Presentations and readings are now available at the online site for the John the Baptist Enoch Seminar (11-14 January 2021)
James McGrath has additionally posted his take on many of the presentations:
- McGrath, Religion Prof: The Blog of James F. “John the Baptist Enoch Seminar Nangeroni Meeting Day 1.” Religion Prof: The Blog of James F. McGrath (blog), January 12, 2021.
- ———. “#JohnTheBaptist Enoch Seminar Nangeroni Meeting Day 2.” Religion Prof: The Blog of James F. McGrath (blog), January 13, 2021.
- ———. “#JohnTheBaptist Enoch Seminar Nangeroni Meeting Day 3.” Religion Prof: The Blog of James F. McGrath (blog), January 14, 2021.
- ———. “#JohnTheBaptist Enoch Seminar Nangeroni Meeting Day 4.” Religion Prof: The Blog of James F. McGrath (blog), January 15, 2021.
Last month a lengthy discussion ensued from a post linking Greg Doudna’s suggestion about the origin of the John the Baptist anecdote in Josephus’s Antiquities to the dating of the Gospel of Mark: Another Pointer Towards a Late Date for the Gospel of Mark? In the Online Seminar page linked above one can find links to Greg Doudna’s article, or you can simply click here.
Readers who are aware of my approach to historical enquiry will not be surprised to read that I wonder who anything at all can be known about a John the Baptist figure behind the literary/theological figure(s) that long post-date(s) the early first century and offer us no clear pointers to historical sources? To that end, my interest was piqued by comments on Rivka Nir’s book, The First Christian Believer : In Search of John the Baptist. It may be a little while before I can read beyond summaries, articles and reviews, however, given the cost of it. Nir writes in her presentation,
Given the sources as we have them, I am among the few who are skeptical about our ability to reach the historical figure of John the Baptist through the Gospels.
These writings are not sources for getting acquainted with the historical heroes and makers of Christianity, but for accessing how they were perceived and presented by those generations that shaped the traditions about them.
Exactly. (Nir further argues that the detail about JtB in Josephus is an interpolation.)
McGrath continues to call for a closer look at the Mandean literature. That is something I have not attempted for quite some time so I will be interested to read what he has to say about that.
There are many articles and papers on the Seminar site and I have only glanced at the smallest sample in this post. So much catching up to do!
One more thing — I was not aware of a John the Baptist Wiki Encyclopedia before.
Thanks to Greg Doudna for alerting me to James McGrath’s series that led me to the Seminar resources.
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44 thoughts on “John the Baptist Resources”
If Rivka Nir is right about John Passage in Josephus being an interpolation, what should I think about the credibility of the 99% of the other scholars in that seminar?
The question is meant to sound caustic.
From some notes I did not put in my article…
While the Mandaean legends of Yahia-Yuhana, John the Baptist, are largely taken over from the Gospels and Islamic legends, one element which does not come from the Gospels is 42 years in Jerusalem. From Lady Drower’s edition of The Haran Gawaita:
Hyrcanus II was high priest in Jerusalem 32 years but at one point Josephus gives the round number “forty years” for Hyrcanus II’s high-priesthood (Ant 15.180).
In the opening lines of Haran Gawaita the Mandaean origin story of a flight from Judea is associated with a Parthian ruler “Ardban”, of which three candidates are considered: Artabanus II/III (11-38 ce), Artabanus III/IV (79-81 ce), and Artabanus IV/V (208-224 ce). The text dates the flight sixty years after the death of Yahia-Yuhana. The Haran Gawaita has this sequence:
Jorunn Buckley in keeping with what seems to be the majority view of scholars suggests it is the first of these options, Artabanus II/III:
Compare the language and themes of the Mandean origin tradition of the flight from Judea with this from Josephus:
A prior issue of course is assessment of the Yahia-Yuhana legends. The argument that these legends are worthless as to historicity:
The argument that there is some historicity to those legends:
However, in addition to the issues of assessment of the legends themselves, I was persuaded by a journal article (unfortunately, the citation is not immediately at hand) that the Mandaean flight tradition is better associated with Artabanus III/IV of 79-81 ce dating, following the upheavals of the Jewish War, rather than the earlier Artabanus.
Thank you for these notes and references, Greg.
The “Supplemental reading for Steve Mason’s presentation” may be of interest to those who think that the Baptist passage is authentic.
building on Vermeiren’s case that the Gospel Jesus == Jesus son of Saphat, I wonder if the baptism of Jesus by John is a distorted record of Jesus son of Saphat becoming a vassal of John of Gischala after the former’s retreat to Jerusalem.
From this POV:
The sinner Jesus coming from Galilee (Nazareth == the lake of Ge-Nesareth?) to be purified by John at the Jordan is Jesus son of Saphat of which the “sin” was his defeat in Taricheae in Galilee. This Jesus had to cross twice the Jordan because Samaria was closed to him.
In addition, John baptizing/anointing Jesus is John of Gischala msking Jesus son of Saphat his high priest.
Curiously, John of Gischala may be behind the “man carrying a jar of WATER”: in addition to his potentisl capacity of baptize with WATER by his jar, this man (friend of Jesus) is also the owner of the upper room where the Gospel Jesus celebrated the eucharist. Could he be John of Gischala who had designed Jesus son of Saphat as his high priest in service inside the Temple citadel (during the siege, dominion of John of Gischala)?
Then, it would be not a coincidence that Pharisees questioning the origin of the Jesus’ authority received as answer by Jesus a reference to the origin of John’s authority (Mark 11:30): if Jesus could pose as last high priest of the Temple of besieged Jerusalem, it was only as vassal of John of Gischala. The Jesus’s power derived from John’s power in both the cases.
The Gospel Jesus started his preaching in Galilee after the arrest of John: in historical terms, if it is true that Jesus son of Saphat joined John of Gischala AFTER his actions in Galilee, it is also true that Paul (and his paulinized Jesus, per Tarazi et alia) started his preaching in “Galilea of Gentiles” (the Roman Empire) AFTER that John of Gischala ended in a Roman prison.
Hence, totally beyond if the Baptist Passage in Josephus was original or not, the conclusion would be, in both cases, that the figure of John the Baptist served to eclipse the disturbing memory of the relation of vassalage of Jesus son of Saphat with John of Gischala. And to eclipse the disturbing fact that John of Gischala prophetized the coming of Jesus “with fire” in the originsl Jewish layer of the Book of Revelation.
Interesting Giuseppe. John controlled the temple during the siege of 70; the oracles of Revelation originating from the time of the siege and centered around temple imagery may have originated from prophets under John, or John (compare War 6:285-286 and Rev 11:1-2); the 144,000 on mount Zion of Rev 14:1f sound like an idealized allusion to John’s army in Jerusalem; and Revelation is directly said to be from John of Asia Minor, who may be the post-war John of the Revolt. Separately, Jesus’s subordination to John is in the gospels’ traditions and just how that came about has been much discussed and debated.
I think a case can be made that John of Gischala could be John the Essene, the war hero supposedly killed at Ashkelon. Josephus does not identify these two Johns, Josephus tells John the Essene favorably whereas Josephus hates John of Gischala (but there could be motive to not volunteer an identification of the two), and there is the objection that John the Essene was dead. No one has suggested this identification previously but I think a case can be made. The argument would first establish a range of examples in Josephus and elsewhere of just common basic ancient confusions over issues of death and survival of individuals. Lots of examples. Josephus himself, hit by a stone outside the walls of Jerusalem, was thought to be and reported dead inside the walls of Jerusalem, with rejoicing, until Josephus turned up alive again, many other examples. Separately there seem to be a range of cases of doubled figures in which Josephus or other editors simply included stories without making explicit identifications with other variantly-named or described figures who were the same, but either the editors did not know or did not care or did not bother to say. (One simple example: Joseph Cabi son of Simon, high priest ca. 62 CE [Ant 20.196]; and Joseph son of Simon, revolt commander in Jericho in 66 [War 2.567], fairly clearly identical.) How this phenomenon happened is not entirely clear but it may be if work on Josephus’s histories was being done by committee, or perhaps different prisoner interrogation stories set down in writing, i.e. multiple hearsay sources not given much critical analysis or cross-referencing. (See War 6.114 where two obvious duplicate variant versions of sons of the same Matthias are written in the same sentence as if they are two Matthiases–and that mistake is even more striking once it is realized that that Matthias is Josephus’s own father!) In the case of John the Essene and John of Gischala, if these were identical Josephus would have known, but the hypothesis would be that Josephus simply did not disclose voluntarily that identity, any more than Josephus also may not have volunteered cross-identifications on other occasions of figures relevant to his personal history such as “Bannus” or “the Egyptian false prophet”, and so on. That is, strategic use of doublets in narrative or history-telling as one way of finessing uncomfortable facts. (Is there a study on this as an phenomenon?)
