2019-04-04

Can We Find History Beneath the Literary Trappings?

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by Neil Godfrey

We have seen that the hypothesis that the Jesus of the gospels was in some way modeled on the story of another Jesus, Jesus son of Ananias, does have scholarly cachet and is by no means considered a fatuous instance of “parallelomania”. Jesus son of Ananias is a figure we find in Josephus’s account of the Jewish War of 66-70 CE. One scholar, Ted Weeden, advanced the thesis in considerable depth and even went further than exploring the “striking similarities” between Jesus ben Ananias and aspects of the Jesus narratives in all four of our canonical gospels: he even concluded that the Jesus prophet in Josephus’s Jewish War had no historical basis but was entirely a literary construct based on Jeremiah.

Now that conclusion was a step too far for some scholars, one of whom was Bob Schacht of the University of Hawaii who in 2005 on a scholarly forum raised the following objection:

As much as I admire my friend Ted Weeden’s scholarship, which is considerable, the whole of these arguments here posted seems to be a literary paradigm that rests on the assumption that all history takes place within literature, without any necessary or inconvenient ties to what people did outside of that literary frame in their lives. Ted does a masterful job of tracing literary connections, and he uses such phrases as “creator(s) of the story” to suggest that the people and events described therein are not historical. Ted’s arguments work very well within his literary paradigm, but do they really help us that much with history? The implications seem to be to subtract from historical knowledge, moving mountains of literary data from the domain of history into the domain of fiction.

The reductio ad absurdam here is that history didn’t really happen. Only literature happened, somehow existing outside of time and space except insofar as literary source A is considered prior to literary source B. I know this is a parody of Ted’s argument, but sometimes parodies can make a useful point.

. . . . . I don’t think that the authors of the gospels were trying to write a best-selling novel; I think they were trying to understand and explain things that happened a generation or two earlier, using the best tools they had to tell the tale.

Schacht, Bob, 2005. “Re: [XTalk] Essay, Part II: Jesus-Ananias=Latter-Day Jeremiah & Markan Jesus” XTalk: Historical Jesus & Christian Origins – Yahoo Groups. https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/crosstalk2/conversations/messages/18152.

I know Schacht’s concerns are not his alone; I find them expressed in different ways in many quarters whenever the question of literary contexts and paradigms are raised in discussions of works by ancient historians.

Moses I. Finley

The difficulty is not unique to biblical scholars. The prominent historian of ancient history, Moses I. Finley, sympathized with those who were left perturbed by the conclusions that must necessarily follow from an informed awareness of how ancient historians worked:

Modern writers find themselves in difficulties. Not only does the position of a Dionysius of Halicarnassus seem immoral – it has been said that one would have to regard Thucydides as ‘blind or dishonest’ – but, worse still, one must consider seriously abandoning some of the most interesting and seductive sections of Herodotus, Thucydides, Polybius, Caesar, Sallust, Livy, Tacitus, Dio Cassius and the rest as primary or secondary sources.There is no choice: if the substance of the speeches or even the wording is not authentic, then one may not legitimately recount that Pericles told the assembled Athenians in 430 BC that their empire ‘is like a tyranny, seemingly unjust to have taken but dangerous to let go’ (Thucydides 2.63.2). I have no idea what Pericles said on that occasion but neither have the innumerable historians who repeat from a speech what I have just quoted. Except for Thucydides and perhaps Polybius, there is no longer any serious argument, though the reluctance to accept the consequences is evident on all sides . . . . 

pages 12-13 of M. I. Finley’s Ancient History: Evidence and Models.

I copy a section from an earlier post of mine:

Notice something else Finley wrote in the same chapter a couple of pages earlier:

Unfortunately, the two longest ancient accounts of Roman Republican history, the area in which the problems are currently the most acute and the most widely discussed, the histories of Livy and of Dionysius of Halicarnassus, were composed about 500 years (in very round numbers) later than the traditional date for the founding of the Republic, 200 years from the defeat of Hannibal. Try as we may, we cannot trace any of their written sources back beyond about 300 BC, and mostly not further than to the age of Marius and Sulla. Yet the early centuries of the Republic and the still earlier centuries that preceded it are narrated in detail in Livy and Dionysius of Halicarnassus. Where did they find their information? No matter how many older statements we can either document or posit – irrespective of possible reliability – we eventually reach a void. But ancient writers, like historians ever since, could not tolerate a void, and they filled it in one way or another, ultimately by pure invention.

The ability of the ancients to invent and their capacity to believe are persistently underestimated.

Finley addresses a series of other examples of what we find lacking in our ancient sources. He adds:

Otherwise, the lack of primary sources for long stretches of time and for most regions of the Mediterranean creates a block not only for a narrative but also for the analysis of institutions.

But is biblical history different? Finley wrote about that, too. Again pasting from an earlier post:

Don’t theologians have different rules for doing history? Don’t they have “criteria of authenticity” and things like that? Indeed they do. And here is Moses Finley’s comment on them:

One simple example will suffice. When asked by the Pharisees for ‘a sign from Heaven’, Jesus replied, ‘There shall be no sign given unto this generation’ (Mark viii, 11-12). Goguel comments:

This saying is certainly authentic, for it could not have been created by primitive Christianity which attached a great importance to the miracles of Jesus … This leads us to think that Jesus did not want to work marvels, that is to say, acts of pure display.

It follows that stories like those of Jesus walking on water are ‘extremely doubtful’. His healing, on the other hand, may be accepted, and, in conformity with the beliefs prevailing at the time, ‘it is true that these healings were regarded as miracles both by Jesus himself and by those who were the recipients of his bounty.’

This application of the ‘psychological method’ is neat, plausible, commonsensical. But is the answer right? Not only in this one example but in the thousands upon thousands of details in the story upon which Goguel or any other historian must make up his mind? I do not know what decisive tests of verifiability could possibly be applied. The myth-making process has a kind of logic of its own, but it is not the logic of Aristotle or of Bertrand Russell. Therefore it does not follow that it always avoids inconsistency: it is capable of retaining, and even inventing, sayings and events which, in what we call strict logic, undermine its most cherished beliefs. The difficulties are of course most acute at the beginning, with the life of Jesus. One influential modern school, which goes under the name of ‘form-criticism’, has even abandoned history at this stage completely. ‘In my opinion,’ wrote Rudolph Bultmann, ‘we can sum up what can be known of the life and personality of Jesus as simply nothing.’ (Aspects, p. 178)

Back to Jesus ben Ananias. Before we even consider any of the detail of Weeden’s arguments in favour of a literary fabrication of the character, let’s just look at the context in which Josephus presents him. Josephus followed acceptable historical writing of his time by depicting the last days of Jerusalem as dramatically as possible, and that included introducing many divinely sent warning signs of impending doom:

First a star stood over the City, very like a broadsword, and a comet that remained a whole year.

Then before the revolt and the movement to war, while the people were assembling for the Feast of Unleavened Bread, on the 8th of Xanthicos at three in the morning so bright a light shone round the Altar and the Sanctuary that it might have been midday. This lasted half an hour. The inexperienced took it for a good omen, but the sacred scribes at once gave an interpretation which the event proved right.

