2016-05-18

Review: A Shift In Time, Lena Einhorn. A new hypothesis on the origin of the Jesus narrative.

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by Neil Godfrey

Nytt-bokomslagI recently completed reading A Shift in Time: How Historical Documents Reveal the Surprising Truth About Jesus by Lena Einhorn.

Lena Einhorn proposes a radical rethink of Christian origins and does so in a welcome methodical and understated manner. Far from being a sensationalist weaving of data into a mesmerizing filigree of yet another conspiracy or gnostic theory, Einhorn lays out clearly and concisely the evidence that she believes has been overlooked and on the whole leaves it to readers to draw their own conclusions, keeping her own conclusions largely in the background. By the time I had finished the book I found myself thinking that if there is evidence for the Jesus of the gospels being based on a historical person it could well emerge through an argument like Einhorn’s. While I am not ready to embrace her own conclusions (I think much more data needs to be thrown into the mix for a full explanation) her book nonetheless raises very interesting questions.

The dust jacket blurb includes the line by Professor Philip R. Davies, “this book should make us think.” And it does.

Anyone familiar with the Gospels and Acts who has out of curiosity also read Josephus has surely been struck by periodic reminders of what we find in the New Testament narratives and thought, “Interesting, but of course it can be nothing more than coincidence because the Jesus story happened much earlier.” By taking these “coincidental” allusions and analysing them more systematically in comparison with the Gospels and Acts, Einhorn asks us to think through their implications and address new questions.

Einhorn’s thesis is that many allusions and apparent anomalies in the Gospels and Acts coincide with and find historical setting in the events and personalities in the two decades leading up to the Jewish War with Rome. That is, about twenty years after the New Testament historical setting of the Jesus narrative. Sometimes further support for this “shift in time” comes from other sources (both Christian and Jewish) outside the writings of Josephus.

Einhorn has a gift for presenting complex data in a clear and comprehensible way for anyone not familiar with the history of the various regions around Syria-Palestine in the first century, or with the fundamentals of historical Jesus scholarship. Her frequent bar chart and table illustrations assist the reader in keeping track of the multiple parallels between the history found in Josephus and the Gospel-Acts accounts and their respective chronologies. Each brief chapter expounds a single thematic parallel.

An example

An example of the parallels discussed: In the Gospels-Acts narrative we find reference to the death of Theudas preceding the death of Jesus; allusions to activity of rebel-bandits and the crucifixions of them; a hostile Galilean-Samaritan rift; an attack on an otherwise unknown Stephen that precipitates a new wave of widespread violence; two contemporaneous high priests, conflict between the Roman procurator and a Jewish king; a Roman slaughter of Galileans; a visit of a messianic figure to the Mount of Olives just prior to the violent dispersal of his following . . . . None of these phenomena are testified beyond the New Testament to have been found in the time of Jesus and early Church (around the year 30 CE), yet curiously all are found recorded by Josephus about twenty years later. As one who has also tried to draw attention to the absence of evidence for popular messianic fervor in early first century Judea I found Einhorn’s observations very attractive.

Are they real?

Are the parallels “real”? Einhorn herself raises this question several times but has enough respect for readers to allow them to decide. She is content to point out the unusual concentration of them within a narrow time frame and it is this detail that cries out for an explanation. We know coincidences do happen, sometimes quite complex ones. Recall the parallels between the Lincoln and Kennedy assassinations even allowing for some exaggeration and invalid data. We do have a natural tendency to find patterns “even where none exist”. At the same time scholars studying the Gospels in relation to the wider literature of the day (e.g. Dale Allison Jr, Andrew Clark, Dennis MacDonald, Thomas Brodie are just a few examples whose work has been discussed on this blog) have established criteria for identifying “real parallels”. Two criteria that regularly appear in such lists are the density of the parallels and their ability to generate new understanding of how and why the text may have come about. This is where the strength of the parallels in Einhorn’s thesis lies.

How to test the thesis?

One type of test I would like to apply to some of Lena Einhorn’s parallels is to review existing explanations or at least the contexts of the gospel parallels. Every thesis needs to be tested against alternative possibilities and there is much to consider here. (Perhaps I could examine some of the more significant passages in future posts.)

