Is Josephus Evidence that a Messianic Movement caused the Jewish War?

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by Neil Godfrey

A historian specializing in the study of Josephus, Steve Mason, presents a case that the war that led to the destruction of Jerusalem and its temple was not prompted by any messianic movement among the people of Judaea. Rather, Mason suggests that the prophecy of a ruler to come out of the east and rule the entire world was a product of hindsight and that there is little reason to think that there was a “messianic movement” propelling the Jews to rebel against Rome.

I can’t hope to cover the full argument set out by Mason in A history of the Jewish War, AD 66-74 in a single post but I will try to hit some key points from pages 111 to 130 here.

To begin. It is a misunderstanding to think that we can read the works of Josephus as if they were a chronicle of facts happily shedding light on the background to the rise of Christianity.

History as Tragedy

To get the most reliable data from Josephus we need to study his works in the context of other historical writings of his day. In that context it is evident that Josephus is writing a “tragic history” — a narrative that he presents as a tragedy, a form of narrative with which his Greco-Roman audience was familiar. As a tragedy Josephus seeks to elicit tears of sympathy from his audience by using all of his rhetorical skills to portray graphic suffering and misfortune. In War Josephus opens with the proud Herod whose hubris is brought low by the misfortunes that follow. The audience knows how the story ends and knowing that only adds to their awareness of the tragedy in each scene. The irony of temple slaughter at Passover time would have been as clear to Roman as to Jewish readers: Passover was known to have been the festival of liberation.

A tragedy needs villains and Josephus fills his narrative with an abundance of “robbers” or “bandits” who polluted the temple, just as per Jeremiah 7:11 said they would.

Has this house, which is called by my name, become a den of robbers in your eyes?

Josephus was in good literary company since we find the same motif being drafted by the Roman historian Tacitus when narrating the destruction of the central temple in Rome:

Thus the Capitoline temple, its doors locked, was burned to the ground undefended and unplundered. This was the most lamentable and appalling disaster in the whole history of the Roman commonwealth. Though no foreign enemy threatened, though we enjoyed the favour of heaven as far as our failings permitted, the sanctuary of Jupiter Best and Greatest solemnly founded by our fathers as a symbol of our imperial destiny . . . was now, thanks to the infatuation of our leaders, suffering utter destruction. (Hist. 3.72 — I am using my Penguin translation and not the one used by Mason)

Josephus blends Jewish and Greek literary motifs in his tragic narration (Mason, pp. 114-121). A stock motif in tragic narrative were omens of imminent disaster and ambiguous prophecies that would mislead the hapless victims.

Tragedy’s Stock Omens and Prophecies

A motif that was virtually universal in ancient historiography was that a change of ruler should be preceded by omens and prophecies. We see it in the history of Tacitus describing the ascent of Vespasian (I quote from LacusCurtius, Histories, Book 2.78- the extract is not quoted by Mason):

After Mucianus had spoken, the rest became bolder; they gathered about Vespasian, encouraged him, and recalled the prophecies of seers and the movements of the stars. Nor indeed was he wholly free from such superstitious belief, as was evident later when he had obtained supreme power, for he openly kept at court an astrologer named Seleucus, whom he regarded as his guide and oracle. Old omens came back to his mind: once on his country estate a cypress of conspicuous height suddenly fell, but the next day it rose again on the selfsame spot fresh, tall, and with wider expanse than before. This occurrence was a favourable omen of great significance, as the haruspices all agreed, and promised the highest distinctions for Vespasian, who was then still a young man. At first, however, the insignia of a triumph, his consulship, and his victory over Judea appeared to have fulfilled the promise given by the omen; yet after he had gained these honours, he began to think that it was the imperial throne that was foretold. Between Judea and Syria lies Carmel: this is the name given to both the mountain and the divinity. The god has no image or temple — such is the rule handed down by the fathers; there is only an altar and the worship of the god. When Vespasian was sacrificing there and thinking over his secret hopes in his heart, the priest Basilides, after repeated inspection of the victim’s vitals, said to him: “Whatever you are planning, Vespasian, whether to build a house, or to enlarge your holdings, or to increase the number of your slaves, the god grants you a mighty home, limitless bounds, and a multitude of men.” This obscure oracle rumour had caught up at the time, and now was trying to interpret; nothing indeed was more often on men’s lips. It was discussed even more in Vespasian’s presence — for men have more to say to those who are filled with hope. The two leaders now separated with clear purposes before them, Mucianus going to Antioch, Vespasian to Caesarea. Antioch is the capital of Syria, Caesarea of Judea.

