Defending the Theistic View

Jesus, the brother of James, son of Damneus

Recently, I have posted a defence of the partial authenticity of Josephus’ Testimonium Flavianum and the complete authenticity of the so-called “James passage.” — Even though, at least to my knowledge, I dealt with the relevant objections to their authenticity there is at least one more objection which I decided to cover here. — It has to do with the James passage.

It is an indesputable fact that the majority of scholarly opinion supports the authenticity of the clause “Jesus, who was called Christ” in the James passage. But there is one more objection that, all though I have never taken it seriously except for this blog post, should be cleared up.

Kenneth Humphreys, while mentioning this passage, mentions in passing that in the same paragraph there is another man named Jesus, the son of Damneus and then indicates that this man is James’ brother, not the Jesus of the Bible. (Antiquities 20: 200) Though Humphreys does not go into much detail on this, one other Atheist I communicated with did.

Metro State Atheist, an Atheist blog I occasionally visit, refers to this objection and makes some points that should be answered. — After quoting the entire paragraph in which James and the two Jesuses are mentioned Joel Guttormson the webmaster of the blog goes on to say,

James mentioned in the line in question, which is italicized and underlined in the text above, is the bother of the Jesus mentioned in the bolded line.  Context dictates this since they are not separated explicitly (ie Josephus didn’t say that Jesus, the son of Damneus is not the same as Jesus brother of James who they called Christ).  Also, there exists no break in the story such that anyone could assert they are different people in the context.

The argument of context needs to be addressed. He saying that because there is “no break in the story” that the brother of James and the son of Damneus are therefore likely the same person. This is not necessarily true. Jesus was an extremely common name, so common that in order to prevent confusion for the readers of his history it would only be logical to identify two different men with the same name with differing means of Identification. This would only become all the more necessary if these two men were mentioned within only a few sentences of eachother and if the context did not change.

The reason why there is no break in the context is that the execution of James lead to all the events that followed in the paragraph (i.e., the deposition of the High Priest Ananus and his replacement by “the son of Damneus.”) This does not prove or even indicate that the brother of James and the son of Damneus are the same person.

Also, even though Joel is correct that Josephus does not say point blank that Jesus and James were not Damnes’ sons, Josephus’ own writing style dictates that they be positively identified as such. Usually, when Josephus first introduced a historical person he gave him the proper introduction the first time that he is mentioned by naming the person’s father (or known relative), hometown or their office.

Here are some examples of Josephus’ first time introductions:

  • Antiquities 17: 271: “There was also Judas, the son of that Ezekias who had been head of the robbers.”
  • Antiquities 17: 273: “There was also Simon, who had been a slave of Herod the king.”
  • Antiquities 18: 4: “Yet was there one Judas, a Gaulonite, of a city whose name was Gamala.”
  • Wars 5: 335: “They intended to have Zacharias the son of Baruch, one of the most eminent of the citizens, slain.”

The list of examples of Josephus’ goes on. When he first names a new person, this is how he he introduced them, the first time he mentions them. This isn’t to say that he never re-introduces anyone in the same manner a second time, but it is characteristic for him to do it the first time as did many other ancient writers. Normally Josephus would not have procrastinated only to give the customary introduction later on.

Assuming that James’ brother and the son of Damneus are the same person, and taking into account Josephus’ normal writing style, by all rights the James passage should say “James, brother of Jesus, the son of Damneus.”But this is not the case. — Josephus usually gave this identification without delay, and yet he does not follow up in this passage. If Josephus indeed meant that James’ brother and the son of Damneus were the same person, then it’s pretty odd that he didn’t follow the norm of identification. That he did not certainly makes sense if they are not the same person.

Another argument that Joe makes that I think deserves to be examined is his claim that the son of Damneus can also be called “Christ,”

Furthermore, Christ is Greek  means nothing more than “the anointed one”.  Literally, this means that one would be blessed with or covered in [holy] oil. It wouldn’t be out of the question, as far I know, that a “high priest” such as “Jesus, the son Damneus” was, would be called a Christ, an anointed one.

