἀδελφὸς  Ἰησοῦ τοῦ λεγομένου Χριστοῦ
τὸν ἀδελφὸν Ἰησοῦ τοῦ λεγομένου Χριστοῦ
3. On Origen’s Commentary on Matthew 10:17, he writes (page 501):
‘this passage contains another verbatim repetition of τὸν ἀδελφὸν Ἰησοῦ τοῦ λεγομένου Χριστοῦ...’
Clearly this is verbatim compared to the second passage above but not the first, so it is inaccurate to write ‘another verbatim repetition’. This may seem nitpicking, but the article is about these six words, so these errors shouldn’t occur.
4. Carrier continues (page 501):
‘despite this clause’s striking similarity to AJ 20.200, Origen is certainly not quoting it here [in his Commentary on Matthew 10:17] or any of the three other places where the phrase appears.’
Note that ‘here’ plus ‘three other places’ amounts to four places. This is another error. There are only three, not four. Presumably, Carrier meant to say ‘the two other places’.
5. In his conclusion (page 511) Carrier writes:
‘We have already seen that Origen quotes his own paraphrase, using the exact same six words, on three different occasions.’
So here, we are back to only three quotations (which is correct), not four. But note the additional error of referring to ‘the exact same six words, on three different occasions.’ Only two of the three quotations are ‘the exact same’, the other (the first one above) differs (beginning with ‘who’, not ‘the’).
Are some of these errors misprints, I wonder? You would not expect a string of errors about how many occurrences of the six words there are, and about them being verbatim or not. Such errors undermine the article’s persuasiveness.
6. Curiously, although Carrier argues at length ‘what Josephus originally said’ (to use one of his sub-headings), he never actually sets out in Greek what he thinks the six word phrase originally was. However, piecing together his comments, I deduce that he is suggesting Josephus originally wrote this: τὸν ἀδελφὸν  Ἰησοῦ τὸν τοῦ Δαμναίου (see page 512). I cannot tell why the article does not set it out clearly, and why it is left to the reader to do.
Unevenness abounds. For example, of the ancient words “Jesus who is called Christ”, the article tells us that “Josephan authorship is not impossible” (page 496). Indeed, Carrier even-handedly goes on to say that the phrase “Jesus who is called Christ” is “not impossible for Josephus to construct on his own”. This even-handedness indicates that this article is at least a contribution to an ongoing academic discussion. However, the final paragraph boldly excludes such possibilities. It is a jarring contrast in tone:
“The significance of this finding [of an ‘accidental interpolation’] is manifold, but principally it removes this passage from the body of reliable evidence for the fate of Jesus’ family,[1] the treatment of Christians in the first century, or Josephus’ attitude toward or knowledge of Christians. Likewise, future commentaries on the relevant texts of Origen and Josephus must take this finding into account, as must any treatments of the evidence for the historical Jesus. Most pressingly, all reference works that treat “James the brother of Jesus” must be emended to reflect this finding, particularly as this passage is the only evidence by which a date for this James’ death has been derived.”
Setting aside that the final statement above is not wholly accurate (since James’ death can be estimated from Hegesippus who says it occurred shortly before the siege of Jerusalem), the tone of that final paragraph has attracted the ire of some. I just wonder at the jarring shift of tone from earlier even-handed statements such as “Josephan authorship is not impossible” to assertively telling academia what to do: “future commentaries... must take this finding into account...  all reference works... must be emended...” That final paragraph is pure Carrier; so whose are the earlier moderate statements? In any case, the former two statements belong to a different kind of writing from the last, such is the unevenness of the writing.
There are moments where Carrier’s convoluted argument becomes very confusing. He writes,
“We cannot use Origen as an attestation of a mention of Christ in AJ 20:200, and indeed, its absence in Origen’s text speaks against its authenticity.” (emphasis added)
What is absent in Origen’s text? I’m not sure what he means. The mention of Christ is certainly not absent in Origen, which is the reason Carrier writes so much about it! Does the word ‘its’ refer to the same thing on both occasions in that sentence? The word “Christ” is one word that is most definitely not absent from any of our texts. Does Carrier mean that the narrative of the death in AJ 20:200 is missing? I am just not sure.
I would also make an observation about a statement on the first page of the article (page 489). Carrier says something very clear:
“The TF has already generated a vast literature and I will not treat the subject here except to say that I side with those scholars who conclude that the entire passage is an interpolation and that there was no mention of Jesus in the original text of AJ 18.” (emphasis added)
This statement is supplemented with a 25-line footnote – mainly Carrier’s arguments against authenticity of the TF - more than twice the length of any other footnote in the article.[2]
At first it seems helpful to have been given a sense of the author’s intentions and focus - but not for long. As if someone’s mind changed during the editorial process, Carrier unexpectedly launches a more detailed critique on the TF (page 492), and sustains this attack for three pages. Why write that you will not treat the subject if in fact you are going to do so? And having done so, why was the misdirecting statement on the first page not deleted in the editorial process? One is not sure where the article is going at times. Much of pages 494-495 are taken up with Carrier’s detailed response to Alice Whealey’s work on partial authenticity of the TF: perhaps he feels her work presents his biggest challenge on the TF, but surely this is not the matter at hand.
On the other hand – and in regard to AJ 20:200 which is the article’s subject - some disengagement with academia is evident in that Carrier omits to even mention recent work that has led other scholars to affirm the opposite conclusion – against interpolation - in academic publications; the footnotes in his 2012 article make no mention of significant modern work.[3]
Writing history
In reviewing Carrier’s main argument, it is necessary to comment on his method of writing history. Significant planks of his argument are wrapped in an approach that is questionable, that makes the article vulnerable at an academic level. For example, his discussion of James as a “Christian” in the context of reading Josephus is problematic. Carrier writes, “James is not said to be a Christian here [in Josephus]”. He writes this about AJ 20:200:
“we would certainly find here an explanation of why this Jesus was called “Christ”, what that word meant (at the very least explaining its connection to “Christians” and James’s being one)” (emphasis added).
Carrier does not justify why the specific term “Christian” should be an object of discussion in treating James and the Jerusalem Jesus-movement. (NB. The use of that word in the TF would be irrelevant for Carrier’s purposes as he disallows the whole TF as inauthentic. He produces no alternative textual basis for applying the word here.) He insists that James‘ faith should have been explained in such terms by Josephus if he were the brother of Jesus Christ. But why? Although terminology casually used nowadays, there is simply no evidence, apart from inferring it from the TF, that the term “Christian” was ever attached to the James of Jerusalem, or the church of Jerusalem, by first century authors, even by followers of Jesus. It is cavalier to project onto Josephus that, if the passage were authentic, he “would certainly... at the very least” have called James a “Christian”. This is not an approach to writing history which shows engagement with current work on terminology related to the early church.[4]   
To be clear on the evidence, not only is the term “Christian” unattested in relation to James and the Jerusalem church in the earliest church literature;[5] if Luke is to be believed, the word was coined by opponents of the Antioch church to describe the Antioch church, and as such it would seem an unappealing word for the Jerusalem church to self-identify with. If Josephus, who was born about 37AD, had heard of followers of Jesus in Jerusalem, he would nevertheless probably not have heard of them being called Christians.[6] It is a false dichotomy to insist that AJ 20:200 either use the word “Christian” of James, or else be deemed inauthentic.
Carrier makes no statement of method in regard to his use of such terminology, although it is crucial to some of his arguments. In short, nothing obtains from the article’s observation that Josephus does not call James a “Christian”.
The writing is, in summary, problematic in a number of important respects, not least non-engagement with academia at some key points, errors, and confusion not ironed out in the editorial process.
Josephus’ Antiquities of the Jews 20:200 (aka 20.9.1)
So onto the thread of Carrier’s argument, which is for the mention of Christ being an interpolation in AJ 20:200, and an accidental one at that. The latter aspect is new; the idea of it being an interpolation is not new, and Carrier’s article relies on arguments others have previously used.
The first thing Carrier seems to do is to prime the reader to think a certain way about the passage. He quotes the extant text of Josephus this way:
“The brother of Jesus (who was called Christ), the name for whom was James, and some others...”
In the original Greek, of course, there was no punctuation, so use of it needs to be reasonable. It is pertinent to ask: why the brackets around “who was called Christ”? Could this be because the article will later ask the reader to believe that the words “who was called Christ” are an interpolation? The article primes you to be persuaded that they do not belong to the text by first loosening their connection with the flow of the text, by use of the brackets. Commas would have sufficed. The brackets are gratuitous except to help to prime the reader to accept the argument the article is about to make.
Thus, having so primed you, the article will later assert that removal of “who was called Christ” reveals the original text and that the passage is really referring to “Jesus ben Damneus”, not “Jesus Christ”, so as to read either:
“The brother of Jesus, the name for whom was James, and some others...”
Or even to read:
“The brother of Jesus ben Damneus, the name for whom was James, and some others...”
In a stroke, this invents a brother called “James ben Damneus”. Carrier’s thesis of interpolation depends on the reader believing that a rewrite of the text justifies discovering, so to speak, that there was such as a person as “James ben Damneus”. That is, one figure has been newly written into history effectively to write an established one out of it (James, brother of Jesus Christ). Now the historical character Jesus ben Damneus has a brother called James!
This is a remarkable leap. The figure “James ben Damneus” is previously unknown to history. Such a personage is not found named in an ancient text, neither one by Josephus nor by anyone else. Why should the reader take the novel step of thinking that any such unattested person existed?[7] Carrier characteristically treats his theory with undue certainty, writing, “Thus, what Josephus meant was that this James was the brother of Jesus ben Damneus, not the brother of Jesus Christ” (emphasis added).
Ultimately he suggests that Josephus did originally write “Jesus ben Damneus” instead of “Jesus called Christ”. There is no patristic citation or manuscript tradition anywhere that attests to this, so it is not an easy case for him to make. A shadowy scribe accidentally erased this figure’s only mention in history, if Carrier is to be believed. Carrier really is very keen on this. Thus he writes:
‘reasons to suspect ... that the original text said simply “the brother of Jesus, the name for whom was James, and some others . . . ,’ or perhaps, as I discuss below, “the brother of Jesus ben Damneus, the name for whom was James, and some others. . . .”’ (page 495)
‘it is probable that this is what Josephus meant to say, and even more probably if “son of Damneus” also fell out of the text at this point...’ (page 504)
‘In fact, the text may originally have said, “the brother of Jesus ben Damneus, the name for whom was James, and some others.” ... A later copyist would then interpret the earliest copyist’s correction as calling for the erasure of “ben Damneus” as a dittograph, omit the words, and replace it with the gloss “who was called Christ.”‘ (page 512)
The shadowy scribe
Carrier first has to justify dispensing with the words “the one called Christ” that are found in the extant text of Josephus AJ 20. To do so, he argues how the extant text of Josephus was first formed, and he makes the bold assertion that the phrase
‘”the one called Christ” is exactly the kind of thing a scholar or scribe would add as an interlinear note to remind himself and future scholars that – so the scribe believed – the Jesus here mentioned is Jesus Christ’. (emphasis added)
Carrier allows himself that this could be either an unnamed scribe or Origen himself:
‘It is likely that what he [Origen] found in AJ 20:200 was a reference to an execution by stoning of a certain “brother of Jesus” named James a few years before the war. Origen perhaps scribbled “who was called Christ” in the margin, or above the line...’ (page 511-2).
Notably, this argument that “so the scribe believed – the Jesus here mentioned is Jesus Christ” does not work if “called Christ” is supposed to have been written above “Jesus ben Damneus”. There is no historical basis for anyone believing that Jesus Christ was also known as “Jesus ben Damneus”. It is inconceivable that any scribe would qualify “Ben Damneus” with “called Christ”.
Therefore it is a supposed version of Josephus that just says “Jesus” (not “Jesus ben Damneus” or “Jesus Christ”) to which Carrier applies his argument about an interlinear note. So, it just said “Jesus” until an interpolator added to it. In this way, he is arguing that, in the absence of “Christ”, the second referent of “the brother of Jesus” would still be his favoured “Jesus ben Damneus” rather than Jesus Christ, a referent forged by arguing “Jesus” is linked with the appearance later in AJ20 of Jesus ben Damneus.
In both alternatives, Carrier is forced to speculate a convoluted chain of accidents, as we shall see. Trying to keep track of the dazzling range of speculations is like trying to nail jelly to a wall.
As we have seen, Carrier also brings into play his sketch of a shadowy scribe (or Origen) writing ‘exactly’ the kind of thing. The argument about the behaviour of a scribe writing an interlinear or marginal note is overstated. How does Carrier know, for example, that some unknown scribe in the 3rd century would write ‘exactly the kind of thing’ (that is, LEGOMENOU CHRISTOU as a note, those particular words and in the genitive to be in the same case as IESOU) when faced with the passage “the brother of Jesus, who was called James”?
This argument for how the extant text in Josephus accrued an interpolation is speculative, not based on manuscript evidence, despite the gratuitous tone of certainty. A word such as ‘exactly’ does not make it less speculative. The lack of consideration of alternative scribal formulations does not make it less speculative either.  Of course, Carrier’s argument depends on the reader being convinced that what the scribe would write is exactly what is in extant Josephus because the putative scribe would thus be the indirect author of these few words in Josephus, which is the conclusion Carrier intends to lead us to. However, the fact that Carrier does not turn his thoughts to any range of alternative permutations is frustrating. Could not other permutations be ‘exactly the kind of thing’ a scribe would write? For example: simply CHRISTOU or HO CHRISTOS or HO CHRISTOS HOUTOS EN or a pious HO KURIOS – the possibilities are legion. No examination of relevant alternatives in scribal history is presented: there is no ‘control’ with which to compare how LEGOMENOU CHRISTOU is used. It is overly convenient to simply take only one possibility – extant Josephus – and assert that this is ‘exactly’ what the interpolating scribe would write.
Arguments for removing “called Christ”: explaining the content of the word “Christ”
A range of familiar arguments are presented to persuade the reader that “called Christ” does not belong in AJ 20:200. For example, Carrier argues that if Josephus was using the word “Christ”, he would have explained explicitly to his Roman readership the content of the term “Christ”. This argument of course is used by both sides in the interpolation debate to opposing ends.
The article uses the premise that the TF in Book 18, with its reference to Christ is entirely fake, and therefore all the burden of explanation for the term “Christ” falls on Book 20, wherein any such explanation, as we know, is absent.[8] (In fact, apart from these instances, “Christ” nowhere appears in Josephus, who prefers the word “Messiah” where it is called for.) On the basis that Josephus does not supply an explicit explanation of the significance of attaching “Christ” to “Jesus” in AJ 20:200, Carrier argues that it follows that “called Christ” is not authentic.
This requirement for explanation subsists because, Carrier asserts, “the reference [to Christ] is so obscure”. Carrier’s assertion of obscurity may be considered lacking in substance in light of the fact that Carrier himself, a few paragraphs later, indicates the opposite to obscurity. Referring to how, in the story in AJ20, the killing of James is met with official punishment, he deploys this argument which he thinks will show that “Christians” are not in view in the original text of Josephus:  
“writing for a Roman audience in the era of Domitian... the execution of Christians was considered a legal matter of course”
On this basis, Carrier writes that the supposed idea of Christians enjoying any legal protection would be received as an “inexplicable” turn of events. Inexplicable to Josephus’ Roman readership, that is. The irony is that in saying that Romans would consider any legal remedy for “Christians” to be “inexplicable”, Carrier indicates that Josephus’ readership had an established perjorative view of Christians. This is not what obscurity looks like. Carrier’s concession that Josephus’ readership already had meaningful knowledge of Christians is exceedingly damaging to Carrier’s argument that “the reference [to Christ] is so obscure”.
That is not to say that Josephus couldn’t have cause to explain the content of the word “Christ”, but the “obscurity” argument is an unconvincing one for Carrier to deploy. Besides, there are reasons for doubting the claim that Josephus ought to unpack the content of the word 'Christ', and this is covered in footnote 4 below.
It is worth mentioning that Josephus’ contemporary Tacitus tells us of those slaughtered in the arena under Nero that they were, as a group, named after Christ.[9] However, this is to explain the word “Chrestians”, not the word “Christ” which Tacitus leaves unexplained, as does extant Josephus.[10]
Also worth mentioning, Tacitus says that these "Chrestians" were detested by the populus. This is not inconsistent with Carrier’s own view: Christians in Rome in the 90s, when Josephus wrote and Tacitus had embarked on his career, were sufficiently vilified to make it “inexplicable” (Carrier’s word) that anyone would sympathise with Christians at all.[11]

