Early Thoughts on Authenticity of the John the Baptist Passage in Josephus

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by Neil Godfrey

Continuing Rivka Nir’s case for questioning the authenticity of John the Baptist in Josephus’s Antiquities…. (First post is here.)

Nir informs us in The First Christian Believer,

By the nineteenth and early twentieth century, historians were suggesting that this passage was a Christian interpolation. (p. 42)

As a general rule, I like to follow up and check the grounds for statements like that. For readers who also would like to know who these early historians were and what they actually said I post here quotations from the sources cited by Rivka Nir.

Heinrich Graetz

This sentence translates as…

Meanwhile, the point is easily settled. Josephus’s narrative [account] about John [the Baptist], his capture and his death (das. 2, 2), is a brazen interpolation like that about Jesus (das. 3, 3), which is has now generally come to be viewed as a forgery.

Graetz, Heinrich. “Von dem Tode Juda Makkabi’s zum Untergange des judäische Staates.” In Geschichte der Juden : von den ältesten Zeiten bis auf die Gegenwart, 3:278 (note 3). Leipzig, Leiner, 1888. https://archive.org/details/geschichtederjud03grae/page/276/mode/2up


Samuel Krauss


The question of the authenticity of the Johannes passage in Josephus has not yet been definitively answered; it is at any rate suspect.

Krauss, Samuel. Das Leben Jesu nach jüdischen Quellen. Berlin: Georg Olms, 1902. p. 257 https://books.google.com.au/books?id=Tu9dpJx1M2oC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false.


Next is that passage I asked for help to translate.

Emil Schürer

Die Echtheit der Josephusstelle ist nur selten angefochten worden (auch Volkmar setzt sie ohne weiteres voraus ; gegen dieselbe : J . Chr . K . v . Hofmann , Die heil . Schrift Neuen Testaments , VII . Thl . 3 . Abth . Der Brief Jakobi 1876 , S . 4 f . ) Zu ihren Gunsten spricht allerdings, dass die Motive für die Gefangensetzung und Hinrichtung des Täuters so ganz anders angegeben werden als in den Evangelien. Da aber Josephus an anderen Stellen sicher von christlicher Hand interpolirt worden ist, so darf man auch hier nicht allzusehr auf die Echtheit vertrauen. Bedenken erweckt namentlich das günstige Urtheil über Johannes, der doch nur nach gewissen Seiten hin dem Josephus sympathisch sein konnte, nämlich als Asket und Moralprediger, aber nicht als der das Volk mächtig aufregende Prophet des kommenden Messias.

Translation with thanks to all those who contributed via email, Facebook and this blog.

The authenticity of the Josephus passage has only seldom been challenged (Volkmar also assumes it without further ado; against the same: J. Chr. K. v. Hofmann, Die heil .schrift Neuen Testaments, VII. Thl. 3rd Abth Der Brief Jakobi 1876, p. 4 f.) In their favor, however, the fact that the motives for the imprisonment and order of the masters are given so completely differently than in the Gospels. But since Josephus was certainly interpolated by a Christian hand in other passages, one should not trust too much in the authenticity here either. The favorable judgment about John arouses concern, who is only sympathetic to Josephus in certain respects could, namely as an ascetic and moral preacher, but not as the prophet of the coming Messiah, who might excite the people.

Schürer, Emil. Geschichte des jüdischen Volkes im Zeitalter Jesu Christi: Einleitung und politische Geschichte. Vol. 1.364 (note 24). J. C. Hinrichs, 1890.


Rivka Nir stated that Schürer thought Josephus’s positive attitude towards John was suspicious. But when I read the revised English translation of Schürer’s volume I met a different conclusion:

The passage of Josephus was known to Origen (c. Cels. I, 47). Eusebius quotes it in full (HE i 11, 4-6; DE ix 5, 15). Its genuineness is rarely disputed. In its favour is the fact that the motives for the imprisonment and execution of the Baptist are entirely different from the Gospel version. But since the text of Josephus has certainly been retouched by Christian scribes in other passages, the theory of an interpolation cannot be absolutely excluded. Suspicion is aroused by the favourable verdict on John, but against this it should be borne in mind that as an ascetic and moral preacher, he might have been viewed sympathetically by Josephus.

Schürer, Emil. The History of the Jewish People in the Age of Jesus Christ, Vol. 1. Revised and edited by Geza Vermes & Fergus Millar. Edinburgh: T&T Clark, 1973. p. 346 https://books.google.com.au/books?redir_esc=y&id=p75tWhrwGT8C&q=known+to+Origen#v=onepage&q&f=false

Vermes and Millar introduce an emphatic statement that Origen knew the passage in Josephus about John the Baptist, yet Origen’s testimony is ambiguous at best as we saw in the previous post.

Vermes/Millar further make the positive suggestion that “the theory of an interpolation cannot be absolutely excluded” but the intent of the original words is in fact negative according to the several translations generously offered by those who responded to my request:

  • given that other passages in Josephus were doubtless interpolated by Christian hands, one cannot place blind trust in authenticity.
  • since Josephus is interpolated by Christian hand in other places, one cannot trust its authenticity all too much in this case
  • one can’t completely trust this translation either (as it was influenced by a Christian perspective)
  • since Josephus was certainly interpolated by Christians (a Christian hand) in other places, one should not trust too much in the authenticity here either
  • since Josephus has clearly been interpolated in other places, one must not be altogether trusting of the genuineness of this passage

The Vermes/Millar revision presents an opposite idea, leading readers to think that, “Okay, theoretically there is some small chance it is an interpolation”; while other translations suggest, “Given what we know of Christian editing elsewhere we need to be cautious and not be too quick to assume authenticity here.”

Then there is the last sentence in the V/M revision which likewise presents a very different thought from the original. The English language revision concedes a possibility that Josephus would not have spoken favourably of John without presenting any reason but emphasizes that Josephus would have liked the things he did say about John, that he was an ascetic and moral preacher. Again, we meet a quite different tone from the original German of Schürer. Here are the translations sent to me: 

Pause is especially warranted given the favorable opinion regarding John, who could only have appealed to Josephus in certain respects, namely, as an ascetic and ethical preacher, but not as the powerfully agitating prophet heralding the coming Messiah.

  • The positive verdict of John, in particular, raises doubts since only John’s role as an ascetic and moralising preacher could have been sympathetic to Josephus, not his role as rabblerousing prophet of the coming Messiah.
  • There are concerns about the favorable judgment of Johannes because Josephus could have been sympathetic toward him only in certain aspects, namely Johannes as an ascetic and preacher of morality — but not as a charismatic prophet about the coming of a new Messiah.” [“…. This is NOT easy German. This must be from an old book with lots of dust on it.”]
  • The favorable judgment on John raises concerns in particular, who could only sympathize with Josephus in certain respects, namely as an ascetic and moral preacher, but not as the prophet of the coming Messiah who was powerfully exciting to the people.
  • In particular, misgivings are aroused by the favorable judgment of John, who could only have been sympathetic to Josephus on one side, that is as an ascetic and preacher of morals, but not as a prophet of the Messiah, powerfully agitating the people.

