Guest Post: Further Thoughts on the “We Passages” in Acts

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by Greg Doudna

[I have copied the following comment by Greg Doudna to a post here so the thoughts do not get lost in the comments section and are easier to read and engage with. Format slightly changed — Neil]


The argument that the “we” passages of Acts are an origin story of the church at Rome starting from Troy, sort of like the way (here in the northern hemisphere) the Pilgrims on the Mayflower is a foundation story told each Thanksgiving of how “we” Americans came to North America from Europe . . . is intriguing. Without gainsaying the intriguing positive part of your argument, an objection is that in its present form, Acts does not make a point of starting from Troy. Yet the “we” from Troy to ending up in Rome is sufficiently striking that it seems there must be something to what you suggest, here and in your previous series on this on Vridar (all of which I went back and read). That is, on the one hand, something seems to be there, but on the other hand it seems so subtle it seems questionable that the author of Acts intended it or that ancient first readers would have noticed. Therefore let me make some probings that might address this objection, basically in terms of a source interpretation.


First, that the “we” is the final author of Acts, despite the presentation of Acts that that is the case, cannot be correct on chronological grounds of the dating of Acts. Much literature and argument here with which you and most here are familiar, but here is one that I have not seen cited here or receive much attention anywhere yet, but which appears solidly and independently to argue for, indeed may establish, a mid-second CE dating of Acts: Laura Nasrallah, “The Acts of the Apostles, Greek Cities, and Hadrian’s Panhellenion”, JBL 127 (2008): 533-566. Also and separately arguing for the same mid-2nd CE dating, David Trobisch, “The Book of Acts as a Narrative Commentary on the Letters of the New Testament: A Programmatic Essay”, pp. 119-127 in Gregory and Rowe, eds, Rethinking the Unity and Reception of Luke and Acts. Andrew F. Gregory, C. Kavin Rowe (University of South Carolina Press, 2010).


Second, that the “we” reads as the author or the author’s circle inviting readers’ identification vicariously–an inclusive authorial “we”–is the portrayal, yet that cannot be correct historically, therefore it is deception on the part of the actual author. Third, while earlier comments you have made show well that Acts is not history in the sense of Thucydides or Josephus, and is fiction-like, at the same time I question that it is properly called fiction either. Were not ancient romances and actual ancient fiction understood by readers to be just that–entertaining stories, not to be taken too seriously, not history? (Like Jesus’s parables or Aesop’s fables.) But Acts reads as intended by first authors and readers to be understood as history, tendentious history, but history, analogous to the way colonists’ might answer outsiders if asked “where do you come from? how did you get here?” Acts seems to be analogous to conscious writing of a foundation story, constructed history, not meant to be objective but to establish a shared foundation story understood emically as history . . . “our history”, “history as we have decided it to be” . . . in a text which explains–as a claim of history–why salvation history has come to where it now is, in Rome. (With the harmonization of Peter and Paul founding figures and the golden age of the first generation all part of this.) The “we” device works with this in Acts’ final form literarily.


From here I now move to increasingly tentative conjecture. The starting point is the “we” passages may be from a source reworked. It is generally understood that Acts has worked from and reworked other sources, such that it is not unreasonable to suppose the “we” itinerary may be one more. I am not going to try to prove that, but assume that for purposes of conjecture going forward, in which, if that assumption is correct, some interesting possibilities may or may not emerge.


Fourth, it has been brought out (Hyldahl, Justin Taylor and others) that the “we” passages connect together in what reads as originally a single itinerary, despite reading in present-form Acts as separated in narrative over a period of years. The conclusion seems to be that an original itinerary has somehow been “exploded” with narrative filler in between sections of an original connected “we” source itinerary.


Fifth, though I do not have space to go into this point here, suffice it to say I am convinced the ship voyage from Jerusalem to Rome of Acts, and the ship voyage of Josephus to Rome in Vita, are the same ship and shipwreck. I do not find fully convincing that the similarities in details are explicable in terms of literary tropes; instead, it is two versions of the same ship and voyage. I perceive that the only reason this is not more recognized is because of a perception of a chronological discrepancy of ca. two years. Yet the dating of Paul’s voyage to Rome in Acts depends on the datings of the Felix/Festus and Festus/Albinus accessions which continue to be recognized as problematic, uncertain, and debated as to specific years. The argument for identity of the two ship voyages seems to me to be sufficiently strong as to itself justifiably introduce weight on the still-unresolved issues of the dating of the Felix/Festus accession.