Actually, it would be out of the question because “Christ” had huge political implications, and it is unlikely the Romans would have allowed him to have been seated as high preist if he bore such a title. But let’s not even consider that fact as part of the evidence. — It is accurate to say that the Greek word “Χριστος” is translated as “anointed.” And considering that the son of Damneus would have been “annointed” when he was appointed as High Priest, Joe’s argument does seem plausable.  But there is one major problem with this assumption:

Josephus indicates that Jesus already was known as “Christ” during the early High Priesthood of Ananus, that is to say before the anointment of the son of Damneus to be the next High Priest. Because every High Priest was logically “anointed” at his appointment to the High-Priesthood, it is highly unlikely that the son of Damneus would have been known as the “anointed anything” until after Ananus’ term.

Furthermore, as mentioned in my previous post on this subject, the Greek term “λεγόμενος” which Josephus uses for the clause “Was called Christ” is being used neutrally by neither affirming or denying Jesus’ Messiaship, which is a reason why it is widely accepted as authentic.

This neutrality would be understandable if Josephus wanted to at least avoid bashing Christianity. However, if he indeed has the son of Damneus in mind then it would have definitely been pretty odd and un-called-for because the appointment (or anointment) of  the son of Damnues was not in doubt at all. It would have been like saying “Some people call him the high priest, but I don’t want to take sides.” Such reasoning, however, would have been considered absurd by a dedicated Jew like Josephus.

 — So as it turns out, a major basis for accepting the authenticity of the “James Passage” (i.e., the neutrality of Josephus’ terminology) can also be used to argue against the identification of Jesus, James’ brother with the son of Damneus.

After this, Joe seems to imply that Josephus was probably the source used by Christians to determine that Jesus had a brother named James. But to be fair,  probably means that this could have been Mark’s own personal knowledge of Jesus son of Demneus. —  He then goes on to say,

Although the earliest possible date for the first Gospel, of what would become the New Testament, is 70ad; the earliest, physical, dated Gospel of Mark dates, approximately, to around the year 90ad.  This would give ample time to the author of the Gospel of Mark to construct his Jesus character based on the high priest, Jesus, the son of Damneus.

I’m bringing this up because Mark, the first Gospel which mentions James, is usually dated in the 70s AD which is contemperary with Josephus’ Wars of the Jews and also pre-dates his Antiquities of the Jews by around twenty to thirty years. But Joe places it in a date which apparently is to make all of Josephus’ works pre-date Mark, thus making it unusable to show as a pre-Josephus. — This part Joe’s argument here, like the rest of the Jesus-Damneus argument only presupposes what it sets out to prove. There is no evidence given that Mark should be dated later than the usual date it is thought to be written.

As a matter of fact, most scholarship disagrees with dating Mark so late in 90 AD. — What my impartial sources show is that,

“Most scholars [ . . . ] would be hesitant to assign a date later than 70-73 CE, the latter being when Jerusalem was finally and fully sacked.”

So the fact is that the latest accepted date for Mark is much earlier than the date that Joe is proposing. — Now here is the interesting detail: Even if he were right that Mark should be dated to 90 AD, this would still pre-date the completion of Josephus’ twentieth (and last book) which mentions James and the son of  Damneus. Josephus completed his twenty books of the Antiquities in 93 AD,  after the alleged late date of Mark. (Source)

 — This is enough to refute the implication that Josephus was probably what Christians used Josephus to conclude Jesus had a brother named James because, apparently which ever composition date you prefer for Mark’s gospel, Mark’s mention of James still came first (Mark 6: 3 )

The bottom line is that even though I have known about the skeptic argument that Jesus, the brother of  James is the same as the other Jesus who was the son of Damneus, with the exception of this blog response to the argument, I don’t take it seriously. My problem with it is that it starts with a foregone conclusion and then works off of it assuring that the desired conclusion will be reached. It then presupposes that because Josephus mentions a Jesus a few sentences before another that they therefore have to be the same person even though they are identified by different means.