In my understanding, once Josephus’s John the Baptist and aspects of Josephus’s John the Baptist in the synoptic gospels are deleted, what is left is not no-John but rather a John of the era of the First Revolt and then after that in Asia Minor–the John of Asia Minor of Acts 18 of the “disciples of John”; the John of Revelation; the John the narrative character with which the Fourth Gospel opens and implied author of that Gospel; and Papias’s “John the Elder”, all arguably John of Gischala of Josephus.
At first sight the idea John the Essene = John of Gischala may seem a stretch or arbitrary but it may be worth a closer look. The way Josephus portrays John of Gischala, he was local to Gischala, of poor or common birth, he got a band of brigands together and that is what he was: a leader of a local gang of brigands in Galilee who later took power in Jerusalem. I see elements possibly indicating more to the story than that:
–according to Josephus, John worked for him (Josephus) in Galilee, before they became estranged.
–Josephus tells of John being in league with the Jerusalem government in an unsuccessful attempt on the part of the government of Jerusalem to fire or remove Josephus from being governor in Galilee. How was a local homegrown bandit leader so closely aligned with the Jerusalem government against Josephus? Josephus does not clearly explain.
–John accused, to the Jerusalem government and to anyone listening in Galilee, that Josephus was planning to defect to the Romans. Josephus said John was lying, before doing exactly what John said Josephus was about to do.
–in pseudo-Hegesippus, a medieval version of Josephus with stories not in the Greek texts of Josephus’s works but which some scholars think may draw on ancient lost sources (e.g. Justus of Tiberias and so on)–in pseudo-Hegesippus Josephus actually was involved in the aftermath of the battle of Ashkelon and he (Josephus) did a massacre in Ashkelon. That is where Jewish heroes John the Essene and Niger were reported fallen, though Josephus tells of Niger living after he was supposed to be dead. In Josephus’s Greek texts Josephus is not in Ashkelon, did not massacre people there, and John the Essene is said to have died there. Josephus tells of the emergence of the apparently unrelated military commander John of Gischala in Galilee, whom Josephus has working under him (Josephus) until they become estranged. Although speculative, one could put two and two together and have John the Essene not actually killed at Ashkelon despite reports, then turn up in Gischala (which Josephus says was his hometown) and continue as Jerusalem-authorized leader of an army. That is, a picture in which John in Galilee in contact with and authorized by Jerusalem is in continuity, not discontinuity, from the earlier John authorized by the Jerusalem government at the battle of Ashkelon.
Nothing is known of Josephus’s war hero John the Essene’s origins, nothing except the nickname or surname and that he was a commander, part of the Jerusalem government. But John of Gischala is also aligned with the Jerusalem government through no mechanism explained by Josephus. That Josephus allows the reader to think the two figures are separated, even though telling the stories of both, could be for reasons. This is admittedly speculative, but I am trying to show it is at least a possibility without obvious falsification. It would add an interesting component to John of Revelation/Asia Minor if that John was, at least in one version known to Josephus, surnamed or nicknamed “Essene”.
Thanks for that. About “John the Essene” as possibly John of Gischala (and accordingly to my suggestion that “John the Baptist” served to eclipse partially the latter’s memory), Raschke followed Graetz in his proposal that the ethymology of ὁ βαπτίζων == ὁ Εσσαῖος.
For example, so Rylands:
And as the statements made about him [John the Baptist] seem to connect him more closely with the Essenes than with any other sect, a natural inference would be that he stands as the representative of that sect. Now, the Greek word baptisma means nothing more than “washing with water and as it is known that one of the customs of the Essenes was to wash themselves all over with cold water every day, they could naturally be called the baptizers; and so John the Baptizer would be John the Essene. Raschke finds a confirmation of this in the name “Essene” itself; he points out that as the Aramaic word for the Baptizer is Es-hia, which in Greek would naturally become Essaios, this, coupled with the above-mentioned habit of the Essenes, would be a strong inducement to the symbolizing writer to adopt the symbol “John the Baptizer” to stand for “John the Essene,” and so to represent the sect of the Essenes. It is noteworthy that, although the accepted reading in chap, i, v. 4, of Mark’s Gospel in the Greek Testament is “ came John baptizing,” some good manuscripts read “came John the Baptizer”—literally the Baptizing [one]. If the second reading were the correct one, it would strongly confirm the conclusion just reached. The only difference between the two readings is the omission of a single letter, the definite article, in the first one. This could easily happen in copying, especially as it leaves perfectly good sense—indeed, the copyist might well think better sense, not knowing the reason for which the evangelist put the article in. Matthew employs the term “John the Baptist” ; in Mark alone of all the evangelists is the expression “John the Baptizer” found; and no doubt each writer had a good reason for the particular form of the word which he uses.
Another fact pointing to the same conclusion is that, while Josephus mentions three religious sects among the Jews (Pharisees, Sadducees, and Essenes), the Gospels also mention three (Pharisees, Sadducees, and the disciples of John). This suggests the idea that the Gospel writer meant to connect the disciples of John with the Essenes, as he does not explicitly mention the latter sect, though we should expect him to do so.
(Gordon Louis Rylands, Evolution of Christianity, p.57-59, my bold)
“John the Essene” is mentioned as a general in translations, but that may be mistaking Josephus, reading rather than with the gentilic (place name), someone from Essa/Gerasa, so maybe not an Essene, according to Abraham Schalit (in Namenwoerterbuch zu Flavius Josephus, supp. to the Concordance edited by K.H. Rengstorf, Leiden, 1968, p.34, 46, 66).
Steve Mason, in “What Josephus Says about the Essenes in his Judean War’ (online by title):
In at least one case, finally, there is good reason to believe that Josephus understands )Essai~oj as an ethnicon, designating someone from Essa. He mentions a place called Essa in the Transjordan (Ant. 13.393 = Gerasa in War 1.104), and a person from Essa would most naturally be called an )Essai~oj. Further, in War 2.567 we are introduced to the commanders chosen for the revolt: Niger the Perean, John the )Essai~oj, Josephus, and others. In War 3.11, similarly, we are told of Niger o( Perai5thj, Silas o( Babulw/nioj, and John o( )Essai~oj. These immediate contexts, taken with the fact that John is never credited with any of the traits otherwise mentioned for Essenes, provide prima facie support for Schalit’s proposal (1968: 46 s.v.) that in John’s case )Essai~oj means “of Essa.”
We know that Josephus mentioned also a “Judas the Essene” and a “Simon the Essene”:
Of Judas the Essene Josephus relates (“Ant.” xiii. 11, § 2; “B. J.” i. 3, § 5) that he once sat in the Temple surrounded by his disciples, whom he initiated into the (apocalyptic) art of foretelling the future, when Antigonus passed by. Judas prophesied a sudden death for him, and after a while his prediction came true, like everyother one he made. A similar prophecy is ascribed to Simon the Essene (“Ant.” xvii. 13, § 3; “B. J.” ii. 7, § 4), who is possibly identical with the Simon in Luke ii. 25. Add to these John the Essene, a general in the time of the Roman war (“B. J.” ii. 20, § 4; iii. 2, § 1), and it becomes clear that the Essenes, or at least many of them, were men of intense patriotic sentiment; it is probable that from their ranks emanated much of the apocalyptic literature.
Is not it rather improbable that, among Judas the Essene” and “Simon the Essene” and “John the Essene”, only the first two were really Essenes while only the latter came from Essa ?
A more explanation is that they were called so as really Essenes (i.e. sectarians of the known sect).
Concerning John “the Essene” as meaning “from Essa” or Gerasa, instead of the name of the religious order, I think the most accurate conclusion is that John “the Essene” is philologically compatible with either reading, not expressed more strongly than that. I do not see cause for supposing the religious-order meaning (the sense in every other instance in which the word appears in Josephus) is excluded or less likely.
