Thursday, March 22, 2018

Lester on Sibylline Oracles 4 and 5

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Dissertation Spotlight | Olivia Stewart Lester.
Olivia Stewart Lester, “Prophets and Their Rivals: Interpretation, Gender, and Economics in Revelation and Sibylline Oracles 4–5,” PhD Dissertation, Yale University, 2017.
The ongoing appeal of prophecy as a rhetorical strategy in Revelation and Sibylline Oracles 4–5, and the ongoing rivalries in which these texts engage, argue for prophecy’s continuing significance in a larger ancient Mediterranean religious context. In this way, my book adds to a growing body of scholarship challenging widespread narratives about prophecy’s decline in Second Temple Judaism and in early Christianity, as well as narratives about the decline of Greek oracles and divination, in the early Roman imperial period. Prophecy persists in tenuous political moments, reinforcing the authority of those who feel their power is under threat.
For more on Sibylline Oracles 4 and 5, see here, here, here, and here. Cross-file under Old Testament Pseudepigrapha Watch.

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The New Moon Festival

PROF. MICHAEL L. SATLOW: What Does Rosh Hodesh Celebrate? (
Tracing the meaning and motifs of Rosh Hodesh (the new moon festival) from the biblical through the talmudic periods reveals a day of two different meanings.

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Will Palestinians claim the DSS at UNESCO?

POLITICS: PALESTINIAN CLAIM TO DEAD SEA SCROLLS MAY BE NEXT UP AT UNESCO. Ex-agency head to ‘Post’: Mixing religion and politics is dangerous (Herb Keinon and Tovah Lazaroff, Jerusalem Post).
The next “prize” the Palestinians will likely claim as their own at UNESCO will probably be the archeological site of Qumran and its Dead Sea Scrolls, Shimon Samuels of the Simon Wiesenthal Center said on Wednesday.

He spoke at a panel on the denial of Jewish history in international organizations at the Foreign Ministry-sponsored sixth Global Forum for Combating Antisemitism in Jerusalem.

The claim was attempted back in 2009 and it has been rumored since 2016 that it will be tried again. See here and links. This is just a rumor so far, but it could happen. I don't think the claim will be any more successful than it was in 2009. UNESCO is already (see here and here and links) about to lose the support of the USA and Israel.

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Williamson, Isaiah 6-16 (ICC)

Isaiah 6-12
A Critical and Exegetical Commentary

By: H.G.M. Williamson

Published: 08-02-2018
Format: Hardback
Edition: 1st
Extent: 808
ISBN: 9780567030597
Imprint: T&T Clark
Series: International Critical Commentary
Dimensions: 216 x 138 mm
RRP: £75.00
Online price: £67.50
Save £7.50 (10%)

About Isaiah 6-12
This eagerly anticipated volume is the second installment in H.G.M. Williamson's International Critical Commentary on first Isaiah.

For over one hundred years International Critical Commentaries have had a special place among works on the Bible. They bring together all the relevant aids to exegesis - linguistic, textual, archaeological, historical, literary, and theological - to help the reader understand the meaning of the books of the Old and New Testaments.

Williamson continues in this tradition, adding to his already published volume on Isaiah 1-5. Covering the next seven chapters of Isaiah Williamson incorporates a range of secondary scholarly material with examination of all the key textual and critical issues surrounding the text.

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Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Genesis Apocryphon on display in Jerusalem

EXHIBITION: Enigmatic Dead Sea Scroll makes rare show in Jerusalem. Genesis Apocryphon, sole surviving copy of ancient text expounding on biblical tales of Noah, Abraham, to go up on display in Jerusalem's Israel Museum for first time since its discovery 70 years ago; scroll contains 'parallel stories we don't have in the Hebrew Bible,' says exhibit's curator (AP via Ynet News).

Cross-file under Aramaic Watch.

