2023-05-10

The Troubled “Quiet” before the Jewish Diaspora’s Revolt against Rome: 116-117 C.E.

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by Neil Godfrey

After having frequently questioned the claims that the first Jewish War that began under Nero and ended with the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in 70 CE was motivated by messianic hopes, it is time for me to state where I believe evidence for popular enthusaism for the advent of a messiah does emerge. It is in the aftermath of what might justifiably be described as the “trauma” of the loss of the Temple at the hands of Titus. This is also the period in which many scholars see the critical shaping of what became Christianity and Judaism as they are know today.

This post is the third in a series covering the main ideas of a book by Livia Capponi, Il Mistero del Tempio = The Mystery of the Temple :

  1. Reconstructing the Matrix from which Christianity and Judaism Emerged
  2. Rebellion of the Diaspora — the world in which Christianity and Judaism were moulded

Here we survey the period Eusebius described as “stasis”, the pause before the eruption of the bloodbath in early 116 CE. Warning: some of the subject matter is complex insofar as it looks at confusions of similar sounding names in the records.

I follow Steve Mason’s preference for the term “Judean” over “Jew” for the most part. Mason explains:This is not because I have any quarrel with the use of Jews. . . . But our aim is to understand ancient ways of thinking, and in my view Judeans better represents what ancients heard in the ethnos-polis-cult paradigm. That is, just as Egypt (Greek Aegyptos) was understood to be the home of Egyptians (Aegyptioi), Syria of Syrians, and Idumaea of ldumaeans, so also Judaea (Ioudaia) was the home of Judeans (loudaioi) — the only place where their laws and customs were followed. Jerusalem was world-famous as the mother-polis of the Judeans, and Judaea was Jerusalem’s territory. That is why Judeans (like other immigrants) did not enjoy full citizen rights in Alexandria, Antioch, or Ephesus and could face curtailments of privileges or even expulsion. With other non-natives, and like foreigners in Jerusalem, they lived outside the homeland on sufferance.” — (Mason, p. 90)

The argument in brief

In brief, the argument is that Trajan began his reign with positive relations towards the Judeans, motivated largely by his need to secure his supply lines in his war against Parthia as any desire to continue Nerva’s comparatively liberal policies. There are several reasons to believe that the Judeans had their hopes raised for the rebuilding of the Jerusalem temple and for that reason many in the diaspora were encouraged to return to Judea. 

This post is a survey of the evidence from which the events leading to the revolt of 116-117 are reconstructed, with particular focus on the Acts of the Pagan Martyrs and rabbinic legends.

Events

A new era promised for Judeans?

96/97 CE — Capponi states that the emperor Nerva introduced a new era of improving relations with the Judeans of the empire when he abolished the tax that had been imposed on them all by Vespasian from the time of the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple. She points to Goodman’s discussion of coins issued by Nerva in 96/97 in support of this claim. Goodman writes:

Nerva coin reads fisci Judaici calumnia sublata – Wikimedia Commons

The precise import of the legend on his coins, FISCI IUDAICI CALUMNIA SUBLATA, is debated and debatable. The term sublata is otherwise unattested on Roman coins, and, although it was not uncommon to advertise remission of taxes, an abusive term (calumnia) in reference either to the treasury responsible for taxes, or to those who brought accusations to the treasury, or to the whole notion of the tax, is extraordinary, and perhaps only possible when a new emperor wished to make an exceptionally strong statement of disassociation from the previous regime. Many historians have asserted that the beneficiaries of Nerva’s new policy were non-Jews maliciously accused of Judaizing, but it seems to me equally, if not more, likely that Nerva’s reform was aimed at native, practising Jews. ‘Fisci ludaici‘ should mean ‘of the treasury of Judaea’ or ‘of the Jewish treasury’. As Hannah Cotton has pointed out to me, the motif of the palm tree was used explicitly to denote Judaea on Roman coinage. Thus the malicious accusation that has been removed (calumnia sublata) may have been the very existence of a special Jewish treasury, with its invidious tax which singled out Jews, unlike all other inhabitants of the empire, for payment of annual war reparations after unsuccessful revolt.  (Goodman, 176)

When Nerva died, Trajan sought to perpetuate the sense of a new era which had been associated with his predecessor. — Horbury, 303

98 CE — Trajan becomes emperor and follows Nerva’s moderate and more liberal policies. First, towards the Greek elites in Alexandria of Egypt. In 98 CE Trajan issued the following letter to the city of Alexandria:

Aware that the city has distinguished itself by its loyalty to the Augustus emperors, and having in mind the benefits that my divine father has conferred on you […], and having personal feelings of benevolence, I commend you first of all to myself, and then also to my friend and prefect Pompey Planta, so that with all care I may assure you the enjoyment of continued peace (eirene), prosperity (euthenia) and the common rights of each and all . . . (P. Oxy., 42 3022 Greek text available at papyri.info).

It is in the end not very surprising that university students of history, with some knowledge of the sources for, say, Tudor England or Louis XIV’s France, find ancient history a ‘funny kind of history’. The unavoidable reliance on the poems of Horace for Augustan ideology, or in the same way on the Eumenides of Aeschylus for the critical moment in Athenian history when the step was taken towards what we know as Periclean democracy, helps explain the appellative ‘funny’.  — Moses I. Finley  Ancient History: Evidence and Models p. 12

Some time between 107 and 113 CE it appears that relations between Trajan and the Alexandrian elites soured. The evidence Capponi relies on may appear unusual: it is a series of accounts that are generally understood to be fictional entertainment, variously known as the Acts of the Pagan Martyrs, Acts of the Alexandrian Martyrs, and the Acta Alexandrinorum — though the preferred title by one scholar is simply Alexandrian Stories. Historians do use these stories in their historical reconstructions but with “caution”.

Since the literature is not widely known, let me provide some insights into what historians have said about it as a source.

Acts of the Pagan Martyrs

From Andrew Harker’s study (Loyalty and Dissidence in Roman Egypt) of this literature,

The Acta Alexandrinorum tell the stories of the heroic deaths of Alexandrian Greek nobles. The favoured form of these stories is a record of their trial scene in the imperial court, usually presented as the official minutes (acta), with only a small amount of narrative. The Acta Alexandrinorum recycle the same archetypal story where a group of Alexandrian ambassadors travel to Rome and, on arrival, face a hostile emperor who has allied himself with their enemies, usually the Jewish community resident in Alexandria. . . .

Some of the stories have an historical, and perhaps a documentary, basis and use historical personages, but all surviving examples have been fictionalised to some extent. (p. 1 Harker)

– – –

The Acta Alexandrinorum literature was read in Egypt from the Augustan period to the mid-third century AD. (p. 2 Harker)

The literature is equally hostile to Romans, Jews and also Egyptians; that is all non-Greeks. . . . Alexandria was not a remote, isolated city that had unique problems with Rome, but very much part of the wider Hellenic Mediterranean world. . . .

The casting of the Romans and Jews as the judges and accusers of the Alexandrian heroes certainly would not have worked if there were no history of long-standing tension between the Alexandrian Greeks and the Romans and Jews. (p. 175 Harker – my highlighting)

. . . were truly popular and had a readership that covered a wide social spectrum in Roman Egypt. (p. 177 Harker)

From the scholar who is acknowledged as the first modern researcher into the Acts, Herbert Musurillo:

It is frequently a difficult task to determine when a piece of literature has been written primarily for propaganda (the literary characters being mere pawns in the presentation of a thesis), and when its aim is primarily entertainment, though with sharp political overtones. (p. 275 Musurillo)

. . . a study of the motifs which occur so frequently in the Acta indicates that they were intended to nourish the current prejudices of the interested circle-prejudices of an anti-Roman as well as an anti-Semitic nature-and to stir up their pride in an irretrievable past. (p. 275 Musurillo)

From the renowned classicist, Arnaldo Momigliano, whom Livia Capponi also cites:

It must therefore be ruled out that our documents have any partisan, pro- or anti-Semitic stance. However, just by reading them, it is also clear that they do not have the objectivity of truthful reports collected accurately but unofficially by listeners. Such reports undoubtedly form the basis of these “Acts” and thus explain the very plausible and often certainly true reports they give us as well as their contradictions. But it hardly needs saying that not only some details, such as the miracle of Serapis, but also whole episodes cannot be derived from these accounts. The whole episode of Fiacco’s corruption, with its mysterious colors, is invented. Therefore, given the current state of our knowledge, we are faced with these two facts in order to solve the literary problem constituted by these “Acts”: 1) the authentic and documentary background of their narratives; 2) the lack of any neutrality in their elaboration. . . . .

At least given our current knowledge, this collection of ‘Acts’ therefore seems to me to be understood as a novel with no higher purpose than ordinary novels; a novel built on historical data and thus usable, albeit with caution, as historical testimony. (p. 797f, Momigliano — translation.)

And finally from another historian of the Judean wars against Rome, William Horbury:

To move to the border between documents and literature, Alexandrian anti-Jewish and also anti-Roman feeling under Trajan and Hadrian breathe from the papyrus acts of the ‘pagan martyrs’. (p. 12 Horbury)

. . . events in Alexandria at the time of the revolt do receive some light from sources of a more anecdotal and publicistic kind. The ardently pro-Hellene, anti-Roman and anti-Jewish Acts of the Alexandrians, Greek accounts of trial scenes preserved in papyri, form a kind of propaganda literature presenting some analogies with Christian martyr-acts. A. Bauer’s 1898 description of the Acts of the Alexandrians as ‘pagan martyr-acts’ went together with an emphasis on their literary and fictional rather than documentary and archival character which has been developed further in subsequent study. On the Jewish side they can be compared with publicistic political literature including Philo’s tracts on events in 38, and Sibylline oracles. Later examples of such literature are the rabbinic anecdotes noted above, on the destruction of the basilica-synagogue and the slaughter of Alexandrian Jews by Trajan; these form a further source for Alexandria in the revolt. Slippery as the Acts of the Alexandrians are for the historian, they give a valuable impression of the kind of rumour and gossip which will have circulated in the times of Jewish-Greek conflict, with a strong impact on events.

Two sets of Acts in particular have been discussed in connection with Alexandrian Jewish unrest under Trajan – the Acts of Hermaiscus, pointing to the earlier years of Trajan, and the Acts of Paulus and Antoninus, referring to Jewish unrest in the city towards the end of Trajan’s reign, and in the view of many also suggesting a Jewish presence in Alexandria after Hadrian’s accession. (p. 212 Horbury — my highlighting)

Trajan’s Council “filled with Judeans”

So with the above assurance and caution we continue with Capponi’s historical reconstruction. The particular Alexandrian story of relevance, the Acts of Hermaiscus, begins when Greek elites elect representatives to sail to Rome to deliver complaints about the Judeans to the emperor Trajan. The Judeans hear what these Greek leaders are doing and respond by electing their own delegation to defend themselves. . . .

. . . They set sail, then, from the city, each party taking along its own gods, the Alexandrians (a bust of Serapis, the Jews…) . . . and when the winter was over they arrived at Rome.

The emperor learned that the Jewish and Alexandrian envoys had arrived, and he appointed the day on which he would hear both parties.

And Plotina [Trajan’s wife] approached (?) the senators in order that they might oppose the Alexandrians and support the Jews.

Now the Jews, who were the first to enter, greeted Emperor Trajan, and the emperor returned their greeting most cordially, having already been won over by Plotina. After them the Alexandrian envoys entered and greeted the emperor. He, however, did not go to meet them, but said: ‘You say “hail” to me as though you deserved to receive a greeting — after what you have dared to do to the Jews! .. .’

There is a break in the text and we pick up with Trajan speaking to the Alexandrian Greeks:

‘You must be eager to die, having such contempt for death as to answer even me with insolence.’

Hermaiscus said: ‘Why, it grieves us to see your Privy Council filled with impious Jews.’


Caesar said: ‘This is the second time I am telling you, Hermaiscus: you are answering me insolently, taking advantage of your birth.’

Hermaiscus said: ‘What do you mean, I answer you insolently, greatest emperor? Explain this to me.’

Caesar said: ‘Pretending that my Council is filled with Jews.’


Hermaiscus: ‘So, then, the word “Jew” is offensive to you? In that case you rather ought to help your own people and not play the advocate for the impious Jews.

As Hermaiscus was saying this, the bust of Serapis that they carried suddenly broke into a sweat, and Trajan was astounded when he saw it. And soon tumultuous crowds gathered in Rome and numerous shouts rang forth, and everyone began to flee to the highest parts of the hills …. 

So Trajan is believed to be currying favour with the Judeans.