During the same feast a cow brought by someone to be sacrificed gave birth to a lamb in the middle of the Temple courts,

while at midnight it was observed that the East Gate of the Inner Sanctuary had opened of its own accord – a gate made of bronze and so solid that every evening twenty strong men were required to shut it, fastened with iron-bound bars and secured by bolts which were lowered a long way into a threshold fashioned from a single slab of stone. The temple-guards ran with the news to the Captain, who came up and by a great effort managed to shut it. This like the other seemed to the laity to be the best of omens : had not God opened to them the gate of happiness? But the learned perceived that the security of the Sanctuary was dissolving of its own accord, and that the opening of the gate was a gift to the enemy ; and they admitted in their hearts that the sign was a portent of desolation.

A few days after the Feast, on the 21st of Artemisios, a supernatural apparition was seen, too amazing to be believed. What I have to relate would, I suppose, have been dismissed as an invention had it not been vouched for by eyewitnesses and followed by disasters that bore out the signs. Before sunset there were seen in the sky over the whole country, chariots and regiments in arms speeding through the clouds and encircling the towns.

Again, at the Feast of Pentecost, when the priests had gone into the Inner Temple at night to perform the usual ceremonies, they declared that they were aware, first of a violent movement and a loud crash, then of a concerted cry: ‘Let us go hence.’

An incident more alarming still had occurred four years before the war at a time of exceptional peace and prosperity for the City. One Jeshua son of Ananias, a very ordinary yokel, came to the feast at which every Jew is expected to set up a tabernacle for God. As he stood in the Temple he suddenly began to shout: ‘A voice from the east, a voice from the west, a voice from the four winds, a voice against Jerusalem and the Sanctuary, a voice against bridegrooms and brides, a voice against the whole people.’ Day and night he uttered this cry as he went through all the streets. Some of the more prominent citizens, very annoyed at these ominous words, laid hold of the fellow and beat him savagely. Without saying a word in his own defence or for the private information of his persecutors, he persisted in shouting the same warning as before. The Jewish authorities, rightly concluding that some supernatural force was responsible for the man’s behaviour, took him before the Roman procurator. There, though scourged till his flesh hung in ribbons, he neither begged for mercy nor shed a tear, but lowering his voice to the most mournful of tones answered every blow with ‘Woe to Jerusalem !’ When Albinus – for that was the procurator’s name – demanded to know who he was, where he came from and why he uttered such cries, he made no reply whatever to the questions but endlessly repeated his lament over the City, till Albinus decided he was a madman and released him. All the rime till the war broke out he never approached another citizen or was seen in conversation, but daily as if he had learnt a prayer by heart he recited his lament : ‘Woe to Jerusalem !’ Those who daily cursed him he never cursed; those who gave him food he never thanked: his only response to anyone was that dismal foreboding. His voice was heard most of all at the feasts. For seven years and five months he went on ceaselessly, his voice as strong as ever and his vigour unabated, till during the siege after seeing the fulfilment of his foreboding he was silenced. He was going round on the wall uttering his piercing cry: ‘Woe again to the City, the people, and the Sanctuary !’ and as he added a last word : ‘Woe to me also !’ a stone shot from an engine struck him, killing him instantly. Thus he uttered those same forebodings to the very end.

Anyone who ponders these things will find that God cares for mankind and in all possible ways foreshows to His people the means of salvation, and that it is through folly and evils of their own choosing that they come to destruction.

That we read of Jesus (=Jeshua) son of Ananias in the context of “eye-witness verification” associated with events like a Bethlehem star shaped like a sword dangling over the city, a cow giving birth to a lamb, visions of war chariots in the sky, amidst such signs obviously fabricated to demonstrate a religious message — such a context alone should give us pause before assuming a “historical core” behind the figure.


Finley, M. I. 1999. Ancient History: Evidence and Models. ACLS History E-Book Project.

Finley, M. I. 1972. Aspects of Antiquity: Discoveries and Controversies. Harmondsworth, Middlesex, England: Penguin.

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

Schacht, Bob, 2005. “Re: [XTalk] Essay, Part II: Jesus-Ananias=Latter-Day Jeremiah & Markan Jesus” XTalk: Historical Jesus & Christian Origins – Yahoo Groups. https://groups.yahoo.com/neo/groups/crosstalk2/conversations/messages/18152.


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58 Comments

  • Neil Godfrey
    2019-04-04 22:38:21 GMT+0000 - 22:38 | Permalink

    Ouch! I forgot to add a positive message to at least balance the nihilism of the post. While we have no valid justification for assuming a historical basis underlying narrative details that can, given the nature of the evidence, be adequately explained as literary adaptation and construction, there are nonetheless sound methods historians rely upon to justify acceptance of other events as being genuinely historical. I am sure many readers know what those methods are but I will do a companion post to this one making them clear again.

  • Sili
    2019-04-04 23:36:27 GMT+0000 - 23:36 | Permalink

    Lately I’ve been wondering of these methods and criteria of NT exegists have ever been applied in any other context.

    It’s probably my background in chemistry that makes me annoyed. If you’re introducing a new test/metric/whatever you should first make sure that it gives reliable results. What does fx the Criterion of Embarrassment tell us if applied to Alexander, Arthur, Longshanks, Hood, Ludd or Potter? Has anyone ever actually bothered to calibrate these ‘methods’ of inquiry?

    • Neil Godfrey
      2019-04-05 04:25:42 GMT+0000 - 04:25 | Permalink

      Finley’s comment indicates that he believed the criteria used by biblical scholars to establish historicity were . . . I used the word “fatuous” in the post.

      One simple example will suffice. When asked by the Pharisees for ‘a sign from Heaven’, Jesus replied, ‘There shall be no sign given unto this generation’ (Mark viii, 11-12). Goguel comments:

      This saying is certainly authentic, for it could not have been created by primitive Christianity which attached a great importance to the miracles of Jesus …

      . . . .

      This application of the ‘psychological method’ is neat, plausible, commonsensical. But is the answer right? Not only in this one example but in the thousands upon thousands of details in the story upon which Goguel or any other historian must make up his mind? I do not know what decisive tests of verifiability could possibly be applied.

    • Pofarmer
      2019-04-05 13:25:10 GMT+0000 - 13:25 | Permalink

      I have asked exactly the same question, but challenged that the subject be Rhett Butler. How is the evidence we have for Jesus different than the evidence for Rhett Butler? Crickets. It should be trivial, shouldn’t it?

  • Lowen Gartner
    2019-04-05 00:27:23 GMT+0000 - 00:27 | Permalink

    What strikes me about the longer passage leading up to the Jesus bit is there were plenty of amazing events to be taken and adapted into the passion tale.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2019-04-05 04:28:48 GMT+0000 - 04:28 | Permalink

      I was struck by the explicit appeal to eye-witnesses for verification that these miraculous events really happened. Now what was it Richard Bauckham was saying about Jesus and the eyewitnesses?

    • Pofarmer
      2019-04-05 22:12:39 GMT+0000 - 22:12 | Permalink

      The star over the city? Etc, etc, etc. ????

  • Blood
    2019-04-05 11:57:47 GMT+0000 - 11:57 | Permalink

    Was Wedden’s thesis ever published anywhere? In the link to Christian Origins, he writes that “Polebridge Press has indicated that it wants to publish the thesis as a book as soon.”

    • Neil Godfrey
      2019-04-06 02:26:32 GMT+0000 - 02:26 | Permalink

      Yes, in Forum, 2003: see https://www.westarinstitute.org/resources/forum/forum-new-series-1998-2004/

      Weeden, Theodore J. 2003. “Two Jesuses, Jesus of Jerusalem and Jesus of Nazareth: Provocative Parallels and Imaginative Imitation.” Forum 6 (2): 137–341.