The argument that because the two other generals named with John the Essene–Niger the Perean and Silas the Babylonian–are identified by ethnicons, that John therefore also is, I think is more illusory of an argument than actual. As studies of Jewish names have brought out, most Jewish given names were so common that there had to be some further identifier to make clear who was meant in any first introduction by name of a figure, whether patronymic, tribe, trade/occupation, “from “, or acquired nickname in currency from exploit or physical characteristic or whatever. In the case of Niger and Silas, “Perea” is a region, and “Babylonian” is the major metropolis or its region far away. Josephus’s Gerasa or Essa, however, is a town which some scholars understand to be Jerash and others think is in Judea itself (War 4.487, archaeological location remains disputed), not a region or the famous Babylon. There is no obvious reason why John should be named on the basis of how the two others were named. That almost assumes Josephus originated the descriptor of John on the occasion of writing those lines (influenced by the other two names), as distinguished from using a known or recognizable already-existing nickname for John as the descriptor.
By far the most common descriptor in Josephus for names is patronymic, “son of “, and the reason that is not done in the case of Niger and Silas is sensible in that they come from afar. However there is no logic to assuming John also likely came from afar, simply because the other two generals, Niger and Silas, did.
As for the argument that John is not presented by Josephus as behaving in any way distinctive of Essenes the religious order, that also lacks positive force as an argument, if the nickname preexisted Josephus’s writing of that passage (Josephus does not tell everything). And since Josephus explicitly does say that during the recent “war with the Romans” the Essenes (by name) acted heroicly, smiled under torture, etc and etc (War 2.152), why assume that the heroic general John the Essene would not be the religious order term?
It may or may not be of interest that in Josippon, John the Essene (of Greek Josephus) is not called “Essene” but given a different expression instead, as follows:
“They [government of Jerusalem] sent therefore [to Ashkelon] Neger the Edomite, Shiloch the Babylonian and Jehochanan with a power of the common people” (Abbreviated English Josippon, 2019 Jacob Michaels edition from 1559 Morvyn, p. 90).
It is ethnicons for the other two, but John “with a power of the common people” (instead of “Essene”) is not an ethnicon, in Josippon.
One theory for “the Essene” as John’s descriptor, the origin of that nickname for John, draws on Josephus’s telling elsewhere of Essenes raising other men’s children, i.e. ancient practical means by which orphans or children of unwed mothers might be raised (War 2.120). In the recent Boccaccini conference on John the Baptist the paper by Clare Rothschild (4th day) made a good argument that Luke preserves a birth-origin story of John in circulation among the disciples of John. In that story John is supposedly born to aged elderly parents beyond the age of childrearing (local gossips questioned that story of paternity), however the aged parents do not raise the child themselves but John is raised “in the deserts” (Lk 1:80), perhaps a circumlocution for John raised by the Essenes who raised other men’s children. Of course this is story and legend.
Bottom line: philologically either meaning, the religious order or “from Essa”, works, and neither is excluded on philological grounds. Taking into account non-philological factors, I believe it more likely that “Essene” applied to John carries the religious-order sense in that instance, as the word does in every other use in Josephus.
the paper by Clare Rothschild (4th day) made a good argument that Luke preserves a birth-origin story of John in circulation among the disciples of John.
Rotschild’s idea is not new. In the Stahl’s book I will send you, you will find a lot of clues in such sense. Inter alia, even clues that the Matthean formula (“He will be called Nazarene”, known to refer an – apparently lost – old prophecy), was originally referred to John.
The Hemerobaptists (Heb. Tovelei Shaḥarit; “Morning Bathers”) were part of the baptist group for which the baptismal rite of initiation is the single most important feature. Significant of the Hemerobaptists is that this baptismal rite was repeated each day, rather than once and for all. The Hemerobaptists were probably a division of the Essenes who placed particular emphasis on bathing as a ritualistic cleansing before the hour of prayer each morning in order to be able to pronounce the Name of God with a clean body (Tosef., Yad., end). Samson of Sens translates a section of this Tosefta which refers to this cleansing: “The morning bathers said to the Pharisees: ‘We charge you with doing wrong in pronouncing the Name without having taken a ritual bath.’ Whereupon the Pharisees said: ‘We charge you with wrongdoing in pronouncing the Name with a body impure within.'” The sect is also mentioned in the Talmud (Ber. 22a). Hemerobaptist baptism differed from proselyte or synagogal ablutions in that this baptism was both symbol and sacrament.
John the *Baptist was probably a Hemerobaptist, as is suggested in Clementine Homilies (2:23). His followers were eventually absorbed into the Christian Church, although a part may have gone to the sect of Mandeans in lower Mesopotamia. A remnant of this group was still active in the third century C.E. Several early Christian authors make mention of the Hemerobaptists. Hegesippus (See Eusebius, Hist. Eccl., iv, 22) refers to them as one of the Jewish sects or divisions opposed to Christians; Justin calls them “Baptizers.” According to the Christian editor of the Didascalia (“Apostolic Constitutions,” vi, 6), the Hemerobaptists do not make use of their beds, tables, and dishes until they have cleansed them. This is a misunderstanding of the true purpose of this sect, i.e., bodily cleansing. Another author, Epiphanius, asserts that the Hemerobaptists deny future salvation to persons who do not undergo daily baptism.
Cut-and-pasted from: https://www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org/minor-sects
As for Mandaic sources there is a mystery book I am interested in by a Samuel Zinner that though completed several years ago remains yet unpublished:
The Praeparatio Islamica: An Historical Reconstruction with Philological‐Exegetical Commentary on Selected Qurānic Āyāt. Based on Ancient Hebrew, Syro‐Aramaic, Mandaic, Samaritan and Hellenistic Literatures. Contracted by London: Matheson Trust. Status: Completed.
This Zinner fellow has other stuff out there like this: https://www.academia.edu/26661213/Comparative_Studies_in_Mandaean_History_and_Theology
Gregory Doudna, when writing about Josephus on Essenes, used the words “heriocly…heroic”—but those are Doudna’s words, and not those of Josephus. Essenes communed, stuck to themselves, believing that God and the angels were on their own side, not on the side of Jews generally, many of whom they thought did not truly observe Torah (’osey ha-torah, observers of Torah, is one of their self-designations and, some say, their name etymon). They were not “joiners.” No mention of them in the siege of Jerusalem. At Masada, according to Yadin and to Jodi Magness (her Masada book and NYU DSS zoom conference), and to the current excavator, Guy Stiebel, they huddled together in one place, where a ms of Songs of the Sabath Sacrifice, an angelic liturgy, was found. The John who wrote the Apocalypse also relied on god and angels to defeat the evil empire. (I published three articles related to this; two online by name search.) Reportedly (by Epiphanius) they fled to the east of the Jordan; Qumran then maybe was briefly occupied by zealots. Fled, not fought. (Philo, LCL IX, also presented them as the opposite of warlike—need I quote him?)
Essenes believed in fate, in predestination (Ant. 13. 171, 298 and 18. 11). War 2.152-3 “Smiling in their agonies and mildly deriding their tormenters, they cheerfully resigned their souls, confident that they would receive them again.” This is not “heroic” war-making. The applicable word is pacifism.
Maybe I should quote Philo on Essenes. “Every Good Man is Free / Quod Omnis Probus Liber Sit,” F.H. Colson trans. (Loeb ed. Philo vol. IX, #78, page 55):
“As for darts, javelins, daggers, or the helmet, breastplate or shield, you could not find a single manufacturer of them, nor, in general, any person making weapons or engines or plying any industry concerned with war….”
Again, not heroically pursuing war, but noted for being peaceful.
Whether the Essenes were pacifists, as distinguished from having been represented as pacifists, is an interesting question, and I would be interested at some point in listening to your engagement with Christophe Batsch, “The ‘Pacifism of the Essenes’, an Historiographic Myth” (2004) (https://www.researchgate.net/publication/295137047_The_pacifism_of_the_Essenes_a_historiographic_myth), not as an argument but to learn from you in discussion. The caution I see in taking Philo’s pacifist description of Essenes at face value is it is the equivalent of the defense attorney (Philo) saying the client (Jewish refugees who had fled pogroms against Jews in Alexandria, per Gmirkin) is innocent of charges of having stored weapons for nefarious purposes. The defense attorney says his client is innocent, so that settles it?
Whereas Philo says Essenes abstained from manufacturing weapons, Josephus says Essenes traveled armed (War 2.125). One wonders how that worked if what Philo said was true–did Josephus’s Essenes purchase swords out of the common purse from outside arms merchants (non-Essene arms manufacturers) to supply their traveling personnel? Did they warehouse the swords or daggers in a depot somewhere, along with other communal belongings? Then there is Hippolytus, Refutation of all Heresies, Bk 21, describing some violent Essenes seemingly with reference going back to the first century ce/First Revolt.
