Daily Archives: 2018-11-29 20:31:35 UTC

Did the Roman Emperors Use Josephus to Help Pacify the Jews?

The Caesar’s Messiah myth proponents appear to involve Josephus in some sort of conspiracy to pacify the Jews. Their primary method, according to their view, is that Josephus was involved in the creation of the Christian religion as a kind of pacifist-messiah cult to replace their traditional supposedly militaristic messiah cult said to be found in their Scriptures.

I recently had a difference of opinion with Joseph Atwill, author of Caesar’s Messiah, over whether Josephus’s history of the Jewish War was an “official” history. I had written that it was not an “official” history in the sense that it was commissioned or ordered to be written and vetted by the emperor. (The claim I was responding to was that “Josephus was employed to write the official history” and that is quite simply incorrect.) Joseph Atwill was nevertheless right to correct me insofar as I should have added that the emperor Titus, Vespasian’s son, at least did like Josephus’s history and ordered it published, at least according to Josephus’s own account. In his Life or autobiography Josephus boasted about his history of the Jewish War:

Now the emperor Titus was so desirous that the knowledge of these affairs should be taken from these books alone, that he subscribed his own hand to them, and ordered that they should be published; and for king Agrippa, he wrote me sixty-two letters, and attested to the truth of what I had therein delivered…

Why would Titus have done that if the Caesar’s Messiah theory of Atwill is correct and that history of the war apparently exposed the “truth” behind the gospels, that Jesus was a pacifist foil to Titus the conqueror?

Yet there were many other historians writing about that war at the time and Josephus compares his work with theirs:

Yet persons with no first-hand knowledge, accepting baseless and inconsistent stories on hearsay, have written garbled accounts of it; while those of eyewitnesses have been falsified either to flatter the Romans or to vilify the Jews, eulogy or abuse being substituted for factual record. . . .

Yet the writers I have in mind claim to be writing history, though beside getting all their facts wrong they seem to me to miss their target altogether. For they wish to establish the greatness of the Romans while all the time disparaging and deriding the actions of the Jews. But I do not see how men can prove themselves great by overcoming feeble opponents! Again they are not impressed by the length of the war, the vastness of the Roman forces which endured such hardships, and the genius of their commanders, whose strenuous endeavours before Jerusalem will bring them little glory if the difficulties they overcame are belittled.

However it is not my intention to counter the champions of the Romans by exaggerating the heroism of my own countrymen: I will state the facts accurately and impartially.

Josephus is telling readers what they would have expected to hear about other historians of the time, that they wrote flattering propaganda extolling the power and all-round superiority of the Romans while deriding the weakness and ineptness of their enemies, the Jews. Josephus, on the other hand, did point out certain failings of the Roman soldiers and the courage of his own countrymen. His own Judaeans, he writes, gave the Romans their money’s worth in order to win their victory.

The question must be asked, then, why did Titus, according to Josephus, prefer his work rather than one of the many other historians of the day? Why would Titus have ordered more widely disseminated a work that did not ostensibly flatter the Romans or denigrate the Jews?

I think Steve Mason in his study of the Jewish war gives a cogent answer to that question:

Why, then, might Titus have promoted Josephus’ work?

Titus was reportedly a man of the arts and letters (Suetonius, Tit. 3.2). Pliny’s dedication of his Natural History declares Titus an excellent judge of literature, with unmatched ability in oratory, letters, and poetic composition.226 Granted Pliny’s hyperbole, such interests might suffice to explain some level of support for his protege turned author Josephus. Titus recognized quality when he saw it, and might have preferred Josephus’ obviously knowledgeable account to the thin agitprop of the Flavianist hacks.227

Second, the obvious independence of Josephus’ War could have been useful. After all, Christians would exploit Josephus’ work precisely because it was so clearly Judaean that it could not be suspected of bias toward them (Chapter 1).

Third, after the war it was in the rulers’ interest to rehabilitate Judaeans, the dominant and traditionally stabilizing ethnos of southern Syria (Chapter 4). Would not such a mature political analysis by one of the region’s prominent aristocrats, written from realist premises, help everyone to settle down? Titus’ endorsement and broader dissemination of Josephus’ War could help to tamp down lingering hostilities and unproductive reprisals as in Alexandria and Antioch (cf. Ant. 12.122-24).