The addition of the Origen reference at the beginning, the removal from the last sentence of the grounds for the negative argument, and the shift of tone and inference in the middle, conspire to give readers the opposite view of Schürer’s real view of the authenticity of the John the Baptist passage in Josephus. 

Another disturbing observation is that the Vermes/Millar revision actually reversed Schürer’s judgement on a core Testimonium Flavianum, the passage we read about Jesus in Josephus. There we read an even more blatant misrepresentation of Schürer’s original verdict and a total burying of the reasons for his judgment. I will cite the details in another post. (When one reads a revision of an earlier work one expects updated information and corrections but not flagrant changes to the views of the original author!)


Alban Blakiston

Josephus’ account of the Baptist’s mission of preaching and baptising must be read with some suspicion; and it is very likely that it has been worked over by a Christian hand. It exhibits a sympathetic appreciation which comes strangely from the pen of a Pharisee; and it shows a correctness of understanding which recalls the point of view of Christian tradition. Moreover it is scarcely consistent with the subsequent representation of John, as a turbulent fanatic, whose preaching was likely to be fraught with serious political consequences.

Blakiston, Alban. John Baptist And His Relation To Jesus. London: J & J Bennett, 1912. p. 71  http://archive.org/details/in.ernet.dli.2015.42185.


Joseph Klausner

Klausner, on the other hand, does argue for the overall authenticity of the passage — “with the exception of isolated words coloured by Christianity” — after addressing arguments for it being an interpolation.

Besides the record of the work of John the Baptist given in the four Gospels, which agree in the main, we have also an account from a certain historical source, the principal work of Josephus. This account, however, deals only with the close of John the Baptist’s life. Josephus, for obvious reasons, says nothing of the earlier stages: he was chary of speaking of Messianic movements for fear of Roman disapproval; thus he generally refers to messianic movements as simple revolts, or else ignores them. Consequently he says but little of Jesus and deals very briefly with John the Baptist. There is, therefore, no ground for suspecting the evangelists of deliberately inventing facts : in the story of Salome alone is there a legendary element.

After recounting the victory of Aretas IV, king of Arabia, over Herod Antipas in the war arising from the latter’s desire to divorce his first wife, Aretas’ daughter, Josephus adds:

“But many Jews saw in the destruction of Herod’s army a just punishment from God for the killing of John who was called ‘the Baptist’ (‘Ιωάννου του Επικαλουμένου Βαχτιστοΰ ) ; Herod had slain this just man (άγαθόν) who had called upon the Jews to follow the way of righteousness, for every man to deal equitably with his neighbour, to walk in piety before God and to come for baptism; for baptism only availed in his (God’s) sight if it were done not to free from sins but for bodily purity (έφ’ άγνείςκ του σώματος) after the soul had been already cleansed by righteousness. And when many others also turned towards John (for at the hearing of his words their souls were uplifted) Herod feared lest his great influence over men cause them to rebel, for it seemed as though they would do anything in accordance with his advice. Wherefore he found it better to anticipate anything new which might come to his mind (πρίν τι νεώτερον έξ αυτοϋ γενέσθαι) and to kill him, rather than endure regret for the change (μεταβολή) when once it had happened. So John was sent bound in fetters to the fortress of Machaerus, already mentioned, and there put to death.” 

This paragraph like that on Jesus is also regarded as spurious; Graetz especially is quite convinced of this and dubs everything said of John the Baptist in the “Antiquities” as a “shameless interpolation:” how, in the first place, could Josephus, writing for Greeks, have written the word “Baptist” (Βαπτιστής) without any explanation? and, secondly, since the death of John occurred after the appearance of Jesus (c.29-30), and Herod’s war with Aretas only happened six years later (c.36), how could Josephus connect Antipas’s defeat with the execution which happened many years earlier?

Yet it is difficult to support this view. Firstly, Josephus explains the word “Baptist” a few lines later, telling how John summoned the people to baptism and explaining the kind of baptism which John intended. And secondly, while the early Christian Father Origen did not know (or, rather, attached no importance to) the paragraph about Jesus, he knew of this paragraph about John. Thirdly, no Christian interpolator would have forgotten to associate the death of John with his rebuke to Herod Antipas about his wife Herodias. And fourthly, Josephus, who says of himself that he served three years Banus the Nazarite who “lived in the wilderness, was clothed with leaves of a tree and ate only wild fruits, and baptized night and day many times in cold water for the sake of purity” (χρδς άγνείαν —the identical word which he employs for the baptism of John), may well have been friendly to John and, with “many Jews,” have regarded the defeat of Antipas as a divine punishment for killing a recluse who was moved by no selfish motive.

And, finally, all that Josephus says of John the Baptist is in accordance with Josephus’ principle of not emphasizing anything to do with the messianic idea and messianic movements, but referring to them only lightly in such a way that they would be understood by his Jewish readers but not by Roman and Greek readers, to whom such statements would be both strange and objectionable as implying a desire for earthly sovereignty at the hands of the “king-messiah” —a world kingdom already held by the Romans on the political side and by the Greeks on the cultural side.

Josephus simply makes John a philosopher in search of justice and piety, just as Jesus is made a “wise man,” and the politicoreligious sects of the Pharisees, Sadducees and Essenes, were made into philosophical sects. Josephus was chary of referring to John’s main idea just as he was chary of mentioning the central position held by the messianic idea in the minds of the Pharisees and Essenes. Yet he hints at the main point of John’s ministry in the words, “the new things which he thought,” and “the change” which he was about to make. And he also stresses the idea of the baptism as “purification of the body” after that the “soul was already purified by righteousness,” i.e., by repentance. In the present writer’s opinion, therefore, the entire paragraph (with, perhaps, the exception of isolated words coloured by Christianity) is genuine.

Furthermore, there is no contradiction between the Gospels and the Josephus paragraph : they supplement one another.

Klausner, Joseph. Jesus of Nazareth: His Life, Times, and Teaching. New York: Macmillan, 1926. pp. 239-41

As we have seen, however, it is the fact that the Josephus passage dovetails with the gospel account that we may have grounds to think the passage has value as a happy apologetic function.


Robert Eisler

(The following section from Eisler’s work argues for specific Christian editing of the Josephan text. Some of the Greek text has not copied fully; I have also altered some of the formatting to break up the long paragraphs.)

In the same way as the Greek paragraph about Jesus in the Antiquities, so the account there given of the Baptist shows clear traces of improvements, interpolations, and omissions at the hand of Christian copyists. This will be obvious to any one reading with an open mind the following passage of the extant text: l

Some of the Jews, however, regarded the destruction of Herod’s army as the work of God, who thus exacted a very just retribution for John, surnamed the Baptist. For Herod slew him, a good man, who bade the Jews cultivate virtue, practise justice toward each other and piety toward God, and to come together through baptism ; for thus immersion would appear acceptable to God, if practised, not as an expiation for certain offences, but for a purification of the body, after the soul had already been previously cleansed by righteousness. And when the others (τών άλλων) banded together (συστρεφομίνων) —for they were highly delighted (ήσθησαν) to listen to his words—Herod feared that the powerful influence which he exercised over men’s minds might lead to some act of revolt; for they seemed ready to do anything upon his advice. Herod therefore considered it far better to forestall him by putting him to death, before any revolution arose through him, than to rue his delay when plunged in the turmoil of an insurrection. And so, through Herod’s suspicion, John was sent in chains to Machaerus, the fortress already mentioned, and there slain. Now the Jews believed that the destruction of Herod’s army was the penalty inflicted upon him to avenge John, God being wroth against Herod.