Capponi suggests the likely target of Hermaiscus’s complaint was the presence of Tiberius Julius Alexander Julian, son of the Alexandrian Judean Tiberius Julius Alexander, among Trajan’s closest advisors. He was also a general:

The presence of Julian as a leading soldier in the war that brought Trajan into contact with the Jewish communities of Mesopotamia seems to have been a strategic choice of the emperor, who probably aimed to secure the support or at least the non-belligerence of the Jewish communities present in the territories to be conquered. (p. 52)

The Babylon fortress was located on the Nile.

Around the same time Trajan was immersed in preparations for his coming war against Parthia in the east. Contracts and treaties were being made with the peoples of the Caucasus, Bosporus and Cappadocian regions for grain supplies. Capponi adds,

Everything suggests – even if the information is scattered in sources of a very different nature – that that year [112 CE] Trajan also prepared an alliance with the Jewish communities. The Jews of Alexandria and Egypt controlled land and river communications in Pelusium and near the fortress of Babylon and Alexandria, and thus their alliance had a specific role in the war tactics planned by the emperor. That waterways were strategic is also testified by the construction, around 112, of a canal linking the Red Sea with the Mediterranean Sea, the Trajanos potamos. (pp. 50f)

We have seen that Trajan began his reign continuing Nerva’s policy of relieving the burdens the Flavian emperors had inflicted on the Judeans. Coins minted in the Galilean city of Sepphoris may be further indications of Trajan’s favourable attitude towards the Judeans.

The emperor had evidently taken an important measure in favour of the Jews, perhaps, as mentioned, as compensation for the scandal of the fiscus iudaicus, the confiscations, the destruction of the Temple and the exile suffered after 70. Perhaps one should consider the presence of Trajan-era coins from the mint of Sepphoris with the eloquent legend (“Trajan granted”) as further evidence of financial movements taking place before 113. (p. 53)

See Judaism and Rome: City-Coin of Sepphoris depicting the head of Trajan and a palm tree for a discussion of this coin and its symbolism.

Finally, Capponi suggests that the fictional depiction of the statue of the god Serapis weeping and alarming those present at the hearing before Trajan, may point to religious antagonisms lying behind the narrative. In no other Alexandrian martyr stories do symbols of the respective gods — a statue and, perhaps, a scroll of the Torah(?) — feature. Their presence delivers the message that the god of Alexandria is superior to that of the Judeans.

The Edict of Rutilius Lupus following a “battle” between Romans and Judeans

October 115 CE, the Prefect of Egypt, Marcus Rutilius Lupus, reprimands Alexandrians for their recent violence against the Judean population. The violent mob consisted of slaves and their Greek masters were held responsible for their actions. The prefect reminds the Greeks that they have long had no excuse for taking matters into their own hands — not since the historic Roman massacre of Judeans in the early days of the first war against Rome (66 CE). The Roman leader of the two legions at the time of that massacre was in fact the aforementioned Judean, Tiberius Julius Alexander, the father of the Judean close to Trajan. Alexander had managed to call his legionnaires back from their killing of the Judeans but the rest of the Alexandrians continued their rampage and a total of 50,000 Judeans were said to have been murdered.

The incident that led to Lupus’s edict may be connected to another of the Acts of the Alexandrian Martyrs, namely the Acts of Paul and Antony.

The Acts of Paul and Antoninus: the theatre riot

The story in summary pieced together from a broken text. While the emperor in this account is often said to be Hadrian, Capponi rejects the conjectural grounds for that identification and believes Trajan is preferable. The events take place when the prefect Lupus was absent from Alexandria, in 114 or 115 CE, there had been a riot in the city theatre. A mime play had parodied Trajan as a Judean king and drunkard. Riots followed.

In the riots that followed, the Jewish community of the city was involved and fires broke out. Rutilius Lupus had arrested some Jews and condemned the mime, but had guaranteed favourable treatment for the Alexandrians. Shortly afterwards, however, noblemen from Alexandria had mobilised slaves, apparently about sixty, for a punitive action against the Jews. According to the texts, the Alexandrians had kidnapped the Jews from prison and killed them, sparking further riots. . . .

The trial had ended with Antoninus being sentenced to be burnt at the stake, a fact that by its severity suggests the extent of the riots. (pp. 62f)

Antioch: Acts of Claudius Atilianus and the “Day of Tyrianus”

The same genre of literature as the Alexandrian Acts has been found at Antioch, another major city with a history of Greek-Judean tensions, often violence, in the Roman period. Judeans in Antioch accuse Claudius Atilianus, a Greek noble, of responsibility for deadly anti-Judean violence. (Claudius expresses divine reverence for the emperor, probably a snide hint against the Judeans who did not believe in his divinity.)

When [Trajan: originally Tyrianus = Claudius Atilianus?] seized Lulianos and Pappos at Laodicea [in Syria], he said: “If you are of the people of Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, let your God come and save you from my hand, as He saved Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah from the hand of Nebuchadnezzar.” They said to him: “Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah were upright men, and King Nebuchadnezzar was a worthy king and fit that a miracle should be wrought through him, but you, you are an evil king, and it is not fit that a miracle should be wrought through you, and we are deserving of death and if you do not slay us, the Omnipresent has many executioners — many bears, many lions, many snakes, many scorpions that can harm us, and if you kill us, the Holy One, blessed be He, will exact vengeance for our blood from you.” It was said that he had not even left that place when a Roman dispatch came to him and they split his head with clubs and logs.(Megillat Ta’anit 31, trans by Zeev)

Rabbinic stories speak of an anti-Judean governor or Roman magistrate of Syria around this time named Tyrianus, and Capponi suggests that the name Atilianus has been confused through assonance into Tryrianus, so that possibly the Antioch trial before Trajan focuses on the same hero (to the Greeks of Antioch) or villain (to the Judeans of Antioch). There are multiple rabbinic accounts, however. According to William Horbury (p. 165) the Jerusalem Talmud refers to Trajan while the Babylonian Talmud has Tirion or Tyrianus, which suggests that the Day of Tyrianius”, a holiday that had supplanted another honouring the rebels against Antiochus Epiphanes in the time of the Maccabean rebellion, is reinterpreted as Trajan’s Day.

Capponi thus interprets the Acts of Claudius Atilianus as an account of the death of a Syrian governor for illegally executing Judeans. In Rabbinic legend the two Judeans he executed were financiers of Judean migration back to Judea in order to rebuild the Temple and in one account the governor’s name was confused with Trajan. We will return to this little datum.

It is probable that the Atilianus documented in the judicial record that has come down to us on papyrus was a Roman authority in Syria, tried before the emperor and then killed in Antioch, for illegally putting Jews to death in Laodicea. That there were trials and sentences in the arena could be recalled in the rabbinic account by the allusion of the two brothers to a probable death by the mouths of bears and lions – an obvious symbol of ad bestias condemnation during the games – if Tyrianus had not killed them first in some other way. (p. 66)

The Martyrdom of Ignatius

Re-enter Ignatius. We have posted about him before. (Roger Parvus suspected he was the Peregrinus of Lucian’s satire.) Livia Capponi follows the reconstruction of Marco Rizzi who in turn has a new look at a sixth century record. The table below is adapted from the one in Rizzi’s chapter (p. 126).

Possible Chronology for the Trial and Execution of Ignatius
January 115 Earthquake in Antioch, whose apocalyptic interpretation ignites Judean Diaspora revolts in 115 and/or 116.
January – August 115 Possible trial against Judean and Christian Antiochenes before of Trajan in Antioch; capture, trial, and condemnation of Ignatius who is sent in chains to Rome. Ignatius is accused of having insulted Trajan.

August – September 115

‘Battle’ (μάχη) between Judeans and Romans in Alexandria. Trajan orders the combatants to lay down their arms. Possible pacification also in Antioch and within the Christian community. A new bishop is substituted for Ignatius.

Revolt (στάσις) goes on in Alexandria, due to some slaves of prominent Alexandrians.

The restored “peace” was the occasion for Ignatius to give thanks that the church in Antioch has “now found peace” — in his second group of letters: Philadelphians, the Smyrnaeans, and Polycarp.

14 October 115 Edict of Rutilius Lupus. See above
January 116 Trajan conquers Ctesiphon in Parthia
February 116 The Roman Senate decrees three days of ludii in the theater. Possible martyrdom of Ignatius
Spring 116 Judean Revolt in Mesopotamia and elsewhere

Pappus and Lulianus

We now meet up again with the executions that were celebrated in the “Day of Tyrianus”.

Claudius Atilianus (Tyrianus?) was condemned by Trajan for unjustly ordering the deaths of two Judean brothers. In rabbinic legend their names are Pappus and Lulianus and, as mentioned above, they came to be remembered as martyrs slain by Trajan. Since Capponi refers to Horbury as “the foremost expert” (“il maggiore esperto”) on the legend of Pappus and Lulianus I will quote Horbury’s description:

To put together some of the scattered notices, Pappus and Lulianus were rich men, the pride of Israel, whose execution fulfilled the prophecy ‘I will break the pride of your power’ . . . ; they set up banks from Acco to Antioch to aid those coming into Judaea . . . ; after their arrest they were offered water in a coloured glass, to make it appear that they had drunk idolatrous libation-wine, but they would not receive it . . . ; before Trajan slew them in Laodicaea, they exchanged bitter repartee with him, and told him that their blood would be required at his hands – and ‘it is said that Trajan had not moved from there before a despatch came from Rome, and they knocked out his brain with clubs’ . . . . Their commemorative day displaced an existing ‘day of Tirion’ (perhaps a Maccabaean commemoration), according to the Talmud Yerushalmi . . . : ‘the day of Tirion ceased on the day that Pappus and Lulianus were slain’. Instead of ‘Tirion’ a parallel passage in the Babylonian Talmud . . . has ‘Turianus’, Trajan. A ‘day of Tirion’ is placed on 12 Adar in an old list of commemorative days when fasting is not permitted . . . . A narrative of their activity and deaths had then probably begun to take shape well before the middle of the second century.

On the basis of these traditions Pappus and Lulianus have been viewed as leaders of revolt under Trajan or Hadrian. (p. 265)

A return of Judeans to Judea? Horbury cites further from rabbinic legends:

. . . ‘In the days of Joshua ben Hananiah, the empire decreed that the house of the sanctuary should be rebuilt. Pappus and Lulianus set up banks from Acco to Antioch, and supplied those who came up from the Exile . . . ’ (Ber. R. lxiv 10, on Gen. 26:29). Here they facilitate Jewish entry into Judaea, along the Antioch–Acco (Ptolemais) road, a main route to Judaea which had been paved to aid Roman military access from Syria after the Jewish-Samaritan conflicts about the year 50. The likely Roman reaction to this is suggested by the prohibition of immigration to increase the Jewish population in Alexandria decreed in earlier times by Claudius: ‘I bid the Jews . . . not to introduce or admit Jews who sail down from Syria or Egypt, acts which compel me to entertain graver suspicions; otherwise I shall take vengeance on them in every way, as instigating a general plague throughout the world’ (P. Lond. 1912 = CPJ no. 153, lines 88–9, 96–100).

Any Roman permission for temple rebuilding, as recounted in the midrash here, would have come, if at all, at a time other than that of the Jewish revolts during Trajan’s Parthian war. It can perhaps best be envisaged under Nerva and in the early years of Trajan . . . . Apart from this point, however, the reference to the temple is apt enough. Hope for a restored temple was, irrespective of any decree, part of the complex of aspirations for Jewish revival which was sketched from revolt coinage, the Eighteen Benedictions and other prayers . . . , and it could indeed help to evoke the immigration described. (pp. 266f)

Which brings us to the question of messianic hopes among the Judeans of the Diaspora as a contributor to their revolt against Rome.

That will be the subject of the next post.


Capponi, Livia. Il mistero del tempio. La rivolta ebraica sotto Traiano. Rome: Salerno, 2018.

Goodman, Martin. “The Fiscus Iudaicus and Gentile Attitudes to Judaism in Flavian Rome.” In Flavius Josephus and Flavian Rome, edited by J. C. Edmondson, Steve Mason, and J. B. Rives, 165–77. Oxford ; New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Harker, Andrew. Loyalty and Dissidence in Roman Egypt: The Case of the Acta Alexandrinorum. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2008.

Horbury, William. Jewish War under Trajan and Hadrian. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2014.

Mason, Steve. A History of the Jewish War, A.D. 66-74. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2016.

Momigliano, Arnaldo. “Un Nuovo Frammento Dei Così Detti « Atti Dei Martiri Pagani ».” In Quinto Contributo Alla Storia Degli Studi Classici E Del Mondo Antico. II, 2:789–98. Storia e Letteratura: Raccolta di Studi e Testi 136. Rome: Ed. di Storia e Letteratura, 1975.

