Why was the Gospel Narrative set around 30 CE?

Creative Commons License

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

by Neil Godfrey

I cannot prove that the gospel narratives are deliberately set in the time of Pilate so that the death of Jesus occurs a generation of forty years before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE but I do think there are several reasons for suspecting that this setting was a conscious decision for theological reasons.

The first question that arises is this: How can we think that the gospels set the time of Jesus’ crucifixion forty years before the destruction of the Temple given that there is no explicit claim in the gospels to lead us to this conclusion?

I’ll begin by noting the existence of two implied prophetic timetables that are easily overlooked because the texts do not explicitly draw our attention to them.

  • Adam / Year 1
  • . . . .
  • Exodus from Egypt / Year 2666 (= two thirds point)
  • . . . .
  • Rededication of temple / Year 4000 (164 b.c.e)

One: Nowhere in the Old Testament books do we read that the Temple was to be rededicated after the Maccabean revolt 4000 years after the creation of Adam. Yet scribes appear to have edited the chronologies of the books in order to make the beginning of the new Israel in 164 CE to occur a neat 4000 years after God began his project with the creation of Adam. For some reason those editors did not feel a need to explicitly advertise the presence of this remarkable chronology but there it is. (For an explanation of this chronology which is taken from Thomas Thompson’s The Mythic Past see The Bible’s 4000 years from Creation to the New Israel — or if you are pressed for time there is a shorter earlier version, The Meaning of Biblical Chronology).

Two: Josephus in Antiquities indicates that he believed that the 70 weeks of the prophecy in Daniel 9 ended with the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 CE. (Antiquities X, 11, 7 — Beckwith, 533 ff). However, when we read in his earlier work about the Jewish War about the death of a high priest being responsible for the fall of the city, we find no explicit direction to suspect that either of these events had any connection with Daniel’s prophecy. Josephus writes about the death of a high priest without an explicit link to Daniel, but once we know from the later work what he believed about Daniel’s prophecy, then we are compelled to read the death of the high priest as the fulfilment of the prophecy of the “anointed one” who was “cut off” and whose death led to the Roman conquest of Jerusalem as the culmination of Daniel’s 70 weeks prophecy. Josephus doesn’t spell out the connection for readers. He is so quiet about it that one can say “only those in the know will know” the prophetic significance (the end of Daniel’s 70 weeks) of what he has described.

. . . an anointed one shall be cut off and shall have nothing. And the people of the prince who is to come shall destroy the city and the sanctuary. Its end shall come with a flood, and to the end there shall be war. Desolations are decreed. — Daniel 9:26

“I should not be wrong in saying that the capture of the city [= 70 CE] began with the death of Ananus [= 66 CE]; and that the overthrow of the walls and the downfall of the Jewish state dated from the day on which the Jews beheld their [anointed] high priest, the captain of their salvation, butchered in the heart of Jerusalem. . . . But it was, I suppose, because God had, for its pollutions, condemned the city to destruction and desired to purge the sanctuary by fire, that he thus cut off those who clung to them with such tender affection” (War IV, v, 2, 318. 323 — Beckwith, 535 f).

So there is no rule that requires that a fulfilled prophetic time can only be validly found in a text if an author spells it out directly. Do the gospels contain inferences that their setting in the time of Pilate has been fabricated to make the Jesus event happen forty years prior to the fall of Jerusalem?

The Book of Jubilees pre-dates the gospels. In the view of a good number of scholars (although challenged by Davies and Chilton) Jubilees 17:15-18:19 associates the (“would-be”) sacrifice of Isaac with the Passover. The Jubilees passage speaks of the twelfth day as the day on which the episode of testing Abraham’s loyalty to God begins, and “the third day” after that being the time of his offering of Isaac, that is, the 15th Nisan. The objection of Davies and Chilton appears to have been refuted on the evidence of Qumran texts according to Geza Vermes:

These views [associating the Binding of Isaac with Passover as early as the second century BCE] have found general favour among scholars during the last three decades, with the exception of Philip Davies and Bruce Chilton, who set out in an article published in 1978 to substitute for them ‘a revised tradition history’. I believe that in the light of the evidence from 4Q225 their counter-argument can be finally refuted. (Vermes, 144)

The Gospels do not always draw attention to their allusions to “Old Testament” themes and motifs and for most part rely on the knowledge of readers to make the connections. So the significance of Christ enduring 40 days in the wilderness is only recognized by a reader who is familiar with the story of the generation of Israel wandering 40 years in the wilderness.

