London (May. 23)
(By Our London Correspondent)
The timeworn discussion regarding the historicity of Jesus, much of which has centered around the well known passage in Josephus, has flared up again as a result of the statements made here by Dr. V. Burch, lecturer of theology at the Liverpool Cathedral, who claims to have discovered an Old Russian (Slavonic) text of Josephus containing long statements regarding Jesus, his appearance, his activities and the manner of his death.
Dr. Burch published an article on the subject in “The Diocese Liverpool Review” and immediately aroused great interest, as manifested by the comments appearing in the London “Times,” “The Observer” and other papers. For the importance of such a discovery, if such it be, is obvious to everyone. The question of the reference in Josephus to Jesus had never been elucidated, owing to the fact that while Josephus’ original works in Aramaic have been lost, the Greek translation, made by him. was preserved by the fathers of the Christian Church and remained for several centuries in their keeping and scientists have been in doubt as to the authenticity of the reference to Jesus. It has been suspected that the passage may have been interpolated. Scholars have been in search of a clue to the original text, for this is the only noted work by a Jewish writer of the times of Jesus having any mention of the founder of Christianity.
The text which Dr. Burch claims he discovered reads as follows:
“At that time also a man came forward, if one may call a man, one whom his Disciples called the Son of God. His being and his figure were quite human, a man of middle size with a stooping back and a long face, a prominent nose and with brows, which grew together so that those who saw him would get frightened. with very little hair and having in the middle of his forehead a sign, according to the habit of the Nazarenes. His looks were quite simple, only his pose was more than human because he performed wonders through some invisible power.
“Considering, however, his quite ordinary nature, I for one, shall not call him an angel. His name was Jesus and he was nicknamed Messiah. By the Gentiles he was believed to be a soothsayer, but some of our people said of him that he was our first lawgiver, Moses, and had risen from the dead and was now showing forth many cures and arts.
“He did not observe Sabbath according to our ancestral law. Not that he did anything shameful or criminal himself, but through his words he instigated everything, and many from our folk followed him and accepted his teaching, believing the Jewish tribes would set themselves free from the hands of the Romans.
“Now, it was his habit to stay most of the time on the Mount of Olives, before the city, and there he also avouched his cures to the people. And there gathered themselves to him one hundred and fifty slaves, and of the populace, a crowd. But when they saw his power, which could accomplish everything he would by word, they urged him that he enter the city and hew down the Roman soldiers and Pilate and rule over us. But when knowledge of this came to the Jewish leaders, they gathered together with the High Priest and spake, ‘We are powerless and too weak to withstand the Romans … we will go tell Pilate what we have heard, and be without distress, lest if he hear it from others we be robbed of our substance and ourselves be put to the sword and the children of Israel dispersed.’ And they went and told it to Pilate and he sent and had many people cut down.
“As for that wonder worker, he had him brought before him and after he had tried him, they took him and crucified him according to their ancestral custom.”
The value of Dr. Burch’s discovery has been challenged by the famous Austrian scholar, Dr. Robert Eisler, who asserts that it is no discovery at all. In a letter to the London “Times,” Dr. Eisler declares that the new version of Josephus has been known in Europe for years past and has also been exhaustively examined. He further says that he lectured on it a year ago at Jews College and published an article citing the version in the “Quest” a quarterly devoted to the study of religion. “The statement about ‘a pile of manuscript.'” Dr. Eisler writes, “is entirely misleading. The seventeen Russian versions of Josephus have been preserved in the public libraries of Moscow and Kazan, and have been known to Russian scholars for generations. Dr. Burch himself does not seem to know them at all because he thinks they were written in Slavonic, whereas they are actually written in an archaic, but genuinely (northern) Russian dialect.”