Similarly from Suetonius in his Life of Vespasian:

5 1 While Otho and Vitellius were fighting for the throne after the death of Nero and Galba, [Vespasian] began to cherish the hope of imperial dignity, which he had long since conceived because of the following portents.

2 On the suburban estate of the Flavii an old oak tree, which was sacred to Mars, on each of the three occasions when Vespasia was delivered suddenly put forth a branch from its trunk, obvious indications of the destiny of each child. The first was slender and quickly withered, and so too the girl that was born died within the year; the second was very strong and long and portended great success, but the third was the image of a tree. Therefore their father Sabinus, so they say, being further encouraged by an inspection of victims, announced to his mother that a grandson had been born to her would be a Caesar. But she only laughed, marvelling that her son should already be in his dotage, while she was still of strong mind.

3 Later, when Vespasian was aedile, Gaius Caesar, incensed at his neglect of his duty of cleaning the streets, ordered that he be covered with mud, which the soldiers accordingly heaped into the bosom of his purple-bordered toga; this some interpreted as an omen that one day in some civil commotion his country, trampled under foot and forsaken, would come under his protection and as it were into his embrace.

4 Once when he was taking breakfast, a stray dog brought in a human hand from the cross-roadsc and dropped it under the table. Again, when he was dining, an ox that was ploughing shook off its yoke, burst into the dining-room, and after scattering the servants, fell at the very feet of Vespasian as he reclined at table, and bowed its neck as if suddenly tired out. A cypress tree, also, on his grandfather’s farm was torn up by the roots, without the agency of any violent storm, and thrown down, and on the following day rose again greener and stronger than before.

5 He dreamed in Greece that the beginning of good fortune for himself and his family would come as soon as Nero had a tooth extracted; and on the next day it came to pass that a physician walked into the hall and showed him a tooth which he had just then taken out.

6 When he consulted the oracle of the god of Carmel in Judaea, the lots were highly encouraging, promising that whatever he planned or wished however great it might be, would come to pass; and one of his high-born prisoners, Josephus by name, as he was being put in chains, declared most confidently that he would soon be released by the same man, who would then, however, be emperor. 7 Omens were also reported from Rome: Nero in his latter days was admonished in a dream to take the sacred chariot of Jupiter Optimus Maximus from its shrine to the house of Vespasian and from there to the Circus. Not long after this, too, when Galba was on his way to the elections which gave him his second consulship, a statue of the Deified Julius of its own accord turned towards the East; and on the field of Betriacum, before the battle began, two eagles fought in the sight of all, and when one was vanquished, a third came from the direction of the rising sun and drove off the victor.

That “ambiguous prophecy” we read about in Josephus was but one of many signs that were said to have preceded the rise of a new dynasty.

Needless to say such signs were as a rule “discovered” only in hindsight. They were recorded as if they preceded the events, but realistically I think we can say a lot of imaginative hindsight has gone into writing about what “so many” people all observed before the event.

Josephus’s prophecy sits well with the portents described by other historians of his time. It was par for the course to write about “ambiguous oracles” predicting a dramatic change in rulers. Should we privilege Jewish historians as being more likely to “tell nothing but the historical facts” any more than the Roman and Greek ones?

A Prediction by an Exotic Eastern Priest

When Josephus eventually, fearfully, emerged from hiding in his cave he was promptly put in chains and destined to be sent to Nero. Josephus had very good reasons to fear for his fate: the last time he had traveled to see Nero he had nearly drowned in a shipwreck and then only won his case by the good grace of Nero’s wife, but Nero had since had executed her. For Josephus to appear before Nero a second time as a war captive would have meant certain death.

Josephus, we can presume, desperately sought for ways change Vespasian’s mind.

We don’t know what words Josephus used to extricate himself over the year he was held in chains. But whatever happened, whatever arguments were plied, after Vespasian was proclaimed emperor “a prediction by an exotic eastern priest” surely had propaganda value (Mason, p. 125). Vespasian certainly needed all the propaganda he could muster since he was not from one of Rome’s aristocratic families. Vespasian was a master of propaganda — monuments, buildings, coins, a triumph to advertise his worthiness to rule.

Roman generals were not usually permitted a Triumph through Rome for merely suppressing an internal revolt, and that’s all Vespasian and his son Titus had done. They had not conquered a foreign nation but merely put down a provincial revolt. But Vespasian built up his action in Judaea as the equivalent of the crushing of a mighty enemy nation and so deserving of a great Triumph with spoils from the East to demonstrate their worthiness to be the new imperator. The relative lowliness of his family background could in that way be easily overlooked.

Tacitus and Suetonius had Vespasian’s propaganda machine as their historical records and played along — including the valuable pronouncement (among other omens) of a prophecy of his rise from the “mysterious east”.

