2021-04-28

John the Baptist — Another Case for Forgery in Josephus (conclusion)

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by Neil Godfrey

All posts in this series are archived at Nir: First Christian Believer

Here is the final post discussing the introductory chapter of Rivka Nir’s The First Christian Believer: In Search of John the Baptist where she sets out her case for the John the Baptist passage in the writings of Josephus being a forgery.

For readers with so little time, the TL;DR version:

  • The baptism of John that is described in Josephus’s Antiquities is shown to be significantly different from Jewish Pharisaic baptism (Pharisee baptism was for ritual cleansing of the body independently from any call for moral purity; the Josephan John’s baptism was for bodily purity but required moral purity as a precondition);
  • It is also significantly different from the baptism attributed to the Essenes (and the hermit Bannus) by Josephus — for the same type of reason it was different from the Pharisee baptism);
  • That baptism of John appears instead to be very like baptism we read about among Jewish sectarians as in the Qumran scrolls and the Fourth Sibylline Oracle (moral purity was a precondition for the bodily sanctification effected by baptism);
  • That same type of baptism we read about in the Dead Sea scrolls and Fourth Sibylline continues to appear among early Jewish Christian sects as witnessed in the Pseudo-Clementines (moral purity a precondition for bodily purification) — the early Christian baptism appears therefore to have emerged from the Jewish sectarians;
  • The Josephan passage is polemical, apparently attacking what we associate with the orthodox Christian Pauline baptism that was a ritual performed to effect the forgiveness of sins and new spiritual life. (The Pauline and gospel baptism — especially as in the Gospel of Matthew — has nothing to do with physical purity.)
  • Origen appears to have not known of the John the Baptist passage in Josephus but we first read of awareness of it in Eusebius. We can conclude that the passage was inserted by a member of one of the early Jewish-Christian sects late third or early fourth century.

-o-

To refresh your memory, here again is the Josephan passage with the description of his baptism highlighted:

But to some of the Jews the destruction of Herod’s army seemed to be divine vengeance, and certainly a just vengeance, for his treatment of John, called the Baptist. For Herod had put him to death, though he was a good man and had exhorted the Jews who lead righteous lives and practice justice towards their fellows and piety toward God to join in baptism. In his view this was a necessary preliminary if baptism was to be acceptable to God. They must not employ it to gain pardon for whatever sins they committed, but as a consecration of the body implying that the soul was already thoroughly cleansed by righteousness. When others too joined the crowds about him, because they were aroused to the highest degree by his sermons, Herod became alarmed. Eloquence that had so great an effect on mankind might lead to some form of sedition, for it looked as if they would be guided by John in everything that they did. Herod decided therefore that it would be much better to strike first and be rid of him before his work led to an uprising, than to wait for an upheaval, get involved in a difficult situation, and see his mistake. Though John, because of Herod’s suspicions, was brought in chains to Machaerus. the stronghold that we have previously mentioned, and there put to death, yet the verdict of the Jews was that the destruction visited upon Herod’s army was a vindication of John, since God saw fit to inflict such a blow on Herod (Ant. 18.116-19).

Not a Jewish Pharisaic Baptism

Nir sets aside any possibility that the account of John’s baptism as quoted above could be a typical Jewish Pharisee baptism of the time. The Pharisaic baptism, she explains, was entirely for the purpose of cleansing the body from ritual impurities — from contact with a corpse, skin diseases, bodily discharges, and such. It had nothing to do with moral purity or righteous behaviour. To achieve forgiveness for spiritual sins one had the sacrificial cult of the Temple.

What about those passages in the Prophets that speak about washing away sins? One of many examples:

Wash yourselves; make yourselves clean; remove the evil of your doings from before my eyes; cease to do evil, learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow’ (Isaiah 1:16-20)

Some scholars have speculated that such passages were interpreted by some Jews of the day as the basis of a new baptismal ritual, one that requires repentance and spiritual purity before being immersed in water:

The similarity between the initial immersion of the Qumran community and John’s immersion probably stems from a common use of the book of Isaiah. Thus, the idea that one could be made clean in body only if one was pure in heart is probably to be derived from an interpretation of the book of Isaiah that was current among several groups in Second Temple Judaism. (Taylor, The Immerser, 88)

Such passages as these attest the early association between physical and moral purification, such as meets us in the Johannine baptism. And the ideas are close. Whoever invented the epigram “ Cleanliness is next to Godliness,” it is a fair summary of Pharisaic conceptions on the subject under discussion. (Abrahams, Studies in Pharisaism, 41)

Entirely speculative and contrary to the extant evidence, replies Nir. Jewish Pharisaic baptism was for the purification of the body “from natural and unavoidable states of impurity, such as contact with a corpse”. It was not “conditioned on inner moral repentance or spiritual purification.” (p. 53) The passages in Isaiah, the Psalms, Ezekiel, Jeremiah speaking of being cleansed or washed from sins are figurative. (I would add that such passages, if interpreted as the basis of a baptism ritual, would be more likely to prompt a baptism that is contrary to the one described in Josephus’s Antiquities because those passages speak of “washing away sins”, being “cleansed from sin” — as if the washing itself performs the moral purification.)

