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Josephus & The Baker's Dozen

Updated on July 18, 2016

In debates over the historicity of Jesus, one name that invariably appears is that of Flavius Josephus, a Jewish historian who made references to him in his writing (decades after Jesus supposedly died). What is NOT commonly known is that Josephus also mentions thirteen OTHER people named “Jesus” throughout his major works -- “War Of The Jews” (WOJ) and “Antiquities Of The Jews” (AOJ).

So who are these other men named “Jesus?” Most were high Jewish priests. The others included a ruler, a general, a thief, a 'prophet' and the leader of a robber gang. Two even led mobs against each other. Separating them all into mutually exclusive identities – either by date or by association with other distinct individuals – is somewhat problematic. In Josephus' narrative, independently verifiable information is often sparse.

Complicating things further is the commonality among the names associated with the different Jesuses, making them harder to distinguish (as in the cases of Jesus numbers 9 and 10, who fathers share the same name). Even worse – as anyone who's researched ancient manuscripts knows – the same historical name is often spelled quite differently depending upon the historian (making corroborating external sources difficult).

I've listed Josephus' “Jesuses” in chronological order by year, or by order of appearance (in his narrative) if more than one appears in any given year:

Jesus #1 was the first high priest of the Jews after they began returning from their Babylonian captivity (539 BCE). He was the son of Josadek, who was high priest when the Jews first entered captivity seventy years earlier (AOJ, Book 20, Chapter 10).

Jesus #2 was the brother of John (Johanan), who ascended to the high priesthood (410 BCE) instead of Jesus – who had been promised the job by his friend Bagoses, one of King Artaxerxes' generals. The two brothers quarreled in the temple, and John killed Jesus, for which Bagoses ostensibly punished the Jews for seven years (AOJ, Book 11, Chapter 7).

Jesus #3 was in line for the priesthood when his brother Onias, the current priest, died. However, due to a quarrel with the king Antiochus IV, he was denied the position in favor of his younger brother (also named Onias). Jesus (later “Jason”) raised a rebellion against the new priest and, having more popular support, sent Onias packing until the king returned (167 BCE) and restored Onias (later “Menelaus”) (AOJ, Book 12, Chapter 5).

Jesus #4 was in line for the high priesthood on the death of his father, Phabet (24 BCE). Unfortunately, King Herod wanted to marry Mariamne, the daughter of Simon who, though a priest in Alexandria, was still much farther down the social ladder. So, he raised Simon to the high priesthood in Jerusalem, enhancing his social status and making the marriage more politically feasible (AOJ, Book 15, Chapter 9).

Jesus #5, the son of Sie, was another high priest, who ascended to his rank after King (Herod) Archelaus sacked Eleazar, the current priest (3 BCE) (AOJ, Book 17, Chapter 13).

In between the fifth and sixth Jesuses comes Jesus of Nazareth. There are a couple of references to him in “Antiquities Of The Jews (Book 18, Chapter 3 and Book 20, Chapter 9, though the former is commonly believed by scholars to be a complete or partial interpolation (inserted later into the text by Catholic transcribers)).

Jesus #6 was the son of Damneus. He was made high priest by King Agrippa (63 CE) after his predecessor, Ananus, abused his authority by convening a Sanhedrin to condemn and stone James (brother of Jesus of Nazareth) (AOJ, Book 20, Chapter 9).

Jesus #7 was the son of Gamaliel. He succeeded Jesus #6 (above) in 64 CE, by order of Agrippa. A “sedition” broke out between the two competing Jesuses, approaching the point where their mobs were throwing stones at each other. Agrippa eventually removed this second Jesus, repacing him with Matthais (AOJ, Book 20, Chapter 9).

Jesus #8 was the son of the Jewish high priest Sapphias. He was one of the generals chosen in Jerusalem by the Jews in their revolt against the Romans during the reign of Cestius Gallus (66 CE) (WOJ, Book 2, Chapter 20).

Jesus #9 was the son of another Sapphias, governor of Tiberius (the city, not the emperor) in Galilee. Together with John of Gischala, he agitated crowds (67 CE) against Josephus (then one of the Jewish generals in the revolt against Rome). He became ruler of Tiberius until the city was taken by Josephus' forces (WOJ, Book 2, Chapter 21).

Jesus #10 was the son of Shaphat, leader of a gang of robbers in Sennabris. Jesus led a band of horsemen who attacked a cavalry detachment of Vespasian's army (68 CE). He was later driven out of Taricheae by Titus (WOJ, Book 3, Chapters 9-10).

Jesus #11 was the son of Gamalas. He was a high priest who tried to pursuade the people of Jerusalem against the “zealots” who took over city and prompted its siege (and eventual capture) by Titus (70 CE). Initially escaping to the Roman camp, Titus sent him back to the tower to try to negotiate with the citizens (WOJ, Book 4, Chapters 3-5 / Book 6, chapter 2).

Jesus #12 was the son of Ananus, a “plebian” and a “husbandman.” He supposedly 'prophesied' for 7 1/2 years the coming destruction of the Jewish temple (70 CE), and was beaten and killed by a rock thrown at him from the crowd (WOJ, Book 6, Chapter 5).

