Good Question...

...was Josephus relying on the Gospel of Matthew?

[created Dec 12/9]

Quite a while back (Jun 30, 1996) my friend Jeff Lowder forwarded this question to me. It has taken me a long time to get to this, but the information may of use to others.

The question was posed to JeffL:

But there is one question I wish to ask. When criticizing the chapter 5, "Jesus - A Man of History", you surprisingly (for me) accept Josephus' another mentioning of Jesus (" of Jesus, so called Christ") as authentic.

One of your reasons in doing so is that this passage is not Christian. But e.g. G.A. Wells in his book "Did Jesus exist?" (2nd ed. 1986, p. 11) claims just the opposite: in Creek the passage is just the same as in the end of Mt 1:16, where it is translated "him called Christ", ie. without any expressed doubts. And Wells rejects the authenticity largely just because of that! (Of course, you may say, when thinking of his general position).

So my question is: were you aware of this similarity of the original texts in Greek?

I finally sent back some info to Jeff, but later found some additional material below:

1. There was a specific response to Well's claims by R.T. France in EFT (note 12 of chapter 1):

"Wells, The Historical Evidence for Jesus, p.211, points out that the same phrase occurs in Matthew 1.16, and therefore must be translated 'called' rather than (derogatorily) 'so-called'. But Josephus' usage should be determined from Josephus, not from Matthew. The Complete Concordance to Flavius Josephus translates legomenos as 'so-called' or 'alleged', and refers as an example to Josephus, Contra Apionen II 34, where he speaks of Alexandria as Apion's 'not birthplace, but alleged (birthplace)'. Even if legomenos does not necessarily carry this dismissive tone in our passage, it is hardly conceivable that a Christian interpolator could have been content with so non-committal a phrase."

2. This J. ref seems to indicate the shift from title to name, as the standard Greek lexicon ABG indicates (s.v. "Christ"):

"the transition to sense 2 (personal name) is marked by certain passages in which Christos does not mean the Messiah in general (even when the ref. is to Jesus), but a very definite Messiah, Jesus, who now is called Christ not as a title but as a name"

3. This lexicon also points out that this form (as the passive of lego)is routinely understood in this sense, and actually cites a different passage from Josephus to illustrate this:

be called, named Mt 13:55; Hb 11:24. "ho legomenus" the so-called (Epict. 4, 1, 51: "so-called kings"; Socrat., Ep. 14, 7: "so-called Death") ...(Herm. Wr. 2, 14 the "so-called gods" in contrast to "the only God" Somewhat differently Josephus., Ant. 12, 125 ("Antiochus who is called 'god' by the Greeks")

4. The LXX uses legomenus only once, in 3rd Macc. 1.3, where the sense is clearly that of 'called or named' (without ANY commitment to accuracy of the attribution):

"Dositheus, known as the son of Drimylus..."

5. Eusebius has two somewhat later uses of the word-form, and both have this non-committal or formal character to them:

"Among these was Leonides, who was called the father of Origen, and who was beheaded while his son was still young" . (Eusebius, History, 6.1.1) In the Hendriksen set, this footnote occurs at this passage: "We know very little about Origen's father. The fame of the son overshadowed that of the father, even though the latter was a martyr. The phrase used in this passage to describe him has caused some trouble. "ho legomenos Origenous pater". Taken in its usual sense, the expression means "said to be the father of Origen," or the "so-called father of Origen," both of which appear strange, for there can have been no doubt as to his identity. "

"He is said to have been formerly the emperor's general finance minister ; yet he did nothing praiseworthy or of general benefit" (Eusebius, History, 7.10.5)

This illustrates the strongly non-committal nature of the grammatical structure. It seems to mean 'it is said of' without any comment on correctness of the attribution.

6. Athanasius uses the word-form once:

"For with such an initiation we too are made sons verily , and using the name of the Father, we acknowledge from that name the Word in the Father. But if He wills that we should call His own Father our Father, we must not on that account measure ourselves with the Son according to nature, for it is because of the Son that the Father is so called by us; for since the Word bore our body and came to be in us, therefore by reason of the Word in us, is God called our Father" (Athanasius, Defense of the Nicene Definition, 7.31)

This passage is very illuminating, for it is dealing with the differences in meaning between our calling God 'Father' and Christ calling God 'Father'. This passage shows that the issue is the 'calling' or 'speaking' or 'proclaiming' aspect--NOT the nature of the attribution. Athx here is saying that it is 'okay' for us to call God Father, even though He is our Father in a different sense than Christ.

7. Even the NT uses it in the non-committal sense (i.e. simple 'naming') and even in the disparaging sense in a number of occasions:

First, some simple 'naming' ones:

Now, the disparaging:

8. It should also be noted that arguing from such a tiny scrap of linguistic data (two words and an article?) is very tenuous at best. There is simply not enough in there to really make semi- "form critical" decisions on the basis of.


    1. Legomenus was apparently used of general naming. It denoted to a common or accepted way of referring to someone. "X the son of Y" or "X, who is also called Y" were common statements.
    2. It denoted public statement and did NOT attempt to determine the accuracy or inaccuracy of the 'name'.
    3. In some cases, this 'alleged' aspect of the verb is highlighted--the disparaging use as 'so-called' attests to this.
    4. Thus in Josephus, it is either a non-committal record of what the public called Jesus (by that time), or a statement that reflects the transition from title to name (e.g. from "Jesus the Christ" to "Jesus Christ"), or a slightly disparaging reference (i.e. the 'so-called' Christ). [But note that the disparaging uses documented above ALWAYS occurred in an oppositional form--"a so-called X, not a REAL X".]
    5. Matthew's use might reflect the simple naming aspect (i.e. identifying the Jesus of the genealogy) or maybe even making a point that a growing body of Jewry HAD recognized Jesus as the Christ. But it is more likely that Matthew is intending to actually assert more--that Jesus was REALLY the Christ, as he goes about to show in his gospel.

It seems clear to me from the data above, that the positions of Jeff Lowder and R.T. France are probably correct--Josephus' use of the word elsewhere and the "low" claims of the passage under discussion seem to argue decisively against the belief that J. copied (or was dependent on) the wording in the Gospel of Matthew.


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