2007-03-29

The signs of the end in Josephus and Mark

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Josephus (War.6.5.3-4) lists 8 astounding signs sent by God to warn the Jews of their impending disaster:

  1. A star stood over the city like a sword, and a comet — remaining for a whole year. (Matthew, we know, also likes the idea of a star hanging over a particular spot on earth.)
  2. At a Feast of Unleavened Bread, at 3 am, a bright light, as bright as midday, appeared around the altar and sanctuary, lasting for an hour.
  3. During the same feast a cow brought for sacrifice gave birth to a lamb in the middle of the Temple courts.
  4. At midnight the East Gate of the Inner Sanctuary opened of its own accord. This solid bronze gate normally required 20 men to shut it, and it was fastened with iron bars secured by bolts.
  5. Shortly after the feast, before sunset, there appeared in the sky over the entire country chariots and regiments of soldiers racing through the clouds and surrounding the towns.
  6. At Pentecost the priests (who were performing the normal Inner Temple ritual at night) heard a violent movement and loud crash, then a loud cry of many voices: “Let us go hence!”
  7. Four years before Jerusalem’s war with Rome, Jesus the son of Ananias proclaimed doom for the city — especially at the feasts, and from the Temple. He spoke as one possessed for 7 and and a half years, “Woe to Jerusalem”, was beaten by the authorities, and was killed during the siege.
  8. A prophecy was found in their scriptures that promised that there would come from their country a king to rule the entire world.

If, as per my previous post, Mark knew at least one of these stories or knew Josephus’ account of it, then what of the other signs in this same passage? Was this one of Mark’s sources for his “Little Apocalypse” — Mark 13? It is widely thought that the Little Apocalypse circulated independently prior to the Gospel of Mark and that Mark adapted it for his Gospel, but if it can be shown that parts of it derive from Josephus then we must allow for the likelihood that it was original to Mark. To begin:

2. Jesus said to him, “Do you see these great buildings? There will not be one stone left upon another that will not be thrown down.”

Perhaps nothing should be read into Josephus linking the beginning of the tearing down of a tower with the complete end of Jerusalem:

for the Jews, by demolishing the tower of Antonia, had made their temple four-square, while at the same time they had it written in their sacred oracles, “That then should their city be taken, as well as their holy house, when once their temple should become four-square.”

But lets continue:

4. “Tell us, when will this happen, and what sign will there be when all these things are about to come to an end?”

Josephus’s 8 signs passage is preceded by a graphic account of the destruction of these buildings by fire. The 8 signs he describes are directly connected to his destruction of the Temple and “the end” of Jerusalem.

5. Jesus began to say to them, “See that no one deceives you.

Josephus prefaces his 8 signs with the people of Jerusalem being deceived:

A false prophet was the occasion of these people’s destruction, who had made a public proclamation in the city that very day, that God commanded them to get upon the temple, and that there they should receive miraculous signs of their deliverance. Now there was then a great number of false prophets suborned by the tyrants to impose on the people, who denounced this to them, that they should wait for deliverance from God; and this was in order to keep them from deserting, and that they might be buoyed up above fear and care by such hopes. Now a man that is in adversity does easily comply with such promises; for when such a seducer makes him believe that he shall be delivered from those miseries which oppress him, then it is that the patient is full of hopes of such his deliverance. Thus were the miserable people persuaded by these deceivers, and such as belied God himself; while they did not attend nor give credit to the signs that were so evident, and did so plainly foretell their future desolation, but, like men infatuated, without either eyes to see or minds to consider, did not regard the denunciations that God made to them.

Mark continues:

6. Many will come in my name saying, ‘I am he,’ and they will deceive many.

7. When you hear of wars and reports of wars do not be alarmed; such things must happen, but it will not yet be the end.

8. Nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom. There will be earthquakes from place to place and there will be famines. These are the beginnings of the labor pains.

Detering show that the events preceding the Bar Kochba war are the best illustration of what Mark is portraying here. (See the link in my previous post on 3 pointers to a late date for Mark.) Mark says that these events are not the sorrows to come but precede them. He continues:

9. “Watch out for yourselves. They will hand you over to the courts. You will be beaten in synagogues. You will be arraigned before governors and kings because of me, as a witness before them.

