Musings on biblical studies, politics, religion, ethics, human nature, tidbits from science
Category: Biblical Studies
The biggie. Much work needs to be done on the children of this category. These need to be greatly reduced in number.
Should this category include the ancient history of Palestine-Judea, including second temple era and Bar Kochba rebellion and rise of rabbinic culture? If so, should Biblical Studies itself be renamed in some way?
An examination of the claim that “Paul refers to his teachings that Jesus made during in his earthly ministry, on divorce . . .”
External facts / context related to interpretation
1 Corinthians 7:10-11
To the married I give this command (not I, but the Lord): A wife must not separate from her husband. 1 But if she does, she must remain unmarried or else be reconciled to her husband. And a husband must not divorce his wife.
Paul is recollecting the teaching of Jesus found in Mark 10:9-12 and Luke 16:18 that others had passed on to him. (“Paul cites Apostolic, Jewish-Christian tradition as his source of authority.” (Tomson, 117))
… Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate. … Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery.
Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and he who marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery.
Paul insisted he learned nothing from others about the gospel of Jesus
Galatians 1:11-12; 2:6
I want you to know, brothers and sisters, that the gospel I preached is not of human origin. I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it; rather, I received it by revelation from Jesus Christ.
. . . As for those who were held in high esteem—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not show favoritism—they added nothing to my message.
One wonders if it was possible that this rudimentary principle, which is alien to ancient society but was recognized by the whole of primitive Christianity, should have remained unknown in Corinth. At all events it is expressed in such a way that it sounds as if Paul was making it known for the first time. (Conzelmann, 120)
Baur has objected that if Paul had meant to cite a positive command of the Lord, he must have used the pastπαρήγγειλεν (He commanded), and not the present. . . . No doubt it might also be that the apostle meant to say he had received this command by revelation (Godet, 332f)
Paul omits the limitation put by the Lord on the command not to separate: “unless it be for adultery.” (Godet, 333)
Thus Paul not only corrects himself, but knowingly cites Jesus’ prohibition of divorce and passes it on in indirect discourse to married believers in an absolute, unqualified form, as coming from the risen Christ. Cf. 14:37, “a commandment of the Lord. (Fitzmyer, 292)
What can be said as to which of the Gospel traditions is closest to the Pauline formulation? There is hardly any agreement between the various discussions of this question. . . . the question as to which of the various Synoptic formulations seems presupposed by Paul’s formulation must be left open. (Dungan, 133-134)
Paul makes no attempt to cite the words of the historical Jesus (Collins, 269)
[Elsewhere when delivering moral teachings] Paul … characteristically gives no indication that he is aware that he is using the language of Jesus, or acting in obedience to his precepts (Barrett, 112)
The context of I Cor 7:10 (vv 1-9) suggest Paul is addressing couples who are challenged by one party wishing to become an ascetic (an issue found frequently in second-century sources) so the situation is different from the divorce sayings in the gospels:
Paul’s specific references to the teaching of Jesus are notoriously few. . . Paul is dealing (perhaps not exclusively) with marriages that are threatened by an ascetic view of sexual relations. (Barrett, 162f)
Others think that the question of a possible divorce has arisen in Roman Corinth because some Christian spouses there were already abstaining from intercourse for ascetic reasons (Fitzmyer, 291)
It is undeniable that Paul felt sympathetic to the ideal proposed by the ascetics, but he could not permit it to be imposed as a general rule. (Murphy-O’Connor, 605)
Doubts against the historicity of the teaching of Jesus in Mark 10:9-12 —
The arguments against authenticity are: the Markan version reflects the situation of the early community; the variations in the tradition suggest that the community struggled to adapt some teaching to its own context; the appeal to scripture in vv. 6-7 is not characteristic of Jesus but reflects the Christian use of the Greek Bible; familiarity with Roman rather than Israelite marriage law in vv. 11-12 indicates a later, gentile context. Further, the roles of Jesus and the Pharisees seem reversed: here the Pharisees view the Mosaic law as permitting divorce, whereas Jesus cites the scripture in support of a more stringent view. (Funk, 88f)
and in Luke 16:18 —
Matthew adds infidelity as the one exception to the absolute rule on divorce. A different version is found in Mark 10:2-12//Matt 19:3-9, in which divorce is made contrary to God’s order in creation (‘What God has coupled together, no one should separate’). The confusion in the transmission of the tradition led many Fellows to designate this saying in Luke as gray [=”Jesus did not say this, but the idea is close to his own”] or black [=”Jesus did not say this. The saying comes from a later time”]. The confusion in the jesus tradition is matched by confusion in the lore of the period. (Funk, 360)
The above are not intended to suggest they are the only factors to be considered. Some of the sources quoted above attempt to answer the negative considerations I have cited. Example, in response to Baur’s point about the past tense, Godet writes,
But the command of Jesus is regarded as abiding for the Church throughout all time. (Godet, 332)
Opposed to the arguments against authenticity, Funk et al first lists those “for”:
The arguments in favor of authenticity are: remarks on the subject by Jesus are preserved in two or more independent sources and in two or more different contexts; an injunction difficult for the early community to practice is evidence of a more original version; Jesus’ response is in the form of an aphorism that undercuts social and religious convention. Further, the Markan version implies a more elevated view of the status of women than was generally accorded them in the patriarchal society of the time, which coheres with other evidence that Jesus took a more liberal view of women. (Funk, 88)
It’s an interesting question, the source of Paul’s appeal to “the command of the Lord” here. As one commentator remarks with some puzzlement, Paul only cites the command to offer a contradiction to it — accepting the possibility of divorce anyway. (The word “separation” is said to be used often enough for “divorce”.) The rationale of Jesus in the Gospel of Mark for forbidding divorce is an appeal to Genesis and creation — the same rationale we find in the Dead Sea Scrolls. Some commentators say that Paul is appealing to Jesus’ command this time because he knows he is contradicting the Hebrew Scriptures, but it is also pointed out that the Scriptures themselves are contradictory: God hates divorce, he says through his prophets, but through Moses he permits it. Should we see here in this section of 1 Corinthians another allusion to the author presenting himself as a prophet of God, as another Moses, even — declaring the law of God but at the same time acknowledging some flexibility, as per the Old Covenant?