Continuing, sixth, the strong study of William Sanger Campbell, The “We” Passages in the Acts of the Apostles: The Narrator as Narrative Character (Leiden: Brill, 2007) is of interest, in arguing that “we” replaces the role of Barnabas narratively. As Acts has it, Barnabas exits the picture at 15:39 before the “we” narratives begin at 16:10, but Acts has arguably mixed up and rearranged story fragments and doublets in its narrative construction. I suggest (this is not Campbell) that the long-disputed mystery of who “we” is may be resolved as: it is the voice of Barnabas. The voice is that of Barnabas, of the original source where we read “we” in the second part of Acts.


This then raises the question of who was Barnabas? I suggest consideration, seventh, that Barnabas could be none other than Josephus, and that the “we” source, which ends at the point of Paul’s trial in Rome, could be something of an ancient account, in first-person voice, of a legal advocate for Paul, namely Josephus, somehow related to Paul’s trial in Rome.

Begins and ends with Josephus?

I have separately already become convinced that Josephus appears in the Gospel stories under his own proper name as Joseph of Arimethea, the only named disciple in the Gospels or Acts said to be a “secret” disciple. Josephus was not Christian–he remained Jewish and I doubt believed the miracle parts of Christianity if he heard them–but he may have been sufficiently involved with christian-figure circles and events that 2nd CE Christians looking back on the time of Domitian and earlier remembered stories of Josephus as a “secret” disciple, though the doublets (if indeed these were) of Joseph of Arimethea, or Barnabas, as other traditions of Josephus were not recognized to be Josephus by 2nd CE Christians. (Christians also had stories of Pilate and other figures as Christians so the phenomenon is not unthinkable, though in those cases the referents are recognized and not a doubling phenomenon.)

Therefore can it be considered that Barnabas–whose proper name was Joses–was Josephus who was on the same ship with Paul to Rome, and the voice of the “we” source? Josephus’s activities and whereabouts, after his birth in early 38 CE, are known only for the years 53-56 and 63 forward (ship voyage to Rome onward). Many historians have suspected that Josephus leaves out a lot of personal history perhaps relating to Sicarii or other revolutionary activity (Josephus, although known to be from elite priestly circles in Jerusalem, nevertheless emerges in 66 seemingly inexplicably as a leader of the revolt, with apparent military expertise not explained). Therefore although nothing in Josephus’s writings gives positive argument to link Josephus with Paul of Acts–other than the ship voyage putting them together on the same ship–I am not sure there is negative evidence which would rule out the conjecture either. Josephus does not disclose much of why he went to Rome, apart from that he himself is not a prisoner and he is going to advocate on behalf of certain priests being held there on uncertain charges (perhaps Ishmael ben Phabi and other priests hostage in Poppea’s house, from Josephus elsewhere). The point of interest here is that Josephus, from elite circles in Jerusalem, seems to be going as an advocate, or witness of some kind, to secure freedom for some in Rome. This raises, to me, the question: does the “we” source of Acts reflect some sort of legal brief or account for Paul by an advocate, Josephus (telling of Paul’s activities, the events leading up to his arrest, his trials in Jerusalem and Caesarea and why he was innocent of the charges for which he had been arrested), and that is why the “we” source ends at the point that legal brief would have been delivered or orated–at Paul’s trial in Rome? Does wealthy Jerusalem land-owner (per Acts 4:36-37) Joses “Barnabas”, with the surname interpreted in Acts as meaning “son of Paraclete”, allude to a forensic or advocacy role of that Joses? Barnabas is introduced again in Acts 13:1 in Antioch as a prophet; Josephus was a prophet. Joses Barnabas is likely to be identified, by separate argument, with Joses Barsabbas of Acts 1, the candidate for #12 replacement apostle who did not become #12 (the Bezae western text directly reads “Barnabas” in Acts 1 not Barsabbas). It would be ironic if, although heretofore unrecognized, Acts, the foundation history of Christianity of the ages, begins and ends with Josephus.

