Interview with Reza Aslan (Not the Fox One)

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by Neil Godfrey

There is an interview with Reza Aslan where he really does address details of his argument in Zealot: The Life and Times of Jesus of Nazareth more than his “suspect motives as a Muslim” as we heard in the Fox interview. There is some discussion of his background, too, but not in the Fox manner.

Aslan is visiting Australia at the moment so that’s the occasion. I find his thesis problematic at several points but at least here he is given a chance to explain his argument and a little about his own background.

RN: Late Night Live, Was Jesus of Nazareth a Zealot?



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36 thoughts on “Interview with Reza Aslan (Not the Fox One)”

  1. Daniel Schwartz, in his book, Studies in the Jewish Background of Christianity, has a chapter called: Christian Study of the Zealots. In that chapter (pages 128-146) he goes over the academic study of the Zealots.

    “Where all this leaves us, however, is at the somehow unsatisfying position
    that Jewish rebels against Rome were really not primarily anti-Roman, nor
    were Jesus and his followers. But Jesus was executed by Rome’s
    representative in Judaea, and the rebels fought Rome. Was this really all a
    result of misunderstanding? Or of some unfortunate misdirection of hostility,
    by one side or the other, or by both? Somehow, it seems much more likely
    that, whatever the complexities, so many antagonists couldn’t have been
    wrong. Rather, current views on the topic seem only to be laboring under the
    burden of an understandable but overdone backlash to an overdone case, and
    it is possible that recognition of this will allow for correction.

    After I completed the preparation of this paper, it came to my attention that
    Hengel’s Die Zeloten (1976^) had just been published in English translation
    {The Zealots [1989]).** It may be assumed that this will occasion a renewed
    discussion of the issues involved, and, in the absence of Brandon to stir the
    pot, it may be that a redressing of the balance may be possible. However, you
    never know. It is much simpler to determine what extraneous events and
    scholarly fashions impacted upon debates of the past than how they will impact
    upon debates of the future.

    Nevertheless, I will conclude by hazarding a guess, and use it to put our
    question into a somewhat broader context. Until now, as perhaps is to be
    expected from someone like me, I have portrayed Christian interest in the
    Zealots as if this Christian study of a Jewish topic proceeded only from
    Christian attention to such Jewish affairs as the Holocaust, the State of Israel,
    and anti-Semitism. And there is much truth in that; Christian interest in the
    Zealots before World War II is virtually nil. However, there is a much broader
    background. Jews, the Holocaust, the State of Israel and anti-Semitism are all
    real, flesh and blood, in the world. But there has always been, and must always
    be, a tension in Christianity between the point of view — term it monastic,
    gnostic, docetic, or the like — which denies the world, and views it as a
    problem to be avoided as best as possible, and the opposite point of view
    which affirms the world as a positive arena for Christian life and action”.

    Someone to stir the pot? Perhaps that person is Reza Aslan…

    Methinks the ahistoricists/mythists should not give cold shoulder to Reza Aslan treatment of Jesus as a zealot – ie because there was no historical Jesus (of whatever variety is conceived by its proponents) therefore, there is nothing to gain from considering what Aslan is saying. If the gospel JC is a composite literary figure, then, how that figure has been created should be of interest, in and of itself. A zealot characteristic of that composite gospel JC can be discerned – hence needs to be addressed by the ahistoricists/mythicists.


    Reza Aslan: Jesus as a zealot

    1. ” If the gospel JC is a composite literary figure, then, how that figure has been created should be of interest, in and of itself. ”

      A very good point.

      1. It is often suggested by scholars that historical Jesus, if he existed at all, was simply a normal Jewish believer. Or perhaps a zealot. And that his idea of a coming “kingdom of God” or heaven would involve a truly Jewish king kicking out Greek and Roman occupiers. A Jewish king once again heading Jerusalem, as a truly Jewish state.

        It is also often suggested in scholarship that however, this model was inconvenient for the Roman rulers of Jerusalem. Who therefore metaphoricalized the kingdom in a way convenient to their own rule. Turning all that into an allegory of eschewing all physical material power and wealth. In order to serve an ideal Lord in the sky. While “obeying your masters” and governors here on earth. As Paul commanded everyone.

        Much of scholarship would accept that at least this side of Christianity, this rather Pauline Romanization or idealizing Platonization of Judaism, was an a-historical fiction. So that even “historicists” are at least half-mythicists.

