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.


Aspergers.life said...

Well, I suppose the gospel writers COULD have known Jesus.

The greater argument remains the supernatural elements.

"And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose," for example.

Jeff said...

Hang on, I thought the gospels were written by the disciples after which they're named. That's what I figured growing up and was told during Confirmation anyway.

Dave Huntsman said...

Endiana and TigerHunter -

5 of us from Cleveland did a 4 hour roundtrip drive to Columbus and back just to listen to Dr. Bart Ehrman give a talk on New Testament and possible forgeries. We all agreed it was more than worth it. He's not only one of our leading New Testament scholars; he's an outstanding communicator.

My main message here is, if you haven't read it already, go to the library and check out his little book (and bestseller), Misquoting Jesus. It is an easy read, and gives you a great feeling for what the New Testament canons are - and, are not.

Some of my notes from his talk yesterday at Otterbein College:

- otterbein/24feb09/"Is the NT Testament forged? " Literary forgery in early christian tradition.
- lots of accounts supposedly written by the apostle Peter have been found and are not part of the NT; all are ancient forgeries.
- the 4 gospels were all written anonymously. NONE of them, in their earliest greek versions, ever states that they were written by Matthew, Mark Luke, or John; ie, they don't even claim they are.
-on the NT: forgeries & authorship is a historical question that must be answered on historical grounds - not theological. Can't just say you have 'faith' that they are literally true.
- 2 Thessalonians letter from Paul warning about forgeries by Paul is probably a forgery itself.
- 1 & 2 Peter in NT claim to be written by Peter; unanimity by historical scholars that 2 peter is a forgery. Debate on 1 peter - Ehrman's own opinion is that 1 Peter is s a forgery too. 1&2 Peter are clearly by different people, regardless.
categorically different authors.
- He generally doesn't believe anything was written by Peter himself. Reason: peter was a fisherman in galilee in nt. He was in the boondocks of the boondocks. Analysis has shown that the best literacy rate at that time - eg, Rome, Alexandria - had an Absolute max 10 % literacy in the best of places. In Galilee? More people could read than write. He would have been illiterate who spoke in aramaic. But 1 Peter was written in beautiful, educated greek - something most illiterates couldn't have accomplished, much less an illiterate from Galilee.
- Ehrman's NT classes at Chapel Hill are large (hundreds). In polling his classes, he finds that there is a bigger commitment to the bible - thank actual knowledge of what's in the bible among his NT students. In polling them, they 'believe' the bible is the word of god - but while they've all read Harry Potter, very few/none have actually read the whole bible. "Don't you think that if you genuinely believed that you had the literal word of god available to you, you might want to read it??"

- The vast majority of people who believe in the bible have no idea what scholarly research has found in the last thirt years. include which parts are almost certainly forgeries.
- letters of paul: quite few are forgeries.

Common scholalry nt writings tallY:
- homomynous (same name) writings:
Revelation of John, jesus' disciple? It was not that john. And he doesn't claim to be. (Not technically a forgery; the almost all bible believing Christians are reading it wrong).
- James? Not the brother of jesus.
- matthew, mark, luke, john: not witten by them, nor do they claim they are.
- Acts/Luke? Nope.
- 6 Paul letter forgeries. Ephesians, Collosians, R Thes. , 1 & 2 Tim, Titus.
NON- FORGERIES: 7 Pauline epistles. 1 & 2 Corinthians, etc.
SO: 8 Falsely attributed writings. 11 forged writings. 1 (or none?) Homomynous writngs. & these have been consensus & taught for long time (more than 20 years); and yet almost all "Christians" remain ignorant of this..
- end of the original Mark: the women fled from tomb & didn't tell anyone for they were afraid - end. -Later scribes didn't like that ending; after all the angel had told them to go and tell the others that Jesus would meet up with them, and they didn't. So those later scribes added what is now the current ending: an ending of 12 additional verses added by scribes later. which has women telling disciples to go meet jesus in galilee, & he tells them to speak in tongues, handle snakes, etc.
Bottom line: the snake handlers and tongues-speakers in his own state of North Carolina still don't know those verses weren't part of the original writeup, but were imaginary, added by scribes later.