Mason speculates that it would have been an obvious survival strategy for Josephus, while held prisoner and before Vespasian became emperor, to have appealed to Vespasian as the one with real authority, the “real Caesar”, along with his son.

It would have been win-win: Josephus can be honoured as a true prophet and noble priest of a great people; Vespasian as the divinely ordained  heir to the power of Rome.

The Tragic Irony

Prophecies with double meanings are a stock part of tragedy and part of ancient histories. Mason cites the Greek historian Thucydides lamenting this irony:

As Thucydides observes of a polis torn by discord, words take on opposite meanings (3.82.3—6).

When Josephus added to his narrative the ambiguous prophecy of a ruler to come from the east, a prophecy that many Judaeans supposedly mistook to apply to their side of the war, he was adding but one more stock detail to move audiences to feel for their fate.

But their chief inducement to go to war was an equivocal oracle also found in their sacred writings, announcing that at that time a man from their country would become monarch of the whole world. This they took to mean the triumph of their own race, and many of their scholars were wildly out in their interpretation. In fact the oracle pointed to the accession of Vespasian; for it was in Judaea he was proclaimed emperor. (Jewish War, VI, 312)

It’s a classic tragic motif. In future posts we will have a look at Steve Mason’s study of the war itself and see how far removed it was from Josephus’s claim (and to some extent Vespasian’s own boast) that it was “the greatest war of all time”.

It’s Not Unusual

That such a prophecy was found to have “existed from of old” and applied to Vespasian is nothing unusual.

In real life, however, commanders of invading armies have always received exuberant affirmation from fast-thinking natives, their welcome often being full of providential overtones. “It’s not just our city council that considers you marvellous, Your Excellency; you are the One for whom our people have been waiting!”

Local elites who make such claims are expressing overt loyalty, but more importantly they are asking that their community be spared and protected by the conqueror. In Chapter 6 we shall see a diverse range of poleis rushing to welcome Vespasian and his army before he reaches Galilee, for just such reasons.

Rajak cites the example of Ibn-Khaldun and the Mongolian Tamerlaine, and we may add others.

Napoleon was regarded by Europe’s long-suffering Jews as a Davidic-Messianic liberator (Cheleq Tov), who made real again the biblical Song of the Sea (Exod. 15:1-15). He encouraged this.

A century later (October 29, 1898), Kaiser Wilhelm II was exuberantly welcomed in Ottoman Jerusalem, by its Jewish community among others. The first of three arches along his “triumphal procession” was the Jewish one, decked out in silk and carpets with gold letters, even though he came as a self-conscious Crusader who was claiming the city for Christian Germany. An enormous eagle mounted over the Jaffa Gate greeted him as he entered to plant churches and other signs of German culture. Still the legend on the Jewish arch declared in Hebrew and German, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! We welcome you from the house of the Lord” — the line from Psalm 118 cited in Jesus’ triumphal entry — as Jewish school-children sang these words. The Kaiser also received a parchment scroll inside a Torah case that read in part: “Be sure, O Kaiser, radiant with Heaven’s noble consecration, that the sons of Judaea also approach you rendering homage, greeting you reverently from their innermost bosom.” An accompanying prayer affirmed God’s choice of the Hohenzollems to rule in righteousness.

And even an old Arab prophecy of the conquest by General Allenby

Not even two decades later (December 11, 1917), however, the British General Edmund Allenby would be similarly welcomed at Jaffa Gate by Jews, Muslims, and Christians – as the city’s redeemer from Ottoman-German rule. His surname invited the transliteration Allah an-nabi (prophet of God) among the Arab population, which British propaganda delighted in exploiting. There was supposedly an old Arab prophecy, recalling the one that Josephus made famous, that a prophet from the West would enter Jerusalem’s Golden Gate when Nile water reached Palestine (cf. Allenby’s pipeline from Egypt). The British government toyed with having Allenby enter via the long-sealed Golden Gate, but drew back from practical complications and the wish to avoid kaiserlich pomp.

Prophecies were part of the tragic landscape. There is always a prophet foretelling what is to be an outcome, doom for some, victory for another, in ancient narratives of tragedy of history. It would not be amiss to exercise caution before building an entire case and historical reconstruction upon one such omen whether found in Tacitus or Suetonius or in Josephus.

Mason, Steve. 2016. A History of the Jewish War, AD 66-74. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Josephus, Flavius. 1959. The Jewish War. Edited by Betty Radice and Robert Baldick. Translated by G. A. Williamson. Penguin Classics. Penguin.


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Neil Godfrey

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31 thoughts on “Is Josephus Evidence that a Messianic Movement caused the Jewish War?”

  1. Hi Neil,

    Finally you have come to your senses!