      Available via interlibrary loan, or purchase from the Weststar Intitute site itself, or if you are content with an very amateurish piecing together of various photos of its pages you can request one from me by email for personal use only. No web-posting or sharing of it.

      • Blood
        2019-04-06 03:47:54 GMT+0000 - 03:47 | Permalink

        Thanks, Neil. I was unaware of this article. Copies of the issue are available at an affordable price at the Weststar site. 304 pages is certainly substantial for an “article.”

  • Charles McGuyer
    2019-04-05 13:10:39 GMT+0000 - 13:10 | Permalink

    Well, class, any questions? That just about does it, don’t it? 🙂 Wonder why this part of Josephus isn’t heard about? First for me and seals the deal.

    • Charles McGuyer
      2019-04-05 13:59:44 GMT+0000 - 13:59 | Permalink

      To clarify; I meant the supernatural part of Josephus in the article, not the “Woe to Jerusalem” part. I was familiar with the Jesus Ben Ananius part but not the part before that.

      What translation of Josephus is that? I have “The Works of JOSEPHUS Complete and Unabridged New Updated Edition Translated by William Whiston, A.M. Published in 2016 By Delmarva Publications, Inc.” And it is different. Great article, by the way, Neil.

      • Neil Godfrey
        2019-04-06 02:28:43 GMT+0000 - 02:28 | Permalink

        It’s an old 1959 G. A. Williamson translation (not as old as Whiston’s original, though!)

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

  • 2019-04-05 15:54:02 GMT+0000 - 15:54 | Permalink

    Regarding the miraculous signs passage, this is just so utterly frustrating. I appreciate his skepticism, but the reality is that we CAN determine the historicity of such passages, because we can determine their sources. In this case we can see that the miraculous signs passage comes from Paul.

    Goguel’s comment is entire rubbish:
    “This saying is certainly authentic, for it could not have been created by primitive Christianity which attached a great importance to the miracles of Jesus”

    That is just complete and total nonsense. The reality is that a statement like this should get a biblical scholar laughed out of the room, but instead actually most biblical scholars believe it!

    Real research shows that Mark’s signs dialog is derived from Paul’s letters, and indeed even that Mark’s ending is a demonstration of the point! At the end of Mark no miracle is witnessed- no sign is given! All the other gospel writer of course change the end so that the resurrection is witnessed.

    Where do we find evidence of great importance placed on the miracles of Jesus? Only in the Gospels and post-Gospel writings! How can anyone say with a straight face that the miracles of Jesus were central to early belief? No such miracles are mentioned in the letters of James, Jude, Paul or Hebrews. Do these people even have brains?

    It’s just so utterly frustrating how dense these so-called scholars are, and how far behind the “reputable scholars” who are trying to call them to account.

    Honestly, I wish I could make everyone in this field read David Oliver Smith’s book, Matthew, Mark, Luke and Paul, along with Mark Goodacre’s Case Against Q. Those two books need to be a starting point for all this discussion IMO.

    Because an irony is that while some scholars are trying to correctly note that many mainstream assumptions are not supported by evidence, they often end up failing to recognize that we aren’t in a situation where we simply lack evidence, and thus need to move away from “this is true” to “we aren’t sure”. In many cases we do have enough evidence to actually be able to say, “this is false”. And what’s frustrating is that so many people don’t even realize that.

  • 2019-04-05 16:06:02 GMT+0000 - 16:06 | Permalink

    As for the bigger questions about overall ancient historical sources, I entirely agree that we need to be far more skeptical of all sources regarding all topics. Yes, that means we may have to give up large parts of what we believed about the narratives of ancient civilization, but false narratives are useless.

    I get frustrated when I see people refer to Josephus as if he is reliable. He’s not liable either, nor are many other ancient writers. There are so many causes of error, both intentional and unintentional. The writer may be lying, the writer may be misinformed, the text could be redacted in close proximity to its time of origin, the text could be redacted much later. And we know that all of these things happened all the time.

    • Charles McGuyer
      2019-04-05 18:32:11 GMT+0000 - 18:32 | Permalink

      When I read of the supernatural events in the above portion of Josephus it became much clearer to me that a lot of the subject matter of the day was all related. Josephus was writing in the same manner as the gospels were written. Telling all the superstitious, tall tales of the day. Didn’t matter if Josephus was telling the truth about anything. I doubt some of the things I’ve read from Josephus after all he was a jew working for the Romans so he was protecting his backside. But, as concerning the above passage he was writing in the same manner as the gospels. I had someone tell me once that they quit reading current novels of the day when they realized they were reading the same thing over and over. Just like pop, rock or country music of the day. Everybody’s doing the same thing. They’re a product of the times. And Josephus, Mark, Matthew, Luke, John and Joe Biden (#metoo) are a product of the times. Everything’s a fad.

      • Greg G.
        2019-04-05 20:21:18 GMT+0000 - 20:21 | Permalink

        Josephus saved his own ass by telling Vespasian that the Jewish prophecy that the leader of the inhabited world would rise from that region did not mean the leader would be born there so the prophecy referred to Vespasian. So Josephus had an incentive to add prophecies to stories.

        The pharaoh of the Moses nativity story did not fear a prophecy in Exodus to have all the Jewish male babies killed but he did in Antiquities. Moses father didn’t receive a warning in a dream in Exodus but he did in Antiquities. King Herod probably did not fear the Pharisees prophecies but he did in Antiquities.

        So we know Matthew didn’t get his Jesus nativity story from the Old Testament but by combining stories from Antiquities.

  • Martin Lewadny
    2019-04-06 01:37:43 GMT+0000 - 01:37 | Permalink

    I want to alert everyone to a paper read by Dr. Robert M. Price by Theodore Weeden re:the gospel of Mark and eyewitness “testimony” on his Bible Geek show. I believe it was a response to R. Bauckham sometime ago re his eyewitness book.

    Weeden, still a “believer” is brilliant and can’t put up with evangelical pontifications just as Michael Goulder who in his later life and testimony couldn’t just “believe” anymore.

    I can’t recall what episode. But it is highly enlightening.

    I am so sorry I can’t give the exact date of Price’s reading. I hope someone has enough computer skills to find it and post a link here.

    I have been away for sometime from this site, having been sick again…. these damn auto-immune diseases!!!! And no resurrection power is surging through my system except my own!! And I used to believe in the resurrection. Who cares anymore. I have never seen the resurrection doctrine mean anything practical to believers, except in trivial testimonial bullshit. ie. Jesus helped me through the day…or healed my cold. Or he makes me feel good here and there. etc. etc.

    I have gained strength again and hope to contribute some things here and there as I used to.

    Cheers everyone..

    Marty Lewadny

    • Neil Godfrey
      2019-04-06 03:06:03 GMT+0000 - 03:06 | Permalink

      The podcast you refer to is January 19th 2012, Dr. Price reads Theodore J. Weeden’s review of ‘Jesus and the Eyewitnesses’ — according to Undeniably Atheist blog.

      But the link is no longer working and I can’t access any past podcasts on Bob Price’s website. Can anyone help with access to this reading of Weeden’s review?