Arguments for removing “called Christ”: why does the word “Christ” appear in the narrative of AJ 20:200?
Moving on from discussion of the content of the word “Christ”, Carrier argues there is significance in the absence of an explicit narrative explanation for the occurrence of the term “Christ” in AJ 20:200. This contains, Carrier writes, “no stated reason why either Jesus or his moniker Christ is mentioned at all. Any inference to such a reason would only occur to a Christian...” In other words, no relevant explanation would occur to a non-Christian for the usage of “Christ” in the narrative. But is that so?
Firstly, to clear one thing up: despite what may be his careless choice of phrase, Carrier thinks this mention of a ‘Jesus’ is authentic. He thinks so even though there is ‘no stated reason’ in AJ 20:200 for its mention. He thinks Josephus’ readers would be capable of making an inference: in the absence of the word “Christ”, he thinks that the inference which the reader would make is that this Jesus is Jesus ben Damneus (who is mentioned by Josephus in 200:203).
As Carrier accepts the word “Jesus” in AJ 20:200, it does seem careless that he exercised himself to write that Josephus “has no stated reason why...  Jesus... is mentioned at all.” As confusing as that is, it becomes clear that only the word “Christ” is at issue for Carrier.
His argument is that in the absence of a “stated reason” for “Christ” being mentioned (as a descriptor of “Jesus”), then “called Christ” must be an interpolation. However, why should the same readers who could supposedly infer that “Jesus” refers to “Jesus ben Damneus” be unable to infer a reason for the presence of “Christ” in the text?
Indeed, any non-Christian reading the text can infer Josephus’ motive for using this word in the narrative. Put simply, there are two men called Jesus in the extant text of 20:200-203 (it was a common name).[12] A moniker for each Jesus is necessary so that the passage facilitates its reference to both Jesuses without confusing them. In extant Josephus, one of them is identified as “Jesus ben Damneus” and the other is identified as “Jesus called Christ”. (This well-known narrative explanation goes unmentioned by Carrier.[13])  Thus the “James” who is killed in the passage has been given his distinguishing referent, and it signifies two things: he is “the brother of Jesus called Christ”; and this Jesus is distinct from the “Jesus ben Damneus” mentioned later in AJ 20.
In itself it is little more than a passing comment that stops the reader from confusing the two Jesuses in the simplest manner. It is not necessary for Josephus to give a ‘stated reason’ why two different Jesuses in a narrative need two monikers, any more than it is necessary for a Welsh village to give a stated reason why two men in the town are referred to as Jones the Butcher and Jones the Postman. To claim (if anyone were to do so) that any inference to such a reason would occur only to a Christian would be off the mark.
Since the question of a narrative reason for the occurrence of the word “Christ” is insubstantial, it adds nothing to the question relating to the content of the word “Christ” discussed above.
One more point before leaving this stage of the argument: Carrier argues that the phrase “Jesus who is called Christ” is “not a phrase that Josephus would likely use in the same way that a Christian annotator would” (emphasis added). However, Carrier does not explain how “in the same way” should be understood, so it is difficult to see how it adds to his argument. I mention it here as an example of the puzzling unevenness of the writing which sometimes leaves Carrier’s remarks unexplained (another example is a reference to James as ‘unknown’ – see further below).
Arguments for removing “called Christ”: is the response of Jews to the death of Jesus’ brother credible?
It is necessary to return to the story of the death of James, which Carrier says could not be about “Christians” since the story describes a legal remedy for those killed, which, he claims, would not have been made available to “Christians”. In short, this is the thrust of his argument: James and some others were killed; there was a legal remedy for their deaths; but “Christians” would not enjoy a legal remedy; therefore this James is not a “Christian” and has no relation to Christian events of the first century; therefore his brother Jesus was not called “Christ”. Do all of the steps in that sequence really follow on from each other? Surely the last is entirely a non sequitur.
There is something else curious here. On page 495, Carrier has said this about Ananus’ fault in the stoning which was ‘without following the appropriate procedure of involving the authorities in charge of the law. For this outrage, many leading Jews protested...’ (emphasis added). This triggered a chain of events ending in Ananus’ dismissal from office. Yet Carrier later writes ‘the execution of Christians was considered a legal matter of course, not an act warranting outrage and [Ananus’] dismissal from office’ (page 497, emphasis added). By his own argument, the abuse of legal process was sufficient to warrant outrage and action. Therefore, further outrage is irrelevant to the consequences, and his argument is not advanced by it, nor by bringing supposed public hatred of Christians into it.
But let’s entertain for the moment the idea that a second outburst of outrage ought to be pivotal. How well does the argument stand up? For one thing, the article asks the reader to accept that the response of sympathetic Jews to James’ death in the narrative is “inexplicable” and “makes little sense” if the referent was the execution of “the hated and illegal Christian sect”. Like a crime spree in a multi-storey car-park, that statement is just wrong on many levels:

  • the terminological problem of using the term “Christian”;
  • his questionable premise that “Christians” were far too “hated” to expect any legal remedy in 60s Jerusalem (how does he know this about 60s Jerusalem? – he doesn’t say);
  • was the Jerusalem church a “sect”?
  • and his surprising assertion that to be in the “Christian sect” in 60s Jerusalem was “illegal”.

On that last bullet point, it is difficult to imagine what law Carrier has in mind. He offers no explanation for why he thinks it was illegal to be in the “Christian sect” in 60s Jerusalem. This is baffling. In fact, it is plain wrong. This is not good history writing.

Perhaps he senses that he is on thin ice. He says that against his arguments, “One can advance explanations on all counts.” He does not tell the reader what these explanations are: “I will not delve any further into that debate”, he conveniently states, having given his polemical view good airtime. But, as if he had enabled a comparison to be made, he pronounces that his explanation that Josephus did not write “Christ” is “the most probable.”

Arguments for removing “called Christ”: sentence structure

In one place, Carrier writes:

 “If Jesus ben Damneus is the Jesus meant, then all of this makes sense. Otherwise, where does Josephus explain the central importance to the story of his brother Jesus.” (page 504, sic)

After reading that several times to be sure, I determined that the final three words above mean James’ brother Jesus. I first I thought it might be a misprint, as it seems to read as if it is about “Jesus” and “his brother Jesus”.

Carrier oddly asks this question about the Josephus text which is the subject of the article: “Why is “Jesus” the primary subject in the execution of James, rather than James, the one actually executed?” This is a circular argument. To explain: only Carrier’s rewriting of the passage makes Jesus the central subject. Having rewritten the text, he then asks why Jesus is the central subject. It wasn’t so, until he rewrote it by substituting “called Christ” with “ben Damneus”. If the text is not rewritten, Jesus is not the central subject, and Carrier’s objection then falls away. In the extant text, Ananus is the subject, James is the object, and Jesus is in a passing comment in the genitive case. Thus AJ 20:200 says:

“Ananus [subject]... brought before them the brother [object] of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.”

Carrier desires to re-write the text but it is not cogent to claim to have found a smoking gun in terms of Jesus being “the primary subject in the execution of James”, since such is only the consequence of his own rewriting.

It is James who needs introducing in the text, and it introduces him as the brother of Jesus. Jesus is only there to identify which James this could be. In the extant text, “called Christ” completes the identification, and prevents this Jesus being identified with another Jesus later mentioned. Carrier, however, wants the identification to be with the later mention, that of Jesus ben Damneus (20:203).

Arguments for removing “called Christ”: Luke’s silence on the death of James
Carrier deploys an ‘argument from silence’. He turns to Luke’s Book of Acts. As we all know, it ends about 62AD with Paul in custody in Rome still preaching the gospel, and with Luke having done what he set out to do: to tell the story of the gospel going from Jerusalem to Samaria and to the nations. Acts ends there in Rome, anticipating a trial before the Imperial court. It never gets to tell us of the deaths of Peter and Paul, or James.

Carrier interprets this ending as follows: “Acts does not know of a James “brother of Jesus Christ” killed by a high priest, by stoning... [Luke’s] neglect of this very attractive passage would be very hard to explain, unless it was not present in the AJ in Luke’s time”.

Carrier is assuming at least seven things here:
  • that Acts was written after AJ;
  • that Luke read AJ;
  • that Luke would have extended the ending of Acts to cover this incident had he known of it;
  • that the current ending of Acts does not really serve Luke’s narrative purposes adequately;
  • that Luke would have no other source of knowledge for the story but Josephus (if it were in AJ 20) and that Luke’s ‘silence’ is therefore indicative of the original text of Josephus in particular;
  • that any similar story of the death of James was entirely “unknown” in Luke’s day and was later invented by Hegesippus or someone around his time;
  • and that Acts pre-dates Hegesippus.

