Saturday, February 15, 2014

Was Jesus Even Crucified? Part 6a

Part 6

WHEN Was Jesus Crucified?

Previous parts:

Part 1 - Link
Part 2 - Link
Part 3 - Link
Part 4 - Link
Part 5 - Link

Part 6a – Eusebius’ Confusion

In Church History I.11, Eusebius tries to pin down the date of the alleged crucifixion of the historical Jesus. Previously in parts 2 through 5 of this article, we have found out that Josephus, if he actually wrote the Testimonium Flavianum, was quite skeptical of whether the man was crucified or not! But here, Eusebius leaves quite an incomprehensible jumble, trying to figure out exactly when Jesus was crucified!

First of all, Eusebius starts off complaining about an alleged forgery concerning the times of Pontius Pilate, Prefect of Judea, 26-36 CE. (Church History I.9, emphasis mine)1

“The same writer, in the eighteenth book of his Antiquities, says that about the twelfth year of the reign of Tiberius, who had succeeded to the empire after Augustus had ruled fifty-seven years, Pontius Pilate was entrusted with the government of Judea, and that he remained there ten full years, almost until the death of Tiberius.

“Accordingly the forgery of those who have recently given currency to acts against our Saviour is clearly proved. For the very date given in them shows the falsehood of their fabricators.

“For the things which they have dared to say concerning the passion of the Saviour are put into the fourth consulship of Tiberius, which occurred in the seventh year of his reign; at which time it is plain that Pilate was not yet ruling in Judea, if the testimony of Josephus is to be believed, who clearly shows in the above-mentioned work that Pilate was made procurator of Judea by Tiberius in the twelfth year of his reign.”
The seventh year of the reign of Tiberius would be 20-21 CE.

That would dovetail nicely with the placement of the TF in Josephus’ Antiquities (18.3.3) right before anecdotes of two religious scams, using the accepted dating for the expulsion of the Jews and Egyptians from Rome per order of the Senate in 19 CE.2

Continuing in Church History I.10: (emphasis mine)

1. It was in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius, according to the evangelist, and in the fourth year of the governorship of Pontius Pilate, while Herod and Lysanias and Philip were ruling the rest of Judea, that our Saviour and Lord, Jesus the Christ of God, being about thirty years of age, came to John for baptism and began the promulgation of the Gospel.

The fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius (18 September 14 CE to 22 March 37 CE) is 28-29 CE. Valerius Gratus ruled in Judea as Prefect (military governor and procurator) for the first 11 years of Tiberius’ reign, after which Pontius Pilate took his place in 25 CE, so the fourth year of Pilate’s hegemony is the same one-year span. Since the Synoptic gospels, gLuke included, present a one-year ministry 3 for Jesus, his crucifixion date according to the Synoptics possibly would have been in the spring of 30 CE.

Continuing further in Church History I.10: 4

2. The Divine Scripture says, moreover, that he passed the entire time of his ministry under the high priests Annas and Caiaphas,5 showing that in the time which belonged to the priesthood of those two men the whole period of his teaching was completed. Since he began his work during the high priesthood of Annas and taught until Caiaphas held the office, the entire time does not comprise quite four years.

3. For the rites of the law having been already abolished since that time, the customary usages in connection with the worship of God, according to which the high priest acquired his office by hereditary descent and held it for life, were also annulled and there were appointed to the high priesthood by the Roman governors now one and now another person who continued in office not more than one year.

4. Josephus relates that there were four high priests in succession from Annas to Caiaphas.6 Thus in the same book of the Antiquities he writes as follows: “Valerius Gratus having put an end to the priesthood of Ananus appoints Ishmael, the son of Fabi, high priest. And having removed him after a little he appoints Eleazer, the son of Ananus the high priest, to the same office. And having removed him also at the end of a year he gives the high priesthood to Simon, the son of Camithus. But he likewise held the honor no more than a year, when Josephus, called also Caiaphas, succeeded him.7 Accordingly the whole time of our Saviour's ministry is shown to have been not quite four full years, four high priests, from Annas to the accession of Caiaphas, having held office a year each. The Gospel therefore has rightly indicated Caiaphas as the high priest under whom the Saviour suffered. From which also we can see that the time of our Saviour's ministry does not disagree with the foregoing investigation.

