Monday, April 23, 2018


   My friend and Beta reader Ellie, who has guest posted on this blog on occasion, just sent me her review of THE GNOSTIC LIBRARY, which she read two years ago as I was writing it.  Her Amazon reviews (under the name "Dai-Keag-Ity") have graced all my previous books, and it was a thrill to read her critique of my latest effort!  I thought I would share it with all of my faithful readers here before it even gets posted on Amazon.  Here it is:

Readers, clear your schedule this weekend, because you’re in for a treat! The Gnostic Library, the fifth and newest novel of the hardest-working archaeologist, pastor, and high school history teacher in Texas, Lewis Ben Smith, has arrived as his most energetic and sure to be controversial work yet. In the words of a friend who borrowed my advanced copy: no matter what you’re expecting, you’re in for a surprise. Yes, I promise you, The Gnostic Library is a thinking person’s thriller that sneaks up on you with a jaw-dropping wallop!

In this exciting 366-page adventure the beloved Capri Team from Smith’s previous novels The Testimonium, and Matthew’s Autograph are briefly re-united - only to disperse around the globe. Josh and Isabella Parker are pursuing a four-hundred-year-old archaeological mystery uncovered on the high plains of the American Heartland, while Father Duncan MacDonald is opening an investigation amid the ancient wilds of Egypt, where the chance (or is it…?) discovery of a library of ancient Gnostic texts under the ever-shifting sands brings a team of curious experts into conflict with one of the most savage terrorist cells on the planet.

Talk about realism, the events of this novel could come straight from the headlines of the nightly news!

While easily read as a stand-alone book, those already familiar with the characters will no doubt enjoy a check-in with old friends in this third volume of the Capri Team trilogy. Readers old and new will also meet Smith’s latest creations, many likable and sure to be welcomed, but with one of them standing as the most loathsome villain this writer has yet created, a fearless terrorist warlord who arrives, AK-47 in hand, like a modern version of the desert raiders in the The Arabian Nights.

Fair warning, while the journey through these pages is always interesting, don’t be sure a happy ending for all is necessarily guaranteed.

What is promised is the kind of story that stimulates imagination and scientific curiosity alike. It is at once a mystery, a tale of archaeology and history, a reunion with some well-crafted characters who truly come across as people you’d like to know, and more so than anything Lewis Ben Smith has done since his premiere novel The Testimonium, The Gnostic Library stands as a great love story. But, men, don’t let that scare you away. There are also gunfights, kidnappings, helicopters, spy satellites, terrorists, and a strange tomb discovered on US soil that stands to re-write regional history.

Yes, this is a darn good book!

Monday, April 16, 2018

WHO WAS JOSEPHUS? And Did He Really Write About Jesus?

     During my recent online debates with atheist friends about the historical existence of Jesus, one source comes up again and again - the writings of the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus.  Since many Christians may not know much about him, I thought I would take the time to share a little bit of what he wrote and why one passage in particular is so controversial.  So let's go in order.  First:

                                                        WHO WAS JOSEPHUS?

    Flavius Josephus was born around 37 AD - four years after Jesus was crucified.  His Jewish name was Yosef bin Matityahu, and his father was of priestly descent.  He was a Pharisee by religion and a Jewish nationalist.  During the great uprising against Rome that began in 66 AD, he fought with the Jewish rebels trying to overthrow Roman rule.  He was captured and brought before the Roman general Titus Flavius Vespasianus, more commonly known as Vespasian.  When he saw the general, Josephus (the Latin form of his name) greeted him by saying "Hail Caesar!"
    Vespasian replied: "I am no Caesar, for it is Nero who rules in Rome."
    Josephus responded: "Aye, but in a year's time you will become Caesar and rule Rome."
    Right around that time, a thousand miles away, the Roman Senate, sick of Nero's insanity, stripped him of all honors and titles and ordered his arrest. The Emperor killed himself, and civil war broke out as a series of well-connected Senators and generals tried to elevate themselves to the throne in what was called "The Year of the Four Emperors."  Finally, Vespasian and his armies marched on Rome and defeated the forces of his rival Galba, and Vespasian became the next Emperor.  He remembered the Jewish prisoner who had foretold his triumph and ordered Josephus released. 

         Eventually Josephus moved to Rome and became a member of the Emperor's household.  Regarded by his own people as a turncoat and traitor, Josephus nevertheless tried to explain to a hostile Roman audience what the Jewish revolt was all about in his lengthy history, THE JEWISH WAR, published around 75 AD.  About 20 years later, Josephus wrote a lengthy history of the Jewish people, from the time of Creation until the fall of Jerusalem.  This book is called THE ANTIQUITIES OF THE JEWS, and it includes the history of Jesus' lifetime.
     That leads us to the $64,000 question - did Josephus write about Jesus of Nazareth?