    • db
      2019-04-06 03:49:12 GMT+0000 - 03:49 | Permalink

      See also: Weeden Sr., Theodore (1 October 2008). “Polemics as a Case for Dissent: A Response to Richard Bauckham’s Jesus and the Eyewitnesses”. Journal for the Study of the Historical Jesus. 6 (2): 211–224. doi:10.1163/174551908X349699.

      • Martin Lewadny
        2019-04-08 06:41:58 GMT+0000 - 06:41 | Permalink

        Thanks everyone for trying to find some access. We are here to help each other get to the sources…Ya…Ya. thanks big time everyone. Thanks again Neil for the appeal for access… a true librarian 🙂

  • Gary
    2019-04-06 21:29:27 GMT+0000 - 21:29 | Permalink

    I think the synoptic gospels were written after Josephus’s “The Wars of the Jews” (75AD), almost as a rebuttal to it. The difference between the gospel writers and Josephus is that Josephus (6.5.2-6.5.4) says “A false prophet was the occasion of these people’s destruction…that God commanded them to get up upon the temple, and that there they should receive miraculous signs of their deliverance…there was a great number of false prophets…who denounced this to them…that they should wait for deliverance from God: and this was in order to keep them from deserting, and that they might be buoyed up above fear and care by such hopes…for when such a seducer makes him believe that he shall be delivered from those miseries which oppress him, then it is that the patient is full of hopes of such deliverance…Thus were the miserable people persuaded by these deceivers…”

    Josephus THEN goes on to describe the so-called miraculous signs (star over city, lamb birth to heifer, etc), including a hint that Josephus isn’t necessarily saying they really happened, but they were reported by people. Such as, “Moreover at that feast which we call Pentecost, as the priests were going by night into the inner court of the temple…THEY SAID THAT…they felt a quaking, and heard a great noise…”Let us remove hence””. (My emphasis).

    Then Josephus told about Jesus, the son of Ananus. Presented as a rather crazy person.

    Then the kicker – Josephus says “Now, if anyone consider these things, he will find that God takes care of mankind, and by all ways possible foreshows to our race what is for their preservation; but that men perish by those miseries which they madly and voluntarily bring upon themselves…”

    To summarize – Josephus is clear in saying the Jews in Jerusalem didn’t surrendered to the Romans, because they were juiced up by false prophets, expecting to be saved by God, and were thus responsible for their own destruction.

    However, the Gospel writers wanted to present a different story. Jesus was a true prophet, the miracles were true; and, btw, Jesus didn’t get killed by a giant rock thrown by the Romans in 66AD, but was crucified about 30 years earlier. And resurrected. But he successfully predicted this mess.

    Sounds reasonable to me.

    However, I would say this does represent a historical core to the Jesus story. Just two divergent stories. One more historic than the other.

    • Neil Godfrey
      2019-04-08 06:57:34 GMT+0000 - 06:57 | Permalink

      An alternative perspective would be to think the author of “Mark” understood the literary device of Josephus’s inventions, Jesus ben Ananias included, and, given the literary fabrication involved, was free to re-imagine another narrative with a more positive Jesus set a generation earlier — the destruction of Jerusalem being the consequence of the Jews crucifying that Jesus — but that scenario opens little room for any historical core.

      • Gary
        2019-04-08 17:19:53 GMT+0000 - 17:19 | Permalink

        I don’t personally believe in “literary device of Josephus’s inventions”, that is, “inventions”. I certainly think Josephus was biased pro-Roman. And he exaggerated. But I don’t think he actually invented things. Probably based most of his stories on oral stories he heard from other people – which indeed could be themselves “inventions”, by other people.
        My only doubt is how Paul’s writings coincide with this theory. Paul’s writing being earlier, perhaps his writings included another Jesus, since I understand that the name Jesus was rather common at the time. But Paul only wrote about crucifixion and resurrection. No real history of Jesus, no star, miracles, etc. But I’m open to how Paul’s writings could be explained. I’m assuming that Paul’s letters were pre-75AD (publishing date of Wars). But if Paul died ~66 AD, we’re only talking about less than 10 years. So maybe Josephus was slightly influenced by something of an “invention”. All I know is the commonality between Josephus’ writings and the synoptic gospels (which clearly were later), is a little too much to ignore. Clearly the gospel writers I think were rebutting Josephus.

        • Neil Godfrey
          2019-04-08 18:07:35 GMT+0000 - 18:07 | Permalink

          Saying that an ancient historian invented details on the basis of literary conventions has firm basis in the evidence and is not a vacuous assertion somehow trying to flaunt an unwarranted scepticism. We know that that’s what ancient historians often did. They did invent events as a matter of literary custom. A simple example is that the noting of the death of a great person is regularly said to be associated with supernatural phenomena and we see the same convention imitated in the Gospel of Matthew with its claim that the dead rose at the moment of Jesus’ death. Even the “father of scientific history”, Thucydides, has been shown to have invented his narrative of the plague of Athens on the basis of the works of dramatic poets known to him and not on eyewitness reports at all as he infers.

          This is not my opinion but the outcome of research by historians of ancient times and ancient historians themselves, as posted quite a few times now on this blog.

          Given what we know about the way ancient historians worked it is naive to assume that they were relying upon oral or other reports to testify of real events etc unless we have satisfactory reasons to justify that opinion in any particular instance.

        • 2019-04-08 18:42:01 GMT+0000 - 18:42 | Permalink

          The whole “oral accounts” business is a red-herring. The idea that such accounts are based oral traditions is just a contrivance of Christian theologians to try and come up with some way that the Gospel accounts could be traced back to some meaningful information about Jesus. That concept, then has bled over into other areas as well.

          But the real data makes this all highly unlikely. What the real data suggests is that a lot of what we read an ancient accounts was fabricated by the writers themselves. This is true in the works of the Jewish scriptures, the writings at Qumran, Greek literature, Roman literature, Persian literature, the writings about Muhammad, the writings about King Author, etc. The evidence strongly indicates that these stories didn’t originate as popular accounts that were later recorded by scribes, rather they were concocted by the writers and then became popular as a result of their invention by the writers.

          Biblical scholars, and even many historians, want to believe that written accounts are unadulterated records of information external to the writer. Even if that information is false it would still be evidence of existing beliefs and tell us about “the community”. But for every statement by every ancient writer we need to ask the question of whether such a claim is likely to have been invented by the writer or if it is even possible to have been invented by the writer. Unless we can provide some certainly that a claim isn’t the invention of the writer then we must always consider the possibility that it was. In so many cases, especially in the case of Josephus, we find many details that advance the narrative or moral point he’s trying to make or in some way serve his agenda. This gives us extra reason to be skeptical.

          Many people want to imagine our ancient written accounts as having come from unbiased and dutiful field reporters who neither personally added nor subtracted from the accounts they recorded, but the evidence says otherwise. The evidence says that huge portions of ancient accounts come from the imagination of the writers. Not only are we not getting history from them, we aren’t even getting legend from them, we’re just getting straight fabrication in many cases.

          • Gary
            2019-04-08 20:54:45 GMT+0000 - 20:54 | Permalink

            If your premise is right, then Josephus should be read as fiction… which means it probably shouldn’t be read at all, unless you want to read a bedtime story. I find this a little over the top. As a librarian, is Josephus listed in the fiction section of the library, or in the historic section of the library? I’m sure some of his details are made up. But I would bet those are his personal details that make him look good. I don’t see the motivation for him to make up details about crazy apocalyptic prophets in Jerusalem, since we already know they existed both in 55AD Jerusalem, and in 2019 North America.