The above flatly contradicts what Eusebius has established as the beginning of Jesus’ ministry in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar. For, according to Josephus, Valerius Gratus deposed Ananus about 15 CE, Ishmael ben Fabi serves for one year until 16 CE, then Eleazar ben Ananus to serve ‘til 17 CE, and Simon ben Camithus until 18 CE after him. Finally in 18 CE this otherwise do-nothing Roman Prefect appoints Josephus Caiaphas as high priest. This leaves us 10 years and some months until the beginning of the fifteenth year of Tiberius, in 28 CE. Luke’s assertion that Annas (Ananus) was *still* high priest alongside the high priest Caiaphas in the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar’s government is clearly falsified; yet Eusebius labors on under the conviction or delusion that Jesus began his ministry when Ananus was high priest.

Note also Eusebius asserts that Jesus had a ministry that was almost four years in length. That would take us to 19 CE, having Jesus being crucified about eight or nine years before starting his ministry in 28 or 29 CE! Eusebius at this point appears to harmonize Josephus' Antiquities with gLuke; and as a result, establishes the beginning of Jesus' ministry in 15 or 16 CE rather than 28 or 29 CE. Clearly, the good Doctor of the Church does not know what he is writing here, but he does affirm that the gLuke stated that Jesus ended his ministry under Caiaphas, which was the longest of all the high priests under the Romans: 18 to 37 CE. Clearly, this high priest made some sweetheart deals with both Valerius Gratus and Pontius Pilate! And John affirms in his gospel that Caiaphas was high priest when Jesus was allegedly crucified:

49 And one of them, named Caiaphas, being8the high priest that same9 year, said unto them, Ye know nothing at all, 50 Nor consider that it is expedient for us, that one man should die for the people, and that the whole nation perish not. 51 And this spake he not of himself: but being10 high priest that year11, he prophesied that Jesus should die for that nation;… (gJohn 11:49-51 KJV)

12 Then the band and the captain and officers of the Jews took Jesus, and bound him, 13 And led him away to Annas first; for he was father in law to Caiaphas, which was12 the high priest that same year.13 (gJohn 18:12-13 KJV)

Now, there is nothing in John’s gospel that says that Caiaphas wasn’t the high priest the year before or the year after; still, there’s nothing there that can prevent it from being interpreted to indicate that he was not high priest before, after or both before and after. Still, the imperfect tense of the Greek verb (εἰμί (eimi)) indicates he certainly could still have been high priest the year following, and this is how Eusebius interprets Caiaphas also becoming high priest in the last year of Jesus’ ministry. So now we have two years when Jesus was supposed to have been crucified: 30 CE by Pontius Pilate, and 19 CE by Valerius Gratus!

And Eusebius makes it even worse for himself, when in the 11th chapter of the selfsame Book I of Church History, he writes: (emphasis and formatting mine)14

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. 15

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. 16

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.
What Josephus wrote about John the Baptist is found in his Antiquities 18.5.217 and what he wrote about the defeat of Herod Antipas at the hand of Aretas IV which occurred about 36 or 37 CE is found in Antiquities 18.5.1 and 18.5.3.

First, a bit of background here. Philip the Tetrarch, Herod Antipas’ brother who ruled the northeast portion of Herod the Great’s kingdom, passed on about the end of 33 CE or the beginning of 34 CE.18 About this time, Herod Antipas got into a spat over his divorcing Aretas’ daughter so he could marry another woman he was smitten with, Herodias the wife of his brother Herod! 19 Eventually war breaks out over the dispute and Herod loses the battle spectacularly; he forthwith asks Tiberius Caesar to order Vitellus to continue the fight on his behalf – Vitellus was preparing to do so when he heard news that Tiberius was dead and that Caius “Caligula” Caesar replaced him, and so Vitellus recalls and disbands his army.20

So although there is a bit of uncertainty here, we could date John the Baptist’s death to around 33 or 34 CE. With Jesus’ ministry following the death of John, we have a crucifixion date of 34, 35 or 36 CE. Unfortunately it does not follow that Jesus’ ministry could have been a bit less than four years in length, with the crucifixion in spring of 37 CE, because Pilate was recalled by Tiberius in the winter of 36-37 CE.21 The problem is, is the goofy placement of the so-called Testimonium Flavianum by Eusebius immediately after Josephus’ paragraph about John the Baptist in Antiquities 18.5.2 when in reality we find the paragraph about Jesus right between the Aqueduct incident22 and the two religious scams23 that proved to be a disaster for the Jews!