Musurillo, Herbert, ed. The Acts of the Pagan Martyrs: Acta Alexandrinorum. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1954.

Rizzi, Marco. “Jews and Christians under Trajan and the Date of Ignatius’ Martyrdom.” In Jews and Christians in the First and Second Centuries: The Interbellum 70‒132 CE, edited by Joshua J. Schwartz and Peter J. Tomson, 119–26. Leiden ; Boston: Brill, 2017.

Zeev, Miriam Pucci Ben. Diaspora Judaism in Turmoil, 116/117 CE: Ancient Sources and Modern Insights. Leuven ; Dudley, MA: Peeters Publishers, 2005.



2023-05-06

Appendix. The Messianic Expectations of the Jews at the Time of Jesus

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

by Neil Godfrey

Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics

by Bruno Bauer

Volume 1

—o0o—

391

Appendix.

The Messianic Expectations of the Jews at the Time of Jesus.

All those who have spoken out against Strauss’s interpretation of the evangelical history in recent years also felt it was their duty to protest against the derivation of sacred history from the Messianic expectations of the Jews. But this protest, no matter how earnestly intended or spoken with holy disgust at the supposed blasphemy, was from the beginning powerless and remained so, since it could not prevent Gfrörer from developing the contested view to the extreme that it could reach. But what use was it to recall that this or that Jewish book, which the critic designated as a source for the views of the evangelists, was written six, seven, or fourteen centuries after the composition of the Gospels? What could an argument of this kind achieve, which only focused on individual and few points, if one shared with Strauss the basic assumption that Messianic expectation had already prevailed among the Jews before the appearance of Jesus, and even knew fairly accurately what its nature was? To the same extent, a dispute of this kind had to be futile and useless, just as it was impossible for Strauss to make the origin of the evangelical history understandable, as long as he, like Hengstenberg, considered the Messianic dogma of the Jews as one that had already been fully developed before the appearance of Jesus. Both criticism and apologetics shared the same error, their struggle could only lead to unfruitful quarrels, but not to a decision, and the matter suffered most – it remained buried in prejudices.

392

Since Gfrörer has now taken uncritical thinking to its peak, it is finally time to come to our senses and to recognize reason, which has not yet come to recognition in this regard after two thousand years of error in history. It is a matter of the utmost importance – who does not immediately sense it? – to bring criticism to its ultimate crisis and to make it the last judgment of the past by elevating it to complete ideality and universality and freeing it from the last unrecognized positive with which it has still been entangled. The last and most persistent assumption that it still shared with apologetics must be addressed – and how extraordinary is the reward that follows the resolution of this uncritical assumption when the creative power is again attributed to the Christian principle, which even the previous criticism had denied.

Apologetics, as it has developed or rather remained the same since the beginning of the Christian community until our day, could not even conceive the idea that it might be possible to question whether the Messiah’s view had become a reflection concept before the time of Jesus and had come to power as such. It couldn’t – because it is already clear to them from the outset that the content of the revelation has always been the same and always the same one object of consciousness *); it must not – because in its limited polemical interest, it believes that the connection of the Old and New Testament is only ensured if it demonstrates the content of the latter as a real object of consciousness in the former. To interpret the preparation of Christianity differently, namely to say that Jesus only had to say: “See, I am what you have been expecting so far” – this is completely impossible for them.

*) The author allows himself to refer to the detailed explanation in his presentation of the Religion of the Old Testament, section 54.

393

Until now, it was impossible for criticism to free itself and history from the apologetic shackles, as every opposition in its first form shared the assumptions of its opponent and only determined them differently. Hengstenberg and those before him claimed that in Jesus, what the pious had hoped and expected had appeared, while Strauss claimed that in the Christian community, the history of Jesus had been created and elaborated as an image and fulfillment of Jewish expectations.

After having proven in the above criticism that the gospel history has its principle solely in Christian self-consciousness, and that its assumptions, as far as they are contained in the Old Testament, were only used by the community and the evangelists as these assumptions for the elaboration of the Christian principle and the messianic image, we want to provide evidence in outline that the messianic element of the Old Testament view did not develop into a reflection concept before the beginning of the Christian era.

It is not necessary to mention here in more detail that the messianic views of the prophets had not yet been raised by them to the unity and solidity of the concept of reflection; we have proven this in our presentation of the religion of the Old Testament. The interest of the present investigation lies solely in the question of whether the idea of “the Messiah” had prevailed among the Jews in the centuries immediately preceding the advent of Jesus.

If we first examine the Septuagint, whose oldest components are said to date back to the third century BC, and Jonathan’s paraphrase, we have an example of what a translation of the Old Testament must look like when it is written in a time and environment where “the Messiah” has become the subject of consciousness and the view has become dogma. The translator must indicate explicitly the individual passages that can and should be interpreted messianically, and he must state expressly that the passage speaks of the Messiah at that point. A necessary consequence of this reflection will eventually be that even in the translation, the systematic theory cannot be denied, namely that the content of one passage is transferred to another and one view is combined with another – all things that one searches for in vain in the translation of the LXX. Once (in Balaam’s blessing, Num. 24:7), it is indeed said differently from the original text: “A man shall come out of Jacob’s seed and he shall rule over many peoples.” But it is not only not said that this man is the Messiah, it is rather clear that it is to be a man, that is, a future king in general, who (v.17) will wound the princes of Moab and plunder the children of Seth.

394

Gesenius (*) sees in Isaiah 38:11 a “messianic passage that inserts the LXX.” In the original text, Hezekiah says: “I will not see Yahweh anymore.” The Septuagint, which is known to alter such statements that refer to seeing God, instead reads: “I will not see the salvation of God, το σωτήριον του θεου.” But what messianic meaning could there be in this, if the LXX replaces the more specific “God” with the more abstract idea of God’s relationship to the world, or with a specific type of revelation of the divine? Gesenius (**) says: “Compare Luke 2:30, 3:6, Acts 28:28 for the scarcely misunderstood expression.” But if the general and indefinite categories of an earlier standpoint, which the later one uses to denote – and even to abstractly denote – its more specific content, had already expressed the same content earlier, then the LXX translation is full of messianic passages. Luke modeled his diction after that of the LXX, and did what the later standpoint always does: he gave a new meaning to the earlier general expression by using it to represent the Christian view.

(*) Comm. on Isaiah, vol. 2, p. 62.

(**) Ibid, p. 611.

395

It is well-known and often said that the Old Testament apocrypha know nothing of the Messiah. This entire literature has only been able to produce the meager product of the Book of Baruch in prophecy, a book in which all the liveliness and power that belongs to the vision of the Messiah has died out. Even though the thought of a better future occasionally appears in the apocryphal writings, in which the enemies of the people are punished or converted, or even when the older formula of an eternal reign of the house of David is used without mentioning the Messiah, this is the strongest proof that the messianic expectation was completely foreign to that time. Only occasionally, when the accidental course of the speech leads to David, is there talk of the eternal duration of his reign (Sir. 47:11, 1 Macc. 2:57) – proof enough that it is not a living faith that looks to the future, but only the habit of Old Testament expression that lends this hyperbolic and indefinite formula to the writer.

A favorable fate, or rather the wisdom of history, the right tact of its readers and its own prophetic power have preserved the Book of Daniel from the fate of being placed in the category of the apocrypha and have earned it a well-deserved place in the canonical literature. Although written in the period of apocryphal literature, after the struggle with Antiochus Epiphanes, it is not only in chronological terms, but also in its inner content, the conclusion of the old prophetic literature. In this book, the two kingdoms, that of the Lord of Heaven and that of the world, are already separated with the most decided reflection, and the heavenly kingdom appears as a firm and certain object of expectation. The Messiah has become a freer subject of contemplation here than with any other prophet; he rides on the clouds of heaven and is brought to the throne of the Ancient of Days to receive all power, glory, and rule. As far as it could be done from the prophetic standpoint, the reflection is completed here; for on this standpoint, it cannot be taken further than to that form of free combination which establishes the Messiah as an independent personality of the heavenly world from the outset and allows him to be clothed in advance with the general power that is destined for him.

396

The powerful man who wrote the Book of Daniel in such a spiritually barren time as the Maccabean era stood alone with his view, which represented the final transition from prophecy to fulfillment, and the deep content of his work remained unrecognized in the following time, until it was developed and bore fruit in the self-awareness of Jesus and the community. The author of the first book of Maccabees, who wrote at the end of the second century BC and, as several keywords prove, knew and used the Book of Daniel, had no inkling of what a treasure he possessed in this book. If the expectation of the Messiah had been nurtured and the powers of the time had been devoted to the development of the messianic idea, the standpoint of reflection that the Book of Daniel had established would have had to be maintained, at least if we are to forget the demand for further development for a moment. However, the author of the first book of Maccabees knows nothing of a Messiah, only that he lacks the prophetic revelations that had been bestowed upon earlier times, and he hopes for nothing more from the future than their return (1 Maccabees 4:46, 9:27, 14:41).

Although the intellectual work produced by the apocryphal literature of the Old Testament was not entirely insignificant for the development and foundation of the Christian principle.

397

The idea of divine wisdom, in which this literature has reached its highest point, was excluded again by the Christian consciousness, and even gave it the material and category to attempt to determine the difference in the divine nature in which the personality of the Messiah had its eternal presupposition. What does this mean other than that the idea from the Apocrypha could only become important and fruitful for the Christian principle once it had already entered into reflection on itself through its original form? It was not immediately relevant for the initial emergence of the Christian principle, and even less could it have pushed the consciousness of the people towards messianic expectations. On the contrary, due to its abstract nature and implementation, it had to draw all those whom it influenced away from the specific messianic hope, if it really existed, and give their view a fundamentally different direction. The idea of wisdom is concerned with the past history, the former leadership of the people, and the relationship of Israel to other nations; it wants to grasp the general relationship of the divine nature to the world in the specificity in which the history of the people and its relationship to the rest of the world is grounded. It grasps this specificity of the divine nature itself in an abstract way and cannot bring it to real personality – what significance can the idea of the Messiah, which looks towards the future and has to do with a specific personality, still have? If the idea of wisdom was important for the Christian principle, it was only through the detour that history usually likes to take in transition periods, whereby it made the people forget the limited conception of the messianic idea found in the prophets and gave the consciousness of the people an abstract generality, from which that idea should be reborn in a deeper form, with a more general background and a more substantial presupposition. As long as that idea was being developed and while it was engaging the spirits with the original interest, it was not otherwise possible: the specific idea of the Messiah could neither be present nor could it take shape into a fixed form from the older prophetic views.

398

He also did not develop in the writings of Philo – if we are allowed to go beyond the time when Jesus appeared. Philo, like Baruch, Sirach, and other authors of apocryphal writings, speaks of a time when the people will return from dispersion to their homeland and their enemies will be punished. But what does he know about the Messiah? Once *) he speaks (according to Num. 24:7, LXX) of a man who will rise up as a general and warrior and conquer great nations. Once! What does this mean for a writer who is as verbose as he is! And in this one instance, he uses the words of the Holy Scriptures and even notes that he is quoting a prophecy. **) He, who is usually so lengthy, who repeats his thoughts so often and in the most varied ways, is so laconic on this point, and when he is led to it once, he only touches on it with the words that the scripture provides? He repeats a view that he cannot give a new turn to? In his system, this view has not received an internal position or gained development – it has only been presented to him by chance once. But it is also outside of any connection with another view, according to which the people will be led by a human form upon their return to the homeland, which is more divine than human nature, and will only be visible to those who are to be saved, but invisible to the enemies. ***) It is likely that the Logos will serve the people as their leader in this way. “The Messiah” is neither this vague, floating, and baseless figure nor the conqueror of nations mentioned elsewhere. For this reason alone, we cannot say that Philo “knows the Messiah” because he allows both views of the warrior and the aerial figure that will appear to the people upon their return to the homeland to stand isolated and foreign to one another. It may be that when Philo came to these isolated views, he was driven by a tendency and followed an impulse that had emanated from the spiritual revolution that had begun in Palestine. It is just as possible that without such an impulse, the prophecy of Num. 24:7 and his view that the Logos led the Israelites out of Egypt in the pillar of cloud gave him the material with which he filled out his view of the final liberation and redemption of the people. But it is certain that the idea of the Messiah was not given to him from tradition. It is certain that he did not take into account any scriptures other than the prophetic writings, except for a few cases, and only dealt with the Law and its explanation. But as soon as the idea of the Messiah had gained some power and life among the Jewish people, the focus was immediately on the prophets, and the study of their writings became alive.