Re: “teachings that Jesus made during his earthly ministry, . . . on preachers and on the coming apocalypse”
Continuing in the next post.
Barrett, C. K. A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians. 2nd ed.. Black’s New Testament Commentaries. London: Black, 1971.
Collins, Raymond F. First Corinthians. Sacra Pagina. Collegeville, Minn: Michael Glazier, 1999.
Conzelmann, Hans. 1 Corinthians: A Commentary on the First Epistle to the Corinthians. Edited by George W. MacRae. Translated by James W. Leitch. Hermeneia. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1975.
Dungan, David L. The Sayings of Jesus in the Churches of Paul; Use of the Synoptic Tradition in the Regulation of Early Church Life. Fortress Press, 1971. http://archive.org/details/sayingsofjesusin00dung.
Fee, Gordon D. The First Epistle to the Corinthians. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids, Mich: W.B. Eerdmans, 1987.
Fitzmyer, Joseph A. First Corinthians. New Haven ; London: Yale University Press, 2008.
Funk, Robert W., Roy W. Hoover, and The Jesus Seminar. The Five Gospels: The Search for the Authentic Words of Jesus: New Translation and Commentary. New York: Polebridge Press, 1993.
Godet, Frédéric. Commentary on St. Paul’s First Epistle to the Corinthians. Translated by A. Cusin. Vol. 1. Edinburgh: T. & T. Clark, 1889. http://archive.org/details/commentaryonstpa01godeuoft.
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome. “The Divorced Woman in 1 Cor 7:10-11.” Journal of Biblical Literature 100, no. 4 (1981): 601–6. https://doi.org/10.2307/3266121.
Thiselton, Anthony C. The First Epistle to the Corinthians: A Commentary on the Greek Text. The New International Greek Testament Commentary. Grand Rapids, Mich.: W.B. Eerdmans, 2000.
Tomson, Peter. Paul and the Jewish Law: Halakha in the Letters of the Apostle to the Gentiles. Netherlands: Brill, 1991.
The point of this post is to demonstrate how easy it is to read documents from the perspective of commonly accepted knowledge and mistakenly misread them, thinking they say what we have always assumed they say, and to fail to register that the original texts are not quite as clear in their meaning — nor even as assuredly “authentic” — as we have always assumed.
A historian needs to work with facts to have any chance of proposing a narrative or hypothesis that is going to stand up to scrutiny. The facts lie in the sources we use. But sources must be interpreted and it is easy to read into a source what we think it must be saying.
The key point here is that … Paul’s letters … do contain references that indicate Paul understood Jesus to have been a recent, historical, and earthly human being who was elevated to higher status after his death.
External facts / context related to interpretation
In Romans we read it said that the revelation about Jesus is recent; it is the revelation of Jesus that happened in Paul’s time.
the message I proclaim about Jesus Christ, in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God
The things revealed in that revelation happened “now”, “very recently”.
1 Peter 1:18-20
… you were redeemed … with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. He was chosen before the creation of the world, but was revealed in these last times for your sake.
Belief in the recency of an event does not support its historical truth: Examples…
Ancient writings inform us that the ancients also believed gods and goddesses (sometimes in human form) were periodically seen by sundry eyewitnesses and not only in a mythical time.
The second-century author Lucian wrote a biography of his teacher, Demonax, whom many readers have subsequently assumed — wrongly — to have been a historical figure.
Ned Ludd was understood to have been a recent figure, if not a contemporary, of protestors in eighteenth-century England.
External facts / context related to interpretation
No historical context is found for Jesus in Paul’s letters except for:
1 Thessalonians 2:14-15
in Judea … those churches suffered from the Jews who killed the Lord Jesus and the prophets and also drove us out.
but scholars are not agreed that this passage is genuinely from Paul so it is not a secure base from which to make a point about Paul’s thought. See https://vridar.org/tag/1-thessalonians-213-16/ for the scholars’ reasons for interpolation.
1 Timothy 6:13
Christ Jesus, who while testifying before Pontius Pilate made the good confession
Overwhelmingly critical scholars agree that 1 Timothy was not written by Paul.
When the 1 Thessalonians 2 passage is cited, since not all scholars agree it is an interpolation, it is thought sufficient to casually dismiss the interpolation thesis as unlikely.
More generally, the simple fact that Paul wrote of the Christ event as reality is taken as proof that there was a historical person behind it.
Ancient historians, like modern historians, sometimes wrote about persons and events they believed to be historical but in fact weren’t.
External facts / context related to interpretation
As above; additionally…
1 Corinthians 2:8
… the rulers of this age … crucified the Lord of glory.
Also “born of woman” — see below
Events imagined to have happened on earth are presumably historical.
“Rulers of this age” are assumed to have been the rulers of Judea and Rome we read about in the gospels who were responsible for the crucifixion.
Until Earl Doherty in the 1990s advanced his thesis that Paul believed “the Christ event” occurred entirely in a “heavenly realm”, albeit a sublunar one, the Christ myth idea generally understood Paul’s letters to speak of birth, life and death of Jesus on earth. Apart from a very early view that the entire gospel story was fleshed out from astrological beliefs, the only exception that I am aware of is the view of Paul-Louis Couchoud who anticipated Doherty’s views, though Doherty’s thesis was his own. Richard Carrier has further elaborated and popularized Doherty’s entirely “celestial Christ”. Such has been the success of the Doherty-Carrier Christ myth view that among some quarters it has become equated with the Christ Myth theory itself and it appears that some critics are unaware that there is an alternative. However, most Christ myth views over the decades have accepted Paul’s view of Jesus as an earthly human. The Christ myth thesis certainly does not stand or fall upon the thoroughly “celestial Christ” view of Doherty-Carrier. The “celestial Christ” hypothesis is not the foundation or reason Doherty became sceptical of the historicity of Jesus. Carrier raises many problems with the historicity thesis that stand apart from the “celestial Christ” idea.
*My own view of the question is different from above. I point out opposing arguments when I think they are unfairly ignored.
