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Old 12-03-2001, 12:19 AM   #1
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Post Did Jesus Really Exist?

During a discussion, I posted Gauvin's article "Did Jesus Really Exist?" whic contains references to W.L. Cassles "Supernatural Religion". A participant responed with the following, which I'd like comments on:


The stuff you've cut and pasted by Gauvin, (referencing Cassels)
isn't very sound, I'm afraid. I know you reposted it in good
faith, but you can't trust controversial literature like this.

Cassels published anonymously in 1879, and was shown up as a fraud
a long time ago by a real scholar, J.B. Lightfoot. Without dwelling
on his opinions, perhaps I can add a couple of notes on points of
fact, which will allow you to see how dubious it is. (I am
familiar in detail with the manuscript tradition of Josephus, you

I can't comment on Philo because I've never looked into it.

<In the closing years of the first century, Josephus, the
celebrated Jewish historian, wrote his famous work on "The
Antiquities of the Jews." In this work, the historian made no
mention of Christ, and for two hundred years after the death of
Josephus, the name of Christ did not appear in his history.>

Since the work is unreferenced in those centuries by anyone, Gauvin
is making this up.

<There were no printing presses in those days. Books were
multiplied by being copied. It was, therefore, easy to add to or
change what an author had written.>

The transmission of texts from antiquity has been the subject of
considerable academic study. It is much too easy to make such an
allegation. The question is what evidence of change in this way
there is in ancient texts - and I don't think Mr. Gauvin knows.
Have a look at something like L.D.Reynolds and N.G. Wilson, Scribes
and Scholars, Oxford 1994 (3rd edition) to get a feel for how texts
are transmitted - it's the standard text.

<The church felt that Josephus ought to recognize Christ, and the
dead historian was made to do it.>

This is pure imagination; there is no statement in any ancient text
saying this.

<In the fourth century, a copy of "The Antiquities of the Jews"
appeared, in which occurred this passage: [snip]>

Likewise imaginary.

<Such is the celebrated reference to Christ in Josephus. A more
brazen forgery was never perpetrated. For more than two hundred
years, the Christian Fathers who were familiar with the works of
Josephus knew nothing of this passage. Had the passage been in the
works of Josephus which they knew, Justin Martyr, Tertullian,
Origen an Clement of Alexandria would have been eager to hurl it at
their Jewish opponents in their many controversies. But it did not

Some notes:

Firstly, in common with many first century writers, Josephus went
out of fashion between 100 and 400. We can see this if we ask how
many references there are to Josephus in the 5000 pages of the
ante-Nicene fathers. The answer is just 14, 4 of them from Origen
and just 10 from everyone else over a period of 300 years.

Secondly, the ante-Nicene fathers *never* quote Josephus against
the Jews at all. Since neither Jews nor Christians denied the
existence of Jesus in antiquity, there was no reason to; and since
Josephus was a traitor, whose works were not preserved by the Jews,
it is hard to see how quoting him would have a purpose. He is
actually always quoted against the *pagans*, in opposition to
anti-semitism (the Jewish origin of Christianity being a problem
for unbelievers as recently as 1945).

You can see all of the citations from the ante-Nicene fathers at
<a href="" target="_blank"></a> (I looked
it up, so I thought we may as well see it).

There is no evidence that Justin knew him at all.

Note also the attempt to argue from silence. But I was reading
only this weekend the Apocriticus of Macarius Magnes, and this was
written around 400, cited once in 900, again in the 1600's,
published from a single damaged MS (now lost) only in 1870-ish.
Silence means nothing in such cases.

&lt;Indeed, Origen, who knew his Josephus well, expressly affirmed
that that writer had not acknowledged Christ.&gt;

Origen said:

"Now this writer, although not believing in Jesus as the Christ, in
seeking after the cause of the fall of Jerusalem and the
destruction of the temple, whereas he ought to have said that the
conspiracy against Jesus was the cause of these calamities
befalling the people, since they put to death Christ, who was a
prophet, says nevertheless-being, although against his will, not
far from the truth-that these disasters happened to the Jews as a
punishment for the death of James the Just, who was a brother of
Jesus (called Christ),-the Jews having put him to death, although
he was a man most distinguished for his justice." (Contra Celsum I,

In other words, Origen says Josephus refers to Christ, but isn't a
believer. I think Gauvin rather implies he didn't mention him.

