Those who assert this passage is a Christian interpolation insist Josephus,
a Jew who did not believe the gospel, cannot possibly have written the
words, "He was [the] Christ." There is, however, nothing in the
world more common than for writers summarizing the beliefs of a sect or
a party to slip into natural diction, and express these beliefs in declarative
sentences about the world. For instance, Epiphanius, the orthodox Christian
bishop of Salamis, says,
"Leucippus the Milesian -- though some say that he was an Elean --
was also a controversialist. He too said that everything is in the infinite,
and that all events take place in imagination and appearance. There are
no real events; they are apparent, like an oar in the water." (Epiphanius,
Panarion, De Fide VII, 9, 17, p. 647, Frank Williams translation).
Gasp -- can this orthodox bishop really have believed that "there
are no real events; they are apparent, like an oar in the water"?
Presumably Epiphanius is evoking the broken appearance of the oar in water,
though the oar is not broken. Can Bishop Berkeley really have that long
a pedigree? Not very likely, because Epiphanius can hardly keep track of
all the philosophical sects among the Greeks, much less does he wish to
espouse the cause of one of them: "For who can count the variety of
this world? How many other sects have not grown up among the Greeks after
the four most famous ones which we have mentioned -- and further, after
those sects and the ones after them, how many individuals and ideas keep
arising of themselves, with seeming 'youth,' in accordance with the opinion
of each?" (Epiphanius, Panarion, De Fide VII, 9, 2, p. 646, Frank
Williams translation). The section in which he explains Leucippus' view
is prefaced with the modest ambition, "Since I have learned of many
I shall give their names and their opinions in order below, but this is
a fraction of the ones in the world." (Epiphanius, Panarion, De Fide
VII, 9, 3, p. 646, Frank Williams translation). Just because he does not
remember to say, "they say" or "they believe" in front
of every clause, is no reason to saddle him with the views he is summarizing.
It gets even worse:
"Zeno of Citieum, the Stoic, said that we must not build temples for
gods but keep the Godhead in our minds alone -- or rather, regard the mind
as God, for it is immortal. We should throw the dead to wild beasts or
consign them to fire. We may indulge in pederasty without restraint."
(Epiphanius, Panarion, De Fide VII, 9, 40, p. 650, Frank Williams translation).
Gasp -- a bishop who proposes to "indulge in pederasty without restraint"!
Sue him! Or perhaps it is an 'interpolation' perpetrated by those devious
Stoics. Or perhaps, like a cop who forgets to insert 'allegedly' before
every single clause, he just forgot to say 'they say.' Another instance:
"Satan fell from heaven, created the visible universe, and will finally
return to glory." (Henry Charles Lea, A History of the Inquisition of the
Middle Ages, Book II, Chapter IV, Kindle location 17407). Though this
author does not wear his convictions on his sleeve, I sincerely doubt he
shares the Catharist belief that Satan created the world. Like others, he
simply falls into natural narrative diction, though the surrounding
context makes clear he is describing the beliefs of a particular sect.
In 'Kingdom Ethics' by David P. Gushee and Glen H. Stassen, we learn
that, "Some pacifists have argued that Jesus's way is only for Christians.
Christians must follow Jesus and renounce violence, but we cannot expect
non-Christians to renounce violence. The gospel is only for Christians,
and we have nothing to say to non-Christians." (Kingdom Ethics, David P.
Gushee and Glen H. Stassen, Kindle location 8171). Notice please that
these statements, "we cannot expect non-Christians to renounce violence"
and "we have nothing to say to non-Christians" are written in natural
diction; they are simple statements about the world. But do the authors
believe they are true? Evidently not, because they go on to explain,
"But". . .and this itself is a 'tell,'. . ."just like the argument for
just war theory that marginalized Jesus as relevant only to private
relations, this way of arguing for pacifism ultimately makes Jesus
something less than fully Lord." So if you want to 'marginalize Jesus' and
make Him less than Lord, you are welcome to adopt the view of "Some
pacifists;" the authors do not endorse this view. So why did they express
the viewpoint? Because how else would you know what view they intended to
rebut? If we followed the approach of the higher critics, we would explain
that the passage following upon "But" was a later interpolation, because
the later authors plainly do not agree with the earlier ones who said "we
cannot expect non-Christians to renounce violence." But this is obtuse.