A 2nd C work presented as a 1st C work?

To wrap up these probings, the mid-2nd CE final author/redactor of Acts in its present form, working from sources, would not know this. By that time figures such as Joseph of Arimethea and Barnabas, just as the other figures in the Gospels and Acts, had taken on lives of their own in the world of story and legend. The original “we” source (was it originally written with “I” and rewritten changed to “we” for literary inclusiveness by the author of Acts?) was incorporated into the Acts framework–in which Peter-Christianity is harmonized with Paul-Christianity, and Paul’s final visit to Jerusalem parallels Luke’s story of Jesus’s final visit to Jerusalem and Passion–and Paul and the gospel ending up at Rome in Acts, upon which note the story ends, is the analogue to Jesus’s resurrection to heaven–all of that is the literary doing of the 2nd-CE author of Acts. But whoever wrote Acts in the 2nd century did not present the work as a 2nd CE text. The text is presented as if it is a 1st CE text. It became the Christian foundation story, and continues so to this present day with, at least traditionally, much history of Christianity found in encyclopedias being paraphrase of Acts.

In the framework of this analysis, the Troy to Rome Aenead themes that you see might be a survival from the source. The “we” in present Acts, as you bring out, would function literarily to include 2nd CE Christian readers of Rome in understanding how “they” came from the Mediterranean/Greek world and Judea, to Rome. Anyway, this is some thinking in response to your stimulating posts on the “we” sections of Acts.

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  • Blood
    2020-01-31 12:55:10 GMT+0000 - 12:55 | Permalink

    It’s uncontroversial that the author of Acts knew, and used, Josephus’s works. If “Barnabas” is really Josephus, I don’t see why the author of Acts wouldn’t want to use his real name to bolster the credibility of his work.

    • Gregory Doudna
      2020-02-01 04:38:26 GMT+0000 - 04:38 | Permalink

      A first point is that formally, “we” = Josephus; “we” = Barnabas; and Barnabas = Josephus, are three distinct propositions. It is theoretically possible that any one could be correct and the other two incorrect. (But if any two are correct then all three are.) If some number above zero of the three propositions are correct, then it is an interesting question to ask (a) whether the author of Acts knew or could be expected to have known; and (b) if the author of Acts knew but did not disclose, or (in the case of Barnabas and “we”) represented the exact opposite, why?

      Although the question is of interest, I do not think I agree with the implied premise of your question that this bears significantly on prior assessment of the correctness of the possible identification. For example, no later Christian writer identified the fourth pope of Rome of tradition, Pope Clement of late 1st CE, as the Roman consul and conspirator in an assassination plot against Domitian, Titus Flavius Clemens, even though there is some literary and archaeological support for that identity. Is the absence of that identity in later Christian writers an argument against that identification?

      The proposal that “we” = Barnabas is a simple proposal of a doublet phenomenon, abundantly present with many examples in biblical texts, and present also in ancient serious historians working from sources such as Josephus. Presumably ancient authors writing texts with variant stories in their narratives presented as distinct figures or events either thought they were distinct, or, perhaps being unsure, decided to err on the side of including both versions in their narrative, told as if they were distinct.

      As for why the anonymous author of Acts would appropriate the “we” of the “we”-source to have the reader read as if it is the voice of the anonymous author of Acts, instead of crediting (hypothetically) Josephus–if that were the case–one possibility would be that the source did not say and the author did not know. Another possibility would be the author did know but intentionally refrained from disclosing. There are various reasons identities of figures could be and were intentionally concealed or made anonymous anciently (Bauckham’s “protective anonymity” discussion; or if the figure was apostate or embarrassing or represented some competing group’s identity-claim). In the case of Josephus, without meaning to get into the extensive disputes surrounding the “Testimonium”, one theory is that Origen did see a Testimonium which was neutral (neither overtly positive nor negative) and that Origen responded the way he did because it was clear to Origen that Josephus was NOT a Christian. If 3rd CE Origen reading Antiquities could see that Josephus was not a Christian, presumably the earlier author of Acts could no less well see that Josephus was not Christian, that Josephus was unreconstructed Jewish to the end of his life. It might then be asked whether an author of Acts would want to cite a non-Christian as the central authority for the central closing narrative finale of Acts, a text which has a core supercessionist message in which Josephus’s Judaism is succeeded by a superior Christianity? I do not mean to go into rabbit holes of conjecture, only to say that while your question is an interesting one, I do not see it as bearing on assessment of the validity of the argument for the identity itself. Thank you for your comment.