- Ehrman thinks there was a Peter, illiterate, who never went to rome.
The bible is nothing to base faith on - that is a problem that started with 20th century evangelism. None of the Creeds even mentions the Bible. Taking the bible literally is a new phenomenon that wasn't done the first 1900 years.
- God's Problem/ We weren't upset before we came into existence; & we won't be upset after we go out of existence. - an ancient philosopher.

There was a lot more discussed. Again, I strongly suggest reading Misquoting Jesus.

Jeff said...

Thanks - very informative.

Aspergers.life said...

"- Ehrman thinks there was a Peter, illiterate, who never went to rome"

It's peculiar that Peter and John are portrayed in Acts as "unlearned and ignorant," yet were later considered capable of penning their respective contributions to the New Testament.

Harry H. McCall said...

Endiana, with God all things are possible (including lying in the Bible)!

Aspergers.life said...


Upon one phrase "Thou shalt not lie," all else falls.

Actually, I find much of the business wisdom presented in Proverbs to be very practical and useful; "Borrower is servant to the lender," eg.

Baby and bathwater, I suppose.

Harry H. McCall said...

Endiana, check out both Egyptian and Babylonian wisdom texts also if you think the Bible is practical.

Remember, their literature is God inspired too.

Aspergers.life said...


Picked up the book, Misquoting Jesus, this afternoon.

Read chapter one this evening.

Excellent read.

feeno said...


How was your weekend? I did eat cod, fries and slaw. Do you know what hot slaw is? It’s cole slaw that’s served very warm with hot vinegar poured over it and topped off with bacon bits. Very good.

Well, I’m sorry I’m just now getting back to you, but I did want to answer your questions from Friday.

I read What Dr. Feldman had to say, It was a bit tiresome and boring to me. Not because he is boring
It’s just that my attention span sucks. I liked what you wrote much better. More precise and to the point.

I will try to answer some of your questions along with the Docs as well as some of those who were involved in our discussion from Fri.

The first thing out of his mouth sounds like he’s some poor little victim. I guess he’s the only one who cares about the holocaust? So I knew initially he would have a point of view from that perspective. And that’s fine, and to his credit he seemed more of a Mel Gibson “Debunker” than a Gospel Debunker.”

Let’s look at some of the critiques we can actually discuss. Because he assumes and speculates a lot.

#1 Different genealogies: I’m sorry this answer is so long, I pasted this from a “fundy” site but it’s the shortest and most concise argument I could find.
Jesus' genealogy is given in two places in Scripture, Matthew chapter 1 and Luke chapter 3, verses 23-38. Matthew traces the genealogy from Jesus to Abraham. Luke traces the genealogy from Jesus to Adam. However, there is good reason to believe that Matthew and Luke are in fact tracing entirely different genealogies. For example, Matthew gives Joseph's father as Jacob (Matthew 1:16), while Luke gives Joseph's father as Heli (Luke 3:23). Matthew traces the line through David's son Solomon (Matthew 1:6), while Luke traces the line through David's son Nathan (Luke 3:31). In fact, between David and Jesus, the only names the genealogies have in common are Shealtiel and Zerubbabel (Matthew 1:12; Luke 3:27). What is the explanation for these differences?

Some point to these differences as evidence of errors in the Bible. However, the Jews were meticulous record keepers, especially in regards to genealogies. It is inconceivable that Matthew and Luke could build two entirely contradictory genealogies of the same lineage. Again, from David through Jesus, the genealogies are completely different. Even the reference to Shealtiel and Zerubbabel likely refer to different individuals of the same names. Matthew gives Shealtiel's father as Jeconiah while Luke gives Shealtiel's father as Neri. It would be normal for a man named Shealtiel to name his son Zerubbabel in light of the famous individuals of those names (see the books of Ezra and Nehemiah).

Another explanation is that Matthew is tracing the primary lineage while Luke is taking into account the occurrences of "levirite marriage." If a man died without having any sons, it was tradition for the man's brother to marry his wife and have a son who would carry on the man's name. While possible, this view is unlikely as every generation from David to Jesus would have had a "levirite marriage" in order to account for the differences in every generation. This is highly unlikely.