        Was there ever a real, historical zealot Jesus out there? We know there had been many Jewish zealots, from Moses to Judas Maccabees, and on. Many more were executed by the Romans around 4 BC, in popular rebellions against Roman rule. Especially when the Romans put the Roman eagle on the temple. Possibly “Jesus” is a composite, or the popular distillation, of the perennial hope of a hero that would guide Jews to a Jewish kingdom.

        Why the name “Jesus”? It is not necessarily from a real person. The very word seems to mean savior of his people, or servant of God. There had been many “Jesuses” in the area. Including say Jesus, son of Sirach. Though Sirach’s message was rather more accommodating to Roman ideas it would seem.

  2. That para only gives a v. partial idea of core tension/s…summarizing as it is, FOR;
    1 many Christians do not accede to asceticism / denial of the world and some Jews do [too simple]
    2 antagonism is almost a function of the way Christianity developed…….”an inferiority complex” may characterize it with regard to Judaism. Families.
    Once 2 is recognised , pernicious conservative apologism Christian, which usually ignores its Judaic ancestry in any shape that might tend to proper acknowlegment of such ancestry or the still still anti semitic attitudes esp. protestant [ scholastic and popular, eg. Baptist preaching on end times ] can be more easily disavowed.
    Reapproachment is indefinite.

  3. This is an interesting viewpoint, the idea of Jesus being a zealot.

    So he’d really be Judas the Galilean.

    Been over this point a couple of times months ago, so I won’t rehash the point. However, anything that merges Judas the Galilean’s bio into anything to do with a “Jesus” still makes the idea of a living, breathing, historical Jesus a second-century fiction.

    And Acts 5 still looks an interesting read when anachronistically a rabbi who was dead when one of the men he talked about was active said that Judas the Galilean was a failure and his followers dispersed. Which in turn shows how late Acts was written. For that statement about Judas the Galilean to be there…it’d have to be well after 70a.d. and perhaps at least another 30-70 years after 70a.d., putting it well out of the reach of “Luke’s” expected lifespan.

    The evidence is at least there that people can come to the same conclusion as Reza Aslan independently of him.

    It’s simply a matter of recognizing there cannot be two Galilean rabbis starting the ONLY new stream of Judaism native to the first century at EXACTLY the same time.

    1. “This is an interesting viewpoint, the idea of Jesus being a zealot.
      So he’d really be Judas the Galilean.”

      Afraid not! There is no evidence that Judas the Galilean was anything but a figment of the Josephan mind. Josephus was as able to make stuff up as was any gospel writer. He has not been named a prophetic historian for nothing. Josephus wrote history alongside prophetic history – pseudo-history.

      “Josephus’ prophetic role as historian merits special attention…..In War 1.18-19 he declares that he will begin writing his history where the prophets ended theirs, so he is continuing this part of their prophetic function. According to Ap.1.29 the priests were custodians of the nation’s historical records, and in Ap.1.37 inspired prophets wrote that history. As a priest Josephus is a custodian of his people’s traditions, and by continuing that history in the Jewish War and subsequently by rewriting it in his Antiquities, he is a prophet. For Josephus prophets and historians preserve the past and predict the future, and he has picked up the mantle of creating prophetic writings. Perhaps, in his own mind he is the first since the canonical prophets to generate inspired historiography….”

      Dreams and Dream Reports in the Writing of Josephus, A Traditio-Historical Analysis:Robert Karl Gnuse
      “Been over this point a couple of times months ago, so I won’t rehash the point. However, anything that merges Judas the Galilean’s bio into anything to do with a “Jesus” still makes the idea of a living, breathing, historical Jesus a second-century fiction.”

      Dating aside, identifying a zealot characteristic of the gospel Jesus does nothing for supporting the premise that the gospel Jesus (of whatever variety) was a historical figure – Reza Aslan notwithstanding….;-) All Aslan has done is recognize the zealot characteristics of a literary composite Jesus figure. A characteristic that the ahistoricist/mythicists should be willing to consider. The gospel JC figure was not simply created out of OT interpretations, midrash and mythological elements – historical events (as Reza Aslan repeatedly says) were part and parcel of the lives of Jews. Politics and theology were never far apart. After all, Israel was a Theocracy!

      “The evidence is at least there that people can come to the same conclusion as Reza Aslan independently of him.”