*) de praem. Opp. II, 423

**) έξελευοεται άνθροωπος, φησιν ό χρησμός.

***) de execr. Opp. II, 436

399

Neither in the last centuries before Christ nor in the beginning of the Christian era were the prophets the subject of general interest or scholarly explanation, nor were their writings read in the synagogues like the Law.
We hear nothing about the messianic expectations being a point of contention between the Pharisees and the Sadducees. Both sects diverged in that the Sadducees only attributed legislative significance to the Mosaic scriptures; however, this restriction of the legislative canon was not prompted by the slightest consideration of messianic prophecies – they were not even mentioned. Besides their dogmatic interest in denying the resurrection and existence of angels, their opposition to the traditional development of the Law, which the Pharisees advocated, forced them to this negative criticism. They believed they could not free themselves from these traditions of the Law in any other way than by recognizing only the original Law as the canon of positive religious and legal provisions.

400

The Law was also the only scripture read and explained in the synagogues according to the sections designated for each Sabbath. Even those who have an interest, based on their assumptions, in pushing the interpretation of the prophets as far back as possible before the Christian era must concede, at least to maintain their hypothesis, that “a general (!) – as if an arbitrary or differently determined one in different places were proven – a general establishment of the prophetic readings had not yet occurred in the third century (after Christ).”*

*) Zunz, Die Gottesdienstlichen Vorträge der Juden, p. 6.

But, it is said, it is clear from the information in the New Testament itself that prophetic readings were already customary before the destruction of the Temple. When Jesus stood up in the synagogue in Nazareth to read, they handed him the book of the prophet Isaiah (Luke 4:16-17). However, if it really mattered to Luke, he would have paid much attention to the customs of the time, and if he knew, he would have recorded it. It was only necessary for Jesus to be given the book of Isaiah to facilitate the miracle of him finding the appropriate passage to demonstrate its fulfillment in his person. Whether the prophets were read in the synagogue or not is irrelevant. In any case, Paul also taught in the synagogue in Antioch “after the reading of the Law and the Prophets” (Acts 13:15). Of course! Because the Gospel rested on both. But what do we learn from this kind of pragmatism, formed only from Christian assumptions, about the organization of the synagogue? Nothing! Certainly nothing reliable!

401

“Jonathan’s Targum of the Prophets, says Zunz*), provides evidence that the content of the prophetic books was explained to the public either within or outside of the Targumic reading, as a result of studies that produced firm national concepts.” Indeed, if it were proven that the Scripture was already being read in Chaldean paraphrase in Palestine during the time of Jesus, and if it were true that Jonathan was a disciple of Hillel, then the prophets must have been explained in the synagogues long before, and the expectation of the Messiah must have already existed. However, if the age of Jonathan’s paraphrase is used as evidence, it must first be proven that it is centuries younger, and other reliable information must also prove that the prophetic idea of the Messiah existed among the people before the Christian era.

*) ibid, p. 332.

We will soon add to the evidence that it did not have this influence and power, that Jonathan’s paraphrase is far younger than modern scholars assume, after first eliminating another witness to the dominance of the prophetic idea of the Messiah before the time when Jesus appeared.

At least, a work like the Book of Enoch, which can be so clearly shown to have acquired its current form gradually and through various authors, cannot lead us to abandon a statement that is confirmed everywhere else. In this book, the Danielic idea of the Son of Man is executed with perfect reflection; but it should already arouse suspicion that this execution is only found in the middle part of the book, which contains the three parables (Chapters 37-68), which differ essentially from the earlier visions at the point where the Son of Man appears, namely in containing the idea of a universal judgment and no longer strictly observing the limited reference to the fallen angels that had prevailed until then. When the Son of Man reappears after these parables, for example, immediately in Chapter 69 and Chapter 70, the disconnectedness of the presentation and the complete lack of coherence prove that these intermediate sections were only formed and inserted after those parables were added to the original text. Or, for those who are better at patching things together, they may prove that Chapter 104 was conceived and written in one go by the same author as the preceding and following sections.

402

Lawrence has also pointed out that even the three parables are fragmented by a foreign interpolation, as in Chapter 64-67 a section is suddenly inserted into the third parable, in which not even Enoch, but Noah, the same Noah whose birth is only told in Chapter 105, reports a vision.

A Christian – several Christians must have had a hand in the gradual expansion of the book. The birth of the white calf, which all the animals of the field and the birds of the sky worship and call upon at all times, and whose nature all animals assume (Chapter 89, 45-46), can only be understood as referring to the establishment and spread of the Christian church.
But if it is certain that there are Christian interpolations in the book, it loses all evidentiary value if one tries to infer from its content the existence of Messianic expectations before the beginning of the Christian era. Even in that case, it cannot be admitted as a witness in such an important matter if it were to be true that its foundation was already developed in the time of Herod, as recently claimed by Gfrörer after Lawrence.

403

However, we also doubt the latter. This absurd literature – its absurd form and content already prove that we should not look for the germinal ideas that developed the Christian principle in it – deserves to be re-examined in relation to the question that concerns us here. For now, we only note that the apocryphal reckoning and chronology of the Book of Enoch and the Fourth Book of Ezra, even if they were to run until the days of Herod – which is not even strictly proven – is not a reason to date the composition of these books to the time of Herod. For example, if Enoch speaks of seventy shepherds who have pastured the flock since the division of the Jewish kingdom, this number is freely formed after the seventy years of captivity, leading approximately to the time of Herod. If it does not lead there – and it does not lead there, it leads into the air and the blue – then the author would have filled in the number as he pleased. The author distinguishes thirty-seven shepherds among those seventy from twenty-three following, after which twelve appear. The thirty-seven are the kings of Judah and Israel. But should the author have possessed such precise historical knowledge that he knew even the most unknown princes of the Babylonian, Persian, and Macedonian dynasties and knew how to indicate their sum from twenty-three*)? He, the rough apocalyptist who thought that each of these princes had fulfilled his vow on time (C. 89, 7.)? No! This work and investigation must be resumed from another point of view, for which the apocalyptist is not necessarily regarded as a learned historian. This man, who has such chronology in his head, did not even know how to count twelve from Matthias to Herod the Great.

*) Gfrörer, The Holy and the True, l, 97.

404

The eleven (8 + 3) princes that Ezra speaks of (4 Esdras 12:24, 29) will probably only find their explanation in the Book of Daniel (7:7-8). Such apocalyptic numbers had become categories that were freely processed and applied, and they do not shed light on the time in which these scriptures were composed.

But isn’t the Book of Enoch already cited in the Letter of Jude? Well, one must first prove that this letter was written in the first century and provide a better reason than De Wette and Schott, who rely on the fact that in a context where judgment is spoken of against those who deny God and Christ, there is no mention of judgment against Jerusalem. The author of the letter did not need to mention the destruction of Jerusalem, because it was already over and the opposition to the Jews was no longer relevant; however, the absence of this opposition is evident here since the author is actually fighting against heretics who have arisen within the Church.

If we reflect on the New Testament itself, it speaks from all sides against the assumption that before its composition and especially before the ideal foundation of the Gospels was formed, there was a messianic dogma or Christology among the Jews. First of all, the evidence still holds that the evangelical views emerged from the inner determination of the Christian principle and that the Old Testament colors were only used to express them because they reflected the same idea that the Evangelists and the Church were engaged in. Then, when such a coincidence occurs, the Old Testament expressions, as Mark and Luke prove, are repeated verbatim and copied. Mark tells the story of the calling of the apostles in such a way that he literally uses the Old Testament account of how Moses selected the seventy. A whole series of stories*) is modeled in terms of expressions and arrangements on the story of Elijah. But if the Jews had already possessed a developed Christology at that time and if this had been the model that the Evangelists imitated, they would no longer have been so strictly bound to the diction and content of the Old Testament, and their entire narrative would have revealed a richer diversity. However, their only presupposition in their work was the ideal conception set by the principle, which was discovered only in the Old Testament.

*) Wilke, p. 569. 570.

405

Marcus proceeds with this historical assumption in such a way that he completely intertwines it with his historical representation and does not yet reflect on the content of his presentation. Only Matthew quotes the Old Testament, compares the prophecy with the fulfillment, and directs the reflection to the fact that the holy history had to look just like this in order for the prophecy to be fulfilled. But where do we find in him even one secure trace that leads us to a Jewish messianic dogma? We always find with him only the combination of the ideal world of the new principle and the prophecy, a combination of which he no longer knows how freely it was already accomplished by Marcus before him, which is therefore given to him as positive and which he now makes external. Certainly, when he quotes the Old Testament, there arises in his narration a redundancy that is often disruptive enough; he quotes the Old Testament view, which is already used and processed in the narration that he finds and transcribes. So he gives the same thing twice — but enough: he does not give us a Jewish Christology.

The discourse of Jesus on the last things, as Marcus formed it, is essentially modeled after the prophecies of Daniel, Joel, and Jeremiah: but would not the evangelist have moved more freely if a Jewish Christology and dogmatic expressions of the same had already been given to him? Only Matthew knows specific dogmatic formulas for the last things: of course! Until his time, they had partly formed themselves, partly already gained general acceptance, and he could attribute them to the Lord without hesitation.

406

Even the narrative pieces that Luke and Matthew have added to the original Gospel cannot be attributed to a Jewish Christology, nor do they have any internal connection with this phantom. But if there had been a Jewish messianic dogma at the time when the community developed its historical perspective and religious reflection of the Gospels, wouldn’t this later addition have been even more boldly held on the basis of this dogma? Shouldn’t we find the strongest evidence of such a dogma in it?

If the Jews had already possessed a Christology at the time when the community developed its historical perspective and religious reflection of the Gospels, the messianic interpretation of the Old Testament would already have passed into a fixed type, and it would no longer have been possible for the same prophetic utterances in the New Testament to be applied to Jesus and his work in such diverse ways as we find them. Not only are the same passages applied to Jesus in different ways in the various writings, but the same writer gives the same passage a different relation to the messianic work. Furthermore, a writing like the Epistle to the Hebrews shows that even later on, as the idea of the Redeemer and his work gradually became dogmatically developed, it was still compared with the Old Testament, and its images were sought in it. However, the rigorous approach in which this comparison is carried out, and the fact that these often remote and only homogeneous prototypes, which could only be relevant to Christian doctrine as such, indicate that the author of this letter knew nothing of a Jewish Christology. The prototype of the Paschal Lamb, whose bones were not broken, or the prototype of the raised serpent, which the fourth Evangelist found in the Old Testament, is remote and coincidental enough. How could prototypes of this kind have found their place in a Jewish Christology? If the Evangelists had received their Christology from the Jews, then Matthew would not have been led to apply the prophecy of the suffering servant of Jehovah (Isaiah 53) to the healing of the sick by Jesus with just the keyword “illness”. In short, if a Jewish Christology had already arisen before the time of Jesus, it would have had to be a priori and firmly closed as an ideal type, and there would have had to be a certain meaning and a fixed relationship to the Old Testament prophecies. Instead, we find only one thing here, the dogma that the prophets have prophesied about the Messiah, i.e., Jesus. But in the execution of this dogma, all indications are that it was the first attempt.

407

That dogma, however, only arose with the Christian community, or rather, the moment it arose gave life to the community.

Now, only when Bertholdt’s, his predecessors’ and successors’ Jewish Christologies no longer cloud our minds and make our eyes dull, is it possible to explain a circumstance that has not yet found its sufficient explanation. According to the original type of the evangelical view of history, Jesus did not openly proclaim himself as the Messiah before the people and was only recognized by the disciples as the Son of God shortly before leaving Galilee, and even by the people only greeted as the Son of David upon entering Jerusalem. In any case, even this type was a work in which later reflection had its share; but it would not have arrived at this type if it had not been firmly established that Jesus, while working among the people, never directly announced himself as the Messiah and was never recognized as such. For the one who formed this type, it still had to be an undeniable fact that at the time of Jesus, the expectation of the Messiah did not prevail universally among the people, otherwise, when he (Mark 8:28) reports the people’s opinion of Jesus to the disciples, he would have reported at least one party that held Jesus to be the Messiah; he would not have presented it as if Peter only came to the realization in that moment that Jesus was the Messiah, and he would not have written that the Lord strictly forbade the disciples from telling the people who he was.

408

If the Messianic expectation had prevailed universally among the people, or if it had been the symbol of any specific party or the righteous, chosen, true Israel, etc., then the dead and mechanical relationship would certainly have had to set in that Jesus, at his first appearance, would simply have stood up and said, “See, I am the one you have been waiting for.”