With these concepts in view, most conservative Bible scholars assume Luke is recording Mary’s genealogy and Matthew is recording Joseph’s. Matthew is following the line of Joseph (Jesus’ legal father), through David’s son Solomon, while Luke is following the line of Mary (Jesus’ blood relative), though David’s son Nathan. There was no Greek word for "son-in-law," and Joseph would have been considered a son of Heli through marrying Heli's daughter Mary. Through either line, Jesus is a descendant of David and therefore eligible to be the Messiah. Tracing a genealogy through the mother’s side is unusual, but so was the virgin birth. Luke’s explanation is that Jesus was the son of Joseph “so it was thought” (Luke 3:23).

#2 Is the Dr. saying that the writers of the Gospels didn’t know Jesus? In what way? Jesus called Matthew to follow him, himself. Everyone knows the bond he had with John. Mark probably was an eye witness he was Barnabas’ cousin and was tight with Peter. Luke may have been the one instance he was correct about, but that doesn’t discount Luke’s writing. He was still gathering facts and info from many eyewitness accounts. Yes and probably taking some from Mark’s earlier writings.

#3 As far as their stories not Jiving, They’re 1 story from 4 different perspectives. Fri. night me and my wife, my Sister and her husband, my best friend and his wife all went to dinner together. If we were to all right down how our experience was, we’d all have a different take. Are you gonna claim I didn’t go out and eat because we had inconsistencies in our stories?

#4 Is Jesus God? The Jews (no offence Doc) wouldn’t care about him enough to stone him or say he was being blasphemous unless he claimed to be God. John 8:59. He also told his followers to worship God alone. Yet he let people worship him. Also we can’t simply just overlook the introduction into the book of John. You don’t have to believe in God or his Word but the beginning of John’s book is as clear as it get’s.
I don’t want to bore you to death with other scripture, because you know them as well as I do. But if someone would like me to, I will.

#5 Historical Jesus: I think when we start saying that Jesus never existed we are really trying to hard. Did you notice the Doc trying to debunk Josephus. What about the writings of Tacitus a (Roman) or Mara-Bar Serapin or Julius Africus or Pliny the Younger and there are several others. You could actually re-create most of the Gospels by these outside sources, many who thought Christians to be weird fanatics.

#6 I knew while I was reading what the Doc wrote I would be closing on this point. I’m so glad the Doc brought it up. So Dr. Feldman we can’t extract DNA from Jesus body because we don’t have the body.
That’s why I’m still a Christian Harry. You find his body and you’ve “Debunked Me.”

I know how smart most of you all are here on John’s site. You probably didn’t even learn anything new (except what hot slaw is) If you took the time to read this thank you, My real point to this was to insure you that we Christians certainly have to have faith, but were not a bunch of backward rubes following some cult figure because we can’t think for ourselves.

Thanks again, Peace out, feeno

Philip R Kreyche said...

However, the Jews were meticulous record keepers, especially in regards to genealogies. It is inconceivable that Matthew and Luke could build two entirely contradictory genealogies of the same lineage.

This makes two unfounded assumptions: one, that the [anonymous] writers of Matthew and Luke were Jewish, and two, that they lived in the same area and therefore could collaborate in some way on Jesus' lineage.

If we were to all right down how our experience was, we’d all have a different take. Are you gonna claim I didn’t go out and eat because we had inconsistencies in our stories?

Now if this dinner happened thousands of years ago, and the only sources for it were anonymously written and the earliest fragments were dated to a hundred years after the dinner was supposed to have happened, would you expect us to change the way we live our lives based on such circumstances?

What about the writings of Tacitus a (Roman) or Mara-Bar Serapin or Julius Africus or Pliny the Younger and there are several others. You could actually re-create most of the Gospels by these outside sources, many who thought Christians to be weird fanatics.

Go for it. Reconstruct the entirety of Mark using only Tacitus, Bar-Serapion, and Pliny the Younger.