The “again” in the title harks back to another time I responded point by point to Tim O’Neill’s erroneous declarations: Bad History for Atheists#1, #2, #3, #4
Continuing here to respond to the youtube presentation at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=n_hD3xK4hRY — previous posts: #1 (wrongly saying it pays academics to find “different” and “new” or “contrarian” arguments), and #2 (wrongly saying historians can do nothing more than assess probabilities, not determine facts, about the ancient past)
After further saying that non-Christian (including “Jewish”) and Christian scholars have very different ideas about the historical Jesus (which is simply flat wrong, as I might show in a later post) in order to supposedly demonstrate that Christian influence is not a factor (again, which is flat wrong as can be easily demonstrated – but for a later post), and after conditioning the listener to think of “mythicists” as following attractive bait in defiance of common sense (ad hominem, well-poisoning), O’Neill says,
To begin with, all accounts or references to the origins of Christianity both Christian and non-Christian, say it began with him. And none of them describe him as anything other than a historical human being even if some of them — the Christian ones most obviously — say he was much more than just a human.
Here are a good number of those ancient accounts and references with the ones saying he is “anything other than” a historical human being:
Account or reference
Saying Jesus was nothing more than a historical human
New Testament letters (Paul, pseudo-Paul, Catholic, Pastoral and Johannine)
Extra canonical letters (Clement, Ignatius, Polycarp)
New Testament Gospels and Acts
Extra canonical Gospels and Acts (Thomas, Peter, Paul….)
Revelation and other apocalypses
nil (but many, not all, scholars hypothesize that Josephus did say he was only a man; arguments against authenticity)
(late evidence reporting what was learned from early Christians — not used by historical Jesus scholars because “too late”; arguments against authenticity)
Pliny the Younger
nil (not used by HJ scholars; says christ was worshiped as a god; several arguments against authenticity)
O’Neill argues that some of the above do present an entirely human Jesus behind the myth and I will respond to his claims as we come to them.
The mythicist . . . has to explain why they all depict him as historical and human with no traces of any earlier alternatives which have him as, say, purely mythic, allegorical or celestial.
Interesting. I am still waiting to hear O’Neill indicate which ones he means among the “all depict Jesus as historical and human with no traces of earlier … myth…”
O’Neill underscores his point:
there are elements in the early christian accounts of him that strongly indicate a historical person — that are very difficult to interpret any other way.
My curiosity is being whetted. Can’t wait to hear which sources these are “very difficult” to interpret as a merely human Jesus.
Before answering, O’Neill offers an interesting justification for using the Biblical gospels and letters:
The historian can and should examine them in the way that they examine any other source relevant to the question at hand in the examination of ancient history.
One thing otherhistorians have noted, and that I certainly have commented on often enough here, is that biblical scholars only rarely study the gospels “in the way that ‘they’ examine any other source”. The narratives in the gospels are assumed — without confirmation of independent external confirmation — to be based on a real biography. The sources are assumed to have been primarily oral tradition. The authors are assumed to have been interested in telling the truth as they understood it about Jesus, diligently incorporating genuine “historical” material as they could. As far as I have been aware over many years of wide reading and study, I don’t know of any relevant scholarly study of ancient documents (or medieval or modern ones) that begins and ends with such uncritical assumptions.
If the previous post was a repeat at least let me try to say something new with this one. I concluded the previous post with Joshua Efron’s final words on his case for the James passage being an interpolation:
External evidence thus complements and strengthens the findings of internal criticism. This passage is an insertion, and by its contents and style can only be a Christian interpolation. (336)
I did not quote the footnote Efron appends to that conclusion. Here it is:
Josephus obviously totally disregarded the young Christian congregations in their first stages of development, despite his extensive detailed descriptions of the period before the destruction of Jerusalem and the Great Revolt. As a historian and writer addressing non-Jewish readers, defending Judaism and aspiring to gain appreciation for it, he preferred to delete sensitive, inconvenient manifestations likely to arouse a negative reaction and controversy. The three “Christian” passages — the crucifixion of Jesus, the death of his brother James and John the Baptist’s death — are exceptional in spirit as well as in their artificial contextual interpolation. Similarly Josephus’ contemporary and rival, Justus of Tiberias, author of a Jewish history in Greek, who did not however renounce his people, made not the slightest mention of Jesus or the miracles he wrought, as noted in Byzantine Christian testimony of Photius, Bibliotheca, Codex 33, PG 103; Photius, Bibliothèque, ed. R. Henry, vol. 1 (Collection Bude-Paris 1959), p. 18f: τής Χρίστου παρουσίας και των περί αυτόν τελεσβέντων καί τών ύπ’ αύτοΰ τερατουργηθέντων ούδέν δλως μνήμην έποιήσατο. See also Τ. Rajak, “Justus of Tiberias,” CIQ 23 (1973): 345 ff. Philo’s complete silence is equally significant. (336f)
In Efron’s earlier outline of the gospel narratives about Jesus (319-324) it is very clear that he considers the entire story an ahistorical, anti-semitic theological drama through and through. In that context one’s eyebrow might be felt to raise just a little at the above footnote. I might be quite wrong, of course, so am very willing to retract this post if necessary.
Efron, Joshua. Studies on the Hasmonean Period. Leiden; New York: Brill, 1987.
A Jewish scholar, Joshua Efron, believes that the entire “stoning of James” passage — yes, that James who is said to be “the brother of Jesus who was called Christ” — in Josephus is a Christian forgery.
Now Efron does get under the skin of a fewscholars when he argues with a sometimes abrasive style contrarian views relating to the Hasmonean period of Jewish history, Christian influence in the Pseudepigrapha and views on the Dead Sea Scrolls, but I have not read a rebuttal of his arguments about the existence, function and character of the Sanhedrin in the Second Temple period. I would be interested in doing so. Josephan scholar Louis Feldman acknowledges Efron’s “enormous learning”.