Nothing is more normal, in a survey of ethical systems, philosophies, or
political systems, for the authors to bring up a faction or tendency,
summarize their views, often in simple, declarative statements about the
world, even though they themselves do not share the viewpoint in question.
You can multiply examples endlessly. "We proceed thus to the Third
Article: It seems that God does not exist." (Thomas Aquinas, Summa
Theologica, P(1) Q(2) A(3). So Thomas was an atheist! No, actually he
wasn't. Some minimal degree of intelligence is asked of the reader.
Did Princeton Calvinist Charles Hodge believe Christ's flesh was
uncreated? So he says; speaking of the mystic Schwenkfeld, Charles Hodge
says, "Christ is not, even as to his human nature, a creature. His body
and soul were formed out of the substance of God." (Charles Hodge,
Systematic Theology, Kindle location 1787). Of course anyone with any
sense understands he is summarizing what the mystic Schenkfeld believed,
not his own views on this score. Or was he a godless materialist: "All
life, whether animal, vegetable, or spiritual, is due to the working of
physical and chemical forces in matter. As no power exists but in matter,
there can be no divine Being with creative power nor any created human
soul." (Charles Hodge, Systematic Theology, Kindle location 5262). The
reader who takes the time to flip back will see it's the materialist
Berger, not the theist Hodge, who thinks this way just as the patient
reader realizes that in Josephus it's the Christians who think these
things. "The Transfer of Guilt or Righteousness Impossible" (Charles
Hodge, Systematic Theology, Kindle location 21732). It's a chapter
heading, for Pete's sake! But still the people who say that are not with
Hodge but against him, as with the next chapter heading, "Expiation a
Heathenish Idea." You don't have to say 'allegedly' every time.
Or when Louis Berkhof tells us, "Mental phenomena can be reduced to
material phenomena, and in science man cannot get beyond these. . .No
positive affirmation can be made respecting the existence of God. . ."
(Louis Berkhof, Systematic Theology, Kindle location 610), does the reader
wonder, 'Wow, if this is what Christians believe, why pick on Daniel
Dennett?' No, because he's talking about Auguste Comte. He does not have
to repeat every time, 'Auguste Comte says. . .' This is what Comte
believes, not Berkhof. The literary complaint against the phone book has
been made, that it introduces all manner of interesting characters, and
then just drops them. Couldn't the same complaint be made of Berkhof, if
indeed he starts talking about Comte, and then just drops him and starts
telling us his own opinion? It's not his own opinion, any more than
Josephus is giving us his opinion in his summary of Christian beliefs.
A contemporary example, from an author described on the book jacket as
a professor at "Reformed Theological Seminary:" "At each stage of its
descent, the soul lost more of its original heavenly characteristics and
acquired more defects associated with the sphere of the body." (Ronald H.
Nash, The Gospel and the Greeks, p. 145). Wow, so 'Reformed' folks believe
in the descent of the soul through the celestial spheres? No, he is
talking about Mithraism, as the prior sentence makes clear: "Mithraism
taught that the human soul has fallen or descended from its original home
in heaven through seven layers of reality, each identified with one of the
seven known planets." The next sentence continues the exposition of what
those people believed, not what 'Reformed' people believe; the author
finds it time-consuming, redundant and unnecessary to keep repeating, 'they believe,
they believe.' (No doubt he does not expect to be read by 'scholars'!) This tendency is so common there is no difficulty
finding examples: the author begins the exposition of the beliefs of a
named sect with 'they believe,' then continues with simple, declarative
statements of fact which, however, continue to be understood by the
discerning reader as the beliefs of the sect under examination, not the
author's own beliefs. Sometimes it is too taxing to expect the policeman to
say 'alleged' before every significant word. Really if he's said it once
that should be enough.