Why Did Josephus Say So Much More About John the Baptist than He did Jesus?

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Flavius Josephus


Michael Martin, philosopher, skeptic of the historical Jesus:

If Jesus did exist, one would have expected Josephus…to have said much more about him…It is unexpected that Jesus mentioned him…in passing while mentioning other messianic figures and John the Baptist in greater detail.

Edwin Yamauchi, scholar of Mediterranean studies, Christian:

I’d answer by saying this:  Josephus was interested in political matters and the struggle against Rome, so for him John the Baptist was more important because he seemed to pose a greater political threat than did Jesus.

From The Case for Christ, pp. 86-87


Gary:  Wow.  Rome saw John the Baptist as a greater political threat than Jesus?  That’s odd.  I don’t remember any mention of John the Baptist riding into Jerusalem greeted as the King of Israel (and therefore a usurper to the dominion of Caesar) by great throngs of cheering Jews:

The next day the great crowd that had come to the festival heard that Jesus was coming to Jerusalem. 13 So they took branches of palm trees and went out to meet him, shouting,

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord—
    the King of Israel!”

…The Pharisees then said to one another, “You see, you can do nothing. Look, the world has gone after him!”  —Gospel of John

I don’t remember John the Baptist being accused of destroying the Temple; an act that would have unleashed massive unrest in Palestine:

“We heard him say, ‘I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.’”  —Gospel of Mark

I don’t remember John the Baptist stirring up so much controversy that the highest Jewish authorities in the country were willing to threaten the Roman governor with treason against Caesar if he did not kill him as they demanded:

So Jesus came out, wearing the crown of thorns and the purple robe. Pilate said to them, “Here is the man!” When the chief priests and the police saw him, they shouted, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Take him yourselves and crucify him; I find no case against him.”  The Jews answered him…“If you release this man, you are no friend of the emperor. Everyone who claims to be a king sets himself against the emperor.”

–the Gospel of John

Dear Readers:  Isn’t it much more probable that the reason Josephus said so little about Jesus (and Philo said absolutely nothing about him) is that Jesus was not the big deal that the anonymous Gospel authors made him out to be?  Maybe in Josephus’ mind, Jesus was just another alleged miracle worker and messiah pretender.  He was not a big deal.  And that is why Josephus wrote one brief paragraph about him.

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2 thoughts on “Why Did Josephus Say So Much More About John the Baptist than He did Jesus?

  1. I believe that the story of Paulina in Book 18 is an allegory about Jesus and follows the Testamonium.

    In James the Brother of Jesus, Robert H. Eisenman writes:

    ((( Tacitus, who agrees that Tiberius expelled the jews from Rome because of these kinds of pernicious superstitions, places these events [Paulina’s story and Fulvia’s deception by the four Jews, leading to the banishment from Rome] precidely in 19 CE – the year of Jesus’ purported crucifixion according to the allegedly spurious Acti Pilates…. These ‘acts’… have now been lost….
    For some this [set of stories] could represent a subtle if malevolent burlesque of Christian infancy narratives. The Fulvia episode has to do with fundraising activities overseas on the part of a teacher, condemnded for Lawbreaking in palestine and three of his associates. Not only does the date of the Mundus and Paulina episode in Tacitus like the date of the death of John the Baptist in Josephus cause problems where New testament chronologies are concerned, it overlaps later information in Suetonius about how during the reign of Claudius (41-54 CE) the Jews were banished from Rome for making propaganda on behalf of one ‘Chrestus’. …
    There is something very peculiar about these stories, which are immediately followed up by descriptions of additional tumults and Pilate’s repression of what are obviously Messianic disturbances among the Samaritans. It is impossible to say what is going on, but at least in the Mundus and Fulvia stories, Josephus appears to substitute titillating trivia for more substantial turns of events. Additionally, the parody of Christian birth narratives about Jesus, represented by the Mundus and Paulina story, would be typical of Josephus and others of a similar frame of mind. )))



  2. I respectfully disagree. There could be a myriad of reasons why Josephus wrote more about John the Baptist than Jesus (although Jesus is mentioned twice, and as far as I know, John once). Maybe he knew someone who knew more about John than Jesus, for example.
    Josephus was a Pharisee, a group who clearly hated Jesus and would not have even mentioned him around their tables. John, however, they went to be baptized by, and he was murdered anyway so out of the picture and not a threat. He also did not claim to be the Messiah. So they probably had no problem calling him a good man, especially since public sentiment held that opinion. So Josephus may have been trained to esteem John the Baptist, and heard little to nothing in his training about Jesus.
    Just one possible scenario.
    Seems like a relatively weak argument; what is one that you feel is strong against Jesus being Who He said He is, God?


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