This seems to me to be assuming too many things, notwithstanding that Luke’s connection with Josephus deserves reflection. (It brings to mind Carrier earlier dismissing the theories of deliberate interpolation as ‘less probable’ because they ‘require more assumptions’ (page 498).[14] That seems somewhat ironic in light of a growing stack of assumptions in his article.) For example, why should Luke have no source other than Josephus? How does this prove that Luke did not know of the death of James? Why assume that the story of James’ death would fit Luke’s narrative scheme in Acts?

Luke chooses to end Acts with the gospel having travelled from Jerusalem to Rome and anticipating the trial before Caesar: it doesn’t necessarily fit his theme to drag the action back to Jerusalem. Indeed, not even the deaths of Peter and Paul get airtime in Acts, let alone that of James. Carrier’s theory is that Luke would want to make use of the story as potentially pro-Roman and anti-Jewish. That is what Carrier means by calling it a ‘very attractive passage’, but Luke’s stated narrative purpose is not that, but to show the gospel going from Jerusalem to the nations, so logically it ends in Rome, not in Jerusalem.

This is one of Carrier’s weaker arguments, but from this argument from silence he concludes this:

“the story [of Jesus Christ’s James] now extant in AJ 20.200 would have been unknown (since Luke makes no mention of it...) ... The story... has nothing to do with Christ or Christians, which explains why Luke does not use it while Josephus does.”

This conclusion is surely based on a false dichotomy: that either Luke’s narrative intentions must take his narrative back from Rome to Jerusalem to get the death of James in; or else the Christian death story is deemed to be non-existent in Luke’s day. Carrier permits Luke to have no narrative intention of his own here, apart from what suits Carrier’s argument. It is worth adding that the argument that Luke doesn't know of the death of James is precisely one of the factors taken into account by those who date the writing of Luke's Acts to about 62AD. Carrier's argument could actually be used to support an early date for Acts.

An ‘unknown’ James
In dismissing any connection between Christians and the AJ 20:200 story, Carrier unexpectedly calls James (the brother of Christ) ‘an unknown James’. He does not here explain how he arrives at the idea of James being ‘unknown’ as a person. Unless one knows more of Carrier’s work, this is an unexplained puzzle. If I may fill in the gap, Carrier’s approach separates James, sibling of Jesus, as a fictional character that has no historical connection with the James whom Paul met (Galatians 1-2; this James, according to Carrier, was real, but not a sibling of Jesus since he considers that there was no historical Jesus). Carrier regards these Jameses as two different things conflated by church tradition. Having this separation in mind, he would feel justified in calling the sibling of Jesus ‘unknown’. Of course, if one does not start from Carrier’s premise that these are two different James, one real and one fictional, then James, brother of Christ, is not unknown. If one does not know the background to Carrier’s thought, it would be difficult to understand why he calls James ‘unknown’ or why it is part of his argument.

Removing Origen as a textual witness to AJ 20:200
The article has set out arguments why we should think that Josephus did not write “called Christ” in AJ 20:200. However, Carrier’s arguments substantially falter if it is accepted that there are early textual witnesses to Josephus writing just that.  Therefore, to develop its case, the article focuses on the earliest examples of “the brother of Jesus called Christ” being supposedly quoted in the early church, particularly quoted by Origen. Carrier needs to show that Origen is not a textual witness. That is to say, Origen was not quoting from AJ 20:200.

First, by way of background, it is important to state differences in how Josephus and Origen are approaching their subject matter. There should be some common ground here for those for and against interpolation. I will be a little more explicit than Carrier is. It is well known that Josephus tells the tale of a certain James’ death, set in the 60s. Origen does not: he merely mentions that he was killed. Origen’s narrative belongs in 70AD and later: the destruction of Jerusalem at the start of the 70s and that sometime between the 70s and the end of the century (after the destruction and before the death of Josephus), some Jews, including Josephus, retrospectively thought the death had been the cause of the destruction because it was the death of a just man. Both passages, however, have in common key features, similarities which are being contested by Carrier.

What had Origen actually read in Josephus? This is the big question. The three stand-out elements in Origen are: the explanation for the destruction; Origen criticising Josephus for his unbelief in Jesus; and the words “the brother of Jesus called Christ”. Other details of note include that Origen uses James’ popular epithet, ‘the Just’. (It is worth mentioning that the authenticity of the text of Origen itself is not significantly in dispute.)

Carrier argues two things to remove Origen as a textual witness to AJ 20:200: that Origen was writing prior to any interpolation having taken place; and that Origen has been misread as a textual witness because two mistakes have supposedly taken place:

1) a mistake by Origen in thinking that he has got his material connecting the death of James with the destruction of Jerusalem from Josephus, when Josephus says no such thing;

2) a mistake on the part of scholars (misled by Origen’s error above), who have misinterpreted the occurrence of the phrase describing the late James as “the brother of Jesus called Christ” as an example of Origen citing from Josephus, when Origen does not intend it as such. That is, Origen attributes views on James’ death and destruction to Josephus, but does not attribute the description of James as “the brother of Jesus called Christ” to Josephus.

Carrier argues that although Origen attributes to Josephus one of these two things (regarding James and the destruction, not the late James’ relationship to Jesus), neither thing is from Josephus.

Carrier argues that this ‘finding’ completely divorces what Origen is saying from Josephus, and adjusting our thinking removes a significant bit of secondary attestation to the passage being found in the original AJ 20:200.

It is necessary to explore these two supposed mistakes.

On the first ‘mistake’, supposedly a mistake by Origen in thinking that he has got from Josephus some material about the destruction being caused by James’ death, Carrier draws on the fact that Origen does not specify a particular book of Josephus.[15]

For ease of reference, here are two instances in which Origen introduces his subject:

“For in the eighteenth book of his Jewish Antiquities, Josephus bears witness to John as having been a Baptist... and the same writer... says...” which then goes on to discussion of Jewish views of the destruction being caused by the death of James (Origen, Against Celsus 1.47)

“Flavius Josephus, who wrote the Judaic Antiquities in twenty books... said...” which then goes on to discussion of Jewish views of the destruction being caused by the death of James (Origen, On Matthew 10.17)

Can much be made of the fact that Origen does not say “in the twentieth book”? Carrier treats this as a smoking gun. He makes these assumptions about it, and the first one is perhaps the biggest assumption:

  • that Origen really has read such things in a book;
  • that Origen really did think that Josephus wrote said book;
  • that Origen searched diligently in Josephus for the source of these words but was unsuccessful;
  • that Origen’s words “the same writer” constitute hesitant language indicating that unsuccessful search;
  • that Origen nevertheless still thought that one of Josephus’ works was his source;
  • (and therefore presumably Origen did not consider whether anything else he had read by any other author could be the source, although Carrier does not say so).

However, these innocent words “the same writer” are capable of other interpretations. It could be just a way to avoid repeating “Josephus... Josephus...”[16] Anyway, these few words are not strong enough to bear the weight of Carrier’s assumptions and his bold conclusion that “Origen must have had an entirely different treatise in mind”, i.e. not AJ 20, and not AJ at all (emphasis added). 

Of course, that conclusion merely rearranges the same problem: if Origen could have “had an entirely different treatise in mind”, why did he not search or name any possible non-Josephan source he had access to? Just as Origen does not name AJ 20, nor does he name some other book. However, Carrier simply uses that to lever open a door. Now it is fair game to search for another text, unnamed by Origen, that better fits Origen’s words about the cause of the destruction of Jerusalem. So Carrier proceeds on his key assumption that Origen really has read these things somewhere, and, innocently fixated on no author but Josephus, he really has forgotten where.

Carrier rehearses a familiar argument that Origen is mistaking something by Hegesippus for something by Josephus.[17] To give Hegesippus precedence, his argument needs our acceptance of a few things:

  1. that it is inconsequential that Origen does not name this book by Hegesippus either;
  2. that although Origen repeatedly is antagonistic towards what he thinks he read, supposing it a text that indicates Josephus’ unbelief, that this can be set aside as a persistent mistake on Origen’s part (NB. Carrier does not address the question of what Origen is polemicising against if it is not Josephus using the words “called Christ”);
  3. that Hegesippus is the supplier of what Origen uses;
  4. that Origen made his best efforts to find his source, but did not search Hegesippus (and this is relying on assumption three above) even though Origen had Hegesippus in his library, according to Carrier.

By the way, the suggestion that Hegesippus is the source is not crucial for removing Origen as a textual witness. Carrier thinks it simply makes the theory more probable by providing for Origen an alternative source of significant value. It is by no means clear that this is achieved.

We might, as Carrier does, question that Origen should source the mere mention of James’ death and the six word phrase that is now being contested. However, Origen simply never tells the sad tale of the death of James, and as such he need not source a tale that he does not tell. Curiously, Carrier doesn’t seem to have spotted at all that Origen is telling a post-70AD narrative, so naturally Origen would not locate that in the mid-60s narrative of Book 20.

To be clear, when Origen does mention the death of James, it is merely a device to talk about events and views of 70AD and later, i.e. on the destruction of Jerusalem, a topic that much occupied him. Origen is quite descriptive of AD70: “the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple... the desolation of Jerusalem...”

Nonetheless, Carrier is of the view that Origen’s non-mention of a source opens the field to the consideration of alternative literary sources – i.e. Hegesippus – and it is certainly of academic value to consider this.

Let’s recall, as Carrier does, that we do not find in Josephus the material about the cause of the destruction. For Origen writes this:

“[Josephus] himself, though not believing in Jesus as Christ, in seeking the cause of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple... says, being unwillingly not far from the truth, that these things befell the Jews as vengeance for James the just, who was a brother of Jesus who is called Christ... he says that the things surrounding the desolation of Jerusalem befell the Jews on account of James...” (Origen, AgainstCelsus 1.47)

Origen is right that Josephus explicitly seeks the cause of the fall of Jerusalem. But the cause Origen cites is foreign to Josephus. On this basis, Carrier argues that it is unreasonable to take on face value that one part of the text of AJ 20:200 (i.e. “called Christ”) belongs to Josephus when another (i.e. about the cause of the war) does not belong to Josephus. Essentially his position is to throw out the baby with the bathwater.

As mentioned, Carrier seeks to reconstruct a dramatic scenario in which Origen, try as he might, is unable to identify a source book for his material about the destruction (page 511). However, are we at risk of projecting onto Origen our own inability to search successfully for the stuff about the destruction? What if Origen was not searching, was not unsure of his source, and was not hesitant? What if Origen knew what he was doing? That is a question that has to be answered but is not considered by Carrier. This examination really should turn on how Origen deals with Josephus across the broader sweep of his dealings with Josephus’ books; not merely these isolated examples that we relate to AJ 20:200. However, Carrier’s article is written as if he is unaware that Origen has more contact with Josephus’ work than is evidenced by his references to Jesus, James and John the Baptist. He does not survey the broader work and Origen’s behaviour in it.

Nor does he mention scholarly work on the same, such as the survey by Mizugaki.[18] This reveals, for example, what Origen does when commenting on Lamentations 4:14. Origen quotes Josephus’ Jewish War 6:299-300, but omits words to suit his own purposes, in making the fall of the temple about Jesus Christ. He cites the call, "Now, let us leave this place" heard by temple priests. Firstly, as Origen takes this as the angels' voices announcing their departure from the doomed temple, he omits Josephus’ phrase καὶ κτυπου as it is not appropriate to the angels’ departure.

Secondly, Origen shortens Josephus’ text "into the inner court of the Temple" to "into the Temple", again to suit his belief that the temple’s doom is related to the coming of Jesus.

Again, commenting on Lamentations 4:19 Origen says that, "Josephus reports that even the mountains did not save those who were trying to escape” but where does Josephus say this?

Mizugaki notes,when the subject of the destruction of the Temple is closely related to his theological interpretation, he [Origen] cites a considerable amount from Josephus' work, modifying the passage to fit his interpretation.” It is entirely possible that Origen is carrying on in just the same vein when using Josephus’ mention of the death of James as a platform for his views on the fall of Jerusalem.

Since Carrier does not mention Mizugaki’s findings, it is not possible to say why Carrier might find this simple explanation of Origen’s behaviour less probable than his own rather convoluted explanation. Origen’s treatment of Josephus in the texts about which Carrier has written - far from being clear evidence that he was hesitant and that his referent was not Josephus - is consistent with Origen’s deliberate and somewhat cavalier treatment of Josephus’ work in these other cases, not least a convenient platform for creative anti-semitism.  Origen was theologically creative. In popular parlance, he was riffing off Josephus, to say what he wants to say, but attributing it to Josephus. It is a potential answer that does not get a mention when Carrier asks, ‘why does Origen say Josephus blamed the destruction of Jerusalem on the killing of James...?’ (page 499). Carrier’s failure to treat the patterns of Origen’s behaviour in other references to Josephus’ work undermines the substance of the article at this point.