Emil Schürer again — this time correctly represented.

The authenticity of the whole passage has sometimes been disputed, though not so often as that of the Testimonium concerning Jesus. Emil Schürer rightly observed:

‘Suspicion is awakened in particular by the favourable estimate of John, who could have been regarded with sympathy by Josephus only in certain respects, to wit, as an ascetic and a preacher of morality, but not as the prophet of the coming Messiah stirring up the people.’

To obviate this criticism. Niese put in his text ήσθησαν επι πλειστον, ‘they were overjoyed,’ instead of ήρθησαν επι πλειστον, ‘ they were aroused to the highest degree of excitement,’ in spite of the fact that all the three MSS. of Josephus (A, M, and W) and of the epitome have the correct wording. There is nothing in the words of the Baptist, as quoted by Josephus, which could fill his audience with exultation. On the other hand, the excitement he is said to have produced must have been mentioned, else there would be no reason for Herod’s alarm. ήσθησαν, ‘ they were delighted,’ is therefore a demonstrably Christian correction.

A highly significant piece of evidence to the effect that even the Halōsis could not escape the Christian revision so often pointed out in the foregoing pages, is afforded by the fact that in the copy used by the Russian translator ήρθησαν must also have been corrected to ήσθησαν ; for the Old Russian version reads ‘when the people heard that, they were glad.’ In the Halōsis the ‘ joy ‘ of the people is not so devoid of any object as in the Antiquities, for the censor of the former work had not deemed it necessary to suppress the Baptist’s call for liberty, and the promise that through following the path of justice the Jews would be freed from their ‘ many tyrants.’ The reason for this leniency was that John appeared to recommend a ‘ legal way ‘ to freedom, ‘ the path of the law ‘ as opposed to an attempt at insurrection. What he decided to suppress by the clever change of a single letter (ρ > σ) was the effect of the Baptist’s call in stirring up the people to political activity.

Other alterations may reasonably be traced to the same hand which sacrificed the word ήρθησαν, ‘ they were roused (to revolt ‘). Even before the Slavonic Halōsis was known, one might have seen that the passage must originally have contained some more solid grounds for Herod’s alarm. Immediately before the words ‘ for they were roused,’ the censor overlooked the highly significant expression ‘ when they banded together ‘ (συστρεφομίνων), allowing it to stand. But the subject of the phrase, ‘ the others,’ cannot be in order, because those who banded together were actually the Jews summoned by him to baptism and not any ‘other’ people, much less ‘the others,’ which, given the connexion, could only mean ‘ the heathen,’ a manifest absurdity. Here again, then, we have a Christian alteration, mitigating the seditious effect of John’s preaching, and instead of τών άλλων we should rather read τών πολλων, and when the masses banded together, for they were roused to the greatest revolt by the words which they heard.’ This text was still read by the author of the Latin version of the Antiquities produced at the instance of Cassiodorus, where τών πολλων (or possibly even παμπολλων) is rendered by perplurima multitudo.

In place of the reading presented by the Cod. Ambrosianus printed in Niese’s text, Samuel Naber rightly adopted the simple επι στασει τινι on the evidence of the Medicean and Vatican codices and the epitome. Most probably άποστασει is a Christian correction, to make Herod’s alarm appear as based on fear of a religious apostasy from orthodox Judaism and not of a political insurrectionary movement (στασις).

If nothing was preached to the Jews beyond ‘ virtue ‘ and a baptism in water, and if their excitement or joy consisted merely in some kind of religious or spiritual ecstasy of the type observed after a camp meeting of a Texas Baptist community, the persecution madness of an insane tyrant would be required to put to death such an innocent preacher of morals. Nor can Josephus well be supposed to have contemplated drawing such a malicious caricature of Herod Antipas in a book written in the lifetime of his patron Herod Agrippa II., still less of depicting as a ‘good man ‘ one who had stirred up the masses to the highest pitch of excitement.

In reality, a comparison with the extant Slavonic version of the Halōsis shows at a glance that the friendly estimate of the Baptist suspected by Schürer does not go back to Josephus at all. On the contrary, the section dealing with John has been falsified by Christian copyists in the approved manner.

The pathetic words of assent, ‘ and very justly ‘ (και μαλα δικαιως), are the exclamation of a Christian reader standing wholly on the side of the ‘ forerunner ‘ of Jesus, and not siding at all with Josephus, who ridicules the Baptist’s appearance and dress. In the last sentence of the section, ‘But to the Jews ‘ (τοις δε Ιουδαίοις), implying that the Jews as a body expected chastisement to be inflicted for the murder of the Baptist, is another Christian alteration of τισι δε ‘Ιουδαίοιςas appears from a comparison with the introductory words, ‘ But some of the Jews.’ Where the Halōsis has ‘ a wild man (αγριος ανηρ), we read in the Antiquities a good man’ (αγαθος ανηρ), a reading effected by the alteration of only two letters, and manifestly of the same tendency as the alteration of ήρθησαν to ήσθησαν. After αγριον ανδρα something must have been struck out : that description clearly requires amplification, such as is found in the Halōsis. Guided by the Slavonic rendering of the passage in question, and the notable parallel in the description of Sabinus the Syrian in the Greek War, one may supplement the text somewhat as follows :

‘ For Herod killed him, a wild man (with a shaggy body and clothed in animals’ hair, who incited) the Jews (to liberty and) bade them cultivate valour, practise justice toward each other and piety toward God, and to band together through baptism.’

Even in the sentence about the meaning of baptism a Christian copyist, unwilling to admit that John’s baptism was efficacious for the forgiveness of sins, has clearly had a hand. W. Brandt found it strange that by this sentence attributed to the Baptist the purification instituted by him is entirely robbed of its religious efficacy and reduced to an ordinary ablution for the sake of bodily cleanliness. That this is a falsification of the real state of affairs is obvious, but it can be proved by the evidence of one of the non-Greek versions that Josephus is completely innocent of this particular distortion of the facts, in which as a Jew he could have taken no interest whatever. For the Arabic Jusifûs expressly states of John the Baptist :

‘ This man baptized the Jews for the forgiveness of sins,’

which is the exact reverse of what stands in our Greek text. The Arabic Jusifûs goes back to the Hebrew Josippon, which frequently accords with the Latin Egesippus. Now, this version also says of John, ‘ baptismum propter purificationem animi et corporis instituerat, cujus causa necis libertas . . .’ Fortunately, it is easy to see how the Christian copyist went to work to distort the sentence to the disadvantage of John’s baptism ; in the adversative clauses linked by μη επι . . . άλλ εφ, ‘not for. . . but for,’ he simply transposed the members. Originally the passage must have run : ‘ For baptism would only appear acceptable to God if practised, not for the purification of the body, but for the expiation of sins (των, not τινων άμαρτάδων), after the soul had been thoroughly cleansed by righteousness.’

Only in this form does John’s doctrine of baptism agree with that of the Therapeutae in Philo, ‘having purged bodies and souls, the one with the waters of the bath, the other by the floods of the laws and of right discipline’; with that of Silvanus in the first epistle of Peter, and the command in the Clementine Homilies(xi. 28),

‘ Cleanse the heart from ill by divine instruction and wash the body in the bath, letting purity follow after goodness ‘ ;

and, lastly, with the oracle of the Jewish Sibyl. Only in this form — and this is what the Christian corrector would take amiss — does it appear as the basis, such as the history of religion requires, of the Christian baptism of repentance for the remission of sins, practised, not indeed by Jesus,’ but doubtless by the disciples of John who went over to him, namely, Andrew and his brother Simon Peter bar-jona, or the ‘ anonymous disciple,’ and afterwards became the rite of initiation into the Christian church. The Hebrew Josippon, dependent on the second edition of the War combined with the additional matter in the Antiquities, says in so many words of  Johanan :

‘ It was he who instituted baptism.’

Only if the account in the Antiquities is taken in the above sense and supplemented in the way suggested above, on the model of the parallel narrative in the Halōsis, by a mention of John’s call to liberty, only then does it agree with the statement in Matthew that John announced the impending establishing of the ‘kingdom of God.’

The invaluable account in the Halōsis, derived from information coming from the Baptist’s own following, at last enables us to understand how John conceived of and preached the ‘kingdom of God ‘ and what is that ‘ way of the law ‘ by which he wished to lead Israel to ‘ liberate it from its many tyrants.’ 

The opinion defended by Frey, that the Baptist advocated a ‘ legal way ‘ to freedom as opposed to ‘ illegal ‘ attempts to gain independence by armed rebellion, is open to grave doubt. True, his admonition to the Jews to renounce evil deeds shows that he propounded the well-known rabbinical doctrine to the effect that God in his mercy will send Israel the Messiah as soon as it is converted, does penance, and completely fulfils the law. His release by Archelaus after his first arrest and trial presupposes the fact that his preaching at least admitted of a quietist interpretation. On the other hand, this arrest would itself be unintelligible had his speeches not had some provocative effect upon the masses.

It is further worth noting that the phrase ‘the way of the law’ must have had reference to some quite definite passage in the law and its interpretation. Else one would have difficulty in understanding the angry retort of the learned scribe Simon :

‘ We read the books of God daily ; but thou, only now come forth like a beast from the forest, durst thou teach us and lead the multitudes astray with thy accursed speeches ?’

The text underlying this sermon of liberty leading the multitudes astray can indeed be no other than the well-known Deuteronomic ‘ royalty law ‘ :

‘ When thou art come unto the land which Jahweh thy God giveth thee, and shalt possess it and shalt dwell therein, and shalt say, I will set a king over me, like as all the nations that are round about me ; thou shalt in any wise set him king over thee, whom Jahweh thy God shall choose : one from among thy brethren shalt thou set king over thee : thou mayest not put a foreigner (‘ish nakhri) over thee, who is not thy brother.

It is this law which caused King Agrippa I., when in accordance with the old custom he was reciting the Book of Deuteronomy on the feast of tabernacles in A.D. 41, to ‘ burst into tears ‘ at the words, ‘ thou mayest not put a foreigner over thee, who is not thy brother ‘ ; whereupon the scribes of the Pharisees, pampered by him in every way, were moved to comfort him by exclaiming :

‘ Be not distressed, Agrippa, thou art our brother, thou art our brother.’

This touching display of sentiment, enacted before an immense public, shows how the Herodian family sought to reconcile their constitutional position with the Jewish law. What attitude their opponents took up can be easily seen. The chief objection raised was the fact that the ancestor of the royal house was not an Edomite. Antipater, they said, had been a native of Ascalon ; he was consequently a Philistine, anάλλοφυλος or a gôj par excellence. Moreover, Deut. xxiii. 8, 9 at best permitted the descendants of Edomite proselytes to belong to the community of Israel ; but from this it by no means followed that a converted foreigner could be king over Israel. As for the rule of the Roman emperors over the Holy Land, it could certainly not be made to appear legitimate by such an evasion of the spirit of the law.

The ‘ way of the torah ‘ leading to ‘ liberation from many tyrants,’ as inculcated by John, demanded then of the people a complete fulfilment of the law alike in its moral and in its political aspect. From the moral point of view it required ‘perfect justice toward men and piety toward God’; in the political sphere obedience to the law concerning the Israelitish monarchy, i.e. the installation of a native king chosen by God, non-recognition of foreign rule, refusal of the oath of allegiance, and perhaps also a refusal to pay taxes to foreigners such as was required of the Jews by Judas the Galilaean.

Eisler, Robert. The Messiah Jesus and John the Baptist: According to Flavius Josephus’ Recently Rediscovered “Capture of Jerusalem” and the Other Jewish and Christian Sources. Translated by Alexander Haggerty Krappe. English ed edition. New York: Lincoln MacVeagh, The Dial Press, 1931. pp. 245-52


Léon Herrmann

Ce passage intercalé entre « Tels furent les ordres donnés par Tibère au proconsul de Syrie» {A. J., XVIII, 115) et «Après avoir fait des préparatifs de guerre contre Arétas, Vitellius» {A.J., XVIII, 120) est évidemment en entier interpolé, car à και Τιβέριος correspond Ούιτέλλιος δε. D’ailleurs, la première phrase du passage présente « des Juifs » et la dernière « les Juifs », moins correcte, puisqu’elle substitue à une minorité la totalité d’un peuple qui, selon les évangiles eux-mêmes, n’avait pas été convaincu par la prédication de saint Jean Baptiste. D’autre part, il est clair que, si le passage se trouve inséré là et non ailleurs, c’est à cause de la mention en A.J., 111-112, de la forteresse de Machéronte, mention faite à propos du séjour qu’y fit la fille du roi arabe Arétas répudiée par Hérode Antipas, désireux d’épouser sa belle-soeur Hérodiade.

Il y a aussi une relation entre l’enchaînement et la décapitation d’Arétas prescrites par Tibère à Vitellius en cas de victoire et le sort effectivement infligé à saint Jean Baptiste par Hérode Antipas. Enfin la distinction faite entre les deux baptêmes, celui de purification et celui de rémission ne peut guère émaner que d’un chrétien qui a lu les Actes des Apôtres (XVIII, 25) sur Apollos. Certes le mot «surnommé» {επικαλούμενου) est employé pertinemment au lieu de «nommé» (καλονμένου), ou «dit» (λεγομένου), et aucune liaison n’est établie entre l’action de Baptiste et celle du Christ, mais, dans ce passage, l’hostilité d’Hérode Antipas n’est motivée que par la crainte d’une propagande révolutionnaire et non par la dénonciation de son quasi-adultère, ce qu’on n’attendrait pas après ce qui est dit du départ de sa première femme. Bref, tout le passage apparaît comme une interpolation, dont la fin, sur la punition d’Hérode Antipas par une défaite militaire, apparaît calquée sur A.J., XI, 299-302, bien que, dans ce dernier texte, ce soit un fratricide sacrilège et non un adultère et le meurtre d’un saint homme que venge une défaite militaire.

Herrmann, Léon. Chrestos: Témoignages Païens Et Juifs Sur Le Christianisme du Premier Siècle. Collection Latomus, v. 109. Bruxelles: Latomus, 1970.


Antiquities, 18.5.114-120

114 and when they had joined battle, all Herod’s army was destroyed by the treachery of some fugitives, who, though they were of the tetrarchy of Philip, joined with Aretas’s army. 115 So Herod wrote about these affairs to Tiberius, who being very angry at the attempt made by Aretas, wrote to Vitellius to make war upon him, and either to take him alive, and bring him to him in bonds, or to kill him, and send him his head. This was the charge that Tiberius gave to the president of Syria. . . .

[116-117, Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist. . . . Now the Jews had an opinion that the destruction of this army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and a mark of God’s displeasure to him.]

. . . 120 So Vitellius prepared to make war with Aretas, having with him two legions of armed men; he also took with him all those of light armature, and of the horsemen which belonged to them, and were drawn out of those kingdoms which were under the Romans, and made haste for Petra, and came to Ptolemais.

This passage interspersed between “Such were the orders given by Tiberius to the proconsul of Syria” (A. J., XVIII, 115) and “After having made preparations for war against Aretas, Vitellius…” (A.J., XVIII, 120) is obviously fully interpolated, because to και Τιβέριος corresponds Ούιτέλλιος [=Vitellius] δε. Moreover, the first sentence of the passage presents “of the Jews” and the last “the Jews”, less correct, since it substitutes for a minority the totality of a people which, according to the Gospels themselves, had not been convinced by the preaching of Saint John the Baptist. On the other hand, it is clear that, if the passage is inserted there and not elsewhere, it is because of the mention in AJ, 111-112, of the fortress of Machaerus, mention made in connection with the stay that there made the daughter of the Arab king Aretas repudiated by Herod Antipas, eager to marry his sister-in-law Herodias.

There is also a relationship between the chaining and beheading of Aretas prescribed by Tiberius to Vitellius in case of victory and the fate actually inflicted on Saint John the Baptist by Herod Antipas. Finally, the distinction made between the two baptisms, that of purification and that of remission, can hardly emanate from a Christian who has read the Acts of the Apostles (XVIII, 25) on Apollos. Certainly the word “surnamed” (επικαλούμενου) is used appropriately instead of “named” (καλονμένου), or “said” (λεγομένου), and no connection is established between the action of Baptist and that of Christ, but, in this passage, the hostility of Herod Antipas is motivated only by the fear of a revolutionary propaganda and not by the denunciation of his quasi-adultery, which one would not expect after what is said from the start of his first wife. In short, the whole passage appears as an interpolation, the end of which, on the punishment of Herod Antipas by a military defeat, appears modeled on AJ, XI, 299-302, although, in this last text, it is a sacrilegious fratricide and not adultery and the murder of a holy man avenged by a military defeat.

See also the translation and discussion on earlywritings.com


Jonathan Klawans

Not quite so “early” this one, but it is the final name listed in Rivka Nir’s footnote:

. . . Unfortunately, John is a figure shrouded in mystery. On the one hand, we are fortunate to have diverse sources at our disposal, with accounts in the synoptic Gospels, the Gospel of John, and the testimony of Josephus. On the other hand, all of these sources are tendentious: the Gospels very likely strove, as John P. Meier asserts, “to ‘make John safe’ for Christianity.” And Josephus’s testimony regarding John cannot be blindly accepted either. Scholars generally agree that this account is authentic, even while agreeing that his account of Jesus has been heavily edited by pious Christian scribes. But even if Josephus’s account of John is authentic, whether or not Josephus described John’s religious message accurately is another question.

Klawans, Jonathan. Impurity and Sin in Ancient Judaism. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. p. 138


After listing the above names in a footnote (I have added the quoted text to each) Rivka Nir introduces the arguments of Joshua Efron in Formation of the Primary Christian Church. Unfortunately, Efron’s work is written in Hebrew so this post comes to a sudden halt. In the next post in this series we will cover Nir’s discussion of Efron’s arguments.

Nir, Rivka. First Christian Believer: In Search of John the Baptist. Sheffield Phoenix Press, 2019.

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8 thoughts on “Early Thoughts on Authenticity of the John the Baptist Passage in Josephus”

  1. I should add to the list also the following quote from Georges Ory’s La Samarie, patrie d’un Messie (Cahiers du Cercle Ernest Renan, 3° Année – N° 11) where the conclusion of a Baptist Passage interpolated in Josephus can be derived from his audacious thesis (John the Baptist == the Samaritan Prophet) but also, even more simply, from mere Christian fear that John the Baptist could be confused with the Samaritan Prophet: a risk that had to be neutralized by interpolating Josephus’s books.

    L’erreur de Josèphe. Cet historien qui a cité le messie samaritain tué sous Ponce-Pilate sans le désigner nommément, puis Jean-Baptiste en faisant de sa mort une exécution politique perpétrée dans le silence d’une prison, a-t-il confondu celui-ci avec le Theudas de Cuspius Fadus?

    On le remarquera tout d’abord que Josèphe n’avait pas l’intention de donner le nom de Theudas. En XVIII-X.1, il est nettement hostile à ces Samaritains qui ne peuvent pas vivre sans «faire des tumultes» et à l’homme qui les excitait en véritable démagogue. Cependant il raconte ce qui s’est passé: la plainte des Samaritains et le désaveu infligé à Pilate. Après cela, on attend un geste de Vitellius et, en effet, on nous le rapporte; le légat assiste à la Paque et fait remise aux Juifs de toutes les taxes sur les fruits achetés ou vendus mais, où le lecteur est stupéfait, c’est quand il apprend que ce geste d’apaisement est accompli non pas en faveur des Samaritains victimes de l’incident, mais au bénéfice de ceux de Jèrusalem qu’on ne s’attendait pas à voir intervenir dans cette historie, alors qu’Hérode lui-même était ou allait être déchu de sa puissance.

    Plus loin, au ch. V. de ce même Livre XVIII, Josèphe fait le récit de la victoire d’Arétas et, après avoir donné certains détails à ce sujet, écrit: «Alors des Juifs crurent que la destruction de l’armée d’Hérode venait de Dieu en punition de ce qui avait été fait contre Jean». Or, jusque là, Jean n’était pas encore cité par Josèphe; celui-ci ne nommait pas le messie samaritain pour lequel il ne professait sans doute aucune admiration.

    Immédiatement après vient le texte — que nous avons donné ci-dessus — sur l’homme juste et pieux qui baptisait paisiblement et qui était chéri de la multitude; sur quoi le passage se termine comme il a commencé et presque dans les mêmes termes: «Alors les Juifs crurent que la destruction de cette armée…».

    Ce passage — le seul où Josèphe parle de Jean-Baptiste — ressemble fort à une interpolation avec reprise. Un chrétien aura tenu à mettre, dans l’oeuvre de l’historien juif, le nom du précurseur ainsi que des louanges à son endroit pour contrebattre le passage précédent dont il sentait l’allusion perfide; il fallait préciser que Jean n’avait pas été un agitateur mais un prophéte paisible et bon; ainsi était contredit, dans son propre livre, Josèphe qui, comme tous les Juifs, avait tendance è voir, dans les Samaritains, des brigands.

    Quant au dernier passage de Josèphe concernant le charlatan Theudas pris et décapité sous Cuspius Fadus, on remarquera que, commençant le chapitre V du XX° Livre, il n’a aucun rapport ni avec la fin du chapitre précédent, ce qui peut se comprendre, ni surtout avec le paragraphe qui suit; il donne l’apparence d’être «en l’air» et inutile au début d’un nouveau développement.

    Le Chap. V pouvait normalement commencer par l’actuel paragraphe 2: «Tibère Alexandre vint alors succéder à Fadus; il était le fils…»

    Le premier paragraphe, celui relatif à Fadus et à Theudas, n’avait pas sa place en ce endroit si l’on considère que cette historie est consacrée à un seul détail qui parait résumer «ce qui est arrivé aux Juifs sous Cuspius Fadus» (44-46).

    Or, ce récit paraît se rattacher directement au chapître XIX qui finissait ainsi: Cuspius Fadus devint procurateur de Judée avec mission d’être sévère envers les habitants de Sébaste et Césarée mais il ne parvint pas à se débarrasser des gens qui «furent la source de grandes calamités pour les Juifs plus tard et plantèrent les racines de la guerre qui commença sous Florus… et quand Vespasian eut soumis le pays il les chassa de sa province comme il sera relaté ci-apres». Mais la suite annoncée manque. Immédiatement commence le chapitre XX dont les quatre premiers paragraphès n’ont rien à voir avec notre sujet et le cinquième commence ensuite das les conditions relatées ci-dessus.

    Il semblerait par conséquent qu’un copiste ait voulu suppléer par le paragraphe 1 à tout ce qui manquait; il le fit en croyant que Theudas avait vécu sous Fadus. Le passage n’ajoute et ne retranche rien à ce qu’on sait déjà.
    (p. 14-15)

  2. I think quite probably that there was no historical John the Baptist (rather this figure was an archetype), but rather that the historical Jesus is remembered as John the Baptist. When Jesus was elevated to be Christ, by this time his story is combined with Judas the Galilean and the zealot movement’s interpretation of eschatological and messianic scripture. The leftover parts that don’t fit with this grand Christ are called “John the Baptist”, and then implausible meetings allow the one character to give way to the other, simultaneously placating those who formerly honored a mythological teacher or baptizer figure, allowing them to move on to worship Christ.

    Here’s my thinking:

    The most interesting moment in first century history, in my opinion, is 33-36 AD. Something substantial happened, in fact, multiple things. Almost none of it is mentioned.

    -John the Baptist dies
    -Herod II dies
    -Philip the Tetrarch dies
    -Herodias marries Antipas
    -Antipas and Aretas prepare to fight a massive war
    -Vitellius brings an entire army to fight Aretas, but stalls in Jerusalem; long enough for Tiberias to die
    -Pilate attacks the followers of the “Samaritan Prophet” a “New Moses”, causing him to be recalled; but Tiberias dies before he is punished.
    -By the time Claudius takes power, Herod Agrippa (tightly allied with Philo’s family) gains the entire kingdom; some say the dancing Salome story, her asking for the Baptist’s head, is a retelling of Agrippa asking Claudius for Judea.

    Josephus, happy to provide abundant small details about many other events, is almost silent during this time. However, this is where we get the Testimonium, in addition to the bizarre Paulina story as well as finally the story of the Samaritan prophet.

    According to the Syriac chronicler, Edessa (connected to Helena/Izates sent troops to support Aretas).

    It feels as if something monumental, but also forgotten, happened during these years.

    The key context comes from evaluating Herod’s family. We understand Herod II to be the father of dancing Salome, and he’s supposedly off in Rome, living a private and forgotten life. However, historian of the Herodian family, Nikos Kokkinos, has a different opinion. He points to a story by Philo of four golden shields being brought into Jerusalem, causing a controversy. He claims that FOUR sons of Herod, “of wealth and status like kings,” came to Pilate to negotiate.

    Kokkinos reviews who these sons could have been. The conclusion is that there simply aren’t many candidates. It’s also very interesting that among all the events of 33 AD (Philip the Tetrach’s death being the one confirmed date that anchors the entire story), Pilate has a controversy with four shields involving four sons. It has the ring of there being more to the story, especially since Pilate is supposedly guilty of some other kind of similar offense – which version of the story is the retelling of which?

    Kokkinos concludes the sons of Herod present must have been: definitely Antipas, probably Philip and the son of a Greco-Philistinian wife (possibly ruler of Ashkelon), and possibly Herod II or Herod son of Cleopatra.

    Kokkinos also believes that the Salome dancing in the John the Baptist story is Herodias Salome daughter of Antipas and Phasaelis, where Herodias and Herod II’s daughter Salome was much older at this time. He believes Herod II had divorced Herodias, and she had married Philip. He thinks that Philip’s death is the cause of Herodias marrying Antipas (not some illicit affair), because Antipas wanted Philip’s lands. It was Antipas divorcing Phasaelis that caused the war with Antipas, and John the Baptist may not have been involved.

    I have a personal theory that cleans up Kokkinos’s conclusions (which of course assume errors in Josephus, whose source was likely Nicolaus of Damascus and so the redactions must be propagandistic in nature, covering up what is embarrassing for the Herodians).

    I think Cleopatra of Jerusalem and Mariamne Boethus are the same person, that Cleopatra’s once-mentioned elder son “Herod” is the same as Mariamne’s Herod II. Thus Herod and Philip are brothers. Mariamne and Herod were disowned/disinherited for some perceived slight related to Antipater’s assassination plot. Philip would certainly have been away in Rome studying at that time, so would not be guilty. Cleopatra of Jerusalem is a pseudonym for Mariamne that preserves Philip’s reputation from his family’s shame.

    What would Herod II’s domain be, if he was disinherited?

    I believe that the mysterious Ptolemy Menneus who ruled in Chalcis of Lebanon (Bekaa Valley), who married Alexandra the Hasmonean, is the father of Simon Boethus. Simon’s ascension to the high priesthood occurs in 23 BCE, the exact year that Marcus Agrippa quietly finalizes the details of Rome’s peace settlement with Parthia via the intermediation of Tiridates II (Arsaces Philoromaios). Menneus also invokes the Armenian history’s Mannos, whose history overlaps with Tiridates, and which can possibly be connected to Ma’nu of Oshroene, later connected to the royals of Adiabene after Izates.

    Thus, again, I think there’s a changing of the story. Josephus claims Mariamne’s low status is why Simon had to be elevated to a high office. Again, Mariamne is being distanced from status. However, if Simon and Mariamne are of the family of Ptolemy Menneus – who we now interpret as an intermediary between Babylon and Rome – and descended from a Hasmonean princess, then the Boethusian family is now a very important political loose end for Herod to bring into his dynasty.

    We hear about Chalcis of Lebanon as a domain frequently in Josephus until after Antony’s death, when Egypt’s domains are all named and returned to Herod, and named in his will to give to his sons – except for Chalcis.