Yes, Philo did compare physical impurity with moral impurity, but at the same time he recognized the place of sacrifices in moral cleansing.

What of the Essenes and that hermit mentioned by Josephus, Bannus?

Rivka Nir does not assume the Essenes are to be identified as the group responsible for the Qumran practices. Essenes as described by Josephus are kept separate from the group known through the Qumran scrolls.

In War 2.119-61, Josephus describes the immersions of the Essenes. They bathed in cold water (άπολούοντοα τό σώμα ψυχροΐς ϋδασιν) for ‘purification’ (εις άγνείαν), and would wash themselves before meals (129), following defecation (149), or contact with a Gentile or person of inferior status in the sect (150). About Bannus, an ascetic hermit who lived in the wilderness, Josephus recounts that he would wash himself frequently in cold water, by day and night, for purity’s sake (λουόμενον πρός άγνείαν, Life 2.11) (Nir, 55)

That is, baptism for both is

  • self-administered
  • daily
  • in cold water
  • for physical purification

and Josephus uses similar terms for both.

With the support of an article by Bruce Chilton Rivka Nir observes of the baptism found here:

In response to a view found in some quarters that the Essenes’ baptism replaced the sacrificial cult, Nir explains at some length with multiple citations why such a view is based on a misreading of the original script of Josephus.

It has nothing to do with prior repentance or moral and spiritual purification: its administration requires no preaching or urging; it is no collective mass baptism and does not constitute an initiation rite into some elect group. Furthermore, the Essene and Bannus immersions were not a substitute for the sacrificial cult.

 

It may not be an “orthodox” Jewish baptism of the era, but Rivka Nir does see an overlap between the Josephan account and what we read in the Qumran scrolls. The key text is the Community Rule (dated by orthography and paleography between 100 BCE and 50 CE).

A Jewish-Christian Baptism

Rivka Nir’s argument is that Jewish sectarian baptisms stressing moral purity as a condition for ritually cleansing the body by immersion existed side by side early Jewish-Christian sects in opposition to the Christian baptism known to us from the Pauline tradition.

We start with the evidence for Jewish sects having a baptism in parallel with what we read about John’s in Josephus.

From https://www.textmanuscripts.com/blog/entry/11_16_deadseascrolls

Qumran scrolls

In the Community Rule 1QS 2.26-3.12 we see the same type of baptism that Josephus depicts for John — ritual cleansing of immersion into water is effective if one is first repentant:

And anyone who declines to enter the covenant of God in order to walk in the stubbornness of his heart shall not enter the community of his truth … For it is by the spirit of the true counsel of God that are atoned the paths of man, all his iniquities, so that he can look at the light of life. And it is by the holy spirit of the community , in its truth, that he is cleansed of all his iniquities. And by the spirit of uprightness and of humility his sin is atoned. And by the compliance of his soul with all the laws of God his flesh is cleansed by being sprinkled with cleansing waters and being made holy with the waters of repentance. May he, then, steady his steps in order to walk with perfection on all lhe paths of God, as he has decreed concerning the appointed times of his assemblies and not turn aside, either right or left nor infringe even one of all his words. In this way he will be admitted by means of atonement pleasing to God, and for him it will be the covenant of an everlasting Community.

Also as with the Josephan baptism of John we see the effect at a community level.

At Qumran, as in John’s baptism, justice (righteousness) was the means to purification and expiation of sins . . . And like John’s baptism, the Qumran baptism appears to have been one of the conditions for admission to the congregation: and it was similarly a collective baptism and a substitute for the sacrificial cult. (Nir, 60)

Also the Fourth Sibylline 

Another Jewish group, one responsible for the Fourth Sibylline (dated to about 80 CE), takes the same position:

Ah! wretched mortals, change these things, and do not lead the great God to all sorts of anger, but abandon daggers and groaning, murders and outrages, and wash your whole bodies in perennial rivers. Stretch out your hands to heaven and ask forgiveness for your previous deeds and make propitiation for bitter impiety with words of praise: God will grant repentance and will not destroy. He will stop his wrath again if you all practice honorable piety in your hearts.”