    You wrote:”Needless to say such signs were as a rule “discovered” only in hindsight. They were recorded as if they preceded the events, but realistically I think we can say a lot of imaginative hindsight has gone into writing about what “so many” people all observed before the event.”

    Exactly, and you have made it clear that If Josephus or anyone from inside his intellectual circle read Mark 15 there is no way they would not have known the identity of ‘son of Man’ who (cough) was to come in 40 years and raze the Temple.

    Now we all know.


    1. Joe, I have tried to be civil and courteous to you and have defended you in the past against some pretty vicious ad hominem. I would thank you to repay me with the same tone while you are a guest here on my blog. My patience is not limitless.

      I completely fail to see how anything I have said supports anything in your own theory, though. What you say is clear to you is a dark mystery to me.

      1. Ironically, Joe seems in thrall to the same kind of ambiguous junk “prophecy” and, like the ancients, cracked modern sectarians, and a trough of Biblical/NT “scholars” who should know better, is heaping together unconnected bits and pieces or reading things into the texts that simply aren’t there.

        We bemoan he has an audience but the field is awash with Doctor This, Professor That, and Thingy Plonk PhD whose methodologies collapse into making things up to suit their fancy tied up in pretty ribbons. Their tenure is tenuous and they gotta publish or be damned, so generating a huge amount of dross in faculties built on unexamined assumptions all the way to bedrock which go pfft! from first storey to footings when you so much as glance at them, leaving their colleges suspended in air. That’s your “experts” – and Nature abhors a vacuum.

    1. I can’t say — someone else might know. But I think it is just as likely that Josephus had no one particular prophecy in mind and was speaking more as a dramatist, and declaring himself to be a mouthpiece of an “eastern prophecy”. I don’t think we have any reason to believe J’s claim that the rebels had any prophecy in mind at all. J was using a stock motif that usually appeared in tragic narratives.

  2. My understanding is the Flavian Gospels hypothesis was developed by Cliff Carrington, who did not claim Josephus wrote the gospels and did not get the publicity that Joe Atwill has (http://harpermcalpineblack.blogspot.com/2018/07/cliff-carrington-and-flavian-hypothesis.html.) In my opinion Carrington offered a stronger argument, as does a third figure that no one yet seems to know about, John Hudson, who has some writings on this subject so far as I can tell accessible only online at scribd (such as here: https://www.scribd.com/doc/15969141/What-Shakespeare-knew-about-Jesus). Hudson is a Shakespeare/medievalist, and is best known for having put on the map of the “who wrote Shakespeare” theories one of those theories, namely that the true author of Shakespeare’s plays was Emilia Bassano Lanier, who Hudson argues published her plays in the name of her lover the actor William Shakespeare.

    In my opinion a stronger argument for the Flavian theory minus the problems in Atwill’s presentation is made by Hudson (and by the earlier Carrington), not Atwill–even though I do not think Hudson or the earlier Carrington had it completely right either. Because Hudson (who has academic credentials) is in a sense out of his field, he makes some errors in New Testament scholarship, but that is outweighed by the strengths he brings from his knowledge in classical history and medieval literature. I came across Hudson’s scribd writings by accident and so far as I can tell no one writing on the Flavian Gospels topic seems to know Hudson’s writings on this subject exist, even though in my view they constitute the strongest argument for the Flavian hypothesis extant.

    That Josephus in his writing of War and then later, Antiquities, had Flavian sponsorship, and that it served Flavian interests that Josephus condemned Jewish nationalism and resistance to Rome, in philosophical and biblical terms analogous to Jeremiah’s apologia for the Babylonian conqueror Nebuchadnezzar, seems plain. (I once gave a paper at a European conference developing this last analogy, reading Jeremiah as a story of a witting agent in the service of Nebuchednezzar.)

    But I surmise that proponents of the Flavian Gospels theories have the Gospels too early, and that a generation later in a context of either Trajan or perhaps better Hadrian is where the phenomenon of the Gospels might better belong. In ways that I can imagine, where there are appealing aspects of the arguments for the Gospels serving Flavian interests, those arguments would work better dated later as serving Hadrian interests, with respect to a more developed impetus to crush Jewish revolutionary activity for all time and Aelia Capitolina of 135 CE replacing Jerusalem in which Jews were outlawed. I note in passing that the legendary first Christian bishop of Aelia Capitolina was named Marcus. Could it be that this Marcus gave his name to the Gospel of Mark, which may have something to do with an origin-tradition in the interests of the colonizing gentile settlers of Aelia Capitolina following the banning of Jews, on analogy with Plato’s ideas of colonizers incorporating native legends and customs into intentional origin-tradition creation?