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Review of Burke and Landau, MNTA1

READING ACTS BLOG: Book Review: Tony Burke and Brent Landau, New Testament Apocrypha, vol. 1 (Phil Long).
Burke, Tony and Brent Landau eds. New Testament Apocrypha, vol. 1: More Noncanonical Scriptures. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 2016. 635 pp. Hb; $75. Link to Eerdmans

In his forward to this new collection of Christian apocrypha, J. K. Elliott asks “When is enough, enough?” Well he may ask, since he edited the seven hundred page The Apocryphal New Testament (Oxford, 1994). To quote Jordan Belfort from Martin Scorsese’s Wolf of Wall Street, “More is never enough.” This new collection edited by Burke and Landau is the first volume of a new series of non-canonical writings which promises to greatly expand the number of apocryphal texts available to students of the early church. Volume one collects thirty texts newly translated with introductions by experts in this literature. A second volume is planned and Burke hopes the project can be expanded to include a third and fourth volume.

"More is never enough." I like that. I haven't mentioned this before, but I recently began a year of research leave and I am hard at work on volume two of Old Testament Pseudepigrapha: More Noncanonical Scriptures (MOTP2). We're planning on stopping with the second volume. Future generations can take it from there. But meanwhile, I look forward to many other volumes of MNTA.

For my four-part review of MNTA1, start here and, as usual, follow the links. Cross-file under New Testament Apocrypha Watch.

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The discoverers of that lost bit of Incense Route

NABATEAN (NABATAEAN) WATCH: 86-year-old guide helps discover section of Incense Route lost for millennia. Traversing 100 kilometers in five days, Shuka Ravek fulfills dream and walks from Petra to Avdat in the footsteps of Nabateans (Amanda Borschel Dan, Times of Israel).
At 86, the grandfather of Israeli hiking finally fulfilled a decades-long dream.

Over five days, trailblazing outdoorsman Yehoshua “Shuka” Ravek traversed some 100 kilometers (62 miles) by foot, walking from Petra, Jordan, to Avdat in the Israeli Negev. From February 18-23, Ravek walked along with a group of some 40 Israelis and, before crossing the border, a handful of Jordanians — and two camels.

Why the camels? The octogenarian’s goal was to accurately retrace the steps of the ancient Incense Route, laid down circa 3rd century BCE by Nabatean traders. He wanted to see if the path, first used by the mysterious desert dwellers and later by the Roman invaders, could really have supported this means of transportation.

And if fulfilling a dream wasn’t enough, on the final day, the group of hikers discovered and mapped out a “lost” 7.5 km (4.6 miles) section of the path that had eluded searching scholars for decades.

I noted the discovery of the lost stretch of the Incense Route here. The current article gives additional historical and human interest background.

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An Aramaic challenge

RELIGION AND LITERATURE OF ANCIENT PALESTINE BLOG: Uncertain reading in TAD B7.3/Cowley 44. Ryan Thomas offers a hard-core paleographic and philological problem for those who like such things. If you do, have a look and see if you can offer him a solution.

Cross-file under Aramaic Watch.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Isaiah the prophet

THE ISAIAH BULLA AND THE BIBLE: Isaiah the Prophet, Man or Biblical Myth: The Archaeological Evidence. Finding seal marks ostensibly from Isaiah the Prophet and Hezekiah within mere feet of each other in Jerusalem is intriguing; so are other seals of other non-visionary Isaiahs found in Israel from that time (Phillipe Bohstrom, Haaretz).
A 2,700-year-old seal impression on clay unearthed in Jerusalem this February piqued enormous interest, after its finder, the leading Jerusalem archaeologist Dr. Eilat Mazar, said it may have been the personal seal of Isaiah the Prophet himself. Biblical scholars have been quarreling ever since.

