2021-04-16

John the Baptist in Josephus — What was his baptism?

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by Neil Godfrey

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.

Mason:

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

The key section here is Continue reading “John the Baptist in Josephus — What was his baptism?”


2021-04-14

4 Jewish Word Plays behind the Word Becoming Flesh / 3 … (Charbonnel: Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier)

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by Neil Godfrey

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.
This post continues a series on Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier by Nanine Charbonnel

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 =  ’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:

In Isaiah 41:4; 43:10, 13; 46:4; 48:12; 52:6 we read God declaring,  I am he [ani hu] (=me him) אֲנִ֣י ה֔וּא

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

נָּא הַצְלִיחָה יְהוָה אָנָּא נָּא הוֹשִׁיעָה יְהוָה, אָנָּא
na hatzlichah yhwh ana na hoshiah yhwh ana
now prosper us [we pray / beseech you] now save us [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. 

הוֹשִׁיעָה וָהוֹ אֲנִי
hoshiah waho ani
save us [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”.

NC writes,

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”.

B. Dabar, a Word in Silence Continue reading “4 Jewish Word Plays behind the Word Becoming Flesh / 3 … (Charbonnel: Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier)”


2021-04-12

Jewish Origin of the “Word Became Flesh” / 2 … (Charbonnel: Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier)

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by Neil Godfrey

This post continues an exploration into the origin of the gospel figure of Jesus, in particular the case made by Nanine Charbonnel [NC] in Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier.

[To readers not so interested in the depth of these posts I have added an apology at the end.]

Though Jesus and Christianity appear to most of us as being very different from what we think of as Judaism, NC is setting forth reasons to believe that Christian beliefs about Jesus (that he was God in the flesh) were in fact natural adaptations of certain Jewish beliefs in the Second Temple era and prior to what we now think of as orthodox rabbinic Judaism. The view that early Christian and Jewish beliefs were much closer to each other than we tend to imagine today is not new among scholars. NC, therefore, can quote a critical work of the life of Jesus from the early 1800s in partial support of her argument that the figure of Jesus we read about in the gospels was initially created as a personification of various attributes of God.

Personified attributes of God in certain Jewish traditions

Pre-Christian Jewish thought has long been known to have personified various attributes of God. In 1835 David Friedrich Strauss in his Life of Jesus Critically Examined wrote:

We find in the Proverbs, in Sirach, and the Book of Wisdom, the idea of a personified and even hypostasized Wisdom of God, and in the Psalms and Prophets, strongly marked personifications of the Divine word; and it is especially worthy of note, that the later Jews, in their horror of anthropomorphism in the idea of the Divine being, attributed his speech, appearance, and immediate agency, to the Word (מימרא) or the dwelling place (שכינתא) of Jehovah, as may be seen in the venerable Targum of Onkelos. These expressions, at first mere paraphrases of the name of God, soon received the mystical signification of a veritable hypostasis, of a being at once distinct from, and one with God. As most of the revelations and interpositions of God, whose organ this personified Word was considered to be, were designed in favour of the Israelitish people, it was natural for them to assign to the manifestation which was still awaited from Him, and which was to be the crowning benefit of Israel,—the manifestation, namely, of the Messiah,—a peculiar relation with the Word or Shechina. From this germ sprang the opinion that with the Messiah the Shechina would appear, and that what was ascribed to the Shechina pertained equally to the Messiah: an opinion not confined to the Rabbins, but sanctioned by the Apostle Paul.

(Strauss, Life, Pt II Ch IV §64. Bolding is NC’s re the French translation)

Elijah Benamozegh (Wikipedia)

NC rightly remarks that many aspects of the texts of the New Testament would remain obscure without reference to the later Jewish writings. Talmudic writings, though late, certainly contain ideas, debates, sayings, that were known before the fall of the temple in 70 CE. NC goes further, however, and suggests that even the late Jewish mystical writings of the Kabbalah incorporate ideas much older than the Middle Ages. This is an area I have read too little about so all I can do at this point is repeat NC’s point and attach questions to them, especially when citing a Kabbalist.

In the nineteenth century, Joseph Salvador (in 1838), then especially the rabbi of Livorno Elijah Benamozegh (in a manuscript of 1863 which has remained unpublished, but written in French and having been sent to Paris, and which has just been published), La Kabbale et L’origine des Dogmes Chrétiens, have thrown very interesting light on these questions – if at least one accepts to name Kabbalah all that has not been accepted by rabbinical Judaism, and which must have had much more older than the Middle Ages alone. [machine translation of NC, p. 313. I have ordered a copy of La Kabbale but will have to wait a couple of weeks for it to arrive.]

NC further indicates that, according to Benamozegh, New Testament passages relating to the relationship between Father, Son, Holy Spirit under various metaphors and the incarnation of the Word of God are explained best by certain of those mystical notions, such as the Malkuth. The types of esoteric Jewish beliefs that entertained some of these ideas presumably from as early as the Second Temple era also would go a long way towards explaining the origins of various forms of Christianity (e.g. gnostic) that were delegated as heretical by what became orthodoxy. As mentioned, I know too little at this stage about Kabbalism to comment, although I have to add that the relevance of Kabbalist ideas to NC’s quest is underscored by Daniel Boyarin in Border Lines.