    Relevant here I want to mention another underrecognized work which, without endorsing it in every particular, is just interesting: Frans Vermeiren, A Chronological Revision of the Origins of Christianity (2017). Vermeiren argues that Jesus of the Gospels derives from stories of Jesus ben Sapphias of Galilee who was a figure in the time of the First Revolt. As initially far-fetched as that sounds, I suggest reading Vermeiren’s case before rejecting it out of hand. Vermeiren makes a related argument for keeping the dating of Paul and something of Paul’s letters pre-70 CE, but argues that Paul’s letters were about Christ which was an idea, not Jesus, and that references to Jesus in Paul’s letters were secondarily added by 2nd-century CE editors.

    In my opinion Vermeiren weakens his case by supposing throughout his work that the Gospel of Mark is dated 70s CE in keeping with the most common dating of GMk. But if GMk is dated significantly later to, say, the time of Hadrian, then I wonder if Vermeiren could be on to something re the Jesus ben Sapphias argument–i.e. that Jesus of the Gospels is not mythical (in the mythicist sense) but is built up from stories surrounding the historical figure Jesus ben Sapphias. In this context and light it is not completely inconceivable that the dating of Jesus of GMk to the time of Pilate–the time-shift of Lena Einhorn–could even be simple mistake by later tradition-writers who had some traditional stories and some literary imagination, worked up into the Gospel of Mark, in the service of an ideology in which Gentiles of the kind that colonized and settled Aelia Capitolina replaced the Jews in divine salvation history.

    I consider reconstruction along this line perhaps strengthened in the context of David Trobisch’s work on the New Testament as a second-century production.

    Hypothesis: The Flavian Gospels idea is on to something in the sense of the Gospels as politically useful texts. But it is arguably simply wrong on the basic issue of dating of the Gospels, in having the Gospel of Mark too early. Instead, a later Trajan or Hadrian-era context of composition of the Gospels arguably would make better sense, and as an added bonus Jesus of the Gospels would become identified in history in a way not heretofore considered. Could this be a pathway toward a better solution of some issues under discussion on Vridar?

    1. I have in the past tried to study the Hadrian era in some depth and have never ruled it out as a possibility for the Gospel of Mark so I am interested in any new (old) ideas on it. Thanks for the Vermeiren notice. I will follow that one up, too. Hudson and Carrington are already tucked neatly in my files, ready to be called out and go into service any time they are needed again. 🙂

    2. I agree with what Gregory says about later dating of the Gospel of Mark and the proposition that it would strengthen Frans Vermeiren’s thesis. Frans’ book is a very good book for it’s thorough discussion of the events of the times and Josephus’discussion of them.

      I also think a later dating of the Gospel of Mark would fit with Lena Einhorn’s time-shift thesis, and her time-shift thesis allows for a composite Jesus using the Egyptian and Jesus ben Sapphias/Saphat and even Simon bar Giora (though that Simon could also be a cypher or even a model for Paul; and, in a previous work, The Jesus Mystery, Lena E. has noted similarities between Jesus and Paul, so accounts of all these characters could have prompted various later narratives).

      It certainly is worth considering the impact or role of Gentiles colonizing and settling Aelia Capitolina in the development of a [new] divine salvation history, or perhaps the consequences of diasporic Jews interacting with Gentiles outside Judea and Galilee, etc., or both scenarios.

      Of course if the Gospels were written in the times of Trajan, Hadrian, or even in the time of the fourth of the Nerva–Antonine dynasty emperors, Antoninus Pius (who was said to have been emperor when Justin Martyr arrived in Rome, and to who Martyr’s First Apology was addressed), the Gospels’ authors would have had access to the works of Josephus; and those periods would fit with the theories of the likes of Joseph B Tyson, Jason BeDuhn, Markus Vinzent and Matthias Klinghardt that some or all of the Gospels were written after Marcion had a gospel.

      That the legendary first Christian bishop of Aelia Capitolina was named Marcus is interesting.

      I think a date of gospels writing after 134-5 a.d. also raises the prospect of some of the gospel narratives being based on Simon bar Kokhba (born Simon ben Kosevah).

      1. Two difficulties (at least they seem like difficulties to me) would be easier to resolve if the Gospel of Mark were from Hadrian’s time: the theme of persecution of Christians and the outline of Jesus as per the Josephan outline of the “mad Jesus” who calls out Woe to Jerusalem until he is struck by a catapulted stone — as per Ted Weeden’s observations.