  • 2020-01-31 23:15:27 GMT+0000 - 23:15 | Permalink

    I am willing to believe that the source of the ‘we’ material was Josephus. Again and again in 1st and 2nd century (proto-) Christian texts, we see emulation, i.e., recycling of already-told stories. It’s almost as though these writers are afraid to go outside what has already been written. Or maybe the texts that were chosen by the editors of the canon were those that emulated already-approved stories.

    However, I disagree with “the mid-2nd CE final author/redactor of Acts in its present form, working from sources, would not know [Barnabas/Josephus and Josephus’s real history]. By that time figures such as Joseph of Arimethea and Barnabas, just as the other figures in the Gospels and Acts, had taken on lives of their own in the world of story and legend.” If we can postulate that this author/redactor and the first proposer of the canon were working on behalf of the orthodox church in Asia, we can assume they were educated people in or with access to Ephesus, a metropolis with a literary culture and a major library (the Library of Celsus). They have only recently been introduced to the Gospel of Mark, which has been resting in Rome. There is no reason to think they know the Gospel of Matthew, if it has even been written yet. They wrote the Gospel of Luke. So where would a legend about the fictional figure Joseph of Arimathea have taken hold and affected their thinking? (Barnabas may have been a ‘founding apostle’ of an orthodox congregation, but not known much outside of it.)

    You write, “The “we” in present Acts, as you bring out, would function literarily to include 2nd CE Christian readers of Rome in understanding how “they” came from the Mediterranean/Greek world and Judea, to Rome.” I disagree, at least for the 2nd century. In my book The Two Gospels of Mark: Performance and Text, I argue that Mark wrote a play for the patron of the Roman congregation, Flavia Domitilla, and the GMark text we have is a rewrite of the play. If Flavia was the patron, then the congregation was rich and attracted rich and Hellenized Judeans at the time. There is no reason to think that had changed in the 160s-170s. This picture is supported by the fact that the Roman congregation remained influential (viz. Polycarp’s trip to reconcile the date of Easter with the larger Asian church) despite having few or no satellite congregations and apparently, little literary production in the 2nd century. With this background, I see the “we” in present Acts as evoking the Aeneid and essentially political, as I stated in https://vridar.org/2020/01/29/rome-troy-and-aeneas-model-for-the-story-of-acts/#comment-98153. We have to purge from our minds the old ‘oral traditions among the peasantry of Judea’ model of Christian origins and ask “what could be the real-life situation on the ground?” In this case, I see smart, media-savvy, educated people making ad hoc decisions to solve real-life problems, i.e., define orthodoxy against its competitors, and make common cause with similar-minded congregations (Rome, Matthew’s).

    • Steven C Watson
      2020-02-18 08:14:25 GMT+0000 - 08:14 | Permalink

      G. Mk. as a play is an interesting idea. It would seem to suffer the same difficulties as “Q” however: it is a solution looking for a problem. We can account for the Gospels and their content without having recourse to invented documents. Irenaeus seems only to become aware of any gospel at all during his writing and publication of Adversus Haereses c.180. G.Mk is conventionally dated to c.70 and the Jewish Revolt, largely going off the internal evidence of the “Little Apocalypse” and its mention of the “Abomination of Desolation” from the Book of Daniel.