            • Neil Godfrey
              2019-04-09 00:31:19 GMT+0000 - 00:31 | Permalink

              No, not at all. Herodotus is not put in the fiction section though much (some historians would say probably most) of what he wrote is fictitious. Ancient historians were not following the standards of modern historians. They did indeed write fiction and in many quarters had a reputation for being liars. Not that everything they wrote was untrue, but we need to be aware of the conventions and motivations they followed.

              Josephus often tries to emulate Thucydides, for example, who is known to have fabricated events for the sake of dramatic effect and to “edify” his readers. Josephus made up the story of the cow giving birth the lamb in the same context and as part of the same rationale as he told the story of Jesus ben Ananias. That must give us pause, surely.

        • MrHorse
          2019-04-08 20:28:34 GMT+0000 - 20:28 | Permalink

          Gary wrote

          “[Josephus p]robably based most of his stories on oral stories he heard from other people – which indeed could be themselves ‘inventions’ by other people.”

          Josephus might have based most of his stories on oral stories he heard from other people, but that’s a different scenario to what Paul and the synoptic and other NT book writers (and their later editors) might have based their narratives on.

          I agree that “the synoptic gospels were [almost certainly] written after Josephus’s “The Wars of the Jews” (75AD)” [presenting a different narratives, as Gary says], and I think the Pauline epistles were too, and they could have been written almost at the same time or only a few years beforehand, not decades beforehand.

          I think the common assertions about Paul and his letters are likely to be false.

        • Gregory Doudna
          2019-04-09 00:06:15 GMT+0000 - 00:06 | Permalink

          On Paul’s letters, can a pre-70 CE dating for any of Paul’s letters be established solely from Paul’s letters alone? Despite most scholars claiming that Pauline chronology and travels must be established based on the genuine letters alone rather than Acts, in the end it seems Acts is the basis for excluding post-70 dating of the Paul letters. Paul’s letters refer to pre-70 (e.g. Gal 1; 2 Cor 11:31) but it does not follow from that the letters are written pre-70, simply because they refer to past events pre-70. I have found standard commentaries and critical introductions to Paul’s letters rarely raise the question of how it is securely established that any of the letters are pre-70 on the basis of the letters themselves, and discussions that do seem basically to cite allusions to temple practice in the letters as the evidence and then move on. But that is no evidence: Josephus’s post-70 Contra Apion refers to temple practice as if it is currently ongoing and the same with many other ancient text examples. Such authors could speak of temple practice for purposes of exegesis and allegory even though actual temple practice was not happening, due to what in their view may have been seen as a temporary interruption. IS there evidence internal to the Pauline letters establishing pre-70 authorship? If so, what?

          As for Acts, I recently came across Justin Taylor, “The Making of Acts: A New Account” (RB 1990: 504-524), discussing a three-volume work of Boismard and Lamouille in French published in 1990. I have ordered Vol I of B and L but have not yet received or seen it so what follows is from the description of Taylor. B and L argue that the “missionary journeys” of Paul of Acts are fictional developed or elaborated out of an actual historical source, the “we” passages source which was from a single journey of Paul, not a missionary journey but the money-collection journey which occurred in a single year. That single journey of Paul correlates with all of the information in the epistles, goes the argument, and the separated and repeated missionary journeys of Acts disappear historically. In the existing text of Acts, so the argument goes, pieces of the “we” source have been fragmented and exploded into the narratives of multiple missionary journey stories.

          From Taylor’s description: “While B. and L.’s account of the “We” passages does not allow the Acts of the Apostles to be taken as, even in part, an eyewitness account, it does, on the other hand provide us with a first class historical document, the Jv [“Journal de voyage”, the “we” travel document source] to stand alongside the letters of St Paul as evidence of the apostle’s career. Not only does the Jv inform us more fully about the collection journey itself. Now that we can see how Act I [Stage 1 of Acts composition] and Act II [Stage 2 of Acts composition] made use of this document, it is clearer than ever that the schema of (two or) three missionary journeys of St Paul is artificial and should not be retained in any essay in establishing the biography and chronology of the Apostle from the NT sources” (p. 516).

          Apart from the favorable review of Justin Taylor of the B and L reconstruction I have been unable to find other reviews or engagements with this explanation of the “we” passages. Neither Taylor nor B and L question that the argued actual single journey of Paul reflected in the letters and in the “we” source was pre-70. But if there is merit to the line of analysis of B and L, my question is: when would this single journey of Paul be dated, in terms of evidence? Going solely on grounds internal to the letters, the pre-70 dating of that trip, and the pre-70 dating of any of the letters, seems to me not simply less secure than assumed, but not established at all.

          I can think of several reasons why a post-70 dating of all of Paul’s letters would on the face of it make better sense:

          (a) it lessens the gap in time from writing to first emergence into public history of the letters at the time of publication by Marcion;

          (b) the theology of supercessionism in the letters, of Christ-universalism replacing the Jews in history, arguably makes better sense post-70;

          (c) the issue of meat offered to idols reflected in the letters is reflected in Rev 2-3 which read as anti-pauline and post-70;

          (d) the Muratori Fragment has the letters of Paul postdating the letters of Rev 2-3;

          (e) some of the letters of Paul already are conventionally supposed to be post-70 (the ones considered non-genuine);

          (f) in the Paul letters considered genuine there are allusions to post-70, such as I Thes 2 (wrath of God has come on the Jews), therefore considered a post-70 “interpolation”–but is that an interpolation or is that simply a feature of the letter diagnostic of the dating of the letter itself?

          (g) the pro-Roman, anti-Jewish tenor of Paul’s letters arguably read very well as post-70 in the aftermath of crushing Roman victory and discrediting of Revolt ideology;

          (h) Galatians can read as if the “pillars” are not around (either not alive, or in the case of John the Essene and/or Zealot leader, imprisoned) to dispute Paul, from a post-70 stance in which Paul gives his version of disputed (past) pre-70 history.

          Whether or not the reconstruction of Boisnard and Lamouille, or my further soundings, may or may not seem fruitful in every specific, some of these questions may merit reopening and revisiting.

          • Neil Godfrey
            2019-04-09 01:32:42 GMT+0000 - 01:32 | Permalink

            Thanks for this resonse, Greg. (I have set out the last points with line spacing for easier following.)

            Two questions come to mind:

            1. The closer we move Paul’s letters to the late first/early second century, yes, we lessen the time gap between the letters and their recorded public appearance, but at the same time we increase the problem of the mystery of the person of Paul himself. The closer we place him to other known persons like Marcion (and that means also to persons like Justin, Tertullian) the more curious it would appear that Paul himself is an unknown quantity as a person with a career or role. What made him so significant (or so infamous that he could not be mentioned) in the eyes of others so close to him?
            2. The other point relates to 1 Thes 2. Much of the argument for interpolation hangs on the passage being alien in sentiment to Paul’s attitude towards the Jews elsewhere, especially Romans 11.

            Comments?

          • 2019-04-09 10:40:06 GMT+0000 - 10:40 | Permalink

            I don’t think post-70 makes much sense at all. You can maybe point to a few minor things that could be argued might make sense post temple, but can we really believe that in all these letters there is no direct meaningful discussion of the massive war that devastated the Jews, killing / enslaving hundreds of thousand of people and destroying their most sacred icon? Not likely at all.

