Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers: Series II/Volume I/Church History of Eusebius/Book I/Chapter 11
Chapter XI.—Testimonies in Regard to John the Baptist and Christ.
1. Not long after this John the Baptist was beheaded by the younger Herod, as is stated in the Gospels. Josephus also records the same fact, making mention of Herodias by name, and stating that, although she was the wife of his brother, Herod made her his own wife after divorcing his former lawful wife, who was the daughter of Aretas, king of Petra, and separating Herodias from her husband while he was still alive.
2. It was on her account also that he slew John, and waged war with Aretas, because of the disgrace inflicted on the daughter of the latter. Josephus relates that in this war, when they came to battle, Herod’s entire army was destroyed, and that he suffered this calamity on account of his crime against John.
3. The same Josephus confesses in this account that John the Baptist was an exceedingly righteous man, and thus agrees with the things written of him in the Gospels. He records also that Herod lost his kingdom on account of the same Herodias, and that he was driven into banishment with her, and condemned to live at Vienne in Gaul.
4. He relates these things in the eighteenth book of the Antiquities, where he writes of John in the following words: “It seemed to some of the Jews that the army of Herod was destroyed by God, who most justly avenged John called the Baptist.
5. For Herod slew him, a good man and one who exhorted the Jews to come and receive baptism, practicing virtue and exercising righteousness toward each other and toward God; for baptism would appear acceptable unto Him when they employed it, not for the remission of certain sins, but for the purification of the body, as the soul had been already purified in righteousness.
6. And when others gathered about him (for they found much pleasure in listening to his words), Herod feared that his great influence might lead to some sedition, for they appeared ready to do whatever he might advise. He therefore considered it much better, before any new thing should be done under John’s influence, to anticipate it by slaying him, than to repent after revolution had come, and when he found himself in the midst of difficulties. On account of Herod’s suspicion John was sent in bonds to the above-mentioned citadel of Machæra, and there slain.”
7. After relating these things concerning John, he makes mention of our Saviour in the same work, in the following words: “And there lived at that time Jesus, a wise man, if indeed it be proper to call him a man. For he was a doer of wonderful works, and a teacher of such men as receive the truth in gladness. And he attached to himself many of the Jews, and many also of the Greeks. He was the Christ.
8. When Pilate, on the accusation of our principal men, condemned him to the cross, those who had loved him in the beginning did not cease loving him. For he appeared unto them again alive on the third day, the divine prophets having told these and countless other wonderful things concerning him. Moreover, the race of Christians, named after him, continues down to the present day.”
9. Since an historian, who is one of the Hebrews themselves, has recorded in his work these things concerning John the Baptist and our Saviour, what excuse is there left for not convicting them of being destitute of all shame, who have forged the acts against them? But let this suffice here.
- Herod Antipas.
- Matt. xiv. 1–12; Mark vi. 17 sq.
- Josephus, Ant. XVIII. 5. 2.
- Herodias, a daughter of Aristobulus and grand-daughter of Herod the Great, first married Herod Philip (whom Josephus calls Herod, and whom the Gospels call Philip), a son of Herod the Great, and therefore her uncle, who seems to have occupied a private station. Afterwards, leaving him during his lifetime, she married another uncle, Herod Antipas the Tetrarch. When her husband, Antipas, was banished to Gaul she voluntarily shared his banishment and died there. Her character is familiar from the accounts of the New Testament.
- Aretas Æneas is identical with the Aretas mentioned in 2 Cor. xi. 32, in connection with Paul’s flight from Jerusalem (cf. Wieseler, Chron. des ap. Zeitalters, p. 142 and 167 sq.). He was king of Arabia Nabatæa, whose capital was the famous rock city, Petra, which gave its name to the whole country, which was in consequence commonly called Arabia Petræa.