      However if one goes back and reads Daniel’s prophecy, the Jewish Revolt and the destruction of the Temple does not map at all well on to it. The Bar Kochva War on the other hand seems to have been deliberately modelled on, and take its prophetic cue from, the events that Daniel was made to “prophecy”: Hadrian did pretty much exactly what Antiochos did about three hundred years earlier; and this seems to have been taken for the fulfilment of Daniel’s otherwise awry “prophecy”. This seems then to have provoked Bar Kochva’s adherents to proclaim him Messiah and kick off another war with Rome. The revolt even launched from the same town as that of the Hasmonean’s. G. Mk. would seem to be setting Jesus up as Messiah against Bar Kochva as false-Messiah. I’m not offering this up as fact by the way. I’m as susceptible to confirmation bias as the next person. 🙂

      This is all some while after Domitian and the most that can be said of Flavia Domitilla is she was a relative of his exiled for being sympathetic to Jewish belief; not martyred as a Christian. Supposition stacked on supposition launched off dubious Christian legend does not make for anything much. More probable than unicorns or Russell’s Teapot perhaps but the more suppositions you stack upon one another, the more improbable your conclusion becomes; not the less.

      Paul’s epistles seem to present a universalised Jewish mystery cult; Gal. 3:1-2 can be read as the “foolish Galatians” being audience to a performance; mystery cults are known to have in all probability used scripted, staged, initiation rituals; and G. Mk could well be the exoteric myth of Paul’s cult cut from its’ moorings and quickly mistaken for history.

      Between Paul and G. Mk there is at least one near-genocidal war, probably three and perhaps more, that might have seen off the leadership and the initiated, leaving only the lower strata who had only been exposed to the exoteric myth to rebuild. G. Mk could well be the script of a reworked performannce for the uninitiated; but that is concievably already present in Galatians and, if we are to take Paul at his word, he dates himself eighty or ninety years earlier than Pilate!

      I might be doing you a disservice but you seem to be getting ahead of yourself. What we have needs to be accounted for before haring off into the blue with something that is too specific and seems to rely overmuch on legends just as tedentious as the ones we are trying to do better than.

  • Neil Godfrey
    2020-02-01 00:43:08 GMT+0000 - 00:43 | Permalink

    As I recall (I’m too frightened to go back and re-read posts I wrote over ten years ago) I don’t think I ever found a satisfactory resolution to the Troy-Rome connection and the relationship to the Aeneas myth. (Or maybe I thought I did — you might know better than I do if you read them recently.) It’s an idea that has persisted that there is something there, though the transfer of power is, obviously, from Jerusalem (the beginning of the narrative in Luke and again in Acts) to Rome. The intrusion of “Troy” to a Roman colony does read like a flag of some sort to one who tends to be on the lookout for flags. (And I have also suggested Jerusalem in the middle of the story takes the place of Carthage.) There are, as you point out, inconsistencies in the idea. But so far I have seen the inconsistencies as potential knots in the idea that need to be unravelled so that the idea itself may take on a significantly different shape in the end.

    I agree that Acts is meant to be some sort of foundation myth-history. It uses the devices of fiction but so did other historians and there was more fluidity between the genres then, as we know. I think in particular of the OT origin narratives.

    I like the suggestion that the “we” reference was a change to an original “I”. Or if the “we” was original there had to be some thematic reason for maintaining it, I think, since I have a hard time accepting that the author would lapse into some “mindless” cut and paste from a source, leaving readers with misfits like that in the larger work.

    As for the Josephus/Barnabas connections, I will have to return to read the key sections of Josephus again and think through the idea before commenting.

    It’s a fascinating topic and one that I think I find of more personal interest than the question of the historicity of Jesus. That question seems like a non-starter to me, but the nature and purpose of Acts is a quest one could spend a lifetime on, yes?

    Thanks for the comment. Has raised much to think about.

  • Giuseppe
    2020-02-01 06:54:45 GMT+0000 - 06:54 | Permalink

    Barnabas is a pun on Bar-Abbas, in turn a sarcastic parody of the “Jesus Son of Father”.


    The meaning of Paul abandoning Barnabas is then evident: Paul ceases to be an apostle of the Marcionite Christ and he becomes apostle of the Catholic Christ