“The Essenes have, however, in the lapse of time, undergone divisions, and they do not preserve their system of training after a similar manner, inasmuch as they have been split up into four parties. For some of them discipline themselves above the requisite rules of the order, so that even they would not handle a current coin of the country, saying that they ought not either to carry, or behold, or fashion an image: wherefore no one of those goes into a city, lest (by so doing) he should enter through a gate at which statues are erected, regarding it a violation of law to pass beneath images. But the adherents of another party, if they happen to hear any one maintaining a discussion concerning God and His laws–supposing such to be an uncircumcised person, they will closely watch him and when they meet a person of this description in any place alone, they will threaten to slay him if he refuses to undergo the rite of circumcision. Now, if the latter does not wish to comply with this request, an Essene spares not, but even slaughters. And it is from this occurrence that they have received their appellation, being denominated (by some) Zelotae, but by others Sicarii. And the adherents of another party call no one Lord except the Deity, even though one should put them to the torture, or even kill them.”
Postscript item #1: Just three weeks ago, someone I knew in college told an alumni group in a series of posts that he was present at the demonstration in Washington, D.C., which marched on the Capitol Building and then became a violent invasion and rampage throughout the Capitol Building in which several were killed and members of Congress were in terror of their lives. He was at pains to insist that claims circulating in the news media that Trump supporters were involved in that violence were totally wrong. He had been there, he was peaceful, he had no firearm, he never saw any Trump supporter with a firearm and he could assure people that no Trump supporter there that day was carrying a firearm, because the Trump supporters were simply peaceful people who were concerned about their country. As for the violence, they had reliable information, he said, that some buses of antifa people had been seen arriving and that is who did the violence, not Trump supporters, because Trump supporters are peaceful as he knew firsthand. This is not exaggerated as to what he said nor did it appear to be insincere. From all indications he was speaking from his heart what he believed was true. Anyone who questioned him, he would say, “were you there? what do you know? I was THERE!”
Postscript item #2, with respect to the name “John the Essene”. My great-grandfather Ephraim Doudna was raised in the Conservative Friends (Quakers) of eastern Ohio. The Quakers without any ambiguity were pacifist. Young Ephraim, when he was 18 years old, with some of his friends at the same time, enlisted in the Union Army to, as the story was handed down in our family, “help Lincoln free the slaves”. The Conservative Friends, while supporters of the abolitionist movement, nevertheless had zero tolerance on the warfighting or pacifism issue: Ephraim Doudna was “disowned” (excommunicated) from the Friends, for going to war. I have seen the handwritten minutes of the Friends Meeting for business in which that decision was recorded. In a battle in Arkansas (I think Pea Ridge), when lines of troops were in formation on opposite sides but before the battle had begun, Ephraim standing in the Union line was hit by a stray bullet shot from the Confederate side, and fell wounded. The story was handed down in the family, that when that happened word of mouth went down the Union lines from one soldier to another, “Quaker shot, Quaker shot, Quaker shot”. Ephraim was known as “the Quaker” by the others in his unit as a way of identifying him, perhaps because of the very irony of his being a Quaker who had enlisted.
And again, Nathanael Greene, a famous general under George Washington in the Revolutionary War, was known as a “fighting Quaker” because he had been Quaker.
With the Quakers the pacifism was real, whereas my college alumnus’s claim that Trump supporters were nonviolent at the Capitol Hill insurrection is not credible or real. The ancient Essenes represent an uncertain case of ancient pacifism, the problem being the ancient sources which appear to represent the Essenes as nonviolent–Philo and Josephus–are not neutral or unbiased, and their Essene descriptions are widely understood to be heavily stylized and idealized. I admire Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., and have been a principled pacifist on religious grounds most of my life myself. Any ancient points of light toward a better world I want to honor. But is there a firsthand Essene text, or an external hostile witness testimony, or some other form of evidence which will withstand cross-examination, establishing Essenes really were ancient pacifists analogous to later anabaptists, Mennonites, Amish, Quakers etc of our time? In any case, it is not clear that however that question is answered affects whether the name “John the Essene” should be read in the usual sense of the word. The Essenes/pacifist claim at most, if sustained, might bear on whether a Jewish Revolt war commander known as “the Essene” was unusual or not, and whether he was a current or lapsed one. At least this is how it seems to me.
In his view about the sacred oil, John of Gischala appears to behave like an Essene.
Josephus, Jewish War 2:123:
They [the Essenes] think that oil is a defilement; and if any one of them be anointed, without his own approbation, it is wiped off his body;
Jewish War 5:625:
On which account he [John of Gischala] emptied the vessels of that sacred wine and oil, which the priests kept to be poured on the burnt offerings, and which lay in the inner court of the temple: and distributed it among the multitude. Who in their anointing themselves, and drinking, used [each of them] above an hin of them
What does it mean for theists and theism if Gmirkin is right and the Pentateuch is an anonymous work of fiction penned circa 270 BCE?
Maybe the Nontheist Quakers are on to something when it comes to reinterpreting what it means to experience direct and ongoing inspiration from “waiting in the Light” – “So wait upon God in that which is pure. …” – which traditional Quakers understand as informing Silent Meeting and Meeting for Business, might be understood and embraced with different metaphors, language and discourse.
“At regular intervals during the history of Friends there is discussion about whether we have to be Christian to be Quaker. This is often in the form of an exchange of letters in a Quaker journal. One such flurry was prompted by two letters from Watchman in The Friend in 1943 and 1944 (reprinted in 1994).”
“In 1953 Arthur Morgan proposed inviting people of other faiths to join Friends. In 1966 Henry Cadbury was invited to address the question in a talk given at the annual sessions of Pacific Yearly Meeting. In his view Quakerism and Christianity represent sets of beliefs from which individuals make selections, with no one belief required of all.”
Well Jim West is an outspoken “theist” who expresses strong approval of the work of “minimalists” like Thomas L. Thompson and the volume in his honour and to which Russell Gmirkin contributed. But don’t dare touch a finger on the historicity of Jesus or the “truth” of Christianity or he’ll not be pleased.
I like how Plato’s Laws recommends the tactic of writing a moral code as a myth and making the laws come from God.
As I saw someone write in an online book review of I think Wesselius: “The conclusion is that Moses went up the mountain (like Olympus), talked to a burning bush, and came down with an Athenian legal code and institutions!”
If Moses is fiction then Jesus is just another run of the mill schizo stoner wearing a sandwich board and rambling on a street corner somewhere.
It has all but fizzled now barely subsisting in obscurity in a few places but Felix Adler’s Ethical Culture movement was/is interesting.
This slim volume came out in 2015: https://www.amazon.com/Felix-Speaks-Adlers-Ethical-Culture/dp/1518609031/ref=sr_1_2?dchild=1&keywords=felix+adler&qid=1613077445&s=books&sr=1-2
From the blurb about the author:
Marv Friedlander was first introduced to the Ethical Culture movement as a child growing up in Maplewood, New Jersey, where he participated in programs hosted by the Ethical Culture Society of Essex County.
After working for the government for forty-two years as chief of the Exempt Organizations Technical Division at the Internal Revenue Service, Friedlander retired with a feeling that he owed something to humanity. That “something” is Felix Speaks: Adler’s Ethical Culture, an attempt to explain the great humanist’s philosophy to the layperson.
A member and past president of the Northern Virginia Ethical Society, Friedlander has also participated in American Ethical Union assemblies. He gained insights into Ethical Culture’s history, philosophy, and organization after leading an effort to assist the AEU and its constituent societies with tax matters. Friedlander currently lives with his wife in Fairfax, Virginia. He has four children.
Also I will add this on the matter of Ethics and Morals:
The apatheistic argument states that morals do not come from God and that if a god exists, there would be no changes with regards to morality; therefore, a god’s existence or non-existence is irrelevant. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Apatheism
A view related to apatheism, apathetic agnosticism claims that no amount of debate can prove or disprove the existence of one or more deities, and if one or more deities exist, they do not appear to be concerned about the fate of humans; therefore, their existence has little to no impact on personal human affairs and should be of little interest.
John Tyrrell (1996). “To believe in the existence of a god is an act of faith. To believe in the nonexistence of a god is likewise an act of faith. There is no verifiable evidence that there is a Supreme Being nor is there verifiable evidence there is not a Supreme Being. Faith is not knowledge. We can only state with assurance that we do not know.” https://web.archive.org/web/20070807021506/http://www.apatheticagnostic.com/ourchurch/faith.html
Ignosticism or igtheism is the idea that the question of the existence of God is meaningless because the word “God” has no coherent and unambiguous definition. The term ignosticism was coined in 1964 by Sherwin Wine, a rabbi and a founding figure of Humanistic Judaism. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ignosticism
Gregory Doudna, I am not encouraged to critique the article by Christophe Batsch (with which I do differ), adding more, because you have not addressed portions of my presentation already made.
If they were not absolutely pure pacifists (because definitions vary), another word that may be useful (in the OED noun A. 2. sense) is stoic.
First, to clarify one sentence of mine, that Essenes were not “joiners.” Of course they joined the Essene group, with strict initiation rules–unless you reject that, too. I meant they were quite unlikely to join with others outside their separatist group. John, if the person from Essa/Gerasa were, had been, an Essene, he would not be identical with John of Gischala—he likely wouldn’t have touched John of Gischala with a ten-foot pole.
Essenes (Philo: contribute to peace; Josephus: peacemakers; Pliny, Dio, etc.) may have hated Rome, but their means of resistance, including prayer, spiritual warfare, appeal to God and angels, such as in 1QM and, maybe, if one accepts Essene-influence there, in the Apocalypse of John.
By the way—aside–many know that Steve Mason knows a lot about Josephus text. Abraham Schalit, also mentioned below, did too, and coincidentally showed up to me earlier this morning in an interesting article:
Jewish Studies, an Internet Journal 19 (2020) — Special Josephus Issue
Daniel R. Schwartz,
“Hellenism, Judaism, and Apologetic: Josephus’s Antiquities According
to an Unpublished Commentary by Abraham Schalit”
Giuseppe, I don’t agree that Essene avoidance of oil on skin is the same as John of Gischala stealing and distributing Temple oil.
Further, reading Josephus with parallelism is most natural, though not by itself guaranteed: three guys identified by place names. Note that Josephus earlier in War 2 told us Essenes were peacemakers, so it would be an anomaly if he had written (paraphrase): “and here’s an Essene general/warrior” without somehow remarking on the contradiction.
But then you have the contradiction of having “Essene” referred resp. to Simon and Judas in other places, without somehow remarking on the meaning of Essene as ‘member of the known sect’ (hence the latter was the meaning of default).
In addition, the Scroll War appears to be a manual for military organization and strategy, not exactly ‘only’ a mystical text. From that scroll, it seems that the Essenes have entered fully the logic of war and martyrdom. Their activity certainly has an ascetic value, but then it changes into a preparation for military events.
Giuseppe I would like to follow up on your suggestion, which I find quite interesting, that the baptism of John by Jesus of the Gospels may reflect a context in the Jewish Revolt when Jesus of Galilee (Jesus ben Saphat) joined under John (“vassalage” as you term it) who had already fled to Jerusalem. To that suggestion can be added this:
If you had a John collecting warriors and purifying them en masse upon enlistment–such that they were all pure and could eat together–then you would have a baptizing John, by definition. According to Josippon, John after taking power in Jerusalem led an army outside of Jerusalem establishing control over towns of the surrounding region. This is ca. spring 68:
“Thus when Jehochanan had gotten the upper hand of the City, he sent an army out of Jerusalem, to go and take the Cities that had made peace with Vespasian. They sacked and razed those cities to the ground, and whomsoever they found therein, Romans, or Jews, they slew. Yea, Jehochanan went with them himself, spoiling and carrying away all the riches that they found in them. They took also the City of Gerara, that stood beyond Jordan (…) The Citizens also of Gerara sent ambassadors unto Vespasian [seeking help against John and pledging loyalty to Rome, offering to join as warriors on the side of Vespasian] (…) But Jehochanan heard of his repair, wherefore he slew the chief Governor of Gerara, and got him out of the Town with his companions, and took them to their feet, determining to flee into a certain wood. Vespasian having knowledge thereof, made after them, sending out Poligorus [=Placidus], who overtook them, and made a great slaughter of them. And in his return toward Gerara, upon the Jordan’s side, he light upon much people going to Jerusalem, that they might escape together with the Seditious. Poligorus drove them back to the River, where he slew 13,000 of them. The rest leaped into the Jordan, and were drowned to the number of 91,000 men, women, and children, with many cattle that were all drowned together in the River, insomuch that the channel of Jordan was so stuffed, and stopped with dead bodies, that the waters rose and ran over the banks (…)” (from The Abbreviated English Josippon)
There is John in the vicinity of the Jordan, said by Josippon to be with his warriors present and active on the occasion of the slaughter of the Gadarenes told in Josephus’s Gr War. At War 4.420-421 “the fugitives” pursued by Placidus from Gadara–that is John and his men in Josippon–“on suddenly catching sight of the pursuing cavalry, before any engagement took place swarmed into a village called Bethennabris; finding here a considerable number of young men, they armed these with any available weapons, some consenting, some by force (…)”.
How curious it is that the Fourth Gospel locates the activity of its baptizing John who opens that Gospel, whom you and I identify with this very John of the First Revolt, at what appears to be the identical location:
“These things were done in Bethabara beyond Jordan, where John was baptizing” (Jn 1:28)
Bethannibris = Bethabara; John = John; baptized warriors = baptized warriors; “beyond Jordan”. The location of John’s baptizing at Bethabara, of Jn 1, appears to be a variant version of the story of John enlisting warriors at Bethannibris in 68 CE, of Josippon.
In this connection, what I find interesting are also the findings of Sid Martin (Secret of the Savior, chapter 16) about the place of the Supper in Mark 14:12-21: “He will show you a large room upstairs, furnished and ready”.
It is interesting note that the traditional site of the “upper room” is in the same area as the Essene quarter. (ibid., p. 168)
Now, the Upper City was ruled by John of Gischala: coincidence?
The betrayal of Judas and/or the prediction of the denial of Simon Peter, according to Sid Martin, happened precisely then because it alludes cryptically to a historical betrayal:
But as for the tyrants themselves, and those that were with them, when they found that they were encompassed on every side, and, as it were, walled round, without any method of escaping, they desired to treat with Titus by word of mouth.
That they could not accept of it, because they had sworn never to do so; but they desired they might have leave to go through the wall that had been made about them, with their wives and children; for that they would go into the desert, and leave the city to him.
We also read of Simon [bar Giora] resisting desertion or surrender, which may explain why Simon Peter protest that he will not desert Jesus.
(Sid Martin, ibid., p. 171)
But as these Idumeans were preparing to march out, Simon perceived it, and immediately slew the five men that had gone to Titus, and took their commanders, and put them in prison.
As Mark predicted and as we will see, Simon will indeed desert the true cause of Israel’s salvation.
(Sid Martin, ibid., p. 171)
Correction: Simon bar Giora (not John of Gischala) held the Upper City.
“Absence of evidence is not evidence of absence” appeared in 1895 in the context of geology discussion, I noted elsewhere. But then the “Quote Investigator” blogger found a precursor in Live Stock Journal of 1891. And (meta) the saying may well be older than that.
In a posting on ane-3 list (#7 in Dec., “Dating DS Scrolls by Paleography, C14 and AI”) I noted preliminary reports that some Qumran Scrolls are to be dated somewhat older than paleography estimates previously supposed.
F.M. Cross dated 4QExod-Lev-f to circa 250 BCE (according to DJD XXXIX p. 378 simplification of his date range in DJD XII p. 134), but the new study has better methodology and data.
If these preliminary reports are confirmed, and 4QExod-Lev-f dates before R. Gmirkin’s assertion (in his Berossus book) that the first five books of the Hebrew Bible were “composed in their entirely about 273-272 BCE” I hope some late daters notice.
I forgot to add reason to suppose Jesus was present in the vicinity and at the same time John was at Bethannibris/Bethabara ca. spring 68 ce, in support of the argument for that being a context for situating the John baptism of Jesus.
I have mentioned before that I think the writing of Galatians as well as the other authentic letters of Paul should be dated ca. early 80s or so, 14 years forward from ca. 68 or 70, based on a chronological reconstruction of Galatians. To recap briefly, I am certain, based upon present understanding, that Gal 1-2 reflects two versions of a single visit of Paul to Jerusalem, which I suspect was with representatives of the government of Jerusalem during the Revolt. (With attention to idiom at 2:1 involving gr. “dia” with sense “during”, e.g. “then, during [these] fourteen years I went up to Jerusalem (again)”, not “after” as usually rendered. Compare Acts 5:19. There is also a textual issue concerning the presence or omission of “palin”, “again”; its presence is believed favored by the mss but Marcion’s text supposedly did not have that word. Also compare Gal 2:1 and 2 Cor 12:2 for indirect argument that the endpoint of the fourteen-year timespan of Gal 2:1 is the date of authorship of Galatians. The startpoint of the fourteen years is debated but probably is the call or “conversion” of 1:15-17, parallel to 2 Cor 12:2 read as another version of the same call/conversion and startpoint for fourteen years there.)
