2021-01-05

Spit at a Late Date for the Gospel of Mark?

Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

by Neil Godfrey

Eric Eve

Last month I posted Another Pointer Towards a Late Date for the Gospel of Mark? but this morning I was reminded of an article I read and posted about some years back that surely calls for a date soon after 70 CE. That article does not address the date per se but it does raise difficulties for a date very much later than the days of Vespasian’s reign: 69-79.

The article is Spit in Your Eye: The Blind Man of Bethsaida and the Blind Man of Alexandria by Eric Eve (if a nearby library subscribes to Proquest you might be able to access it at no cost there) and my derivative post is Jesus out-spitting the emperor. I won’t repeat the details I set out there except where they overlap with a few points I will highlight here. (See that earlier post for the extracts from Suetonius and Tacitus describing Vespasian’s healing miracles.)

In short, the core of Eric Eve’s thesis is that the author of the Gospel of Mark was responding to Vespasian propaganda that promoted him as a healer and as such either possessed by or strongly favoured by the god Serapis to be the rightful ruler of the world. Vespasian, you might recall (the details are in the earlier post), is known to have “miraculously” healed a blind man through the use of spittle while he was in Egypt and preparing to return to Rome to claim the emperorship.

Since Vespasian was not from the Roman aristocracy he relied heavily on propaganda programs to justify his aspirations to replace Nero and subsequent short-lived rulers. Roman historians, especially Tacitus, inform us that

while Vespasian was waiting at Alexandria. . . many marvels occurred to mark the favour of heaven and a certain partiality of the gods toward him (Hist. IV. 81)

The god Serapis was a composite deity constructed some generations earlier by Egypt’s post-Alexander Hellenistic rulers to encourage the unification of different peoples: (you will note the similarity with other posts suggesting the reason for the creation of Jesus was likewise to encourage a certain unity of Jews and gentiles in another context …. but we leave that for another discussion)

Serapis (Liverpool Museum)

The Egyptian cult involved the worship of the sacred bull Osiris-Apis, or Osarapis, which became Sarapis in Greek translation. It may have been this god’s connections with the underworld and agricultural fertility that made him appear particularly suitable for the grafting on of Hellenistic elements. Sarapis took on the attributes of a number of Greek deities including first Dionysus and Hades, and subsequently Zeus, Helios and Asclepius [my note: Asclepius was the god of healing]. He may originally have been intended as a patron deity for the Greek citizens of Ptolemaic Alexandria, but he became particularly associated with the royal family, and thus, perhaps, with a ruler cult. Although Sarapis was probably intended to unite the Greek and Egyptian populations (of Alexandria, if not of Egypt), he failed in this purpose, since he never caught on with the native Egyptian population. He proved more popular with the Greek inhabitants, although his popularity declined towards the end of the Ptolemaic period. By the Roman period, Sarapis’s popularity seems to have been on the rise once more, and his cult had long since spread well beyond Egypt, aided, no doubt, by the fact that he was the consort of Isis; both deities had cults in Rome by the time of the late republic. That said, the major rise of the cult of Serapis was to come about through Flavian interest in the god. Vespasian arrived in Alexandria at a time when association with an aspiring emperor could benefit an aspiring god as much as the other way round; the Sarapis cult’s support for Vespasian helped both parties, and that may well have motivated the priests of Sarapis to play their part in the Flavian propaganda campaign. 

The healings carried out by Vespasian seem designed to demonstrate the close association between the new emperor and the god. Healing was one of the powers long attributed to Sarapis, and the first healing miracle to be attributed to him was restoring sight to a blind man, one Demetrius of Phaleron, an Athenian politician. . . . In some minds Vespasian’s two healings might be taken as a sign, not simply that Vespasian enjoyed Sarapis’s blessing, but that he was in some sense to be identified with the god. This is in part suggested by the ancient Egyptian myth that the kings of Egypt were sons of Re, the sun-god, and is further borne out by the fact that Vespasian was saluted as ‘son of Ammon’ as well as ‘Caesar, god’ when he visited the hippodrome only a short while later.

Presumably the main targets of this propaganda were the population of Alexandria and the two legions stationed there, whose support Vespasian clearly needed to retain. No doubt different people will have understood this cluster of events in different ways. Some may have seen Vespasian as quasi-divine, others as a divinely aided thaumaturge and others as an exceptionally lucky man smiled on by fortuna and the gods. In any case the healing miracles and their association with Sarapis seem to have been designed more for eastern than western consumption

The classicist and specialist in Suetonius, David Wardle, is more direct with the reason for Vespasian’s miracles:

[Suetonius] preserves the logical order of events, that, having had his kingship (in Egyptian terms) confirmed, Vespasian was now to demonstrate that he was (again in Egyptian terms) an incarnation of Serapis by performing the kind of healings that the god himself brought about. (Wardle, p. 194)

Why is Josephus silent about Vespasian’s miracles that we read about in Roman writings? In Eric Eve’s mind, the reason would have been that Vespasian’s miracles were legitimized by an Egyptian god and Josephus could not have brought himself to remind readers of such an event in his work that was attempting to demonstrate the unique status of the Jewish religion. Another point of interest is to understand why the Roman historians who wrote of these miracles by Vespasian expressed some cynicism about them. That brings us back to Eve’s point that the miracles were intended for an eastern audience, not a Roman one, especially the sophisticated and more sceptical class from which the Roman historians came.