      2. Neil, another little-noticed argument for a date for the Gospel of Mark later than usually assumed is an analysis of classicist Brad McAdon that Josephus’s Antiquities (mid-90’s CE) was a source used in the composition of the Gospel of Mark. McAdon is a classics-trained professor in the English Department of the University of Memphis. The quote that follows is from a longer article of McAdon which has since been taken down from the internet (it may be [not sure] the article “Josephus and Mark” by Brad McAdon which is published in Alpha, vol. 1, 2017), and gives the essential argument:

        “[T]he fact that Josephus’s Antiquities 18 is the only extant source that includes narrative material on the Herodian family, a Philip, Herod Antipas, Herod Antipas and Herodias’s relationship, John’s criticism of this relationship, John’s baptism, his arrest, imprisonment, and death strongly suggests dependence with Mark’s narrative. If, for example, Mark did not know and use Antiquities 18, this would mean that he must have had access to and used some other source material for these narrative components of John’s baptism and death that included the specific thematic details about the Herodian family—including ambiguity about a Philip—and John’s baptism, arrest, and death that is extremely similar in content to Antiquities 18. There has not been a single attestation that such a source has ever existed.”

          1. I don’t doubt that Josephus’s JB passage is an interpolation in the strict sense of something inserted into a preexisting narrative, but it seems to me Josephus did it to his own narrative in keeping with normal composition process. Influential to me in concluding that Josephus is most likely the interpolator prior to completion of Antiquities is the following:

            (a) Peter Kirby’s discussion at http://peterkirby.com/john-the-baptist-authentic.html. Covers the range of issues.

            (b) The discussion of Josephus’s composition process in inserting Jewish stories into preexisting narrative of Vered Noam, Shifting Images of the Hasmoneans: Second Temple Legends and Their Reception in Josephus and Rabbinic Literature (Oxford: OUP, 2018). Compare pp 59-69 on an interpolation by Josephus at Ant. 13.282-283 of a story from a Jewish source concerning a heavenly voice in the temple heard by John Hyrcanus I, into a narrative otherwise following War. As Noam puts it, the story was “interpolated into an existing narrative in Antiquities … a further illustration of Josephus’s addition of sources with parallels in rabbinic sources to his later work [Antiquities]” (p. 69).

            (c) My own article and argument in press that the Josephus JB story is a chronologically displaced story from a Jewish source of the death of Hyrcanus II (the chronological displacement, as reconstructed, being by mistake and by Josephus), which to me is a better understanding of that passage than a post-Josephus interpolation hypothesis.

            1. Hoo boy! That’s a huge pile of more reading to do. thanks :-/ Most appallingly the kindle version of Shifting Images of the Hasmoneans is more expensive than the hard cover print version. $A108.86

              1. Just to be clear, Vered Noam’s book does not claim the Josephus John the Baptist passage is a Jewish story interpolation. Noam’s book discusses comparative parallels of other instances of Jewish story interpolations by Josephus in Antiquities by which I am understanding the Josephus JB passage.

        1. An earlier argument for Josephus’s Antiquities being a source for the Gospel of Mark is David Oliver Smith, Unlocking the Puzzle: the Keys to the Christology and Structure of the Original Gospel of Mark (Eugene, OR: Wipf and Stock, 2016), 200-205. The arguments of Smith and McAdon are so structurally similar it is unclear whether McAdon was inspired by Smith or they both arose independently. Smith’s seems to have appeared in print a year before McAdon’s on the internet and then McAdon’s publication in 2017. In Smith’s earlier book, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and Paul (2011), 14-15, Smith suggested the possibility that Antiquities was a source for GMk but expressed uncertainty that it might reflect use of a common source, which Smith seems to have dropped by 2016.

          1. Thanks. I will need to return to my little library to refresh my memory on those publications. Sometimes returning to ideas after a long absence can enable a fresh perspective on them.

    3. Hi Greg,

      Hudson’s ideas about the origin of he Gospels and Bassano’s authorship of Shakespeare both come directly from me. John is happy to admit this and has done so publicly. Cliff developed his Flavian theory independent of me, for example he saw the parallel between the cruxifixion stories before he read CM. When we compared notes we were both amazed at the overlap. Cliff simply missed that the parallels were occurring in the same sequence so it never occurred to him that Jesus’s entire adult minstry was a typological forerunner of the Flavian campaign.

      Have you read the Flavian Signature chapter in the new edition of CM? I will send it to you if you haven’t. Willing to bet you will agree that it demonstrates beyond any reasonable doubt that the synoptics were created as a Flavian mockery of prefiguration typology. Send your email to joeatwill@gmail.com and I will pass it along to you.


  3. Joe, I did not realize the relationship between you and Hudson which Hudson in the video says goes back to 2002. I have just now ordered both your books Caesars Messiah and Shakespeares Secret Messiah. I must say every time in the past I tried to engage your case online I personally kept running into the same reactions Neil reports, of parallels that I could not follow and conclusions I could not see following from facts cited, and so for that reason I did not get into it too deeply.