The remainder of this post is based heavily on an article that I have had in my collection for quite some years now but unfortunately the name of the author is missing from my copy. The title is Sub Pontio Pilato: The Chronological Analogue of Supercessionism? The last words are only Trondheim, November 2008, M. W. N. If any reader knows who the author is and where the article was published please do get in touch. From the article (p.2):

Compare the many references to “this generation” in Luke: 7.31; 11.29; 30, 31, 32, 50, 51; 17.25; 21.32

And yet there are indications within the NT that the time of Jesus’ entrance into public activity may have been pinpointed only after the destruction of the Second Temple, so as to reaffirm the central doctrines of Christian beliefs. Forty is, after all, a symbolic number that appears several times in the HB and NT. One could hypothesize tentatively that the number forty had symbolic significance in the gospel chronology, too. But this is not what is meant here. In Mark 8.38 the following words are attributed to Jesus: ‘For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation [έν τη γενεά ταύτη τη μοιχαλίδι και άμαρτωλφ], of him will the Son of man also be ashamed, when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels’. The designation ‘this generation’ and related phrases allude to Deuteronomy, where Moses relates how God eventually swore that not a man of ‘this evil generation’ would look upon the Promised Land (Deut. 1.35; see also Deut. 32.5, 20; Num. 14.11, 27, 35; Ps. 95.10).6 This language, according to J. N. Rhodes, is ‘an important rhetorical vehicle for evoking the history of Israel as one of disobedience and failure’.7 Since God had condemned the wilderness generation to wander in the desert for forty years, the associations inherent to the phrases, as used in the Synoptics, are strengthened by the chronological claim that Jesus made his appearance forty years before the disastrous events of 70 CE. The underlying premise seems to be that, by rejecting Jesus, the inhabitants of Jerusalem provoked God’s anger in a similar way as the wilderness generation had done in ancient times.

6 See U. Mauser, Christ in the Wilderness: The Wilderness Theme in the Second Gospel and its Basis in the Biblical Tradition (Naperville, IL: Alec R. Allenson, 1963).
7 J. N. Rhodes, The Epistle of Barnabas and the Deuteronomic Tradition (Tubingen: Mohr Siebeck, 2004), 162- 163, n. 86.

Parable of the Wicked Tenants. Image from Catholic Exchange

All of that may be suggestive but is there more? Our unknown author makes some interesting observations about Parable of the Wicked Tenants. I highlight what I take to be the key sentence:

In Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho (123; 135), Christians are said to be ‘the true Israelite race [γένος]’. This commitment to Christian supercessionism is scarcely justified by the vague argument that, in the gospels, the authority of Jesus replaces the guidance of the, Pharisees, scribes, and chief priests (cf. Matthew 5-7). However, the idea that the Church supplants the Jews is expressed more explicitly in the gospels than might be supposed at first sight. This conclusion presupposes the position that Jesus’ harsh words on ‘this generation’ would not have been intelligible in a pre-destruction context.

The parable presupposes that the destruction of Jerusalem was the result of the killing of Jesus. As a direct consequence God slew that generation and replaced them with a new people, a new Israel.