In general this is a good article. It covers the issues surrounding the Isaiah bulla in some depth. It also addresses the larger questions concerning the prophet Isaiah and his book. Usually these are handled well. I will flag one glitch:
In Isaiah 20:1, the Assyrian king's name is spelled SRGN, which is the Aramaic version. The Assyrians spoke Aramaic (a language very like Hebrew, originally spoken by the Aramaeans that would eventually become the international language for trade in Assyria and Babylon too).
The phrase that I have highlighted in bold is not expressed very clearly. It may be a misunderstanding of Isaiah 36:11, in which the Judean leaders ask the representative of the King of Assyria to speak in Aramaic, which they knew, but the common Judean people who were listening did not understand. It is true that Assyrian (and Judean) diplomats would have spoken Aramaic. They would have needed it to interact with their Aramean neighbors in what is now Syria. But the Assyrians overall did not speak Aramaic. They spoke — wait for it — Assyrian, which was a dialect of Akkadian. Akkadian was a Semitic language that was written in cuneiform script.

Specialists agree that the Book of Isaiah was written by three or more people over period of centuries. The exceptions are those, such as Professor Millard. who believe in single authorship "on grounds of faith." The efforts toward the end of the article to undermine multiple authorship are not convincing. Both the Dead Sea Scrolls and the works of Josephus were written centuries after the events. They did not have any more information than we do, and we have better tools to analyze that information.

All that said, this is a good article and you should read it all.

Background on the recently discovered Isaiah bulla is here (cf. here) and links. For more on Herodotus and the destruction of Sennacherib's army, see here.

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The Talmud on why God permits idolatry

THIS WEEK'S DAF YOMI COLUMN BY ADAM KIRSCH IN TABLET: Truth or Coincidences. In this week’s ‘Daf Yomi’ Talmud study, the Rabbis offer desperate—or reassuring—explanations for why God does not interfere in the world in order to prevent sin.
One of the remarkable things about the Talmud is the way it can jump, without a pause, from the most technical, legalistic arguments to the largest philosophical questions. For the rabbis, the how of the law is not separate from the why; both are ways of asking about God’s will, and so both belong in the same discussion. A good example of this came in last week’s Daf Yomi reading, in chapter four of Tractate Avoda Zara. Most of the chapter has to do with whether Jews may drink (or derive other kinds of benefit from) wine that has been handled by gentiles. To answer this question, the rabbis spend many pages considering real and hypothetical cases and parsing the differences among different kinds of handling—stirring with the hand versus treading with the feet, for instance.

And then, in the Mishna in Avoda Zara 54b, we suddenly find ourselves confronted with the most basic questions about God and sin. ...

Earlier Daf Yomi columns are noted here and links.

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Review of Leuchter, The Levites and the Boundaries of Israelite Identity.

ANCIENT JEW REVIEW: Book Note | The Levites and the Boundaries of Israelite Identity (Ethan Schwartz).
Mark Leuchter. The Levites and the Boundaries of Israelite Identity. Oxford University Press. New York, 2017.
It would be a mistake, however, to focus on the Levites in the first part of Leuchter’s title at the expense of the “boundaries” in the second. For Leuchter has written neither an encyclopedic catalogue of the Levites’ appearances nor a linear reconstruction of their history. Rather, the book is undergirded by a keen perception of the Levites’ penchant for appearing at the boundaries—whether spatial, temporal, ethnic, cultic, or literary.
Richard Elliott Friedman's recent book, The Exodus, has some similar interests.

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"Copy" or original?

THE ETC BLOG: ‘The copy is the original’ (Peter Gurry). An example of awkward cross-cultural miscommunication. Be sure and read the Aeon article to see the full scope of the problem. In the twenty-first century it's getting harder to tell what is real.

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Monday, March 19, 2018

Quick on Deuteronomy and Aramaic curses

Curses in the Book of Deuteronomy and in Old Aramaic Inscriptions

The law code of the book of Deuteronomy is capped with a series of curses that threaten harm upon any individual that should fail to keep the Deuteronomic laws. While this method of divine encouragement to keep the commandments of God might seem surprising from a theological point of view, curses were an integral part of the legal, political and religious life of the ancient Near East, found in a variety of ancient texts including the Hebrew Bible, Neo-Assyrian treaties, and Northwest Semitic inscriptions. Placing the biblical curses within the larger context of this ancient Near Eastern material provides new insights into the background and function of the curses in the book of Deuteronomy.