I'm interested to see if you can do this, considering I've read these accounts, and honestly you could reconstruct absolutely nothing of the Gospels.

Have you read these writings yourself?

That’s why I’m still a Christian Harry. You find his body and you’ve “Debunked Me.”

How convenient for you that there'd be no previous DNA to compare it to. Lame point to hang your faith on. I may as well hang my atheism on whether or not someone could produce Moses' body.

feeno said...


Lucian of Samosota: Claims Jesus was worshiped by Christians, crucified for them, that they (Christians)should deny all other gods but him.

Talmud: Tells us that Jesus was crucified for encouraging Jewish apostasy.

Mara Bar-Serapion: Says Jesus was thought to be a wise and virtuous man. Was considered by many the King of Israel, put to death by the Jews and his followers live by his teachings.

Tacitus: Writes some dude named Christ suffered under Pontius Pilate during the reign of Tiberius.

Josephus: Refers to James as the brother of Jesus who was called Christ. (Antiquities 18:3) Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man. For he was one who wrought surprising feats... He appeared to them alive again on the third day.

Pliny the Younger: he records Christians worshiped Jesus as God and were very ethical and partook in things like the Lord's supper.

Then if you want to take in the Gnostic writings which all mention Jesus, you can see how we can take that leap of there just might be a Jesus.

'Though I have read some of their works I can't say that I've read all of their stuff. I get most of my information from "fundy's" I'm sure you have "debunked" Lee
Strobel and his book Case for Christ. But if your interested check it out.

Yes, I agree my argument about Christ's body is weak. My point was simply this, I believe Christ conquered death and if he didn't my religion is wothless.

Peace out Holmes, feeno

Philip R Kreyche said...


So you've reconstructed that there were Christians who believed in a Jesus-figure and worshipped him as a god.

You claimed that you could reconstruct "most of the Gospels" with the non-Christian sources. What else can you reconstruct? Hm?

Or do you admit that all you can reconstruct is the fact that around the end of the first century A.D., there were Christians in existence?

Harry H. McCall said...

Feeno, thanks for the response.

I’m sorry about not getting back sooner, but my power and cable service was out due to an ice storm for several days.

I will get back to you by this weekend with of observations about your apology (as in apologetics, not that you may have over eaten as I did with Bar-BQ this weekend).

Any way, thanks for the write up. I’ll chime at you later.


Host said...


Why do you suppose 3 of the 4 gospels forget to mention that Jesus is God, and in fact distinguish him from God explicitly...


Luk 2:52 And Jesus increased in wisdom and in stature and in favor with God and man.

Do you not see the progression that took place of Jesus being messiah, to jesus being equal with god, to jesus being god, to jesus being a member of a 3 person god?

Mark - no birth narrative (why not), nothing about jesus being god

Matt/Luke - add divine/virgin birth, yet forget to mention jesus is god

John - jesus is seen as divine being equal with god, or a god, yet even in john, jesus is distinct from the one true god according to jesus himself

Joh 17:3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.

The Ebionites were an early christian sect that rejected the virgin birth and deity of jesus.

Feeno, how do you know that the gentile/pagan converts didn't take over the show and deify the supposed jewish messiah from galilee into another god-man and then persecute the opposition?

feeno said...


I'm happy with what you said. And I apologize for my error. I should have said "reconstruct the Gospel message" that Christ came,died and rose again. My bad.

Peace out, feeno


Not to sound snotty, but why does Mark have to have a "birth narrative?"

I have no Idea what the "Church's" position is on these questions, (That's a disclaimer in case I offend any Christian folk.) But I will give you an explanation of how I view it. You are assuming that as time goes by the disciples story is getting more elaborate. As I read the Gospels, the disciples seem to be just as clueless to who Jesus is in all the Gospels. It is a slow process they fully don't understand until after the Resurrection. As I see it,and I'm assuming, but they are becoming more and more enlightened?