Version #1 of the visit in Gal 1 is Paul’s longstanding story. Version #2 in Gal 2 is Paul’s response to a different, more recently publicized, version of the same event critical of Paul, told by opponents of Paul claiming their source was the Jerusalem apostles. Although the two stories were actually conflicting versions of the same visit, Paul does not repudiate his original story but addresses the opponents’ version giving the impression it is a second visit. That is, he acknowledges the unavoidable truth of the opponents’ version in key specifics but does not retract the truth of his own different version, by rhetorically casting them to the reader as distinct visits. Paul’s opponents are aligned with the “pillars” of Gal 2:9 whom the Paulinist Gospel of Mark discredits. Simon Peter is discredited by GMk (he failed to understand Jesus and denied him). James, brother of Jesus (that identity of the pillar James of 2:9 is clear from that figure’s introduction at 1:19) is discredited by GMk (Jesus’s kin failed to understand). But GMk discredits John (not otherwise identified at Gal 2:9, the identity presumably recognizeable to the ancient addressees) somewhat differently, not by criticizing John but presenting John as prior to and superceded by the Paulinist Jesus.
Paul and Barnabas meeting with the pillars reads to me as part of an attempted diplomacy or negotiation with the governing authorities of Jerusalem during the Revolt, perhaps in 70. I think Barnabas was Josephus, with the nickname perhaps “bar-naba”, “son of the prophet” or prophet, applied to Josephus.
Paul’s conversion story as told by Paul–whether the concise version of Gal 1:15-17 or the longer version in the Acts Damascus-road story–I suggest should be situated in the very context of the Placidus Gadara massacre episode which appears in the Gospels as the Gadarene demoniac episode of Mark 5:1-20. That the episode of the Gadarene demoniac and the 2000 pigs rushing to drown in the sea alludes to the story of the Placidus massacre of March 68 of War 4.419-436 has been recognized in some commentaries. Going beyond the usual interpretation that the parallels are explained as added anachronistic items to a kernel earlier Jesus context, instead read the stories as simply variant versions of the same context in the spring of 68 with Jesus situated in that date context.
In the story in the Gospel of Mark, a terrified prisoner is brought before Jesus and pleads with Jesus not to torture him (Mk 5:7). Jesus spares his life whereupon that man goes on to become an apostle of Jesus throughout the Decapolis (Mk 5:20).
The road-to-Damascus story of Acts, meanwhile, read that as a story of an ambush and being taken prisoner, an encounter of Paul with hostile warriors and Jesus–and meaning here the pre-resurrection not post-resurrection Jesus as Acts secondarily portrays it–in keeping with the excellent and underappreciated argument of Stanley Porter, When Paul Met Jesus: How an Idea Got Lost in History (Cambridge U. Press, 2016). To be clear, Stanley Porter does not suggest, as I am, reading the Damascus road story as a story of Paul encountering Jesus. Porter shows that the widespread scholarly notion or assumption that Paul never knew Jesus has no sound basis and is counterindicated.
In other words, what originally was some traumatic encounter with Jesus experienced by Paul in the Jewish Revolt, Paul came to cite as his foundation-legend or legitimization-legend in Galatians: how he was made an apostle not by any human (the criticism leveled against Paul) but by Jesus himself (Paul’s rejoinder). Paul could show he bore even to the present day marks of having been tortured in that experience, “marks of Jesus” in his flesh (6:17). Paul’s captors’ release of Paul instead of killing him is in accord with a terror tactic attributed to John, as told in Josippon: “Then Johochanan and Eleazar issued with 1,500 good men of War (…) and overthrew the Gentiles of [Titus’s] host (…) the Jews brought forth the 3,000 Nobles and Gentlemen that they had taken prisoners and plucked out of every one of them an eye, and cut off every man the one hand, after sent them back with shame and reproach to Titus’s Camp”. This same tactic, of releasing mutilated prisoners to be sent back alive and free to their former associates “to be a witness”, also was used by Josephus in Galilee and by Simon bar Giora, indicating it was a known practice (Life 30; War 2.212-213; 4.542); what happened to Paul in his Damascus road experience story reads as one more.
Compare Paul’s allusion in Galatians to having an “infirmity in the flesh … for I bear you record, that if it had been possible, you would have plucked out your own eyes, and have given them to me” (4:13-15). Paul had bodily impairment as a result of his encounter with warriors associated with Jesus; it does not read as purely psychological nor as an experience wholly fabricated by Paul. In the Mark 5 account, the prisoner, who according to the story already has been cut in his body in numerous places although the text says those wounds were all self-inflicted, runs toward Jesus falling on his knees and begging Jesus not to torture him. A story comment: the direction of running is the behavior of a prisoner, otherwise he would be running the other direction.
The man’s self-identification as “Legion” reads as a double-entendre underlying the text consistent with a story of a prisoner captured from a Roman legion in the vicinity, suggestive of a relationship with Vespasian and his forces on the part of Paul.
Therefore the Gadarene massacre episode in Josephus of spring 68 ce is where John is present, per Josippon and Jn 1:28/War 4.421, and where Jesus is present, both according to a version of that story in the Gospels (Mk 5:1-13) and according to the Paul Damascus road story (Acts 9) which itself appears in a different form in the Gospels’ Gadarene demoniac story (Mk 5:7, 19-20). Then there are the traditions of Jesus being baptized by John of the Gospels, and John’s baptizing location at Jn 1:28 is the specific location at which Josephus’s War has Jewish fighters–commanded by John according to Josippon–enroll new warriors under John’s command in early 68. Therefore, significant supporting context argument for putting Jesus and John in the same location at the same time, and this would be a reasonable context for when Jesus was baptized by John and the circumstances by which that happened, when Jesus and his men came under the command of John.
Accounts of John the Baptist don’t suggest wartime to me.
Parallelism in lists is not required but is often expected by readers.
Not likely: the butcher, the baker, and Harry.
Or, not likely, say: The three on the team, Frank from Detroit, Sally from Cleveland, and John the Presbyterian—without some note of the category departure, especially as observed, after saying earlier in War 2 that Essenes were peacemakers, not warriors. Josephus is not 100% reliable, of course, but apparently neither a moron nor a cryptographer. What are the checks in rewriting Josephus at will?
One disadvantage of playing musical chairs with history (reminds somewhat of Barbara Thiering, in its only-I-can-interpret-thusness)—besides probably being false—is that the novelty may fade, and then a new, different, imaginative scenario may follow. At least, the scenario or scenarios (?) G. D. offered seem implausible to me.
Hi Greg, thank you for these observations.
Only an objection: Are you sure that Stahl/Couchoud are not correct about Bar-Abbas?
I remember that in your past comment you raised the possibility of the release of Jesus ben Ananias by Albinus as the possible historical kernel behind the Barabbas episode.
I refer you to this analysis about Jesus ben Ananias and particularly the conclusion of the author:
Acts of the Apostles, by killing money-loving Ananias, told Mark, his author, and the Docetic community that their Jesus was dead.
Hence, again, the release of J. Barabbas == the release of J. ben Ananias == (polemical) allusion to docetic Marcionite Christ’s escape to death.
In addition to this, in Acts 15:36-40, Barnabas is released/abandoned by the catholicized Paul: according to Adamczewski (from Tarazi’s school), the Barabbas episode would be based on the release of Barnabas by Paul (Barnabas becoming an enemy of Paul in Gal 2). I may interpret both the Barabbas release and the Barnabas release as anti-Marcionite polemic: just as Pilate crucified the true Jesus “called Christ” (and not the marcionite Son of Father), so the Catholicized Paul preached the true Jesus “called Christ” and not the Barnabas/Bar-Abbas/marcionite Jesus.
Hi Giuseppe, I think both the articles of Couchoud/Stahl (“Jesus Barabbas”) and also of Tuccinardi (“Barabbas dans l’histoire”) on Barabbas are very insightful and bring out that Barabbas of the Gospels is an ancient polemical response to another version of Jesus as a warrior. The response of the Gospels does not dispute that there were widespread ancient contemporary stories circulating that Jesus had been a warrior with an army but insists that was a different person who could not have been the pacifist Jesus Christ of the Gospels.