* e.g. Boyarin argues in The Jewish Gospels that the idea of a suffering messiah was a pre-Christian Jewish idea. Compare W. D. Davies in Paul and Rabbinic Judaism who also writes, How far are we justified in finding the same conception [suffering Messiah] among the Rabbis of the first century? Two factors ought to be borne in mind when we think of this question. First, that a methodical consideration is involved. We find an idea well attested in the early second century, and we have pointed out that the concept of the Servant of Yahweh of Deutero-Isaiah had become associated with that of the Messiah before the first century. We are led to the feeling that if the idea of the Suffering Messiah were not a burning issue in Christian theology the evidence before us would have led naturally to the assumption that it existed in the first century despite the absence of specific evidence. Moreover, in the second place, we must presuppose that behind the punning interpretation of והריחו in Isa. 11.3, as the burden imposed on the Messiah, and of חוליא (the sick) and חיורא (the leper) in Isa. 53. 4, there was probably a very long development.
We are now in a position to state the result of our discussion. It has led us to the conclusion which, in view of those ideas of the value of suffering and particularly of the suffering of the righteous and of martyrs which we enumerated above, we should have expected, namely, that the assumption is at least possible that the conception of a Suffering Messiah was not unfamiliar to pre-Christian Judaism. (p. 283)

So returning to Boyarin (with NC), some of whose more fascinating ideas cohere with other works by his scholarly peers*, NC directs us to this section of Border Lines:

This leads me to infer that Christianity and Judaism distinguished themselves in antiquity not via the doctrine of God, and not even via the question of worshiping a second God (although the Jewish heresiologists would make it so, as we shall see in the next chapter), but only in the specifics of the doctrine of this incarnation.78 Not even the appearance of the Logos as human, I would suggest, but rather the ascription of actual physical death and resurrection to the Logos was the point at which non-Christian Jews would have begun to part company theologically with those Christians—not all, of course—who held such doctrines.

78. It is not beside the point to note that, in traditional Jewish prayer from the Byzantine period to now, prayer to the “attributes” of God is known as well as prayer to the Ministering Angels (Yehuda Liebes, “The Angels of the Shofar and the Yeshua Sar-Hapanim,” Jerusalem Studies in Jewish Thought 6, no. 1-2 [1987]: 171-95, in Hebrew). These prayers were rectified by nineteenth-century Jewish authorities, who saw in them (suddenly?) a threat to monotheism.

[NC quoted the bolded part in the French translation. The passage above is from Boyarin, Border Lines, pp 125 and 294]

In the next section of this post, we will delve further into Boyarin’s discussion on the relationship between early Christianity and Judaism.

Innovative interpretations: theology of the Memra in the Targum

The Word: Logos (Greek); Memra (Aramaic) Continue reading “Jewish Origin of the “Word Became Flesh” / 2 … (Charbonnel: Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier)”


2021-04-09

The Jewish Origins of the Word Becoming Flesh / 1 (Charbonnel: Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier)

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by Neil Godfrey

This post presents key ideas in the first part of chapter 3 of part 2 of Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier by Nanine Charbonnel. All posts are archived here.

So to say that Jesus became flesh the evangelist John can say Jesus “tabernacled” or “tented” among his people just as God once occupied the tabernacle in the wilderness — as we saw in a recent post. But what about the very idea of “The Word (Logos) became flesh” in that same verse, John 1:14?

And the Word became flesh, and did tabernacle among us 

That is surely a more complicated concept. Where did that notion come from? It is surely not “Jewish”, is it, although “Judaic” sounds more correct than Jewish in this context. That was the view of Rudolf Bultmann: for him, the concept was “Hellenistic”, even “gnostic”, as distinct from Palestinian-Judaic. NC’s mention of Bultmann deflected me for a moment to his works from which I quote a couple of passages to underline the old view of a strict divide between Hellenism and Judaism:

It is the language of mythology that is here [The word became flesh – Jn 1:14] employed. Just as the ancient world and the Orient tell of gods and divine beings who appear in human form, so too the central theme of the gnostic Redeemer-myth is that a divine being, the Son of the Highest, assumed human form, put on human flesh and blood, in order to bring revelation and redemption.Bultmann, John, p. 61

The Gospel of John cannot be taken into account at all as a source for the teaching of Jesus, and it is not referred to in this book. . . . [T]hese gospels were composed in Greek within the Hellenistic Christian community, while Jesus and the oldest Christian group lived in Palestine and spoke Aramaic. . . .  [E]verything in the [gospels] which for reasons of language or content can have originated only in Hellenistic Christianity must be excluded . . . Bultmann, Jesus, pp. 12f

That was then.

The Word in John’s and Philo’s works — both Hellenistic AND Jewish?