            If the letters were post temple it would be obvious, not a few suspect hints.

            On top of that it is certain that the letters were used by the author of Mark. The letters had to have existed early enough for Mark to have gotten a hold of them and used them in a collected form. Mark uses, I believe, 6 of the letters.

            If anything I am now thinking that the letters are earlier than once believed, the original parts possibly having been composed in the early first century. I suspect Paul was a real person who died during the reign of Pilate, which “Mark” was aware of, which is why Mark has Jesus dying during Pilate’s reign.

            The only reason for dating the epistles to between 40 and 64 CE is because it was assumed they had to be written after Jesus died, which supposedly happened in the 30s. So the only real anchor point was Jesus’ death. But if that’s just a fiction then that anchor point goes away and Paul’s letters can be from any time prior to that.

            What I’m looking at now are links between Paul’s letters and the Qumran writings. Clearly Hebrews, which builds on Philippians, has links to the Qumran writings.

            • Gregory Doudna
              2019-04-09 12:59:34 GMT+0000 - 12:59 | Permalink

              r.g. price, on no direct reference to the massive war of 70, I agree that would be an argument against close in time post-70, but weakens the farther away from 70, as the “new normal” becomes unremarkable and background. Allusions in the letters to wrath on the Jews, the Jewish nation being made by God a vessel of destruction, supercessionism ideology, metaphorical language of Christians as temple et al read well as indirectly simply assuming post-70 reality as background.

              “If the letters were post temple it would be obvious, not a few suspect hints.” Well maybe, maybe not. Would you apply the same logic to I Clement, Didache, or the Johannine epistles, and other texts similarly? These texts say nothing of a War or destruction of the temple.

              On Paul letters predating the Gospel of Mark, I agree on that but do not see that that refutes post-70 letters, unless you consider it certain that GMk is as early as mid-70s; I do not. If GMk drew on Antiquities as per arguments of David Oliver Smith and McAdon, then GMk is not earlier than mid-90s.

              • Klaus Schilling
                2019-04-09 15:45:48 GMT+0000 - 15:45 | Permalink

                post-bar Kochba is more like it. Assuming anything but a post-Trajanic literary origin of Paul is dumb, only suited for Ehrman and other naive scholars. The Gospel of Mark is of course even later, harmonizing precursors of Mt and Lk and polemizing against Marcion and other groups vilified by Irenaeus,Tertullian,…

              • Gregory Doudna
                2019-04-09 17:39:10 GMT+0000 - 17:39 | Permalink

                Klaus you could be right, but why? (on post-Trajan Paul letters) Whats the argument in a nutshell (or bibliographic reference)?

              • 2019-04-09 19:45:16 GMT+0000 - 19:45 | Permalink

                “Would you apply the same logic to I Clement, Didache, or the Johannine epistles, and other texts similarly? These texts say nothing of a War or destruction of the temple.”

                No, and here is why. When the letters of Paul were written there was no real narrative or historical context for Jesus. The Gospel of Mark put Jesus in a pre-destruction setting, and thus everyone else who followed Mark followed this model and discussed Jesus in a pre-destruction context.

                But for Paul no such context had been established, so surely he would have had something to say about it. Would he not have at least compared the death and resurrection of Jesus with the destruction of the temple?

                In addition, I agree with Carrier than Hebrews must also be pre-temple given it’s discussion of the temple rites. Hebrews also clearly draws from Paul’s letters, particularly Philippians, so if Hebrews is pre-temple, so too must Paul’s letters be.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2019-04-10 00:41:21 GMT+0000 - 00:41 | Permalink

                In addition, I agree with Carrier than Hebrews must also be pre-temple given it’s discussion of the temple rites.

                What is your response to Greg’s point that Josephus speaks of the temple and temple rites in the present tense in Contra Apion — from the late 90s?

                While the author of Hebrews speaks of the temple and sacrifices in the present tense he also at times slips into speaking of the Mosiac tabernacle in the present tense (Hebrews 13:10) and the temple high priest in the past tense (Hebrews 9:7).

                If it appears the present tense is generally used to discuss the significance and meanings of the temple rituals (I don’t know if there is anything comparable in the early rabbinical literature) then the present tense is not a certain indicator that the temple was still standing.

              • mrHorse
                2019-04-09 20:58:00 GMT+0000 - 20:58 | Permalink

                Greg Doudna wrote

                ” … farther away from 70 [a.d.] …the “new normal” becomes unremarkable and background.

                “Allusions in the letters to wrath on the Jews, the Jewish nation being made by God a vessel of destruction, supercessionism ideology, metaphorical language of Christians as temple, et al., read well as indirectly, simply assuming post-70 reality as background.”

                I think those are good points.

              • 2019-04-10 16:29:40 GMT+0000 - 16:29 | Permalink

                @Neil

                “What is your response to Greg’s point that Josephus speaks of the temple and temple rites in the present tense in Contra Apion — from the late 90s?”

                Totally different.

                Hebrews doesn’t simply talk about temple rites. The whole theology of Hebrews is centrally founded on the idea that the sacrifice of Jesus makes the temple rites obsolete. Surely in making this argument the writer would had to have acknowledged the relevance of the fact that the temple was destroyed and no longer existed.

                Surely something to the effect of: After Jesus performed his sacrifice in the eternal heavenly temple, God saw fit to destroy its earthly copy to show us that it was no longer necessary, etc., etc.

                The whole content of Hebrews is so ripe for a discussion of the destruction of the temple if the author had known of it. It would have been 100% relevant to the discussion.

              • db
                2019-04-10 16:56:27 GMT+0000 - 16:56 | Permalink

                • Given a possible ecclesial dark age spanning fifty years (from the 60s to 110s), does that alter anyone’s thinking on dating Paul?

                Carrier, “How Did Christianity Switch to a Historical Jesus?“. Richard Carrier Blogs. 9 November 2017.

                The Jewish War of 66–70 destroyed the original church in Jerusalem, leaving us with no evidence that any of the original apostles lived beyond it. Before that, persecutions from Jewish authorities and famines throughout the empire . . . further exacerbated the effect, which was to leave a thirty-year dark age in the history of the church (from the 60s to the 90s), a whole generation in which we have no idea what happened or who was in charge (Element 22). In fact this ecclesial dark age probably spans fifty years (from the 60s to 110s), if 1 Clement was written in the 60s and not the 90s (see Chapter 8, §5), as then we have no record of anything going on until either Ignatius or Papias, both of whom could have written well later than the 110s (Chapter 8, §§6 and 7).

              • 2019-04-10 17:45:03 GMT+0000 - 17:45 | Permalink

                @db “Given a possible ecclesial dark age spanning fifty years (from the 60s to 110s), does that alter anyone’s thinking on dating Paul?”

                It’s one of the things that makes me think Paul may have been even earlier. I’d say any time from 10 BCE through 60 CE is when the original root of the letters of Paul could have been written.

                The way I see it, there was probably some tiny insignificant Jesus cult in the early first century. By the end of the first conflicts it was likely disbanded and essentially dead. But after the war some collection of Paul’s letters was produced and those writings then inspired the writing of the Gospel of Mark, which then inspired other writings and by the mid 2nd century Christianity was being born from the writings. There was never any continuous community of people who maintained a lineage of Jesus worship.

                It was a tiny cult, it died out, then there was a resurgence due to the writings.

              • Klaus Schilling
                2019-04-11 05:32:11 GMT+0000 - 05:32 | Permalink

                The posteriority of the synoptics to Bar Kohba has already been demonstrated by Hermann Detering in one of the works listed on R. Salm’s memorial blog. The Mt version is more original than the Mk version, rwegardless of all the claim of Markolatrists like Goodacre.

              • Neil Godfrey
                2019-04-11 06:50:13 GMT+0000 - 06:50 | Permalink

                Come on, Klaus. Give us some arguments. Your constant appeal to authority doesn’t cut it. And cut the denigrating descriptions like “Markolatrists”. No-one believes Goodacre has anything but reasoned arguments for his positions on Mark. So your refusal to give any reasoned arguments yourself leaves your comments rather pointless.

            • Gregory Doudna
              2019-04-11 17:49:26 GMT+0000 - 17:49 | Permalink

              r.g. price, on date of Hebrews, I have not studied that question in depth, but I came across this article: Jorg Rupke, “Starting sacrifice in the beyond: Flavian innovations in the concept of priesthood and their repercussions in the treatise ‘To the Hebrews'”, Revue de l’histoire des religions 229 (2012): 5-30. Rupkpe argues that Hebrews’ heavenly high priest is cast in contrast, not to the Jewish earthly temple, but to the Roman emperor as high priest of the imperial cult in a ca. Domitian or early Trajan setting rather than pre-70. Late in the article Rupke also favorably cites a suggestion of Gelardini 2005 that Hebrews was a homily read on the day commemorating the destruction of the Jerusalem temple.

              There is an unspoken factor for me in the pre-70 vs. post-70 datings of these texts: a suspicion that the Jesus Passion story may be terminus a quo 70 CE, postdating Josephus’s three crucified and one saved alive (in Vita, where the saved one is unidentified but was an “acquaintance” of Josephus), and Jesus b. Ananias (in War). Both of these are dated 70 and the Gospels’ Jesus story seems derivative from each of these. The Gospels’ Passion story for its part even seems to have a Josephus figure involved in the rescue of Jesus from the cross in the figure of “Joseph of Arimethea”. Josephus separately refers to Roman practice in releasing and sending mutilated or tortured victims alive back into the besieged city for purposes of terror and demoralizing will to resist inside. There one could get the I Cor. 15 sightings.

              Jesus b. Ananias reads as a legend/hearsay story already by the time Josephus included it in a list of “wonders” in War. It occurs to me that

              (a) the death of Jesus ben Ananias with the stone in the head killing him following his uttering an exact Josephus-genre speech to the defenders of the city may be a confusion in the hearsay transmission of that story, with Josephus’s own near-death from being hit in the head with a stone following a Josephus speech to the defenders of the city, reported and believed inside the city to have killed Josephus says Josephus.

              (b) Jesus ben Ananias of 70 CE and the one-out-of-three crucifixion victims saved by Josephus of 70 CE seem independently dated at approximately the same time, ca. first month of the siege;

              (d) both of these two are arguably non-coincidentally and independently reflected in the Christian Jesus story calling for explanation. The simplest explanation arguably would be that the Jesus Passion story developed from and postdates those, therefore post-70.

              But Paul’s letters, a core of genuine letters of which are dated pre-70 by ca. 100% of scholarship with the exception of those who argue they are all 2nd CE forgeries, speak of Jesus Christ crucified, which is the big-ticket chronological objection to the above. There are two conceivable lines of argument that could remove the Paul’s-letters objection to the above analysis, while retaining a historicity of Paul and 1st CE Paul letters. (1) Paul’s letters are pre-70 but reflect a developed Christ ideology without Jesus prior to identification with Jesus (here the argument of Stevan Davies on the Odes of Solomon in the 2014 rev. ed. of Spirit Possession and the Rise of Christianity), then add a further supposition of interpolations of the name “Jesus” and the resurrection sightings and eucharist “received traditions” passages, etc. (so Vermeiren). Or, (2) Paul’s letters themselves are post-70 (no need to suppose Jesus allusions are secondary edits/interpolations).

              I have dug out a book off my shelf from the late Niels Hyldahl, a professor of New Testament whom I knew in Copenhagen. I talked with him for over an hour one time at a faculty event in which he explained to me his argument that all of Paul’s letters were written in a single year, and how misguided the rest of the NT field was regarding reliance upon Acts. The Hyldahl book I have, the only one of his many publications in German available in English to my knowledge, is The History of Early Christianity (1997 trans. of 1993). It takes up in granular detail the prosography of Paul’s letters, the names and dates and travels and Acts, with original argued analysis on nearly every page. Hyldahl rejects the “three mission journeys” and dates the year of Paul’s letters to 54-55 CE. “The three missionary journeys we know from the Acts and have seen indicated by different dotted lines on countless Bible maps, and which have dominated New Testament history to this day, originate in the adaptation of the Acts and are clearly unauthentic. They are not substantiated by any of Paul’s letters” (p. 144). “All of Paul’s letters—with the exception of 1 and 2 Thess.—were written within a period of one year at the most (between February 54 and February 55)” (p. 149).

              However (this is me in response to reading Hyldahl, who I regret has died in the intervening years such that I cannot take these questions up with him directly now): how does Hyldahl get 54-55 CE? It seems he does so by judiciously and critically integrating the letters with some of the information in Acts. He then develops a detailed reconstruction of Paul’s itinerary and dates of travel. But it seems to me to rest on assuming a core validity to certain things in Acts, such as Paul being present in Corinth in the time of Gallo. (Maybe that story was a Sosthenes story with Paul only secondarily attached to it, based on Sosthenes later becoming associated with Paul?)

              But if Acts were a later text generated in its storytelling out of the letters of Paul, as per both (and apparently independently?) Hyldahl and Boismard and Lamouille 1990 (plus possibly, per Boismard and Lamouille, the Acts author drawing from some later stories of some of the dramatis personae), then Acts would be expected to have the points of contacts in details with the letters that all scholars see. These Acts points of contact do not then corroborate or provide independent evidence of dating, but rather frame a story within a date context (pre-70) making use of the real letters. This leaves a 50s dating of Paul’s letters as an argument from plausibility but less than secure, with a problem of circularity perhaps greater than even Hyldahl appreciated. The issue would be whether Acts (not the letters) has got the absolute date chronology context of Paul’s letters and Asia Minor/Greece activity correct to pre-70.

              Paul in Galatians 1 in telling where he was in the fourteen years between his first visit to Jerusalem (ca. 40-43 CE?) and his second (ca. 54-57 CE?), says he was in the regions of “Syria and Cilicia” (Gal 1:21) and then some time after the second Jerusalem visit was in Antioch, with no mention at all of Ephesus or Greece. All scholars assume, with Acts, the Asia Minor/Greece activity of Paul’s letters is pre-70, and the only debate has been where in the Gal sequence to situate the pre-70 activity of the letters in Asia Minor/Greece that Paul does not confirm or mention in Gal 1 where he does recount his pre-70 history.

              And yes, Paul claims in Gal 1 to have had the Son of God revealed to him in Damascus/Arabia which seems from 2 Cor 11 to date ca. 37-40 CE—but was that yet a crucified Jesus? It is always assumed so, but given the strong likelihood that developed Son of God/Christ conceptions preceded claims of an earthly Jesus’s identification as such (e.g. per John 1), is that assumption secure?