Jesus #13 was the son of Thebuthus. He defected to the Romans beseiging Jerusalem under Titus (70 CE), bringing sacred items from the temple as a condition for safe passage (WOJ, Book 6, Chapter 8).

I've created this hub to serve as a resource for believers and skeptics alike. Of course, it doesn't settle the question of Jesus' historicity, nor is it intended to. But, hopefully, it will make the issue easier to navigate, and provide a broader illumination of Josephus' relevant work.


More Biblical resources from Paladin:

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  • lawrence01 profile image

    Lawrence Hebb 18 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

    Paladin

    This was pretty good and accurate stuff here. As you said there are two references to the Jesus of the gospels in Josephus.

    The first one is actually interesting as it's actually talking about Jesus' brother James and the way the high priest had him killed . He talks of James being the 'brother' of Jesus 'called Messiah' so he identifies the 'Jesus' he was talking about.

    He's not claiming Jesus to be the Messiah, just simply using the title that many used for him.

    Almost all scholars think this reference is genuine, but the second one they have some thoights that a zealous scribe (monk) may have added a little!

    Happy new year

    Lawrence

  • Paladin_ profile image
    Author

    Paladin_ 18 months ago from Michigan, USA

    What most people don't realize (and what I've noted in the hub) is that the priest responsible for James' stoning was ALSO named Jesus! It's one of those weird historical twists of fate.

    Thanks for reading, and for the observations, Lawrence. A happy new year to you as well! :-)

  • Titen-Sxull profile image

    Titen-Sxull 18 months ago from back in the lab again

    Given the apparently common nature of the name Jesus and the questionable nature of the passage (as it might be an interpolation) it's hard to believe that so many Christians really look to Jospehus as the knock-down piece of extra-biblical evidence that the Jesus of the Gospels was a real person and that their faith in him is justified.

    Christians that can separate the spiritual Jesus they know "in their hearts" from the historical Jesus they pursue with scholarship and science tend to be more intellectually consistent. When unyielding faith and the pursuit for historical truth meet the facts always get subducted beneath faith.

    Thanks for this hub Paladin_ hopefully it helps people no matter what they believe.

  • lawrence01 profile image

    Lawrence Hebb 18 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

    Titen

    You've got a point with the second reference that Josephus makes, but the first one (the one I quoted from regarding the brother of Jesus) is accepted by all the scholars.

    Josephus's point in the section isn't to do with Jesus really as he's actually pointing out who James the leader of the church in Jerusalem was and some of how he came to be the leader.

    Having said that Josephus isn't the only secular historian to mention Jesus and the early Christians! There's also Tacitus (AD 100 ish who hated Christians), Pliny the younger (writing around AD 125 but more on how christians worshipped) and Seutonius who te

    lls us that the 'founder of the sect' was a Galilean carpenter who was executed during the governorship of Pontius Pilate.

    History has answered the question as to whether Jesus really existed, the real question is who is he to each of us?

    Lawrence

    by the way Paladin I didn't know that about the High Priest!!

  • Paladin_ profile image
    Author

    Paladin_ 18 months ago from Michigan, USA

    Thanks for visiting and commenting, Titen.

    Lawrence, I've been unable to locate that reference from Seutonius about the Galilean carpenter. Could you narrow it down to a book and chapter, if possible? I'll likely write a hub on the historicity of Jesus one of these days, and need to ensure I have all my facts straight. Thanks.

  • lawrence01 profile image

    Lawrence Hebb 18 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

    Paladin

    Its in 'Claudius' 25 but looks like I got it mixed with another as the reference is about the christians being expelled from Rome due to rioting (along with the Jews) because of agitation of a 'christos'

    Sorry for the confusion

    Lawrence

    Ps I will look the other comment up and let you know the origin

  • lawrence01 profile image

    Lawrence Hebb 18 months ago from Hamilton, New Zealand

    Paladin

    Found it. I knew I'd read it recently! It's actually Tacitus in his 'Annals' in reference to the fire of Rome and who got the blame.

    There are some historians think it was a later christian addition (interpolation) but most accept it as authentic.

    Lawrence

  • Paladin_ profile image
    Author

    Paladin_ 18 months ago from Michigan, USA

    Thanks for the clarification, Lawrence. I thought I had my Jesus references pretty well in order, and your reference threw me for a bit of a loop. So it's nice to know I wasn't as far off as I feared. There's always something more to learn, I guess...

  • CatherineGiordano profile image

    Catherine Giordano 3 months ago from Orlando Florida

    I agree, When Christians cite Josephus as proof of the existence of Jesus they are desperately grasping at straws. In the ver same paragraph which is supposed to refer to Jesus Christ, another Jesus is mention. I think this is only Jesus that Josephus was talking about in that paragraph. BTW, the reference to James is most likely an interpolation, not in the original text.

  • Paladin_ profile image
    Author

    Paladin_ 3 months ago from Michigan, USA

    Thanks for visiting and commenting, Catherine! Thus far, I've only perused much of the debate regarding the authenticity of suspected passages. It's clear that, when it comes to verifying all these specific sources, I have a great deal of research ahead of me!

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