On the “Tim Stepping Out” blog post of your link, the first part listing allusions in the Gospel of Mark in common with the Josephus story of Jesus b. Ananias makes sense but I disagree with the second half in which he links Josephus’s Jesus b. Ananias to the figure Ananias of Acts with wife Sapphira executed by Simon Peter. I see no connection between those two Ananias names (very common name) and think that goes off the rails there. (Perhaps consider instead Ananias the merchant of Josephus with his no-circumcision recommendation for gentiles converting to being Jewish [Ant 20.34-47] = Ananias of Damascus the mentor of Paul of the Paul story of Acts [Acts 9:10-26] = Ananias the wealthy man executed at Jerusalem [Acts 5:1-11]?)
I do not see “Barabbas” and “Barnabas” related as names, nor that the figure Barnabas of the letters of Paul (or of Acts) is related to Barabbas. I do think there conceivably could be a relationship between the names “Barabbas” and “bar-sabas” or “bar-sapphas”, the name Barsabas of Acts 15:22 (but not necessarily at Acts 1:23 of the figure rejected from being made an apostle–the arguably more original Codex Bezae has “Barnabas” at 1:23 not Barsabas, with Barsabas arguably secondary reflecting copyist error).
I continue to think the trial of Jesus/Barabbas (the two are versions of the same figure) of the Gospels reflects the trial of Jesus b. Ananias of ca. 62 or 63 CE of Josephus at which Jesus was released by a Roman governor against his accusers’ wishes. (From Josephus’s context, the release presumably would have involved bribery behind the scenes, the way other Sicarii were magnanimously released by Roman governors against accusers’ wishes.) The Gospels’ Jesus seems to combine stories of both Jesus b. Ananias and Jesus b. Sapphat of the 60s into one Passion Story. While this combination of elements from these two figures in Josephus could be explicable wholly in terms of authorial storytelling and composition, I am not sure that is the full explanation. Here is my analysis. Whereas Jesus b. Sapphat is historical (Josephus knew him well), Jesus b. Ananias is more ambiguous, as discussed by Wedeen. Although at first sight it may seem a tough sell as an argument, I think a credible argument can be made that whereas Jesus b. Sapphat is historical, Jesus b. Ananias as a distinct figure told by Josephus may be historically illusory, originating at the outset from florid hearsay accounts of survivors of the siege to Roman interrogators actually applicable to Jesus b. Sapphat, then shaped tendentiously for purposes suiting Josephus’s editorial interests. Anyway this is my take on the matters you raise.
Some thoughts on the denouement of John. In the autumn and winter of 70/71 after the fall of Jerusalem, a huge operation under Titus involved movements of two legions plus auxiliaries plus thousands of prisoners and mass displays and executions in public games, lasting “seven months meandering at a slow pace and with a huge retinue across various regions of the East and visiting several key poleis” including Antioch, prior to sailing from Alexandria to Rome where the Vespasian and Titus triumph occurred June 71 (Tommaso Leoni, “The Date of Vespasian and Titus’s Triumph de Iudaeis”, Bolletino di Stui Latini 50 : 682-695).
Of interest is Titus’s entourage’s stay in Antioch (War 7.41-62, 100-111), with Jew vs. gentile issues and the possibility that announcement of the Roman victory to the surrounding region by emissaries from Antioch might bear on the stories of the Paul and Barnabas missionary journeys from and back to Antioch of Acts. The fact that announcements of Roman victory typically involved visual displays prompts the following suggestion. Although very hypothetical, if there were, say, a placard displayed with an image of a crucified, defeated Jewish rebel figure (such as Jesus, as long as we are imagining?), along with other graphic images of Roman triumph and Jewish defeat, the gospel of Barnabas and Paul, as told by Paul years later, could be other language for what were essentially Roman press releases following the collapse of Jerusalem and destruction of the Jewish temple, and a possible context for Paul writing to his addressees, “before whose eyes Jesus Christ has been set forth crucified among you” (Gal 3:1). This would also render sensible Paul’s insistence that his gospel was Christ crucified from day one, which Paul seems to imply was not necessarily the gospel of other apostles. David Oliver Smith, in Unlocking the Puzzle (2016), argues that Paul’s opponents did not believe in a crucified Christ, only a coming triumphant one, and that that was a key difference in the gospel of Paul versus the Jerusalem apostles (cp. 1 Cor 1:23, “but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews”). The rest of Paul’s gospel in Galatians and the other letters could be understood as midrash or development from that: a post-Jewish gospel legitimizing an end to Jewish law, temple cult, and anti-Roman nationalism in the cosmic scheme of things, proven by Paul out of the Jews’ own scriptures. Paul himself at the time of writing Galatians (ca. early 80s ce) no longer is a practicing or observant Jew (1:13-14), and is opposed to gentiles converting to become Jews.
Paul as Josephus’s Saul of the 60s, relative of Agrippa II, part of the “men of power”, known for violence and then diplomacy (War 2.418, 556-558; Ant 20.214), in this reconstruction would be in the company of Agrippa II and Josephus in Titus’s entourage at Antioch. Paul and Josephus would be Jews assisting in Roman announcement of the defeat of the Jews. Simon bar Giora and John–who appear in Galatians as the Jerusalem pillars (Simon) Peter/Cephas and John–also are present in Antioch as part of the Titus entourage as prize prisoners.
In this light Paul’s story at Gal 2:11-14 of his confrontation with Peter in Antioch becomes Paul, part of the Roman victors, publicly condemning Simon the prisoner on display in Antioch. Paul’s oratory in publicly condemning Simon (my reading) involved citing what Paul presented as a prior hypocrisy of Simon of which Paul had knowledge. According to Paul, Simon had mixed freely with gentiles without regard for purification (i.e. without baptism), before “men from James” arrived (then). (If James was subordinate to John that could be other language for “men from John” who practiced purification. With John taking control of the temple at Passover 70 and entering into alliance at that time with former rival Simon against the Romans, the purification issue might have been part of the unity deal.) At that point, Paul went on to say in Galatians, Simon had changed policy to become observant of purification. Paul gives this version of his condemnation of Simon on that occasion, in the furtherance of his message in Galatians. At Gal 2:13 Paul alludes to Barnabas as having backslidden into Judaism, which corresponds to Josephus–Josephus did not renounce Jewish identity but instead advocated for Jewish tradition and history and standing in his literary works addressed to Roman and Greek audiences, unlike Paul who had abandoned living as a Jew.
Both Simon bar Giora and John went with Titus’s entourage to Rome where Simon was executed in the triumph and John sentenced to life imprisonment, according to Josephus. The reason John was not also executed may be because of a Roman promise of his life in exchange for surrender which Josephus says John had requested, but does not say Simon requested (War 6.433-434). From Josephus’s information it can be presumed that by the mid-70s John was still a prisoner, likely in Rome. After that John’s fate is unknown so far as Josephus or Roman historians are concerned, but this is likely the same legendary John of Asia Minor whose name is associated with the virulently anti-Roman Revelation, filled with source oracles in its composition directly from the First Revolt which appear to reflect the standpoint of John, one of the two leaders of that Revolt in Jerusalem in its final months.
In Josippon, following Roman capture and control of the temple, the remaining Jews retreat in large numbers to a final holdout on Mount Zion. Whether Titus and the Romans planned all along to destroy the temple has been a topic of scholarly debate, but in either case there is a sense from reading Josephus that there was fear on the part of Jews that the Romans might do so and the Romans used that threat as incentive to surrender, with the logic that if the Jews would surrender they would save their temple. Josephus has Titus telling the Jews at the end how he had given them every opportunity to save themselves and their temple but it was now too late: “I besought you to spare your own shrines and to preserve the temple for yourselves … all offers you scorned … and after all this, most abominable wretches, do you now invite me to a parley?” (War 6.346-347). According to Josippon, an unnamed prophet (Jesus b. Ananias?) encouraged the people at this late stage with this response to their predicament:
“For now shall the Temple be built by itself, without human hands, that God may declare his power unto the Romans … if you fight stoutly this day the temple shall erect itself.”
Compare the unusual claim of Jesus that if the temple is destroyed he would rebuild it in three days (Jn 2:19-20). The Revolt is the context for that saying that makes sense. Josephus’s Greek text has its version of the unnamed prophet of this oracle at War 6.285, where Josephus says of the mass killing of Jews in a fire set by Roman soldiers: “They [Jews who perished] owed their destruction to a false prophet, who had on that day proclaimed to the people in the city that God commanded them to go up to the temple court, to receive there the tokens of their deliverance”.