NC argues that the question is not an either/or one. Either from Hellenism or Judaism. Keep in mind that the label “Hellenistic age” refers to a time of blending of eastern and Greek cultures; it was not a replacement of eastern ideas with Greek ones. NC cites Daniel Boyarin (though I quote him more extensively here) and Boyarin cites several other specialist scholars to affirm that we need to think of the Judaism of the time as a part of Hellenism.

Thus, to put one possible point on this, I and many if not most scholars of Judaism currently do not operate with an opposition between Judaism and Hellenism, seeing all of Jewish culture in the Hellenistic period (including the anti-Hellenists) as a Hellenistic culture.73 (Boyarin, Border Lines, p. 18)

73. “Hellenistic ways of life, thought and expression were integral to Jewish Palestinian culture from at least the mid third century [B.C.] on, and these tendencies affected Pharisaism and later Rabbinic writings. Hellenistic schools were especially influential on Jewish modes of organization and expression. The emergence of definable sects, Pharisees, Sadducees, etc. and more importantly the attention given to them fits most comfortably into the Greco-Roman world with its recognized philosophical schools, religious societies and craft assocations” (Anthony Saldarini, Scholastic Rabbinism: A Literary Study of the Fathers According to Rabbi Nathan [Chico, Calif.: Scholars Press, 1982], 19). My only emendation to this important statement would be to abandon language of “influence” and simply understand that “Judaism” is itself a species of Hellenism. See the formulation in Saldarini, Scholastic, 21, which comes closer, I think, to this perspective. Cf. most recently Lee 1. Levine, Judaism & Hellenism in Antiquity: Conflict or Confluence, The Samuel & Althea Stroum Lectures in Jewish Studies (Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1998). In this vein, see Erich S. Gruen, Heritage and Hellenism: The Reinvention of Jewish Tradition, Hellenistic Culture and Society 30 (Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press, 1998), esp. 292: “The [Palestinian] Jews were not so much permeated by the culture of the Greeks as they were a part of it.” Also most recently Schwartz, Jewish Society.

and

Granted that in some areas, Asia Minor almost certainly being among them, Gentile converts began to outnumber Christian Jews at a fairly early date, and that they brought with them, almost inevitably, “hellenophile” and then “antijudaistic” tendencies; however, the lion’s share of the Hellenic thinking of early Christianity — and most centrally, Logos theology — was an integral part of the first-century Jewish world, including Palestine. Jewish theology had for centuries been “open to the thinking of antiquity” — whether Persian or Graeco-Roman — and the binary opposition of Judaism and Hellenism (as well as the binary opposition between Palestinian and Hellenistic Judaism) requires major rethinking. As I have pointed out above, Judaism is from the very beginning a Hellenistic form of culture. As remarked by Rebecca Lyman: “Justin’s appeal to the ultimate authority of divine revelation in prophetic texts or to Jesus as the Logos, the original truth sought by human philosophers, is confrontational, but it is potentially powerful precisely because of its Hellenistic, i.e. Greek and Jewish, lineage in establishing truth through antiquity and transcendence.” (p. 92)

Continue reading “The Jewish Origins of the Word Becoming Flesh / 1 (Charbonnel: Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier)”


2021-04-05

What Did Josephus Think of John the Baptist?

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by Neil Godfrey

Many scholars assert that behind the obviously interpolated words about Jesus in the Antiquities of the Jews Josephus did in fact write something, either mildly positive or neutral in tone, about him. The problem with that assertion is that it is well recognized among scholars of Josephus that the Jewish historian absolutely hated everyone who, they believe, was taken to be some sort of messianic figure. Accordingly, some scholars propose that what Josephus originally wrote about Jesus was indeed a negative assessment. Hence the ongoing slide into imaginary sources so familiar to historical Jesus studies. What we read in the writings of Josephus about Jesus is beyond the scope of Rivka Nir’s exploration of John the Baptist in The First Christian Believer. But what I found interesting was that one of her reasons for questioning the authenticity of the John the Baptist passage in Antiquities falls into the same basket of reasons for questioning the authenticity of the Jesus passage.

Palestine was riddled with prophets in the decades leading up to the War of 66-70 and John the Baptist (and Jesus, too) should be examined in this context, we so often read in the scholarly literature. The usual suspects trotted out are

  • the Samaritan prophet who led crowds to Mount Gerazim in expectation of finding sacred vessels hidden by Moses
  • Theudas who led a large crowd to the Jordan River in expectation of it parting just as in the days of Joshua
  • the Egyptian prophet who led a crowd to the Mount Olives from where they expected to see God tear down the walls of Jerusalem
  • the prophet from the wilderness who took people out into the wilderness

The attitude of Josephus to all of these prophets is well known. He branded them “false prophets, imposters, deceivers, swindlers, deluders” (Nir, 46) and he blamed them, along with “bandits and robbers” and other rebels for the destruction of the temple at the hands of Rome.

How can we reconcile?

So how can we understand writing about John the Baptist so positively? Nir writes:

44 The word στάσις means rebellion or struggle against the governing authorities, or conflict between two civilian groups: see Ant. 18.62.88 . . . ; and νεώτερος conveys the idea of social-political change or revolution: ‘With this significance the term is often used negatively by those supporting the status quo which is being challenged by that which is ‘‘radically innovative”’ (Webb, John the Baptizer and Prophet, p. 37 . . .). 