If read allegorically, the parable presupposes that the Roman siege of Jerusalem in 70 CE came as a Divine reaction to the crucifixion of Jesus. The parable may therefore be taken as an indication that early Christians adopted and expanded on an already established idea, namely, that the fall of Jerusalem came as a Divine reaction to sin. This idea, variants of which can be found in several contexts outside the NT, has a scriptural foundation in Deuteronomy, which states that disobedience to the commandments will bring war, famine, pestilence, and exile (cf. Deut. 28.15-68). Josephus, for instance, held that the fall of Jerusalem started in 68 CE, when the high priest Ananus was killed by zealots (War 4.5.2).

If the parable alludes to the Fall of Jerusalem as a consequence of rejecting Jesus then “this generation” likewise . . .

The parable alludes to the fall of Jerusalem, as if Jesus is foreseeing it. Hence, the versions found in the gospels demand a post-destruction date. The same must be true for the phrase ‘this generation’, as used in the Synoptics, because it, too, seems to conceal a prophetic prediction about the year 70 CE. It may be assumed that even if ‘this generation’, in the literal sense, can include only those individuals who lived in Jerusalem between 30 CE and 70 CE, the phrase was meant to have a trans-generational impact. The bloody events of 70 CE, during which the inhabitants of Jerusalem were driven into exile and had their properties confiscated, are used as a warning that those who reject Jesus will perish outside the Promised Land.

Jesus is made to identify himself with the sign of Jonah in the gospels. Jonah, in rabbinic tradition, took on messianic qualities. (I would note that this development of Jonah was unlikely to have originated in Christian times given that the gospels link him with Jesus.)

[T]he adventures of Jonah evoke associations with salvation and resurrection. The motif of destruction, too, must have appealed to early Christians. Jonah and Jesus are both from Galilee (cf. 2 Kings 14.25), but apart from this the differences between the two characters are more revealing than the similarities. Jonah falls into the category of the sinners Adam and Eve, who disobeyed God and had to flee, or Moses striking the rock. Jesus is free of sin. In the midrashic literature, Jonah is transformed from a sinful character, fleeing from God, into a harbinger of the Messiah.30 Jesus is not a harbinger of the Messiah; he is the Messiah. Jonah warns the people of Nineveh that in forty days the city will be destroyed, hoping that the people will not repent. But the Ninevites do repent, and God saves them. Jesus, on the other hand, hopes that ‘this generation’ will repent and live, but the opposite happens. After forty years, Jerusalem is destroyed. In both cases, forty is the number of probation and trial.

30. Jonah may even take on a messianic quality. For rabbinic references, see B. Narkiss, ‘The Sign of Jonah’, Gesta 18 (1979): 63-76. 

Turning to the Narkiss article we read (pp. 64, 72),

The first associations of Jonah with the redemption are in conjunction with the prophet Elijah, the immediate forerunner of the Messiah according to the Jewish tradition. Jonah is said to be the son of the widow of Zarephath (I Kings 17:17-23), who was resuscitated by Elijah and who is therefore a symbol of resurrection.7 Like Elijah, the midrash thinks of Jonah as one of the people who did not die, but were taken up bodily into heaven.8 One of his tasks in the Messianic Age is to bind and bring Leviathan, God’s playful creature (Psalm 104:26), to be feasted upon by the “righteous in Paradise”, and according to the “printed version” of Midrash Jonah, his agreement to do so saved him from drowning at sea.9 . . . 

7 Ginzberg, Legends, 4: 197; 6: 318; Midrash Tehillim, ch. 26, (ed Buber, Wilna 1891, p 220); Jerusalem Talmud, Sukkah, 5, 55a; Pirkei de Rabbi Eleizer, 33 (English trans., p. 240); Genesis Rabbah, 98:11. These associations are probably based on some similarities between the life of Jonah and that of Elijah. According to the Bible, Elijah was the first to lie under a tree in the desert wishing that he might die, after his victory over the prophets of Baal (I Kings 19:4-8). The number of days, forty, is also mentioned there which Elijah spent travelling to Horeb sustained by the food given to him by an angel. The midrash Seder Eliaku Rabbah 18:97-98 considers the widow’s resuscitated son, the “Messiah of the Tribe of Joseph”, to be different from Ellijah, the forerunner of the Messiah of the Tribe of Judah. However, Ginzberg Legends, 6: 351, thinks that this must have been a Christian influence. Otherwise Jonah is also thought in the midrash to be one of the 2,200 disciples of the prophet Elisha, the one whose task was to anoint Jehu. See Genesis Rabbah, 21:5, cf. Ginzberg, Legends, 4: 246; 6: 34 8.

Jeremiah laments destruction of Jerusalem (Rembrandt)

The Book of Jeremiah might add significance to the argument:

Traditional scholarship would argue that when it comes to the forty-year interval between Jesus’ ministry and the destruction of the Second Temple, matters are very different, because the number forty is not mentioned explicitly in the gospels. However, in this respect, there is a noteworthy parallel with Jeremiah’s ministry. The chronological statement of Jer. 1.2, repeated in 25.3, implies that Jeremiah’s ministry extended from 627 BCE until after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BCE, a period of roughly forty years. The number forty is not mentioned explicitly; and yet, in rabbinic literature, Jeremiah is compared with Moses because, among other things, they both prophesied ‘for forty years’ (Pesikta de-Rab Kahana 13.6). In one tradition, Jeremiah’s role during the destruction of the First Temple is projected onto Yohanan ben Zakkai,31 the legendary founder of the academy at Yavneh. Some texts claim that, similarly to Jeremiah, Yohanan ben Zakkai foresaw the destruction of the Second Temple. The following section from the Babylonian Talmud refers to four terrifying miracles, said to have occurred on a regular basis between 30 CE and 70 CE:

During the last forty years before the destruction of the Temple the lot [‘For the Lord’] did not come up in the right hand; nor did the crimson-coloured strap become white; nor did the western-most light shine; and the doors of the Hekhal would open by themselves, until R. Johanan ben Zakkai rebuked them, saying: Hekhal, Hekhal, why wilt thou be the alarmer thyself? I know about thee that thou wilt be destroyed, for Zechariah ben Ido has already prophesied concerning thee: Open thy Doors, O Lebanon, that the fire may devour thy cedars (b. Yoma 39b). 2

J. Neusner writes: ‘Sages assembled in the documents of Rabbinic Judaism, from the Mishnah forward, all recognized the destruction of the Second Temple and all took for granted that the event was to be understood by reference to the model of the destruction of the first’.33 According to the HB, the last forty years before the destruction of the First Temple had witnessed the ministry of Jeremiah. For forty years Jeremiah had suffered rejection for his warnings of coming judgment (cf. Jer. 22.5-9). This may partly explain why terrifying miracles were thought to have occurred between 30 CE and 70 CE, and why Yohanan ben Zakkai was said to have understood their meaning. The destruction of the First Temple took on paradigmatic significance in rabbinic literature.34 Hence the forty years prior to the events of 70 CE may have come to be thought of as a period of probation and trial. If there was a widespread belief among second-century Jews that the last forty years before the destruction of the Second Temple had been abnormal, it would have been but a short stretch for early Christians to postulate that the ministry and crucifixion of Jesus had initiated this ominous period. A brief reference to Pontius Pilate would have sufficed to make the point. It is in any case true that, similarly to Jeremiah and Yohanan ben Zakkai, Jesus is said to have foreseen the destruction of the Temple forty years before it occurred. (pp. 9 f)

Meanwhile, when we turn to the epistles we find no chronological setting for Jesus’ adventures (apart from one reference to Pilate in one of the Pastoral epistles). Yet in 1 Corinthians 10:5-6 and Hebrews 3:17 the idea the Sinai wilderness generation is related to the first century time of the “church”. The gospels tied the idea of a generation of trial to the time of Pilate, forty years prior to the destruction of Jerusalem.

In Christian thought these notions were gradually woven into a large picture, in which the redemptive crucifixion of Jesus parallels the sacrifice of the Passover lamb and the Exodus from Egypt; and the non-Christian Jews parallel the wilderness generation which, instead of accompanying Moses’ successor, Joshua, into the Promised Land, perished outside. Symbolism and chronology merge to become virtually inseparable. If the proposal is accepted that the chronology is essentially artificial, it seems reasonable that this intense symbolism must have developed simultaneously with the speculations that led early Christians to connect Jesus’ death with Pilate and Herod. (p. 10)

I might also add that part of the setting was the embrace of symbolic geography, Galilee, the “land of the gentiles.” Symbolic chronology is planted on a symbolic geography.

Other chronological possibilities did exist. Both Jewish and Jewish-Christian traditions include a scenario where Jesus was executed in the first century BCE under Alexander Jannaeus. The Church Father Epiphanius interpreted Psalm 132:11 and Genesis 49:10 to mean that Jewish “kingly and high-priestly offices were transferred immediately from Jannai to Jesus so that there should be no break in the succession.” In Origen’s writings we learn that the Jew Celsus knew of a tradition that Jesus had been stoned and then hung up for display with no knowledge of the time of Pilate.

So yes, it is true that the gospels do not advertise a theologically symbolic forty year period between the death of Jesus and the destruction of Jerusalem. Yet, we do have to wonder, given that such things are often not made explicit (e.g. in Jeremiah’s forty years prior to the destruction of the First Temple; Josephus’s 70 weeks culmination in the death of a high priest and destruction of the Second Temple…), but then again many allusions to OT images are left for readers to discern (e.g. the significance of Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness; the association of his death with Isaac’s sacrifice; his mimesis of Moses…). I cannot help but strongly suspect that both the geographical and chronological settings of the canonical gospel narratives were constructed with theological meanings.

Note: It should go without saying that the references we read in Josephus and Tacitus to Jesus/Christ being crucified in the time of Pilate are derived from Christian claims post 70 CE.

Sub Pontio Pilato: The Chronological Analogue of Supercessionism?,” 2008. [Author unknown. If you know the author please notify us.]

Beckwith, Roger T. “Daniel 9 and the Date of Messiah’s Coming in Essene, Hellenistic, Pharisaic, Zealot and Early Christian Computation.” Revue de Qumrân 10, no. 4 (40) (1981): 521–42.

Narkiss, Bezalel. “The Sign of Jonah.” Gesta 18, no. 1 (1979): 63–76. https://doi.org/10.2307/766792.

Thompson, Thomas L. The Mythic Past: Biblical Archaeology and the Myth of Israel. New York: Basic Books, 1999.

Vermes, Geza. “New Light on the Sacrifice of Isaac from 4Q225.” Journal of Jewish Studies 47, no. 1 (April 1, 1996): 140–46. https://doi.org/10.18647/1859/JJS-1996.



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!

15 thoughts on “Why was the Gospel Narrative set around 30 CE?”

  1. The discussion of “this (sinful) generation” is interesting, but the chronological calculations involved in the present article draw on secondary sources that seem a bit problematic.
    (1) Thompson’s calculation of 4000 years between creation and the Maccabean revolt overlooks the fact that of the many ancient Jewish chronologies we possess, from Demetrius the Chronographer to the Talmud, not a single one correctly calculated the time between the fall of Jerusalem and, say, the end of the Persian Era. This interval simply was not accurately known (and often inaccurately foreshortened based on the sporadic biblical mention of only a handful of Babylonian and Persian kings). So the alleged 4000 year interval is based on modern calculations that know, for instance, that the fall of Jerusalem occurred in 586 BCE and the rededication of the temple occurred in 164 BCE. (Maccabees makes no such claim.)
    (2) Likewise Neusner’s casual calculation of 40 years between the prophecy of Jesus and the fall of the temple calculates the former (in the immediate lead-up to the crucifixion) at 30 CE, which is only one of several potential candidates (including 30, 32, 33 and 36 CE).

    1. “Casual calculation” or “paradigmatic interpretation of Scripture”? Given that we see a flood of OT paradigmatic interpretations in the gospels, even extending to the thinly veiled symbolism of Mark’s crossing to and fro the “Sea of Galilee” between gentile and Jewish audiences and Matthew’s “Galilee of the nations”, would it not be surprising if there were no paradigmatic suggestion of a formalistic generation between Jesus and the fall of Jerusalem?

      The Gospel of Luke appears to have attempted to introduce some precision in the number of years by specifying that Jesus made his public appearance in the fifteenth year of Tiberius (= 29 ce), appearing to be crucified a year later.

    2. Russell – Your point about the notion of 4000 years being based on modern chronology, unavailable to of ancient history is absolutely right. It’s a position that Ron Hendel argues in his astute essay “A Hasmonean Edition of MT Genesis? The Implications of the Editions of the Chronology in Genesis 5” – (https://www.academia.edu/3753565/A_Hasmonean_Edition_of_MT_Genesis_The_Implications_of_the_Editions_of_the_Chronology_in_Genesis_50

      He also discusses the history of this “4000 year” calculation in 20th Century biblical criticism: it was apparently first proposed in 1954, and calculated explicitly by M. D. Johnson in 1969, though it is probably due to the fact that Thompson included it in both the book Neil cited, as well as his earlier book “The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narratives” (1974), that it has been adopted by so many scholars since then.

      1. Thank you for alerting us to Hendel’s article. Some years ago I had looked so long and hard without success to try to find what was behind TLT’s brief statement about the 4000 year “Great Year” chronology in the biblical texts without success. I should have taken my failure to find details as a warning, even if it contradicted TLT.

  2. “Why was the Gospel Narrative set around 30 CE?”
    I see three possible reasons for Mark to have chosen that date.
    1) The date makes Pontius Pilate–and his ?proverbial harshness– available to the story.
    2) Mark counted back 40 years from the destruction of the Temple to the (fictional) visit of the heavenly high priest Jesus to Earth. After waiting in the metaphorical wilderness for 40 years, Jesus was the only high priest remaining for the Judean people.
    3) Perhaps a significant religious event or intellectual discovery occurred around that date within Mark’s congregation or its predecessor congregations.

  3. Some people did raise that precising the Passion being under Pilate in the Nicean Credo was probably the result of a debate in the time of Constantine

  4. God had condemned the wilderness generation to wander in the desert for forty years. Now, if Barabbas is the evil scapegoat released in the wilderness, then “Pilate” (having in his name the meaning of “Releaser”: PLT) is even more so the best candidate for the divine agent who connects the fate of the rival Jesus (and implicitly, of his supporters: the “Jews”) with the wilderness generation wandered in the desert for forty years.

    Everything fits.

  5. you guys are funny. you want to be taken seriously, but you are utterly convinced your criticisms are all that when you really don’t know much at all. your devotion to reject any other point of view is indicative of your lack of scholarship

  6. Chris Albert Wells, Sorting Out Paul (2015), argues that the Pilate dating and “Passion week” is just about the last element to enter the Gospels. According to Wells the earliest attestation of the Pilate date for Jesus is Ignatius, ca. 120 ce, but Wells suggests even that is questionable. Wells argues that Acts, a mid-2nd ce text, does not know details of “Passion week”, and much of its “Peter source” of the first half of Acts seems to think Jesus was simply killed by Jews in line with other prophets, without specifics, inconsistent if a Pilate-trial story was then understood. Wells argues for dating the activity of Paul to 70-95 ce, and notes that Paul’s letters know nothing of Pilate or Passion week. After the (questioned by Wells) 120 reference to Pilate in Ignatius, the next one, says Wells, is Justin Martyr in the 150s. Wells has the gospels finished in response to Justin Martyr. First Timothy with its reference to Pilate is considered ca. 150s pseudepigrapha following Marcion. Wells even questions whether Marcion’s gospel had a Passion week/trial of Jesus with Pilate, suggesting that Tertullian’s quotations from Marcion are quotations from a Marcionites’ expanded edition of Marcion’s gospel, not the edition actually used by he earlier Marcion.

    In Wells’ reconstruction the mid-2nd CE authors and editors of the canonical texts–Wells following Trobisch sees a significant hand of Polycarp in this across several texts–had no clear idea of dates in the dim past 1st CE. “The Jesus party only existed after the seventies, and accordingly there was no historic Jesus trial in the thirties” (p. 206). Where then did Pilate come from in this late, 150s ce stage of Gospels publication? Wells says it came from influence from the trial of Peter in the Peter source of Acts, in which Gamaliel (whom Wells assumes to be Gamaliel the Elder) is featured. That generated the dating of Jesus’s trial to the same era, and produced the names of Pilate and Caiaphas. That is Wells’ theory anyway.

    Let me give my own very different speculation on where the Pilate dating of Jesus might have come from: a confusion over the time of Jesus’s birth. Item #1: the Gospel of John has Jesus “not yet fifty” in age (8:57) which is a variant of the story of “‘destroy this temple and I will rebuild it in three days’. Then said the Jews, ‘Forty-six years this temple has been building, and will you raise it up in three days?’ But he spoke of the temple of his body” (2:19-21). This falls in line with a GJn pattern of “peshering” of exact words of Jesus quotations in which significant meaning is seen in double-entendres spoken unwittingly by people. The usual reading of this is that both Jesus was 46 years old and the temple had been building for 46 years, i.e. Jesus was born at the same time the temple building started. I suggest that is an incorrect reading, and that the correct reading was the sense, “For all of your forty-six years this temple has been building, and you are going to do the whole thing in three days?” followed by the pesher, “But he spoke of the temple of his body”. The original saying of Jesus, and the incredulous response from Jesus’s hearers it produced, referred to the temple, not Jesus’s resurrection (that is from the later commenter making that editorial double-entendre pun comment). But it was not saying the temple had only been building for 46 years, but rather than the temple had been building for all 46 years Jesus had existed on earth (and before that). In passing mention is made of Jesus’s age as 46. Otherwise inexplicable or baffling traditions of figures such as James, and separately John, wore high priestly clothing or functioned as high priest, completely insensible prior to 66 CE, become sensible during the years of the Revolt and especially 70 ce, when Josephus either knows nothing or says nothing concerning details of who officiated as high priest in those turbulent times–and the language of destruction and rebuilding of the temple makes sense in a Revolt/70 siege setting when that was, in fact, a live issue (contrast to not at all an issue in 30s ce). Therefore, although conjectural: Jesus 46 years old in 70 ce. Jesus b. ca. 24-25 CE.

    Item #2. One theory of the Testimonium of Josephus’s Antiquities that has been argued is that a hypothetical original passage where the Testimonium now exists, was a birth story of Jesus, which is parodied in the immediately following Paulina-scandal stories, in keeping with Roman audience gentle mockery or skepticism of superstitious beliefs. The article making this case is Albert Bell, “Josephus the Satirist? A Clue to the Original Form of the ‘Testimonium Flavianum'”, Jewish Quarterly Review 67 (1976): 16-22. Birth story of Jesus, set in the time of Pilate, perhaps a scandal told of Jesus’s mother occurring in the time of Pilate, i.e. Jesus b. time of Pilate.

    Item #3. Not mentioned in the Albert Bell argument at all, or anywhere else to my knowledge, but the opening words of the existing Testimonium at Ant 18.63, rendered in Loeb (Feldman), “about this time there lived Jesus…”, gr “ginetai”, I found is sometimes used to refer to birth in other uses, i.e., “about this time was born Jesus…” Jesus b. time of Pilate.

    Item #4. It has often been commented that Marcion’s gospel omits a birth story of Jesus, and starts Jesus off immediately in Galilee. The opening words of Marcion’s gospel: “In the fifteenth year of the emperor Tiberius (14-37 ce), Jesus Messiah descended in Capharnaum and taught on the Sabbaths”. Although this is commonly read as an image of a heavenly being emerging out of the sky on earth to begin teaching on earth in the form of a fully-grown 30-year old man (not existing on earth prior to his first appearance as a fully-grown man appearing to be age 30), perhaps Marcion’s gospel was more in agreement with the canonical gospels at this point, with the quotation truncating an actual sense, “In the fifteenth year of the emperor Tiberius, Jesus Christ descended (to be born) in Capernaum, and he grew up and taught in synagogues on the sabbaths (in Galilee).” Jesus b. 28 ce.

    Then, all that would need to be supposed is that later Christian authors situated Jesus chronologically in the time of Pilate from misunderstanding or misreading Josephus’s Antiquities.

  7. Another possibility is that Jesus’s crucifixion was placed under Pilate to make it clear that Jesus was NOT the Samaritan Prophet killed by Pilate.

    We know that Jesus was defamed as being of Samaritan origin (this was not surprising: Josephus defamed surely the Egyptian Prophet by calling him the “Egyptian”: not a “true” Jew) and in Samaria only the Samaritan Prophet claimed “to be someone great” . In addition, Simonians claimed that their “Jesus” was Samaritan and adored a Father different from YHWH.

    If Jesus Barabbas (“Jesus Son of Father”) was a polemical allusion to the Samaritan Prophet (captured by Pilate during THE Revolt, cfr Mark 15:7 ) , then the entire Pilate/Barabbas episode can be explained as an apology: the Jesus crucified by Pilate was not that rival (and Samaritan) Jesus, but he was the davidic Jesus.

  8. Re: Temple rededication at year 4000 since creation of Adam: Not sure how this chronology was arrived at. My understanding is that the current Hebrew calendar is based on the chronology of the Masoretic text. We are currently in year 5780, so year 4000 was in 240 CE, not 164 BCE.

  9. Another explanation for the dating under Pilate. So Judith Lieu (Marcion and the Making of a Heretic, p. 367):

    Clement of Alexandria claims that the followers of Basilides celebrated the baptism of Jesus, taking ‘the fifteenth year of Tiberius’ as indicating the fifteenth (or eleventh) of the Egyptian month Tybi (Strom. I 21.246), which might suggest that his ‘Gospel’ also began in terms similar to Luke 3.1.

    George Mead’s comment:

    “They of Basilides,” says Clement, “celebrate His Baptism by a preliminary night-service of readings; and they say that ‘the fifteenth year of Tiberius Caesar’ means the fifteenth day of the month Tybi.” It was then that the Father “in the likeness of a dove”–which they explained as meaning the Minister or Holy Spirit–came upon Him. In “the fifteenth [year] of Tib[erius]” we have, then, perhaps an interesting glimpse into the workshop of the “historicizers.” [Fragments of a Faith Forgotten p. 278]

  10. That the timing of Jesus’ appearance on earth was linked to the destruction of the Temple in 70 ce led to the imagining of a variety of scenarios among in the “early years” (how early depends on when we date the gospels themselves) is seen in Justin Martyr suggesting that the destruction of Jerusalem followed “hard on” the apostles preaching the gospel as commanded by the resurrected Jesus (Dialogue with Trypho, 51-2) and Clement of Alexandria in Book 1 of Stromata where he linked Jesus’ 3 and a half years with other 3 1/2 years of Nero and Vespasian.

  11. Aren’t there those who say: “that Jesus of Nazareth was the paternal grandson of Herod the Great through Herod’s son Antipater, whom Herod murdered five days before his death, as well as the maternal grandson of King Antigonus, the last Hasmonean king, since Antipater’s royal wife Mariame (Jesus’ mother) was a daughter of Antigonus, and was pregnant at his death.” ? https://jamestabor.com/the-abba-cave-crucifixion-nails-and-the-last-hasmonean-king/

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.

Discover more from Vridar

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading