The Apologetic Value of Philo Not Mentioning Jesus

Fairly regularly, I hear skeptics mention Philo’s silence regarding Jesus as being devastating to claims about the historical Jesus.  If Jesus really lived, then surely Philo would have mentioned him.

The truth is, aside from the New Testament, the main writings of any length that we have are those of Philo and Josephus.  Of those two, Josephus does mention Jesus.  But skeptics are quick to respond that the reference to Jesus in Josephus is a Christian addition.  Josephus was copied and passed on by Christians and so they invented a testimony about Jesus and inserted it into Josephus.

Really?  Did you know that it was Christians and not the Jews who copied and passed on Philo?  Why did the Christians not add a little something about Jesus in Philo if they were so willing to do that with Josephus?  A skeptic could respond and say that it was natural for the Christians to insert something in Josephus because he was writing history but an invented section on Jesus would not have fit with Philo’s philosophical purposes.

Do you see what happens here?  A skeptic can say that Josephus’ mention of Jesus is fake and that there is no reason to have such a section in Philo.  Or a skeptic can say that Josephus did have an original testimony of Jesus, later expanded by Christians, and that Philo should have said something about Jesus as well.  But they cannot have it both ways.

A common sense interpretation of the textual evidence is that Philo said nothing about Jesus, because it did not fit with his philosophical agenda and that Josephus did say something about Jesus (although less than what the Christians expanded), because he was writing history.  The fact that Philo does not mention Jesus does not hurt the evidence for the historical Jesus, it actually strengthens the argument that Josephus had an original mention of Jesus and that it was not a complete Christian invention.

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15 thoughts on “The Apologetic Value of Philo Not Mentioning Jesus”

  1. C’mon, you guys are so desperately clutching at straws here. Josephus mentions Jesus? Really? This has been debunked so many times, it only shows the shameless intellectual laziness that dogs the Christian apologist like a shadow.

    Even “church father” Origen reveals that the TF (Testimonium Flavianum) to be a forgery. The pertinent remarks by the highly significant Church father Origen (c. 185-c.254) appear in his Contra Celsus, Book I, Chapter XLVII:

    “For in the 18th book of his Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus bears witness to John as having been a Baptist, and as promising purification to those who underwent the rite. Now this writer, although not believing in Jesus as the Christ, in seeking after the cause of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, whereas he ought to have said that the conspiracy against Jesus was the cause of these calamities befalling the people, since they put to death Christ, who was a prophet, says nevertheless–being, although against his will, not far from the truth–that these disasters happened to the Jews as a punishment for the death of James the Just, who was a brother of Jesus (called Christ)–the Jews having put him to death, although he was a man most distinguished for his justice”

    Here, in Origen’s words, is the assertion that Josephus, who discusses more than a dozen Jesuses, did not consider any of them to be “the Christ.”
    This fact alone proves that the same phrase in the TF is spurious.

    Furthermore, Origen does not even intimate the presence of the rest of the TF. Concerning Origen and the TF, Arthur Drews relates in “Witnesses to the Historicity of Jesus:”

    “In the edition of Origen published by the Benedictines it is said that there was no mention of Jesus at all in Josephus before the time of Eusebius [c. 300 ce]. Moreover, in the sixteenth century Vossius had a manuscript of the text of Josephus in which there was not a word about Jesus. It seems, therefore, that the passage must have been an interpolation, whether it was subsequently modified or not.” (Drews, 9; emph. added)

    Despite the best wishes of sincere believers and the erroneous claims of truculent apologists, the Testimonium Flavianum has been demonstrated continually over the centuries to be a forgery, likely interpolated by Catholic Church historian Eusebius in the fourth century.
    To repeat, this passage was so completely dissected by scholars of high repute and standing–the majority of them pious Christians–that it was for decades understood by subsequent scholars as having been proved in toto a forgery, such that these succeeding scholars did not even mention it, unless to acknowledge it as false.

    Time to stop drinking the kool-aid.
    God bless!

    1. The most sober of historical scholars acknowledge that Josephus mentioned Jesus, just that the passage in question was later adulterated to make it appear Josephus believed him to be the Christ. Your claiming it had been “debunked so many times” only shows that you’re living in an echo chamber of views that agree with your own.

      The Origin passage actually strengthens this view. Origen describes Josephus as “not believing Jesus to be the Christ”. So how did Origen know that? He had to have read something in Josephus regarding Jesus. Probably the unadulterated passage, which perhaps even denied Jesus being the Christ. Such a passage would be an instant target for later Christians. Such a scenario carries more plausibility than some Christian deciding to create a Jesus testimony out of whole cloth.

  2. You are not really putting forth Arthur Drews as a recognized Josephus scholar are you? He was a philosopher from a century ago. I encourage you to read on what Josephus scholars of today are saying. Sure, keep away from evangelical scholars if you want. Critical scholars acknowledge that it is very likely that Josephus wrote something that was later expanded by Christians. Read some of the work on this by Steve Mason, who is no evangelical one of the top Josephus scholars of today.

    As for Origen, look closely at what he is saying. He is pointing out that Josephus has some value even though he did not accept Jesus as the Christ. Well of course, Josephus did not accept that Jesus was the Christ, that would have made him a Christian. This is one of the reasons that we know Christians expanded Josephus’ original words. People like myself believe that Josephus did mention Jesus, he did not however claim that he was the Christ. You can find good reconstructions of what Josephus originally said. Even if you ignored the TF (against the recommendations of modern scholarship), you are still stuck with the mention of James, the brother of Jesus. No recognized Josephus scholars reject that passage.