Of the New Testament references to the Jewish Sanhedrin Efron writes:
The New Testament Synedrion (Sanhedrin) was created in the bosom of Christian theology, nurtured by its characteristic tenets and trends in order to provide a concrete, albeit artificial representation of Jewish leadership that denies and contemns the wondrous heavenly savior. (337f)
Efron’s detailed survey of the evidence and all references to the word translated “sanhedrin” that the common image we have of a supreme ruling Sadducee body at the time of Second Temple Judaism is an anachronistic myth:
It is not purely terminological details but facts that prove the non-existence of the Great Sanhedrin at the end of the Second Temple period. Here Josephus appointed at his side in Galilee a high council of seventy in exercising his authority to judge criminal cases, and the zealots in Jerusalem set up a tribunal of seventy for capital cases. In these two salient cases there is no indication of any coordination or contact or of conflict with the sacred rights of the Great Sanhedrin in the Chamber of Hewn Stones which alone was supposed to have seventy members. A Gerousia of the Jewish community of Alexandria, mentioned by both Philo and Josephus, had “seventy elders” in it according to the talmudic legend, with no reference at all to the supreme institution in Jerusalem. All these testimonies lead to the solid conclusion that from the time of the Return to Zion up to the destruction of the Second Temple there were representative, administrative, public bodies, intermittently appearing and disappearing as Gerousia, and Synedrion and Boule, but they were never identifiable with the talmudic Great Sanhedrin at the head of the judicial system that defines the law and disseminates the Torah among the people of Israel. (318)
With that background perspective, read again about the stoning of James in Josephus’s Antiquities. I have set Efron’s paraphrase alongside the Whiston translation. The sentences in italics are Efron’s introductory and concluding commentaries on the scene.
Josephus: Antiquities 20.9.1 (20:197-203)
Efron’s paraphrase of Josephus: Studies, p. 334
AND now Caesar, upon hearing the death of Festus, sent Albinus into Judea, as procurator. But the king deprived Joseph of the high priesthood, and bestowed the succession to that dignity on the son of Ananus, who was also himself called Ananus. Now the report goes that this eldest Ananus proved a most fortunate man; for he had five sons who had all performed the office of a high priest to God, and who had himself enjoyed that dignity a long time formerly, which had never happened to any other of our high priests.
The second passage pictures an evil, harsh Sanhedrin, very similar to the one in the New Testament.
But this younger Ananus, who, as we have told you already, took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews, as we have already observed; when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity [to exercise his authority]. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrin of judges,
The younger Ananus (or Annas), the high priest, son of the elder Ananus, was extremely bold and brazen, belonged to the Sadducees, who were severe (“savage”) in trial more than any Jews, took advantage of Festus’ death and before the arrival of the new procurator Albinus, “seated a Synedriort (Sanhedrin) of judges,”
and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others, [or, some of his companions]; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned:
brought to trial James the brother of Jesus, “called the Messiah (Christ),” and also “certain others,” accused them of violating the law “and delivered them to be stoned.”
but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king [Agrippa], desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified;
However, circles among the residents of the capital considered “the most fair-minded and most strictly law-abiding” did not wish to tolerate such an injustice and applied secretly to King Agrippa to obtain his order preventing such deeds, for Ananus did not act properly to begin with.
nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a sanhedrin without his consent.
Some of them set out to meet Albinus and explained that Ananus did not have the authority “to seat a Sanhedrin” without the procurator’s consent.
Whereupon Albinus complied with what they said, and wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest.
“Albinus was convinced” and angrily wrote an irate and threatening letter to Ananus. That is why Agrippa also took the high priestly crown away from him.
So ends the episode, which at first glance seems free of weaknesses and faults. And yet a careful examination collapses this naive testimony.
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.
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)
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.
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)
Parallelomania — the term has been too often misunderstood and misapplied to serious work that deserves attention. On the other hand, there are a lot of proposed parallels that are, let’s say, eccentric. How to tell the difference?
I’ll use Michael Goulder’s explanation of what makes a meaningful parallel and in subsequent posts address how to identify a misleading parallel. (Some of us will be thinking of Samuel Sandmel’s famous article, Parallelomania. I made a link to that article available here because very often I have found people, including some professional scholars, misunderstanding what he wrote. Or perhaps they never read it carefully to begin with. In this post, however, we give Goulder a turn to speak.)
In Type and History in Acts Goulder is discussing typology which is a particular type of parallel. The key question of interest is,
What is in question is whether it is possible to assert that a type [or parallel] is understood by a New Testament author when the details of the story do not make it quite so obvious, and the type-antitype connection is much less real, or to modem eyes not real at all. (p. 2)
Nonsense, replies the critic
For Goulder, the answer is relatively simple.
Much criticism could be dispelled if it were realized that almost all typology is cumulative. The typologist may assert, for example, that the sermon on the mount is the antitype of the giving of the law on Mount Sinai. Nonsense, replies the critic, there is no evidence of this: there are plenty of mountains in Galilee, and Jesus climbed one to instruct his disciples — that is all. (p. 2)
Here’s how Goulder justifies the view that the evangelist deliberately created a parallel between the Sermon on the Mount and the giving of the law to Israel on Mount Sinai. . .
It’s Cumulative all the way down
Okay, we read Jesus went up on a mountainside to give his sermon. Nothing to see here, the “parallel” critic says. And the critic is right. So far.
But then we must recall that a very few chapters earlier we read the story of a Herod massacring all the infant boys in Bethlehem and few of us could deny that that little episode did bring to mind the Exodus account of the Egyptian Pharaoh’s edict to massacre newborn Israelite boys. Obviously there are many differences between the two tales but we cannot deny that there are core similarities.
Jesus is not saved by being put in an ark
fear inspires the tyrant
then floated on the river Jordan
future saviour of Israel is delivered
and finally adopted by Herod’s daughter
If I can interrupt to add to Goulder’s discussion here: I suspect that if one had the two texts side by side one could itemize a list of differences that would be much longer than a list of similarities. Some critics reject proposed parallels on the basis that they can count more details of difference than they can of similarity. But what is surely important is the predominant theme or ideas in the stories and the idea of a miraculous saving of an infant saviour from a tyrant attempting to kill all and sundry in hopes of getting his babe must outweigh dozens or even scores of background, decorative, setting and scenery details. (Further, some critics dismiss parallels solely in the basis of a single obvious difference (many reject the Heracles-Jesus parallels solely on the basis that Jesus was not a “strong man” hero despite the many and often explicit similarities ancient authors made between Heracles and other Jesus-comparable figures like Socrates), but the “difference” game can logically come to a point where we say that nothing can be derivative of another unless it is the same in all points. But then, of course, we have the same thing again and not an analogue at all.) Back to Goulder…
Might we not simply say that the massacre stories are alike by coincidence? Yes, indeed. That is possible. An author may be aware of only a limited number of that type of legendary narrative and his imagination might not grant him access to many new ideas.
