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Pseudo-Hegesippus' Testimonium (was: the argument of the Testimonium Flavianum)

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  • Ken Olson
    Pseudo-Hegesippus is a name used by scholarly convention for the anonymous author of the c. 370 Latin work De Excidio Urbis Hierosolymitanae ( On the
    Message 1 of 1 , Jul 31, 2004
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      Pseudo-Hegesippus is a name used by scholarly convention for the anonymous
      author of the c. 370 Latin work De Excidio Urbis Hierosolymitanae ("On the
      Destruction of the City of Jerusalem;" Latin text in CSEL 66) that has come
      down to us with some works by Ambrose, and is sometimes (though rarely these
      days) attributed to him. The De Excidio is a Christian history of the
      Jewish war, based on Josephus' book, but with an extreme anti-Jewish
      tendency. It is frequently not included in lists of witnesses to the
      Testimonium because, though the author is certainly aware of that passage,
      he does not provide a direct translation, nor even a paraphrase, but a sort
      of out-of-sequence discussion interpreting it in light of his own conception
      of history. In English translation, this passage from De Excidio 2.12 reads
      as follows:

      >>For many of the Jews and even more of the Gentiles believed in him and
      were attracted by his teaching of morals and performance of works beyond
      human capability. Not even his death put an end to their faith and love,
      but rather it increased their devotion... Of this the Jews themselves give
      testimony, Josephus the writer saying in his history that there was at that
      time a wise man, if it be appropriate, he says, to call a man the creator of
      marvelous works, who appeared alive to his disciples three days after his
      death according to the writings of the prophets, who prophesied both these
      and innumerable other things full of wonder about him. From him began the
      congregation of Christians, even infiltrating every race of humans, nor does
      there remain any nation in the Roman world that is without his religion. If
      the Jews do not believe us, they might believe one of their own. Thus spoke
      Josephus, whom they esteem a very great man, and nevertheless so devious in
      mind was he that he did not believe even his own words. Although he spoke
      for the sake of fidelity to history because he thought it wrong to deceive,
      he did not believe because of his hardness of heart and faithless intention.
      Nevertheless, it does not prejudice truth because, unbelieving and unwilling
      he did not deny it. In this the eternal power of Jesus Christ shone forth,
      that even the leading men of the synagogue who delivered him up to death
      acknowledged him to be God<<(trans. Alice Whealey, Josephus on Jesus, 2003,
      p. 32-33).

      A few commentators, most notably Alice Whealey, have used Pseudo-Hegesippus
      as a witness to support the theory that an earlier version of the
      Testimonium did not include the sentence "He was the Christ." Whealey
      observes that Ps.-H refers to every part of the Testimonium except for the
      parts about Pilate's condemnation of Jesus and the part claiming he was the
      Christ (p. 32). She also observes that while Ps.-H does not specifically
      say that Pilate sentenced Jesus to death, he does say that he does not
      absolve Pilate ("non excusator Pilatus") in part of DE 2.12 omitted in her
      translation of the passage above (p. 33). She says:

      >>it is hard to believe that Pseudo-Hegesippus would have omitted an
      apparent testimony to Jesus' Messiahship, namely the statement "he was the
      Messiah," if it had stood in his text of Antiquities, for he is inclined to
      exaggerate the significance of the Testimonium, especially in his claim that
      it shows even the leaders of the synagogue acknowledged Jesus to be God. If
      it had stood in his text, one wonders why Pseudo-Hegesippus is so adamant
      that Josephus still did not believe<< (Whealey, Josephus on Jesus, 33).

      I think Whealey has misinterpreted the text here. She identifies
      (correctly, in my opinion) Ps.-H's "leaders of the synagogue" with the
      Testimonium's "leading men among us" (p. 32). She says that Ps.-H has
      exaggerated the Testimonium by claiming that they acknowledged Jesus to be
      God. But of what part of the Testimonium could this claim be an

      The Latin _deum fatebantur_ that Whealey translates as "confessed him to be
      God" could equally well be rendered "confessed his divinity" (as it is by
      the German Josephus scholar Heinz Schreckenburg in Jewish Historiography and
      Iconography in Early Medieval Christianity, 1992, p. 73). So what could
      have given Ps-H. the idea that the leaders confessed Jesus divinity? The
      received text of the Testimonium reads "He was the Christ and on the
      accusation of the leading men among us Pilate condemned him to the Cross."
      I think that Ps.-H. has interpreted "He was the Christ" to be the accusation
      that the Jewish leaders brought against Jesus rather than an authorial
      comment by Josephus. That is, admittedly, not a good translation of what
      Josephus actually says, but we are not dealing with a good translation here
      but a tendentious interpretation. And I think it would be difficult to
      account for the claim about the leaders confession in any other way.

      Finally, I will respond in advance to two potential criticisms of the case I
      've made (though I suspect there will be others):

      First, it is speculative. This is true, but that is the nature of the case.
      It is speculative even to try to reconstruct what kind of Testimonium was in
      Pseudo-Hegesippus' source based on what he says in his discussion of it.
      But I think my speculation is a fairly well-grounded one. We can derive
      Pseudo-Hegesippus discussion from the text of the Testimonium actually found
      in our manuscripts of the Antiquities and Historia Ecclesiastica. And in
      the case of the confession of the Jewish leaders, I do not think a better
      explanation is available.

      Second, Pseudo-Hegesippus' source could have read "He was believed to be the
      Christ" as Jerome's De Viris Illustribus does. This also is true. But I do
      not think a possibility is enough here. We can derive Ps.-H.'s text easily
      enough from the received text of the Testimonium as it stands. Anyone who
      wanted to argue that Ps.-H's text read "he was believed to be the Christ,"
      which Ps.-H. does not explicitly say, ought to show why the evidence
      requires that reading rather than the received one.

      Best Wishes,


      Kenneth A. Olson
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