    Implicitly, the deal of 23 in which Simon Boethus is given the High Priest office, Ptolemy Menneus’s Chalcis (owned by Egypt, loaned out to Ptolemy’s grandson Zenodorus) is returned to Herod’s family as a dowry meant for Mariamne’s son with Herod. That is, Herod II owned Chalcis before Herod the Great’s death, so could not be disinherited from it. Of course, this is all redacted within Josephus.

    If Herod II controls Chalcis by his rights through Ptolemy Menneus, and not through Herod the Idumean, then he is tetrarch as Herod bar Ptolemy. Or Bartholemew.

    And his brother Philip the Tetrarch built his capital at Panaes, just next to Chalcis at the feet of Hermon. Bartholomew and Philip.

    Flavius Josephus also mentions a Josephus Menneus, who is clearly Jewish and therefore likely another son of Alexandra.

    Now we have candidates for the Toledot Yeshu narrative of Jesus’s life, from Mariamne’s uncle Josephus raping her and running off, making Jesus their bastard. Making Philip and Bartholomew his Herodian older half-brothers.

    If we’re willing to connect “Boethus” to “bar Izates”, and Zamaris the Babylonian Jew to Abgar Ukkama, or Monobazus, then we can go even further.

    Zamaris founded Bathyra in Batanea, a concession Herod made so that Zamaris would use his Parthian horse troop to fight Zenodorus. If both Zamaris and Zenodorus are descended from Ptolemy Menneus (or Ma’nu), then the transfer of rights from Zenodorus to Herod II as part of a geopolitical compromise that was insisted upon, then of course Zamaris would have an obligation to support Herod in claiming those rights for Herod II from his kin.

    Bathyra is consequential and silent. Its inhabitants are key players in the Gamala fortress and early events of the Jewish revolt, and it is the connection between Nisibis/Adiabene and Jerusalem. Simon Boethus’s son Simon had the children: Eleazar, Martha, Mary. That’s Lazarus, Martha and Mary of Bethany. We must assume the, “Bethany” Jesus visits is actually Bathyra.

    This is substantiated by accounting Monobazus and Helena’s (Mariamne) children as younger half-brothers of Jesus. The elder (Monobazus II) being Thaddeus/Addai, who supposedly is the bridegroom of the wedding at Cana. Monobazus II was a very consequential king in Parthia, whose own history easily has him travelling to India, and definitely has him in Armenia – an influential convert to no-circumcision Judaism of the Herodians, who has the best claim to travel notably from India to Armenia to the Holy Land. Addai (Syriac: large chested) not Judas being the root of Thaddeus. So Judas Thomas could be Thaddeus in that Judas is an incorrect remembering of Addai. Thomas Didymus, the twin of Jesus. Jesus and Monobazus in this case being half-brothers born about one year apart (presumably, due to Josephus Menneus’s fleeing in accord with Toledot, Joseph’s brother has an obligation to marry the bereft sister – sister by conjugal relations, per jewish law – hence why Monobazus and Helena are called brother and sister).

    If we keep Jesus’s ministry entirely in Gaulanitis, Chalcis (borders of Tyre and Sidon), and Antipas’s portion of the environs of Galilee, then there’s a much stronger correspondence with history. Adding to this, the now older Salome (daughter of Herod II and Herodias) is a candidate for Mary Salome the traditional wife of Zebedee. There’s a family tree of Boethusians living in the Hauran/Galilee/Lebanon, and it corresponds to many biblical characters.

    The Toledot Yeshu has Jesus being nailed to a post in Tiberias, involving the sponge of vinegar, which he survives. This occurs in Galilee. His death comes later in a mythical battle with Judas near Jerusalem.

    If we identify Judas the Galilean as a person from a different faction, whose history does not overlap with Jesus, then we must find another death for Jesus. We can assume that Jesus never went to Jerusalem during his ministry – not consequentially. The palm triumph being a tale from the life of Judas (6 AD). We can see Toledot imagining Judas and Jesus as rival messiahs, battling it out in heaven or “backstage”, as the world chooses which sect they want to join.

    When and where would such as Jesus die?

    The people of the Hauran were not traditionally Jews. They were converted by sword only recently by Alexander Janneus. Likely, there were a similar ethnicity to the Syriac Arabs of Lebanon, Oshroene and even the Nabateans. The people of Antipas’s domains of Perea and Galilee were probably more closely related to ethnic Hebrews. In a sense, Antipas’ and Aretas’ war was a war between two sets of people for dominion in that area. Antipas, at least, wanted everything Herod had. Rome had Herod’s descendants ruling Armenia and half of Anatolia. If we connect Assyria to the people of Syria and Jordan, then this is a massive battle for the geopolitical future of Rome and Parthia’s lucrative buffer territory.

    Josephus mentions Pilate and the Samaritan prophet. I would contend this is a redaction. One name for the peoples of the Hauran is the Itureans. I think we may be able to substitute Iturean for Samaritan and Hermon for Gerizzim. Thus the Iturean prophet of Mt. Hermon’s environs is the “New Moses” who has discovered – invoking Joseph Smith – the “original Judaism of Moses” in the form of buried scrolls.

    Since Mt. Tabor is the prospective site of Judas the Galilean’s crowning as messiah, and we admit the Jerusalem-focused elements of his story (Tabor being in Antipas’s domain and an unlikely place for Jesus to spend much time later on) – we can safely agree with tradition that Hermon is the sight sacred to the traditional tale of Jesus.

    Finding a possible correspondence between Jesus at Hermon and the Samaritan prophet of Josephus, we now have a complete story:

    Jesus, intimately related to Herod’s outcast children Philp and Herod II who control everything North and East of Galilee, preaches a new possibly Syriac/gentile-friendly version of Judaism in the Hauran where the Boethusians live in the estate of their kin (via Ptolemy Menneus) who rule in Adiabene. Archelaeus is banished, and Jerusalem is tightly controlled by Pilate himself following the rebellions related to Judas the Galilean a half-generation previously. The temple priesthood is totally controlled by the Rome appointed Ananians. Ananus was almost certainly a vizier to Adiabene or the court at Nisibis and is connected to the Babylonian Jews. The “Babylonian” presence in Judaism causes a certain amount of unrest which plagues Pilate.

    As it happens, Tiberias favors Antipas – perhaps not understanding the situation well, perhaps seeing Antipas as Herod’s proper heir. Herodias, who convinced Herod II to offer a divorce due to his loss of status, marries Philp – whose court they frequented at Paneas. Philip’s status proves equally disappointing, and Herodias never gives him an heir.

    Pilate’s High Priest, Caiaphas, is immensely unpopular due to his presiding over the execution of Judas the Galileans (finally captured after his failed messianic revolt in 6). The year was 19 AD, and Tiberias was forced to expel Jews from Rome due to trouble caused by zealots there in conjunction with Judas’s death (the zealots, on the 40th anniversary of this death, elevate James to a messianic role in 59 AD, leading to the revolts of the “Chrestus” believers during Nero’s reign, and James’s death in 62 at the hands of Ananus’s son).

