Thursday, November 05, 2009

Jesus: The Evidence: Geza Vermes on the Testimonium Flavianum

I blogged recently on Morton Smith's appearance in the 1984 Channel 4 documentary Jesus: The Evidence. Here's another nice clip from the documentary featuring a younger looking Geza Vermes discussing the Testimonium Flavianum in a large library (anyone recognize it?). You will notice a curiosity of this documentary with the scholars speaking directly to the camera. We are so used these days to the expert giving his or her opinions looking off-camera at the director, that it is unsettling to see this alternative style. I wonder if this was unique at the time?



I remember attending a lecture given by Geza Vermes in Oxford a year or so after the broadcast, probably in early 1986. He talked about his own experiences in filming the documentary and the backlash against it among Christians in the media. I recall, in particular, his smiling at the repeated complaint about its one-sidedness, with only one minute given to I. Howard Marshall.

Update: Many thanks to Geza Vermes for emailing with the information that the library is Dr Williams' Library in London. The lecture I remembered is "Jesus, the Evidence and the British Press" and it is included in a collection of papers to appear on 4 January 2010 in SEARCHING FOR THE REAL JESUS published by SCM Press.

10 comments:

Geoff Hudson said...

Since 1984, has Geza Vermes changed his views on the Testimonium?

Mark Goodacre said...

Not that I know of.

Geoff Hudson said...

What do you think of the principle of Geza Vermes's reconstruction of the Testimonium?

Geoff Hudson said...

The Testimonium Flavium

[] = Original; {} = Vermes

At about this time lived Jesus, a wise man[, if indeed one might call him a man. For] He [was one who accomplished] {performed} [surprising] {astononishing} feats and was a teacher of such people as [accept the truth with pleasure] {are eager for novelties}. He [won over] {attracted} many Jews and many {of the} Greeks. [He was the Messiah.] [When Pilate] Upon an indictment brought by [the principal men] {leading members} [amongst us] {of our society}, {Pilate} [condemned] {sentenced} him to the cross, {but} those who had loved him from the very first, did not cease to be attached to him. [On the third day, he appeared to them restored to life, for the holy prophets had foretold this and myriads of other marvels concerning him; and] the brotherhood of Christians, [so] named [from] {after} him, [are not extinct at this day] {is still in existence}.

Note: The last original sentence is missing from the video, so I have copied it from the Whiston version.

Don Zirilli said...

My belief in the existence of Jesus is much more bolstered by Geza Vermes's book "Jesus the Jew" than by this brief passage by Josephus.

Geoff Hudson said...

We are left in no doubt as to what Vermes thinks of Josephus, or should I say the writings attributed to Josephus. Vermes sets the scene. First he tells us that the "most persuasive evidence for Jesus's existence comes in the writings of the Jewish historian Josephus. Born around the time of the crucifixion, he spent many years in Galilee." He makes no negative comment about his writings, as do other writers. Then we see Geza walking to a reading desk saying, "he wrote two great historical works, one of which contains a detailed reference to Jesus. This is what the surviving manuscripts say about him." Geza points to the passage, and a man speaking with a plumb in his mouth, reads the passage as though it was holy writ. Vermes then leaves the reading desk carrying the precious writing, and comes to a table where he sits down. The whole thing is geared to convincing the hearer that Josephus is reliable, but has been subsequently written over by a Christian editor. May be it was the way religious documentaries were presented in 1986, but Geza played his part.

Geoff Hudson said...

“He …was a teacher of such people as [accept the truth with pleasure] {are eager for novelties}.” I can see Geza’s logic behind his change here, “novelties” appearing frequently in the writings attributed to Josephus. But I am interested in the meaning of the original Greek for “accept”. The equivalent in Whiston is “receive”. Which is correct, “receive” or “accept”?

“He [won over] {attracted} many Jews and {many of} the Greeks.” Geza has changed “won over” to “attracted”. Whiston has “drew over”. Did Geza mean a Jew could “attract” another Jew but not “win over” another Jew, to being a different kind of Jew? - a Jew is a Jew? He has also added “many of” with reference to Greeks - Whiston already has “many of the Gentiles”.

As Geza said, “ancient interpolators were not particularly subtle.” So I wonder what he thinks about the passage (Ant.18.3.4) immediately following the Testimonium - not particularly subtle!

Geoff Hudson said...

And what about the passages Ant.18.5.4 and 18.5.5 immediately following the Testimonium? Do these passages also contain fabricated material? How much of "the style and vocabulary" belong to Josephus? And was it possible to imitate Josephus's "style and vocabulary"?

Geoff Hudson said...

Are the three passages (Ant.18.3:3,4and 5) somehow connected? We have what I believe is in the style of a typical editor's disconnection at the beginning of Ant.18.3:4. "About the same time also another sad calamity put the Jews into disorder; and certain shameful shameful practices happened about the temple of Isis that was at Rome. I will now first take notice of the wicked attempt about the temple of Isis, and will then give an account of Jewish affairs." When one sees "I" or "we" in the writings attributed to Josephus, one may get suspicious. And what has the temple of Isis to do with a history that is supposed to be about Jews?

Geoff Hudson said...

And are the passages in Ant.18.3.1,2 connected to the Tesimonium following?