See Also: Deuteronomy 28 and the Aramaic Curse Tradition (Oxford Theology and Religion Monographs; Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2017).

By Laura Quick
Assistant Professor of Religion and Judaic Studies
Princeton University
March 2018
It seems the Arameans were fond of "futility curses." Cross-file under Aramaic Watch and New Book.

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Mary Magdalene the "apostolesse?"

THE ANXIOUS BENCH: Mary Magdalene’s Myth: The Latest Chapter (Philip Jenkins). Professor Jenkins has not yet seen the new Mary Magdalene movie (nor have I), but it has inspired him to discuss some issues about the historical and traditional Mary Magdelene. It develops that she was referred to as an apostle ("apostolesse") in 15th century England.

Interesting discussion about which resurrection appearances of Jesus might be more historical. But that question raises metaphysical and psychological issues as well ...

Background on the new Mary Magdalene film is here.

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Priestly laws in the Torah

PROF. JEFFREY H. TIGAY: Why Are Laws for Priests Included in the Torah? (
The Torah’s program to democratize knowledge and create an educated laity.

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Koller, Elitzur and Bar-Asher Siegal (eds.), Studies in Mishnaic Hebrew and Related Fields

Studies in Mishnaic Hebrew and Related Fields
Proceedings of the Yale Symposium on Mishnaic Hebrew, May 2014

Edited by: Aaron J. Koller, Elitzur A. Bar-Asher Siegal

Purchase options: Price Site price
Printed book $ 47.00 $ 42.30
Online book & Download $ 35.25
Publisher: The Program in Judaic Studies, Yale University, New Haven
In collaboration with: The Center for Jewish Languages and Literatures. The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
Categories: Hebrew and Jewish Languages, Linguistics and Language
Publish date: January 2018
Language: English
Danacode: 45-341040
ISBN: 978-965-481-067-8
Cover: Hardcover
Pages: 445
Weight: 985 gr.

The eighteen studies presented here originated in a symposium held at Yale in 2014, attended by scholars from Europe, Israel, and North America. The papers approach the subject of Mishnaic Hebrew from many different angles and directions, including grammar, from morphology to syntax to pragmatics; the relationship between the literary dialect and epigraphic evidence; manuscripts; questions of language contact, lexicography, social history, and medieval traditions; and the problem of translating Mishnaic Hebrew into modern languages. The contributors to this volume are among the leading scholars in the field and the collection represents both the current state of research and the cutting edge of future work.
Follow the link for the TOC and ordering information.

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Sunday, March 18, 2018

Gnostic America Conference at Rice University

APRIL DECONICK: Gnostic America Conference, March 28-31, Rice University.
I am pleased to announce the Gnostic America Conference. We will convene at Rice University on March 28-31. The conference is free and open to the public. We are exploring the afterlives of Gnosticism in America.


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Shofar sheep

FOR TRUMPETING: ISRAELI SHEPHERDESS USES MODERN SHEEP BREED TO REVIVE ANCIENT SHOFAR SOUND. Turning her flock's horns into shofars is part of God's plan, says Lewinsky, who calls herself a "traditional and God-fearing Jew" (Reuters/Jerusalem Post).

Some background on the use of the shofar is here.

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Clandestine Aramaic

SO ANGELS AND THE IDF DON'T KNOW ARAMAIC? Incarcerated Peleg Protestor Asks Friends to Send Letter in Aramaic So IDF Won’t Understand (Yeshiva World).