The second ‘mistake’ is the supposed mistake on the part of scholars, misled into assuming Origen is citing Josephus (misled by three presumed signposts: the occurrence of the phrase “the brother of Jesus called Christ”; the death of James; and Origen purporting to take Josephus to task). Here Carrier sets up the idea that the connection is all in the mind of scholars. So he says:

“Origen did not note the phrase, “who was called Christ,” as original to Josephus.”

In other words, it is not Origen but other scholars (after Origen) who thought this phrase was original to Josephus. But Carrier’s statement is problematic. In particular, the words “who was called Christ” account for only three of the six Greek words that constitute, in full, “the brother of Jesus who was called Christ”. This is significant, because it is due to this longer sequence, six words, and Origen’s mention of Josephus and the death of James, that scholars make the connection to AJ 20. No-one makes the textual attribution on the basis of three Greek words but on the basis of six words and all these things. The article does not establish why Origen would, or should, make a narrowly drawn note about only three words - “who was called Christ” - rather than Origen making a note about the fuller phrase he uses: “the brother of Jesus who was called Christ”. It is a difference between a Greek phrase of three words as against six words.

The fact is, it is Carrier, not Origen, who has an interest in isolating “called Christ” from the rest of the phrase. There is no reason why Origen should make a note treating the words “called Christ” in a manner distinct from how he treats the rest of the phrase. Why does Carrier frame the matter in this way? He is projecting his own concern about a three-word problem onto Origen.  Carrier is merely priming the reader to be readier to accept his own argument that the issue is only three Greek words.

Carrier’s problematic statement needs further unpacking. It asserts that “Origen did not note the phrase... as original to Josephus, or claim that he was even quoting Josephus at all.” That is, Origen attributes views on James’ death and the destruction to Josephus, but does not attribute the description of James as “the brother of Jesus called Christ” to Josephus. I am not convinced of this. Origen does not draw a dividing line between his comments to imply any such distinction in attribution. In fact, Origen can be interpreted as explicitly stating the opposite, taken this way: “Josephus... says... the brother of Jesus who was called Christ.” Looked at this way, Origen precisely claims that he is taking material, including this phrase, from Josephus. Carrier accuses this of being a scholars’ mistake, but his assumption of a dividing line is no more convincing.

Enter Eusebius
It is worth mentioning that Carrier’s statement is problematic in a third way. As to the belief that Origen is quoting something from Josephus, Carrier states: “It is only with Eusebius’ quotation of Origen that this presumption is made.” But is that true? From my reading of scholarship on this subject, I am unaware of such a “presumption” being a thing arising on Eusebius’ say-so. Scholars directly conclude from reading Origen that Origen himself deliberately points towards Josephus. They do not come to that conclusion via the medium of Eusebius. These sorts of unsupported comments in the article do cause it to get bogged down with unnecessary claims that then have to be addressed by the reader; even, as in this case, altogether dispensed with.

Where we’re up to
In summary, Carrier has sought to carve open a space of doubt about what Origen is doing, so that Origen is not cited as textual support for AJ 20:200. Carrier’s lack of engagement with academia on Origen’s broader treatment of Josephus does not stand Carrier’s argument in good stead. However, assuming he has created sufficient room for doubt about whether Origen was working off Josephus, Carrier proceeds to argue that after Origen, the “accidental interpolation” took place. However, he still has a role for Origen to play in the unfolding drama, as we shall see later. 

Origen, Josephus and Hegesippus: data
Carrier has more to say about the idea that Origen’s source was Hegesippus, and that this helps to remove Origen as a textual witness to Josephus. It is essential therefore to remind ourselves of some key information from the texts of Josephus and Origen (and Hegesippus). I will review Carrier’s thesis in the light of this data. He argues that Josephus and Origen’s texts are completely unconnected and that a third author – Hegesippus - is Origen’s source for much of his material. My notes on some essential similarities and differences in the key texts of Josephus and Origen follow.
Comparing Origen and Josephus, we see similarities:

1) six matching words about James being “the brother of Jesus who is called Christ”;

2) a mention of the killing of a certain James by Jews (without any reliance on the Romans in the act), and that there is some injustice in his killing;

3) both narratives indicate that the death occurred not too long before the outbreak of hostilities with Rome, and both relate to Jerusalem, but otherwise surrounding narrative contexts do not match;

4) Origen taking Josephus to task over what he regards as statements of unbelief on the latter’s part;

5) an explicit interest in the cause of the fall of Jerusalem in other texts (not this one) of Josephus, and in these texts of Origen.

On the unmatched contexts, as Carrier correctly observes, “the story to which Origen refers is nothing like the content of AJ 20:200.” Again, to be more explicit on this than Carrier is: Origen doesn’t actually tell the sorry tale of James’ killing in the 60s at all, he only mentions that he was killed. To summarise the respective narratives of Josephus and Origen:
  • Josephus’ story is set in the mid-60s, that of the death of James: it comes during the telling of the rise and fall of the Sadducee, the younger Ananus, who opportunistically had James and “some others” (a bit vague, that!) accused of being “breakers of the law” [19] (a bit vague too!) and, after a dubious legal process, James and the others are stoned. But fair-minded citizens disliked what had been done, and went over Ananus’ head to Albinus, to force the former to behave more justly, which led to King Agrippa doing more than that and actually stripping Ananus of the high priesthood. After that, Albinus came to Jerusalem and attacked the sicarii (rebels) who fought back; and, Josephus says, “This was the beginning of greater calamities” as the sicarii afflicted “the whole country”.
  • On the other hand, Origen tells a later narrative, principally about the 70AD destruction of the city, and indicates that sometime between the 70s and the end of the century (after the fall of Jerusalem and before the death of Josephus), some Jews were reflecting on the past with the theme that the killing had been the cause of trouble for the country, including the destruction of the Temple, the fall of Jerusalem. Origen says that one of the Jews with this retrospective view is Josephus.
    Origen in two of his writings weaves into those purported views of post-70 Jews the six word phrase that names the object of the killing as James “the brother of Jesus who was called Christ”. Although his descriptions of everything else vary each time, he uses the six word phrase identical in prepositions and cases twice.

For comparison – because this will be relevant later – the third author, Hegesippus,[20] covers some of the same ground:

  • Like Josephus, Hegesippus tells a mid-60s story, set not too long before the outbreak of hostilities with Rome.
  • Like Josephus, Hegesippus draws a picture of the death of a certain James whose killing, in which stoning is a feature, has a measure of injustice (but without the six word phrase).
  • Like Origen, Hegesippus says James had been called “James the Just”. Hegesippus says James was called this by “everyone from the Lord’s time till our own” indicating widespread popular usage in his own day.
  • Unlike Josephus’ and Origen’s mention of “Jesus brother,” Hegesippus mentions “the Lord’s brother” (note the pious Christian use of the word ‘Lord’).
  • Unlike the other writers, Hegesippus says James was permitted in the Sanctuary of the Temple which would seemingly make him the high priest. His ‘James’ convinced many from groups who deny the resurrection (from that, we may infer ‘Sadducees’) that Jesus was the Christ. He was tricked by scribes and Pharisees (who call him “the just one”) into going high up on the temple to preach the gospel, and he is so successful that many “gloried in James’ testimony, crying ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’” From there he was thrown down by scribes and Pharisees who say, “Let us stone James the Just,” They stone him almost to death, with the death blow being from a club. Hegesippus says a prophecy in Isaiah warns of punishment for James’ killers but James prays for them to be forgiven and a Jewish priest tries to save him in vain. He is buried next to the Temple. Hegesippus proudly says, “He has proved a true witness to Jews and Gentiles alike that Jesus is the Christ. Immediately after this Vespasian began to besiege them.” And that’s the end of the passage in Hegesippus as quoted by Eusebius. It ends in the mid-60s. None of that material is in Origen.

Carrier mentions that Hegesippus is a hagiographer, but does not address that this poses his theory some problems: for one thing, Hegesippus offers the story of the death of James as explicitly Christian hagiography which one might have thought would appeal to Origen, but Origen does not use it. He does use the appellation of the dead man, “James the Just”, on which see below, and says that some Jews agreed with the substance of that epithet, but that presumably had passed into Christian tradition, so it is debatable how much weight that can bear for Carrier’s argument for dependence on Hegesippus.

Curiously, in Josephus and Hegesippus, for all their differences, there are common elements to the story which are absent from Origen: James is stoned at the behest of a religious faction (albeit a different one in each case); the role of high priest plays a part (albeit not the same high priest!); there are fair-minded citizens unhappy with proceedings; his death is followed by an attack on people of Jerusalem (albeit totally different attacks).[21] [22] In contrast, Origen simply doesn’t tell such a tale in any form. So his work lacks any information about James being stoned, or of his death being at the behest of any religious faction; or of anyone objecting to proceedings at the time; or about any role for any high priest. Yet Carrier writes as if the facts are the opposite: ‘he [Origen] uses a story clearly found only in the Christian author Hegesippus’ (page 514).

On the contrary, Origen has only an interest in giving the destruction of Jerusalem a theological meaning, for which he uses the death of James as a device. With this device, attributing theological views to Josephus sets Josephus up as a straw man which Origen can knock down in order to give his own true meaning of the fall of Jerusalem, that it is a consequence of the death of Christ.

In short, it is common ground between those for and against interpolation that Origen has a different focus from Josephus. The matter in dispute is scholars’ rival explanations for Origen’s focus on the destruction of Jerusalem, when this is not the focus of AJ 20:200.  

That concludes this brief summary of similarities and differences between Origen, Eusebius and Hegesippus. Carrier uses Hegesippus to try to create doubt that Origen is a textual witness to Josephus; in other words that Hegesippus was Origen's inspiration. It is curious that Carrier does not mention modern arguments for Josephus being Origen's inspiration for the  explicit idea of the temple's fall being caused by an unfortunate death.

In particular, Baras draws attention to AJ 11 where the remarks of Josephus may have inspired Origen’s direction about the fall of the temple following the death of another Jesus by the hand of his brother, another high priest. In AJ 11:297-305, ’Josephus recounts the death of Jeshua (i.e. Jesus…) at the hand of his brother, Johanan (Joannes) the high priest. Josephus ... says that God punished the Jews by enslaving them and by desecrating the Temple.’[23]
Set in bullet points, AJ 11:297-305 reads as follows:
  • ‘Joannes had a brother named Jesus;
  • and Bagoses, whose friend he was, promised to obtain the high priesthood for him [Jesus]. With this assurance, therefore,
  • Jesus quarrelled with Joannes in the Temple and
  • provoked his brother so far that in his anger he [Joannes] killed him [Jesus].
  • The Deity, however, was not indifferent to it, and it was for this reason that
  • the people were made slaves and
  • the Temple was defiled...
  • Now, when… the general… learned that . . . , he at once
  • set upon the Jews . . . . This, then, being the pretext which he used…
  • made the Jews suffer…
  • for the death of Jesus.[24]

Note similarities in the material to hand: coincidentally in the different episodes in AJ 11 and AJ 20 (but not in our other texts) the antagonist is the high priest. We find in the different episodes in AJ 11 and in Origen (but not in Hegesippus) that a killing is explicitly given as the cause of the fate of the temple. It forms a matrix of content from which Origen could recast Josephus for his theological purposes. Hegesippus can hardly be said to contribute the same to this matrix.[25]

It is not difficult to see how Origen riffing off AJ 11:297-305 and AJ 20:200 (which says 'Ananus... brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.'), with these two passages to inspire him could produce the following in his Commentary on Matthew 10:17:

• 'Flavius Josephus…  wishing to demonstrate the cause why
• the people suffered such great things that
• even the temple was razed down,  
• said that these things came to pass against them
• in accordance with the ire of God on account of the things
• which were dared by them against James
• the brother of Jesus who is called Christ.'

 And Against Celsus 1:47:
  • If, therefore, he says that the things surrounding the desolation of Jerusalem
  • befell the Jews
  • on account of James,
  • how is it not more reasonable to say that
  • it happened on account of Jesus the Christ?
In light of this evidence, it is likely that Origen was casting his 'Josephus' after the fashion of AJ 11:297-305.

It is puzzling that Carrier does not even mention, let alone compare, these alternatives to the Hegesippus hypothesis, and yet assures us that his choice of theory is the most probable.

Origen's being inspired to theological reflection by AJ 11:297-305 – which he certainly would be if he read it - coupled with Origen’s habit of riffing creatively off Josephus, provides an explanation of what Origen builds off the mention of James’ death in AJ 20:200. Not that we approve of him doing so. It is curious that extant Origen nowhere mentions AJ 11:297-305, a passage that would have interested him greatly, but what he writes here is so like it.