Einhorn herself occasionally defends evidence for a parallel by appealing to the criterion of embarrassment. This is a standard criterion frequently used by historical Jesus scholars and lies at the core of claims such as Jesus being truly baptised by his inferior, John the Baptist. The criterion insists that no-one would concoct such an incident that evidently proved to be embarrassing to the later Church that wanted to exalt Jesus to a much higher status than John. Unfortunately such criteria are themselves very often applied fallaciously in biblical studies as a growing number of biblical scholars acknowledge. With respect to the embarrassment criterion we have no way of knowing what was truly embarrassing to the original recorders of the story. Yet at the same time we do know that supposedly “embarrassing” details were in fact proudly boasted about simply to make a positive theological or religious point. Compare Paul’s boasting of the crucifixion of Jesus and the worshipers of Attis glorying in his castration.

However, the criterion of embarrassment can be applied more validly in circumstances where there is less ambiguity. Jewish scholar Daniel Boyarim and some others (including Richard Carrier) have implicitly (and validly) used the criteria to argue that when we find evidence from the earliest centuries of Christian history that the Jews themselves believed that the Suffering Servant figure of Isaiah 53 was a prophecy of the suffering Messiah, we have to conclude that they did not borrow this idea from their anti-semitic Christian neighbours and that the interpretation was indeed their own. It is inconceivable that Jews would have decided to agree with the Christian teaching on that point. The more likely and embarrassment-free explanation for this Jewish interpretation that we find in the Talmud is that it originated in pre-Christian times and that the earliest Christians inherited the interpretation from the Second Temple Jews and applied it to their Messiah, Jesus. Similarly with Einhorn’s appeals to the criterion of embarrassment: Why would some later Christians record as fact the belief that Jesus lived later than the time of Pilate and Tiberius and that this information derived from the very earliest records? There may be other answers to this question, but if so, they ought to be tested along with Einhorn’s thesis. Here is another opportunity for a useful application of Bayes’ theorem. Even without calculating numerical estimates the fundamental method is relevant. Let’s step back and reconsider all our background information and see how it might bear upon the time shift thesis as presented by Einhorn, or on some modification of it. What are we to make of the alternative early Christian versions of the Jesus narrative in the context of the time shift proposal? Even in the Gospel of John we find indications Jesus was in his late forties before he was crucified. Other later records place him in the time of Claudius and Nero. We also find a noncanonical gospel accusing Herod, not Pilate, of crucifying Jesus. Einhorn of course mentions these alternative accounts in the data. I think they all deserve a careful think-through and A Shift In Time offers a new pathway to explore.

A pacificist foil to the failed violence of the rebellion?

My own conclusion at the moment is that Einhorn has presented considerable evidence that could suggest the authors of the narratives of Christian origins were strongly influenced by later events in Jewish history, specifically by events related to the lead up to the War with Rome and with the events of the War itself. Einhorn’s suggestion is that several characters and events in the Gospels are re-written pacifistic versions of more bloody moments in a later date. The defeat of the Jews at the hands of Rome obliged a reassessment of and turning from the values of rebellion and violence. To accomplish this ideological revision a new time setting was called into service.

Compare earlier posts here on Clarke Owens’ literary arguments in Son of Yahweh for the Gospel of Mark’s focus on crucifixion being best explained in the context of the mass crucifixions during the Jewish War of 66-70 CE. Similarly, we have the biblical scholar Karel Hanhart’s thesis in The Open Tomb that the empty tomb scenario in the Gospel of Mark was developed from a haggadic midrash on Isaiah 22:16’s account of the destruction of the Temple. Another post addresses both Owens’ and Hanharts’ views.

The fundamental assumption of her interpretation of the significance of the parallels is the same as that of most biblical scholars, and that is that historical events of some kind foreshadow the characters, setting and narrative that have become largely mythologized in the canonical texts. My own view is that this common view itself is an assumption that needs to be tested and not assumed. (Such testing needs in part to be done through a deeper appreciation of the wider literature of the time.) I am not the only one who at times has wondered about certain overlaps between the persons and events in Josephus and those in the Gospels. Even names of certain Jewish rebel leaders overlap with names of leading disciples. The usual response is to brush aside such “coincidences” on the grounds that the names were very common. That might indeed be the appropriate response, but Einhorn does add enough more detail and context to make one pause before doing so again. Is it possible that the evangelists were in part inspired to write a parabolic narrative as a more godly foil to the mayhem of the years preceding the fall of Jerusalem? It is an interesting thesis and it would be an interesting exercise to test such an idea.