As said before, to assume that the brother of James is the same as the son of Damneus is to assume that Josephus broke with the methodology of identifying a person by his father, relative, hometown, or position the first timehe introduced them, not waiting until later which is what would have to be assumed if the two Jesuses are the same person. — The suggestion that Josephus called the son of Damneus “Christ” because of his  “anointment” to the office of High Priest doesn’t work when one realizes that Josephus indicates that this was Jesus’ title during the High Priesthood of Ananus because the son of Damneus wasn’t anointed until after Ananus’ term in office.

Also, Josephus’ usage of the clause “Was called Christ” is agreed to be a completely neutral way of using the title “Christ” without either confirming or denying Jesus’ messiaship. — As said before, this wold make complete sense if Josephus wanted to avoid Christian-bashing while at the same time not accept Jesus as the Messiah. But it certainly wouldn’t make sense to use such a neutral clause with the High Priest. Using this neutral clause with Jesus, son of Damnues would make no sense, unless Josephus neither wanted to confirm or deny his priesthood because it was never in doubt from anyone.

In conclusion, to make a long story short, there is no credible evidence to conclusively say that the “Christ” mentioned by Josephus is the same as Jesus-Damneus, and there are enough arguments to the contrary because it opens the door to inconsistencies.


4 responses

  1. Metro State Atheists

    Joel is currently one of three webmasters on our blog. The other two are Weston and Myself, Chalmer.

    Secondly, I enjoyed the post, as I often do when you respond to Joel’s blogs. While I find the issue interesting, I’m not particularly attached to either side of the argument. Thanks for reading, and I look forward to any future responses you might post.
    – Chalmer

    January 25, 2009 at 4:13 am

  2. krissmith777


    Sure thing. And you can count on me visiting your blog in the future. 🙂

    January 25, 2009 at 4:26 am

  3. Metro State Atheists

    Though I enjoyed the retort I would like to making something clear. The point of my blog wasn’t really to “prove” anything. It was, again like my Gospel of Thomas blog, to merely show that the passage you cited in Josephus can’t be used as “conclusive” proof of Jesus Christ of the Gospel stories existing. Namely, because there is too much debate and good points to be made on both sides. Neither, I or you, can prove our side one way or the other. But since you are a believer in Jesus Christ (as far as I have gathered from our correspondence)then for you, no proof is necessary or even prudent. The whole point of faith is believing without evidence and thus, your efforts to conclusively prove his existence are (in light of believing because of faith) meaningless and blasphemous, technically. However, if you don’t believe on faith, I’m showing that the evidence is lacking, both in substance and in quantity. Scholars are good for many things, but their collective opinions on this subject are too easily colored by their own beliefs to the point that objectivity among them is hard to come by. You done well to mention some scholars by name, however, you’ve also made sweeping statements about “lots” of scholars taking your view. And while that may well be so, it isn’t evidence. I quite enjoyed the Josehpus evidence your presented because it was actually a possible piece of tangible evidence. Though I did show, as you somewhat agreed to by saying in your conclusion “there are enough arguments to the contrary because it opens the door to inconsistencies.” I read that to mean, both sides have credible points, meaning that we agree that there exists ambiguity. I claim there is enough ambiguity to assert that this evidence is poor and shouldn’t be used to claim jesus of the bible, existed.

    Again, thank your for your thoughtful commentary and I look forward to more comments from you!

    Joel (not Joe)
    Metro State Atheists

    January 25, 2009 at 5:13 pm

  4. Derek


    Nothing in history can be “proven”. At least, not to your apparant standards. There is really no such thing as conclusive proof for anything. In any worldview, yes even materialism or naturalism, there exists a “believing without seeing” requirement.

    Defining “faith” for a Christian as “believing without evidence” just shows all you know about Christianity is based on either popularist atheist or Christian drivel. In the NT, faith (Greek: pistis) is believing the God who has already shown Himself to be reliable in your sight.