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Neef, Arbeitsbuch Biblisch-Aramäisch

NEW BOOK FROM MOHR SIEBECK: HEINZ-DIETER NEEF. Arbeitsbuch Biblisch-Aramäisch. Materialien, Beispiele und Übungen zum Biblisch-Aramäisch. [A Guide to Biblical Aramaic. Materials, Examples and Exercises in Biblical Aramaic. 3 rd revised and expanded edition.] 3rd reviewed and revised edition 2018. XVIII, 208 pages. 29,00 €. sewn paper. ISBN 978-3-16-156012-5.
Published in German.
With its 16 lessons, this guide is an introduction to the biblical Aramaic language. A textbook with a didactic concept, it contains materials, examples and exercises as well as paradigm tables, a vocabulary list, the answers to the exercises, a subject index and an index of biblical passages. The exercises, i.e. the verb and nominal forms to be determined, as well as the texts to be translated, are all from the Aramaic part of the Old Testament. The book has been designed so that readers who have no knowledge of Hebrew or another Semitic language can also use it. Since the answers to the exercises are given, the book can also be used for autodidactic studies and the indexes make it a good reference work.

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Saturday, March 17, 2018

Boccaccini is a Knight of the Order of the Star of Italy

Proud and happy. I was awarded the honor of "Cavaliere dell'Ordine della Stella d'Italia" (Knight of the Order of the Star of Italy) by Italy's President, Sergio Mattarella, for my contribution to the promotion of Italian culture abroad.
As he adds:
An important acknowledgment not for me only, but also for the entire work of the Enoch Seminar.
Well done, Professor Boccaccini!

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Free articles from Dead Sea Discoveries

FOR YOU, SPECIAL DEAL: Free articles from Dead Sea Discoveries.
To celebrate the 25th Volume of Dead Sea Discoveries, 25 articles from the past 25 Volumes will be available for free downloading during 2018.
The first 5 articles are now freely accessible until 15 April:
Follow the first link above for links to the articles. The list is as follows:
  • Prayers From Qumran and Their Historical Implications - Esther Glickler Chazon (Volume 1, No. 3)
  • Rabbinic Literature as a Source for the History of Jewish Sectarianism in the Second Temple Period - Albert I. Baumgarten (Volume 2, No. 1)
  • On the Testimony of Women in 1QSa - Philip R. Davies and Joan E. Taylor (Volume 3, No. 3)
  • "The Holy Angels Are in Their Council": the Exclusion of Deformed Persons From Holy Places in Qumranic and Rabbinic Literature - Aharon Shemesh (Volume 4, No. 2)
  • Lady Wisdom and Dame Folly At Qumran - Sidnie White Crawford (Volume 5, No. 3)
And congratulations to DSD for a quarter century of excellent publications!

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Women, WIkipedia, and the ANE: International Women's Day 2018

On the 8th of March, International Women’s Day, the Centres of Excellence ANEE and CSTT co-organized a Wikipedia edit-a-thon with the theme “Women and the Ancient Near East”. The aim was to improve both the Wikipedia pages on female scholars of the ancient Near East and on women in the ancient sources. The event took place in a casual but inspiring atmosphere, and the Wikimedia volunteers provided some editing training for the ones not so familiar with Wikipedia content creating. The event gathered 15 participants, who created in total 4 new Wikipedia articles, edited 9 existing ones, and added 2540 words to Wikipedia.


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Jack Miles at BC

ANNOUNCEMENT: Distinguished Professor emeritus Jack Miles to be Boston College visiting chair (UCI News).
John R. “Jack” Miles, UCI Distinguished Professor emeritus of English and religious studies, has been appointed the 2018-19 Corcoran Visiting Chair in Christian-Jewish Relations at the Center for Christian-Jewish Learning at Boston College.

Congratulations to Professor Miles and to Boston College. I note with particular interest his current project:
During his tenure as the Corcoran Chair, Miles will complete a book, The Greatest Translation of All Time, about the original translation of the Old Testament from Hebrew and Aramaic into Greek.

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Friday, March 16, 2018

The DSS exhibition in Denver

OPENS TODAY: Dead Sea Scrolls on Purity, Morals on Display for First Time, in Denver. Vast Israeli antiquities exhibit showcasing Temples era and the start of the great religions visiting Denver Museum of Science and Nature for six months (Ruth Schuster, Haaretz). PaleoJudaica readers are familiar with this story, but today there is some news on which specific scrolls will be on display:
For the sake of their preservation, the first 10 scrolls displayed in Denver will return to Israel after three months and will be replaced by 10 other scrolls, the IAA explains.

Also among the Dead Sea Scrolls on exhibit in Denver in the two rounds are biblical, extra-biblical and sectarian scrolls found in Qumran.
These are the two scrolls that will go on public display for the first time ever:
Infectious impurity

The scroll on rules of ritual purity and impurity, called Tohorot (Purities) A, dates from the late 1st century B.C.E., says the IAA.

Only the ritually purified were allowed to handle sacred matters. Purification included immersion in the ritual bath (mikveh) and in some cases, even isolation, if the spiritual blemish was caused by illness.


Secret of existence
The other scroll going on display for the first time in Denver is called Musar Le'Mevin – to "he who understands" lectures on morality for learned disciples. It is also known as the Sapiental Work Scroll.

The messages are presented as information coming directly from God, conveyed through sages to their followers. It too dates to the late 1st century B.C.E. and is rather like an apocalyptic book of Proverbs.
Read the article for more details about both and about the exhibition in general.

According to the Jerusalem Post (Sarah Levi), the Tohorot scroll is in the first round of scrolls and Musar Le'Mevin is in the second.
The first round of display will feature scrolls that deal with ritual purity and impurity. The second round will feature part of the scroll called Musar lemevin, “Instructions to those who understand,” which contains apocalyptic prophecies.
Background on the Denver exhibition is here and links. And there's more on the Dead Sea Scrolls in Denver here.

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That other DSS project in Denver

IT'S A GOOD JOB: That's a Job?: This Denver woman translates the Dead Sea Scrolls. A DU professions is one of three editors working on a new translation of the Dead Sea Scrolls - manuscripts dating back over 2,000 years, which include laws, poetry and some of the earliest biblical documents (Erin Powell,

For more on the work of Professor Alison Schofield, see here. And for the now-opening Dead Sea Scrolls exhibition in Denver, see the next post today and also here and links.

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The oldest Torah scrolls

THE ANCIENT NEAR EAST TODAY: The World’s Oldest Torah Scrolls (Gary A. Rendsburg).

A recent announcement by the Library of Congress regarding the purchase of a single Torah scroll sheet dating from approximately 1000 C.E. has generated great interest in the topic of old Torah scrolls. Just what are the world’s oldest Torah scrolls and where does the Library of Congress scroll fit in?

This announcement is news to me, but good news.

For more on the carbonized Leviticus scroll fragment, see here, here, and here and links. For more on the Ashkar and London fragments of Exodus, see here and links. For more on the first Cairo Geniza Genesis fragment (T-S NS 3.21), see here. And more on that Italian oldest complete Torah scroll is here and here.

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Josephus for Christians

JOSEPHUS HAS SOMETHING FOR EVERYONE: Why Should Christians Read Josephus? Josephus’ writings have unique value for Christians (Stephanie Hertzenberg, Beliefnet).
“Antiquities” contains two references to Jesus Christ, one in Book XX and one in Book XVIII. The latter is blatantly Christian and is believed by scholars to have been inserted into the work later. The reference in Book XX, however, is believed to have been written by Josephus himself. The mention is short, just one line, but it supports the historical existence of Jesus of Nazareth “who was called Christ.”

Josephus was not a Christian, yet he wrote about events that were incredibly important to Christians: the life and death of John the Baptist, the existence of Christ, the growth of early Christianity and the fate of some of the apostles. The descriptions of these events as written by an outsider show Christians a new perspective on familiar stories.
One of the apostles - James, Jesus' brother.

There is debate on whether Josephus' longer passage about Jesus (the "Testimonium Flavianum") is partly genuine and partly interpolated or entirely a later addition. See here and links.

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