Okay, but none of what has been covered so far is enough to establish that the evangelist was influenced by Vespasian’s propaganda.

What does become interesting is the context in which we find the healing of the blind man through the use of spittle in the Gospel of Mark. Notice what follows Mark’s account of the miracle:

8:22 They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. 23 He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”

24 He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”

25 Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly. 26 Jesus sent him home, saying, “Don’t even go into the village.”

27 Jesus and his disciples went on to the villages around Caesarea Philippi. On the way he asked them, “Who do people say I am?”

28 They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”

29 “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?”

Peter answered, “You are the Messiah.”

30 Jesus warned them not to tell anyone about him.

The miracle is linked to the claim that Jesus is the messiah. But notice . . . another unusual feature of this miracle is that it is performed in two stages. The spittle doesn’t work properly the first time. It only restores partial sight. And that is the point of the next episode to be narrated: Peter’s understanding of Jesus being the Messiah is imperfect. He needs further enlightenment because he still thinks Jesus will march on Rome victorious and not allow himself to be slain — Mark 8:22-33

So why should the author have introduced spittle at all? Eve:

The spitting thus seems curiously redundant. (p. 14)

The similarity between the two stories thus lies not only in the common use of spittle to cure blindness, but also in the ideological contexts of which these stories form a part.
Triumph of Titus and Vespasian. Painted around 1537 for Federico Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, for the Dukal Palace. Wood, 120 x 170 cm INV. 423 Louvre,Dpt.des Peintures, Paris, France

Then,

Mark’s purpose is … served by creating the Vespasian allusion just before Peter’s Confession; the point of the allusion is to contrast messianic claims, not healing prowess (see below). It thus appears that wherever the other details of the Deaf Mute and the Blind Man of Bethsaida came from, spitting in the blind man’s eye was introduced by Mark to create an allusion to the contemporary story of the Blind Man of Alexandria, and the same word πτύσας used at Mark 8.23 was inserted into Mark 7.33 to maintain the parallelism between the two stories. This suggestion is reinforced by the parallel functions of the Blind Men of Bethsaida and Alexandria. The story of the Blind Man of Alexandria is part of a propaganda effort designed to legitimate Vespasian as a royal figure favoured by the gods, identified with Sarapis and as son of Ammon. The story of the Blind Man of Bethsaida leads straight into Peter’s confession of Jesus as Messiah, followed not long after by the Transfiguration at which God declares Jesus to be his son. The similarity between the two stories thus lies not only in the common use of spittle to cure blindness, but also in the ideological contexts of which these stories form a part. (p. 15)

For Eve the pattern continues. After Peter is rebuked for not seeing clearly the truth about Jesus’ messiahship and after Jesus responds to the request of James and John to sit on thrones either side of Jesus, Jesus gives a lesson to his Jewish audience about gentile rulers:

‘You know that those who are supposed to rule over the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great men exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you’ (Mark 10.42–43a). The saying could well apply to Roman or Roman-appointed authorities in general, but in the immediate aftermath of the Jewish War the Flavians would surely be the most obvious target. The contrast in healing styles between Jesus and Vespasian in the first healing of a blind man is thus mirrored in the contrast between their ways of being messianic or quasi-messianic sons of a god in material between Mark’s two blind man stories. (p. 15)

Eric Eve finds some other traces of “an implicit Jesus-Vespasian contrast elsewhere in Mark’s Gospel”. The opening words “echo the language of imperial propaganda”, especially with the word “good news” or εὐαγγελίου which “was used of announcements of victories in battle or the accession of emperors”. If the words “son of God” in Mark 1:1 are original then it can be noted that they can be interpreted as a counterpart to the emperor’s title, divi filius. More soberly…

it surely is significant, however, that the only human being to apply these words to Jesus is the centurion in charge of Jesus’ crucifixion. Vespasian’s army crucified many Jews in the course of its campaign;74 in contrast Jesus dies on a Roman cross, at which point the centurion declares not the emperor but Jesus to be υἱὸς θεοῦ (Mark 15.39). (p. 16)

Then compare the “Little Apocalypse” of Mark 13 and imagine a 70 CE context. Here Eve quotes Gerd Theissen:

Vespasian could be regarded in the East as a ruler who usurped messianic expectations and legitimated himself through prophets and miracles. . . . As a usurper, he had to rely on loud and vigorous propaganda. The warning against pseudo-messiahs in Mk 13.21–22 could have been formulated against the background of such a ‘propaganda campaign’ for the victorious new emperor, who created peace by subduing the Jews and whose legitimacy was supported by signs and wonders. In that case, the pseudo-messiahs would not have been leaders of the revolt against the Romans, nor would they represent expectations based on memories of those leaders. On the contrary, what was being criticized was the usurpation of religious hopes by the Roman ruler who demolished the uprising. (Theissen, Gospels in Context, 267-68; cited by Eve, p.16)

Since Matthew and Luke dropped Mark’s use of spitting one may think that the propaganda of Vespasian was no longer of relevance to their readership. It is easy to see Mark’s narrative having special significance for audiences well aware of Vespasian’s propaganda.

Meanwhile,

Is not the Gospel of Mark written to readers who are experiencing persecution? If so, then we have to wonder why we know of no persecutions of Christians during Vespasian’s time.  Well, I also happen to have come across an article explaining why that naive reading of the gospel should be questioned. I’ll write about that soon.