His abhorrence of these prophets is consistent with his opposition to whoever sought to undermine the legitimate government and strove after any kind of change or revolution. In the passage at hand, John is described as contesting the legitimate regime and instigator of revolution: Herod feared that ‘eloquence [John’s] that had so great an effect on mankind might lead to some form of sedition [στάσις]’ and ‘decided therefore that it would be much better to strike first and be rid of him before his work led to an uprising (νεώτερος), than to wait for an upheaval, get involved in a difficult situation, and see his mistake’. The two terms (στάσις and νεώτερος) imply that John’s activity had rebellious overtones and the potential for political ferment.44

How then can we reconcile Josephus’s negative stance toward these rabble-rousers with his sympathy for John? And not only does Josephus describe him positively, he even justifies those Jews who saw the annihilation of Herod’s army as divine punishment for John’s execution: ‘But to some of the Jews the destruction of Herod’s army seemed to be divine vengeance, and certainly a just vengeance (μάλα δικαίως).

(Nir, 46f)

Nir notes that some scholars (Schürer, Meier) raise the possibility that Josephus might have made an exception for John the Baptist because of his asceticism. My response to that suspicion is to ask why Josephus did not breathe a word about John’s asceticism. The asceticism of John is an idea that comes from the gospels where it serves an evident theological function as a foil to the teaching of Jesus. If Josephus thought of John as qualitatively different from the other prophets whom he despised then surely we would expect him to make that difference explicit.

At this point Rivka Nir takes up what she considers the primary reason for doubting the authenticity of the Josephan passage: the description of John’s baptism. We’ll look at that in a later post.

Differences between John the Baptist and those other prophets

Continue reading “What Did Josephus Think of John the Baptist?”


2021-04-04

Earliest Resurrection Reports — John’s and Paul’s

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by Neil Godfrey

The last two from that dimly remembered period in the last century when I was (a) sorting out my investigations into the biblical accounts of the resurrection with an interest in seeing how matching or contradictory they were; and (b) experimenting with new software I had purchased for my primitive Windows PC.

Why I ended up with two by Paul I can’t recall now. Presumably, new info hit me after I wrote up one of them. I have no idea now which was the final one.

but maybe the one below was first and the realization that Paul could point to eyewitnesses (as above) came later.

I’m reminded of newspapers I used to mock up when I was a little boy. Maybe I should have been a reporter.


The Earliest Resurrection Reports – Matthew’s and Luke’s Reports

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by Neil Godfrey

Two more from the last century when I was (a) sorting out my investigations into the biblical accounts of the resurrection with an interest in seeing how matching or contradictory they were; and (b) experimenting with new software I had purchased for my primitive Windows PC. I posted Mark’s report here; two more to follow after this post.

and then, of course, Luke’s


2021-04-03

The Earliest Resurrection Reports – Mark’s Report

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

by Neil Godfrey

Another discovery of long-forgotten dabblings of mine, again from the 1990s when I was (a) sorting out my investigations into the biblical accounts of the resurrection with an interest in seeing how matching or contradictory they were; and (b) experimenting with new software I had purchased for my primitive Windows PC. They make me cringe now but they’re my history. Here is the first one.

 

 

 


2021-03-29

John the Baptist’s Place in Josephus’s Antiquities

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by Neil Godfrey

I have been sidetracked from blogging regularly for a while now so I’m long overdue for continuing Rivka Nir’s case (The First Christian Believer: In Search of John the Baptist) for the John the Baptist passage in Josephus being a Christian interpolation. Previous posts are

Now I have to confess my exploration of John the Baptist since last year has been the result of following up Gregory Doudna’s chapter in a festschrift for Thomas L. Thompson. So far I have not posted in depth on Greg’s views but the summaries I have set out with links to the chapter online have generated some discussion: see

In this post the specific point made will serve both Nir’s and Doudna’s views. Nir argues for Christian interpolation; Doudna for a misplaced Josephan passage.

Nir points to James H. Charlesworth’s criteria for identifying interpolations in apocryphal writings. Criteria #2 and #3 would just as easily point to a misplaced passage as a foreign interpolation:

  • (2) if the passage is not integrated into the context syntactically;
  • (3) if the passage is easily removable and upon its removal the text’s sequence becomes clear.

Nir adds another but its relevance applies to examining the passage from a perspective that does not concern us in this post. Here we look at how the passage fits syntactically.

Rivka Nir directs our attention to the thought immediately preceding and then immediately following the John the Baptist passage as earlier addressed by Léon Herrmann — and noted by others, too, as we have seen in several posts over the years. It’s not a new observation but I think it is worth setting it down here again for reference.