      Of course – problem is that on an academic level, the idea that Jesus was a zealot was buried some time ago…. Aslan is simply opening up the grave and retrieving the skeleton…..and seeking to avoid the pitfalls of earlier attempts to view Jesus as a zealot. Yes, he has a major problem to overcome but using zealot with a small ‘z’ does not solve it:

      “Under Tiberius all was quiet”. Tactius: The Histories. Book V

      That means from 14 c.e. to around 36/37 c.e. all was quite re zealots in Judea. Years in which, it is assumed, the gospel story is set. But Luke 3:1 does not support such an assumption. Lysanias ruler of Abilene did not rule in the 15th year of Tiberius. Lysanias of Abilene ruled in 40 b.c.e. That is the historical time frame that is relevant to the Lukan writer. It’s not Lysanias that is the focus of the Lukan writer but the historical time frame that began in 40 b.c.e. That is the year in which Jerusalem was recaptured by the last Hasmonean Jewish King, Antigonus I. A Jewish King that was executed by the Rome, Marc Antony, in 37 b.c.e.

      Why play around with the figure of Judas the Galilean, a figure that cannot be historically verified, when the historical facts regarding the executed King of the Jews is plainly in view?

      No, of course not, the gospel Jesus figure is not Antigonus. That does not rule out the possibility that the gospel writers have used the history of Antigonus as a ‘model’ for the zealot/revolutionary element of their composite Jesus figure. And if this is so, it does mean that the ahistoricists/mythicists need to put their Pauline celestial Christ figure aside for a while and get their hands ‘dirty’ with the politics that motivated the gospel writers. The gospel story is a theological reflection – not upon some cosmic/celestial Christ figure – but upon Jewish history. That is the basis, the foundation upon which everything else follows. After all, prophecy is useless without history; Pauline imagination is useless without relevance for living on terra-firma. It’s not escapism but embracing this ‘mortal coil’ that has potential for upliftment. 😉

      1. You underestimate the accuracy or usefulness of Josephus. Anyone who reads him can see a lot more logic and discipline in his writing than in most contemporaries.

        To be sure, Josephus is often questioned in the context of postmodern hypercriticism. Likely though he is about the most accurate early source that we have. He was Roman-trained. And his style seems quite objective. And his existence can be cross-referenced with Roman sources.

        No doubt Josephus reported a few myths to be sure. Some say he reported the notion of a Jesus regarded as a Christ. However he did not specify that this popular notion of a Jesus Christ was accurate. Only that some thought of him that way. Here he does not turn myth into history therefore.

        1. Wentham wrote:

          “You underestimate the accuracy or usefulness of Josephus.”

          Would you care to get specific on this statement? In what way did I “underestimate the accuracy or usefulness of Josephus”?

          1. Your statement: ” Josephus was as able to make stuff up as was any gospel writer. He has not been named a prophetic historian for nothing. Josephus wrote history alongside prophetic history – pseudo-history.”

            This is today a popular position. But it contrasts with some literature on Josephus. Including apparently some corroborating the testimony from Josephus, in his own time.

            Consider at random, a 2006 summary on Josephus: 1) ” Jewish antiquities by F Josephus – 2006 – books.google.com… of accuracy in Josephus’ accounts ofboth sites (Caesarea-AJ 15.331-341; Masada – BJ
            7.252-406), although that may just mean he was good at … On the whole, the results of such analysis have tended to identify Josephus as a reasonably careful and accurate historian”

            2) The Sources of Josephus’«Antiquities», Book 19
            LH Feldman – Latomus, 1962 – JSTOR
            … 1. 51-52, Vita 361-366), moreover, that Josephus presented a copy of the Jewish War to Agrippa II, and that after congratulating Josephus on the accuracy of that work, Agrippa promised that he would inform the historian orally of much that was not generally known. …

            These are just two sources on the accuracy of Josephus taken at random. If you want more, a simple literature search will turn up more.

            Today it is fashionable to put down Josephus. However, he remains perhaps the most valuable non-biblical source we have from his time.

            1. Wentham

              There is nothing in what you wrote above that supports your earlier statement that I “underestimate the accuracy or usefulness of Josephus”. You have not been able to show that what I wrote above re the Josephan figure of Judas the Galilean is wrong. i.e. you have not been able to demonstrate that this Josephan figure was a historical figure.

              One has to specific – one can’t give Josephus a blank check. Yes, of course there are accounts in Josephus that can be historically verified. There are other accounts in Josephus that cannot be historically verified.

              Yes, of course Josephus is valuable – for the stuff he made up as well as his historical data. I certainly don’t put Josephus ‘down’. On the contrary I accept that writer for what he was – a writer wearing two hats – that of historian and that of prophetic historian.