A new journey

I confess I still find it difficult to accept a strong one-to-one correspondence between Jesus, John the Baptist and “messianic” figures described by Josephus. I cannot deny certain overlapping events in relation to these figures (decapitation, wilderness and Jordan, prophetic expectations of the fall of Jerusalem associated with a Mount of Olive visit and an armed force dispersing them, and more). And Einhorn does make the interesting observation that if we do date the Jesus figure later so that his return from Egypt is not as an infant but has an adult (and Einhorn notes that there is some hint that Matthew 3:1 could be indicating an early view that John the Baptist was active in the wilderness “in those days” when Jesus returned from Egypt), then we do have some synchronicity with Jewish legends suggesting a mature Jesus came out of Egypt having learned magic there. So at first glance A Shift In Time does appear to offer in part an explanation for some other non-canonical accounts of Jesus. But then I wonder what we are to make of the evidence found in Paul’s letters about the nature of Jesus and how might that factor into these parallels — if they are real? The possibility of the influence of Josephus, or at least of events he recorded and that occurred a generation after the Gospel time-setting, certainly does raise interesting questions. I’d like to explore further possible explanations before settling on Lena Einhorn’s suggestions.

It is easy to dismiss Einhorn’s parallels as chance and therefore meaningless coincidences but emotive dismissal is not critical engagement and certainly not a demonstration that they ultimately fail to explain as much as Einhorn’s thesis would hope. A Shift In Time draws our attention to evidence that has often been overlooked and that potentially opens up a new way of understanding the origins of the Jesus story. Lena Einhorn presents the data in a way that ought to make us (re-)think what we think we know about the background to the Gospels and Acts.

 

32 Comments

  • MrHorse
    2016-05-19 00:53:01 UTC - 00:53 | Permalink

    The proposal that people and events in Josephus’s ‘War’ & ‘Antiquities’ were re-cast and set in an earlier time-period is interesting but, as War and Antiquities were not ‘published’ until much later than the people and the events they describe, such time-shifting, if indeed it did occur, would have happened later than the time-frames given in ‘War’ and ‘Antiquities’.

    It is also possible that people and events other than the ones Einhorn has mentioned have also transposed into the NT.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2016-05-22 22:14:35 UTC - 22:14 | Permalink

      Another possibility is that the events were known to the evangelists either from common knowledge among those who lived through the times or other sources.

  • Damon
    2016-05-19 05:46:57 UTC - 05:46 | Permalink

    Interesting stuff. And it’s by far not just Einhorn. For some time there’s been a buzz in the intellectual elite, that documented historical events in Gallilee seem very similar to the New Testament. An earlier book by another female scholar, Crossing Galilee, was widely criticised. But other approaches have generated considerable enthusiasm.

    Personally, I’d accept that material from as late as 70 to 115 AD, at least, could easily been inserted or influenced the early editing of the gospels.

    In effect, the Jesus story is continuous, backwards and forwards, with standard cultural tales of heroes, dying to save their country. As such, it would be easy to add, conflate with it, similar material from both earlier and later, similar heroes.

  • Pier Tulip
    2016-05-19 07:01:56 UTC - 07:01 | Permalink

    Lena Einhorn presented her hypothesis about the Egyptian in November 2012 to Biblical Literature Annual Meeting, Chicago.
    Recently she published the book in question.
    I have made the same assumption already in the first Italian edition of my KRST in 2011 and resubmit last year in the English version.
    In effect for me this argument is only circumstantial evidence and certainly not demostrable, and requires a theological system more complex interweaving elements of a mystery and initiatory religion in which this Egyptian had not only a messianic character.
    The fact, then, that he came from Egypt involves a much more complex discussion, in which Jewishness becomes absolutely a narrative device tending to put into question the very foundations of Judaism.

  • HoosierPoli
    2016-05-19 07:26:57 UTC - 07:26 | Permalink

    The question, I guess, is: Is Luke/Acts independent of Josephus or not? If the author(s) of Luke/Acts is simply cribbing from Josephus then the parallels between them aren’t particularly mysterious. We might simply assume that they were somewhat sloppy with the timelines involved.