“James the Just”
As mentioned, to help distance Origen from Josephus, Carrier wants us to think that Origen is nearer to Hegesippus.

Carrier makes great play of the fact that Hegesippus like Origen, and unlike Josephus, uses the phrase ‘James the Just’, but this phrase was in popular usage if Hegesippus is to be believed. It was an epithet that could be used whenever Christians spoke of James.

Neverthless. arguing that Origen owes the words “James the Just” to Hegesippus, Carrier writes:

“Hegesippus repeatedly refers to this James as “the Just” ... and once explicitly calls him “James the Just” (indeed, as if originating the appellation...)” (page 508, emphasis added).

Hegesippus writes “as if originating the appellation”? That seems an ill-informed thing for Carrier to write. Although Carrier does not tell the reader, we know that the Gospel of Thomas also uses the appellation “James the Just”. And we know that many scholars date Thomas earlier than Hegesippus. We also know that elsewhere Origen names a Gospel of Thomas, whereas he never names Hegesippus. In summary, the suggestion that Hegesippus is the originator of this phrase is not well made.

What’s more, according to Eusebius, the appellation “James the Just” was also used by Origen’s teacher Clement of Alexandria. To convince, an argument for Origen’s dependence on Hegesippus should at least reference and compare the potential alternative sources for the appellation “James the Just” (Thomas, Hegesippus, Clement, popular usage). Why does Carrier omit this exercise? It is one of a number of examples of the article’s lack of engagement with relevant evidence. Dependence on Hegesippus for the epithet is not established.

Even-handed about “James the Just”?
When he compares Origen and Hegesippus, Carrier places a high value on the common appearance of the phrase “James the Just”. Is this an even-handed approach to determining Origen’s sources?

In contrast, Carrier places no value at all on an exact match in the six word phrase in Josephus and Origen: “the brother of Jesus called Christ” (in exactly the same order and exactly the same case, same prepositions). The most Carrier can bring himself to say is that it is a ‘striking similarity’. He does not mention that, if the six words are taken as a whole, there is no alternative source for these words. As a unit, they are originally Josephus’ or they are originally Origen’s. That Carrier accords no value to the match needs fairer justification, given the great weight he attaches to the match of “James the Just”.

To illustrate Carrier’s unevenness in handling the material: in Origen’s Commentary on Matthew 10:17, Origen happens to give his fullest rendition of his account of mournful Jews, reflecting after 70AD on the cause of the fall of Jerusalem, looking back to the death of James. Substantially on the basis of that theme not appearing in Josephus - and as if this is a logical step – Carrier unequivocally rules out an identical six word phrase as being from Josephus. Throwing out the baby with the bathwater, Carrier writes, “Origen is certainly not quoting it [AJ] here...” (emphasis added) That is to say, since the account of the destruction is not from Josephus, then the six words are not from Josephus. That is his argument. But such an explicit theme is not found in Hegesippus either, so why not throw out “James the Just” on that basis, another baby out with more bathwater? Is this consistent methodology? Come to that, Origen does not rehearse Hegesippus’ colourful tale of James’ death either, for that matter, so why not throw out the baby with the bathwater for that reason too?

In summary, the absolute certainty of his conclusion is striking for a few reasons: certainty is characteristic of Carrier; the conclusion that this disposes of Origen as a witness to Josephus is not warranted by the argument presented; the non-value placed on the exact match of six words in Origen and Josephus is in stark contrast to the high value placed on the match of “James the Just” in Origen and Hegesippus. It is difficult to see how this could be a balanced approach to evidence.

Origen, Josephus and Hegesippus: “the brother of Jesus called Christ”
It is worth mentioning here that whereas Origen and extant Josephus share the exact phrase “the brother of Jesus called Christ”, this phrase is not found in Hegesippus, nor its component “the brother of Jesus,” nor its component “called Christ”. Hegesippus has the pious Christian phrase “the Lord’s brother.” Carrier therefore does not try to source the six word unit from Hegesippus.

One is led to question how strong a potential source is Hegesippus really.

That concludes my summary of Carrier’s evidence for similarity between Origen and Hegesippus. To sum up:

  • both mention the death of James by Jews;
  • both mention the war (Hegesippus mentions this being followed by the start of the war; while Origen argues it is explicitly connected with the end of the war, as the cause of the destruction of Jerusalem);
  • both use the phrase “James the Just”;
  • both mention Jews regarding James as a just man (in pre-70AD and post-70AD settings respectively, I note).

Carrier seems to consider that the above connections outweigh connections between Origen and extant Josephus, which are that:

  • both mention the death of a James by Jews;
  • Josephus mentions this being followed by attacks on Jewish people; while Origen mentions it in connection with the end of the war, the destruction of Jerusalem;
  • both use the exact phrase “the brother of Jesus called Christ”;
  • Origen says in context that he is arguing with something he has found in Josephus;
  • both indicate that there is some injustice in his killing;
  • In different places, both demonstrate an explicit interest in the cause of the fall of Jerusalem.

I find it difficult to conclude with Carrier, in light of similarities and differences, that the former outweighs the latter to a degree that justifies overturning the extant text of Josephus.

There are, in any case, difficulties with all these comparisons. A point made in some interpolation theories is that to derive Origen from Josephus, one has to allow that Origen is going over and above what Josephus says; but deriving Origen from Hegesippus (as Carrier does) has to allow that Origen is going over and above what Hegesippus says. This is not much in the way of progress, as theories go. Origen is still attributing to his source, rightly or wrongly named, things that neither Josephus nor Hegesippus says.

Yet Carrier insists, “this legend [in Hegesippus] must be Origen’s source.” (page 507, emphasis added). Carrier overstates similarities in the two authors, to put it mildly. Take this line in Hegesippus: “And immediately Vespasian besieged them.” That’s all Hegesippus says on the war.

Now here is Carrier’s unexpected take on it: “according to Hegesippus, James’ execution... immediately precedes Jerusalem’s destruction”, and Carrier reiterates, saying: “immediately before the destruction came” (page 509).

This is a highly inaccurate representation of Hegesippus. Does Carrier wants us to think that Hegesippus matches with Origen’s mention of the 70AD destruction? It is inaccurate in chronology and detail. That is, “Vespasian besieged them” (Hegesippus) and “Jerusalem’s destruction” (Origen) are at opposite ends of the story of the war, years apart. Hegesippus speaks of the start of the siege. Origen speaks of the destruction of the temple and city at the end of the siege.

Why does Carrier make such an inaccurate statement as “according to Hegesippus, James’ execution... immediately precedes Jerusalem’s destruction”? Why does the article include so many errors? If Carrier wants to satisfy us that Origen is borrowing from Hegesippus, why does he ask us to digest empty calories?

Carrier even goes on unimpressively to assert that Origen attributed to Josephus “all the same things that Hegesippus coincidentally says.” That does not square with the data, which shows that Origen’s riffing is far from entirely found in Hegesippus who does not mention the destruction and desolation of 70AD or views of Jews thereafter, nor seek explicitly for the cause of the fall of Jerusalem as Josephus does.

Carrier compounds this error by reiterating that Origen’s content “precisely matches with Eusebius’s quotation of Hegesippus.” i.e. Origen matches Hegesippus. It is difficult to understand what causes Carrier to say that they precisely match. But he keeps saying much the same thing in different forms of wording. Thus apparently Origen’s words “construct a sentence that says exactly what Josephus does not say (but Hegesippus does).” But repetition of this theme does not make it any more accurate. In fact, the lie is given to this when Carrier states of the key six words that “none refer to the AJ or Hegesippus” (emphasis added). Let what Carrier says there sink in. Why oh why, has Carrier been labouring to tell us that Origen’s content “precisely matches with ... Hegesippus”?; and that Origen’s words “construct a sentence that says exactly what Josephus does not say (but Hegesippus does).” In the end, Carrier has to say the opposite about the six word phrase, and hardly anything matches quite as well as Carrier asserts.

So Carrier, after all that effort, has still not left square one in respect of the origin of the six word phrase about which he is so concerned.

Carrier throws such a mixed standard of punches at Origen-interpretation. This is indicative that none of them is a knock-out blow, and without a knock-out punch he is hoping to win the bout on points. But his trying to ratchet up his score with miss-hits does not convey real confidence. His shows of bravado are designed to impress his readers into awarding the bout to him on points. Indeed, he goes straight on from those last unimpressive words to say,

“The conclusion is unavoidable: it is very unlikely that Origen draws upon Josephus, but very likely that he paraphrases Hegesippus and confused the attribution.”

Carrier seems aware of some of the weaknesses of his case. He needs Hegesippus to provide the basis for Origen’s claim that some Jews viewed the fall of the Temple as punishment for James’ death. But Hegesippus stops short of saying that. 

Although he has asserted, wrongly, that Hegesippus does say such a thing about the destruction of Jerusalem, later Carrier seemingly realises that Hegesippus doesn’t. With no apparent self-awareness that he has earlier been absolutely certain, he speculates: “it is also possible that Hegesippus went on to say this” (emphasis added); and he implies that such a hypothetical statement by Hegesippus might be preserved in paraphrase form in Eusebius’ own editorial comments. However elsewhere again, rather than it being a paraphrase of Hegesippus, Carrier indicates the opposite, that what Eusebius wrote “may have been inspired by his reading of Origen” (in which case it is not a paraphrase of Hegesippus). The article’s speculation is sometimes convoluted and self-contradictory to a bizarre degree. It is as if Carrier wants all avenues open to him, but these avenues are not all of equal value, if they have any value at all in some cases.

Carrier continues to venture that Origen mistook Hegesippus for Josephus, borrowing from the former and attributing it to the latter. So how did Origen enter into such confusion, mixing up unbelieving Jew Josephus and pious Christian Hegesippus? Carrier asks this question: “Could Origen have mistakenly opened and read a scroll from Hegesippus’ Commentaries thinking he was reading a work by Josephus?” (page 509)

No, Origen couldn’t have the scroll open in front of him and think that. Do they even read like each other? Carrier does not even venture to discuss whether the styles of these two authors could be mistaken for each other by such a scholar – surely some comparison is in order to justify his argument? And what about the content? Let’s remind ourselves of some of the words that would meet Origen’s gaze in such a Hegesippus scroll:

  • “the Lord’s brother James” [note the pious Christian use of the word ‘Lord’]
  • many “gloried in James’ testimony, crying ‘Hosanna to the Son of David!’”
  • “He has proved a true witness to Jews and Gentiles alike that Jesus is the Christ.”

Now, in contrast, this is what Origen says about Josephus: “he did not accept our Jesus to be Christ”, and “not believing in Jesus as Christ”. I have no doubt that Origen could tell apart his Hegesippus from his Josephus, his believer from his non-believer. He did not have open in front of him a Hegesippus scroll and think, “Ah, Josephus!” What Carrier is arguing poses serious difficulties in reading him: it is difficult to trust his judgment of the likely behaviour of his shadowy scribe (central to his case) when he can make such misjudgements of what Origen would make of an open Hegesippus scroll.  

Let's consider again a match between Origen and Hegesippus. If Origen had read both Josephus and Hegesippus, he would have found the details of the narration of the death of James quite different in the two books, as we do, and would not have considered them both to be about the same James unless that connection were actually already there in the texts as he found them (the most specific connection being the mention of Christ). Therefore, it could not be Origen forging a novel connection - accidental otherwise - upon reading Hegesippus and Josephus. 

Carrier seems to know that that does not work, so he morphs it into an argument that Origen’s recollection later let him down, that he later simply misremembered Hegesippus’ work as Josephus’ work. This makes a number of assumptions:

  • that Origen had read Hegesippus;
  • that Origen wrote a paraphrase of Hegesippus, and that this is now lost
  • in this 'paraphrase', that Origen first originated the phrase “the brother of Jesus who was called Christ”
  • that Origen wrote that phrase before he had read Josephus, and thus... 
  • Origen (or the shadowy scribe) was subsequently reading AJ 20:200 and found coincidentally the words “the brother of Jesus” (the words “called Christ” being absent);
  • that he forgot that he had been reading Christian hero-worship and misremembered it as a text of unbelief by Josephus; 
  • that he had made no accurate notes of Hegesippus to refer back to, e.g. his notes did not mention it was by Hegesippus, nor mention the pious Christian material in Hegesippus, or else he did not refer back to his notes at all; and
  • in such circumstances, Origen misremembered and thought he was remembering Josephus; and thus...
  • thinking that he was quoting Josephus, Origen quoted his own paraphrase in both his Commentary on Matthew and in Against Celsus, including the six words verbatim from his paraphrase, but misremembered as above when writing Against Celsus and his Commentary on Matthew.