    History is about probabilities. As such, we know that it is very probable that Jesus did indeed exist as a Jewish preacher of God’s Kingdom in the first part of the first century. As probable as it is that Caesar Augustus was the ruler of Rome at that time.

    Even if we didn’t have Josephus’s testimony, we would still have four Greco/Roman bios, one historical text (Acts), 22 additional Christian texts, along with many many many other writers (Christian, heretical, or secular) who discuss Jesus of Nazareth within 150 years of his life. As far as classical historical study goes, Jesus’ existence is virtually certain.

    Claims about scholarly opinion being worth next to nothing are just silly. Because who’s the alternative? You? Archaya S? You’ll forgive me if I stick with the experts.

    All experts, even atheist ones, have biases. To use such logic, the opinions of any biologists who accepts evolution cannot be taken into consideration because methodological naturalism so permeates contemporary science that we can never be sure if they are keeping their biases in check.

    Thus, the opinions of anyone who is an expert cannot be trusted. That must be quite convenient for mythers. But it’s not based on reality. Experts are experts because they know far more about these issues than anyone else. This is akin to responses I get from Neo-Nazi’s about why we can’t trust modern Jewish scholars opinions on the Holocaust. If there is a huge base of modern scholars who don’t back your opinion, then it’s very likely that your opinion is incorrect. Deal with it.

    “I claim there is enough ambiguity to assert that this evidence is poor and shouldn’t be used to claim jesus of the bible, existed.”

    Well then, you claim is ridiculous. In any historical evidence, there is ambiguity if your willing to bend your standards a bit. Sorry you just don’t know what your talking about. krissmith 777 has just shown that your arguments against the James passage don’t hold water. As such, it constitutes primary evidence from the most prominent 1st century Jewish historian that corroborates the existence of Jesus of Nazareth and his brother James. So, far from being useless, it is decisive in proving you wrong.

    Believing this reference, which in your view, just happens to fall so perfectly in line with what we know about Jesus’ life, shows that Mark invented James out of thin air is looney! There is no evidence for this, you are postulating wholly new scenarios that have no ancient evidence to back them, while rejecting the position that has mounds of ancient evidence to back it. Now that’s what I call bias.

    Moreover, you’re lucky she addresses this claim at all. Such an objection isn’t even discussed by modern Jewish Josephean scholars like Louis Feldman or Geza Vermes. Now I ask you, what possible bias would these Jewish scholars have in favor for Christianity? I can’t believe anybody takes you seriously.

    If you’re looking for evidence along the lines of a Jerusalem post newspaper article, dated 33 ad that says, “Jesus of Nazareth was crucified today outside the city gates”, than ancient historiography isn’t for you.

    This is made all the more clear another of your ridiculous claims in another blog post:

    “The final argument I shall present herein deals with the yet undeniable fact that there is not a shred of convincing documented evidence outside of the New Testament of the existence of Jesus Christ. Specifically, I am speaking of the Romans, who recorded nearly everything during their time in power. They were systematic and meticulous.”

    Yes, they were. And their most prominent historian (Tacitus) mentions Jesus’ life and death. However, we posses nothing from this period of antiquity that would satisfy your evidentiary requirement. The Romans recorded much, but almost all that they recorded is lost to the winds and time. That is the nature of ancient research. We shouldn’t expect to hear much about Jesus because, in terms of importance in his day, Jesus was so small, that nobody would care about who he was or what he did until later, as we see with the development of the NT. Discounting the NT evidence just shows how biased you truly are.

    Krissmith777 is being very nice debating with you on this topic. But if it were me, I’d just ignore you. I am a Christian, but as far as I’m concerned, Jesus mythers like you, who talk about similarities to Mithra and the Zodiac, are to be regarded in the same vein as Neo-Nazi Holocaust Hoaxers. Just another lame take on serious historical questions.

    January 26, 2009 at 4:24 am