                                                 THE TESTIMONIUM FLAVINIUM

     In THE ANTIQUITIES OF THE JEWS, Book 18, Chapter 3, verse 3, we find this narrative:
 "Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct to this day."
     Now, this passage, IF authentic, is a slam-dunk testimony as to the historical reality of Jesus.  It is buttressed by the fact that, later on in Book 18, Josephus describes the death of "James the brother of Jesus the so-called Christ."  Although there were many men named Jesus in First Century Judea, only one claimed to be the Christ.  This single verse from ANTIQUITIES is called the Testimonium Flavianum - the "Testimony of Flavius."  Since this passage comes after the reference to Jesus, the mention tying James to Jesus seems to follow naturally.
      Yet - Josephus was an observant Jew to the end of his days.  Would he have called Jesus "the Christ?"  This leads us to the next big question - really the most important of them all: 

                                 IS THE TESTIMONIUM FLAVIANUM AUTHENTIC?

      Obviously, atheists - especially the "Jesus Mythicists" who deny that Jesus ever existed as a real, historical person - cannot afford to admit that this passage is authentic.  However, most of these folks have very little understanding or education in the history of the ancient world, Roman or Jewish.  Bart Ehrman, an atheist who is no friend of Christianity, points out that there is not a single professional historian of the era in the ranks of the Jesus Myth movement.  Among real scholars, there are three schools of thought, as follows:

1.  The Testimonium is authentic in its entirety.  Very few scholars still try to argue this point.  The reference to Jesus is far too favorable to have come from the pen of a Pharisaic Jew, since that sect opposed Jesus during his lifetime and dismissed him as a false Messiah afterwards.  Even though the Temple priesthood was destroyed along with the Temple itself, to hail Jesus as the true "Christ" would have led Josephus to be even more shunned by his own people than he already was.

2.  The reference to Jesus is authentic, but it's been edited (interpolated, to use the scholarly term) by Christian copyists to make it more favorable towards Jesus.  This makes a great deal of sense; it also explains the comment about James being the brother of the "so-called" Christ.  The fact is, nearly every available copy of Josephus has come to us through Christian copyists, and the earliest reference to the Testimonium is from the fourth century church historian Eusebius.  Many scholars have studied the original Greek and come up with a list of words that seem to not flow with the others in this short passage.  To quote Wikipedia (not as unreliable as it once was, and a great place to begin research on any topic): "The general scholarly view is that while the Testimonium Flavianum is most likely not authentic in its entirety, it is broadly agreed upon that it originally consisted of an authentic nucleus, which was then subject to Christian interpolation and/or alteration."

3.  The entire Testimonium is a Christian forgery inserted into the text of Josephus, probably by Eusebius as he was composing his "Ecclesiastical History" in the Fourth Century.  This view is held by a minority of scholars, but touted endlessly by Jesus mythicists.  Church historian Peter Kirby tallies up the supporters and detractors as follows:  "4 scholars regarded the Testimonium Flavianum as entirely genuine, 6 as mostly genuine, 20 accept it with some interpolations, 9 with several interpolations, and 13 regard it as being totally an interpolation."  So it was, as of the 1980's, a 39-13 balance of opinion in favor of the Testimonium as being at least partly authentic. 

    So what did Josephus originally write?  There are two variant manuscripts that may preserve something close to the original wording of the passage.  An Arabic copy from the 10th century AD records the passage thus:   "At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus.
His conduct was good, and [he] was known to be virtuous. and many people from among the Jews and the other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after his crucifixion, and that he was alive; accordingly he was perhaps the Messiah concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders."

This reading certainly reflects a different tradition than the better known Greek version, and sounds closer to what a Jew like Josephus might have written.

There is also a Syriac copy of the Testimonium Flavianum that preserves a very similar text, with one slight change in wording: "Pilate condemned him to be crucified, and he died" instead of "to be crucified and to die."

     So did Josephus write about Jesus?  The majority of scholarly opinion today argues that he did, but that the original text was interpolated to reflect a more Christian view of Jesus than the original. What did Josephus originally write?  No one can know for sure - barring the discovery of a text that predates Eusebius, which is always a distinct possibility - but one Josephus expert thinks the original may have read like this:

      "Now about this time arose an occasion for new disturbances, a certain Jesus, a wizard of a man, if indeed he may be called a man, who was the most monstrous of men, whom his disciples call a son of God, as having done wonders such as no man has ever done.... He was in fact a teacher of astonishing tricks to such men as accept the abnormal with delight.... And he seduced many Jews and many also of the Greek nation, and was regarded by them as the Messiah.... And when, on the indictment of the principal men among us, Pilate had sentenced him to the cross, still those who before had admired him did not cease to rave. For it seemed to them that having been dead for three days, he had appeared to them alive again, as the divinely-inspired prophets had foretold -- these and ten thousand other wonderful things -- concerning him. And even now the race of those who are called 'Messianists' after him is not extinct." - R.Eisler, THE MESSIAH JESUS

     Modern scholarship may never completely unravel the question of what Josephus wrote about Jesus, but it seems as if the preponderance of opinion is that Josephus did write SOMETHING about him.  And there the debate rests.