And I know many readers will challenge me when I say that there is very little evidence for any sort of popular messianic movements being responsible for the Jewish War. Josephus speaks of a prophecy of world rulership that Vespasian was fulfilling but he does not say Vespasian is a prophesied “messiah”. Again, I’ll discuss this in more depth in a future post, too.


Eve, Eric. “Spit in Your Eye: The Blind Man of Bethsaida and the Blind Man of Alexandria.” New Testament Studies 54, no. 1 (January 2008): 1–17.

Wardle, D. “Suetonius on ‘Vespasianus Religiosus’ in Ad 69-70: Signs and Times.” Hermes 140, no. 2 (2012): 184–201. https://www.jstor.org/stable/23251924


The following two tabs change content below.

Neil Godfrey

Neil is the author of this post. To read more about Neil, see our About page.

Latest posts by Neil Godfrey (see all)



If you enjoyed this post, please consider donating to Vridar. Thanks!


26 thoughts on “Spit at a Late Date for the Gospel of Mark?”

    1. Another source to check out for this line of reasoning is Adam Winn’s “Reading Mark’s Christology Under Caesar.” He points out more signs of Mark responding to and co-opting Flavian propaganda, and a composition date during the reign of Vespasian.

      As for previous late-dating arguments posted here, I’ll just add that David Oliver Smith, who also argues that Mark used Antiquities, makes a good case for significant interpolation in the death of John the Baptist pericope in his book “Unlocking the Puzzle.” Personally, I think he could’ve gone further – that the vast majority of that pericope is interpolated, i.e. all the material that looks dependent on Josephus.

  1. Two points: 1) the Gospel of Mark was likely written after Vespasian’s reign, not during. During his reign, Vespasian’s allies could have seen the power given to Jesus–healing with spit–as direct competition or even commentary on Vespasian’s healing with spit. 2) Perhaps Jesus’s two-step healing was Mark’s prudent mitigation of Jesus’s power: yes, he heals with spit, but not as well as Vespasian had.

  2. My problem with the view of Jesus healing with the spit as anti-Vespasian propaganda, is that it can be seen with equal probability as a reaction against Marcion’s denial of a Jesus “in the flesh”: the spittle proves that Jesus is in flesh and blood.

    There is even more than this.

    It is possible that Jesus’ use of mud was meant to parallel God’s original creation of man: “The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground” (Genesis 2:7). In other words, Jesus showed his power as the Creator by imitating the original creation of man: He used the “dust of the ground” to give the man born blind new sight.
    The Marcionites accused this act of the demiurge as a sign of his clumsiness.

    Mark had as the goal of this potential midrash the justification of the alleged clumsiness of the creator by making Jesus a clumsy healer.

  3. I cannot see the date conclusion following from the fact demonstrated. That Jesus with spittle healing the blind man is an allusion to or response to Vespasian the blind man healer and propaganda for Vespasian’s legitimacy is convincing. That would be the originating context of that story of Jesus, sometime in the Flavian era of the 70’s to 90s. But legendary stories of a figure’s wonderful deeds of the past, even with details preserved which are meaningless in a later time, give terminus a quo, not terminus ad quem, for when a later written text telling or making use of such a story is published.

    The argument that GMk with the spittle is Flavian era (70s-90s), because the spittle detail is dropped in GMatt and GLk reflecting post-Flavian publication dates when contrast to Flavian dynasty founder Vespasian’s legitimacy propaganda would no longer have been an issue, could be persuasive if there were a pattern of such indicators demonstrated systematically, but does not seem very decisive in itself. The story may have started out with the spittle/Vespasian allusion, and it may be an accident how many details are preserved or lost in later trajectories and reworkings of the same story–just as rural areas are more conservative (slow to change) in historical linguistics than urban centers. An alternative view would be that canonical GMk was produced in its present form roughly contemporary to, in the same generation as, the other three canonical gospels out of a common context, all four canonical gospels essentially variant versions of each other, these texts retailing midrash and oral history and legend including stories of the legendary Jesus–stories of Jesus going all the way back to the forms in which they were first told and retold in the era of the Flavians of the 70s-90s ce. Legends and folk tales and stories can preserve, for long periods of time afterward, details telling of their originating context the significances of which may be completely meaningless to later generations of readers even though those details remain part of the folk-telling of the story. Nothing new in that as a literary phenomenon.

    1. What I would like to see is some indication that these stories designed to legitimate Vespasian’s rule continued, or were the sorts of tales that continued, after his reign and into the reigns of other emperors decades, even a generation, later. I understand stories of Nero’s expected return necessarily “outlived” Nero by their definition, of course, but that kind of narrative is of a different kind from those intended to legitimate an outsider to the rulership. I don’t rule out the possibility of such stories continuing on after their immediate purpose — I know so little of the religious atmosphere in the eastern empire. At the moment I understand that during the reign of Hadrian, for example, there was so much in the way of imperial propaganda extolling Hadrian that I find it difficult to imagine much room — or relevance — for ongoing stories of Vespasian in the popular mind (over a generation later).

      (The parallels between Vespasian and that middle section of Mark go beyond what I put into the post. Vespasian also was said to have been notably proclaimed to have a successful future by a priest/prophet on Mount Carmel and then later in the temple of Serapis was said to have had a vision of the far-off Basilides. We might be forgiven for thinking we are hearing faint echoes the divine authentication of Jesus on the mountain of the transfiguration with “very distant” persons appearing beside him. Later he even encountered a fallen then restored cypress tree — which might remind some of us of Jesus’ encounter with a fig tree.)

      I still very much “would like” to establish a late date for Mark, but there do seem to be various contradictory pointers that need some kind of resolution.

    2. You are probably right Neil. From your comments as well as Harrison Koehli’s reference I need to rethink this. Adam Winn, The Purpose of Mark’s Gospel (2008), does make a good case that much if not all of GMk is Flavian era and not later. Winn’s argument that in GMk Jesus is presented as counterpoint to Vespasian/Flavian propaganda seems in a way analogous to the way the return of Jesus in Revelation is conscious counterpoint to the return of Nero (= the terrible anticipated “8th” head of the beast, the number of his name identifying this coming figure not as someone like Nero, but as the real returning Nero). Both Jesus and Nero lived, seemed to be slain, went away, and will return, in the world of Rev. Similarly just as Vespasian was a human who worked miracles and became deified, so Jesus in conscious counterpoint in the Gospel of Mark.

      My resistance to a Flavian dating of GMk stemmed from the time-shift problem: in my thinking the Gospel figures and stories, including Jesus, are neither invented nor 30s ce historical but rather are legendary forms of First Revolt context and figures in origin, even though this line of thinking has hardly ever been considered. However that is not the time setting in which the Gospels themselves situate Jesus which calls for explanation. I reread GMk today and was struck by how the story contexts correspond well in date and setting to the era of the known Jesus active in Galilee at the time of the Revolt. I see only two textual indicators in GMk calling for dating Jesus earlier than the time of the First Revolt, in the world of that text. The first is the Herodias/John the Baptist story from Josephus situated by Josephus 30s ce and the second is the name of Pilate, the Roman figure who reluctantly succumbs to pressure to crucify Jesus. There is no dating of a birth of Jesus, no mention of Herod the Great, no named high priest, no other chronological linkage. There is a “Herod the king”, but is that Herod Antipas (who was not a king) or Herod Agrippa II at the time of the Revolt (who was a king)? The text in its present form associates the king with the Herodias/John the Baptist story of Josephus. Is it possible the Herodias passage is a secondary addition to a text which originally did not have that? As for Pilate, in the world of GMk he is dated along with the crucifixion of Jesus to the time of the rending of the temple veil (15:38) which occurred 70 CE when Titus cut the temple veil. From this article on the rending of the temple veil, p. 314 n. 61 (https://www.etsjets.org/files/JETS-PDFs/48/48-2/48-2-pp301-316_JETS.pdf):

      “The Babylonian Talmud speaks of Titus cutting the inner veil of the temple with his sword upon the conquest of Jerusalem in the year ad 70. According to the tradition, blood spurted out of the curtain when it was cut (b. Git. 56b [5:6]). The Babylonian Talmud also reports that Titus made a basket out of the temple veil to carry the utensils of the sanctuary back to Rome (b. Git. 56b [5:6]). Sifre on Deuteronomy says that Titus cut two veils at the entrance to the Holy of Holies (Sifre Deut. §328).”

      From this and other allusions it might seem the expected name of Jesus’s crucifier perhaps should be Titus (heb tet-tet-waw-samekh), not Pilate (heb pe-lamed-tet-waw-samekh). Is it possible an original GMk did read “Titus” later changed to Pilate? (If GMk was written in the time of the Flavians… maybe making that name “Pilate” might have diplomatic reasons?) Apart from those two things, the Herodias passage and the Pilate name, I was struck that otherwise the Gospel of Mark can be read plausibly as late first-century ce, Flavian-era, stories of Jesus drawn from the First Revolt as such might be told, garbled and confused in a text produced by someone with access to hearsay who was not there–legendized stories of a crucified Revolt figure Jesus (but now victorious in heaven) perhaps comparable to stories of Vespasian in the Roman divine-emperor cult.

      1. Hi Greg,
        this scholar has raised coincidentially the possibility that the two thieves figured originally as the two killers of Jesus, i.e. (in his traditional interpretation), Herod and Pilate.

        The two officials in charge (i.e., Herod and Pilate) are the evildoers who crucify Jesus. In this case, there is no grammatical error at all. The plural nominative in Qn 23.32 represents the subject of the 3rd person plural verb in Qn 23.33 (“they crucified him”). The crucifixion narrative is a blatant critique of the hypocrisy of those in power. They execute the righteous slave Jesus, all the while they live wicked lives.

        Now, is it only a coincidence that in an apocryphon, the names of the two thieves were TITUS and Dimachus ?

        Dimachus may be ‘Domitianus’…

        I fear it is too much speculative, obviously.

        1. Giuseppe, I don’t know what to make of Mark Bilby’s analysis (in the link you give)–his reference to preparation in an advanced stage on an annotated critical edition of Marcion is interesting. His argument is that known GMarcion’s “(the) two evildoers” in nominative is the antecedent subject of “they” in “and at Skull place THEY crucified him” which follows. From this he suggests or concludes, contrary to usual thinking, that “the earliest narrative of the crucifixion of Jesus maintains that his crucifixion was solitary” …

          However GMk has the story of Jesus plus two others crucified making three, corresponding to Josephus’s story of three crucified and one taken down from the cross who lived (another indication of a Revolt originating date context for the stories of Jesus).

          Bilby suggests this grammatical reading, as he says, by considering reading the known ancient quoted excerpts from Marcion without ellipses. No doubt such a method will give unexpected new insights, and in a few cases even correct ones. But in the present case, in light of what presumably Flavian-era GMk reads, of three/one-resurrected (= Josephus’s three/one-lives crucified in 70 CE), it seems to me the ellipses in later reconstructed GMarcion weigh against the suggestion. The nominative “two evildoers” could be followed by a passive verb, e.g. “<pl. nom. subject> were beside him”, and the “they” crucified him referring, just as in GMk, to the plural soldiers carrying it out.

          The force of the Josephus three-and-one crucifixion-survival story is difficult to weaken. The similarity to the Gospel Passion story is too alike to be unrelated coincidence, and the Josephus story is certainly presented as Josephus first-hand account with no sign that it is Josephus covertly inventing that story to counter Christianity. The Passion story of Jesus’s crucifixion is so central to the Jesus story, and Josephus dates it that story as being a story of something which occurred securely and narrowly dated some time between 68 and 70 ce. And the identification of Joseph “of Arimethea” as Josephus bar Matthias, both carrying out the same respective functions of appealing for permission to have the body taken down from the cross of the one who is resurrected/given medical treatment and survives, nails the case further. Josephus’s story of the three and one is correctly dated, and that is the correct original date of Jesus in the story of the crucifixion which became so central to the Christian gospel.

          1. Josephus, Life 420-21: “When I was sent by Titus Caesar with Cerealius, and a thousand horse, to a village called Tekoa, to prospect whether it was a suitable place fit for a camp, and on my return saw many prisoners who had been crucified, and recognized three of my acquaintances among them, I was cut to the heart and came and told Titus with tears what I had seen. He gave orders immediately that they should be taken down and receive the most careful treatment. Two of them died in the physician’s hands; the third survived.”

            Does this actually compare with the gospel account?

            Similarities:
            (1) Three crucified, one survives.

            Differences:
            (1) in Josephus, hundreds crucified before the walls of Jerusalem, three are recognized as friends of Josephus.
            (2) In the gospels, all three died on the cross, whereas in Josephus all three were still visibly alive.
            (3) In the gospels, Joseph of Arimathea was said to have requested the (dead) body of only one of the crucified, not all three.
            (4) In the gospels the purpose was for burial, not to place under a physician’s care.
            (5) In the gospel story, the survival was due to miraculous resurrection, not a physician’s care.
            (6) The named Roman official is different, Titus vs. Pilate.
            (7) The timing is also quite different. The episode in Josephus takes place at the fall of Jerusalem’s temple in August or September 70, while the gospel episode is during Passover season.

            The context of the request by Josephus of Arimathea is illuminated by Philo, Flaccus 81-84, talking about the crucifixions of Jews in Alexandria:

            "I leave out of the account the point that if they had committed a host of crimes he ought to have postponed the punishments in respect for the season, for rulers who conduct their government as they should and do not pretend to honour but really do honour their benefactors make a practice of not punishing any condemned person until these notable celebrations in honour of the birthdays of the illustrious Augustan house are over. Instead he made them an occasion for illegality and for punishing those who had done no wrong, whom he could have punished at a later time if he wished. But he hurried and pressed on the matter to conciliate the mob, who were opposed to the Jews, thinking that this would help to make his policy their own. I have known cases when on the eve of a holiday of this kind, people who have been crucified have been taken down and their bodies delivered to their kinsfolk, because it was thought well to give them burial and allow them the ordinary rites. For it was meet that the dead also should have the advantage of some kind treatment upon the birthday of an emperor and also that the sanctity of the festival should be maintained.
            "But Flaccus gave no orders to take down those who had died on the cross. Instead, he ordered the crucifixion of the living. . ."

            So, similarly, I understand Pilate to have granted the burial of Jesus in light of the sanctity of the festival season.

          2. Oh, I should add under

            Similarities:

            (2) Name Joseph of Arimathea similar to Josephus bar Matthias–accidentally omitted, but point of interest! My bad!

            If the story with a setting under Pilate somehow drew on an episode involving Josephus, one would be curious as to how the story changed so dramatically. Earth-shaking if true.

          3. Russ–Josephus does not say when he was south of Jerusalem with Cerealis at Tekoa scouting a camp for the fifth legion. One scenario could have that around Passover season 70. The Romans under Titus locked down the city swollen with pilgrims for Passover. The fifth legion under Cerealis is mentioned arriving in the vicinity of Jerusalem at War 5.68. Would that have been a time when Cerealis scouted at Tekoa for a more permanent encampment location? (Or would that have been in 68 or 69 associated with Cerealis’s forays into Idumea according to Josephus, or would it have followed the fall of Jerusalem in Aug 70?)

            On Nisan 14 (Passover) 70, John’s forces assaulted and took the temple from Eleazar. (Eleazar’s faction and possibly Eleazar himself later turn up under John’s command.) Jesus of Galilee would be among John’s forces of the three factions in Jerusalem, now become two factions with Eleazar’s now under John. The violence in the takeover of the temple that Passover, if it involved or featured Jesus working with John, could be a “cleansing of the temple” story featuring Jesus. As the Romans began building their siege engines, the two remaining faction leaders inside the city, Simon and John, set aside their differences and allied, with John (and Jesus) in control of the temple.

            In these days around Passover warriors from inside the city made a foray outside the walls to attack the Romans. There was an expedition in the direction of the Mount of Olives where the tenth legion was encamped in which there was a fierce battle and Jewish prisoners were captured (5.75-81). The mention at 5.81 of the Jewish fighters being “routed from [the Romans’] camp” suggests the Mount of Olives as the site where the warriors were defeated and prisoners captured. Names are not given of the commanders of the Jewish fighters but Jesus in Galilee had a prior history of daring raids on the Romans before he came to Jerusalem (War 3.448-452). Another excursion of warriors from Jerusalem attempted to attack the Roman siege engines at night and was also defeated (5.284-288). In both accounts Titus is surrounded and almost killed by the Jews but heroically in hand-to-hand combat personally turns the tide of battle. Perhaps these are even two versions of the same event, if (say) Josephus was not at the scene when it happened and only learned of it by being told of it upon return. Or perhaps these are distinct events as represented. In association with the second of these, Josephus makes mention of Titus ordering a prisoner crucified in front of the city walls as a terror tactic to those inside the city (5.289).

            The intervention of Josephus to save three from the cross is told in Life. That intervention is described as Josephus saving three out of many crucifixion victims, which corresponds well to War 5.446-451 which according to the Loeb marginal notes is some time before May 30th (at 5.466).

            It is true that mass crucifixions by the Romans are not mentioned at the outset of the siege–only the mention of Titus’s terror crucifixion of one. But is that picture of Roman moderation at the outset and only later escalation–with Titus having no choice but to later crucify so many because the defenders so obstinately would not surrender (as Josephus tells it, in keeping with Josephus’s portrayal of just and compassionate Titus and Romans)–the way it happened? Or would a picture of Romans inflicting mass terror crucifixions of prisoners in battle from day one for the purpose of crushing will to resist immediately, be closer to the truth?

            Although Josephus, if his account is to be believed, tells what actually happened, from the point of view from within the city walls three victims, perhaps unconscious, were seen taken down from crosses by Roman soldiers. Unknown to and unseen by the defenders inside the city, at Titus’s orders (at Josephus’s request) the three were given medical attention; two died despite the medical efforts but one lived. What happened to the one who lived? From parallel Roman m.o., one plausible disposition of that prisoner would be he was sent back into the city of Jerusalem to be a “witness” to the others of Roman horrors (cp. 5.455-456; Life 147) and/or to allow him to be with his friends where he could either recover or die in peace. That could be the list of those who saw Jesus alive after he had been dead of 1 Cor 15:3-7. That Jesus was the identity of the one who lived of Josephus’s three, is a backward inference from the same story appearing (albeit in garbled form) in the Gospels featuring Jesus as that person. From Josephus’s Life, it is clear that Josephus had ongoing covert dealings with warrior commander Jesus in Galilee, though Josephus tells of those dealings in a self-serving way.

            As for a crucifixion survivor and friends midrashing such a survival as a resurrection from the dead, compare the miraculous divine deliverance of war hero Niger at Ashkelon after three days supposed to have been dead at War 3.26-28: “His reappearance filled all Jewish hearts with unlooked-for joy; they thought that God’s providence had preserved him to be their general in conflicts to come”. Josephus’s acquaintance’s reentry back into the city of Jerusalem after he was crucified and (so it seemed) died on the cross, seen by many … how would that have been peshered? Just as the two others died despite medical treatment due to the physical trauma, the one who lived–Jesus if the back-reconstruction from the parallel Gospels’ story is accepted–might not have lived too long. When he did die, interpreted as “gone to heaven” (bodily, if no one knew where the body was) … there it is, war hero Jesus risen from the dead, now in heaven. The rest would be history, no pun intended.

            The Passion Story in the Gospel according to Mark has the crucifixion of Jesus mixed up with a trial of Jesus in which Jesus had been released, but that is what happens with hearsay and stories taking on lives of their own, mixed up and retold for cinematic or dramatic effect. Even one of Papias’s informants’ sources, John (according to Papias), anciently said that Mark’s writing had things out of order (i.e. confused), because (so John explained, according to Papias’s informants) Mark had not written from personal knowledge but had reconstructed narrative out of fragmented hearsay.

            Also see David Trobisch’s article on academia.edu, “The Book of Acts as a Narrative Commentary on the Letters of the New Testament”. Trobisch argues for a canonical-reading perspective in which Acts is essentially second-century invented history intended to give background to the readers of Paul’s letters and the other letters of the canonical publication. There may be first-century history potentially accessible via careful analysis of Acts’ sources, but it is not in the narrative framing, time-sequencing and dating-periodization structuring of the second-century Acts text. This and other work of Trobisch is eye-opening, with the effect of undercutting Acts as evidence for the traditional pre-Revolt datings of Jesus and Paul.

            1. When I first posted this it appeared in front of your comment, Greg. I thought it better to remove it and place it here below your comment even though it is more directly responding to Russell’s two points of similarity.

              Another list of similarities (or similarities interpreted as such, for better or worse) is found in the “controversial” work of Pierre Krijbolder, Crucifixion and Turin Shroud Mysteries Solved, pp. 64 f. I was led to this book by Frans J. Vermeiren’s A Chronological Revision of the Origins of Christianity, expecting to find a more in depth discussion of the application of Levi-Strauss’s structuralist view of mythology, but was disappointed to find it lacking the depth I had hoped. I have since learned that another scholar whose work is more rigorous, Karel Hanhart, also found himself apologizing to his readers for agreeing with a particular point made by this same author who is, to say the least, unorthodox in his approach and conclusions.

              Josephus’ Vita Johannine gospel
              1. There is a Roman ruler in Jerusalem (Titus). 1. There is a Roman ruler in Jerusalem (Pilate).
              2. There are (probably) two members of the Sanhedrin, one named Joseph bar Matthea and the other Nicodemus bar Gourion. 2. There are two members of the Sanhedrin, one named Joseph of Arimathea, and the other Nicodemus.
              3. There are three crucified men, one of whom survives the crucifixion. 3. There are three crucified men, one of whom survives the crucifixion.
              4. The crucifixion took place at a scorned terrain (BJ, book V, ch.3, §2) which in Hebrew language will have been referred to by the name ‘Golgotha’, and bounded by the (presumably) adjacent new estate of Joseph bar Matthea. 4. The crucifixion took place at a terrain named ‘Golgotha’ and bounded by the adjacent estate of Joseph of Arimathea.
              5. At the (most plausible) estate of Joseph bar Matthea, there is a tomb cellar, which was never used before, and which could be closed by a large rounded stone. Joseph bar Matthea calls his (assumed) new estate: the (Herod’s) Monument(s). 5. At the estate of Joseph of Arimathea, there was a tomb cellar which had never been used before, and could be closed by a large rounded stone. The evangelist calls the tomb of Jesus a *Monument’.
              6. Joseph bar Matthea walks to Titus and is offered permission to take off the crucified men and to have helpers taking care of them. 6. Joseph of Arimathea (!) goes to Pilate and receives permission to take off and bury the crucified Jesus.
              7. Joseph bar Matthea is an admirer of the Essaeans, though in secrecy; ‘crypto-Essaean’. 7. Joseph of Arimathea is a disciple of Jesus, but in secrecy (out of his fear for the jews); a ‘crypto-disciple’.
              8. Nicodemus bar Gourion is a friend of Joseph bar Matthea and a wealthy wholesale dealer in balm among others. Josephus wrote about his admiration for father Gourion. 8. Nicodemus brings an expensive quantity of balm (30 kilograms) for the burial of Jesus, whom he did not envy.
      2. After having argued that there would be no point in repeating Vespasian’s propaganda post Flavian times I have been pulled up by a reminder that Tacitus’s concluding statement after relating the two miracles of healing in Egypt is this:

        Both facts are told by eye-witnesses even now when falsehood brings no reward. (Histories, IV, 81)

        “Even now” = ca 100 CE.

        1. The cult of Serapis appears to have been very active in promoting the god’s healing prowess in the first century and at least through to the time of Tacitus:

          Being a creation of Ptolemy I, the new god Sarapis could not boast of any myths of his own comparable to the fascinating tales to which his well-off Greek and Egyptian fellow-gods owed their reputation. But the many benefits which Sarapis awarded to his worshippers from the very beginning of his existence compensated for this disadvantage. They were relieved of various troubles, especially of all kinds of diseases. Sometimes the god went so far as to let someone fall ill and heal him again after obliging him to build a temple or render some other service. Soon he rivalled Asclepius and Imouthes-Imhotep, the Greek and the Egyptian physicians among the gods, in respect and gradually took over their functions. His countless deeds, άρεταί, were written down and the copies preserved in the libraries of his main temples. A special category of professional story-tellers, the άρεταλδγοί, entertained pious audiences by
          narrating the achievements of their lord over and over again in the precincts of his temples. An organized search for publicity seems to have always been a constitutive factor in the cult of Sarapis. It may be added that this kind of religious literature, written in Greek, might well have been the source from which the extant accounts of Vespasian’s Alexandrian experiences originate through one or another unknown intervening author. Even Tacitus may have used a Greek source, as he did in the digression relating the origin of Sarapis. (66-67)

          Henrichs, Albert. “Vespasian’s Visit to Alexandria.” Zeitschrift Für Papyrologie Und Epigraphik 3 (1968): 51–80.

        2. And again,

          After referring to the role of Egyptian priests in promoting Vespasian, Henrichs writes (p. 76),

          But there can be no doubt that they succeeded in creating a new union of church and state which inaugurated a renaissance of Egyptian cults outside Egypt. Thus during the next seventy years the worship of Egyptian deities flourished at Rome thanks to the protection of the emperors.

          With this added footnote:

          The consequences of Vespasian’s stay at Alexandria may provide an answer to Fraser’s question (Op. Athen. 3, 1960, 19 ff. ) ״How did the very different, and far more popular, cult of Sarapis arise in Roman Egypt? Is it to be regarded as a natural growth from its Ptolemaic predecessor, or is it rather due to a deliberate revival of a cult which, in Egypt, was largely, if not wholly, moribund? And, if the latter, then would this not indicate a conscious attempt at some time to create a link between the Roman masters of Egypt and their Ptolemaic predecessors”?

  4. Another possibility to keep in mind: The location of the Vespasian spittle incident, Alexandria, might also provide indication of where the Jesus spittle pericope was composed, for presumably the incident was remembered with pride by the people of that city. The earliest known Alexandrian gospel commentator, if not author, was Basilides.