We would then have to assume the only case in history where the man who created a new principle already found the principle – poor language, can you express the unthinkable? – already completed. But where in all of history has an epoch-making man appeared who did not bring with him the specific content by which he made his epoch only in his self-consciousness? Which hero would that be whose essence and person were already expected beforehand, indeed, already existed in expectation, and who now only needed to step forward to say that he was what they had expected? No great historical figure has ever arisen who preached and referred to himself from the outset or at all.

World-historical individuals have only become epoch-making by the fact that the content of their self-consciousness was a new one, not preconceived by anyone, and born only with them. And they only refer to themselves by giving the world a new principle and devoting themselves to and sacrificing themselves for its development. It is only by doing so that they are these heroes, by solving the riddle that had occupied the world in the most diverse forms up to that point in the formula that no one had found.

409

We can save the honor of Jesus by returning his person from the standpoint of death, to which apologetics has brought it, and restoring to it the living relationship with history that it had, as can no longer be denied. That important transformation of Jewish consciousness, which revived the view of the prophets and elevated it to the essential content of religious spirit and the reflective concept of the Messiah, had begun only in the time when John the Baptist appeared with his message of repentance, but it was not yet complete when Jesus followed him. If a view that unites heaven and earth, reconciles God and man, and resolves the essential opposition was to come to power and become the one point on which all the forces of the spirit would converge, nothing more and nothing less was necessary than the appearance of a personality whose self-consciousness had nothing else as its content and existence than the resolution of this opposition, and who would then develop this self-consciousness before the world and draw the religious spirit to the one point where its riddles are solved. Jesus accomplished this immense work, but not by hastily pointing to his person – rather, he developed before the people the content that was given and one with his self-consciousness, and only by this circuitous route did his person, which he sacrificed to his historical destiny and the idea he lived for, continue to live on in the recognition of this idea. When he rose in the faith of his followers and continued to live on in the community, he was the Son of God who had resolved and reconciled the essential opposition, and the only, the all-important, thing in which the religious consciousness found rest, peace, and the object of its devotion, since there was no other fixed, reliable, and lasting one. Now, the wavering and unsteady views of the prophets came together at the one point, in which they were not only fulfilled by him, but also got their common bond and the support that made each of them important. The Messiah was now given as a concept and a firm idea, along with his appearance and faith in him, and the first Christology emerged. We possess it in the writings of the New Testament.

410

We would have to return to the apologetic view, according to which the Christian principle already existed as a reflective concept in the expectation before Jesus, if it were true what the newer critics like Gesenius, De Wette, in complete agreement with Hengstenberg and Hävernick, assert, namely that the Chaldean translation of the Prophets, which is attributed to Jonathan, was made at the beginning of the Christian era. According to Gesenius, Jonathan, the son of Uzziel, was “one of Gamaliel’s *) Jerusalem disciples.” De Wette says **) that only “for trivial reasons” has it been doubted that the Talmudic statement that Jonathan was a disciple of Hillel, and therefore flourished before Christ’s birth, is true.

From this standpoint, it must be said, of course, that Jonathan’s “messianic doctrine appears to be older than the New Testament, rather than younger.” Jonathan’s explanation and translation of Isaiah 53 “seems to have become a very important source of messianic ideas at the time of the New Testament,” and so on.***)

*) same source as before, page 66.

**) Einleitung in das Alte Testament, section 89.

***) for example, Gesenius in the same work, pages 88, 78, 79.

In general, it is characteristic of this type of rationalistic criticism to explain and derive the determinacy of a religious principle in such a way that it is assumed empirically and historically self-evident, and then its historical emergence is understood as a repetition of its earlier historical existence. The Christian ideas already existed in Jewish Christology, and particularly in Jonathan’s paraphrase. Clearly, this historical explanation and derivation of a principle suffers from the lack of going back infinitely, and its refutation is simply brought about by pushing it back into the nothingness of its infinity. The rationalistic criticism must be asked to explain how the reflective concept “of the Messiah” came about in Jonathan’s paraphrase. And if apologetics already carries out the infinite regression itself and finally arrives at the original gospel, which was already given to the first human being, we can leave it standing and let it fall in this empty space.

411

Then, when we have traced this type of criticism back into the past, we can solve the other part of the task and push Jonathan with his paraphrase further forward into the later era in which they belong.

In the point that concerns us here, this paraphrase is based on dogmatic reflection. The idea of the Messiah is finished, stands firm, and connects the originally isolated views of the Old Testament more or less arbitrarily, as the explanation is sometimes arbitrary, as in Isaiah 16:1 – they will bring tribute to the Messiah – or Isaiah 14:29 – from the children of Isaiah the Messiah will arise – in any case, it is very skillful, even sober, cautious and the product of a view that was already very certain of its cause. The Messiah also fights against his hostile counterpart, the Antichrist, who is called the Magog in 1 Samuel 2:10 or the Armillus in Isaiah 11:4. Similarly, the difference between this world age and the coming age in which the Messiah appears is decided in 1 Kings 4:33. Finally, the intentionality with which in the section Isaiah 52:13-53:12 the attributes of glory are attributed to the Messiah, while as much as possible a different direction is given to what is said about the sufferings and low appearance of the Servant of Jehovah and related to the sufferings of the people or the future defeat of the Gentiles – this deliberate substitution of the subject was simply impossible if a specific view of the Messiah was not already firmly established and the opposing one was to be rejected. It is the Christian view that the paraphraser wants to refute and make impossible by withdrawing from it a testimony that was considered its strongest. He has at least betrayed to us the time in which he wrote, so that we can no longer doubt that he produced his translation when the temple was long in ruins, Isaiah 53:5.

412

If one relies on the Talmudic testimony (Baba Bathra F. 134, C. 1.) that Jonathan was a disciple of Hillel, then one must also recognize the other testimony (Megilla F. 3, C. 1.) according to which Jonathan received his paraphrase from the mouths of Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi, and ascribe to him an extraordinarily long life. Whoever accepts one testimony must also believe the other, and whoever rejects one must doubt or even reject the other, for both are completely similar and owe their origin to the same interest: the desire to increase the esteem of the translation or rather to justify and establish the veneration of the translator by associating him with ancient celebrated teachers. If one was content with making him a disciple of Hillel, the other went further and made him a disciple of the last prophets, who suddenly became contemporaries of each other.

Gesenius believes he can avoid this dangerous dilemma with the help of a natural explanation. “The legend,” he asserts, *) “that Jonathan received his explanation from the prophets Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi themselves (naturally (!) through tradition) testifies to the great esteem in which his work must have stood.” However, it testifies at the same time that it was capable of assigning to him any age that came to mind. According to Gesenius, Jonathan personally associated with those prophets and received his translation from their mouths, just as (in the same work) it was stated immediately before that Onkelos wrote down his paraphrase of the law based on the information (מפי) provided to him orally by Eliezer and Joshua.

*) ibid. p. 68.

413

If there are indeed passages in the Talmud that can be found in Jonathan’s translation, they are always cited with the words “as Rab Joseph translates. *) ” Even the translation of the supposed Jonathan is cited twice with the words “Rab Joseph says (if we did not have his translation of this scripture, we would not understand its meaning)**).”

This way of citing Jonathan’s paraphrase in the Talmud must be very uncomfortable for those who defend its great age, since Rab Joseph is said to have died in the year 32 AD. Either one ignores ***) the fact that the translation is never cited as that of Jonathan, or one says that the passages are “all cited from Jonathan by Rab Joseph †).” But this would be a strange way of citing if the real author, whose work one possessed and could easily cite under his name, was never mentioned and his property was always introduced under a foreign name. Why cite passages from another’s translation when they could be easily obtained from the original source? This explanation is erroneous in that it attributes a meaning to the word that it never had. It always means “to translate,” never “to cite.” Rab Joseph alone is mentioned as the translator, and without his translation, as those two passages indicate, the meaning of the scripture would have remained unrecognized in some places.

*) כדמחרגם רב יוטף.

**) Sanh. 94, b. Megillah 3, a.

***) such as B. de Wette, Hävernick

†) so Zunz a. a. O. p. 63

414

Rabbi Yom Tob, who lived in the 14th century, understood the difficulty better. He says *) that Rab Joseph was blind and recited the passages of Scripture in Aramaic, because the Aramaic translation was not yet written down in his time, and only existed in the oral tradition. This would be admitting too much, as it would follow that Jonathan did not write down his translation.

*) Cocerjus, Sanhedr. P. 327

The only solution to the contradiction is to acknowledge it. According to the unanimous testimony of the Talmudic writings, the translation that is now attributed to Jonathan actually comes from Rab Joseph, who lived in the fourth century after Christ. The prestige that the paraphrase gradually acquired led to it being attributed to the last prophets, and if one asked to whom it belonged, it was at least certain that Rab Joseph, whose era was still well-known, could not be thought of. How the name Jonathan the son of Uzziel came about is unknown.

We can, however, explain how the translation of the Law came to be attributed to Onkelos, which has come down to us under his name, and which explicitly interprets two passages, Genesis 49:10 and Numbers 24:17, as referring to the Messiah.

If Onkelos is mentioned four times in the Babylonian Talmud, the most important passage for us is clearly the one in which it is said that he interpreted the Law. Nothing is mentioned of this when he is reported to have been a contemporary of Gamaliel (Avodah Zarah 11, 1), nor when he appears there and in Gittin 56, 2 as the son of Kalonymus, grandson of Titus, and a contemporary of Hadrian. That both refer to the same Onkelos, although he could not have been both a student of Gamaliel and a contemporary of Hadrian, is clear from the fact that he is called a proselyte both times, and even tells how he discussed his conversion to Judaism with Hadrian in the latter case. The third time he is again referred to as a proselyte and is reported to have thrown his parents’ inheritance into the Dead Sea after accepting circumcision (Demai Tosafot 5). Here it is not yet reported that he translated the Law, but now the peculiar thing happens that the Jerusalem Talmud reports the same thing about Aquila, who translated the Scriptures into Greek. Finally, Megillah 3:1 reports that the proselyte Onkelos translated the Law מפי according to the instructions of Eliezer and Joshua, in the first century BC. This reaches its climax, as the same thing is reported by the Jerusalem tractate (Megillah 71, 3) about Aquila the Greek interpreter.

415

Until the fifth century after Christ, before the Babylonian Talmud, no one knew anything about an Onkelos who had transmitted the Law, and now, if one suddenly knows about him, one only knows what is told about him in the Jerusalem Talmud about the Greek translator Akilas? Should this Onkelos be a historical person? Eichhorn*) rightly said that there is no doubt “that the later Babylonian Gemara has transmitted to its Onkelos the information it found in the older Jerusalem Gemara about Akilas.” Eichhorn will also be right as long as modern critics describe his reasoning as arbitrary without being able to conjure up even a semblance of proof. The matter speaks so strongly against the defenders of the greater antiquity of Onkelos that it is sufficient to simply present the information from the Talmudic scriptures.

Although after Morinus’ example, Eichhorn assumes that the late author of the Chaldean Targum was really named Onkelos. Wolf**) has already observed, however, that both names, Akilas and Onkelos, are the same and have arisen dialectically from each other. Now, Wolf says that the same author of the Chaldean Targum is meant in both Gemaras*), but from the fact alone that the Akilas of the Jerusalem Talmud is referred to as a proselyte, it is certain that the Greek interpreter is meant under him. So nothing remains but the fact that at the time of the Babylonian Gemara, the late Chaldean paraphrase of the Law had gained esteem, that its author was not known, and now believed no differently than that the עקילס, from whom the Jerusalem Gemara reports its fables, is indeed the originator of the Chaldean paraphrase.

*) Einleit. in das A. T. § 222.

**) Biblioth. Hebr. II, 1151.

*) Isaac Vossius (De vitiis sermonis hebraici) said the opposite, that in both Gemaras the same Akilas, the Greek translator, is meant.

416

In summary, the emergence and spread of the Christian principle, its struggle with the synagogue, and finally the downfall of the temple service and continued interaction between Jews and the Church led to the point where the idea of “the Messiah” became important, significant, and the centerpiece of an ideal world that was previously unknown to Jewish consciousness.

————————————

 


2023-05-03

Rebellion of the Diaspora — the world in which Christianity and Judaism were moulded

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by Neil Godfrey

Why did a transnational revolt, with the Jews at its centre, erupt in 116, capable of seriously challenging the Roman empire, which at that very moment had reached the phase of its greatest expansion? . . .  What events, in 115 and then 116 CE, first led to Greek-Jewish clashes in Mediterranean cities, and then caused the Jews to take up arms to destroy every element of pagan culture and religion they encountered in their path?

— Livia Capponi: Il Mistero Del Tempio p.18 — translation

We continue picking out nuggets from Livia Capponi’s 2018 study. In this post we cover the main questions arising and the available sources.

