Jewish Light on the Risen Lord
FLAVIUS JOSEPHUS, A FIRST-CENTURY JEW
One of the most valuable testimonies to Christ’s Resurrection comes from the pen of a first-century Jew by the name of Flavius Josephus (b. A.D. 37).
How a Jew could have written such things has been the subject of much speculation. Some would argue that Christians must have tampered with the passage in question. But, as we shall see, such a notion flies in the face of overwhelming evidence to the contrary. Certain members of the early Church regarded Josephus as a Balaam figure who was impelled willy-nilly to say things he didn’t believe. This, too, is highly speculative. A third possibility is that he converted to Christianity after witnessing the heroism of the martyrs under Nero. If so, he could have reverted to Judaism during the reign of Domitian, who persecuted the Faith with renewed savagery. He had already distanced himself from Judaism by collaborating with the Romans and accepting Vespasian as the Messiah, and, having accorded Vespasian such a title, it seems reasonable to suppose that he could have bestowed it upon Jesus.
St. Jerome regarded Josephus’s reference to “the Messiah” as simply a common form of parlance similar to the way Catholics might speak of the “Archbishop of Canterbury” or the “Orthodox Patriarch of Istanbul.”
Regarding Josephus’s belief that Jesus rose from the dead and was more than a “mere man,” one must begin by acknowledging that, even though he was a Jew, he was highly sympathetic to Christianity. His references to the Christian leadership are uniformly favorable and, at the same time, unassailably authentic. James, for example, the first Bishop of Jerusalem, is described as “a good man” while Jesus comes across as “a teacher of men who receive the truth with pleasure.”
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