    • MrHorse
      2016-05-19 08:07:17 UTC - 08:07 | Permalink

      Not necessarily ‘sloppy with the timelines’: maybe they deliberately chose to set the Jesus narrative in Judea/Galilee in the early 1st century – after Judaism had been decimated by the Flavians & Hadrian, thus when there was no local community to refute the ‘new history’.

    • Damon
      2016-05-19 12:21:02 UTC - 12:21 | Permalink

      So here’s my proposed reconstruction:

      Judaism would have been decimated, in chaos, after 70. Jerusalem, the heart of Judaism, had been burned to the ground. And at the time, it had been packed full of the most devout Jews, there for Passover.

      After this excision of the beating heart of Judaism, there would have been little solid first-hand information around, about recent history; beyond a few devastated survivors, and scattered and crazed oral, apocalyptic rumors. At this point, anyone trying to make sense of things would have, first, only a few crazy oral rumors of shattered survivors to work with.

      Later, as later compilers, editors, redactors came along, like Luke, to write an “orderly account” of things (Luke 1.1-3), there would be so few solid witness locally, that these compilers could write almost anything they wanted, without fear of contradiction. Though they might have found the testimony of surviving Jews, outside Jerusalem – like Josephus, in Galilee – to be somewhat useful. As a sort of crib to use; given a chronic lack of reliable eyewitnesses.

      So the gospels were created. Based on first, 1) scattered unreliable oral reports of defeated Jewish heroes. And a 2) later editorial attempt to historicise all that; to use Josephus and other more historical accounts, to try to put it all into a solid historical framework.

      An effort which, to be sure, required a great deal of stretching and straining, to make it all fit. In particular, the timeline was significantly toyed with, or mixed up.

      • Bob de Jong
        2016-05-19 14:13:21 UTC - 14:13 | Permalink

        The break-out of the second Jewish war, just a few decades later, shows that Judaism was not decimated or in chaos. many fled to neighboring countries. Of course, the fall of Jerusalem caused many deaths and suffering, but a lot more were left than “a few devastated survivors, and scattered and crazed oral, apocalyptic rumors”.

        • David Ashton
          2016-05-19 17:50:56 UTC - 17:50 | Permalink

          Bob de Jong – so also Shlomo Sand. There was also the Empire Diaspora.

      • MrHorse
        2016-05-20 04:59:54 UTC - 04:59 | Permalink

        Yes, “compilers could write almost anything they wanted”, and they may have done so well outside Galilee too. And well after 70 c.e. The ultimate decimation of Judaism in the region was after the Bar Kochba revolt.

        • Bob de Jong
          2016-05-20 20:02:27 UTC - 20:02 | Permalink

          We should not confound the fall of Jerusalem with the ‘decimation of Judaism”. Most Jews lived outside Jerusalem, and many continued to live in the area. There is abundant archaeological evidence to support the continued presence of Jews in Judea and Galilee (tombs, synagogues etc.).

          Evan after the Bar Kokhba revolt, many Jews remained there. And continued to resist foreign occupation of their land. In 351 CE, the Jewish population in Sepphoris, revolted against the rule of Constantius Gallus, brother-in-law of Emperor Constantius II.
          In 363, Julian II, the last pagan Roman Emperor, allowed the Jews to return to “holy Jerusalem which you have for many years longed to see rebuilt”. And the Jewish presence continued, e.g . the system of niqqud was created by the Masoretes of Tiberias in the second half of the first millennium AD in the Land of Israel.
          From the 19th century on, Jews -again – constituted the majority of the population of Jerusalem.

          And Judaism wasn’t ‘in chaos’ either. This is evidenced by the many famous and important texts that were written in the centuries following the fall of Jerusalem, such as the Mishnah,(completed shortly after 200 CE) and the Jerusalem Talmud.

        • MrHorse
          2016-05-21 11:20:42 UTC - 11:20 | Permalink

          Yes, I should have referred to 2nd-Temple Judaism, and not been seemed so absolute about Judaism being ‘decimated’.

          Yes, Jews were present in the region before and after the uprisings. In 66 ad, desecration of a synagogue in Caeseara Maritima Palestinae, the coastal city & port that Herod the Great had built, led to the disastrous Jewish revolt (& Caeseara Maritima Palestinae had been, in 26 a.d. the scene of a major act of civil disobedience to protest Pilate’s order to plant eagle standards on the Temple Mount of Jerusalem – ‘Antiquities of the Jews’ 17.3:1,2,3; ‘The Jewish War’ 2.9.3). Somewhat ironically, it became the provincial capital of the province of Judea after 70 a.d.