Capponi points to many studies of the sources by Miriam Pucci Ben Zeev (2005). They are varied: inscriptions and archaeological finds, literary and documentary papyri, Greek and Latin authors, Christian and pagan, and rabbinic sources. Translations of them are collated in Zeev’s Diaspora Judaism in Turmoil, 116/117 CE: Ancient Sources and Modern Insights.

The heterogeneous character of these sources complicates the work of historians as it requires the input of different disciplines, and a multiplicity of viewpoints. (p. 14 — all quotes are translations from the Italian)

Any search for the causes of the revolt surely has to begin with the defeat of the Judeans at the hands of Vespasian and Titus in 70 CE and their subsequent treatment.

Following that war, Judeans in all provinces were subject to “heavy confiscations of lands and properties” and a new tax on all who could be recognized as “Jewish”, whether Palestinian or not. From these extractions the great monuments of Flavian Rome were constructed — the Amphitheatre (Colosseum), the Circus Maximus, the arches of Titus.

According to a recent examination by the Belgian papyrologist Willy Clarisse of the tax receipts and arrears imposed on the Jews preserved in Egyptian papyri in the years 74-115 AD, the amount of confiscations and punitive impositions on the Jews between 73 and 115 AD was undoubtedly greater than scholars have long ascertained. The Jewish communities in the Mediterranean were also taxed retroactively according to burdensome and vexatious logic, which undoubtedly contributed to souring the already irreparably deteriorated relations between the imperial power and the communities themselves. (p. 16

Sources

Cassius Dio wrote his histories around 200 CE but they have come to us only in an eleventh century summary of them. That precis reads:

Trajan therefore departed thence, and a little later began to fail in health.

Meanwhile the Jews in the region of Cyrene had put a certain Andreas at their head, and were destroying both the Romans and the Greeks. They would eat the flesh of their victims, make belts for themselves of their entrails, anoint themselves with their blood and wear their skins for clothing; many they sawed in two, from the head downwards; 2 others they gave to wild beasts, and still others they forced to fight as gladiators. In all two hundred and twenty thousand persons perished. In Egypt, too, they perpetrated many similar outrages, and in Cyprus, under the leader­ship of a certain Artemion. There, also, two hundred and forty thousand perished, 3 and for this reason no Jew may set foot on that island, but even if one of them is driven upon its shores by a storm he is put to death. Among others who subdued the Jews was Lusius, who was sent by Trajan. (Book 68, 32:1-3)

Eusebius‘s references have come to us piecemeal through various other sources, but the most detailed account of his that we have is in his Ecclesiastical History:

While the teaching of our Saviour and the church were flourishing daily and moving on to further progress the tragedy of the Jews was reaching the climax of successive woes. In the course of the eighteenth year of the reign of the Emperor a rebellion of the Jews again broke out and destroyed a great multitude of them. For both in Alexandria and in the rest of Egypt and especially in Cyrene, as though they had been seized by some terrible spirit of rebellion, they rushed into sedition against their Greek fellow citizens, and increasing the scope of the rebellion in the following year started a great war while Lupus was governor of all Egypt. In the first engagement they happened to overcome the Greeks who fled to Alexandria and captured and killed the Jews in the city, but though thus losing the help of the townsmen, the Jews of Cyrene continued to plunder the country of Egypt and to ravage the districts in it under their leader Lucuas. The Emperor sent against them Marcius Turbo with land and sea forces including cavalry. He waged war vigorously against them in many battles for a considerable time and killed many thousands of Jews, not only those of Cyrene but also those of Egypt who had rallied to Lucuas, their king. The Emperor suspected that the Jews in Mesopotamia would also attack the inhabitants and ordered Lusius Quietus to clean them out of the province. He organized a force and murdered a great multitude of Jews there, and for this accomplishment* was appointed governor of Judaea by the Emperor. The Greek authors who chronicle the same period have related this narrative in these very words. (Book 4, 2:1-5)

In assessing the above one must also take into account the sources these authors used, as well, and that forms a part of Capponi’s discussion. But I’ll keep to bare outlines here.

Here are the events that preceded the revolt according to Cassius Dio:

The emperor Trajan embarked on a conquest of the east, in particular the Parthians. Special tribute was given to Alexander the Great’s memory in the process. The Roman Senate bestowed on Trajan the highest honours for these “conquests”, granting him as many “triumphs” as he wished — even though he met little or even no resistance at all. Northern Mesopotamian peoples quickly submitted to him, sometimes by sending him envoys promising surrender long before he reached them. (Recall the post on Witulski’s interpretation of the white horse of Revelation.)

But after Trajan had journeyed south down as far as the ruins of Babylon the regions he had “conquered” broke out in rebellion. Garrisons Trajan had left in those places were either slaughtered or forced to flee.

Cassius Dio wrote of how Trajan was forced to turn back and violently suppress these uprisings.

At the same time the Jewish diaspora witnessed uprisings, from northern Africa through to the “recently conquered” Mesopotamia itself. Cassius Dio seems to depict the scenes of revolt as encompassing one large theatre of war from Africa to Mesopotamia.

Eusebius agrees with the above in broad outline but has a different perspective insofar as he identifies the cause of the outbreak to have been hostilities between Greeks and Judeans in Alexandria, Egypt. This violence spread to engulf all of Egypt and eventually fanned into an all-out rebellion against Rome. A related source even suggests that the massacre of Judeans in Egypt was almost total. An Armenian version of a Eusebian text contains suggestions of a Jewish source that renamed Trajan’s general Lusias as Lysias, the general of Antiochus Epiphanes of the Maccebaean era fame. Capponi interprets this piece of evidence as an indicator of how the rebels saw themselves, as re-enacting the Maccabean revolt.

Late Rabbinic sources cannot be used to reconstruct events but they can arguably be used to understand “the psychological and cultural attitudes at the time of the revolt”. These sources do not tell us about a Jewish revolt against Rome but they do testify of “unjustified repression by the Romans and of their total incomprehension of Jewish religious traditions.” (p. 35) In the Jerusalem Talmud we read the following (Sukka V 1 55a-b) where, as Capponi notes, Trajan is presented as “almost aware of being an instrument in the hands of God”:

And once in the time of Trogianus, the evil one [Capponi sees here a reversal of Trajan’s name and title, Optimus Princeps, the “best citizen”]. A son was born to him on the ninth of Ab, and [the Israelites] were fasting. His daughter died on Hanukkah, and [the Israelites] lit candles. His wife sent a message to him, saying. Instead of going to conquer the barbarians, come and conquer the Jews, who have rebelled against you.’ He thought that the trip would take ten days, but he arrived in five. He came and found the Israelites occupied in the study of the Light [Torah], with the following verse: The Lord will bring a nation against you from afar, from the end of the earth…’ (Deut. 28:49). He said to them, ‘With what are you occupied?’ They said to him, ‘With thus-and-so.’ He said to them, That man (i.e., I) thought that it would take ten days to make the trip, and I arrived in five days.’ His legions surrounded them and killed them. He said to their wives, ‘Obey my legions, and I shall not kill you.’ They said to him, ‘What you did to the ones who have fallen do also to us who are yet standing.’ He mingled their blood with the blood of their men, until the blood flowed into the ocean as far as Cyprus. At that moment the horn of Israel was cut off, and it is not destined to return to its place until the son of David will come. [translation based on Jacob Neusner’s in The Talmud of the Land of Israel: A Preliminary Translation and Explanation, vol. 17 (Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press, 1988), 118-119]

The rabbis interpreted the massacres as punishment for “returning to Egypt”, contrary to biblical commands.

Other details Capponi notes of potential significance:

  • Jewish rebels (sicarii) who had escaped from Judea in the war of 66-70/73 CE found refuge in Egypt and Cyrene (so Josinsephus informs us) and it is reasonable to infer they carried the rebellious tradition;
  • Trajan earned fame or infamy from 112 CE when he “inaugurated a new dynastic policy based on the deification of his family”;
  • the Messianic character of the uprisings is “confirmed” in:

¶ the Syriac Apocalypse of Baruch (39:5-7; 40:1-2)

5 And after these things a fourth kingdom will arise, whose power will be harsh and evil far beyond those which were before it, and it will rule many times as the forests on the plain, and it will hold fast for times, and will exalt itself more than the cedars of Lebanon. 6 And by it the truth will be hidden, and all those who are polluted with iniquity will flee to it, as evil beasts flee and creep into the forest. 7 And it will come to pass when the time of its consummation that it should fall has approached, then the principate of My Messiah will be revealed, which is like the fountain and the vine, and when it is revealed it will root out the multitude of its host. 8 And as touching that which you have seen, the lofty cedar, which was left of that forest, and the fact, that the vine spoke those words with it which you did hear, this is the word.

40 1 The last leader of that time will be left alive, when the multitude of his hosts will be put to the sword, and he will be bound, and they will take him up to Mount Zion, and My Messiah will convict him of all his impieties, and will gather and set before him all the works of his hosts. 2 And afterwards he will put him to death, and protect the rest of My people which shall be found in the place which I have chosen.

¶ and 4 Ezra (the Apocalypse of Ezra) 11:37-46

[36] Then I heard a voice saying to me, “Look before you and consider what you see.”
[37] And I looked, and behold, a creature like a lion was aroused out of the forest, roaring; and I heard how he uttered a man’s voice to the eagle, and spoke, saying,
[38] “Listen and I will speak to you. The Most High says to you,
[39] `Are you not the one that remains of the four beasts which I had made to reign in my world, so that the end of my times might come through them?
[40] You, the fourth that has come, have conquered all the beasts that have gone before; and you have held sway over the world with much terror, and over all the earth with grievous oppression; and for so long you have dwelt on the earth with deceit.
[41] And you have judged the earth, but not with truth;
[42] for you have afflicted the meek and injured the peaceable; you have hated those who tell the truth, and have loved liars; you have destroyed the dwellings of those who brought forth fruit, and have laid low the walls of those who did you no harm.
[43] And so your insolence has come up before the Most High, and your pride to the Mighty One.
[44] And the Most High has looked upon his times, and behold, they are ended, and his ages are completed!
[45] Therefore you will surely disappear, you eagle, and your terrifying wings, and your most evil little wings, and your malicious heads, and your most evil talons, and your whole worthless body,
[46] so that the whole earth, freed from your violence, may be refreshed and relieved, and may hope for the judgment and mercy of him who made it.'”

¶ and the fifth book of the Sibylline Oracles. Rather than quote an unwieldy amount of text from the Oracles I will instead cite the words of John Collins, a prominent scholar in this field:

The oracles of Sib. V were written in Egypt after the destruction of the temple but probably before the Bar Kochba revolt. The main question which inevitably arises about its Sitz im Leben is its relationship to the revolt of Diaspora Jewry in 115. We cannot link the oracles directly to the revolt. However, they certainly reflect the atmosphere of nationalism and messianism which produced the revolt, and are our only documents from any strand of Egyptian Judaism at that time.

The suggestion was made by Lagrange and accepted by Fuks that the revolt had no more specific cause than the general messianic expectation of the Jews. The strong expectation of a saviour figure in Sib. V reflects this expectation and may have helped arouse it. True, the saviour expected was a heavenly being but this does not exclude the possibility of his appearing and acting on earth, as we see from the case of Bar Kochba and others. The deep pessimism of the book does not preclude recourse to action. It might in fact have been typical of the desperate attitude of the Jewish revolt.

The bitterness of complaint about the temple and the deeply pessimistic character of the book suggest that at least the central oracles, vv 52-110, 111-178, 179-285 and 286-434 [these lines can be read online at the Sacred Texts site] , were written not long after the destruction of the temples both of Jerusalem and of Leontopolis. Expectation of Nero’s return is also most likely to have flourished at this time.

However, there is reason to believe that there was some direct continuity between the ideology of the sibyl and that of the revolt. In a number of places the sibyl speaks of the destruction of pagan temples. In fact this was a notable characteristic of the revolt . . . . (Collins, p. 94)

¶ massive earthquake in Antioch (several days of severe tremors) – Trajan reputed to have “miraculously survived”:

            • according to the legend that circulated later, the emperor was brought out of danger by a creature of superhuman dimensions, celebrated on the coinage of 115 as “Jupiter saviour of the fatherland” (p. 23);
            • a passage in Baruch speaks of “a leader who escaped a war, then an earthquake and then a fire, who would be killed by the messiah” (p. 38)

Diaspora Jews and the Jerusalem Temple

It has been suggested that the Jews in the Diaspora had little interest in the temple since there is no indication that they were interested in coming to its rescue in the war of 66-70 CE. But Capponi points out with reference to Martin Goodman’s historical account that the reason they did not come to the aid of the motherland was “only because they did not suspect that the Temple might be destroyed.” (p. 42)

Main centres of the Jewish diaspora in the Roman imperial age. (Capponi, p. 129)

The Scale of Destruction

We will see in future posts that the scale of the violence was such that it posed a serious threat to the Roman Empire. Archaeological remains testify to the widespread extent of the violence. The figures we read in the literary sources are surely (hopefully) exaggerated but even so, when we read of hundreds of thousands being massacred by Jews, and of the annihilation of all the Jews in Egypt, and the evidence of surviving lists that tell us that no less than a third of the legionnaires sent to quell the uprisings were killed, we know we are dealing with a major war.