Not only is this a lot of assumptions; but for a scholar as diligent as Origen to make the same string of mistakes repeatedly in separate works seems too unlikely.[26]

This still does not improve the quality of the match between Origen and Hegesippus. 
In summary, the theory of dependence is that Origen is a witness to Hegesippus rather than a witness to Josephus. But is this a false dichotomy? If speculation is the order of the day, what if Origen is a font through which all these things rise and mingle together? Carrier dismisses the idea that Origen (or someone before him) conflated Josephus’ description of the death of James with Hegesippus’ description of the death of James as ‘too complicated’ (page 510). As if he were weighing valid alternatives, Carrier slips from that to saying “The simpler explanation is that he is following Hegesippus.” Carrier, with undue confidence, concludes thus: “That Origen mistook Hegesippus for Josephus is more than adequately convincing.” Carrier seems to have convinced himself anyway.

But Carrier also gives himself a get out of jail card by saying ‘Origen would be using a source that simply confused Hegesippus for Josephus’ (page 510, emphasis added). So he says perhaps it was someone else’s mistake, just in case. This posits an unknown source. Is this not ‘complicated’? It seems ironic to posit an unknown source, since just a few lines above, Carrier dismisses the idea of someone conflating Hegesippus and Origen with his remark that this ‘is also too complicated: this theory requires us to invent an unattested source that Origen does not mention...’ Surely what is good for the goose is good for the gander?

Removing Eusebius as a textual witness
Carrier draws our attention to the fact that Eusebius (EH 2:23) places passages from Origen (on the death of James causing the war according to Jews) and Josephus AJ 20:200 adjacent to each other. (Eusebius does not acknowledge his dependence on Origen for the former: Carrier follows others in observing this.) In so doing, Eusebius displays that there are two distinct passages in play, both containing the six identical words, Origen riffing, and the other being extant Josephus.

Carrier says the two passages have nothing inherently to do with each other, and sees their juxtaposition in Eusebius as a false signal that they have something to do with each other. This is by way of reasserting that scholars are misled, including Eusebius. Thus he says:

“All [Eusebius] could do was simply quote Origen and pass this off as a quotation of Josephus – and then supplement this with a quotation of a “surprise” new finding in the actual AJ, one that Origen himself never quotes or refers to, despite his clear familiarity with the AJ.”

In other words, the Origen and Josephus passages are completely disassociated, and the matching occurrence of the six words is taken to be a novelty in Eusebius’ day. Carrier concludes that interpolation had happened by the time Eusebius wrote, and he indicates that it happened after Origen. This leaves a short temporal window for interpolation. We will see what he does with that window.

On the origin of the six word phrase in Origen
Since Carrier believes he has broken the connection between Josephus and Origen, he still has to account plausibly for the coincidence that both use the exact same six words when referring to the death of a person called James (Origen in Against Celsus 2:13 and his Commentary on Matthew 10:17).

His solution goes like this. The six word phrase as a unit first appeared in Origen who was just innocently writing unaware that anyone would subsequently think that those had been Josephus’ words. He breaks the unit into two parts.

The first part is “the brother of Jesus”. I have already dealt with this when comparing usage by Origen and Hegesippus above. Carrier does not overcome the problem of why Origen does not write the normal Christian phrase “the brother of the Lord”.

The second part of Origen’s phrase overlaps the first: “Jesus who is called Christ”. To account for Origen writing this exact phrase, Carrier relies on the coincidence of a phrase concluding Jesus’ genealogy in Matthew: IESUS HO LEGOMENOS CHRISTOS (Matt 1:16) (page 496-7). Carrier suggests this is substantially the basis of Origen’s IESOU TOU LEGOMENOU CHRISTOU. In short, Carrier finds this four word co-incidence in Matthew (with its concomitant coincidence of being about Jesus’ genealogy) preferable to the six-word coincidence in extant Josephus (with its concomitant coincidence of the mention of the death of James).

To support his preference, Carrier claims that LEGOMENOS CHRISTOS is a familiar Christian idiom (page 511). This is stretching it a bit. Apart from Matthew 1:16, in the New Testament he find LEGOMENOS CHRISTOS only in the mouths of those not following Jesus (that is, Pontius Pilate and the Samaritan woman at the well), not in the mouths of followers of Jesus. Prior to Origen, he can find only a single patristic usage in Justin Martyr’s First Apology 1:30.1 but, unfortunately for Carrier, that is a case of a Christian explaining to a Jew that Jesus is called Christ by Christians. In other words, the choice of LEGOMENOS CHRISTOS in Justin’s argument is forced by the context of his argument: it does not merely happen to occur as an idiom. It is the antithesis of an intra-Christian conversation between those who believe that Jesus is the Christ, which is what the Commentary on Matthew is to its readers. In addition to Justin, Carrier invokes one usage in the Clementine Homilies too, but that could easily date after Origen. So he really has only one patristic citation to rely on, Justin, and its context makes it unconvincing as a precedent. As such, this so-called ‘familiar idiom’ is completely absent from intra-Christian discourse prior to Origen, in which case it can’t be relied upon as a ‘familiar idiom’ at all. Again, it seems Carrier has no knock-out punches to aim at Origen-interpretation, but is hoping to win the bout on points, but how many points are these arguments really worth?

In this instance, the issue is not merely that LEGOMENOS CHRISTOS is an unexpected phrase for a Christian commentator to use when writing for Christian readers who all customarily refer to Jesus as Christ, not as one who is “called Christ”. Rather more than that, although Carrier does not engage with this, Origen repeatedly rails against what he takes to be a non-believer denying that Jesus is the Christ. As such, he treats “called Christ” as a statement that he needs to correct. His antagonism surely makes it more probable that he is attributing it to his literary adversary in this respect, Josephus, than treating it as a Christian idiom of his own pen.[27]

Nevertheless, Carrier believes he has adequately argued that the six word phrase first existed in Origen, by combining a mention of James as a brother with his supposed familiar idiom. In summary, on the two components of the six words in Origen:

1) “the brother of Jesus”: Carrier does not account for why Origen would write that, rather than the standard pious “the brother of the Lord” in common with patristic writings; and

2) “who was called Christ”: Carrier says Origen uses it as a familiar Christian idiom but there are weaknesses in this argument.

Accidental interpolation in AJ 20:200
Carrier still has to argue plausibly for the coincidence of the six word phrase and the mention of the death of James in Origen and Josephus. For the latter, Carrier argues that the words appeared in the text of Josephus later, sometime in a window between Origen and Eusebius. He needs to show us how TOU LEGOMENOU CHRISTOU got inserted in a copy of AJ 20 after the words TON ADELPHON IESOU.

For this, Carrier has two tricky alternative answers, one for the words Ben Damniaou not being in the text of Josephus, and another with the words Ben Damniaou being in the text of Josephus.

For the first alternative, he has a further role for Origen to play, along with a shadowy scribe. His hypothesis is this, and it relies again on a long and similar sequence of assumptions as follows:

  • that Origen first originated the phrase “the brother of Jesus who was called Christ”
  • that Origen wrote a paraphrase of Hegesippus;
  • that Origen wrote that phrase before he had read Josephus; and thus...
  • that Origen (or the shadowy scribe) was subsequently reading AJ 20:200 and found coincidentally the words “the brother of Jesus” (the words “called Christ” being absent), and...
  • because his memory of reading Origen made this, in Carrier’s words a “natural juxtaposition”, Origen (or the shadowy scribe) wrote “who was called Christ” in the margin, or above the line, in his copy of AJ 20;
  • that a later scribe mistook this note for a textual correction, and so inserted the marginal words when making a new copy of AJ 20, making it read “the brother of Jesus who was called Christ”; and
  • that Eusebius’ copy of AJ was that copy, or a descendant of that copy; and
  • that copy’s interpolation was reproduced by Eusebius in his History of the church; and
  • every extant copy of AJ was made from a descendant of the same copy.

Carrier makes some unduly bold assertions in setting out his assumptions, statements about things which may have some likelihood but not enough to justify absolute comments such as these (emphasis added below):

“Eusebius must have been using a copy of the AJ manuscript used by Origen and not the manuscript actually consulted by Origen.”

“the manuscript [of AJ] quoted by Eusebius, which was itself a descendant of the manuscript used by Origen”

 “that manuscript [of AJ] (from which Eusebius’ copy derived) would have included any marginal notes made by Origen himself.”

 “the copy [of AJ] read by Eusebius, which he found in the very same library” [Origen’s library in Caesarea][28]

How does he know that? There is an argument certainly worth hearing in there, but the article’s absolute certainty in respect of such speculative arguments is odd, not least given that Carrier does not mention or critique the alternative suggestion that it was in the libraries of the imperial city of Rome that Origen could have encountered the text of Josephus.[29]

Elsewhere, there is Carrier’s second tricky hypothesis, the one with Ben Damneus. Carrier argues that a scribe copying AJ 20:200 had left off at IESOU – just before Ben Damneus - and let his eye drop to the IESOU at the end of 20:203 and carried on copying from there, but then realised his mistake, crossed out the misplaced words after IESOU (the ones copied from 20:203) and above them wrote Ben Damneus, the supposed original words of 20:200, as a correction (page 490-1, 512).

The original text thus supposedly said “the brother of Jesus ben Damneus”. But a scribe making another copy from that marked copy of AJ 20 makes a mistake.

To quote the article, as this is very complicated:

“a copyist’s eye slips to a similar line a few lines down (by mistaking which “Jesus” he had left off at), then realizes he had picked up at the wrong place, but corrected himself and then wrote a superlinear phrase intended to replace the erroneous material. A later copyist would then interpret the earlier copyist’s correction as calling for the erasure of “ben Damneus” as a dittograph, omit the words, and replace it with the gloss, “who was called Christ.””

Not only is this complicated, but Carrier does not even try to illustrate the workings of it for the reader. This leaves more questions than answers, but can we illustrate how it might work?. Carrier assumes that the word at which the scribe “had left off” was the word “Jesus”, but what then? Is Carrier suggesting that the scribe, picking up from IESOU in 20:200, took from the end of 20:203 the words IESOUN TON TOU DAMNAIOU KATESTESEN, putting them in the wrong place and then replacing them with the correction IESOU DAMNAIOU or something like that; and a later scribe (seeing DAMNAIOU crossed out and then DAMNAIOU rewritten above) thinks to correct it to merely IESOU in the next copy supposing somehow (how? why?) that such is what the above correction is supposed to indicate; and then another scribe goes on to insert TOU LEGOMENOU CHRISTOU? It is difficult to see what Carrier means. Perhaps that is why Carrier does not try to illustrate what he thinks may have happened, and leaves us to try to solve the puzzle for him? I doubt he was able to do it convincingly himself, and I’m sure I haven’t succeeded.

In any case, if you have the text of AJ in front of you, consider how likely the first premise is when you see the second occurrence of Jesus is more than a few lines away to say the least! The scribe’s imaginary eye slipped more than a bit! In fact, the scribe’s eye has to fall all the way down to the end of 20:203 to find this Damneus (where the words are: IESOUN TON TOU DAMNAIOU KATESTESEN). In any case, I’m not sure the reader should be given the burden of trying to fathom out for Carrier how to make the theory work, if he is not prepared to devote any of his 26 pages to illustrating it.

Carrier adds more to his list of alternative hypotheses, but that is enough examples for review purposes.

When did this ‘accidental interpolation” happen?
It is interesting to note that Carrier posits this scribal ‘error’ happening in what he calls ‘the sixty years separating Origen from Eusebius’ (page 513). Surprised and wondering about any calculation separating them by as much as sixty years, I searched and found his explanation 23 pages earlier: ‘between the death of Origen and the writings of Eusebius, most likely between 254 and 315 C.E.’ (page 490).

Origen is thought to have died about 253/4AD; while Eusebius is thought to have been born about a decade later, or broadly 260-265AD, and Eusebius undoubtedly did not wait five or six decades before walking into the library in Caesarea (which is where Carrier asserts that Eusebius read the interpolated copy). I do not find this situation well reflected by the phrase ‘the sixty years separating Origen from Eusebius’. Again, Carrier writes that interpolation happened ‘during the two generations between Origen and Eusebius’ (page 513). Carrier has maximised the gap of separation into a grand canyon. Is this necessary to his argument? It seems to be stretching it at least.

That concludes my review of his theory on how the interpolation happened. Carrier also seeks to justify his argument for interpolation by saying the narrative of Josephus makes more sense with his emendation. The following tests this.

Testing the theory of interpolation in story form: making sense of the story of the appointment of Jesus ben Damneus
Carrier argues that Josephus would not have omitted an explanation for the appointment of Jesus ben Damneus in AJ 20:203 and that rewriting AJ 20:200 provides the missing explanation. He indicates that this strengthens his hand. His rewrite is that Josephus originally wrote that “Ananus... brought before them the brother of Jesus ben Damneus, whose name was James [ben Damneus]” or something to the same effect.