Immediately before the JB passage (paragraph 115):

So Herod wrote about these affairs to Tiberius, who being very angry at the attempt made by Aretas, wrote to Vitellius to make war upon him, and either to take him alive, and bring him to him in bonds, or to kill him, and send him his head. This was the charge that Tiberius [καὶ Τιβέριος μὲν] gave to the president of Syria.

and immediately following (paragraph 120) the JB passage:

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

Nir’s comment:

On removal of the passage, paragraph 120 flows smoothly and uninterruptedly from paragraph 115 and the order of events and correct syntactical structure are retained: Tiberius commands and Vitellius acts. (Nir, p. 44)

Nir adds another point,

Furthermore, Josephus had already explained how ‘all Herod’s army was destroyed by the treachery of some fugitives, who, though they were of the tetrarchy of Philip, joined with Aretas’s army’ (Ant. 114), his seemingly historical explanation for Herod’s defeat which is placed in the appropriate context. Why, then, would Josephus need to provide an additional explanation? And why place it at a distance from his first explanation, and moreover in a way that interrupts the factual sequence?

It may be worth adding another detail Nir references, one made by John P. Meier in volume 2 of A Marginal Jew (pp. 59f): The JB passage can be read as an inclusio, as a self-contained capsule.

Now some of the Jews thought that the destruction of Herod’s army came from God, and that very justly, as a punishment of what he did against John, that was called the Baptist: for Herod slew him, who was a good man, and commanded the Jews to exercise virtue, both as to righteousness towards one another, and piety towards God, and so to come to baptism; for that the washing [with water] would be acceptable to him, if they made use of it, not in order to the putting away [or the remission] of some sins [only], but for the purification of the body; supposing still that the soul was thoroughly purified beforehand by righteousness. Now when [many] others came in crowds about him, for they were very greatly moved [or pleased] by hearing his words, Herod, who feared lest the great influence John had over the people might put it into his power and inclination to raise a rebellion, (for they seemed ready to do any thing he should advise,) thought it best, by putting him to death, to prevent any mischief he might cause, and not bring himself into difficulties, by sparing a man who might make him repent of it when it would be too late. Accordingly he was sent a prisoner, out of Herod’s suspicious temper, to Macherus, the castle I before mentioned, and was there put to death. Now the Jews had an opinion that the destruction of this army was sent as a punishment upon Herod, and a mark of God’s displeasure to him. 

The bolded opening and closing words contain the same concepts:

  • the Jews
  • opinion/thought
  • destruction of Herod’s army
  • divine punishment
  • justly deserved
  • John executed

None of the above (except arguably for Nir’s added “another point”) is inconsistent with Greg Doudna’s view, as I understand it. We will see different interpretations enter with further discussion. What the above does suggest, however, is that the John the Baptist passage as understood by readers in the Christian tradition was not original to the book 18 of Antiquities.


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

Meier, John P. A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus. V. 2. Mentor, Message, and Miracles. New York: Doubleday, 1994.



2021-03-18

The Jewish Origin of the Incarnation: continuing Nanine Charbonnel’s Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier

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by Neil Godfrey

We have been following Nanine Charbonnel’s view that the Jesus character we meet in the gospels was constructed entirely from ancient and well-understood Jewish literary-theological methods. In other words, the gospel figure of Jesus is most economically explained as a literary-theological construction of the evangelists (authors of the gospels) and that there were no oral traditions about a “historical Jesus” for those authors to draw upon.

In this post we continue the basis for creating Jesus as a human, a flesh and blood person, among God’s people, and how it came about that this human Jesus was simultaneously depicted as the Son of God, the Temple of God and “God with us”. We’ll take each of those items in turn. First, the Son of God…

Son of God

Nanine Charbonnel [NC] proposes that as the people of God in the Jewish Scriptures are called the Son of God then it follows that Jesus, as the personification of God’s people (as covered in multiple earlier posts) is also called the Son of God. “Son of God” in Jewish thought of the time could have any one of a number of meanings: angels, the king of Israel, the people of Israelrighteous Israelites (Jubilees 1:24-25) and the royal messiah.

In the above paragraph I linked to the posts addressing NC’s reasons for seeing Jesus as a personification of the collective nation of Israel or Jewish people. NC cites the many biblical passages that oscillate between God’s son being the collective people of Israel and his singular son, the royal son of David:

Exodus 4:22, Deuteronomy 14:1-2, Deuteronomy 32:6, Isaiah 63:16, Hosea 2:1, Hosea 11:1-5, Psalm 2:6-7, Psalm 89:27,  Zechariah 12:10, and Psalm of Solomon 17:21-28

The Temple

Mary Douglas (1921-2007) – Wikipedia

We saw earlier in reference to the analysis of Leviticus by the anthropologist Mary Douglas that Jewish thought could identify the Temple, the Body (body of both collective Israel and the sacrificial animal) and the Law/Torah.

As a refresher . . . [this refresher is my own intrusion into NC’s discussion at this point] . . .

The tabernacle/temple as a model of the people of Israel:

      • Holy of Holies (with ark of covenant): Moses on peak of Mount Sinai with God // the high priest
      • The Holy Place (with altar of incense, table and lampstand): place of the 70 elders // the priests
      • Outer Court (with laver and altar): the congregation

The sacrificial animal, like the Temple or Tabernacle, is also a tripartite representation of the larger cosmos: placed first on the altar were the head and meat portions of the animal; next, the fat that covered the inner parts of the body; finally, the sexual organs, the representatives of reproduction, fertility, life.