    • Gregory Doudna
      2020-02-05 05:10:02 GMT+0000 - 05:10 | Permalink

      I do not see a Barabbas/Barnabas connection myself, but I did learn from the Couchoud and Stahl analysis of Barabbas which I read from an earlier recommendation from you (“Jesus Barabbas”, Couchoud and Stahl, 1930 [eng. trans. https://vridar.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/07/bar_engl.pdf%5D). The key point is that Barabbas is another version of Jesus which conflicts with the version in which Jesus is crucified. These two versions do not derive from distinct figures, nor are they to be harmonized as if both are aspects of a single true narrative. Rather, the negative portrayal of Barabbas in the Gospels’ Passion story reflects contemporary extant stories or versions of Jesus’s fate, one in which Jesus was crucified, another in which Jesus was not. Furthermore, the version in which Jesus had not been crucified was no trivial alternative or fringe story but held by significant sectors of proto-christians as early as can be known, one stream of which survives to the present day in a major world religion, Islam, which regards Jesus as a holy man who had not, however, been crucified. This ancient belief should not uncritically be assumed to be fringe or secondary or a marginal oddity, simply because those who held that view did not win the 2nd CE heresy-defining wars. It is possible that neither of these two conflicting and alternative versions of Jesus’s fate is derivative from the other, in keeping with a range of ancient comparative examples concerning conflicting reports of deaths and legend generated therefrom, e.g. Alexander son of Herod and Miriam (Ant 17.324-338 [in passing I am surprised that historians have so readily accepted Josephus’s source’s claims of imposture in this case founded solely upon–as represented–the wise Augustus Caesar’s claim of suspicion and the confession of the unfortunate man under threat of death if he did not confess, against–according to the account–then-universal Jewish claims and popular hopes raised saying he was Alexander, saved by others having been killed in the place of him and his brother thereby deceiving Herod, and his identity believed by all Jews even “those who had been very intimate with Alexander”]); Nero’s suicide/flight east]; Niger the Perean [Pseudo-Hegesippus]; Josephus [War 5.541-547]; to these perhaps add Jesus). Arguably, it was the 2nd CE victory of catholic Christianity and its texts–as well as the Tacitus passage–which established the perception to historians and scholars to the present day that the crucifixion of Jesus was the most historical of facts about Jesus, and the other ancient, early, widespread story of a Jesus who was not mythical but whose crucifixion was, to be rejected as an ancient curiosity or frivolous tale.

      The story of Niger the Perean, told in Pseudo-Hegesippus (the early 1575-1579 edition “A Compendious and Most Marueilous Historie…”, pp. 85-86, not the later translation of Blocker which inexplicably omits most of the relevant story), is especially interesting and entertaining as a comparison. Niger, a commander and military hero of the Revolt in 66 CE, is reported and believed and lamented as dead in battle at Ashkelon. But later he is found astonishingly to have survived in a cave within an area destroyed by fire by the Romans, regarded as a miracle, with Niger peshering his own survival in terms of divine will that he live to destroy more Romans, to the praise and rejoicing of all who heard the story. (Compare Gospel stories of Jesus peshering his post-crucifixion appearances.)

      I have not seen noticed before in discussions of Barabbas that Josephus may be one of those who understood and told the version in which Jesus was not crucified (War 2.261-263; 6.300-305). This possibility draws first from the work of Lena Einhorn (A Shift in Time, 2016) in arguing that Jesus of the Gospels belongs in the 50s CE in terms of political context and the Egyptian false prophet, and then the work of Theodore Weeden (The Two Jesuses, 2007) discussed earlier on Vridar, of Josephus’s story of a trial of a Jesus which correlates so strikingly to the Gospels’ trial of its Jesus that literary borrowing is presumed. However, unlike the Passion story of the Gospels, the trial of Josephus’s Jesus of ca. 62 CE did not result in a crucifixion but instead a Barabbas-release outcome (because the Roman governor wanted to save Jesus from his accusers on the grounds that Jesus was an idiot, in the version of Josephus [War 6.300-309]). Admittedly it is only the Gospels, and not Josephus, which link the themes of the Egyptian false prophet (said in Acts 21:38, whether rightly or wrongly, to be a leader of Sicarii) and the subsequent trial of Jesus who is released not crucified. The Jesus of Josephus has a message sounding exactly like the Olivet prophecy of Jesus of the Gospels, and it is more or less standard current scholarship that Jesus’s Olivet prophecy originated later than 30 CE when scholars suppose Jesus “really” lived (based on the Gospels and other testimony derivative from the Gospels). Josephus says in conclusion of his story of the war that this Jesus–who like Barabbas was released and uttered prophecies like the Olivet prophecy–was a more fearful sign or omen than any other of the miraculous omens of Jerusalem’s destruction listed by Josephus (War 6.300).