Compare Rev 14:1-4: “A Lamb stood on Mount Sion, and with him an hundred forty and four thousand, having his Father’s name written in their foreheads … these are they which are not defiled with women, for they are virgins”. They “follow the Lamb whithersoever he goes”–a Lamb which wars and conquers and slays (Rev 19:7-16). Revelation composed later may have retroactively identified that Lamb as Jesus. (The “virgins” reference may allude to, among other things, some discipline imposed by a commander such as John in which, in theory, women would not be harmed or raped.) John as author of Revelation may or may not be pseudepigraphic but the oracles used as sources and reflected therein appear to come from a Revolt context associated with the figure of John.
I have found this book interesting: Margaret Barker, The Revelation of Jesus Christ (T&T Clark, 2000). Barker makes the case that some of the oracles found in Revelation are from Jesus and that Jesus functioned as high priest in the temple–and somewhat amazingly, Barker does all that notwithstanding not thinking to question the conventional chronology. What comes across as so bizarre and could prompt many scholars to not even want to open the book, of Margaret Barker’s argument in terms of the conventional chronology, becomes suddenly quite a bit more sensible if John and Jesus were active at the time of the First Revolt. The chronological issue aside, Barker’s book is a serious and formidable argument.
On the dating of Jesus of the Gospel of Mark, David Oliver Smith suggests that the author of the Gospel of Mark, a Paulinist writing some time after publication of Josephus’s Antiquities, perhaps (Smith’s estimate) late 90s or early 100s ce, had Paul’s letters but did not know an historical date context for Jesus.
“Mark needed to put Jesus into a historical context so that the Jerusalem apostles living at the same time as Paul and who opposed him could reasonably be the same disciples who were Jesus’s companions and misunderstood his message. It seems to be a pretty good bet that Mark used Antiquities as a source for his historical context of Jesus, placing Jesus’s ministry about seventy years before Mark was writing. That way there would be no person living who would contradict the story” (p. 202).
reading your posts, I can’t help saying: that’s exactly what happened!
I hope that you will publish your views in a book.
When you write:
With John taking control of the temple at Passover 70 and entering into alliance at that time with former rival Simon against the Romans, the purification issue might have been part of the unity deal
…I am reminded of Mark 2:18-22:
“How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but yours are not?”
The Jesus’ answer there:
But the time will come when the bridegroom will be taken from them, and on that day they will fast.
…in the context of First Revolt reports ipso facto a historical “truth”: during the siege (and when Jesus ben Saphat was crucified), the fasting was required — for Simon bar Giora (“follower” of the Gospel Jesus) — not only as part and parcel of a purification issue imposed by John’s followers, but because of lack of food.
Under this light, the parable of wineskins (Mark 2:22) may allude to the need of fasting and prayer not during the siege of Jerusalem (“the old wineskins”), as imposed by the situation and as required by the “followers of John” (by extension, by “men from James”), but for the time after the fall of Jerusalem, the time of the pauline New Israel, etc.
If Bethennibris (“Bethannabris”) is also called Nimrin and
If Bethabara is also called Kharrar
Then what Gregory Doudna wrote, “Bethannibris = Bethabara”
is not true, neither in name nor in the two different locations in today’s Jordan.
I would like to correct an error above in which I quoted the John baptizing site at Jn 1:28 as Bethabara. According to text criticism that should be “Bethany beyond Jordan” at Jn 1:28, not Bethabara which Origen said he had been told. From working through a number of articles from JSTOR dealing with the John the Baptist toponyms in the Gospels, I see both of those toponyms’ locations are debated with competing conjectures and lack of certainty. “Bethany beyond Jordan” is suspected to have entered the Gospel of John in final redaction under the influence of 11:1 and no such site actually to exist, replacing some earlier different toponym, discussed in Jeremy Hutton, “‘Bethany beyond the Jordan’ in Text, Tradition, and Historical Geography”, Biblica 89 (2008): 305-328.
On the other hand the identification of Bethennabris of War 4.420 as Beth-Nimrah, 16 km east of Jericho, seems secure. Bethennabris is the location where, according to the Greek text of Josephus’s War, Jewish warriors fled from Gadara, found refuge and made a base in Bethennabris and enrolled new recruits into their fighting force, prior to the massacre of civilians and livestock in the Jordan river of Placidus. In the Josippon version those Jewish warriors are identified as an army led by John the Revolt commander from Jerusalem. Curiously, in the Josippon version, where Gr. War has “Gadara” Josippon has “Gerara”, reflecting the identical difference in locations as the gospels’ stories of the Gadarene/Gerasene demoniac.
To recapitulate the argument following this correction: Josippon has the army of John the Revolt leader on the east side of the Jordan. Greek War of the same episode has that army located at Bethennabris, 16 km east of Jericho, where were enrolled “a considerable number of young men” at that location. There has separately been a history going back to Eisler of reading the wilderness preaching and baptizing of John as other language for enrollment of an army. The gospels situate John’s baptizing at the Jordan river. Jn 1:28 situates John’s activity on the east side of the Jordan. Bethennabris on the east side of the Jordan is only 8 kilometers from the Jordan River, within walking distance. As a separate element the Gadarene/Gerasene demoniac episode of the Gospels is identified with this same episode, which ended in the massacre at the Jordan River of large numbers of humans and livestock forced into the river to drown, of Placidus 67 CE as told in Josephus’s War.
Because the currently conjectured locations for “Bethabara” of Origen’s ancient oral report of John’s baptizing location do not seem stronger than conjecture and are uncertain, the way could be open to consider a new conjecture not previously considered in the literature: was Origen’s “Bethabara” Bethennabris? The argument in favor is it is in the right region, it is near the Jordan river, and the consonant sequence in the names. However the argument that John of the Fourth Gospel is John of the Revolt of Josephus does not depend on that toponym conjecture being correct.
“Jn 1:28 situates John’s activity on the east side of the Jordan. Bethennabris on the east side of the Jordan is only 8 kilometers from the Jordan River, within walking distance.”
How far is that from the place on the east side of the Jordan where the dearly great coprophiliac spaghetti monster deity who is the Lord of Pe’or wants everyone to take a big dump?
“If Pe‘or is connected to the Hebrew stem p‘r ‘open’, used both of mouth and bowels, it might mean ‘opening’ and so Ba‘al Pe‘or could mean ‘Lord of the Opening’. This apparent meaning is probably the source of Talmudic traditions associating Ba‘al Pe‘or with exposure and excrement. The tractate Sanhedrin 64a attributes to Rab through Rabbi Judah the story of a sick Gentile woman who vowed to worship every idol in the world if she recovered. Upon recovery she set out to fulfill her vow, but drew back at Pe‘or as the rites disgusted her: eating beets, drinking strong drink, and then uncovering oneself.”
“A story follows about a Jew who showed his contempt for the god by wiping his behind on its nose after defecating in the temple and who was praised for his piety by the acolytes of the god who said: no man has ever before served this idol thus. Tractate ‘Avodah Zarah 3 states in the Gemara that the area before the idol Pe‘or was used as a latrine and that the worship of the idol consisted of defecating before it. Rashi comments on Numbers 25.3 that Pe‘or was so called because they would uncover before it the end of the rectum and bring forth excrement; this is its worship.”
Greg, do you think that ‘Zebedee’ is a variant of ‘Saphat’?
If Jesus calling the disciples is a new Elijah, then James and John, as sons of Zebedee, are accordingly, as Eliseus, the sons of Saphat (i.e., brothers of the historical Jesus ben Sapphat).
And Elias departing from thence, found Eliseus the son of Saphat, ploughing with twelve yoke of oxen: and he was one of them that were ploughing with twelve yoke of oxen: and when Elias came up to him, he cast his mantle upon him. And he forthwith left the oxen and ran after Elias, and said: Let me, I pray thee, kiss my father and my mother, and then I will follow thee. And he said to him: Go, and return back: for that which was my part, I have done to thee. And returning back from him, he took a yoke of oxen, and killed them, and boiled the flesh with the plough of the oxen, and gave to the people, and they ate: and rising up he went away, and followed Elias, and ministered to him. (1 Kings 19: 19-21)
Putting aside time-machine reshufflings, if anyone here wishes to pursue study of locations in Jordan, the following might be helpful:
JADIS, Jordan Antiquities Database & Information System (Dept. of Antiquities of Jordan and The American Center of Oriental Research: Amman, 1994), here 2013.003 page 2.28 and 2014.027 p. 2.29.
Jennifer Knust, in a zoom conference in LMW (L. Michael White) symposium)
Building Bethabara: From ‘Bethany Beyond the Jordan’ to Al-Maghtas and Back
Wonderful. Are there similar online sites for other regions “from the Euphrates to the Nile”?
Yes, there are other helps, for example:
The Archaeological Survey of Israel