          Some of the books of the Ketuvim were written in the 2nd century.

          • Bob de Jong
            2016-05-21 20:21:26 UTC - 20:21 | Permalink

            Thanks for your clarification. As for any war, several causes can be held responsible; it was probably the sum of all causes that ignited the fighting.

            As Lena Einhorn points out, excessive taxation by the Romans was probably a key element. Sixty years of Roman taxation had meant that Jews had to pay money, which was spent in Italy and on the border. Judaea had become substantially poorer and many peasants had been forced first to mortgage and then to sell their land. Besides, in Jerusalem many people had become unemployed when he renovation of the temple was finished in 63. The peasants and artisans had a reason to fight, and they were willing to do so.

            There were also several incidents with a religious background, such as the confiscation of the Temple treasure by Gessius Florus, which escalated when the governor – instead of punishing the usurpers – had random passers-by arrested and crucified.

            However, religious tension alone would probably not have led to an all-out war, since the Roman governors and the Temple authorities had found practical solutions to deal with these problems.

            What led to the outbreak of the 1st Jewish was probably the combination of the contempt of the Romans for Jewish religious practices, and a class struggle between the impoverished population (on the hand) and the Romans & Jewish upper (priestly) classes.

          • MrHorse
            2016-05-22 11:59:51 UTC - 11:59 | Permalink

            Could the massacres by Florus be the basis for the ‘massacre of the innocents’?

  • Luke Burrage
    2016-05-19 07:29:13 UTC - 07:29 | Permalink

    I’ve not read this book, but I read her earlier paper on the same topic.

    I realized that it was the author of Luke that first shifted the time of Jesus to be earlier. He did so to stop people confusing Jesus with The Egyptian Prophet, a problem that even pops up in Acts. I’d suggest that once all the gospels were collected together into one volume the time frame was synchronized at that point. I think I’ve posted my longer reasoning on the matter here before though, so I won’t go into it again.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2016-05-22 22:20:43 UTC - 22:20 | Permalink

      Thanks, Luke. I’m going to have to have a closer look and think at your comment, now. Your earlier comment is here: http://vridar.org/2014/09/15/how-and-why-luke-changed-matthews-nativity-of-jesus-story/#comment-68246

      • Luke Burrage
        2016-05-22 22:29:42 UTC - 22:29 | Permalink

        Hope you can get something out of it! What I like about new theories like Lena Einhorn’s is their predictive and explanatory powers. If this work can bolster one side of the synoptic problem debate, making one of the “issues” disappear (why did Luke change Matthew’s nativity?), it means it is useful beyond just a fun idea to ponder between more important questions.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2016-05-23 03:29:36 UTC - 03:29 | Permalink

          Are you suggesting that both Mark and Matthew originally set their life of Jesus in the 50s?

          • Luke Burrage
            2016-05-23 05:14:56 UTC - 05:14 | Permalink

            It’s a possibility. At one point the story was set later, and then moved earlier. Or at least, at some point it was generally understood that Jesus’s life was later, and then another point when it was generally understood his life was later. Was that before anything was every written about Jesus or after? If after, who first made the change?

            I don’t remember Einhorn’s opinion of the exact timing of when the shift in time happened, but I’ve downloaded the full book now so I’ll read it over the next week.

  • David Ashton
    2016-05-19 10:06:51 UTC - 10:06 | Permalink

    The apparent links between extant Josephus and extant Luke-Acts are too numerous to be insignificant, but the balance of comparison suggests that the former preceded the latter. Could “Theophilus” could have been Josephus among several proffered candidates (I am too lazy to look into this myself)?

    On the revived theory that “our” JC might have been not (just) a religious myth but a hardcore revolutionary messiah (anything but what the silly old Christians imagine) as suggested by the Slavonic Josephus, there is a useful – if a bit dated – short, annotated critical survey by Ernest Bammel in “Jesus and the Politics of his Day” (CUP 1985).

  • Giuseppe
    2016-05-19 14:00:15 UTC - 14:00 | Permalink

    I wonder why Einhorn fails to mention the possibility of the strict identity between ”Paul” and Simon called Atomus, the Jewish anti-Torah friend of Felix (the Roman who did defeat the Egyptian!): in this way Price/Parvus and Maccoby/Eisenman/Atwill may support his theory in his weakest point: the enigma called Paul.