With this re-writing of the story in AJ 20, Carrier infers Jesus ben Damneus is compensated for his brother’s death by being made high priest after Ananus is deposed. Carrier feels that this inference provides a satisfactory narrative explanation for Jesus ben Damneus’ appointment. However, this explanation is Carrier’s inference, not explicit in Josephus even when amended by Carrier. Notwithstanding that, I could have been impressed by his argument, except that at the end of the chapter Josephus only tells us, but does not explain, that the high priesthood was taken from Jesus ben Gamaliel and given to Matthias ben Theophilus. Josephus does leave explanations out, most likely where he has no explanation to hand. With a counter-argument so readily to hand, this is not such a powerful argument.

Testing the theory in story form: making sense of the story of the death of James
To weigh the value of Carrier’s rewriting of the story, as being the death of James ben Damneus, I will compare it with a traditional Christian reading, namely that it is the story of the death of the brother of Jesus Christ. These are the two options the article presents. Extant AJ 20:200 says:

“Ananus... brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.”

To provide a test, I will note a couple of features in Josephus’ story that need to be explicable if either interpretation is sound. Firstly, on the offence committed by James and some others: Josephus does not give the impression that he understands what offence the condemned souls were accused of. Secondly, as for who “the others” were, Josephus is as vague about them as he is about the alleged offence of which they were accused. Does either interpretation make better sense than the other of this?

Carrier, typically bold, says his theory of AJ 20:200 broadly is “the only reading of events that makes this story intelligible.” But Carrier – replacing Jesus Christ with Jesus ben Damneus - offers a less than convincing motive for the killing of “James ben Damneus” and none at all for the killing of the “others”. This is his suggestion: “Ananus was persecuting his rival for office [Jesus ben Damneus] by killing his brother [James ben Damneus]”.

Setting aside whether that really accounts for the killing of James and what it was supposed to achieve, does it explain what the “others” were accused of and killed for? It seems not. What Carrier offers is hardly a “reading of events that makes this story intelligible”.

Carrier’s reading has assumed, too, that Ananus and Jesus ben Damneus were rivals for office. That is an interesting conjecture based on the fact that one follows another in office, although the conjecture is not what Josephus actually says. Firstly, the prequel in AJ 20:200 merely says that King Agrippa deposed the high priest Joseph and gave the job to Ananus. With no mention of Jesus ben Damneus here, Josephus does not even hint at any rivalry for that earlier appointment. Secondly, Agrippa deposed Ananus in turn and gave the job to Jesus ben Damneus. As for what went wrong for Ananus, Josephus does not imply it is about rivalry. What he says is that Ananus was a Sadducee and as such “rigid in judging offenders”, and thought “he now had a proper opportunity” to have James and some “others” tried. That he thought “he now had a proper opportunity” implies that Ananus had had anger in his heart towards James and the “others” for some time before coming to power, but this does not suggest a motive to do with rivalry. If Josephus meant to say that the motive was to persecute “rival” Jesus ben Damneus by killing “James ben Damneus” and “some others”, then Josephus neglected to do so!

The Christian reading of the story is not unintelligible and not overly complicated. This reading is that from time to time in first century Jerusalem, those associated with following Jesus were suspected by agitators in Jerusalem of not conforming to Jewish religious laws, all a bit vague just as in Josephus, and were punished for it (Acts 6:12-14; 21:27-28; Gal 1:13-14). Coincidentally, the Christian reading is that the Sadducees had a track record for mistreating followers of Jesus like this in Jerusalem (Acts 4:1-2; 5:17-18).

To illustrate some of those points, the language used in Luke’s Acts and Josephus is coincidental:

“They seized Stephen and brought him before the Sanhedrin. They produced false witnesses, who testified, “This fellow never stops speaking against the holy place [the temple] and against the law.”” (Acts 6:12-14)

“some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, shouting, “Men of Israel, help us! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place [the temple].”” (Acts 21:27-28)

“[The high priest and Sadducee] Ananus... assembled the Sanhedrin of judges and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned.” (Josephus, AJ 20:200)

Regarding AJ 20:200, if the high priest was involved in bringing justice, then some perceived offence against the temple is very possible, as was the case in the other examples.

There is a measure of coincidence between these passages which does render Josephus’ narrative intelligible, another tale of followers of Jesus hauled before Jerusalem authorities on suspicion of challenging the status of Jewish law and possibly the temple too. (These sorts of accusations seem to have dogged the early church, fairly or not. In Acts, the Jerusalem church seem anxious not to get tarred with Paul’s reputation for speaking out against the law.)

Carrier seeks to challenge that intelligibility, as mentioned earlier, by saying no-one would have been bothered about the fate of Christians, but that objection has already been shown to be baseless. Ananus’ actions constituted the sort of harsh policy to make fair-minded people wonder and worry about who will be next in line for such unjust treatment – such behaviour has to be nipped in the bud - and it brought him down. All they had to do was show that he had convened his court unlawfully and his position was vulnerable.

The Christian reading presents a simple solution to the baffling nature of the text in which Josephus seems unsure of what law was broken or who the “others” were. Carrier’s theory does not deliver an explanation of what offence is meant by “breakers of the law”; nor an explanation of why “others” were punished together with James, nor who they were.  

Come to that, if the motive for killing were political rivalry for the position of high priest, it would be inexplicable that the citizens’ complaint is only that the court was unlawful, rather than about the political scandal of the killing of the brother of someone of sufficient standing to be a future high priest. The article’s historical reconstruction of the story is weak. If Carrier believes his re-writing of the story makes it more intelligible than any alternative reading, he needs to unpack that more than he has done here.

An unexpected prediction
In his conclusion, Carrier makes an unexpected prediction, that seems to run counter to the boldness he displays elsewhere: ‘we would not see direct manuscript evidence of this interpolation even if manuscripts of the AJ are found or examined that have not been included in current editions’ (page 514). What motivates one to predict that any future manuscript discoveries will not support one’s own case? Is it that Carrier wants to hedge his argument to be given the benefit of the doubt in future, even if new evidence mounts against it? Is this a pre-emptive defence? It certainly looks like it.

Carrier’s conclusion
All the same, Carrier is not short of bravado. As if all should now be convinced by his “accidental interpolation” hypothesis, and that the matter is effectively closed, he concludes by asserting that “future commentaries... must take this finding into account...  all reference works... must be emended...”

He has yet to convince the world that he has found anything that removes Origen as a textual witness, nor "called Christ" from AJ 20:200. By the way, Carrier says he is here “perfecting the best arguments” for the interpolation case (page 498). I suggest it falls some way short of ‘perfecting’. Perhaps a better, simpler, error-free argument for interpolation might come along. This article is interesting, but it isn't the one. 

Appendix 1: Assumptions
To understand how much Carrier’s theory depends on assumptions, here are just some of them again in sequence:

  • that Josephus believed Ananus and Jesus ben Damneus were rivals for office;
  • that “James ben Damneus” existed;
  • that Origen first originated the phrase “the brother of Jesus who was called Christ” in a paraphrase he wrote, and that this is now lost
  • that Origen wrote that phrase before he had read Josephus (see the complicated set of assumptions earlier);
  • that Origen inferred from Hegesippus the belief that the destruction of Jerusalem was caused  by the killing of James;
  • that Origen made no accurate notes to refer back to which would tell him that this was inferred from Hegesippus;
  • that Hegesippus is the supplier of what Origen uses on the cause of the destruction;
  • that Origen forgot that he had been reading Christian hero-worship and misremembered it as a text of unbelief written by Josephus;
  • that Origen made his best efforts to find his source, searching Josephus, but did not search Hegesippus even though Origen had Hegesippus in his library, according to Carrier.
  • that Origen’s search was unsuccessful;
  • that Origen’s words “the same writer” constitute hesitant language indicating that unsuccessful search;
  •  that it is inconsequential that Origen does not name the book by Hegesippus;
  • that although Origen repeatedly says he is arguing with a text that indicates Josephus’ unbelief, this can be set aside as a persistent mistake on Origen’s part;
  • that he wrote this misremembered version in Against Celsus and in his Commentary on Matthew.

  • that Origen (or the shadowy scribe) was also reading AJ 20:200 and found coincidentally the words “the brother of Jesus”, the words “called Christ” being absent; and
  • because his memory of reading Origen's work made this, in Carrier’s words a “natural juxtaposition”, Origen (or the shadowy scribe) wrote “who was called Christ” in the margin, or above the line, in his copy of AJ 20;
  • that a later scribe mistook this note for a textual correction and inserted the words when making a new copy of AJ 20 to read “the brother of Jesus who was called Christ”; and
  • that Eusebius’ copy of AJ was that copy or a descendant of that copy; and
  • that copy’s interpolation was reproduced by Eusebius in his History of the Church; and
  • every extant copy of AJ was made from a descendant of the same copy.

  • that Acts was written after AJ;
  • that Luke read AJ;
  • that Luke would have extended the ending of Acts to cover the death of James had he known of it; that Luke would not have made an editorial decision to leave the story out if he knew it from any source;
  • that the absence of the deaths of Peter and Paul in Acts has no bearing on determining this;
  • that the current ending of Acts does not really serve Luke’s narrative purposes adequately;
  • that Luke would have no other source of knowledge for the story but Josephus and so Luke’s silence is indicative of the content of AJ 20;
  • that any similar story of the death of James was entirely “unknown” in Luke’s day and was later invented by Hegesippus or someone around his time;
  • and that Acts pre-dates Hegesippus.
That is going with the simpler version of Carrier’s theory, where the original text of AJ 20:200 did not include ‘ben Damneus’. (Whereas if ben Damneus is supposed to have been in AJ 20:200, then other assumptions are needed.)

This is a lot of assumptions and speculation, and it is interesting to compare it with Carrier’s claim that arguments for deliberate interpolation are ‘less probable’ because they ‘require more assumptions’ (page 498). To be clear, not one of the above list is a known fact.

Appendix 2: Suggested further reading on “Jewish Christianity”
To get a wider view of the significance and place of James and Jewish followers of Jesus in Jerusalem – not to prove any specific point of mine - I particularly recommend reading the following three compendiums of scholars’ articles.

Jewish Believers in Jesus: The Early Centuries, ed. Oskar Skarsaune and Reidar Hvalvik, Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers Inc., 2007.

Jewish Christianity Reconsidered: Rethinking Ancient Groups and Texts, ed. Matt Jackson-McCabe. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007.

The Ways that Never Parted: Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, ed. Adam H. Becker and Annette Yoshiko Reed. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007.
Other reads I recommend to widen your knowledge on some of the issues in this area:

Bauckham, Richard. “The Parting of the Ways: What happened and Why.” In The Jewish World around the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2010.

Bauckham, Richard, “The Relatives of Jesus,” Themelios 21 (1996): 18-21.

Boyarin, Daniel. “Rethinking Jewish Christianity: An Argument for Dismantling a Dubious Category (to which is Appended a Correction of my Border Lines).” The Jewish Quarterly Review 99, no.1 (2009): 7-36.

Frankfurter, David. “Jews or Not? Reconstructing the ‘Other’ in Rev. 2:9 and 3:9.” Harvard Theological Review 94 (2001): 403-427.

Lowe, Malcolm. “IOUDAIOI of the Apocrypha: A Fresh Approach to the Gospels of James, Pseudo-Thomas, Peter and Nicodemus.” Novum Testamentum 23, Fasc. 1 (1981): 56-90.

Lowe, Malcolm. “Who were the IOUDAIOI?” Novum Testamentum 18, Fasc. 2 (1976): 101-130.

Pritz, Ray, Nazarene Jewish Christianity (Jerusalem, The Magnes Press, 1988).


Saldarini, Anthony. “Reading Matthew without anti-Semitism.” In The Gospel of Matthew in Current Study: Studies in Memory of William G. Thompson, S.J., ed. David E. Aune, 166-184. Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2001.

Skarsaune, Oskar. In the Shadow of the Temple. Illinois: IVP Academic, 2002.

Wright, N.T. The New Testament and the People of God. London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1992.