Scholars who acknowledge the Jewish provenance of the fourth Sibylline oracle have at the same time noted its echoes of Christian Baptist circles:

The distinctive doctrines of Sibylline Oracles 4 then are baptism, as a prerequisite for salvation, and the rejection of temple cults. To these must be added a lively expectation of the end. This complex of doctrines finds its closest parallels in the beliefs of the Christian Ebionites and Elcasaites. There is nothing in Sibylline Oracles 4 to suggest Christian authorship, but the book was presumably written in Jewish baptist circles, of a kind similar to those Christian sectarian movements and perhaps historically related to them. (Collins, p. 383)

So we have here another indicator that some Jews had ideas about baptism that were similar to those of the John in Josephus and those of the Qumran community:

The author of the Fourth Sibylline instructs people that, once they have abandoned their sins, they are to purify their entire body in living water, beseech heaven to forgive their former deeds and heal their evil transgressions through prayer, whereupon God will extend repentance and cease from his anger (Nir, 61)

One of the earlier Christian texts expresses the same view . . .

Hebrews 10:22

Baptism goes hand in hand with spiritual purity, spiritual purity preceding the immersion that cleanses:

let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. (Hebrews 10:22)

We find the existence of the same form of baptism as late as the fourth century:

Apostolic Constitutions

And when it remains that the catechumen is to be baptized, let him leant what concerns the renunciation of the devil, and the joining himself with Christ: for it is fit that he should first abstain from things contrary, and then be admitted to the mysteries. He must beforehand purity his heart from all wickedness of disposition, from all spot and wrinkle, and then partake of the holy things: for as the skilfullest husbandman does first purge his ground of the thorns which are grown up therein, and does then sow his wheal, so ought you also to take away all impietv from them, and then to sow the seeds of piety in them, and vouchsafe them baptism.

Cyril of Jerusalem

For since man is of twofold nature, soul and body, the purification also is twofold, the one incorporeal for the incorporeal part, and the other bodily for the body: the water cleanses the body. and the Spirit seals the soul: that we may draw near unto God. having our heart sprinkled the Spirit and our body· washed with pure water’ (Heb. 10.22).

Pseudo-Clementines— language very like John’s baptism

purify your hearts from evil by heavenly reasoning, and wash your bodies in the bath. For purification according to the truth, is not that the purity of the body precedes purification after the heart, but that purity [of the body] follows goodness [of the heart] (Recognitions, 6.11)

In the Preaching of Peter, likely a source for the Pseudo-Clementines,

But what? If the keeping of one’s self pure (καθαραΐαν) did not belong to the (true) worship of God, would you wallow gladly in filth like dung-beetles (κάνθαροι) ? Therefore cleanse your hearts from wickedness by heavenly thoughts, as men who as rational beings stand above dumb brutes, and wash your bodies with water. 3. For to keep one’s self pure is truly worth aspiring after not because purity of the body precedes purity of the heart, but because purity follows goodness. 4. Therefore our teacher convicted some of the Pharisees and scribes among us, who arc separate and as scribes know the law better than others, and (described) them as hypocrites because they kept clean only what is visible to men, but neglected purity of the heart, which is visible to God alone. (Kerygmata Petrou, 11.28.2)

Why Water? Nir refers to Schoeps and here I go a step further and mention some interesting details in Schoeps that do not directly pertain to Nir’s argument: For the Ebionites, flowing water became a substitute for the temple’s sacrificial fire, since Jesus by baptism extinguished the fire that the high priest kindled for sins; the Ebionites revered water as the original element of creation “which had been ordained for the rebirth of mankind.” They believed baptism in water protected them from fire. Water and spirit were identical given that the original element of creation was water that had been moved by the spirit (wind) from God — hence the need for running water for baptism. See Schoeps, Jewish Christianity, 105f.

Nir’s assessment:

The affinity of John’s baptism with baptisms in the Qumran scrolls, the Fourth Sibylline, the Pseudo-Clementines and Apostolic Constitutions allows the inference that this baptism came into being amid sectarian circles at the margins of Second Temple Judaism, such as the Qumran sect and the circle that produced the Sibylline Oracles, and persisted within Jewish-Christian groups during the first centuries CE. It was a baptism that still retained a close connection with Jewish ritual washings for purity of the body but already incorporated an aspect of inner repentance distinctive of Christian baptism. At the same time, unlike the sacramental Pauline baptism in which water effectively brings repentance and forgiveness of sins, this baptism was preceded by repentance, and it is repentance that brings forgiveness of sins. Thus, in all these groups, baptism was perceived as substitute for the sacrificial cult at the temple. (p. 64)

We know from Epiphanius and the Pseudo-Clementines that some Jewish-Christian groups such as the Ebionites continued to observe the form of baptism we read about in Josephus’s account of John: a ritual for bodily sanctification that had to be preceded by spiritual purity. As an initiation rite into the elite community it may have been a one-time event. However, there are indications that the same assemblies additionally practised regular washings to maintain physical purity. The Pseudo-Clementines do tell us that John the Baptist’s baptism was a daily observance, and the same Pseudo-Clementines further inform us that disciples of John the Baptist thought of him as their messiah (Recognitions, 1:54, 60, 63).

But that he came to deal with the doctrines of religion happened on this wise. There was one John, a day-baptist . . .  (Homiles, 2:23)

But Why the Interpolation of a Jewish-Christian Baptism?

Nir explains why she reads the passage in Josephus as being argumentative:

Of note is the author’s rhetoric of negation, which emphasizes that baptism would be acceptable to God ’not if they employ it (baptism) to gain pardon for whatever sins they committed, but as a consecration of the body implying (or on condition) that the soul was already thoroughly cleansed by righteousness (p. 65)

The author sounds as if he is trying to set the record straight and establish the priority of a “true” baptism.

In the Gospel of Matthew (3:11) Nir reads John declaring that his baptism is “for repentance”:

In Matthew, John’s baptism in water is defined as baptism ‘for repentance [εις μετάνοιαν]’ (3.11), namely, baptism in water causes and brings to repentance, to inner purification bearing forgiveness of sins to the baptized. Accordingly, repentance is not a preliminary’ condition for baptism. (p. 66 … Nir contrasts Matthew’s wording with that found in Mark and Luke where it is more vague or ambiguous, “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins”.)

John in Josephus sounds as if he is dismissing the idea that baptism is some sort of magic ritual that can replace repentance. In Christianity as we have come to know it, however, baptism “became a sacrament that washed away the sins of the baptized.”

Contrast Paul’s explanation of baptism in Acts . . .

namely, a ‘baptism for repentance’, in which baptizing in water actually effects repentance and inner spiritual purification, which was intended ‘to gain pardon for whatever sins’—it carries forgiveness of one’s sins and the baptized emerges from the baptismal water pure and clean.

Thus in Acts (22.16), Paul instructs: ‘Get up, be baptized, and have your sins washed away, calling on his name’. According to Barn. 11.11, ‘we go down into the water full of sin and pollution, and go up bearing fruit in the heart, having in the spirit fear and hope toward Jesus’. Hermas says. Ί have even now heard from certain teachers that there is no other repentance beside that of baptism, when we go down into the water and receive the forgiveness of our sins; and that after that, we must sin no more, but live in purity’. And John Chrysostom similarly says:

After this anointing, the priest makes you go down into the sacred waters, burying the old man and at the same time raising the new, who is renewed in the image of his Creator. It is at this moment that, through the words and the hand of the priest, the Holy Spirit descends upon you. Instead of the man who descended into the water, a different man comes forth, who has wiped away the filth of his sins, who has put off the old garment of sin and has put on the royal robe.

The Pauline interpretation of baptism also rejected the function of physical purification, as emerges from 1 Pet. 3.21. Baptism, the writer of this letter expounds, is not ‘a removal of dirt from the body’, but ‘a pledge to God of (or appeal to God for) a good conscience’.

Other Christian affiliations that were considered marginal are also known to have practised a baptism that must have been anathema to these Jewish Christians. For the Elkesaites baptism atoned for sins. There were also the Hemerobaptists. And another branch, one that was certainly far from marginal, was the Marcionites. In Epiphanius’s work on Marcionites we read

(6) Marcionite baptism is not administered just once; in Marcionite congregations it is allowable to give up to three baptisms and more to anyone who wishes, as I have heard from many. (7) But he got into this way of allowing the giving of three baptisms and even more because of the scorn he suffered from his disciples who had known him, for his transgression and the seduction of the virgin. (8) Since he was in a state of grievous sin after seducing the virgin in his own city and fleeing, the tramp invented a second baptism for himself. He said that it is permissible for as many as three baths, that is baptisms, to be given for the remission of sins, so that if one were to fall away the first time he might repent and, on repentance, receive a second baptism—and a third likewise, if he transgresses after the second. (Pan 42.3.6-9)

The baptism of John that we read in Josephus — with its preservation of the Jewish interest in the link between physical and spiritual purification — is clearly opposed to the baptism of Pauline Christianity.