Christians who failed to support Bar Kochba as the Messiah were persecuted during that period, but Josephus singles out a Jesus who, as one of the signs of the impending end of the Temple and Jerusalem, suffered some specific elements of this persecution:

However, certain of the most eminent among the populace had great indignation at this dire cry of his, and took up the man, and gave him a great number of severe stripes; . . . . Hereupon our rulers, supposing, as the case proved to be, that this was a sort of divine fury in the man, brought him to the Roman procurator, where he was whipped till his bones were laid bare; . . . .

Mark does not just warn of persecution but pays attention to what to say in a situation like the one above:

11. When they lead you away and hand you over, do not worry beforehand about what you are to say. But say whatever will be given to you at that hour. For it will not be you who are speaking but the holy Spirit.

Compare the unabridged version of the Josephan passage above:

However, certain of the most eminent among the populace had great indignation at this dire cry of his, and took up the man, and gave him a great number of severe stripes; yet did not he either say any thing for himself, or any thing peculiar to those that chastised him, but still went on with the same words which he cried before. Hereupon our rulers, supposing, as the case proved to be, that this was a sort of divine fury in the man, brought him to the Roman procurator, where he was whipped till his bones were laid bare; yet he did not make any supplication for himself, nor shed any tears, but turning his voice to the most lamentable tone possible, at every stroke of the whip his answer was, “Woe, woe to Jerusalem!

Josephus says it was apparent that it was not the man Jesus here who was speaking but “a sort of divine fury” in him. He did not have anything to say to his persecutors other than what was prompted by this “divine fury”. Compare also Mark 13:9 above where Jesus says their words would be “a witness against them”. The Jesus son of Ananias words, “Woe, woe to Jerusalem!” are nothing if not a witness against his persecutors.

Mark 13:12

12. Brother will hand over brother to death, and the father his child; children will rise up against parents and have them put to death.

Mark has taken this from Micah 7:6

For the son dishonoureth the father, the daughter riseth up against her mother, the daughter in law against her mother in law; a man’s enemies are the men of his own house.

Detering makes a strong case that Mark’s “desolating abomination” was the construction of Hadrian’s Temple to Jupiter on the site of the original Jerusalem Temple:
14. “When you see the desolating abomination standing where he should not (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains

Josephus speaks throughout of the tragedy of his fellow Jews fleeing INTO the city for protection, and once there, being prevented from leaving, either by force or by persuasion of false prophets.

And now the Romans, upon the flight of the seditious into the city, and upon the burning of the holy house itself, and of all the buildings round about it, brought their ensigns to the temple and set them over against its eastern gate; and there did they offer sacrifices to them, and there did they make Titus imperator with the greatest acclamations of joy.

Many have taken that as the abomination of desolation Mark had in mind. Perhaps so, without any denial of Detering’s view of the later event being the more immediate event.

Much has been written of Mark’s ignorance of Galilean geography. Did he know Jerusalem and Judea any better? His account of Jesus’ single handedly stopping the sacrifices in the Temple and evicting the traders certainly suggests he envisages a relatively small (Roman?) temple — certainly one much smaller than was the Jerusalem structure. But he knows about mountains surrounding Jerusalem. Did he also find this detail in the section of Josephus?

And besides, many of those that were worn away by the famine, and their mouths almost closed, when they saw the fire of the holy house, they exerted their utmost strength, and brake out into groans and outcries again: Perea did also return the echo, as well as the mountains round about [the city,] and augmented the force of the entire noise.

Mark warns that the people of Judea must flee or die. Josephus wrote of none fleeing, except into the city, where they died en masse. At one point he even described heavenly armies surrounding the cities of Judea so that none could flee. A gate opened by itself, a chorus of voices shouted “Let us remove hence!” But none fled to the surrounding mountains.

21. If anyone says to you then, ‘Look, here is the Messiah! Look, there he is!’ do not believe it.

Detering shows this applies most aptly to Bar Kochba. But Mark continues:

22. False messiahs and false prophets will arise . . . .

Josephus also, like Mark, refers first to a single deceiver or prophet then to multiple deceivers:

A false prophet was the occasion of these people’s destruction, who had made a public proclamation in the city that very day, that God commanded them to get upon the temple, and that there they should receive miraculous signs of their deliverance. Now there was then a great number of false prophets suborned by the tyrants to impose on the people, who denounced this to them, that they should wait for deliverance from God; and this was in order to keep them from deserting, and that they might be buoyed up above fear and care by such hopes.

Mark said these false prophets would show great signs and wonders that would deceive the many, though the elect would not be misled:

22. . . . . . and will show [“give, present”] signs and wonders in order to mislead, if that were possible, the elect.

Josephus follows the false prophets with his list of miraculous signs that were “shown” or “given” to the people. They are the eight listed above. Josephus regularly makes a distinction between the many who let themselves be misled by these signs, and “those of understanding”, the elite classes, who are not misled:

Thus were the miserable people persuaded by these deceivers, and such as belied God himself; while they did not attend nor give credit to the signs that were so evident, and did so plainly foretell their future desolation, but, like men infatuated, without either eyes to see or minds to consider, did not regard the denunciations that God made to them.

This light seemed to be a good sign to the unskillful, but was so interpreted by the sacred scribes as to portend those events that followed immediately upon it.

This also appeared to the vulgar to be a very happy prodigy, as if God did thereby open them the gate of happiness. But the men of learning understood it, that the security of their holy house was dissolved of its own accord, and that the gate was opened for the advantage of their enemies. So these publicly declared that the signal foreshowed the desolation that was coming upon them.

But when it came to the prophecy of the world ruler to come out of their country, Josephus narrows “the elect” down only a very few — himself included of course — of those normally not deceived:

The Jews took this prediction to belong to themselves in particular, and many of the wise men were thereby deceived in their determination. Now this oracle certainly denoted the government of Vespasian, who was appointed emperor in Judea.

But these men interpreted some of these signals according to their own pleasure, and some of them they utterly despised, until their madness was demonstrated, both by the taking of their city and their own destruction.

Mark then draws on Isaiah for the image of the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem:

24. “But in those days after that tribulation the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light,
25. and the stars will be falling from the sky, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

Isaiah 13:10

For the stars of heaven and the constellations thereof shall not give their light: the sun shall be darkened in his going forth, and the moon shall not cause her light to shine.

The culmination of all these signs is the final appearance of the conquering Messiah to claim his kingdom:

26. And then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in the clouds’ with great power and glory

Josephus similarly concludes the signs of the end with the appearance in Judea of one to rule the world:

But now . . . . an ambiguous oracle . . . . was also found in their sacred writings, how, about that time, one from their country should become governor of the habitable earth. . . . . Now this oracle certainly denoted the government of Vespasian, who was appointed emperor in Judea.

I don’t know if I should give a “definite definitely” to the idea of Mark drawing on Josephus (inter alia) for his Little Apocalypse, but there definitely definitely do appear to be some possibilities.

Related Posts on Vridar

The baptism, the dove and the transfiguration . . ... Continuing from the previous post . . . . Two of three ways Greek gods visited earthlings Jean-Pierre Vernant in Mortals and Immortals: Collected Es...
Comparing the baptism of Jesus with Greek gods des... Descending Spirit and Descending Gods: A "Greek" Interpretation of the Spirit's "Descent as a Dove" in Mark 1:10 by Edward P. Dixon was published last...
Jesus’ Crucifixion As Symbol of Destruction ... From http://worryisuseless.files.wordpress.com/2011/11/yeshuaadvent.jpg This post advances another reason to think that the author of the Gospel of ...
How John Used Mark: Investigating the Methods of t... Part 1: Turning Mark Inside Out In a comment to Neil's post, Discovering the Sources for the First Gospel, 3 — Criteria, from way back in May of 2012...
The following two tabs change content below.

Neil Godfrey

Neil is the author of this post. To read more about Neil, see our About page.

Latest posts by Neil Godfrey (see all)

  • William Vest
    2007-10-17 08:17:51 GMT+0000 - 08:17 | Permalink

    How does the War of the Jews fit with Daniel?
    Does the timing with the kings and rulers that were predicted by the word to Daniel fit with Josephus’ writings?

  • 2007-10-17 20:20:20 GMT+0000 - 20:20 | Permalink

    William, I have not looked at Daniel and the whole prophecy issue for a long time now. Can you remind me what specific “timing with the kings and rulers . . . were predicted by the word to Daniel” that fit with Josephus’ writings?

    The last time I was reading Daniel and times and things was in relation to the editors of the OT using 164 c.e. as a starting date to set the time of creation exactly 4000 years earlier. (Thompson: The Mythic Past)

    I recall something about some dates working out to be approx around the first century c.e., but you’ll have to remind me of specifics.

    Thanks

  • Leave a Reply

    Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

    This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.