Now on the other hand what we have in the Synoptic gospels,gMark, gMatthew and gLuke, is that Jesus started his ministry in the Galilee after John was put into prison!24 GJohn, on the other hand, has Jesus and the Baptist active about the same time in the first portion of Jesus’ career.25, 26 This is a bit of a pickle, for in the Synoptics, at least gMark and gMatthew, John is reported to have been put imprisoned and later beheaded (to please his wife and daughter) because he reproved Herod Antipas for marrying his brother Philip’s wife!27 This is entirely contrary to Josephus’ stated reason why the Baptist was killed – for political reasons due to his popularity.28

Soon to come, Part 6b -- More of Eusebius' Confusion


1. Eusebius, Church History I.9.1b-3, New, Fathers, Eusebius, Church History. For the Greek Text, see Historia Ecclesiastica at the Documenta Catholica Omnia website, Eusebius Caesariensis, Historia Ecclesiastica entry page here. Cf. Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 18.2.2 [35].

2. Tacitus, Annales 2.85. The date is established by the death of Germanicus, grandson of Caesar Augustus, in Annales 2.83.

3. Bernard D. Muller, Historical, “Appendix B: 28 C.E., 1. The synoptic gospels evidence.” Link: accessed 11 January 2014.

4. Eusebius, Church History I.10.1-4. See n. 1 above for links.

5. GLuke 3:2 (link: No other Gospel has Annas (Ananus per Josephus) as the high priest; gMatthew and gJohn state Caiaphas was high priest and gJohn states Annas was his

6. Antiquities 18.2.2 [33].

7. Antiquities 18.2.2 [34].

8. Original Greek for “being”: ὢν (ôn), verb-participle present active, male nominative singular of εἰμί (eimi), “I am, I exist.”,,

9. Original Greek for “that same year”: τοῦ ἐνιαυτοῦ ἐκείνου (tou eniautou ekeinou), article, noun and demonstrative pronoun respectively, genitive masculine singular of ὁ ἐνιαυτός ἐκεῖνος (o eviautos ekeinos), “that same year, that selfsame year, that there year”. Links: Tufts Perseus Greek Word Study Tool: tou,, Tufts Perseus Greek Word Study Tool: eniautou,, Tufts Perseus Greek Word Study Tool: ekeinou,,

10. Greek word references same as n. 7,

11. Greek word references same as n. 8, GJohn reference same as n. 9.

12. Original Greek for “was”: ἦν (ên), verb, imperfect indicative active, third person singular of εἰμί (eimi), “I am, I exist.”,,

13. Same as n. 10.

14. Church History I.10.1-9. See n. 1 above for links.

15. Antiquities 18.5.2 [115]-[119].

16. Antiquities 18.4.6 [106]-[108].

17. Same as n. 15.

18. Antiquities 18.4.6 [106]- [108].

19. Antiquities 18.5.1 [109]-[114].

20. Antiquities 18.5.1 [105], 18.5.3 [120]-[124].

21. Antiquities 18.4.2 [89].

22. Antiquities 18.3.2 [60]-[62].

23. Antiquities 18.3.4 [65]-[80], 18.3.5 [81]-[84].

24. gMark 1:14, gMatthew 4:12: "After that John was put into prison..."

25. gLuke 3:1-3, 7:19-34, 9:7-9: In gLuke 3, it is Tiberius’ 15th Year, and John the Baptist begins his ministry. John Baptizes almost everybody in Judea, and Jesus himself is baptized. In gLuke 7:19-24, John sends two disciples out enquiring if Jesus is the One prophesied to come. Jesus gives an answer that does not appear straightforward at first glance but is full of clues for the Christian understanding of that One to come. In gLuke 9:7-9 John the Baptist is meantioned as having been beheaded already.

26. Same as n. 15.

27. gMark 6:14-29, gMatthew 14:1-12: it is these two accounts that explain the (in my opinion, erroneous) rationale for Herod Antipas being beheaded. Cf. Luke 9:7-9 where it merely mentions that John the Baptist was beheaded by Herod Antipas. All three accounts mention that Herod Antipas married his brother Philip’s wife. Note this is all contrary to the account written in Josephus which precedes and follows within the main body of the text.

28. gJohn 1:28-33, 3:22-30 and 4:1-2: In gJohn 1, John the Bapist has begun his ministry and is actively baptizing Just before Jesus calls his disciples. In gJohn 3, just after the first Passover of Jesus’ ministry in that gospel, John is still active and is yet to be arrested; he says about Jesus and himself, “He must increase and I must decrease.” In John 4, the Pharisees hear that Jesus is now baptizing more that John the Baptist was at that time.

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