Eighty years later Greeks in Egypt continued to celebrate their eventual victory over the Jews.

Apparent Inconsistencies

So from the above information we appear to find some confusion in exactly what was happening and how the events transpired.

Cassius Dio Eusebius
 

 

 

115 CE: guerilla war by the Jews in Alexandria, the rest of Egypt, and Cyrene

116 CE: erupted in full scale open revolt when Greeks massacred the Jews of Alexandria.

Jews of Cyrene, under Lucuas (Luke) marched to Egypt and ravaged countryside [why? — unclear]

Trajan sent Turbo to restore order: many battles . . . .

Trajan’s successful campaign undone when he went to Persian Gulf and areas in northern Mesopotamia that had recently submitted to him broke out in revolt.

Lusius Quietus involved in the suppression and restoring Roman rule.

Trajan ordered preemptive massacre of Jews in Mesopotamia, led by Lusius Quietus, who was rewarded for his massacres by being appointed governor of Judea.
Trajan fell ill.
The Jews of Cyrene, led by Andreas (Andrew) were in rebellion;

Romans slaughter rebels in their hundreds of thousands in Egypt.

Artemion led Jews in Cyprus in revolt — Lusius sent to crush it.

The two accounts can be harmonized if we read Eusebius as providing more detail about the origin of the outbreak. But there remains the contradiction over the order in which the Mesopotamian massacres took place. The significance of that question will become clear when we dive deeper into Livia Capponi’s investigations in further posts.

 


Capponi, Livia. Il mistero del tempio. La rivolta ebraica sotto Traiano. Rome: Salerno, 2018.

Collins, John J. (John Joseph). The Sibylline Oracles of Egyptian Judaism. Missoula, Mont. : Published by Society of Biblical Literature for the Pseudepigrapha Group, 1974. http://archive.org/details/sibyllineoracles0000coll.

Zeev, Miriam Pucci Ben. Diaspora Judaism in Turmoil, 116/117 CE: Ancient Sources and Modern Insights. First Edition. Leuven ; Dudley, MA: Peeters Publishers, 2005.



2023-05-02

Reconstructing the Matrix from which Christianity and Judaism Emerged

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by Neil Godfrey

How we would love to know more about the times between the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE and the crushing of the Bar Kokhba revolt in 135 CE. That period is surely a decisive one for how both Christianity and Judaism developed into what they are today. Some have suggested that this period saw the actual births of both Judaism and Christianity as distinct religions in the forms we recognize today.

We have Josephus to inform us about the first Jewish war of 66-73 CE. But we have no comparable contemporary historians of the Bar Kokhba war and only scant hints about “troubles” in the in-between time. We recently posted a series on Thomas Witulski’s thesis that the Book of Revelation was written in response to the events in the times of Trajan and Hadrian, in particular the days of the Bar Kokhba rebellion. In that series we saw that the red horse and its rider in the apocalypse arguably represented the widespread uprisings of Jews in the time of Trajan and the black horse and especially the pale horse depicted the horrific consequences of those revolts (around 115-117 CE).

There are different kinds of history.

There is straight narrative history that interprets known events from the reliable sources. The facts are rarely in doubt but their meaning and significance may be open to debate.

There is historical work that analytically dissects statistics.

There is investigative history that seeks to uncover “what really happened”, such as when there is an interest in settling some current controversy, such as how indigenous peoples were treated by imperial powers.

And then there are hypothetical reconstructions based on a fresh interpretation of sources. This last type is not “an established fact” in the sense we can say “Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC”, so it will be open to debate. Readers will want to know the grounds for the various details proposed and I hope to make those clear in these posts.

The historian Livia Capponi has attempted to fill in that gap with her reconstruction of events in what she describes as “a circumstantial history” (“una storia indiziaria” (p. 75). Her book is published in Italian and is titled, in English, Mystery of the Temple — the Jewish Revolt Under Trajan = Il Mistero Del Tempio: La Rivolta Ebraica Sotto Traiano (2018).

The basic argument presented is this:

  1. Before the revolts of 116-117 CE relations between Rome and Judea were unstable but not openly hostile.
  2. In 96 CE the emperor Nerva abolished an odious tax on Jews and initiated a policy of relative tolerance.
  3. The next emperor, Trajan, sought the support of the Jews (as part of his efforts to safeguard his supply line in his war against Parthia) by authorizing the preparation of a road for exiles to return to Judea and a promise to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem.
  4. If messianic expectations were aroused in the wake of Trajan’s policies they soon turned violent when it was learned that Trajan’s tolerance included the integration of the proposed temple into the Greco-Roman pantheon. There is evidence that Trajan and his general Lusius Quietus (we met him briefly in the post on the red horse) dedicated monuments to pagan gods in Jerusalem.

Some readers will be aware that I have expressed doubts that there were popular messianic movements extant in Judea or the Diaspora prior to 70 CE — remarks about a “world ruler from the Orient” in Josephus and others notwithstanding. (See posts listed under Second Temple Messianism.) But there is evidence that messianic hopes were alive after the catastrophe of 70 CE. Messianic pretenders do seem to appear across the landscape. Such has been my view so I was particularly keen to read Capponi’s thesis about that time.

Livia Capponi has taken a fresh look at the sources — Jewish and others, both primary and secondary — and attempted to uncover what can be learned about the feelings of Jews at this time and what was happening that led to the widespread violence and its bitter aftermath.

Above all, an attempt is made to explain how, from an initial policy of tolerance and an attempt by Trajan to mend the trauma of the loss of the Temple in 70 through Jewish initiatives, he arrived at the bloody repression of the revolt, which swept away the Jewish communities from Egypt, Cyrene and Cyprus, and which led rabbinic literature to portray Trajan as ‘the wicked one’. The compromise of the Temple was probably associated with a form of ‘integration’ of the Temple itself into the Greco-Roman pantheon, evidenced by the construction in Jerusalem of statues and monuments to the emperor and to deities such as Jupiter and Serapis. This policy, normal for the Romans, but aberrant and unacceptable to the Jews, probably explains why Trajan and his general Lusio Quieto in Jewish sources were associated with Antiochus IV Epiphanes of Syria, author of the desecration of the Temple in 167-164 BC, and the Syrian general Lysias. The Diaspora revolt was in the eyes of the Jews a new Maccabean revolt.

The hypothesis is presented and discussed through a re-reading of the historiography on the years 115-117 (in which many problems still exist, also due to incidents in the transmission of sources), and of contemporary documents (papyri and inscriptions). Finally, an attempt is made to integrate into the framework of the Western sources some suggestions drawn from texts composed in a Jewish environment, materials that are extremely difficult because they are enigmatic and expressions of a religious conception, not a desire for historical reconstruction.

(pp. 11f, translation)

I will be posting some of the details from Livia Capponi’s book over the next few weeks.


Capponi, Livia. Il mistero del tempio. La rivolta ebraica sotto Traiano. Rome: Salerno, 2018.


 


2023-04-11

Bruno Bauer: Messianic Expectations of the Jews at the Time of Jesus

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by Neil Godfrey

Other posts arguing against the view that Second Temple Jews were longing for the appearance of a messiah:

Were Jews Hoping for a Messiah to Deliver Them from Rome? Raising Doubts (2019-05-07)

“The Chosen People Were Not Awaiting the Messiah” (2019-05-05)

Myth of popular messianic expectations at the time of Jesus (2017-02-03)

Questioning Carrier and the Conventional Wisdom on Messianic Expectations (2016-08-02) – annotated links to six other posts addressing the question.

Having questioned the common notion that Jesus made his appearance in a society pining for the coming of a deliverer to free the Jews from Rome, I was happily surprised to see further arguments against the same common idea set out 180 years ago in an appendix to a multi-volume work on the gospels written by Bruno Bauer.

I have posted the translation below but for those in a rush here are the key takeaways:

  • – A survey of the Second Temple literature demonstrates a distinct lack of interest in the idea of a literal Davidic messianic figure about to appear in the future. [Bauer was writing before the discovery of the Dead Sea Scrolls but see the posts in response to Richard Carrier in the side box for what other scholars have had to say on that so-called evidence for popular messianism.]
  • – If Judeans had developed ideas about a coming messiah from their prophetic texts we would expect to see in the gospels some reference to stock ideas from those supposedly widespread ideas. Instead, the gospel authors are “winging it” — they come up with different possibilities for interpreting Old Testament passages as messianic and are evidently not tapping in to common ideas supposedly extant at the time. They are creating the prophetic interpretations, not inheriting common stock.
  • – History-changing personalities have always made their impact by the originality of their ideas and presence; they have not made a splash by claiming to be a popularly pre-figured person.

Here is the full translation of Bauer’s discussion in the first volume of Critique of the Gospel History of the Synoptics (1841) [=Kritik der evangelischen Geschichte der Synoptiker]

I have added sub-headings to make it easier to focus on points of particular interest.

The Messianic Expectations of the Jews at the Time of Jesus

All those who have spoken out against Strauss’s interpretation of the evangelical history in recent years also felt it was their duty to protest against the derivation of sacred history from the Messianic expectations of the Jews. But this protest, no matter how earnestly intended or spoken with holy disgust at the supposed blasphemy, was from the beginning powerless and remained so, since it could not prevent Gfrörer from developing the contested view to the extreme that it could reach. But what use was it to recall that this or that Jewish book, which the critic designated as a source for the views of the evangelists, was written six, seven, or fourteen centuries after the composition of the Gospels? What could an argument of this kind achieve, which only focused on individual and few points, if one shared with Strauss the basic assumption that Messianic expectation had already prevailed among the Jews before the appearance of Jesus, and even knew fairly accurately what its nature was? To the same extent, a dispute of this kind had to be futile and useless, just as it was impossible for Strauss to make the origin of the evangelical history understandable, as long as he, like Hengstenberg, considered the Messianic dogma of the Jews as one that had already been fully developed before the appearance of Jesus. Both criticism and apologetics shared the same error, their struggle could only lead to unfruitful quarrels, but not to a decision, and the matter suffered most – it remained buried in prejudices.

392

Since Gfrörer has now taken uncritical thinking to its peak, it is finally time to come to our senses and to recognize reason, which has not yet come to recognition in this regard after two thousand years of error in history. It is a matter of the utmost importance – who does not immediately sense it? – to bring criticism to its ultimate crisis and to make it the last judgment of the past by elevating it to complete ideality and universality and freeing it from the last unrecognized positive with which it has still been entangled. The last and most persistent assumption that it still shared with apologetics must be addressed – and how extraordinary is the reward that follows the resolution of this uncritical assumption when the creative power is again attributed to the Christian principle, which even the previous criticism had denied.

Thinking the unthinkable

Apologetics, as it has developed or rather remained the same since the beginning of the Christian community until our day, could not even conceive the idea that it might be possible to question whether the Messiah’s view had become a reflection concept before the time of Jesus and had come to power as such. It couldn’t – because it is already clear to them from the outset that the content of the revelation has always been the same and always the same one object of consciousness *); it must not – because in its limited polemical interest, it believes that the connection of the Old and New Testament is only ensured if it demonstrates the content of the latter as a real object of consciousness in the former. To interpret the preparation of Christianity differently, namely to say that Jesus only had to say: “See, I am what you have been expecting so far” – this is completely impossible for them.

*) The author allows himself to refer to the detailed explanation in his presentation of the Religion of the Old Testament, section 54.

393

Even Strauss shared the apologist assumption

Until now, it was impossible for criticism to free itself and history from the apologetic shackles, as every opposition in its first form shared the assumptions of its opponent and only determined them differently. Hengstenberg and those before him claimed that in Jesus, what the pious had hoped and expected had appeared, while Strauss claimed that in the Christian community, the history of Jesus had been created and elaborated as an image and fulfillment of Jewish expectations.

Intent to produce evidence

After having proven in the above criticism that the gospel history has its principle solely in Christian self-consciousness, and that its assumptions, as far as they are contained in the Old Testament, were only used by the community and the evangelists as these assumptions for the elaboration of the Christian principle and the messianic image, we want to provide evidence in outline that the messianic element of the Old Testament view did not develop into a reflection concept before the beginning of the Christian era.