The law itself is partitioned: the central commands in Leviticus, for example, consist of the moral code in chapter 19 (“Love thy neighbour as thyself”), hedged in by the commands for physical holiness; and then the means of atonement or cleansing. (That’s my own understanding derived from Mary Douglas’s analysis.) Continue reading “The Jewish Origin of the Incarnation: continuing Nanine Charbonnel’s Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier”


2021-03-12

When the Messiah Became the Son of God in Early Jewish Thought

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by Neil Godfrey

How or from where did Christianity get the idea that the Messiah was also the Son of God? It is easy to get the idea that the standard belief among scholars is that there was a gradual evolution of Christological concepts, that over time Jesus became ever more exalted in the minds of worshipers. But the evidence of early Jewish writings points us to another explanation, one that leads us to think that the idea that the Davidic Messiah was also a Son of God was part of the same idea from the beginning.

As I prepared to write the next instalment on Nanine Charbonnel’s Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier I found myself burrowing down into more citations than I could hope to fit into such a post. So here I address just one detail as a stand-alone composition.

This post has a narrow focus. It zeroes in on the early evidence, from before the Christian era up to the first century CE, that among Jewish sectarian ideas there was one that explicitly identified the Davidic Messiah with the Son of God. I do not address questions of the actual meaning of “son of God” — except insofar as the label is applied to a pre-existent and heavenly being as well as an earthly king. The two become fused.

The fusion of the heavenly ‘son of man’ figure envisaged in Daniel, with the traditional hope for a Davidic Messiah was of fundamental importance for early Christianity. The ‘Son of God’ text from Qumran shows that this fusion did not originate in Christianity, but was already at home in sectarian Jewish circles at the turn of the era. (Collins, 82)

The term Son of God in Jewish writings has many different applications: angels, the king of Israel, the people of Israel, righteous Israelites (Jubilees 1:24-25) — and the royal messiah. This post looks at the instances where Son of God is directly applied to that messiah king.

The Davidic branch is identified as the Son of God in Qumran texts.

The branch of David is explicitly identified with the Messiah in 4Q252: . . . there shall not fail to be a descendant of David upon the throne . . . until the Messiah of Righteousness comes, the Branch of David . . . 

I will establish the throne of his kingdom f[orever] (2 Sam 7:13). I wi[ll be] a father to him and he shall be a son to me (2 Sam 7:14). He is the branch of David who shall arise . . . in Zi[on in the la]st days . . . (4Q174)

. . . when God has fa[th]ered the Messiah . . . (1QSa/1Q28a)

Similarly in the Jewish apocryphal work 4 Ezra:

For my son the Messiah shall be revealed with those who are with him, and those who remain shall rejoice four hundred years.

And after these years my son the Messiah shall die, and all who draw human breath. (4 Ezra 7:28f)

4 Ezra 13 is dependent on Psalm 2: the messianic figure stands on a mountain and repulses the attack of the nations; God sets his anointed king on his holy mountain, terrifies the nations, and tells the king “you are my son…”
Daniel 7 also inspires 4 Ezra 13: vision of a man emerging from the sea and flying with the clouds, preceded by war among the nations. (Collins p. 76f)

And when these things come to pass and the signs occur which I showed you before, then my Son will be revealed, whom you saw as a man coming up from the sea. (4 Ezra 13:32)

And he, my Son, will reprove the assembled nations for their ungodliness (this was symbolized by the storm) (4 Ezra 13:37)

He said to me, “Just as no one can explore or know what is in the depths of the sea, so no one on earth can see my Son or those who are with him, except in the time of his day. (4 Ezra 13:52)

for you shall be taken up from among men, and henceforth you shall live with my Son and with those who are like you, until the times are ended. (4 Ezra 14:9)

The Book of Enoch

More specifically, the Epistle of Enoch in the Book of Enoch, dated between 170 BCE and the first-century BCE. . . .

In Enoch 105:1-2 (mistakenly cited as 55:2 in Charbonnel’s source)

1. In those days the Lord bade (them) to summon and testify to the children of earth concerning their wisdom: Show it unto them; for ye are their guides, and a recompense over the whole earth. 2. For I and My Son will be united with them for ever in the paths of uprightness in their lives; and ye shall have peace: rejoice, ye children of uprightness. Amen.

There is debate over the identities of “I and my son” in Enoch. Some scholars have suggested it might refer to Enoch and his son Methuselah. George W. E. Nickelsburg in his commentary writes

In the context of chaps. 81 and 91, “I and my son” here could mean Enoch and Methuselah rather than God and the Messiah, as Charles suggested.11

11 Charles, Enoch, 262-63.

(1 Enoch 1, p. 535)

His note 11 is a problem, at least it is for me. There are four titles in his bibliography that it could refer to.