              • mrHorse
                2019-04-11 22:39:18 GMT+0000 - 22:39 | Permalink

                Points worth noting –

                … Paul’s letters, a core of genuine letters of which are dated pre-70 by ca. 100% of scholarship, with the exception of those who argue they are all 2nd CE forgeries, speak of Jesus Christ crucified, which is the big-ticket chronological objection to the above.

                There are two conceivable lines of argument that could remove the Paul’s-letters objection to the above analysis [of the significance of Josephus’ narration of Jesus ben Ananias or Ruepke’s commentary about Hebrews (or both)], while retaining a historicity of Paul and 1st CE Paul letters.

                (1) Paul’s letters are pre-70 but reflect a developed Christ ideology without Jesus prior to identification with Jesus (here the argument of Stevan Davies on the Odes of Solomon in the 2014 rev. ed. of Spirit Possession and the Rise of Christianity), then add a further supposition of interpolations of the name “Jesus” and the resurrection sightings and eucharist “received traditions” passages, etc. (so Vermeiren, or,

                (2) Paul’s letters themselves are post-70 (no need to suppose Jesus allusions are secondary edits/interpolations).

              • Sili
                2019-04-12 10:05:18 GMT+0000 - 10:05 | Permalink

                Rupke is Open Access here:
                https://journals.openedition.org/rhr/7831

          • Gregory Doudna
            2019-04-09 11:45:26 GMT+0000 - 11:45 | Permalink

            Thanks Neil. Re your questions,

            (1) Well, there is the possible identification of Paul with Josephus’s Saul, kinsman of Agrippa II. I think Philip the apostle and Philip the evangelist of Acts is Josephus’s Philip ben Jacimus (the name is rare, each at Caesarea). Then, Acts associates Paul with Philip, which may correspond to in Josephus Saul is associated with Philip. As to the possibility of a wholly fictional Paul instead of a real ca. 70s or 80s CE Paul of the letters, apart from allowing for a somewhat later start for Christian origins (if the figure and letters of Paul were wholly fictional), I could be wrong but I do not see what is affected or better explained either way on that issue.

            (2) I know that is the common understanding but once the argument that a post-70 1 Thes 2 means interpolation is gone, I do not see a significant thematic difference between 1 Thes 2 and Rom 9-11 apart from emotional stance. Both read to me as post-70 ideology. Rom 9-11 is rhetorically more appealing with expression of sorrow in saying that Jews are rejected now in the present age. The “wrath” that Jews have received of I Thes 2:15 corresponds to Rom 9 and esp. 9:22 where Paul defends the justice of God and expresses Paul’s own deep sadness that the Jews have been made by God “vessels of wrath fitted to destruction”. It is the same thing! The difference between Rom 9-11 and I Thes 2 is not substantive but rather Paul’s presentation: in one he says “good riddance” and the other he is weeping over what God has justly done to his people the Jews.

            Yes, in Romans Paul holds out (a) a remnant of Jews in the present age are righteous, and (b) there will be a future redemption of all Israel (universal salvation) in a future age, beyond God’s rejection of the Jewish nation as a people “fitted for destruction” in the current one. But such talk of a few good ones (remnant) and in the end everyone will be saved (pie in the sky) of a doomed people in the present age is rhetoric. Agrippa II and Josephus, who were with Titus, similarly no doubt wept at the divine justice of Roman wrath on the holy city and condemned people within, as they assisted the Romans in carrying it out.

            Rhetorical back-and-forth between total destruction of a condemned target and “nevertheless” language of remnants and salvation for all at a future age is common. On I Thes 2:15 charging the Jewish nation with the death of Jesus and persecution of Christians, claimed to be unattested elsewhere in Paul’s letters, the same reads to me as implied and expressed at Gal 4:22-31 at 4:29 (“even so it is now”); also at Gal 1:13. Cp. Martin Luther alternatively conciliatory and then holocaust-justifying in his statements concerning Jews and wilful resistance to accept the gospel.

            • Neil Godfrey
              2019-04-10 04:36:12 GMT+0000 - 04:36 | Permalink

              Paul seems to become whoever an author wants him to be. Examples, neither the Paul of Acts of the Apostles nor the Paul of the Acts of Paul and Thecla appears to be grounded in anything but whatever serves the interests of the story. And how many Pauls do we find in the various letters themselves?

              • Sili
                2019-04-10 08:19:40 GMT+0000 - 08:19 | Permalink

                I recently read (but have already forgotten where) that Tertullian condemned The Acts of Paul and Thecla. Given his pattern of insisting that his gospel and his Paulines are the original and unadulterated, it made me wonder if not AoP&T might also be earlier than canonical Acts.

                Incidentally, re dating and compressed timelines, how do we know the dates of Justin Martyr?

              • Neil Godfrey
                2019-04-10 10:26:52 GMT+0000 - 10:26 | Permalink

                I can only say that our evidence for the Acts of Paul and Thecla is no earlier than Tertullian (late second to mid third century) and that the Acts of the Apostles was certainly known by the latter half of the second century. I have not studied either work enough to say anything more than that.

                Paul was certainly a hot topic in the second century and my difficulty is that all the debates (apart from the two Acts mentioned above) are about words and doctrines, unless I am mistaken, and there is no person, no “historical figure”, in sight in any of these debates. Am I correct? (The two Acts present surely ahistorical figures.)

                Debates about Paul are debates about doctrines, are they not? There is no person of Paul, no career or personality, no appeal to a biographical figure, who surfaces in any of these debates. Is that correct?

              • Neil Godfrey
                2019-04-10 10:34:17 GMT+0000 - 10:34 | Permalink

                Justin Martyr is dated by reference to the Bar Kochba war that had happened “recently” in his Dialogue with Trypho (1:3).

                Further, his First Apology is addressed to Antoninus Pius (reigned from 138) and various sons (a little digging will give you their dates, too).

                Whoever wrote Justin’s works did not know anything about the Acts of the Apostles, it would seem. But then it also appears that Justin knew nothing of Paul even though he was an opponent of Marcion. So who knows — if Acts did exist as early as the time of Justin it is not impossible that he chose to ignore it. There is more satisfaction with assured results in studying chemistry or geology, I think.

                (But Justin’s portrayal of the spread of Christianity certainly leaves no room for any knowledge of Acts: there is no Judas who needs to be replaced, the twelve — not Paul — go out to the whole world rather than stay in Palestine, they get the eucharist from the resurrected Jesus, and so forth….)

          • Sili
            2019-04-10 08:10:56 GMT+0000 - 08:10 | Permalink

            Even if a seajourney-source existed for the we-passages, it need not have ever been associated with ‘Paul’. The author(s) of Acts could have used the equivalent of a Baedecker guide to add colour or coherence to their story. (Much like Marco Polo is accused of having done.)

            Secondly, it’s hardly safe to assume there are only few interpolations in the Paulines, so post-70 theology need not have been original. After all we only have access to the NT in its final, collected edition today. Pity really, that we’ll likely never find a copy of the Apostolicon.

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  • Klaus Schilling
    2019-04-09 09:21:23 GMT+0000 - 09:21 | Permalink

    Already H. Detering recognized correctly in Der Römerbrief in seiner ursprünglichen Gestalt that the vast majority of Romans 11 is a post-marcionite interpolation, totally useless for the origins of the Pauline epistles. Waugh saved a few lines, but those are entirely irrelevant for Paul’s attitude towards Jews.

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