    Basilides was the other wayward pupil of Menander. I say “wayward” because Menander was Simonian but supposedly two of his pupils, Saturnilus and Basilides, became Christians. The extant record does not connect Saturnilus with any gospel writing but, as indicated above, that is not the case with Basilides. And interestingly enough, Basilides claimed as his source a disciple of Peter’s named Glaukias. Recall that a later more orthodox source, Papias, claimed that the Mark who wrote the gospel of Mark was a disciple of Peter’s.

    1. Just to add another layer of tease to the question, another Basilides was the priest who declared a divinely destined future of Vespasian when he visited Mount Carmel —

      Tacitus, Histories, II, 78

      Old omens came back to his mind : once on his country estate a cypress of conspicuous height suddenly fell, but the next day it rose again on the selfsame spot fresh, tall, and with wider expanse than before. This occurrence was a favourable omen of great significance, as the haruspices all agreed, and promised the highest distinctions for Vespasian, who was then still a young man. At first, however, the insignia of a triumph, his consulship, and his victory over Judea appeared to have fulfilled the promise given by the omen ; yet after he had gained these honours, he began to think that it was the imperial throne that was foretold. Between Judea and Syria lies Carmel : this is the name given to both the mountain and the divinity. The god has no image or temple—such is the rule handed down by the fathers ; there is only an altar and the worship of the god. When Vespasian was sacrificing there and thinking over his secret hopes in his heart, the priest Basilides, after repeated inspection of the victim’s vitals, said to him : ” Whatever you are planning, Vespasian, whether to build a house, or to enlarge your holdings, or to increase the number of your slaves, the god grants you a mighty home, limitless bounds, and a multitude of men.” This obscure oracle rumour had caught up at the time, and now was trying to interpret ; nothing indeed was more often on men’s lips. It was discussed even more in Vespasian’s presence—for men have the more to say to those who are filled with hope.

      Suetonius notes the same event without mention of Basilides in Life of Vespasian, 5

      When he consulted the oracle of the god of Carmel in Judaea, the lots were so encouraging as to promise that whatever plan he was contemplating and turning over in his mind, no matter how ambitious, would be fulfilled.

      Yet in ch.7 when Vespasian is at the temple of Serapis in Egypt Basilides does appear in vision:

      Here, wishing to consult the auspices concerning the duration of his hold on the empire, he dismissed all who were with him and entered the temple of Serapis alone, and when, having made many offerings to the god, he finally turned around, it seemed to him that the freedman Basilides had brought him sacred branches, garlands, and cakes, as is the custom there. Yet he was well aware that no one had let this man in and, moreover, that he had for some time been scarcely able to walk, because of a nervous disorder, and was indeed far away.

      Basilides, the name meaning “son of a king”, apparently once lame, unable to walk, but miraculously cured by Vespasian’s god, is the apparent divine herald of Vespasian’s ascent to “ruling the world”.

  5. The Vespasian miracles of healing might also appear in the NT in another context. The book of Revelation arguably knew of the siege of Jerusalem’s temple in spring of 70 CE but incorrectly predicted the length of that siege at 42 months (Rev. 11.1-2), which dates Revelation to spring or summer of 70 CE. Given that context, one arguably has an identification of the beast of Revelation as Vespasian, and it has occasionally been suggested (e.g. Lee Harmon’s novelistic Revelation – The Way It Happened 2010, but not in serious peer reviewed literature) that the false prophet who promoted the worship of the beast at Rev. 13.11-15 could be the captured traitor Josephus who saved his skin by proclaiming Vespasian Messiah. I personally find the thesis credible. Interestingly, Josephus was present with Vespasian in Alexandria, and Rev. 13.14 speaks of the false prophet performing miracles in the sight of the beast. Revelation is full of fevered rumors about contemporary events during the Jewish War. Is this a slightly garbled version of Josephus and Vespasian in Alexandria?

    1. Let’s open all the stops and add to Josephus the priest Basilides who was the voice of the oracle at Mount Carmel according to Tacitus (quoted in my reply here to RParvus) and who subsequently miraculously appeared to Vespasian in Egypt’s temple of Serapis (also quoted in reply to Roger Parvus) and is mentioned in the same breath as Josephus:

      When he consulted the oracle of the god of Carmel in Judaea, the lots were so encouraging as to promise that whatever plan he was contemplating and turn in g over in his mind, no matter how ambitious, would be fulfilled. And one of the captives of noble birth, Josephus, when he was thrown into chains, insisted that the same man would shortly set him free but that he would then be emperor. Omens kept being reported from Rome, too.

      There you go: two witnesses, Basilides and Josephus! 😉

  6. It would be worth verifying that table, Neil. I can’t find mention of Nicodemus in one online, english version of Vita, nor on quick scan could I find reference to Joseph bar Matthea being a member of the Sanhedrin in it.

  7. Naqdimon (Nicodemas) b. Gurion appears in several passages in rabbinic literature. See Richard Bauckman, “Nicodemus and the Gurion Family,” JTS 47 (1996) 1-37. Gorion son of Nicodemas appears in War 2.451. Another Nicodemas appears in connection with events of 64 BCE (Ant. 14.37). Josephus contains a few other references to family members of the house of Gorion, as do rabbinic sources. Bauckman views these figures as belonging to the same family tree.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.