    But I want to ask you about one detail. You say above, “Hudson’s ideas about … Bassano’s authorship of Shakespeare … came directly from me. John is happy to admit this and has done so publicly.”

    Just to get this straight: you are saying that you originated the Bassano theory of Shakespeare authorship? Can you document that? Can you cite where Hudson has said that?

    According to the website of the Shakespearean Authorship Trust, speaking of Amelia Bassano Lanyer, “Her candidacy [as author of Shakespeare’s plays] was announced in March 2007 in a lecture at the Smithsonian Institution as part of the Washington Shakespeare Festival by John Hudson, artistic director of the Dark Lady Players, a New York company who perform the underlying Jewish allegories in the plays. A 5000 word major article on her appears in the Summer/Fall 2009 special issue of The Oxfordian dedicated to the top authorship candidates” (http://www.shakespeareanauthorshiptrust.org.uk/pdf/amelia_bassano_lanyer.pdf). A link is given to the 2009 Oxfordian article by Hudson.

    Neither in that 2009 article of Hudson nor anywhere else on the internet can I find any reference to your origination of the Bassano authorship theory. Explain please? Thanks.

  4. Greg.

    Just watch the video posted above I did with John for confirmation as to who made the discovery.

    Once you have read the analysis in my book Shakespeare’s Secret Messiah of the play Titus Andronicus you’ll see why I was the one who made the discovery.

    In John’s book in the acknowledgments – P 281 he stated; “ Atwill suggested the topic a decade ago.”

    In my book SSM John approved the following statement.

    “ some confusion has arisen over who had actually made the discovery that Emilia Bassano was the author of the Shakespearian plays and that they are typological reversals of the Flavians comic perspective in the NT. To clarify, I would note that after I made these discoveries I showed them to my colleague John Hudson who went on to produce plays based upon this framework,,,

    John has assured me he will assert that these are the facts; that I discovered that Emilia Bassano was the author and the plays were reversals of the Flavian typology.” P 143


    1. Thanks Joe for the clarification. I see two distinct issues here: the argument for Amelia Bassano Lanier as author of Shakespeare, and the Flavian typology interpretation applied to the Shakespeare plays. I now have John Hudson’s book Shakespeare’s Dark Lady: Amelia Bassano Lanier, the Woman Behind Shakespeare’s Plays?. It contains an immense amount of research and historical detail in making the Bossano argument. Is this a case where you suggested an idea in a conversation and he ran with it (developed it, researched it, and published it)? I am referring to the authorship issue specifically, not the Flavian typological exegesis of Shakespeare’s plays. I see that Hudson mentions only in a low-key way in that book the idea that Bassano was writing covert deconstruction of Christianity literature via the Shakespeare works. Hudson’s book seems focused on the authorship case for Bassano, the background of Bassano and context of the Shakespeare authorship issue.

      1. Greg,

        Simply watch the video. John admits I showed him the Flavian exegesis of the plays and identified the author of the plays was Bassano. John indeed did a lot of original research but it was all based upon my discoveries, which he is happy to admit.


  5. Suppose you come upon a pocket watch on the beach… We can recover that there were dozens, if not hundreds, of Christian, Christian Jewish, Jewish Christian, and Jewish sects. What survived were Orthodox Rabbinic Judaism and Orthodox Christianity; just as there were many humans and only Sapiens Sapiens remains. It may look like design and you may conclude a designer; but you would be wrong.

    I struggle with the point of the OP. Sub Tiberio ques. Josephos furiously minimises that there were no messiahs by going out of his way not to call the various disturbers of the peace in the decades up to the Revolt any such thing, when almost everyone one of them is portrayed in rituals of sympathetic magic to draw down the intervention of Yahweh Sabaoth. His oracle is played down as “ambiguous”; when such is the nature of oracle.

    How important is this portent to Josephos’ account? How important the other portents to the accounts of Suetonius and Tacitus? I can see it’s importance to Josephos’ own welfare but it is actually unsurprising as prophecy. It is a pedestrian prediction actually. Good general, good politician, large veteran army experience in war with near-peers, proximity to most of Rome’s wealth and grain. This is why Nero had Corbulo suicide and not in command in Judea after all: all Nero Caesar had to offer was his art.

    Nero could not but put a good general and politician in charge in the East but he was accumulating enemies and assassination plots. There is no need for clairvoyance to see where this was heading and then a reasonable grasp of politco-military affairs and logistics to see the probable outcome of a war for the Purple.