      Josephus also has what reads to me as what may be a second account, a doublet, of the Egyptian-uprising (Ant. 20.188, cp. War 2.259-260). In the second account the leader is killed in the crushing of the insurrection, whereas the first account reflecting more accurate information says that whereas many of the Egyptian’s supporters were killed and dispersed, the Egyptian false prophet himself escaped alive (War 2.263; Ant 20.169-171), his fate untold.

      As for the Pilate dating of Jesus, one possibility that occurs to me is that that came into Christian historiography and texts via an original Josephus Testimonium, situated by Josephus in its present position in Greek mss. at Ant 18.63-64 at the time of Pilate (18.55-62), and that Josephus put it there because he was referring to Jesus’s birth at that time. There already is a scholarly theory that the associated Paulina stories of Josephus, which immediately follow the Testimonium in Antiquities, are an aspersion on the Christian virgin birth story of Jesus (Albert Bell, “Josephus the Satirist? A Clue to the Original Form of the ‘Testimonium Flavium'”, JQR 67 [1976]: 16-22).

      What has not received attention at all in any discussion of the Testimonium–so far as I can tell–is that the existing Testimonium in the standard Greek text of Antiquities, of the Loeb edition et al, directly says, in direct reading of the Greek text at Ant 18.63–that Jesus was born “about this time”, the time of Pilate. Ginetai de kata touton ton chronon ‘Iesous… “About this time was born Jesus…” All classical Greek lexicons on the Perseus Digital Library site appear unanimous in saying that when the verb gignomai, of which ginetai is 3rd masc. sing. present indicative, is followed by the name of a person, it means “born” at that time, e.g. Middle Liddell: “of persons, to be born … of things, to be produced… of events, to take place”. By this seemingly plain reading it is Jesus’s birth which is the expressed tag of Josephus’s attention and would explain why Josephus originally placed a passage beginning with “about this time Jesus was born” at the time of Pilate at the time that Jesus was born. Following the Testimonium Josephus has an immediately following story that may be–some read it as–debunking the Christian virgin birth story. A dating of Jesus’s birth around the time of Pilate would be compatible with activity of that Jesus in the 50s or 60s CE. My article making the case that Josephus’s John the Baptist passage is a chronologically dislocated tradition of the death of Hyrcanus II (in Pfoh and Niesiolowski-Spanò, eds, Biblical Narratives, Archaeology, and Historicity: Essays in Honour of Thomas L. Thompson, 2020) I think has removed the security of assumption that there was a John the Baptist in the 20s-30s CE, thereby removing that perceived support for dating Jesus’s activity to that time.

      • Steven C Watson
        2020-02-18 05:21:27 GMT+0000 - 05:21 | Permalink

        The Barabbas incident is a re-working, self-evidently, of the Yom Kippur ritual (As one time event that no longer needs repetition, qua the Crucifixion as one time sacrifice that needs no repetition) . We need not look any further. The Epistle of Barnabas brings this out starkly.

        Ginetai de kata touton ton chronon ‘Iesous…

        is interesting and all very well; but Carrier; Feldman; Goldberg; Olsen; and Wheatley have more than done enough to render the TF being in anyway original to Josephos untenable. The overlooked plain reading might say something of the environs of the TF’s originator (And that would be significant of itself); but no more: we already know some attributed Jesus to the time of Claudius. Just as we know others placed him c.100-75BCE. This speaks to competing variants of the cult; not to any real Jesus.

        I’m all for plain readings myself; however a plain reading of Paul declares a deity reiterating The Descent of Innana and not the life of a man mistaken for a deity. Dismissing any reality to Jesus other than as an hallucination, we are not beholden to believe any fictive “history” that might be contrived for such a “person”. And the Jesus Fiction is contrivances all the way down.

        We can return again to a plain reading of Paul: absent the need for the fictive “history” to take place during and post the prefecture of Pilate, we can dismiss the nonsense of having to invent a conquest of Damascus by Aretas Philopatris which is quite obviously impossible. Do we see in Josephos any seige or masking of Damascus when Vitellius marches on the said Aretas? No. That dog doesn’t bark; let alone hunt.