Appendix 3: Josephus' brevity
Carrier considers the TF  too brief. The present blog is not place to discuss the TF. But it is useful to observe how we cannot assume too much about the manner in which Josephus writes about events. Consider what he says about a terrible incident for the Jews in Egypt. He doesn’t say much, compared with the witness Philo. For Philo writes that the Romans in Alexandria (in Egypt) were…

  • “destroying the synagogues”
  • "issued a notice… allowing any one who was inclined to proceed to exterminate the Jews as prisoners of war"
  • "drove the Jews entirely out of four quarters, and crammed them all into a very small portion of one"
  • "slew them and thousands of others with all kinds of agony and tortures … wherever they met with or caught sight of a Jew, they stoned him, or beat him with sticks"
  • "the most merciless of all their persecutors in some instances burnt whole families, husbands with their wives, and infant children with their parents”
  • "those who did these things, mimicked the sufferers”
Now, in contrast, and look closely, this is how Josephus describes the violence:

  • “There was now a tumult arisen at Alexandria, between the Jewish inhabitants and the Greeks” (AJ 18:8)

And that’s it. Talk about brevity! That is all he says on it. Blink and you would miss it. Josephus had his own agendas, and  wrote what he wanted to write. Which was often to make the Romans look better than they really were.

Appendix 4: Content of the word 'Christ'
Carrier's claim that Josephus ought to explain the content of the word 'Christ' to his readership can be tested against a control or two. 
  • For this test, one literary parallel that can be used as a control is Paul, that is to say, his undisputed authentic letters. Paul was a fellow Jew and older contemporary of Josephus, writing for an audience that includes Gentiles. Paul frequently refers to Christ, or Christ Jesus, or Jesus Christ, and so on; but Paul never explicitly unpacks the Israelite meaning of the word 'Christ' for his audience. This phenomenon is so pronounced that modern readers, unless they are informed that 'Christ' is a title with specific meaning, assume that Paul is using 'Jesus Christ' simply as a name. Notably, Josephus like Paul does not unpack the meaning of the word Christ.
  • A second literary parallel that can be used as a control for this test is Tacitus. He was a younger contemporary of Josephus. Both served the Roman empire and wrote as historians for Roman audiences (Tacitus' audience being a narrower one). When Tacitus refers to 'Christ' he too does not unpack the meaning of the word. He simply says that Christians were named after Christ. This again allows 'Christ' to function as a name. It as if the word was one by which this Jew had simply become known.

Josephus like both his contemporaries, with whom he had much in common, does not unpack the Israelite content of 'Christ'. It is as if it is simply a word associated with THAT particular Jesus. Carrier's assertion that Josephus ought to have unpacked it is asking Josephus to buck the trend. Placing such a requirement on Josephus ought to have proper justification. Carrier hardly addresses the question of two such relevant literary parallels and thus he does not pass that test.

[1] Carrier believes that there was no historical Jesus, and therefore no family of Jesus either, but he leaves some of that argument for other publications. Here he will argue that there was no authentic story of the death of a brother of Jesus Christ called James, but that it was invented later, a fictional second century legend (page 514). This James, brother of Jesus Christ, should be erased from history, in Carrier’s view. He holds that the person of the name met by Paul (Galatians 1-2) was not a sibling of Jesus, but that later Christians conflated this James with a fictional brother of Jesus.
[2] Carrier’s footnote’s two main points are that the TF breaks the flow of the stories in AJ 18; and that the passage is too short, displaying ‘bizarre brevity’ for its ‘astonishing content’, given that the next story is much longer despite being ‘a much more trivial affair’. Carrier asserts that both ‘facts’ show that ‘there cannot here have been any reference to Jesus in the original AJ’ (page 490). On the question of breaking the flow, Carrier does not mention the explanation known to scholars, that footnotes had not been invented in Josephus' day, and therefore ancient texts are littered with breaks in the flow (whereas moderns avoid that problem with footnotes). As for brevity, see Appendix 3 above. Carrier does not explain how he qualifies one story as more trivial and the other as less so but some indication is in his reference to ‘astonishing content’ and what he means by this perhaps comes when he attacks the TF again: it is an unredacted version he criticises, so that ‘Jesus’ resurrection on the third day’ falls within the scope of his criticism (pages 492). He says this is something Origen fails to quote. Notably, as if with a nod to partial authenticity, he writes that, after Origen, ‘we can be reasonably certain... deliberate revisions to the TF (if not its outright inclusion)’ were made (page 494, emphasis added). But then again, allowing no partial authenticity, he writes that ‘we must conclude Origen cannot have known the TF’. Is he hedging his bets? 
[3] For example, no mention of W. Mizugaki, "Origen and Josephus" in Josephus, Judaism and Christianity, ed. Louis H. Feldman and Gohei Hata (Detroit, Wayne State University Press, 1987) 325-337; and Z. Baras, "The Testimonium Flavianum and the Martyrdom of James" in Josephus, Judaism and Christianity, 338-348. I am indebted to Tim O’Neill’s review ( for drawing my attention to these.
[4] For example: Matt Jackson-McCabe, “What’s in a Name?” in Jewish Christianity Reconsidered: Rethinking Ancient Groups and Texts, ed. Matt Jackson-McCabe (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), 7-38. Also: Daniel Boyarin, “Semantic Differences; or “Judaism”/”Christianity”,” in The Ways that Never Parted: Jews and Christians in Late Antiquity and the Early Middle Ages, ed. Adam H. Becker and Annette Yoshiko Reed (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2007), 65-85. Also: Daniel Boyarin, “Rethinking Jewish Christianity: An Argument for Dismantling a Dubious Category (to which is Appended a Correction of my Border Lines),” in The Jewish Quarterly Review 99, no.1 (2009), 7-36.
[5] Even St Paul, the Israelite often credited by mythicists as the creator of Christianity, never uses the words “Christian” or “Christianity” in his letters. He seems to have no special name for his faith. In fact, in Galatians 1, the word he uses to designate it is simply a PISTIS, a conviction. Likewise, as it happens, the four biblical gospels never use the words “Christian” and “Christianity” in relation to James or anything else.
[6] If the TF in Book 18 were authentic, including its usage of the word “Christian”, this usage might merely be implying a grouping of the Jerusalem church with hindsight together under one name with people known in Rome as “Christian” followers of Christ. It would not be proof that Josephus should have called James a “Christian” in Book 20.
[7] The article’s reliance on this invention of a historically unevidenced figure, James ben Damneus, and that his existence should be accepted, is somewhat ironic, given that Carrier has elsewhere sought to argue that Jesus Christ is historically unevidenced and that therefore his existence should be denied. My point being to wonder if consistent methodology is in play here.
[8] In any case, the TF does not actually explain the Jewish theological meaning of “Christ” – anointed Jewish king who restores greatness to Israel as a sovereign nation under God. Nor does the TF mention the church’s twist on that traditional meaning into an expectation that the second coming of Christ would put the world to rights – this twist could have been lost on Josephus anyway for all we know. The absence of the non-explanatory TF is therefore not something that shifts a burden of explanation for the content of the word “Christ” onto AJ 20:200.
[9] Carrier regards this passage in Tacitus as an interpolation too.
[10] Carrier in error says the opposite on the appearance of “Christ” in Tacitus: ‘Josephus would have digressed to explain what this name meant or why he was bothering to mention it, as both Tacitus and Pliny did in their explanations of Christ as the personal name of a god or leader followed by Christians’ (page 503). Tacitus does not offer an explanation of the word “Christ” as a personal name, nor any other explanation of it.
[11] In the context of deaths in Rome, but not in the Jerusalem context, the term “Christians” was applied to followers of Jesus.
[12] There are twenty-one Jesuses mentioned by Josephus. See Feldman, "Introduction" in Josephus, Judaism and Christianity, 56.
[13] Per Bilde, "Josefus’ beretning om Jesus" ("Josephus’ Text about Jesus"), D7T44 (1981) 99-135, cited by Feldman, "Introduction" in Josephus, Judaism and Christianity, 56.
It is worth mentioning that the argument for a deliberate interpolation derived from Origen founders, not least, upon the fact that Origen’s perspective on the cause of the war has not been woven into extant AJ 20 by the ‘interpolator’. Carrier believes that accidental interpolation is more likely. He says arguments for deliberate interpolation are ‘less probable’ because they ‘require more assumptions’ (page 498). A particularly difficult obstacle for the deliberate interpolation argument is that no positive spin is found on the death of James in Josephus. I explore this obstacle in more detail in a separate post here.
[15] Carrier writes, ‘Origen does not identify his source as AJ 20... It is thus strange that the connection between a James and this “Jesus who is called Christ” happens to appear in AJ 20’ (page 501). This is surely a non-sequitur.
[16] Compare with this in Eusebius: ‘Beside this, the same writer shows that in Jerusalem itself a great many other revolts broke out...’ (emphasis added). Eusebius, History of the Church, 2:6,3, Williamson's translation.
[17] Cf. Baras, "The Testimonium Flavianum and the Martyrdom of James" in Josephus, Judaism and Christianity, 343.
[18] W. Mizugaki, "Origen and Josephus" in Josephus, Judaism and Christianity, particularly 332-3.
[19] Carrier curiously says of the others 'These are the men whom...’ I am not sure why he assumes they are all men. Carrier calls James ‘a mere criminal’. To justify this, Carrier mistakenly mentions a ‘procedural’ offence: surely an error - this was Ananus’ offence, not James’ offence (page 501).
[20] According to Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History 2:23.
[21] Curiously, Carrier states the opposite. He writes: ‘beyond the fact that both [Josephus and Hegesippus] mention a man named James who was stoned... there are no parallels to AJ 20:200’ (page 508). Surely, at the very least, the presence of fair-minded citizens who object to proceedings is an obvious parallel.
[22] On the point about the ensuing attacks, Josephus and Hegesippus are far from consistent: they have attacks soon after the death of James, but in Josephus this is about a temporary crushing of Jewish rebels (into which Origen might have read a poetic precursor to the ultimate crushing of Jewish rebels in 70AD); whereas in Hegesippus the attack is the beginning of the siege (into which we may read that this led down the line to the ultimate crushing of Jewish rebels in 70AD).
[23] Baras, "The Testimonium Flavianum and the Martyrdom of James" in Josephus, Judaism and Christianity, 344.
[24] Josephus, Antiquities XI, 297-305, Loeb Classical Library, VI,  457-461.
[25] Feldman suggests that Origen could have modelled his comments after AJ 18:119, that Jews thought that the destruction visited upon the army of Herod Antipas was God's punishment for Herod's execution of John the Baptist, but this lacks the startling resonances in AJ 11:297-305.L. H. Feldman, "Introduction" in Josephus, Judaism and Christianity, 56.
[26] Thus Baras: ‘Could Origen have confused the sources? Such negligence on the part of so meticulous a scholar is unacceptable.’ Baras, "The Testimonium Flavianum and the Martyrdom of James" in Josephus, Judaism and Christianity, 344.

[27] A repeated pattern in Origen is that he is taking a non-believer to task for writing that Jesus is ‘called Christ’ as distinct from being known as Christ. This makes sense if Origen has read a text to which he takes exception, in which Jesus is referred to as ‘called Christ’. Nothing else but that has provoked a reaction out of him. Notice how he continually corrects it:
Commentary on Matthew 10.17: ‘… Flavius Josephus, …  said that … James the brother of Jesus who is called Christ… he did not accept our Jesus to be Christ
Against Celsus 1.47: ‘Josephus… says… James the just, who was a brother of Jesus who is called Christ … how is it not more reasonable to say that it happened on account of Jesus the Christ?
Against Celsus 2.13: ‘For this began … as Josephus writes, on account of James the just, the brother of Jesus who was called Christ, but, as the truth demonstrates, on account of Jesus the Christ of God.’
This repeated pattern of correcting his literary adversary is incomprehensible unless Origen has access to a text in which an unbeliever writes “called Christ”. The only candidate for this is AJ 20:200.

[28] Carrier elsewhere speculates, ‘Origen also probably had a copy of Hegesippus in his library’ (page 510). However, no extant text of Origen even names an author called Hegesippus.
[29] W. Mizugaki, "Origen and Josephus" in Josephus, Judaism and Christianity, 327.


  1. A very thorough review of Carrier's deeply unconvincing article. You've made many points that have occurred to me as well, especially the way he skips over alternative explanations and possibilities and just blithely assumes his own assumptions. But the way you've laid out exactly how many of those assumptions there are and how weakly based many of them are revealed to be on close examination is very useful. Your point about how the supposedly interpolated "LEGOMENOU CHRISTOU" agrees with the allegedly uninterpolated "IESOU" is a good one. As is the fact that this phrase "LEGOMENOU CHRISTOU" is "exactly" what we'd expect with no attempt at examining any alternatives or why they would be less likely. This is all pretty typical of Carrier's bombastic carelessness.

    One point though - my surname is "O'Neill". It would be good if you could amend footnote 3 above and perhaps link to the review where I have my own fairly lengthy critique of this article.

  2. Carrier responded:

    1. Yes. He always does. He has a lot of time on his hands, poor little guy.

    2. Colin Green will answer that answer?

      (Sorry, my English is horrible.)