- In this emergency Herod appealed to Tiberius, with whom he was a favorite, and the emperor commanded Vitellius, the governor of Syria, to proceed against Aretas. The death of Tiberius interrupted operations, and under Caligula friendship existed between Aretas and the Romans.
- Josephus gives the account of Herod’s banishment in his Antiquities XVIII. 7. 2, but names Lyons instead of Vienne as the place of his exile. Eusebius here confounds the fate of Herod with that of Archelaus, who was banished to Vienne (see above, chap. 9, note 1).
- Ant.XVIII. 5. 2. This passage upon John the Baptist is referred to by Origen in his Contra Cels. I. 47, and is found in all our mss. of Josephus. It is almost universally admitted to be genuine, and there is no good reason to doubt that it is, for such a dispassionate and strictly impartial account of John could hardly have been written by a Christian interpolator.
- Josephus differs with the Evangelists as to the reason for John’s imprisonment, but the accounts of the latter bear throughout the stamp of more direct and accurate knowledge than that of Josephus. Ewald remarks with truth, “When Josephus, however, gives as the cause of John’s execution only the Tetrarch’s general fear of popular outbreaks, one can see that he no longer had perfect recollection of the matter. The account of Mark is far more exact and instructive.”
- Machæra was an important fortress lying east of the northern end of the Dead Sea. It was the same fortress to which the daughter of Aretas had retired when Herod formed the design of marrying Herodias; and the word “aforesaid” refers to Josephus’ mention of it in that connection in the previous paragraph.
- Ant.XVIII. 3. 3. This account occurs before that of John the Baptist, not after it. It is found in all our mss. of Josephus, and was considered genuine until the sixteenth century, but since then has been constantly disputed. Four opinions are held in regard to it; (1) It is entirely genuine. This view has at present few supporters, and is absolutely untenable. A Christian hand is unmistakably apparent,—if not throughout, certainly in many parts; and the silence in regard to it of all Christian writers until the time of Eusebius is fatal to its existence in the original text. Origen, for instance, who mentions Josephus’ testimony to John the Baptist in Contra Cels. I. 47, betrays no knowledge of this passage in regard to Christ. (2) It is entirely spurious. Such writers as Hase, Keim, and Schürer adopt this view. (3) It is partly genuine and partly interpolated. This opinion has, perhaps, the most defenders, among them Gieseler, Weizsäcker, Renan, Edersheim, and Schaff. (4) It has been changed from a bitter Jewish calumny of Christ to a Christian eulogy of him. This is Ewald’s view. The second opinion seems to me the correct one. The third I regard as untenable, for the reason that after the obviously Christian passages are omitted there remains almost nothing; and it seems inconceivable that Josephus should have given so colorless a report of one whom the Jews regarded with such enmity, if he mentioned him at all. The fourth view might be possible, and is more natural than the third; but it seems as if some trace of the original calumny would have survived somewhere, had it ever existed. To me, however, the decisive argument is the decided break which the passage makes in the context; §2 gives the account of a sedition of the Jews, and §4 opens with the words, “About the same time also another sad calamity put the Jews into disorder”; while §3, containing the account of Christ, gives no hint of sedition or disorder among the Jews. It has been suggested that Eusebius himself, who is the first one to quote this passage, introduced it into the text of Josephus. This is possible, but there is no reason to suppose it true, for it is contrary to Eusebius’ general reputation for honesty, and the manner in which he introduces the quotation both here and in his Dem. Evang. III. 5 certainly bears every mark of innocence; and he would scarcely have dared to insert so important an account in his History had it not existed in at least some mss. of Josephus. We may be confident that the interpolation must have been made in the mss. of Josephus before it appeared in the History. For a brief summary of the various views upon the subject, see Schaff’s Church History, Vol. I. p. 9 sq., and Edersheim’s article on Josephus in Smith and Wace’s Dict. of Christian Biography. Compare also Heinichen’s Excursus upon the passage in his edition of Eusebius, Vol. III. p. 623–654.
- See chap. 9, note 8, above.