  • 2016-05-19 14:28:24 UTC - 14:28 | Permalink

    Nuskeptix interviewed Lena Einhorn, referred by Robert M. Price. She will also appear in a special bible geek hangout next month with John F. Felix, and perhaps Bob Price.
    A great short interview.

  • paxton marshall
    2016-05-19 14:28:45 UTC - 14:28 | Permalink

    Very interesting post. So does this mean the synoptic gospels were written later than Josephus? And a later Jesus would have been contemporary with Paul’s letters, yet Paul claims he was crucified before his ministry began.

    • MrHorse
      2016-05-20 04:52:39 UTC - 04:52 | Permalink

      I think it increases the likelihood that the synoptic gospels were written later than Josephus’s major works became available.

      The versions of Paul that we have (ie. the extant Pauline texts) could well be too (Paul may well have arisen out of a concurrent gnostic or docetic theology).

  • David Ashton
    2016-05-20 11:07:11 UTC - 11:07 | Permalink

    Some of the material in Matthew and Mark looks earlier than AD 70.

    • Zbykow
      2016-05-20 13:27:10 UTC - 13:27 | Permalink

      That’s expected, since the action is set in the 30s. The authors definitely wanted it to look that way.

  • John MacDonald
    2016-05-20 20:10:32 UTC - 20:10 | Permalink

    It’s a testament to how ambiguous the evidence is that we have so many different portraits of the historical Jesus (if the man ever lived) and Christian origins.

    • David Ashton
      2016-05-21 09:37:30 UTC - 09:37 | Permalink

      There are three different “portraits” in the canonical NT – the Synoptics, John & Paul.

      The variety of alternatives by “critics” depends on their picking and choosing whatever suits their angle, from Jesus the Aryan to Jesus the Zealot, via Jesus the Buddhist, Essene, Magician, Vegetation-Myth and Ufonaut, &c to the power of N squared.

      I’d give the Catholic journalist Charlotte Allen most credit for her witty survey of many such in “The Human Christ” (1998). Only sour-grape anti-Christian pedants will be annoyed by this handy little book, although even more mad stuff has appeared in the last couple of decades alongside serious scholarly work.

      Meanwhile, “Our Lord Himself” looks down on it all, and as usual says nowt.

  • John MacDonald
    2016-05-21 02:11:38 UTC - 02:11 | Permalink

    It was interesting to read the blurb by Robert M. Price on Lena Einhorn’s book. Price writes “Lena Einhorn shows that there is still gold in Josephus for New Testament researchers to mine. What a fascinating, striking hypothesis! In the manner described by Thomas Kuhn in The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, she makes a fresh start from the ‘anomalous data’ which stumped the conventional paradigm and makes it central to a bold new paradigm. The gauntlet is thrown!”

    This book must have been especially meaningful to Price, who himself drew out a striking act of imitation between Josephus and the Gospel of Matthew a few years ago. Comparing the two, Price wrote that:

    “The Nativity of Jesus:”