But while reading Matthew we find that just before Herod’s murderous rampage gets underway Jesus is taken down to Egypt by his parents, Joseph and Mary. Are we allowed to let our minds wander and recall that preceding Pharaoh’s massacre of the infants in the book of Exodus Joseph took his family down to Egypt — in the final chapters of Genesis. Continue reading “Parallels — How to tell if they are “Real””
It may be that the pattern of events in the Old Testament sometimes foreshadows a similar pattern in the New, for the God of both Testaments is one. — C. S. C. Williams
C.S.C. Williams authored the 1958 Acts commentary from which the following parallels are taken. I think there are other explanations.
A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah. — Matthew 16:4
Jesus replied, Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah — Matthew 16:17
Williams was possibly the first to draw attention to several of the parallels between the conversions of Nineveh and the Roman centurion listed in part 1. He also suggested that the king of Nineveh corresponded to Herod in Acts 12.
Jonah went down to the waters of death and appeared to the king of Nineveh as one risen from the dead; the king repented and (a) put off his royal apparel and put on sackcloth, (b) came down from his throne to sit in ashes, and (c) proclaimed a fast, Jonah iii. 6 f.; Peter was smitten on the side, symbolically re-enacting Christ’s Passion for Christ had been struck on the Cross in His side, while Peter lay in prison, which symbolizes the grave.
I suspect that when “Luke” visualized the angel striking Peter on his side that he was posting a flag to draw our attention to the parallel with Jesus on the cross: he was signalling to the reader that the scene of Peter’s adventure in prison was a figure of death and resurrection. The Acts narrative stresses the heavy guard on Peter and the impossibility of him escaping except by miracle. He is indeed “in death” — see M. Goulder’s explanation for such as situation being understood as “a death”.
Jonah was in the fish then spewed out after three days.
Then the Lord spoke to Jonah a second time, saying, Get up (ἀνάστηθι), go to Nineveh . . . — Jonah 3:1-2
Herod slew James the brother of John with the sword then had Peter arrested and imprisoned, intending to bring him to trial after the Feast of Unleavened Bread. An angel appeared to Peter at night, the chains fell from him and the doors opened of their own accord as he walked past the guards to freedom. Herod refused to believe the miracle of his escape so had the guards executed.
[The angel] struck Peter on the side and woke him up. “Quick, get up (Ἀνάστα)!” — Acts 12:7
When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh,
he rose from his throne,
took off his royal robes,
covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust.
This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh:
“By the decree of the king and his nobles:
Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish.”
When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways, he relented and did not bring on them the destruction he had threatened.
(But at dawn the next day God provided a worm (σκώληκι), which struck the gourd so that it withered – Jonah 4:7)
After hearing news of Peter’s escape from prison, “King Herod”
wearing his royal robes,
sat on his throne
and delivered a public address to the people.
They shouted, “This is the voice of a god, not of a man.”
Immediately, because Herod did not give praise to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms (σκωληκόβρωτος) and died.
Williams, C. S. C. (Charles Stephan Conway). A Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles. New York: Harper, 1958. http://archive.org/details/commentaryonacts0000will.
Commission to the gentiles is the central theme of Acts 10
Jonah was sent to Assyrian Nineveh, a representative of the oppressor of the Jewish people
Peter was sent to a Roman centurion, a representative of the Jewish people
Joppa is the location of the prophet’s conflict with God — Jonah 1:3
Joppa is the location of God’s encounter with Peter — Acts 9:43
Jonah thought it a scandal that the hated gentiles might convert and be saved (Jonah’s name “is emblematic of this problem in Jewish literature”)
Peter thought it a scandal that the hated gentiles might convert and be saved (Among the apostles Peter struggles the most with the idea of gentiles being converted)
The fame of Nineveh’s wickedness ascended (άναβαίνω) to God — Jonah 1:2 (LXX)
The fame of the piety of Cornelius’ ascended (άναβαίνω) to God — Acts 10:4
Jonah forcefully protested against God’s command
Peter forcefully protested against God’s command
God commands a reluctant Jonah twice to “Get up! … Go” (1:2; 3:2 – anastëthi kai poreuthèti)
God commands a reluctant Peter twice to “Get up!” (10:13, 20 – anastas. .. kai poreuou)
God gives a miraculous sign to persuade Jonah — this sign of three days in the fish is crucial to the narrative (“the sign of Jonah”) (Jonah 2:1)
God gives Peter a miraculous sign — the vision of unclean foods to eat (lowered from heaven three times) — to persuade him (Acts 10:16)
God offers reassurance to Jonah
God offers reassurance to Peter
The gentiles believe (empisteuô – Jonah 3:5)
— and prove to be outstandingly pious
The gentiles believe (pisteuô — Acts 10:43)
— and prove to be outstandingly pious
Conversion of gentiles results in hostile response (Jonah 4:1)
Conversion of gentiles results in hostile response (Acts 11:2; cf. 10:14)
God rebuts the hostile response (Jonah 4:2-11)
God rebuts the hostile response (Acts 11:17-18; cf. 15:13-21)
Czachesz, István. Apostolic Commission Narratives in the Canonical and Apocryphal Acts of the Apostles, 2002. https://research.rug.nl/en/publications/apostolic-commission-narratives-in-the-canonical-and-apocryphal-a.
Wall, Robert W. “Peter, ‘Son’ of Jonah: The Conversion of Cornelius in the Context of Canon.” Journal for the Study of the New Testament 9, no. 29 (May 1987): 79–90. https://doi.org/10.1177/0142064X8700902904.
Williams, C. S. C. (Charles Stephan Conway). A Commentary on the Acts of the Apostles. New York: Harper, 1958. http://archive.org/details/commentaryonacts0000will.
After posting Paul is Jesus Redivivus in Acts I remembered I had forgotten to include some of the more interesting details from J. A. Mattill’s article. Mattill began with some historical observations of the Paul-Jesus parallels. I have since added key points to the earlier post.