    As for others with a lesser grasp, the Hasmoneans had seen their floruit in the anarchy of Ptolemaic and Seleukid feebleness and declined when Pompey seized the East for Rome. The last Roman civil war had lasted decades, those that controlled Egypt had lost and the result? A Jewish kingdom topped only in the fiction of the Book of Kings. To the east was a large and influential Jewish community in Parthian Mesopotamia. I don’t think you need a terribly febrile imagination to see the possibilities: a Jewish kingdom had emerged from anarchy and civil war twice already. Given the circumstances, I would have been surprised if prophecies were not found or concocted in support of such imaginings.

    When a polemicist apologetic politician is seemingly furiously going out of his way to minimise, and distract us from, the significance of particular events, what are we supposed to infer? What are other writings of supposedly around about the same time saying? “My kingdom is not of this world.”, “Blessed are the poor IN SPIRIT… Blessed are they that hunger and thirst AFTER RIGHTEOUSNESS… ” No Sir, we are not Zealot Revolutionaries, even if we portray our apocryphal leader performing ritual sympathetic magic to draw down the intervention of Yahweh Sabaoth!

    Why do we have laws against drink driving? That wouldn’t possibly be because there is such a thing as drunk drivers, would it? 1 Peter wouldn’t have a bit of a song and dance about Jesus being a real person if significant numbers of other believers weren’t saying otherwise. Sub Tiberio ques. This is just where we find the Christian origin myth located. If Jesus were a real person, this would just be an accident of history: but he isn’t, and lo and behold the winning Jesus sect is the one that settles on Pilate’s prefecture, when mass civil disobedience and pacifist thousands obstinately lying down exposing their throats for days before his palace in Caesarea had driven the standards out of Jerusalem. Gandhi and MLK come to mind; and what amongst other things inspired Satyagraha?

    Others plonked JC in the reigns of Janneus or Claudius that we know of and persisted enough centuries to be recorded. There could well have been many more settling for other times and places. The winner though was the sect that plumped for the one prefecture where something not dissimilar to the Christ Ethic had triumphed, where Jews had won without necessity to arms or rebellion.

    Design? Only if you think there was only ever one Christianity until the late second century “heresies” exploded. Look at the New Testament. If these writings were not bundled together but had been found in different places, it would be obvious that though they were related to one another they didn’t come from exactly the same sect. As it is it has finally dawned on us that there are significant difference amongst them and that there has been an evolution. The Gospels only exist because each following author saw something to be corrected in his predecessor; and in their corrections they threw up new problems. The Christian laryngeal nerve wanders allover the place. So much so that from Paul on Christians touted that their cult being barkingly silly was a feature, not a bug and claimed mystery important.

    Names? They have this annoying habit of being bloody common. There are people called Mark and Jesus all over the place across the two to two and a half centuries were we might place Christian origins. That any of them are our Mark or Jesus improbable and at any rate impossible to say. It is possible that they influenced the Jesus of the Gospels but Paul’s Jesus is patently not of this world and bears far more in common with the figure in Philo to be coincidence.

    This is all too messy to be a deliberate creation with one guiding mind over time, let alone of the moment.

    I took a look at the Hudson piece on Scribd. Please. This is just more barking wibble – now with mad Oxfordian nonsense about Shakespeare. Granted there are oddities in the received history of the Bard, but crank won’t solve them. It isn’t going to solve Jesus either. In recent decades all manner of connections and inputs from the contemporary literature and milieu have been demonstrated. Quite clearly Josephos is one of those. What genre or genres is Josephos? Bios and Rewritten Bible off the top of my head. The Gospels? Erm… Hellenistic Jews with a Greek education and stories centring on Jerusalem and the Galilee in the First century… Well, golly gosh. Take the Iliad and turn it on its head, swap out Greek ethics for Roman mores. Voila! The Aeneid. I don’t see any reason for the resemblances of Josephos’ writings to the Gospels needing anymore than we have worked out already for their relationship and their relationships to other texts. Josephos’ are just another set of texts the Gospels are in dialogue with, mining, and transvaluing. Jesus ben Ananias, the three taken down from the cross and one surviving, etc. There is much more to be had here, but being credulous of crankery isn’t the place to begin. You are likely to be taken for just another asshat to be dismissed out of hand.

    1. Sorry, on Hudson the link I gave was not what I meant, the one that strikes you as “barking wibble”. That one was about Shakespeare interpretation, which is not my interest or expertise, nor have I bought into it. I meant this one of Hudson making the case for the Flavian hypothesis which was my topic of interest in my comment (not the Shakespeare argument): https://www.scribd.com/doc/16425596/What-Got-Marlowe-Killed-The-Gospels-as-Roman-Literary-Satires.

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