    On the whole Matthew seems to have borrowed the birth story of Jesus from Josephus’ retelling of the nativity of Moses. Whereas Exodus had Pharaoh institute the systematic murder of Hebrew infants simply to prevent a strong Hebrew fifth column in case of future invasion, Josephus makes the planned pogrom a weapon aimed right at Moses, who in Josephus becomes a promised messiah in his own right. Amram and Jochabed, expecting baby Moses, are alarmed. What should they do? Abort the pregnancy? God speaks in a dream to reassure them. “One of those sacred scribes, who are very sagacious in foretelling future events truly, told the king that about this time there would a child be borne to the Israelites, who, if he were reared, would bring the Egyptian dominion low, and would raise the Israelites; that he would excel all men in virtue, and obtain a glory that would be remembered through the ages. Which was so feared by the king that, according to this man’s opinion, he commanded that they should cast every male child into the river, and destroy it… A man, whose name was Amram, … was very uneasy at it, his wife being then with child, and he knew not what to do… Accordingly God had mercy on him, and was moved by his supplication. He stood by him in his sleep, and exhorted him not to despair of his future favours… ‘For that child, out of dread for whose nativity the Egyptians have doomed the Israelites’ children to destruction, shall be this child of thine… he shall deliver the Hebrew nation from the distress they are under from the Egyptians. His memory shall be famous whole the world lasts.’” (Antiquities, II, IX, 2-3). It is evident that Matthew has had merely to change a few names. Herod the Great takes the role of the baby-killing Pharaoh, and he is warned by his own scribes (along with the Magi) of the impending birth of a savior, whereupon he resolves to kill every child he has to in order to eliminate the child of promise. Joseph takes the place of Amram, though the precise cause of his unease is different. Mary takes the place of Jochabed. A dream from God steels Joseph, like Amram, in his resolve to go through with things.
    The rest of Matthew’s birth story is woven from a series of formulaic scripture quotations. He makes Isaiah 7:14 LXX refer to the miraculous virginal conception of Jesus. It is likely that he has in this case found a scripture passage to provide a pedigree for a widespread hagiographical mytheme, the divine paternity of the hero, which had already passed into the Christian tradition, unless of course this is the very door through which it passed. It is revealing that Matthew’s Magi learn from scribal exegesis of Micah 5:2 that the messiah must be born in Bethlehem. This is the same way Matthew “knew” Jesus was born there–it had to be! The flight of the Holy Family into Egypt comes equally from exegesis, this time of Hosea 11:1, which allows Matthew to draw a parallel between his character Joseph and the Genesis patriarch Joseph, who also went to Egypt. Matthew also seems here to want to foreshadow the death and resurrection of Jesus. Note that Isaiah 52:9-10 makes the exodus from Egypt into a historical replay of God’s primordial victory over the sea dragon Rahab, equating Egypt with Rahab. Matthew also knew that Jonah was swallowed by a sea monster at God’s behest, and he saw this as a prefiguration of Jesus’ descent into the tomb (Matthew 12:40). The flight into Egypt has the child Jesus already going down into Rahab, the belly of the sea beast.
    The closest Matthew can come, via punning exegesis, to providing a prooftext for Jesus having become known as “the Nazarene” would seem to be Judges 13:7, “The boy shall be a Nazirite to God from birth.” He knew Jesus must be born in Bethlehem yet was called “Jesus of Nazareth,” so he cobbled together a story whereby Jesus was born in Mary and Joseph’s home in Bethlehem, only to relocate in Nazareth (after Egypt) to avoid the wrath of Archelaus (Matthew 2:22-23). Luke, on the other hand, working with the same two assumptions, contrived to have Mary and Joseph live in Nazareth but to be in Bethlehem for the census when the time came for Jesus to be born. In both cases, exegesis has produced narrative.

  • Giuseppe
    2016-05-21 06:52:39 UTC - 06:52 | Permalink

    Why did Josephus label a seditious Jew as ‘The Egyptian’ ?

    But was he not also a Ioudaios?

    I suspect that Josephus did use the term as a slur, the irony being that the rebels were led by a Gentile (and even by an Egyptian : Egyptians of native ancestry were sharply distinguished from hellenized Alexandrians).

    A bit like when today some 11/9 conspiracy theorists say that Bin Laden (or the Caliph of ISIS) is an American agent in incognito (the real ”victims” being his same Muslim followers!).

    Curiously, Josephus reports an episode about Pilate (Antiquities 18, 55-62), regarding the victorious opposition (after three attempts of persuasion by Pilate) of the people of Jerusalem against the introduction of pagan insignia into the temple (an episode very similar to victorious rejection – after three attempts of persuasion by Pilate– of Jesus before the crowd in preference to Barabbas).

    In that case the people could perfectly recognize what is foreign to them (the symbols of pagan gods), while in the case of Egyptian, the crowd that followed him was not able to realize that was following a foreigner (an Egyptian!) impostor and not a pious Jew.

    Do you like the antithesis?

    This may be a further enigma resolved by Lena’s theory.

  • 2016-05-21 10:04:53 UTC - 10:04 | Permalink

    Neil wrote:
    “But then I wonder what we are to make of the evidence found in Paul’s letters about the nature of Jesus and how might that factor into these parallels — if they are real?”

    There is this possibility that we’re actually dealing with two Christs, even if there is one movement. First there is the Christ of Paul and others, the heavenly redeemer, then there is the Christ of the gospel writers, a figure mainly modelled on earlier figures, whether Einhorn’s later Jesus or on some earlier figure or just on literary figures. There seems to be no real similarity between Paul’s Jesus and Gospel-Jesus, anyway.

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