    After the controversies caused by Pilate, Antipas – whom Josephus mentions was amassing an arsenal of weapons – perhaps has his two brothers assassinated. He then marries Herodias and hopes to claim Judea. Aretas goes to war. Oshroene (Abgar the White, who via Addai his nephew learns the doctrines of Judaism taught by Jesus) and Adiabene (Izates II) send aid to Aretas. It’s a war for the future of the middle east.

    Antipas loses, forcing Tiberias to command Vitellius to come down from Antioch to deal with it. Tiberias dies, conveniently, leading to liberty for both Herod Agrippa and other Herodians captive in Rome, but also those of the family of Philo (Tiberias’s favor to Antipas against his rivals?).

    Sometime in the middle of all of this, Pilate sends troops against specifically Jesus. Who no doubt would be rallying as many of the countryside of Galilee to take up arms against Antipas, accelerating his teachings, furious – not at an illicit marriage – but that his two half-brothers were murdered.

    Pilate sends troops, perceiving Jesus’s actions as another Jewish religious revolt, and crushes it.

    Jesus is captured (his being nailed to a post happening either before or after), and Antipas has him beheaded.

    Therefore, I think the historical John the Baptist simply is Jesus. There may have been an Essene prototypical, euhemerized teacher who originated the title. The gospel writers will have giving Jesus’s death to John so that Jesus can have the totally mythologized crucifixion (borrowed from the death of Simon Bar Giora in 70AD). Also, by doing this the writers are tying a bow around John’s story, so that those who still worship the teacher of righteousness can explain why Jesus takes over as the great prophet and teacher.

    Other than Christianity there’s not much of a John the Baptist tradition except among the Mandeans. And where did they get it from? Adiabene of course, around 200 AD.

    To complete the story, since I’ve come this far, from Paul’s conflict with James we can identify the historical Paul. James the zealot (Josephus calls him the Egyptian false prophet) was stoned on the orders of Ananus ben Ananus, and their conflict parallels Paul and James’s in Acts. Ananus the elder was teach no-circumcision Judaism to the Adiabenians. So Paul (the epistle writer, not the Acts character) is taking Jesus in his “New Moses”/John the Baptist role, and claiming that AFTER his death, in heaven he was crucified. This being a direct response to the zealot/Qumran doctrine of human sacrifice of their great messiah (for them, Judas).

    You have an “Ananian” Judaism that is anti-circumcision, preached by Jesus, taught by Philo, welcomed by the Herodians, and championed by Paul. Paul is trying to undermine the messianic zealots by transforming Jesus into a posthumous Christ.

    We should see the Ebionites and even the Gnostics as outshoots of the Qumranite doctrine (the destruction of the temple as proof that the Herodians were false, and the martyred Judas/James were true – and gnostic because they saw Yahweh as a false God who failed to stop the corruption of the temple, elevating Metatron to take his place). Then we have to imagine that this “Ananian” Judaism as something that didn’t survive the fall of the Flavian dynasty in most of Rome and Judea.

    Thus, the Ananian Judaism survives in Edessa/Adiabene, where it is mistakenly remembered as “Marcionite”. Probably, Ananian documents (Pauline epistles, Josephus’s writings) of the Flavian dynasty are discovered and misinterpreted from the lens of gnosticism and this leads to the creation of gospel texts. Judas and Jesus are mistakenly conflated, and the weird Qumranite peshers smashed together with hellenized jewish theology become Christianity.

  3. I don’t have a super strong opinion on this issue. But consider this. I’ll wager that Eusebius and Origen were referencing from the same manuscript of Josephus. Contra Celsum is late Origen, putting him in Caesarea and its library, exactly where Eusebius later takes over. I find it more likely if there was an interpolation (which I’m not saying there was) between CC and Eusebius’s take – not earlier.

  4. HEMEROBAPTISTS (; lit. “morning bathers”): By: Kaufmann Kohler

    Division of Essenes who bathed every morning before the hour of prayer in order to pronounce the name of God with a clean body (Tosef., Yad., end; the correct version being given by R. Simson of Sens: “The morning bathers said to the Pharisees: ‘We charge you with doing wrong in pronouncing the Name in the morning without having taken the ritual bath’; whereupon the Pharisees said: ‘We charge you with wrong-doing in pronouncing the Name with a body impure within'”). In the time of Joshua b. Levi (3d cent.) a remnant still existed, but had no clear reason for their practise (Ber. 22a). The Clementina speak of John the Baptist as a Hemerobaptist, and the disciples of John are accordingly called “Hemerobaptists” (“Homilies,” ii. 23; comp. “Recognitions,” i. 54); similarly, Banus, the teacher of Josephus (“Vita,” § 2), was a Hemerobaptist. Hegesippus (see Eusebius, “Hist. Eccl.” iv. 22) mentions the Hemerobaptists as one of the seven Jewish sects or divisions opposed to the Christians. Justin (“Dial. cum Tryph.” § 80) calls them simply “Baptists.”

    According to the Christian editor of the “Didascalia” (“Apostolic Constitutions,” vi. 6), the Hemero-baptists “do not eat until they have bathed, and do not make any use of their beds and tables and dishes until they have cleansed them.” This obviously rests upon a misunderstanding of their true character. Epiphanius (“Panarion,” i., heresy xvii.) goes still further, and says that the Hemerobaptists deny future salvation to him who does not undergo baptism daily.
    Bibliography: Grätz, Gesch. iii. 700. [From the 1906 Jewish Encyclopedia]

    Another brief entry elsewhere: HEMEROBAPTISTS, an ancient Jewish sect, so named from their observing a practice of daily ablution as an essential part of religion. Epiphanius (Panarion, i. 17), who mentions their doctrine as the fourth heresy among the Jews, classes the Hemerobaptists doctrinally with the Pharisees from whom they differed only in, like the Sadducees, denying the resurrection. of the dead. The name has been sometimes given to the Mandaeans on account of their frequent ablutions; and in the Clementine Homilies (ii. 23) St John the Baptist is spoken of as a Hemerobaptist. Mention of the sect is made by Hegesippus (see Euseb. Hist. Eccl. iv. 22) and by Justin Martyr in the Dialogue with Trypho, § 80. They were probably a division of the Essenes.

    I wonder if that ‘Wudu’ stuff many Muslims do before some of their prayers comes from some strand of this stuff that subsisted on the fringe for another couple of centuries. We know Mani for example grew up in a sect of baptizers called Moghtasilah (connected with the Elkesaites). The Elcesaites may be mentioned in a Persepolis inscription from the third century, with a sect name mktk- from the Iranian root mak-, “to moisten” or “to wash”. Much later, in his Fihrist, the Arabic Muslim scholar ibn al-Nadim, c. 987, found Mogtasilah (“washers”), a sect of Sabians in the desert who counted al-Hasih (possibly Arabic for “Elchasai”) as their founder. https://iranicaonline.org/articles/alchasai-a-sectarian-in-the-early-christian-church-1st-2nd-centuries-a

  5. OP: “Niese put in his text ήσθησαν επι πλειστον, ‘they were overjoyed,’ instead of ήρθησαν επι πλειστον, ‘they were aroused to the highest degree of excitement,’…”

    Just to be clear, this is just a single character difference in the Greek text (see bolded character above).

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