              In regard to Josephus as a prophetic historian, I already quoted from: Dreams and Dream Reports in the Writing of Josephus, A Traditio-Historical Analysis:Robert Karl Gnuse. Below is another quote from an academic book.
              Prophetic Figures in Late Second Temple Jewish Palestine: The Evidence from Josephus: Rebecca Gray

              “One question remains: how much of this self-portrait is true? That is, how much of Josephus’ portrayal of himself as a prophet reflects what he actually said and did and thought at the time of the events he is depicting, and how much of it is a result of later reflection and literary elaboration?

              This is, of course, an extraordinarily difficult question to answer. There is no denying that the picture we now possess of Josephus as a prophet has been refined and developed in various ways. For example, the ideas that he claims first came to him in a moment of prophetic revelation at Jotapata – that God was punishing the Jews for their sins and that fortune had gone over to the Romans – have become major interpretive themes in the War as a whole. Josephus also sometimes reinforces the prophetic claims that he makes for himself by subtle changes in his presentation of the ancient prophets. And it is probable that, with the passage of time, Josephus’ image of himself as a prophet became clearer in his own mind.”

              1. If I may drop in a comment here . . . .

                I think we have good grounds for believing that Josephus was drawing upon his knowledge of real persons and events to deliver his “prophetic” or theological message/”history”. We can’t always be sure if some persons or incidents are manufactured in someone’s mind. But we can use certain tests. If a narrative has clear affinities with other fictional material and serves an evident literary/theological function in Josephus then we are entitled to doubt the historicity of his report.

                The reasons for accepting Judas the Galilean as historical are stronger than the reasons to doubt, at least until we find that Josephus used a fictional source for this character.

                That does not mean that the story we read in Josephus is an accurate representation of “what really happened”. Ancient historians were primarily interested in writing morality tales and gripping dramatic scenarios, and Josephus, like Herodotus and the author of Genesis-2 Kings, was also writing a theological (prophetic) message.

              2. We might question just how much Josephus really thought of himself as Jewish, or as a prophet. Keep in mind that Josephus originally defended Judaism in Galilee. But on being defeated – he began working for the Romans. Born Joseph ben Matityaho (cf. “Matthew”), he even changed his name to a Latin, Roman name: “Titus Flavius Josephus.”

                When dealing with writings by Jews of this era we need to keep in mind that though many Jews claimed total loyalty to traditional Judaism, there were hundreds of thousands of “Hellenistic Jews.” Who were partially Jewish, but also heavily influenced by Greek and Roman civilization.

                Jerusalem had been conquered by Alex the Great around 300 BC. Then it was taken over by Rome around 63 BC. Alexandria Egypt especially had a very very large community of very Hellenized Jews. While Jerusalem itself was run by a Roman governor, Pontius Pilate.

                Except for brief periods like the Maccabees’ revolt, the local Hebrew leader was almost inevitably a collaborator with Roman rule, and Roman culture. Though Josephus himself might at times claim to be fully Jewish therefore, or to be a prophet, the sincerity of that claim is indeed suspect.

                In fact not just his history but also the style of his writing, clearly seems very, very Greco-Roman, and rational overall. Not as religious or “prophetic” as all that.

      1. Neil: “Did I confuse John with you re the interest in Judas the Galilean as the founding inspiration for the Jesus figure?”

        Not sure what your referring to here Neil…I made no mention of a John and it was another poster that brought up Judas the Galilean…

        I have simply pointed out that there is no evidence that the Josephan figure of Judas the Galilean was a historical figure. Which is basically to say that, as with the gospel writers creating the literary figure of JC – so, likewise, the Josephan writer can create literary figures. Is that not part and parcel of prophetic writing – mix up historical figures with literary figures; Moses, Abraham etc. Josephus does tell us he is doing:

        “for many Jews before me have accurately written about our ancestors, and some Greeks have also done so, translating them into their own tongue without serious error. I shall begin my work at the point where these writers and our prophets come to an end.”

        Yes, one can look for parallels between the Judas the Galilean story and that of the zealot element of the gospel JC. But all one is then doing is comparing one literary figure with another literary figure – both literary figures being created to reflect elements of Hasmonean history – thus parallels or reflections are par for the course….;-)

        Much more beneficial, for seeking early christian origins, is to go straight to the source of both literary figures – Hasmonean history; Hasmonean history as far as it can be known.