. . . Important is [Eduard] Zeller’s observation that the remarkable feature in Acts that Paul always is compelled only by the unbelief of the Jews to preach to the Gentiles has its undeniable type in the narrative of Jesus’ rejection in his own home town, the narrative with which Luke so characteristically opens Jesus’ public ministry (Lk. iv 16-30 13).
Google translation: The original of Peter and Paul of the Acts of the Apostles is the Jesus of the Synoptic Gospels. The author of the Acts of the Apostles had the latter in mind … when he borrowed the lines from which he composed the image of both apostles … Since the Gospel portrait of Jesus is unhistorical, even one word about the historical character of the copy would be superfluous.
About the same time as Zeller, Bruno Bauer, whose interest was in the Jesus of the Synoptics rather than of Luke alone, nevertheless set forth thirteen Jesus-parallels in Luke-Acts. The significant part of Bauer’s study, for our purposes, lies in his famous statement:
“Das Original des Petrus und des Paulus der Apostel- geschichte ist der Jesus der synoptischen Evangelien. Der Verfasser der Apostelgeschichte hatte die letzteren … vor Augen, als er ihnen die Züge entlehnte, aus denen er das Bild beider Apostel zusammensetzte ….”
Since the Gospel portrait of Jesus is unhistorical, even one word about the historical character of the copy would be superfluous.
The most thorough-going presentation of the Jesus-Paul parallels is that of Rackham in his commentary on Acts [link is to the online text; see pp xlvii, 401, 477-478]. The active work of Jesus and Paul “is concluded by a ‘passion’ or period of suffering, which in each volume occupies a seemingly disproportionate space …. After early anticipations (Lk. ix 51 = Acts xix 21) and a detailed journey up to Jerusalem (Lk. xvii 11-xix 48 = Acts xx-xxi 17) with ‘last words’ of the sufferer (Lk. xx-xxi = Acts xx 17-38) we have the ‘passion’ proper (Lk. xxii-xxiii = Acts xxi 17-xxviii 10). And then in each case the book ends with a period of victorious but quiet preparation for further advance,.. “For if in the scheme of Acts the last chapters correspond to the last chapters of the Gospel, this chapter (xxvii) forms the parallel (as is fairly evident) to the crucifixion or Lk. xxii-xxiii’’, followed by resurrection. This general parallelism “at once gives significance” to a number of details “which by themselves would have escaped notice”.
Paul’s shipwreck and plunging into the deep are the counterparts to Jesus’ death on the cross (Lk. xxiii 26-49; Acts xxvii 14-24). The storm and darkness during Paul’s voyage correspond to the darkness and spiritual storm on Calvary (Lk. xxiii 44-45; Acts xxvii 20). The verdict of the centurion that Jesus was a righteous man parallels that of the Maltese that Paul was a god (Lk. xxiii 47; Acts xxviii 6). The rest and peace of the three winter months at Malta, when Paul was entirely cut off from the outside world and old life, is like Jesus’ three days in the grave (Lk. xxiii 50-56; Acts xxviii 1-10). Paul’s rescue at sea at Malta is a resurrection from the dead parallel to that of Jesus (Lk. xxiv 1-11; Acts xxvii 39-44). Paul’s voyage to Rome in the spring, which was to Paul the entrance into a new life, is comparable to the joyful period after the resurrection (Lk. xxiv 12-49; Acts xxviii 11-16).
. . .
* Jesus redivivus: Windisch, “Paulus und Jesus”, Theologische Studien und Kritiken 106 (1934-1935), 465.
From the history-of-religions standpoint, Hans Windisch devotes anentire bookto the Jesus-Paul parallels in Gospels, Acts, and Epistles. He is concerned with the similarity of the two figures themselves and the comparableness of both to the “man of God” of the Old Testament and the “divine man” of Graeco-Roman antiquity. Paul is Jesus redivivus*, an incarnation of Christ for the church, a Christ under Christ. Luke found this parallelism in the subject-matter itself, and as a theologically-minded historian he developed it so that he made Jesus to be his own apostle as a forerunner of Paul and Paul to be a second Christ-messenger 20).
Much indebted to Rackham is M. D. Goulder, who calls Rackham “a typologist before his time” [see below]. “Acts”, says Goulder, “is not straight-forward history but typological history, the life of Jesus providing the types of the life of the Church”, the body of Christ. “All of the life of Jesus is matter typical of his Church’s history. But the dominant types are the dominant facts of his life, his passion, death, and resurrection ….” Goulder finds wide agreement about the existence of “an intentional set of parallels” between Jesus and Paul.
Goulder strengthens the argument for the parallel between “Paul’s shipwreck and deliverance and Jesus’ death and resurrection”. To the Semites “death was like going into the sea …. All the sea is death to the Semite, whether we drown or whether we paddle and come out again …” Paul himself refers to his shipwrecks as “deaths” and his rescues as “resurrections” (II Cor. i 8-10; xi 23).
Going down in a storm was the metaphor par excellence in scripture for death, and being saved from one for resurrection: when St Paul speaks of his shipwrecks in these terms, how can St Luke have thought otherwise ? He has shaped his book to lead up to the passion of Christ’s apostle from xix 21 on in such a way as to recall what led up to the passion of Christ himself in the earlier book: and as the climax of the Gospel is the death and resurrection of Christ, so the climax of Acts is the thanatos and anastasis of Paul. (Goulder, p. 39)
The author of Acts appears to have used the life experiences, trials and death of Jesus as his model for the life and trials of Paul. The following evidence for this claim is taken from a 1975 article by A. J. Mattill, Jr., “The Jesus-Paul Parallels and the Purpose of Luke-Acts”. If one accepts that the source of Paul’s life and adventures was the Lukan account of Jesus then there are implications for the purpose of Luke-Acts and the literary-theological function of Paul himself.
The first-listed parallels may not seem so striking but keep scrolling. The four trials of each are surely worth noting. Mattill fleshes out many of the points with numerous verbal parallels but I have omitted most of those here.
According to custom (εἰωθὸς) goes into (εἰσῆλθεν) the synagogue on the sabbath (Acts 17:1-2)
A related key parallel:
Zeller’s observation that the remarkable feature in Acts that Paul always is compelled only by the unbelief of the Jews to preach to the Gentiles has its undeniable type in the narrative of Jesus’ rejection in his own home town, the narrative with which Luke so characteristically opens Jesus’ public ministry (Lk. iv 16-30 13).