(Mason, pp. 129-130)

That to me sounds more likely than the Caesar’s Messiah hypothesis. Josephus was as prepared to point out failings of the Roman armies at times as well as the courage of his own people against them. read more »

Fishing for Parallels

“But now I will send for many fishermen,” declares the LORD, “and they will catch them. After that I will send for many hunters, and they will hunt them down on every mountain and hill and from the crevices of the rocks. — Jeremiah 16:16


And passing along by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net in the sea; for they were fishers. And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men. — Mark 1:16 -17


They lay in heaps in the blood and dust, like fish that fishermen have dragged out of the grey surf in the meshes of their nets onto a bend of the beach, to lie in masses on the sand gasping for the salt sea water till the bright sun ends their lives. Thus, like a catch of fish, the Suitors lay there heaped upon each other. — Odyssey, Book 22, 380ff


Nakht escapes from the clap-net in which the divine ‘fishermen’ seek to trap him (spell 153A). Papyrus of Nakht, late 18th or early 19th Dynasty, c. 1350-1290 bc.


On this papyrus the illustrations to two spells, 153A and 153B, appear side-by-side. Both concern the deceased escaping from a net stretched by the gods to entrap her. The vignette of spell 153A, at the right, shows an open clap-net stretched between two pegs, one of which bears a human head. The text relating to this spell contains the deceased’s declaration of knowledge of the components of the net, by means of which she avoids being caught in it. . . . To the left is the vignette of spell 153B, ‘for escaping from the catcher of fish’. Three gods are shown hauling on a large net which they are dragging through the water to catch those who are unworthy of entering the next world.


  • Homer. 1946. The Odyssey. Translated by E.V Rieu. Ringwood, Vic.: Penguin Books.
  • Taylor, John H., ed. 2010. Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead : Journey through the Afterlife. London: The British Museum Press.



When is a parallel a real parallel and not parallelomania?

The question of parallels has been raised in different posts and comments lately on Vridar.

Firstly, I questioned Joseph Atwill’s claim that there was a parallel between Jesus calling disciples to become “fishers of men” beside the “sea of Galilee” and a scene in Josephus’ War where Romans kill drowning Judeans in a battle that had spread to a the lake of Galilee. I also took exception to his parallel between the act of cannibalism that Josephus narrates in the same work and the gospel accounts of the Passover.

Soon afterwards, I posted about parallels between the Hebrews Bible and certain Hellenistic myths and other literature in relation to the works of Russell Gmirkin and Philippe Wajdenbaum. Further, I posted something by a classicist, Bruce Louden comparing a scenario in the Odyssey with the biblical story of Lot and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, to which I added further details between Greek myths and the Lot story identified by Wajdenbaum.

So am I being inconsistent in being critical of one of Atwill’s parallels but posting without critical commentary some of the work by Gmirkin, Wajdenbaum  and Louden?

One reader, Austendw, has posted a frequent criticism when this topic surfaces, and no doubt he speaks for many others. I copy just part of his comment:

And as for Saul in Mizpah, you relate Saul in hiding among the baggage, to Rachel hiding the teraphim in the saddlebag. The Hebrew says merely that Rachel “put” them in the saddle-bag; a nit-picking difference perhaps, but bearing it in mind reveals that, apart from the common place-name Mizpah, (a different Mizpah of course – it’s an extremely common place name in the OT), there isn’t a single verbal correlation between the two passages. Therefore your comment that Saul turns up like “Laban’s long-lost idol” (singular, though Laban’s teraphim were plural), strikes me as nothing other than your own imaginative eisegesis; you have imposed a meaning on the text and thereby constructed a parallel between the two stories that simply isn’t found in either of the texts themselves.

The details are indeed very different. But what is it, then, that makes it a “genuine” parallel in the minds of some others? Are we stretching different images almost to breaking point to make them seem somehow, even bizarrely, like one another? Is it reasonable to compare a person hiding in baggage and another person putting an incriminating object in a saddlebag?

Ideal Type compared with specific details

In order to try to understand what is going on here, to help us understand if we are manufacturing artificial parallels or discovering “real” ones, here is something written by Robert Price in The Christ-Myth Theory and Its Problems. Price is addressing a concept developed by the sociologist Max Weber, the Ideal Type. (Ideal relates to the world of ideas, not perfect ideals.) read more »