Louis Feldman on Jesus and the Truthfulness of the Gospels

[Note: This is an excursion from a post I’m working on as a reply to Christopher Price’s study on the Testimonium Flavianum pericope the Jewish Historian Josephus (Ant. XVIII. 63 - 4) is claimed to have written. The full lecture, from which these sections were taken by Louis Feldman, can be found here.]

Louis Feldman:
As Eli Wiesel has said, the world is willing to forget the slaughter of six million innocent Jews sixty years ago, but it will never let the Jews forget the execution of that one Jew two thousand years ago.

However, the fact that it depends upon the Gospels immediately raises a number of questions. Because, after all, when you say the Gospels, there are four different accounts in the Gospels and they don't agree with one another in a number of respects. For example, there are different genealogies of Jesus. They have different accounts of the trial of Jesus. And we'll see there are other discrepancies.

In addition to those four accounts, there are a number of accounts that never made it into the canon of the New Testament. So therefore to speak of something that will be dependent upon the Gospels, which Gospel?

Secondly, how could you depend upon the Gospels when after all, the Gospels were not composed in Galilee where Jesus came from. They were not composed in Jerusalem where Jesus died. They were not composed in Aramaic, the language that Jesus spoke, but in Greek. They were written by people who never knew Jesus in person. None of them knew Jesus in person. One of them, Luke, was not a Jew, incidentally. And the Gospels were written at least forty years after the death of Jesus. Now, coming from such sources, would evidence be admitted in a court today, let alone be ready to convict somebody?

But one thing is clear, that the earliest of the Gospels certainly, usually said to be Mark, dates from around the year 70, which is long after the time of Jesus, who apparently died in the year 29. And that Jesus never wrote anything. You know, if you had an inquest in the case of Jesus, who killed Jesus, you don't have a body. You don't have anything he wrote. None of the authors of the Gospels ever talked to him. So you have nothing.

On Josephus and Jesus:
It's very interesting that there is one other account which, if it is authentic, does deal with the crucifixion. And that is by the Jewish historian Josephus. The question is whether Josephus really wrote it. And I've written about that, and I've come to the conclusion that he couldn't have written it, certainly in the form that we have it, because Origen, the Christian church father, at one point says that Josephus didn't recognize that Jesus was the Christos.

On Pilate and Jesus:
Here we have two people - and these are really the only two people who deal with Pontius Pilate at any length, namely Philo, the Jewish philosopher of Alexandria, who was the leader of the Jewish community in Alexandria, and Josephus. They both mention Pontius Pilate. I might say that Josephus mentions Pontius Pilate in both the Jewish War and in the Antiquities.

The major difference, I might say, between the two accounts of Josephus is that the Jewish War account, which is almost as long as the one in the Antiquities, does not mention the passage about Jesus, which is a central focus of the Pontius Pilate account in the Antiquities.

Philo says about Pontius Pilate, and again you would never get this from reading the Gospels and certainly not from Mel Gibson, that he was "inflexible, he was stubborn, of cruel disposition. He executed troublemakers without a trial." He refers to Pilate's "venality, his violence, thefts, assaults, abusive behavior, endless executions, endless savage ferocity." And I'm quoting.

Now, Philo was certainly a scholar. He apparently had good information. You can see that he certainly tries his best to be fair towards the Romans. He got along with the Romans. He was the head of a delegation to the Roman Emperor Caligula, yet this is the way he speaks about Pontius Pilate. And those are the only substantial accounts that we have of Pontius Pilate. Pontius Pilate, according to Josephus, actually took money from the Temple and built an aqueduct in Jerusalem. He offended Jewish sensibilities by attempting to introduce busts of the emperor into Jerusalem.

Again, when the Samaritans arose to make a pilgrimage to Mt. Gerixim, he sent his soldiers, who slaughtered the people. Eventually he was deposed. The Roman governor of Syria, who was in charge of the procurators, actually forced him out of office.