(Mattill, p. 18)
The Pharisees who believe in the resurrection affirm the teachings of Jesus and Paul
The two great travel sections: Luke 9:51-19:44 and Acts 19:21-28:31
Luke 9:51-52 As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.52 And he sent messengers on ahead, who went into a Samaritan village to get things ready for him
Acts 19:21-22 After all this had happened, Paul decided[a] to go to Jerusalem, passing through Macedonia and Achaia. “After I have been there,” he said, “I must visit Rome also.”22 He sent two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, to Macedonia, while he stayed in the province of Asia a little longer.
A last journey to Jerusalem is a journey toward passion, as prophesied, knowing that he will be handed over to gentiles: (Luke 18:31-33; 9:44)
The ultimate scene of persecution was Jerusalem where the leaders sought his death (Luke 19:47)
Jerusalem is the place where prophets must die (Luke 13:33)
Jesus is opposed by the Sadducees who deny the resurrection (Luke 20:27)
Jesus is accused by the Sadducean high priesthood (Luke 20:27)
Goulder strengthens the argument for the parallel between “Paul’s shipwreck and deliverance and Jesus’ death and resurrection”. To the Semites “death was like going into the sea …. All the sea is death to the Semite, whether we drown or whether we paddle and come out again …” Paul himself refers to his shipwrecks as “deaths” and his rescues as “resurrections” (II Cor. 1:8-10; 11:23)
Going down in a storm was the metaphor par excellence in scripture for death, and being saved from one for resurrection: when St Paul speaks of his shipwrecks in these terms, how can St Luke have thought otherwise ? He has shaped his book to lead up to the passion of Christ’s apostle from xix 21 on in such a way as to recall what led up to the passion of Christ himself in the earlier book: and as the climax of the Gospel is the death and resurrection of Christ, so the climax of Acts is the thanatos and anastasis of Paul.
(Mattill, pp. 19, 21)
An amazed centurion judges Jesus to be a righteous man (Luke 23:47)
I conclude* continue here my posts presenting Rivka Nir’s case for the John the Baptist passage in the Antiquities of Josephus being a Christian interpolation. All of these posts are archived at Nir: First Christian Believer. (* I had expected to conclude the series with this post but as usual, checking sources and being sure I get the argument correct takes more time than I usually anticipate). All bolded highlighting in the quotations is my own; italics are original.
Jewish or Christian Baptism? — What did John’s Baptism Look Like?
Nir identifies five defining characteristics of the baptism of John that we read about in Antiquities.
Here is the relevant section from Antiquities 18.116-118 (18.5.2)
John who was called Baptist . . . who was a good man and one who commanded the Jews to practise virtue and act with justice (δικαιοσύνῃ) toward one another and with piety toward God, and [so] to gather together by baptism. For [John’s view was that] in this way baptism certainly would appear acceptable to him [i.e. God] if [they] used [it] not for seeking pardon of certain sins but for purification of the body, because the soul had already been cleansed before by righteousness (δικαιοσύνῃ). . . And . . . others gathered together [around John] (for they were also excited to the utmost by listening to [his] teachings) . . .
(Translation by Robert Webb, John the Baptizer and Prophet, p. 32)
Character 1: Christian terminology
Nir submits that the terms used in the Josephan passage “derive from the lexicon of Christian theology.” That certainly appears to be true with respect to the epithet assigned to John, “the Baptist” (βαπτιστής). Though Josephus uses other forms of the word for immersion, dipping or washing elsewhere, “the Baptist” — βαπτιστής — is found nowhere else in Josephus and is specific to the New Testament as an epithet for John.
for someone who did not know Jewish tradition or Christian preaching, the rather deliberate statement that this was ‘the wetted’ or perhaps ‘the greased’ would sound most peculiar… Since Josephus is usually sensitive to his audience and pauses to explain unfamiliar terms or aspects of Jewish life, it is very strange that he would make the bald assertion, without explanation, that Jesus was ‘Christ’ (Ant. 20.200). That formulation, “the one called Christ,” makes much better sense because it sounds like a nick-name. . . . [I]t would make sense for Josephus to say, “This man had the nickname Christos,” and he could do so without further explanation.(Josephus and the New Testament, 166)
Nir further posits that we should expect Josephus to explain the meaning of the epithet if he did write it, just as, for example, Steve Mason argues that Josephus would be expected to explain the epithet “Christ” to non-Jewish audiences if he did use it of Jesus. Against this, in my view, and as Nir herself notes in a footnote, Mason further suggests that Josephus would not be expected to explain the meaning if the epithet was introduced as a nickname — e.g. Jesus who was called Christ, John who was called the Baptist.
The problem highlighted by Nir is as follows:
What would Greek and Roman readers unfamiliar with Christian sources understand by this term? They were familiar with the verb βάπτω, which means ‘to dip/be dipped’ or ‘to immerse/be submerged’, and with the verb βαπτίζω, which in classical sources denotes ‘to immerse/be submerged under water’.49 How would they understand a designation referring to someone who immerses others with this particular immersion? How could Josephus use this designation without defining it?50
49. Metaphorically: soaked in wine. See Oepke. ‘βάπτω’, TDNT, I. p. 535.
50. Rivka Nir cites Graetz, Abrahams, Mason and Webb. I have expanded on the difficulties Abrahams raises for Nir’s argument below.
Abrahams argues that the passage overall is genuine but acknowledges the possibility that the epithet “the Baptist” is interpolated:
The terminology of Josephus, I would urge, makes it quite unlikely that the passage is an interpolation. For, it will be noted (a) Josephus does not use βάπησμα which is the usual N.T. form; (6) he does use the form βάπτισις which is unknown to the N.T.; (c) he uses βαπτισμός in a way quite unlike the use of the word when it does occur in Mark (vii. 4) or even in Hebrews (ix. 10). It is in fact Josephus alone who applies the word βαπτισμός to John’s baptism. Except then that Josephus used the epithet βαπτιστής (which may be interpolated) his terminology is quite independent of N.T. usage. (Studies in Pharisaism, p. 33)
Others reply that Josephus does explain the term, if indirectly:
In his first editions Graetz accepted Josephus’ account of John as authentic. But in his later editions of the Geschichte der Juden he strongly contends that the passage is spurious. He urges that Josephus would not have described John as the “Baptist” (τοῦ ἐπικαλουμένου βαπτιστοῦ) without further explanation. Graetz does not see that it is possible to regard these three words as an interpolation in a passage otherwise authentic. But it is not necessary to make this supposition. For it is quite in Josephus’ manner to use designations for which he offers no explanation (cf. e.g. the term “Essene”). And the meaning of “Baptist” is fully explained in the following sentence, Josephus using the nouns βάπτισις and βαπτισμος to describe John’s activity.