  • Charles, R. H. The Book of Enoch: Translated from Dillmann’s Ethiopic Text, emended and revised in accordance with hitherto uncollated Ethiopie MSS. and with the Gizeh and other Greek and Latin fragments (Oxford: Clarendon, 1893).
  • Charles, R. H. The Book of Enoch, or 1 Enoch: Translated from the Editor’s Ethiopic Text, and edited with the introduction notes and indexes of the first edition wholly recast enlarged and rewritten; together with a reprint from the editor’s text of the Greek fragments (Oxford: Clarendon, 1912).
  • Idem “Book of Enoch,” in idem, ed., The Apocrypha and Pseudepigrapha of the Old Testament, volume 2, Pseudepigrapha (Oxford: Clarendon, 1913) 163-281.
  • Idem The Book of Enoch (Translations of Early Documents, Series 1; London: SPCK, 1917).

Wanting to read what Charles had to say I consulted the third title listed above (1913) and found Charles identifying the Messiah with God’s Son:

105:2. I and My Son, i.e. the Messiah. Cf. 4 Ezra vii. 28, 29, xiii. 32, 37, 52, xiv. 9. The righteous are God’s children, and pre-eminently so the Messiah. Cf. the early Messianic interpretation of Ps. ii, also I En. lxii. 14 ; John xiv. 23. (Charles 1913, p. 277)

In the first title (1893) I found the same identification:

The Messiah is introduced in cv. 2, to whom there is not the faintest allusion throughout xci-civ. . . . To My Son. There is no difficulty about the phrase ‘My Son’ as applied to the Messiah by the Jews : cf. 17 Ezra vii. 28, 29 ; xiv. 9. If the righteous are called ‘God’s children’ in lxii. 11, the Messiah was pre-eminently the Son of God. Moreover, the early Messianic interpretation of Ps. ii would naturally lead to such an expression. (Charles, 1893, p. 301)

Charles does say that the reference to the Messiah seems out of place in the context of the preceding chapters but for that reason thinks a different author is responsible for the passage being inserted. Michael A. Knibb has this to say:

[T]he possibility that there are Christian elements within the Ethiopic version of 1 Enoch — beyond, that is, the presence of occasional Christian glosses — needs to be considered, as has been suggested in relation to 105:2a and chapter 108. Chapter 105 comes at the end of Enoch’s admonition to his children, and the Aramaic evidence (4QEnc 5 i 21–25) showed that the material in this chapter . . . did form part of the original. But 105:2a (“For I and my son will join ourselves with them for ever in the paths of uprightness during their lives”) was apparently not in the Aramaic. It may well represent a Christian addition, but such a statement is not impossible in a Jewish context.63 . . . and it is possible that . . . 105:2a [is not] Christian. 

63 Cf. 4Q246 ii 1; Knibb, “Messianism in the Pseudepigrapha in the Light of the Scrolls,” DSD 2 (1995): 165–84 (here 174–77).

The Son of God Text

 

4Q246:
— Opening verse of column 1: someone falls before the throne;
following verses seem addressed to a king and refer to “your vision“;
— then, “affliction will come on earth … and great carnage among the cities“;
— a reference to kings of Asshur and Egypt;
— verse 7 reads “will be great on earth” (does this refer to the great affliction of preceding verses or the great figure of the following verses?);
— line 8 says “all will serve” and then, “by his name he will be named“.
— Then column 2 opens with our famous line quoted in the post (ii 1)

So we come to 4Q246, “better known as the ‘Son of God’ text” (Collins). See the side box for an overview, but the key line of interest to us:

He will be called the Son of God, they will call him the son of the Most High (ii 1)

Following this line we read about a kingdom destined to rule the earth, trampling all, until the people of God rise up and “all rest from the sword“. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom and righteous; the sword will cease; all cities will pay homage; God will be its/his strength and make war on its/his behalf, giving the prostrate nations to him/it; its rule is everlasting. (I have relied on Collins for this summary.)

The remainder of this post follows selected points from an article by John Collins, “The Son of God Text from Qumran”, in From Jesus to John: Essays on Jesus and New Testament Christology in Honour of Marinus de Jonge, with a few glances at Knibb’s work.

The correspondences with the infancy narrative in Luke are astonishing. — Collins, p.66

Three phrases correspond exactly: 

will be great, (Luke 1:32)

he will be called the son of the Most High (Luke 1:32)

he will be called the Son of God (Luke 1:35)

Luke also speaks of an unending reign. It is difficult to avoid the conclusion that Luke is dependent in some way, whether directly or indirectly, on this long lost text from Qumran. 

(Collins, 66, my formatting and highlighting)

Continue reading “When the Messiah Became the Son of God in Early Jewish Thought”


2021-03-09

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

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by Neil Godfrey

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

Nir informs us in The First Christian Believer,

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

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

Heinrich Graetz

This sentence translates as…

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

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

-o-

Samuel Krauss

Translation:

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

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

-o-

Next is that passage I asked for help to translate.