Also I'm not sure Jesus isn't claiming to be God in the book of Mark. Obviously you don't equate God and Son of God as the same thing. Because you can't go one chapter in the book without seeing at least that. However in chap.7 v.6 Jesus seems to be claiming he is God.(check out Is.29:13) Plus in chap2 v.5 that guy sure has a lot of nerve going around forgiving people of their sins, who does he think he is, God?
And My interpretation chap12 v.35 is claiming to have been around King David.

Jesus thinks he's different than the one true God? Different yes, but equal all the same. The trinity is not nothing new. I believe it's mentioned in Gen 1:1-2

Anyways, I will sit back and wait for the onslaught of reason to come pouring in. Thanks for your response.

Later Homie, feeno

Harry H. McCall said...

feeno, I was going to point out some problems I find in the Gospel accounts, but I see other have beat me to it.

Any, thanks for the response.

Host said...

Feeno said...

"Jesus thinks he's different than the one true God? Different yes, but equal all the same."

Wishing this was true, does not make this true. The biblical Jesus constantly distinguished himself from God, even in the gospel false attributed to "john".

John 17:3 Jesus says explicitly that his Father is "the only true God" and that he is the Christ/Messiah who was anointed and sent by that only true God.

John 6:57 Jesus says he lives because of the Father

John 5:30 Jesus says he can do nothing on his own

John 20:17 Jesus says he has the same God you do

The "deity of Christ" was a development centuries later based on a few cherry picked texts and false presuppositions.

When Jesus is allowed to speak for himself he is the Messiah of Israel who was sent by the one true God.

You said Jesus forgave sins so he must be God. Well not according to Jesus or the rest of the crowd that witnessed the event.

Mat 9:2 And behold, some people brought to him a paralytic, lying on a bed. And when Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, "Take heart, my son; your sins are forgiven."
Mat 9:3 And behold, some of the scribes said to themselves, "This man is blaspheming."
Mat 9:4 But Jesus, knowing their thoughts, said, "Why do you think evil in your hearts?
Mat 9:5 For which is easier, to say, 'Your sins are forgiven,' or to say, 'Rise and walk'?
Mat 9:6 But that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins"--he then said to the paralytic--"Rise, pick up your bed and go home."
Mat 9:7 And he rose and went home.
Mat 9:8 When the crowds saw it, they were afraid, and they glorified God, who had given such authority to men.

Notice Jesus says he "the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins". Jesus always said he was given his power and authority by his God. Notice the "crowds saw it...and glorified God WHO HAD GIVEN SUCH AUTHORITY TO MEN"

Jesus later gave this authority to his disciples

Joh 20:22 And when he had said this, he breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit.
Joh 20:23 If you forgive the sins of any, they are forgiven them; if you withhold forgiveness from any, it is withheld."

Are they members of the "godhead" also?

feeno said...


The Trinity has been a mystery to many Christians and non Christians alike, since probably the dawning of our age. I'm so glad I can set the whole world straight on what we should deem Gospel, according to feeno.

When we use a verse like John 17:3 alone, maybe you can make your point. But when I see a verse like that I compare it to a verse like john 5:20.

Or when you use John 20:17, I'll compare it with John 17:21.

Those other verses you quote only prove that Jesus was very humble and was about doing his fathers business. I never claimed that the trinity didn't have three distinct jobs and different characteristics.

You said "the Deity of Christ was developed centuries later based on......." I already mentioned I believe that the trinity goes back as far as the first couple verses in the bible, how much farther do you want me to go back?

I would like your take on Isaiah 61:1, Mine is that theirs three different people mentioned. Who are they? Or you can explain the Great Commission to me.(Matt. 28:19) or Cor. 13:14 or John 16:13-14. These are just the tip of the ice-berg.

They're is no question the Bible teaches that there is one God. Is God, God? Yes read John 6:27. Is Jesus God, Yes read John 1:1 and is the Holy Spirit God, Yes read 1 Cor 3:16.

Your story from Matt. 9:2-8 is a great story and proves to me that those people there didn't think Jesus was God. Some things will never change.

So now that we have the final authority on the trinity question, I'm sure we can throw all other resources out and just use my explanation as fact.

Hope all of you out there in the land of D.C. have a great weekend. Peace out, feeno