Other Options

Was there a historical John the Baptist who preached the sort of baptism we read about in Josephus? If so, did Christians find a reason to use this figure of whom Josephus wrote and weave him into their origin narrative? If so, they presumably modified his actual teaching to make it suit theirs. That is the view of Steve Mason. Mason suggests that we can accordingly see hints of that original John the Baptist be reading between the lines of the gospels.

Or was the original John the Baptist closer to what we read about in the gospels? Did Josephus remove the Christian associations from him (presumably he heard about him via oral traditions)?

For Rivka Nir there is a third option that does not involve the hand of Josephus:

a third option: the tradition incorporated into Josephus’s Antiquities is not from the hand of the historian but rather is an interpolation by a Christian or a Jewish-Christian intent on substantiating the historical figure of John the Baptist and at the same time on promoting his own perceptions of Christian baptism. (p. 69)

The passage in Josephus thus reflects an “intra-Christian polemic at the initial consolidation phases of the baptismal rite in the first centuries CE.” The baptism inserted into the text of Josephus originated in Second Temple Judaism among marginal sects (Qumran, Fourth Sibylline) and was continued by Jewish Christians for some centuries in opposition to other more widespread forms of Christianity.

When?

Since the passage in Josephus is unknown to Origen (who died around 253 CE) yet appears in Eusebius (born around ten years later) Nir reasonably infers that it was interpolated around about 300 CE.  The Pseudo-Clementines and Apostolic Constitutions, with their similar wording and theology as found in the Josephan John’s baptism, are dated to around the same period, Nir notes.

Interestingly, Nir also maintains that not only the Jesus passage in Josephus (Testimonium Flavianum) but also the James passage are interpolations from about the same time.

–o–

Several readers here will recall Frank Zindler’s similar conclusion:

The fact that the picture of the Baptist is quite different from that exhibited in the gospels has led many scholars to suppose that Josephus actually wrote the words above. But such scholars have failed to realize that many noQ-gospel views of the Baptist existed during the first three centuries (indeed, a decidedly non-gospel type of John the Baptist holds a very prominent place in the Mandaean religion to this day), and an unknown number of the might have held the opinion now supposed to have been that of Josephus.

Zindler, Frank R. The Jesus the Jews Never Knew: Sepher Toldoth Yeshu and the Quest of the Historical Jesus in Jewish Sources. Cranford, NJ: American Atheist Press, 2003. p. 97


Abrahams, Israel. Studies in Pharisaism and the Gospels. London: Cambridge [England.] University Press, 1917. http://archive.org/details/studiesinpharisa0000abra_s7z8.

Collins, John H. “The Sibylline Oracles, Book 4.” In The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, Volume 1: Apocalyptic Literature and Testaments, edited by James H. Charlesworth, 1 edition. New York; London: Yale University Press, 1983.

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

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

Schoeps, Hans Joachim. Jewish Christianity: Factional Disputes in the Early Church. Fortress Press, 1969.

Taylor, Joan. The Immerser: John the Baptist Within Second Temple Judaism. Grand Rapids, Mich: Eerdmans, 1997.


 

 

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14 thoughts on “John the Baptist — Another Case for Forgery in Josephus (conclusion)”

  1. A possibility is that the interpolator wanted to invent a John figure who had as particular feature, inter alia, also his fate of decapitation, so similar to that of Theudas, since some Christians were going to claim that Theudas was the Risen Christ.
    Evidence:
    1) Valentinus said that his Paul knew Theudas (as the same Risen Christ?).
    2) The episode of the doubtful Thomas in GJohn may reflect a sectarian polemic against Thomas/Theudas’ claim that he (=Theudas) was the Risen Christ.
    3) the possibility that Irenaeus placed Christ still alive under Claudius to confute better the claims of who identified the Risen Christ with Theudas.
    4) the possibility that in Acts’ Gamaliel’s speech, Theudas is placed before Judas the Galilean, so that he couldn’t appear as the Risen Christ.

    By recycling the post-Jesus Theudas as the pre-Jesus “John the Baptist”, then the Valentinians could be easily confuted in both their claims: that Theudas was the Risen Christ, and that Theudas was anti-YHWH as Valentinus proclaimed.

    1. I have been thinking Theudas and James had the original relationship retained in the John/Jesus relationship. And that Judas and James served as the original first and second come messiahs.

      As Theudas replaces Judas, John is invented to preserve the relationship – the idea of the one who prepared the way. Now we can have someone like Vespasian or Titus become the second coming in lieu of James. This is convenient because Theudas can now serve as the object of Paul’s visions. And Titus can become the messiah of both establishment Judaism and radical messianic Judaism, in the context of Philonic teachings which were also palatable to the Greco-Roman world.

      Finally, as for placing John in the 30s, I believe this is nothing more than a conceit to avoid embarrassing Herod Agrippa. Making Antipas the villain of Theudas’s (John’s) story, thus hated Pilate as the villain of Jesus’s, means avoiding embarrassment for Tiberius Alexander and Herod Agrippa – who were still active by 70 AD.

      My instincts are that the “Christianity” of 70-90AD was nothing more than Philonic Judaism using Paul to hijack zealot belief so as to make Titus messiah and world prince of peace. Or, Philonic Judaism with Titus as world prince and High Priest, and the Pax Romana as the Kingdom of Heaven. It borrowed Theudas as a more pacifistic messiah. We can see that with Domitian’s persecutions, then the commentary of Pliny the Younger, that this movement almost completely dissolved. I’m also inclined to the concept that the synoptic gospels began as a stage play that self-consciously presented a non-historically accurate rendition of the life of Christ (Theudas) to serve the “Christianity” of the Flavian Household. All the more reason to avoid embarrassing any Herodians (or members of Philo’s family!)

      There’s so much prevalence of Gnosticism prior to 150AD, but hardly any Christianity until afterwards. Which is why I think that Christianity as we know it didn’t really congeal until around 170AD as a reaction to Gnosticism and more specifically to Marcion. I think we should also assume that Marcion did discover texts from the 70-90 period, and perhaps everyone misunderstood their context.

      By 200AD, there’s a somewhat recognizable Christian movement, and that’s why we don’t see it in history – really – until then. This is when we finally have documents, historical kings converting, actual archeological evidence and so forth.

      I’d wager the birth of a viable Christian movement occurred around 170-200AD, and we might expect that major interpolations and forgeries are occurring at this time. For instance, inauthentic epistles of Paul to address idiosyncrasies of the day. If you think about it, prior to this period, there’s such a dearth of writings that it’s impossible to say what kind of “Christian” our supposed Christians are.

  2. It sounds like at this point it is a tossup whether John the Baptist existed, perhaps mythicism is even the simpler explanation.

    John’s name means Grace and Jesus’ name Salvation, could Jesus’ baptism by John prior to his ministry and resurrection be a way of illustrating that “Salvation comes through grace”?

  3. The Christian interpolator could have inserted anything after the following authentic phrase by Josephus:

    Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God as a just punishment of what Herod had done against John.

    Without the interpolation, the reader would have realized, seeing that a “John” is mentioned the first time without explanation, that that “John” was the name of the Samaritan false prophet punished by Pilate.
    A reason to think so is that Josephus doesn’t give the name of the Samaritan false prophet, hence reserving possibly his mention for another time: when he would have talked about the defeat of Herod by Aretas. This would fit — not coincidentially — the pattern of the punitions received, in sequence:

    by Pilate (disgraced for the insistence of the Samaritans)
    by Ananus (replaced by order of Vitellius)
    by Herod (punished by Aretas).

    1. Perhaps – but this unknown interpolator doesn’t take the opportunity to add a better gospels-friendly biography of Jesus at the same time, which would have been the far more pressing interpolation to make given a 300 date.

      I’m still inclined to think Josephus knew of a baptizing – and executed – John, second or third-hand. My worry lately has been whether this is the source for Mark’s John.

    1. Mr. Gmirkin,

      The not-quite-Jewish radical messianism of the first century. Have you considered the idea of a pan-Israelite nationalistic Great Awakening? It offers a lot of potentially useful context, but is also dependent on your interpretation of the original relationship between Omri’s kingdom and Judah, and a sense of what kind of non-Jewish identity these Israelites would have carried with them into Assyria.

      I have recently begun to conceive of a kind of Hebrew or Israelite identity during the first century that is not Jewish. I think there’s plenty of evidence for this, but we see that either these groups are ignored, pigeonholed as merely “Jewish”, or otherwise discounted.

      For example, the Itureans (Jews by forced conversion during Alexander Jannaeus’s reign) are hardly mentioned in spite of the size of the realm between Galilee and Damascus. They’re, ostensibly, Jews. But only by forced conversion. Could these have been understood at the time as ethnic “Israelites”, Samaritan-like, but outside of the Jewish religion and therefore requiring a conversion to proper form?

      Then there’s Anileus and Asineus of the Nisibis area, representing what seems like almost an entire nation or kingdom of “Jews of Babylon”. It seems clear from historical context that these could be descended from the Assyrian captives, and therefore not quite “Jewish”.

      Then we have the Samaritans, who believe themselves to be proudly, fully Israel, but with major disagreements with the Jews nonetheless.

      We see the Samaritans waiting for “the Taheb” who will fix Israelite religion – a teacher. The Davidic king, the messiah, is a distinctly Jewish concept they don’t necessarily acknowledge.

      Could the two messiahs of the zealots have been a synthesis of Hellenized Jewish (Hasmonean/Ezraite) ideas with Israelite folk traditions?

      We have to also consider that the Severan dynasty of Roman emperors were Sampsiceramids who were effectively the lords of the Ishmaelite tribes which would have overlapped with the same areas as these “Greater Israel” Hebrews, and that Caracalla had a particular axe to grind in Arbela for some reason during his conquest of Babylon. Could an Arab/Hebrew rivalry in the Syrian arc have further led to redactions about a greater Israelite nation in Assyria, considering the Emesene control of Rome for multiple generations?

      Josephus says that Izates fought the Arab Abia, who arose due to the consternation of Izates’ grandees at his own Jewishness. Abia is not a name, it is a title for the leader of a tribal confederacy. One such, the phylarch of Osrhoene, fought alongside Philip I in his defeat of the last active Seleucids. This Aziz founded the Sampsiceramid dynasty in Emesa.

      Izates fought Abia at his fortress Arsamus. The Emesene castle is Ash-Shmamish, and at the appropriate time for this story, Sampsiceramus II was killed because of unclear geopolitics. The remarkable conclusions is that Izates the Jewish King of Parthian Adiabene is fighting for his rights in Roman Syria.

      My reconciliation of this is that Philip I’s disappearance from history after he lost Damascus in 82BC was not hardly that, but rather he became known from that point as Ptolemy Menneus – and that this Philip Epiphanes was the same as Osrhoene’s “Ma’nu II who was called God”, who was given Osrhoene by the Romans following their defeat of Armenia and reorganization of Syria in 63BC. It must be noted that the Romans began printing Philip I coins out of Antioch even at this late moment. And Menneus could easily be from Ma’nu.

      Ptolemy Menneus’s son Philippion is a good candidate for Philip Epiphanes’ son Philip II. This Philip II would then be Ma’nu III Saflul (relevant meaning in Hebrew: the cap of the Tabor Oak acorn which does exactly resemble the Babylonian crown seen on coins marked with Ma’nu’s name). I will go so far as to claim that this same Philip II/Ma’nu III was known as Tiridates II of Parthia who is important for capturing the Parthian princes and bringing them to Augustus. The geopolitical compromise that resulted from this, between Rome and Parthia, was brokered in 23BC – the same year Herod appoints Simon Boethus as High Priest. I believe that Simon is a son of the Hasmonean princess Alexandra with either Ptolemy Menneus or Philippion (as per Josephus). And that Cleopatra of Jerusalem is a pseudonym for Mariamne Boethus, to protect Philip’s reputation from the family’s downfall from grace (Cleopatra’s eldest, Herod, mentioned only the once, being Mariamne’s Herod II, of course).

      This means that Simon Boethus’s elevation to the High Priesthood (once in union with the throne of Judea, and hereditary), and Herod II’s elevation as Herod’s principal heir (for a time), represents a political union between Herod’s Jewish kingdom and the vague sets of alliances and suzerainty that Ma’nu III (Tiridates II) maintained from Galilee to Assyria.

      I could go on to suggest that Herod II probably inherited Chalcis of Lebanon, which Herod had conceded back to Ptolemy’s family as part of the deal of 23 (since it is conspicuously absent from his will, but mentioned in abundance before and after), and therefore couldn’t disinherit Herod II from it. That Caesaria Philippi put Philip close to his brother Herod (II) “bar Ptolemy”. Philip and Bartholomew. How the Gamalans, Ananians, and Adiabenians were all connected to the mysterious Bathyra of Batanea founded by Zamaris (who is almost certainly Monobazus, or rather Abgar Ukkama – for the purpose of dealing with Zenodorus, a kin stripped of rights to the region). How Simon Cantheras’s family – Lazarus, Martha (and Mary?) hypothetically in Batanea – serves as a wonderfully close parallel to the family of Lazarus of Bethany. How the Qumranite pseudonymic city of Nasara is probably Bathyra or a colony of Nisibis Jews in the same region (the lands near Damascus). And that this Nasara is almost certainly our “Nazareth”. You get the point.

      So, I’m suggesting that the “x-factor” in understanding the radical messianism whose doctrines fed Gnosticism and Christianity is the presence of a vast geopolitical contest in the Syrian arc involving a rather large population of not-quite-Jewish Israelites. One can see how this could be a reality hiding in plain sight, nevertheless overlooked by history. Never mind the iron curtain of the boundary between the Roman and Parthian empires right in the middle of this zone, and the preeminence of Armenian, Parthian or Judean court politics in overshadowing any events that affect it consequentially.