  4. Gnuse’s views on Josephus are interesting, but probably just his own opinion.

    In the meatime, Josephus was still the best record we had of those times, even though I’d have to wonder about the Christian Hegesippus’ own twist on the Josephus theme.

    However, we have four known major streams of Judaism in the first century. Only one is native to the first century, the zealot movement. They have a known leader and he is reported by Josephus four or five times. He is known to be around the Gaulonitis (Golan)/Galilee region. Basically a Galilean rabbi. His stream is, to Josephus’ knowledge, the ONLY one known to have been founded at that particular moment of time, with Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes known to have originated hundreds of years earlier.

    I’m not debating that the MYTHICAL Jesus, the God/Angel version, was first. In fact, if we think of the name Izu Chrestos, we’re talking totally fictional/mythical/allegorical…before we even have a birth-narrative or even a human back-story.

    But if proto-Orthodox/proto-Catholic literalists want to invent a backstory…well…swipe a few details off someone else’s bio here and there…

    …so all I’ve suggested is that Judas the Galilean was one of the people the composite backstory was swiped from.

    NOT that he was Jesus.

    Because I’m still looking at a development that might have been more originating with Essenes or Samaritans and/or Alexandrians which became Gnosticism and which was STILL prior to anything proto-Catholic/proto-Orthodox.

    The myth looks to have come before a human backstory.

    So I find Acts 5 quite an ironical little notation in all this.

    And I find Acts a late writing too late to have been written by anyone named Luke…just written by someone who’d been reading Josephus and picked one item about Judas the Galilean direct from a section of Josephus.

    1. George

      If one wants to understand how early christianity came about; if one wants a historical connection for the gospel Jesus story, ie. that the gospel writers did not simply draw the story out of their imagination; that the gospel story has some relevance for this world, then one can’t start from anything but actual Jewish history. History that can be verified to have happened. You can’t do that with the Josephan figure of Judas the Galilean. Outside of the NT and Josephus there is no evidence for such a figure.

      Its often said, in connection with the gospel story, that it contains anachronisms, ie something misplaced, out of place, in a specific context. While it may well be that zealots were active in 6 c.e. re a tax issue, it does not follow that there was a Judas the Galilean at that time. Why? Because of the 6 c.e. dating and the fact that this year is about 70 years from the historical events of 63 b.c.e.

      What happened in 63 b.c.e. From Wikipedia:

      Aristobulus and his sons Alexander and Antigonus were captured in 63 BC. Marc Antony had been commander of the cavalry under Gabinius, consul of the Roman province of Syria. Marc Antony was the man who scaled Aristobulus’ fortification and subdued his forces with several men. This is the point that Aristobulus II and his son were taken prisoner. However, Aristobulus II escaped in 57 BC.

      Aristobulus was on his way to Judaea with his son Alexander, in 49 BC when “he was taken off by poison given him by those of Pompey’s party”. His son Alexander was beheaded by the Roman commander Scipio at Antioch.

      His son Antigonus led a rebellion against Rome, with help from the Parthians, and became king and high priest in 40 BC, but was defeated and killed by the Romans in 37 BC.


      Aristobulus and his two sons, Alexander and Antigonus, are the historical background to the Josephan story of Judas the Galilean and his two sons, James and Simon. Josephus has simply replayed the historical tape of 63 b.c.e. 70 years later.

      And if this is so, and I think it is so, then Josephus is actually stating just who those zealots are: The zealots are not simply anti-Roman and anti-Herodian – the zealots are pro-Hasmoneans – the Josephan ‘forth sect’. And, if the literary, composite, gospel figure of Jesus has zealot characteristics – then Hasmonean/Jewish history was important, was fundamental, to the writers of that gospel story.

      Methinks its best when reading Josephus to be aware of his dating system. Where Josephus places his stories can be as relevant as the story itself. A prophetic historian will use a prophetic template when it’s suits his historical reconstructions. And where does Josephus place the death of the sons of Judas the Galilean – 40 years later in 46 c.e. 😉

  5. The general gist is, I tend to think there would have been more reality to Judas the Galilean than there was to Jesus of Nazareth.

    Jesus of Nazareth had to be invented.

    Because Judas the Galilean created the only new major stream of Judaism in the first century and he was still, especially according to Acts 5, a failure.

    Ipso facto, Christianity as founded by a Galilean Rabbi only that century cannot exist at the same time as Judas the Galilean and zealotry can’t be Christianity.

    Unfortunately, we still have to look more to Gnostics as the first Christians/Chrestians. Hard to have to admit it.