Friday, April 6, 2018


   For the last decade or two, a growing body of opinion in atheist/agnostic circles has taken the approach that Jesus of Nazareth never existed as a real, historical figure.  The rational objections to this point of view are innumerable, but IF you want to adopt this perspective, here are some things that you simply HAVE to do.  Follow these easy steps and you can join the "Jesus Mythicist" crowd, no problem!

1.  IGNORE traditional rules of historical interpretation.  Usually, when a person is mentioned by 17 separate sources within 150 years of his alleged lifetime, all of whom regard him as a real, flesh and blood person, historians will concede that the person in question did, in fact, exist.  This kind of rationality is fatal to accepting Jesus was a myth, so you will have to impose a completely different set of historical standards and raise the bar of proof higher than it is for any other figure of antiquity!

2.  DISREGARD scholarly expertise.  This is especially true if you want to embrace the popular "Jesus was based on other dying and rising Messiah figures" position as so many mythicists do.  You see, not a single person with an advanced degree in Bible history, classical Greek and Roman history, Middle Eastern archeology, or Egyptology, buys into this theory.  NO serious Egyptologist believes that the character of Jesus was based on Osiris or Horus, NO Greco-Roman historian believes that Jesus was based on Dionysius, and not one member of the International Congress of Mithraic Studies believes that Jesus was based on the legends of Mithras.  So forget the eggheads with their years of study and advanced degrees in the relevant fields of history.  What do they know, anyway?

3.  DON'T EVER FACT-CHECK!  The internet is full of videos and memes that make naked assertions of parallels between Jesus and other ancient deities that will absolutely confirm your bias towards Jesus being a fairy tale - as long as you don't try to trace them to their source!  Osirirs, Mithras, Dionysius, and Horus are all credited with being "born of a virgin on December 25th," even though A.  Not one ancient source claims this; and B. even if they did, NOWHERE in the New Testament does it say that Jesus was born on Dec. 25th!

4.  QUESTION ESTABLISHED HISTORY.  So what if the Gospels are universally dated, by scholars both skeptical and faithful, as having been written in the First Century AD?  So what if there is physical, literary, and archeological evidence that Christianity originated in Jerusalem in the first half of the First Century?  After all, all those ancient texts were probably written or else copied and altered by Christians in the Middle Ages, so we can just reject them out of hand!  This method is also favored by Holocaust Deniers, 9/11 Truthers, and many members of the political fringes in America, both left and right.  Just assume everybody whose conclusions disagree with yours is lying, mistaken, or else "in on the fix"!!

5.  IGNORE ALL DISSENTING OPINIONS.  Obviously, everyone who disagrees with you is wrong, so why bother listening to or reading what they have to say?  Everyone knows that all Christians everywhere are gullible morons who pray to a magical flying carpenter in the sky, so who cares if they can produce archeological site reports, ancient papyri, historical references, and physical artifacts that seem to back up their case?

6.  MEMORIZE The Da Vinci Code!  Dan Brown is obviously a genius who unraveled a two thousand year old conspiracy, even though virtually every historical claim in his book has been proven false, especially his accounts of Christianity originally being a sex cult (ZERO evidence), Jesus being married (NOT ONE First or Second Century source mentions this!), or the Council of Nicaea. Who cares if his central plot was shamelessly plagiarized from a discredited Jesus conspiracy book written in 1977?   What do professional historians know?

7.  ASSUME all Christians are stupid.  So what if many Christians hold multiple PhD's in subjects ranging from advanced mathematics to biochemistry to history and classical studies?  So what if many of the greatest statesmen, scholars, and philosophers in history were Christians?  Obviously, anyone who accepts the divinity of Christ is not as smart as you. and therefore their opinions are not worth reading!

  There you have it.  Ignore history, archeology, textual studies, standard analytical methods, and a boatload of physical and literary evidence, as well as the conclusions of respected scholars and historians from all around the world, and you can join guys like Bill Maher and Richard Carrier to proudly claim that Jesus was a MYTH!

   Yes, this whole post is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but even atheist scholar Bart Ehrman dismissed the Jesus Myth movement as "pseudo-scholarship."  If you want to read further on this subject, here is an excellent article from a site  I highly recommend: