The “Testimonium Flavianum” in al-Makin

The so-called Testimonium Flavianum of Josephus has provoked extensive discussion down the years, not all of it either measured or even sensible.  One witness to the text is the Arabic versions.  These were handled in a rather mangled way in 1971 by Shlomo Pines,[1] who introduced the world to their existence in the World History of Agapius (a.k.a. Mahbub ibn Qustantin), the 10th century bishop of Hierapolis.  Pines made use of the CSCO edition, which rather misled him, and proposed that this version of the Testimonium preserved features corrupted in the Greek as it now stands.

Part of Agapius’ work is extant only in a single damaged manuscript in Florence.  But the CSCO editor of Agapius, Louis Cheikho,[2] believed that his text was quoted at length by the 13th century Coptic writer al-Makin Ibn-al `Amid, and so included extracts from the latter’s unedited work in an appendix.  Pines made use of the latter on the basis that this was “Agapius”.  But the actual text of Agapius is given in the Florence manuscript.  What al-Makin says may now be considered, since Martino Diez has kindly edited and translated the text for us.[3]

It is as follows:

tf_al-makinIn English:

And likewise Josephus the Hebrew says in his writings on the Jews: in those days, there was a wise man named Jesus.  He lived a good life, distinguishing himself by his learning, and many people, as many Jews as of other nations, became his disciples.  Pilate condemned him to crucifixion and death.  But those who had become his disciples did not cease to be so, and affirmed that he had appeared to them three days after the crucifixion and that he was alive.  Perhaps he was the Messiah of whom the prophets speak.

The text is preserved only in the “expanded” recension of al-Makin, which may or may not be the original version of the text (see here).  It appears towards the end of the life of Jesus, where the “expanded” edition includes a series of quotations from pagan authors on the subject of the events on and following Good Friday. (These are probably — I say this without seeing them — taken from collections of sayings, gnomologia, that circulated in the Arabic world.)

Diez edits the text from the single manuscript of the “expanded” recension accessible to him, Ms Paris BNF, arab. 4729, where it appears on folio 108r, lines 1-6.  Pines made use of Paris BNF ar. 294, f.162v-163r.[4]  As Diez rightly remarks, a study of the other witnesses to this recension of the text of al-Makin is necessary before much more is done.

  1. [1]S. Pines, An Arabic Version of the Testimonium Flavianum and its Implications, Israel Academy of Sciences and Humanities, Jerusalem, 1971.
  2. [2]Corpus Scriptorum Christianorum Orientalium 65 (Scriptores arabici 10), Beirut 1912.
  3. [3]M. Diez, “”, Studia Graeco-Arabica 3 (2013), 221-140, esp. 134-5.
  4. [4]Pines, p.6-7, n.6.

4 thoughts on “The “Testimonium Flavianum” in al-Makin

  1. Roger, this is all absolutely fascinating, thank you for bringing this to everyone’s attention.

  2. Rather let’s thank Martino Diez, who researched all this and then made it freely available online! It’s wonderful to see this part of al-Makin at long last.

  3. Hi Roger, forgive my ignorance, but aren’t Josephus’ comments about Jesus edited/added to by later Christians? I had read that Christians “beefed” up Josephus actual comments on Jesus?

  4. This is a controversial question, to answer which would require an essay. I don’t feel an urge to wrote one. All (including me) agree that “something feels wrong” about the text as found in current Greek mss, and quoted by Eusebius in his Church History. But consensus as to what ends there. A century ago everyone agreed it was a later addition. But the discovery of additional witnesses in other languages has moved opinion towards “genuine but corrupt”. The assumption of intentional interpolation is an extreme one, unevidenced. It is clear that Josephus wrote something about Jesus as the certainly genuine passage in Ant. 20 refers to it. But more than that …?

    I am agnostic, myself. There’s too much political shouting going on for my liking.

    The passage in the Greek text may be corrupt, or it may be spurious altogether. It may even be genuine. We can all write speculation. Accusations of forgery are not based on fact.

    Marginalia about Jesus certainly did make their way into texts of Josephus in the middle ages, as we can see from a passage about Josephus in Photius’ “bibliotheca”. The passage in Eusebius certainly could force itself over other versions of the text and into unrelated texts, as we know of both. Who knows?

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