    1. George

      The reality behind the Josephan story of Judas the Galilean is the historical figure of Aristobulus II and his two sons Alexander and Antigonus II. See above post.

      If you want to contest this – then lets have your evidence that the Josephan figure of Judas the Galilean was a historical figure. Quoting Josephus does not cut it. A source does not validate itself. As for Acts:

      ‘The Mystery of Acts’ by Richard Pervo

      Page 156

      Deriving history from Acts is an enterprise fraught with difficulty. I firmly maintain that Luke the Historian has very little to wear and have striven to demonstrate the point, but I shall not close without acknowledging my admiration (and even envy) for the splendid outfit worn by Luke the author. In that costume lurk mysteries galore, and because of it the story of Christian origins is more mysterious than ever.

    1. That cannot help but register with anyone who knows the Gospels and reads Josephus for the first time. But we are quickly assured that these were all very common names so we should not think anything of it. And in the absence of a cogent alternative explanation we let it slide. But then we read of the Jesus who was the “mad prophet” during the siege, and then the way the siege became almost synonymous with crucifixions. So the coincidence never quite fades completely from view.

      1. Curious, isn’t it. It seems, too, that based on Acts 5:37, “Luke” at least was familiar with the very passage in Josephus that mentions James and Simon.

    2. It’s frustrating, though, that so many (real or fictional) persons of that era in Palestine had the same given names as each other. Judas, James, Simon … these are all very common, right?

      Two points come to mind about this:

      a) Shouldn’t we, then, be extra interested when two characters in the New Testament share a name that isn’t very common? That seems to be the case with Cephas and Caiaphas.

      b) Among the very popular names of that day and age: Judas, Simon, James, John, Joseph, Jesus. But isn’t it striking that the New Testament mentions many Judases, several Simons, several Jameses, several Johns, some Josephs, and very few different Jesuses?

      1. This very stuff might even be the real origin of many Christian myths.

        Regarding “Jesus” though? A published survey of Jewish names in the Jerusalem tombs, as I recall, cited by James Tabor, suggested that about 6% of Jewish males were named Jesus in about this timeframe.

        This becomes especially interesting when we are told in Josephus’ Antiquities that in the Syrian/Roman aid of Roman-collaborator Archelaus’ administration 4 BC, 2,000 rebellious Jews were crucified. If the name “Jesus” amounted to 6%, then 120 Jesuses were crucified 4 BC (Josephus Antiquities Vol. 7? Sec. 32: http://virtualreligion.net/iho/uprising.html.

        Possibly this played a major part in the origin of the tales of an heroic crucified Jesus. Since here we have 120 of them. Dying to save their country from foreign (Roman) occupiers.

        It may be therefore that legends of Jesus had an historic root. But it was a root that was not at all what has been claimed.

        From this perspective the origin of Christianity appears to be not just from myth, but also ancient but garbled history. Perhaps when accounts of the “Lord” were gathered from the people, in any oral history, their understandings were confused.

        Today however we can begin to see whatever facts there were behind all the confused legends that made up the NT.

        1. I always have to wonder about how the name Jesus (Joshua/Yeshua) basically means “deliverer” or “rescuer” or “savior”. It really seems quite a bit strange that the one guy who started THE religious movement around the Messiah that stuck was actually named “Savior”, doesn’t it?

          (The writer of Matthew seemed to have the same problem, since he goes to the trouble of including an origin for the name Jesus. Mark didn’t have an issue with it, but it apparently bothered Matthew. This is one of those things that has niggled at me for years, ever since I found out that Jesus and Joshua were the same name and that Joshua basically meant “savior”. It’s no problem if you’re a believer, but if you’re looking for history it’s an odd coincidence.)

          1. Right. Possibly a coincidence but also potentially suggestive of a literary origin. The latter certainly fits in with Parvus and Widowfield’s speculative (unattested) hypothesis on the original Passion narrative in the Ascension of Isaiah.

      2. a) Shouldn’t we, then, be extra interested when two characters in the New Testament share a name that isn’t very common? That seems to be the case with Cephas and Caiaphas.

        I once wondered if Peter and Cephas were the same person by the way Paul interchanges the names in Galatians. I posted the question on Richard Carrier’s blog and he said that both names were rare so it would be unlikely that both names were not just different languages for the same person. Ehrman gave the same answer in one of his books, too. I made an offhand remark that Cephas and Caiaphas could be the same person, then tried to disprove it but everything I learned reinforced the idea.