  3. The Christians did alter Philo’s work. Why is it that the most important book by Philo is missing from the received collection? The book being his book chronicling the abuse and barbarity of the administration of Pilate. The one most key to a historical understanding is missing. You also err to inform the reader that the Logos Theology promulgated by Philo is a similar type to the Cosmic Christ of Paul. So much so that later Christians attempted to co-opt Philo as a Christian saint, he was no such thing. Or the missing work of Justus of Tiberius a jewish historian in Galillee during the time of Jesus, who did not mention one word about him. How do we know old Joe is a forgery. First, if you read Joe’s treatment of secondary or tertiary characters he frequently spends long periods of text on his asides. The JC passage is short because it had to fit within the spacing of a text because of the way tomes where constructed and copied. Joe spends volumes on less significant people than JC, assuming that only 5% of what is said about him is true. JC is missing from Jewish War. Origen would have used and quoted the TF in Contra Celsus. Why? Because one of Celsus arguments is that Christians just made him up, that is a fake, that he is just a cobbling together of other Greek divine men. Actually, read what you are attempting to rebut. Finally, TF only enters the dialogue post Eusibius who proclaims he saw a copy that had the TF, like magic the TF then started to show up in Antiquities. The de-christianized TF is just a magical fairy land counter-factual that speaks more of desperation than actual history.

  4. A couple of things need to be said. How do you know Philo’s missing book is the most important and how do you know that Christians purposely removed it? Evidence please? Yes, there were some Christians who say Philo as a Christian and you are right that he was not. As for logos theology, there are some similarities but it is more with John than with Paul. As for Celsus, his argument was not that Jesus was made up as a historical figure but that Christians made up the deeds about him, copying his ministry from the pagan gods. His historical existence was never an issue. And as for Josephus, scholars in that area (including non-evangelicals and non-Christians) accept that he said something about Jesus. Can you cite one Josephus scholar who says otherwise?

  5. I think it’s funny how people think christians made the whole thing up, as if it was honorable in roman times to die for a faith that was a lie. Nero collected people who confessed their faith in Christ in order to kil them. And even after such a failure, the faith continues until today. Not everyone is going to believe, and if the world thinks I’m foolish for believing, that’s okay with me.

    1. Deanne Mattie so Islam is true then? If your measure of validity is the belief of the religions adherents, then Muslims who die for their faith can’t be wrong. I mean, who would die for a lie right?

      1. Not so close to the time their messiah was around. Nero was killing people who knew Jesus, and saw him. Also there is a difference in how they died. Muslim martyrdom is to attack an kill enemies. It involves a patriotic and territorial attitude since they give their lives to win battles. Christians died at the hand of Nero’s empire but they weren’t in war with it. There was absolutely no tactical advantage in christian martyrdom while there is one with Muslims.

      2. Nelson if you are equating the two then are you saying Mohammed didn’t exist either. You say Christians dying for someone who didn’t exist. The early Martyrs saw him and walked with him. John the Baptist, James, Stephen, the Apostles, etc. Foolish to die for someone who never existed.

  6. Philo was the secret identity of Jesus … a name he admired and adopted after he was baptized in the Jordan during his short ministry and “contemplative life” among the various Essene communities. This was before they were known as Christians. He survived the cross and returned to Alexandria where he continued to teach as Jesus but only underground to secret initiates … later known as Gnostics. The Pistis Sophia says Jesus lived 11 years after the crucifixion. Philo was a Hasmonean Prince descended from Queen Mary (Mariamne I) … and possibly fathered by Herod’s Uncle Joseph. The New Testament was compiled under the supervision of the Roman Emperors 3 centuries after the crucifuxion and adulterated for political purposes … not the best source.

  7. Philo writes about his overwhelming duties in Alexandria … and as an alleged brother to Alexander the Alabarch and uncle to Marcus Alexander who married King Herod Agrippa’s daughter Berenice .. and Tiberius Alexander … Alexander’s other son who was a member of the Roman Equestrian class and appointed as a Roman Prefect of Egypt and later as Procurator of Judea … it strongly suggests that Philo’s family was descended from King Herod and his captive bride … Queen Mary I … as Josephus gives us a genealogy which illustrates how the marriages of this dynasty were arranged incestuously … cousin to cousin or uncle to niece … in order to keep the royal bloodline intact. We also know that Philo was the first to write about the Essenes indicating that he must have lived amongst them for a time in his pursuit of the “Contemplative Life” he wrote about. His Aramaic name appears to have been Jedidiah ha Cohen … or Jedidiah the Priest … in Greek “Theophilos.” This suggests that Philo was plausibly a Roman appointed High Priest or Chief Rabbi of the Great Alexandrian Synagogue … built in the Roman Basilica style … with 70 seats guilt in gold … possibly financed by his brother the Alabarch. Alexander the Alabarch was a close friend of the Roman Imperial family managing the Egyptian estates of Antonia Minor … which likely included the gold mines of Egypt. From this we can easily deduce that Philo and his family were “Clients” of the Roman Emperors. Perhaps this powerful connection was why Philo was elected by the Jews of Alexandria to appear as their ambassador to the Emperor Caligula to advise him that the Jews would go to war before they would worship his statue. We don’t really know when Philo died or when Luke wrote his gospel. After 7 years of continued research into the life and teachings of Philo and the elementary deductions I have made … it appears that Philo was either the teacher or Rabbi to Jesus during his childhood exile in Egypt or Philo changed his name when he joined the Essenes and was the secret identity of Jesus. There is much more evidence but that should be enough for now.

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