Emil Schürer

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

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

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

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

https://play.google.com/books/reader?id=KMTIX-nJwusC&hl=en&pg=GBS.PA364

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


2021-03-03

John the Baptist: Another Case for Forgery in Josephus

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by Neil Godfrey

Of making many posts about John the Baptist there is no end, and much discussion may weary, or stimulate, the flesh. Here’s another one. This post is the first in a series of perhaps three that intends to raise awareness of Rivka Nir‘s case for the passage about John the Baptist in Josephus being a Christian interpolation. It comes from her book, The First Christian Believer: In Search of John the Baptist.

Nir begins by setting out the reasons scholars generally accept the Josephan passage about John the Baptist [JB] as authentic.

But first, here is the passage:

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).

First reason: there are significant differences between the Josephan and gospel portrayals of JB

The scholars who argue for the authenticity of this passage base their case primarily on the differences, modifications and even contradictions between Josephus and the Gospel version. It is reasonable to assume, they argue, that had the hand of a Christian interpolator intervened here, he would fully align the passage with the Gospel account. (p. 33)

I am immediately reminded of Ken Olson’s discussion (Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Forger) of how effective forgery works on readers psychologically in the case of the Secret Gospel of Mark. Indeed, Rivka Nir returns to the very same idea later in her discussion with respect to the Josephan passage of JB. But for now, let’s look at those differences that scholars have thought give assurance the Josephus passage is genuine.

Unlike the gospel authors, Josephus

The absence of an apocalyptic and messianic message for JB is said to be consistent with Josephus’s interests throughout his writings — to avoid offending Roman readers with mention of apparent messianic rebel movements against Rome. At the same time, Josephus wished to present the Jewish culture as embodying enlightened philosophical traditions so he portrayed JB as a popular ethical philosopher instead of a prophet of end-times.

Scholars have argued that the gospel account is needed to explain why crowds flocked to JB since they would more likely be attracted by a message of imminent judgment and messianic time than ethical philosophy. The evangelists were also just as motivated to remove suggestions that JB was a political threat as Josephus was to remove messianic associations.

Hence the accounts are viewed as complementary with their differences.

  1. does not associate JB with Jesus or Christianity
  2. gives JB no eschatological, apocalyptic or messianic interest
  3. plants JB in a real political-historical background
  4. gives political reasons for Herod Antipas’s hostility towards JB (fear of mob uprising: contrast gospels where hostility is personal hatred, in particular from Herodias who is not mentioned by Josephus)
  5. has JB imprisoned in Machaerus and executed shortly afterwards (contrast gospels where no place is given and the imprisonment appears to be for a considerable time before his execution)
  6. sets the execution of JB around 35 CE (contrast Gospel of Luke where it appears around 28-29 CE)

Scholars interpret these differences as an indication that there was a tradition about JB independent of the gospels.

Yet, at the same time, these scholars attempt to reconcile this testimony with the Gospels. (p. 34)

Reconciliation is found in the following:

  1. the need for repentance or righteous living in association with baptism
  2. crowds follow John
  3. Josephus’s statement that John had an influence over the attitude of the crowds towards Herod Antipas couples nicely with the gospel account Herod was worried by JB’s criticism of his marriage

Accordingly, these two testimonies are interrelated, complementary and unintelligible independently of each other; and their divergences derive from the difference in point of view, in authorial interest and the tendencies underlying each source, and, in fact, we have one tradition under different mantles. (pp. 34 f)

Second reason: the JB passage has the same vocabulary and style as the surrounding passages

They note, for exampie, Josephus’s inclination to verbosity, his peculiar vocabulary and linguistic forms, his usage of circumlocution, his heavy reliance on participles (participium) and the infinitive (infinitivus) and genitive absolute (genetivus absolutus), in his attempt to imitate classical Greek style, especially Thucydides. Of the many expressions characteristic of Josephus’s style in Ant. 17-19, scholars emphasize his usage of the following paired terms: piety toward God/fear of God (εύσεβεία πρός τόν θεόν) and righteousness (δικαιοσύνη). The conjunction of eusebia and dikaiosunë is typical of Josephus, encapsulating the essentials of ethical philosophy in his time, and is part of the apologetic arsenal in his effort to present Judaism as a philosophical tradition embracing the highest universal virtues. (P. 36)

Third reason: the JB passage appears in all of the manuscripts

Fourth reason: the JB passage is mentioned by Origen

Origen writes, ca 248 CE, in Against Celsus 1.47

I would like to have told Celsus, when he represented the Jew as in some way accepting John as a baptist in baptizing Jesus, that a man who lived not long after John and Jesus recorded that John was a Baptist who baptized for the remission of sins. For Josephus in the eighteenth book of the Jewish antiquities bears witness that John was a Baptist and promised purification to people who were baptized.

So how does Rivka Nir meet the above challenges in order to argue that the passage was not penned by Josephus? Continue reading “John the Baptist: Another Case for Forgery in Josephus”


2021-01-11

Why was the Gospel Narrative set around 30 CE?

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by Neil Godfrey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Parable of the Wicked Tenants. Image from Catholic Exchange

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

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

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

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

If the parable alludes to the Fall of Jerusalem as a consequence of rejecting Jesus then “this generation” likewise . . . Continue reading “Why was the Gospel Narrative set around 30 CE?”