        Both names mean “rock”. Paul describes Cephas, James, and John as “pillars” of the Jerusalem community. Everything Paul says about Jesus can be found in the Old Testament, he claims his revelations come from the scriptures, he doesn’t think he knows less than the other apostles, and he uses the same word for “appeared to” for Cephas, James, the Twelve, and the five undred that he uses for himself, as if he doesn’t think their “appeared to” was any different than his own readings in scripture. If Cephas was the first to “discover” Jesus in the scriptures, he was certainly not an illiterate fisherman.

          1. Or I’d add: similar names probably caused much of the confusion of many different myths, many different historical figures, into one “Jesus” tale. There were many “Jesuses” and “Joshuas” for example. So it was easy for the folks to get the mistaken idea that they were the same, single person. (See also “Judas,” “Matthew,” “Simon,” and so forth).

            Consider especially the moment when churches went around looking for local oral traditions of “The Lord.” Here the ambiguity of the term “The Lord,” the many legends about various different “Lords,” probably caused conflation/accretion of many different lords, into one.

            It is sometimes claimed that the notion that the biblical Jesus was a “composite,” would be unlikely. Since no one could have so cleverly interwoven so many different traditions and persons, into one. However, 1) many Greco-Roman writers were capable of that. While 2) popular confusions, conflations, would have done that fairly naturally. When asked about the great Jewish “Lord,” everyone had his own local past Lord to speak about. Most could not distinguish one from the other.

          2. Neil,

            By the way, I’ve only taken a quick look at that article. Do you know anything about A.A.M. van der Hoeven? Is he someone that you take seriously?

            1. No, I only pointed to it as another instance where there is an argument presented for identifying Caiaphas and Cephas. No other reason. No endorsement.

              I wonder if there is significance in Mark not using the name Caiaphas while John uses it often — given the so many other inverted ties between the two gospels.

  6. I have linked to tables showing Bauckham’s list of occurrences of names and their frequencies at http://www.vridar.org/2007/01/28/bauckhams-jesus-and-the-eyewitnesses-chapter-4-tables/

    What adds to the curiosity in the case of the Gospel of Mark is the evidently symbolic function of several of the names, and their repetitions for various persons in comparable situations, the theologically suspicious linking of Greek and Jewish names in the one family (e.g. the three Simons; the meaning of Jairus, Barabbas, Simon and Andrew . . .)

  7. The word “Cephas” is often read to mean “head” or boulder. It was said by some Catholics to refer to Peter as the Head of the early church. (See “Peter” or “Petre,” also meaning rock? See also biblical references to Peter as a “rock,” and to other leaders as cornerstones to the church).

    Protestants fought this linkage. But it remains viable.

  8. I tend to work this as a straight detective exercise…

    One thing about Judas the Galilean is…he got half a dozen mentions in Josephus…but I’m not really going to consider him Jesus. I have to consider him a failed candidate as any sort of messianic claimant anyway. Worse…with the later proto-Orthodoxy, his name was effectively rendered mud if we consider Judas Iscariot a propaganda device to further negate the influence of the zealots and their founder.

    Straight detective work shows that as Judas founded the zealots, there was NO “historical” or birth-narrative Jesus in the first century. Only ONE of four known factions of Judaism started specifically in the 1st century…Christianity as we’ve been told it and the Zealots cannot coexist at the same time, then. Because the zealots had the only Galilean rabbi founding that one single NEW stream of Judaism that century.

    But…sometime in the 2nd century, someone reading Josephus might have borrowed bits and pieces of Judas the Galilean’s biography to make up the “historical” Jesus. Then there’s Hegesipus, around 147a.d. using a variant of Jewish Wars as a basis for a document that creates a story of a Jerusalem church…and an apostolic list.

    But…there’s still Simon Magus to account for, the only “Gnostic”/heretic to himself claim his own mother was a virgin, who is also recorded by early church fathers as being considered the Father outside Judea, but the Son inside Judea. Since the Gnostics also incorporated the concept of Eight/Ogdoad into their idea of Jesus, I have to factor in that the Hebrew word for Eight is “Shmone” which is too close to the name Simon to be coincidental. Here again we have some factors that could be incorporated into a bio for a “historical” Jesus.

    Acts cannot be written that close to the first century, because Acts 5 is a clear swipe from a section of Josephus, even following Josephus’ particular mention in that section of Theudas before Judas. What’s known about the Bar Kochba revolt shows zealots were still around and their opinion to be considered…so the bit in Acts 5 about Judas’ followers being scattered can’t have happened before 135 a.d.