        As for the other rickety structure you have erected on the romance of Acts… Whatever merit your argument might have is undermined by the suppositions Acts rests on to be anything other than a contrived cult fiction.

        Where testimony/documents weave together a narrative that combines mundane claims with a significant proportion of extraordinary claims, and there is good reason to be sceptical about those extraordinary claims, then there is good reason to be sceptical about the mundane claims, at least until we possess good independent evidence of their truth.

        Stephen Law

        Sorry to be so arch but I’m quite fed up with folk leaving assumptions untested.

  • 2020-02-03 18:10:23 GMT+0000 - 18:10 | Permalink

    Don’t think Josephus had anything to do with any of this. Don’t think that Josephus had any knowledge of Paul or Christianity at all.

    I think the best explanation of the “we” passages is as Bart Ehrman says, an attempt at deception to convince readers that the account came from a personal witness. “We” is supposed to be the author and Paul.

    • Gregory Doudna
      2020-02-06 06:21:29 GMT+0000 - 06:21 | Permalink

      r.g., On the question of Josephus’s silence concerning Paul and christians, is that because there was nothing there, or is that better understood in terms of analysis of what F.B.A. Asiedu calls “strategic silences” of Josephus, in the context of Josephus’s precarious position in common with other authors at Rome. Asiedu, Josephus, Paul, and the Fate of Early Christianity: History and Silence in the First Century (2019).

      Also, is it excluded that Josephus does refer to Paul at War 2.418, 556-568; Ant 20.214, in the figure of “Saul”, kinsman of Agrippa II, an elite man of power, portrayed negatively as one among other elites running a gang mid-60s and then a diplomatic mission to Nero in Greece after leaving Jerusalem in 66. Josephus associates Saul as in the company of Philip ben Jacimus, Agrippa II’s cavalry commander, who may be the Philip who hosts Paul and the “we” party in Caesarea of Acts 21:8. Josephus does not identify his Saul in any directly confirming way as Paul, but I note the curiosity that Pseudo-Hegesippus, Morwyn eng. trans. 1575, p. 68, has at the parallel for Saul and two others fleeing Jerusalem, instead of calling them “swimmers deserting a sinking ship” as in Gr. War, refers to them—Saul in the parallel—as “the elders with the Sages that were desyrous of peace, departed out of the towne, and fled to king Agrippas”.

      An obscure work, published with little attention in French and Spanish but never in English (written not by a NT scholar or classicist but by an historian of medieval esoteric thought) that made a sweeping book-length argument for identification of Josephus’s Saul with Paul is Robert Ambelain, La vie secrete de saint Paul (1971). Then from the late 1980s Robert Eisenman independently popularized the idea in English in a series of publications. Mainstream scholars take no notice of even consideration of the possibility, remaining certain that “Josephus never mentions Paul”.

      Then and separately there is the possible argument that Apollonius of Tyana is a later tradition of Paul. The major objection there is that nothing in the legends or glimpses of Apollonius in history indicate he was Christian or associated with Jerusalem or Jewish, nor is there any known Christian text or tradition indicating that Paul, whose Hebrew or birth name was Saul according to Acts, had in addition a Greek name and that that Greek name was the similar-sounding (though philologically unrelated) Apollonius.

      On the “we” passages as written by the author of Acts to convince readers it came from a personal witness, you could be right. However that would seem to leave unexplained why the “we” sections, which in Acts read as separated over years, if attached together read as a continuous travelogue. Does that not suggest that a travel story, which the “we” passages of Acts reflect or from which they derive, existed prior to expansion by the final author/redactor of Acts?

  • RenéT
    2020-02-04 04:33:41 GMT+0000 - 04:33 | Permalink

    “I have separately already become convinced that Josephus appears in the Gospel stories under his own proper name as Joseph of Arimethea,..”

    Some years ago I read a Dutch book (Jezus de Nazoreeër by Pierre Krijbolder) in which the connection between Josephus and Joseph of Arimethea was also made.
    Josephus was the son of Matthias: Joseph ben Matthias, which already sounds quite similar, but even more so if “ben” is replaced by “bar”.

    Or is this too far-fetched?

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