&lt;This passage first appeared in the writings of the Christian
Father Eusebius, the first historian of Christianity, early in the
fourth century; and it is believed that he was its author.
Eusebius, who not only advocated fraud in the interest of the
faith, but who is know to have tampered with passages in the works
of Josephus and several other writers,&gt;

Gibbon created a slander on Eusebius' honesty in his "Decline and
Fall", but which does not stand up when investigated. The
statements about forgery are imaginary. For the details of Gibbon,
see <a href="," target="_blank">,</a> which includes the
evaluation of this issue by Lightfoot.

&lt;Everything demonstrates the spurious character of the passage. It
is written in the style of Eusebius, and not in the style of

I find no such statement about the style in the preface to the
Greek-English Loeb edition, and I don't see how so short a passage
could be definitely attributed in such a way. I suspect this to be

The text as we have it in the Greek MSS has recently been
demonstrated to be corrupt and the correct text shown from the
agreement of the Latin and Syriac. Modern scholars apparently
think the passage, although damaged, is more or less authentic.
For details see <a href="," target="_blank">,</a> and
look at the article by the Byzantinist Alice Whealey delivered to
the SBL conference.

[Cassels, W.R.], Supernatural Religion. An Inquiry into the Reality
of Divine Revelation, volume 3 (London: Longmans, Green, and Co.,
revised edition 1879).

Published anonymously, I gather, and severely handled by the great
Patristic scholar Lightfoot.

I found on the net this interesting personal note:

" The consideration of Biblical criticism began for me when I
was about thirteen or fourteen years old, an age at which I had
abandoned belief in God. I found in a library an impressive-looking
Victorian volume called Supernatural Religion, written in the
eighteen-seventies by an anonymous writer, (whose name, I believe,
was W. R. Cassels), which created quite a sensation when it
appeared. It was composed in a learned manner, and furnished with
formidable footnotes, and it announced that recent criticism had
completely disposed of the historical character of the gospels as
generally understood. It quoted great German names of which I had
never heard, and it refuted various early Christian authors who
were equally strange to me: - Irenaeus, Justin, Papias, and so
forth. It was all most impressive. It did not occur to me at that
tender age to doubt it; and I was grieved, because I was in favour
of Jesus of Nazareth.

" And then a miracle occurred. I walked home rather sadly, and
happened to go into my father's study, where I found him arranging
his books. He had in his hand a copy of Lightfoot's famous
criticism of the book which I had just been looking at; he had
never before addressed me on the subject of theology, but something
moved him to do so now; and he told me the story of Lightfoot's
scientific examination of this notorious book, and his painstaking
demolition of its pretences to learning. He had been a pupil of
Lightfoot himself in the eighties, and was speaking out of personal
knowledge. I was being admitted into what is called an 'oral
tradition', which is always so much more illuminating than a purely
literary study. I went up to bed much relieved in my heart."
(Philip Carrington)
<a href="" target="_blank"></a>

See also Lightfoot, J.B., Essays on the Work entitled Supernatural
Religion (London / New York: MacMillan and Co., 1889; reprinted
from The Contemporary Review).

The pretence of learning in order to deceive is a nasty business,
and seems common where the passions of men override their honesty.
Mr. Cassels wrote a very long time ago, and his book was thoroughly
examined by a real scholar also a long time ago.

I hope that's useful, and maybe even interesting. I don't know
about you but, whatever religion I believe in, I'd prefer to have
my facts right.

Best wishes,
Tom Terrific is offline  
Old 12-03-2001, 05:48 AM   #2
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Lightfoot is hardly the last word on the subject. Check out <a href="" target="_blank">Peter Kirby's essay on the topic</a>, which summarizes all arguments, pro and con, for the validity of the two references to Jesus Christ in Josephus.

You can find other up to date articles in the Infidels Library <a href="" target="_blank">on this site.</a>

Especially <a href="" target="_blank">Earl Doherty's article on Josephus</a>
Toto is offline  
Old 12-04-2001, 03:39 PM   #3
Join Date: Jun 2000
Location: Los Angeles area
Posts: 40,549

Mr. Terrific (are you God's gift to women?) - did those URL's answer your questions, or are you a drive-by troll? Why on earth would you be using old sources like Gauvin and Cassels in a current debate?

Just wondering.
Toto is offline  

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