(Abrahams, Studies in Pharisaism, 33 — Rivka Nir cites Abrahams but the fuller quotations are mine.)
Abrahams (in both the paragraph above and in the side box) sounds more damning than his argument actually is. Yes, he is correct Josephus uses baptisis (βάπτισις) “which is unknown in the New Testament” and baptismos (βαπτισμός) “in a way quite unlike the use of the word when it does appear in Mark(vii. 4) or … Hebrews (ix. 10).” But what Nir points out is that those words are part of the “lexicon of Christian theology” as witnessed by Athanasius Alexandrinus, Origen and Chrysostom. They are not the words Josephus normally uses (λούεσθαι or άπολούεσθαι — louesthai or apolouesthai) when describing Jewish immersions. Those early fathers testify to the use of those terms in relation to John’s baptism as well as Christian baptism more generally.
Characteristic 2: a collective baptism into an elect group
This post is detailed. But it is getting down to the nitty gritty of a case for the midrashic creation of the Jesus figure in the gospels.
Performative utterance: In the philosophy of language and speech acts theory, performative utterances are sentences which are not only describing a given reality, but also changing the social reality they are describing.
Nanine Charbonnel cites four intriguing instances.
A. I Am/I Am He/I and He … and we are all together
Many of us are familiar with Jesus declaring “I am” (ἐγώ εἰμι) which echoes Yahweh’s self-declaration in the Pentateuch; less familiar are the moments when Jesus says, “I am he” (ἐγώ εἰμι αὐτός – e.g. Luke 24:39), and that sentence echoes the second part of Isaiah (אֲנִי-הוּא = hū’ănî = I [am] he; LXX = ἐγώ εἰμι = I am) and liturgies of the Jewish people. (I’ll simplify the Hebrew transliteration in this post to “ani hu” (= I he).
These self-identifications bring us back to Exodus 3:14 where God reveals himself to Moses at the burning bush: “I am he who is”, which in the Greek Septuagint is ἐγώ εἰμι ὁ ὤν.
But we need to look again at those words [hu ani] in Deutero-Isaiah:
We will see that this expression, “I he” is related to the festival of Tabernacles or Sukkoth.
But first, we note that during New Testament times at the Feast of Tabernacles or Tents worshippers walked around the altar each day singing “O Yahweh save us now, O Yahweh make us prosper now”, which is a line from Psalm 118:25
[we pray / beseech you]
[we pray / beseech you]
Now in rabbinic literature, in Mishnah Sukkah 4:5, we find another version of this liturgical sentence was said to be used during the temple ceremony.
Each day they would circle the altar one time and say: “Lord, please save us. Lord, please grant us success” (Psalms 118:25). Rabbi Yehuda says that they would say: Ani waho, please save us. And on that day, the seventh day of Sukkot, they would circle the altar seven times.
[taken to be a substitute for the divine name by some scholars – see Baumgarten below]
I (Hebrew); (confusingly, ana in Aramaic means “I”. By hearing the original Hebrew ana as the Aramaic ana, the transformation to Hebrew “I” follows.)
Both ani and waho may be considered “flexible” as I’ll try to explain.
ani in Hebrew means “I”
ana in Hebrew means something like “we pray” as above
Aramaic was the relevant common language in New Testament times, however, and it’s here where the fun starts.
ana in Aramaic means “I”
So we can see how the Hebrew “we pray” can become the Aramaic “I”.
If waho, והו, began as a substitute for the divine name it could when pronounced easily become והוא, wahoû, which is the Aramaic for “me”.
qui peut être une manière de dire ‘ani wahoû’, “moi et lui”.
Translated: which can be a way of saying …. “me and him”. (The “wa” = “and”.)
Not cited by NC but in support of NC here, Joseph Baumgarten in an article for The Jewish Quarterly Review writes,
Mishnah Sukkah 4.5 preserves a vivid description of the willow ceremonies in the Temple during the Sukkot festival. Branches of willows were placed around the altar, the shofar was sounded, and a festive circuit was made every day around the altar. The liturgical refrain accompanying the procession is variously described. One version has it as consisting of the prayer found in Ps 118:25, אנא ה׳ הושיעה נא, אנא ה׳ הצליחה נא , “We beseech you, O Lord, save us! We beseech you, O Lord, prosper us.” A tradition in the name of R. Judah, however, records the opening words as follows: אני והו הושיעה נא. The meaning of this enigmatic formula has occasioned much discussion among both ancient and modern commentators.
In the Palestinian Talmud the first two words in the formula were read אני והוא and were taken to suggest that the salvation of Israel was also the salvation of God.
(Baumgarten, Divine Name and M. Sukkah 4:5 p.1. My highlighting)
The same idea is brought out by NC in her quotation of Jean Massonnet. I translate the key point concerning the “I and he” or “me and him”
This may be a way of closely associating the people with their God on an occasion when the Israelites might surround the altar; it was a great moment of the feast […] In a veiled form, one audaciously asked for salvation for the good of the people and of God, as if God – so to speak – was in distress with his people.
(Massonnet, Aux sources du christianisme…., p. 269, cited by NC, p. 317. My highlighting.)
NC adds, again translating,
we are the emphasing the last sentence. He adds: “the idea that God accompanies his people in distress is […] ancient and widespread”, see Isaiah 63, 9: “in all their distress it is distress for him”. On personal pronouns see Pierre Bonnard, L’Évangile according to Saint Matthew, p. 64, note.
Finally, one point I failed to mention earlier, recall our earlier discussions of the importance of gematria. In that context it is not insignificant that “ana YHWH” has the same numerical value as “ani waho”.