      As far as I can tell, even some of the priesthood caste of Jerusalem were sympathetic to seemingly not-at-all-Jewish theology coming out of Qumran. This makes more sense if first century Hebrews still conceived of an Israel and Israelite religious tradition that was larger and broader than Jewry. I mean this in the sense of what Omri’s kingdom means in your own presentation of that history. That the strange gnostic-like or Enochian beliefs of the era were long standing elements of Israelite folk traditions which mostly the Jews sought to downplay or move away from.

      As for Christianity, I see it as a Philonic/Herodian revision of the zealot theology, by way of Paul, to bring it back to a more universalistic, Greco-Roman friendly Judaism. Specifically, taking Judas the “Taheb” and James the Davidic conqueror – first and second comings of messiah – and transposing these roles onto Theudas and Titus respectively (if you can believe it).

      As for Paul, I favor the interpretation of Jacob Berman that in spite of the many revisions and fabrications, the original Pauline epistles had a Herodian author – however – this author posing as Paul used as source material the writings of Ananus the High Priest to Adiabene. That is, the author of Paul’s authentic letters is plagiarizing theological content from Ananus in order to give Christ a cosmic crucifixion during the transition away from Judas and James as messiahs.

      Berman has supposed that the original writings of Ananus were letters to the court of Adiabene (whom he converted to Judaism), presenting a vision of their deceased king Bazeus ascending to Heaven – which is a trope of Babylonian culture. The trope does not treat such an event as an apotheosis, but rather as the return of the god-spirit – which had inhabited the king, making him an avatar of god – to heaven. Berman’s premise is that Ananus uses this trope, but represents the god-spirit as Logos. This is an attempt to use Philonic ideas to argue for Jewish theology in a more accommodative, universalistic way. That is, using Logos, Ananus was merely trying to argue for a Jewish interpretation of the beliefs surrounding the king’s death.

      The Herodian writer of Paul’s authentic epistles is using Ananus’s vision of Bazeus-as-Logos to provide theologically descriptive red meat which define a more heavenly, archetypal Christ more consistent with Hellenic ideals.

      My theory is that this letter of Ananus about Bazeus-as-Logos to Adiabene was relatively well known for a time, considered Jewish and not Christian, and is the basis for the Doctrine of Addai legend of Abgar corresponding about Christ. If that real life letter contained the theological kernel of Pauline Christianity, no wonder it was considered important enough to redact into a more orthodox telling centuries later.

      Still, even this points to a general theological contest between more Hellenized Jews, and those of the East. The kings of Adiabene could in theory have served as an Eastern messiah, had they embraced the concept – the Bathyrans escaped to Gamala had certainly hoped for their involvement during the revolt. Seeing the efforts of the Ananians to keep Adiabene in the Herodian/Alexandrian camp is also revealing.

      As the West catholicized Christianity, we see the East – Edessa and Adiabene in particular – instead “plagued” by Gnosticism, Mandeanism, Manicheanism, Marcionism, and finally Nestorianism. So perhaps this is further evidence of a post-Judaism in the West expressing Greek ideas while the post-Israelite religion in the East is expressing Gnostic and almost Vedic ideas. Using the same set of core characters.

      1. These are not suggestions I have encountered before. The Mesopotamian connection is important, especially in connection with the Jewish War when some rebels expected help to come from that quarter. I will only comment here that you have left out the Idumeans who were also forcibly converted to Judaism. This becomes relevant considering that the line of Herod was Idumean. I don’t recall any sociological academic study on the status of these religious-but-not-ethnic Jews in Second Temple times.

      2. Almost Vedic concepts have been recognized by late Hermann Detering particularly in the cult of Basilides, which also can be related to the famous Odes of Solomon. Unfortunately the author died before the conclusion of this research, but there are still several relevant articles on radikalkritik.de, enough tosee what is going on.

  4. One thing that occurred to me recently (apologies if Nir covers this, have not yet read Nir): Baptism for remission of sins could only be a later creation, as it derives from the baptism being associated with sharing in Christ’s death which was for the remission of sins, which could not have been a theological interpretation pre-existing Christianity). Strong indication that a scene so many scholars insist is historical could have never happened.

  5. Elchasaistes have been identified by late Hermann Detering as one of the enemies of Paul in the epistles, especially the one to the Colossians.

    radikalkritik.de/wp-content/uploads/2016/06/Elchasai-im-Kolosserbrief_4.pdf

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