    Acts wasn’t in the Marcionite original New Testament, either.

    Then there’s Polycarp. Should I call him Peregrinus Proteas? Once upon a time I used to think he was the sane one and Rome where all the changes occurred, but after looking at what was written about Peregrinus and considering it a hostile witness independent look at Polycarp (and even thinking Ignatius was just Polycarp/Peregrinus in an earlier phase) well, there went ANY thoughts that there was REALLY a disciple of Jesus named John.

    I tie Polycarp’s hatred of Marcion to the fact he might have been a rebel to the authority of Marcion/those of Mark/Alexandrian original church. Florinus being the better student of “Polycarp” than Irenaeus (from Irenaeus’ own testimony) also tells us “Polycarp” was effectively something similar to a Valentinian.

    I also find NOW that I’d have to consider the whole Gospel of John Gnostic…and I have to keep looking at John 8 in particular as giving us a HUGE clue that the “Jesus” in that was actually SIMON…because John 8 clearly shows “Jesus” NOT countering the accusation of being Samaritan.

    Other clues of Simon? “St.” Stephen. In Acts, he’s effectively giving an OT account that claims that Shechem was the place where Sarah was buried by Abraham, as opposed to Hebron. That ONLY can be if Stephen was going by a Samaritan view of things. The Samaritans DID think Sarah was buried at Shechem.

    “Historical” Jesus as a hodgepodge of combining bios of Judas the Galilean and Simon. But NOT the FIRST Jesus, because the first was really an allegory. The Gnostics really do seem to come FIRST, long before anything even remotely proto-Orthodox/proto-Catholic.

    An angel/God Jesus. One connected to the burning bush.

    The Logos. Connected to Plato’s Timeaus. Do I need to remind anyone Plato had a Son of God principle somewhere?

    Blurred together.

    And the only thing the rabbis were fighting just before the Bar Kochba revolt was a “two powers in Heaven concept.

    So what does that render the SECOND New testament after Irenaeus?

    A lot of fantasy.

    Everything we consider the known story of a “historical” Jesus really comes more from Irenaeus’ time.

    Everyone in the early second century was writing fantasy/allegory/false history.

    They were the comic industry of their day and they were writing that time’s equivalent of Superman.

    The lead-up to this view was 27 years of solid reading and working out, but NOT making the conclusion. The conclusion was only reached the past year and a half, taking a good hard look at whether Jesus could be independently-verified. And the answer to that is he can’t be.

    The proto-Orthodox don’t seem to do a great job of really tracing their own development…and they give better “hostile witness” testimony to their rivals the Gnostics, even taking it right back to the Simon/Shmone. Marcion or those of Mark still wrote the first New Testament with only one Gospel and ten letters of a Gnostic Paul…who may have really been Mark. Gnostic Alexandria’s church was founded by this Mark/Paul and was still very Gnostic right up to the late-2nd century. Whether Mark is in any way Simon is something still for me to look at…

    I’ll still go for an Essene/Alexandria/Samaritan axis as where a large part of this Jesus allegory started. I MAY factor the Judas the Galilean angle as something remotely/tangentally tied to an Ebionite/Jewish “Christian” faction in opposition to the Essene/Alexandrian/Samaritan axis.

    I spent most of the past 28 years still TRYING to hold on to the thought of a real Jesus in some way, till the last year and a half.

    Small wonder I think the Jews have it way easier NOT even having to worry about a “Jesus,” because it really makes belief in God SO much more simpler.

    Believing in ANY form of Jesus takes too many mental backflips.

    “You can believe a man can fly.” “You can believe a man can walk on water.”


  9. For me there seem to be not one or two, but dozens of cultural traditions that finally create “Jesus,” by accretion, conflation. You have outlined one major contributing tradition though: Judas the Galilean.

    For me that is just one piece in a 100-piece puzzle, though. There is a very large, general tradition of “Zealotry” in Judaism. Which includes tales of Judas the G – among dozens of other zealots.

    For that matter, there is a general notion of a Jewish god or “Lord” returning to at last defeat Israel’s enemies, and establish a triumphant Kingdom at last.

    For me, these two general traditions among many others, created the vivid climate of expectation, that would have caused many Jews to seize on any slight provocation. To proclaim that this or that person – or ideal image – was achieving the promised kingdom at last.

    “Superman” is a good analogy.

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