It is not necessary to mention here in more detail that the messianic views of the prophets had not yet been raised by them to the unity and solidity of the concept of reflection; we have proven this in our presentation of the religion of the Old Testament. The interest of the present investigation lies solely in the question of whether the idea of “the Messiah” had prevailed among the Jews in the centuries immediately preceding the advent of Jesus.

The Numbers prophecy of Balaam

If we first examine the Septuagint, whose oldest components are said to date back to the third century BC, and Jonathan’s paraphrase, we have an example of what a translation of the Old Testament must look like when it is written in a time and environment where “the Messiah” has become the subject of consciousness and the view has become dogma. The translator must indicate explicitly the individual passages that can and should be interpreted messianically, and he must state expressly that the passage speaks of the Messiah at that point. A necessary consequence of this reflection will eventually be that even in the translation, the systematic theory cannot be denied, namely that the content of one passage is transferred to another and one view is combined with another – all things that one searches for in vain in the translation of the LXX. Once (in Balaam’s blessing, Num. 24:7), it is indeed said differently from the original text: “A man shall come out of Jacob’s seed and he shall rule over many peoples.” But it is not only not said that this man is the Messiah, it is rather clear that it is to be a man, that is, a future king in general, who (v.17) will wound the princes of Moab and plunder the children of Seth.

394

The Isaiah prophecy

Continue reading “Bruno Bauer: Messianic Expectations of the Jews at the Time of Jesus”


2022-01-17

Why Did Written Stories of Jesus Take So Long to Appear?

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by Neil Godfrey

Sabbatai Sevi as messiah, sitting on the kingly throne, under a celestial crown held by angels and bearing the inscription “Crown of Sevi.” Below: the Ten Tribes studying the Torah with the messiah. From an etching after the title page of one of the editions of Nathan of Gaza’s writings: (Amsterdam, 1666)

Why does the first account of the life of Jesus appear as late as forty years after the crucifixion? The answer I long heard was that followers of Jesus were focused on his return and, expecting his return in their lifetimes, they did not see any need to write a historical account of his life. Scholarly texts of the gospels will explain that the ancient culture was primarily oral and word-of-mouth was the standard means of spreading news.  The same texts will assert that the first oral reports of Jesus’s sayings were written down about twenty years after the crucifixion although some brave souls have even proposed as early as four or five years later.

All of that sounds plausible enough — until one steps outside the mental bubble of those descriptions and compares with how people work in the real world.

I am at the moment reading Gershom Scholem’s exhaustive study of a widespread mid-seventeenth century Jewish messianic movement that fully anticipated the messiah to set up his kingdom in Jerusalem within a matter of a year or within a few short months. The messianic figure was Sabbatai Sevi and the years spanned from late 1665 to 1667. Sabbatai Sevi was what we would classify as manic-depressive. When he was “on fire” he was “on fire” but when the mood left him he was really down, withdrawn, out of the picture. Most of the heavy lifting of persuading others to believe he was the messiah was the work of his “prophet”, Nathan of Gaza. (Nathan was able to persuade outsiders that Sabbatai’s “down times” were signs of his messianic “suffering for Israel”. It must be added, however, that Sabbatai could also come across as one possessed with a dignified and caring demeanour.)

Now I think it is safe to say that most of the everyday lower-class Jews living in the Ottoman empire and throughout Europe at the time were not highly literate. Jewish communities did certainly possess leaders, rabbis and elders, who were literate. And persons from well-to-do business families often had the fortune of a sound education. And there is no doubt at all that believers in Sabbatai Sevi far and wide spoke, recited and sang of his wonderful deeds and sayings along with those of his prophet.

It is also clear that oral reports were never enough. Yes, there was no substitute for the presence of a visiting eye-witness who could report and be interrogated orally of their visits and observations of the messiah and those closest to him. But given that those sorts of visits were few and far between in places as far from Gaza, Smyrna and Constantinople as Leghorn, Amsterdam and Hamburg, believers in Sabbatai Sevi and Nathan craved the arrival of letters to prominent persons — “clerical” or business persons — in their communities. Believers would flock to the ports to meet ships with expected letters as they docked. And the prophet Nathan was not lax, nor were others who were closely associated with the “messiah”. They wrote and wrote to acquaintances and to acquaintances other acquaintances and contacts. Then those who received letters copied them both for preservation and sharing more widely still. People came to hear them read in public and private venues. Others were inspired by the reports of this news from a distance to write poems, hymns, prayers that they shared with fellow believers.

By such means believers were convinced that great miracles had been performed by the messiah, even raising the dead and appearing before authorities in a pillar of fire. They were also led to believe that the “lost” Ten Tribes of Israel were on the march to conquer Mecca and would soon arrive at the gates of Jerusalem. The ruler of the Ottoman empire was about to hand over the “keys of the kingdom of Israel” to Sabbatai Sevi without a fight. Many believers sold everything and left to live in Jerusalem in order to be where the action was when that day of the messianic kingdom came.

What sustained the believers in their excitement, what they loved to create and share in their thrilling expectation that the kingdom of God was to be inaugurated within a matter of mere months, at most a year? What did they share along with their singing and dancing and fellowship? Copies of letters, copies of written poems and prayers, all speaking of the great wonders and powerful words of the messiah who was about to be made known as God’s anointed to the whole world.

In the accounts of the believers in Sabbatai Sevi, one notion never arises: “that there is no point in writing anything about the man because we’ll all be in Palestine and he’ll be ruling over us all in just a few months from now.”

With that little episode in mind, one returns to the question of why it took so long for written accounts of Jesus to appear.


Scholem, Gershom. Sabbatai Ṣevi: The Mystical Messiah, 1626–1676. Translated by R. Werblowsky. Reprint edition. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2016.



2021-12-20

Updates – Late gospels and Josephus’s guilt-inspired prophecy

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by Neil Godfrey

I have finally added two more chapters to the Bruno Bauer Gospel criticism and history page — check the right-hand column under the Pages heading.

Two points of particular interest to me in those new chapters:

1. Bauer argues for the Gospels of Luke and Matthew being second-century works, post-dating Justin Martyr. He does so for much the same reasons I have posted here: although Justin knows some details that appear in both of those gospels, there are reasons to think he is using some other source that the authors of Luke and Matthew also used. What might that source have been? Justin knew it as the Memoirs of the Apostles. Bauer does think that much of the nativity narrative that we read in Matthew’s gospel was contained in those Memoirs. My own reading of Justin is that his Memoirs of the Apostles further included references to Damascus in his nativity scene while our author of the Gospel of Matthew omitted those. Bauer points out the inconsistencies in our gospel accounts, especially in Luke, and argues that the original gospel from which our canonical Luke is built up originally began at 3:1 — “In the fifteenth year of Tiberius….”. Quite so.

2. The other point of special interest is Bauer’s discussion of a supposedly widespread belief in the Near East in a prophecy that a king would arise from there to rule the world. The Roman historian Suetonius wrote about this in connection with the Jewish War of 66-70 CE. In Bauer’s view, Suetonius learned of this piece of information from the historian Tacitus who derived it from Josephus. And where did Josephus get the idea from? His guilt: he was being criticized for his poor job of defending his people against the Romans and knew he was to blame; to cover his guilt and make a desperate attempt to survive he decided to go over to the Roman side and in his role as a priest knowledgable in the sacred texts to declare that Vespasian and Titus had been prophesied to rule the world. The passage he most likely was thinking of was Daniel 9:26 — the people of a coming prince would destroy the city and the sanctuary.


2021-12-17

New Thoughts on Christian Origins

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by Neil Godfrey

Abraham Schalit

Hi. I’m back again, for better or for worse. Over the past few weeks I have immersed myself in reading but have finally come to a point where I need to pause and take stock. The book I have to blame for pulling me up and forcing me to stop and think afresh is König Herodes : der Mann und sein Werk by Abraham Schalit — published way back in 1969. (I don’t read German but thanks to new technologies I made short work of translating it.) Although Schalit does not address Christian origins his study of King Herod did open up for me a fresh historical perspective through which to re-interpret so much of the diverse material that makes up our earliest Christian sources.

I don’t read German, as I said, and I was of all possible ways alerted to König Herodes through my reading of an essay in another foreign language, modern Hebrew. This one was made available through an international library supply service supplemented by my text-reading and translation technologies: Levine, Israel L. “Magemoth Meshihioth Be-Sof Yemei Ha-Bayith Ha-Sheni (= Messianic Trends at the End of the Second Temple Period).” Messianism and Eschatology, edited by Zvi Baras, Zalman Shazar Centre for the Furtherance of the Study of Jewish History, 1983, pp. 135–52. Now that chapter is going to have to be converted into a new post here soon since I was slightly nonplussed to see it supporting another view I have expressed here, the view that there is little evidence to support the widespread “fact” that the Jewish rebellion of 66-70 CE against Rome was motivated by messianic hopes. That’s for another time.

The key idea in Schalit’s King Herod that has sent my mind into re-examining the question of Christian origins is the thesis that the Roman imperial idea, the ideology, if you will, propagated from the time of the first Roman emperor, Augustus, met with two responses among the Judeans:

  1. Judeans who identified themselves as necessarily separate from gentiles (think of circumcision, sabbaths, marriage restrictions) had nothing in common with the idea of a world united by the values and laws of Rome;
  2. Judeans who opposed the exclusivity of some of their brethren and were wide open to the idea of being a full part of a common humanity.

As for the first kind, the separatists, we see their views set out in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. Recall those stories of “men of God” tearing out — not their own hair, but the hair of those Judeans who married gentiles. Those were the lucky ones: Phineas plunged a spear through one racially mixed couple. Daniel refused to pray even in secret when threatened with being thrown into the lion’s den. Sabbath-keepers chose to die rather than protect themselves from an enemy army on the sabbath day. Most of us are familiar enough with the relevant stories from the Old Testament and related books.

That familiarity can perhaps cloud the full significance of a quite different view of God and humanity that is expressed in other places in the same canon. Think of the original authors and readers of stories of Ruth, of Jonah, of Job. Ruth, a gentile, married an Israelite and became the great-grandmother of King David. Job is “from the land of Uz” and he speaks to a God who in the narrative appears to have no particular relation to Israel about a question of justice common to all humanity. Jonah has to learn a lesson about God’s acceptance of gentiles who repent and become righteous without any notion of the Mosaic laws. Several Psalms, Ecclesiastes supposedly by Solomon, and the Wisdom of Sirach further present a universalist view of God and the human experience.

Surely we have two opposing viewpoints among these Jewish authors. The second view could well find itself at home among Hellenistic writings of philosophers. The significance of that word “Hellenistic” deserves to be pondered at this point. It refers to the cultural world that belonged to the mixing of Greek and barbarian in the wake of Alexander’s conquests of the Persian empire.  The Stoic philosophy that believed in the unity of humanity could trace its roots back to Alexander’s companion Aristotle. The ideas of some Jews or Judeans were evidently at home in such a world. Others were not.

What struck me so strongly about Schalit’s Herod was that those same two viewpoints among Judeans were very much alive and uncomfortable with each other in the time we associate with Christian origins. Herod (ca 37 to 4 or 1 BCE) was an Idumean who sought acceptance as a Jew. He was also a client king of Rome who owed his life and kingship to Augustus. Though King of Judea he embraced wholeheartedly the imperial program of Augustus. At this point, we need to backtrack just a little. . .

Augustus

Augustus came to power as the final victor after a half-century of civil wars. His imperial propaganda machine went into overdrive. Augustus was the “saviour” and benefactor of “the inhabited earth”. Roman imperial rule was to become synonymous with “the good news” (it was a term of imperial propaganda) of peace, a restoration of “good old fashioned morality”, the spread of humanizing culture as expressed in the arts and literature and philosophy, and rule of law and justice for all. The Roman imperial idea took Alexander’s inheritance of uniting peoples under one divinely chosen ruler and magnified it beyond anything achieved by other successors. The Seleucid empire, for example, essentially took a “hands-off” approach towards subject peoples and let them do their own thing. Antiochus Epiphanes ran into trouble with religious zealots in Judea because he broke that tradition there.

You can probably see where I am headed with these ideas. Apologists have long posited that God prepared the world for Christianity in a way not very different from what I am proposing here — only without God and forethought.

Augustus could trust Herod to embody the full idea of the Roman civilizing mission and Herod did not fail him. Herod’s court attracted artists and intellectuals from other lands; his building program emulated the achievements in Rome itself; like Roman emperors he was the benefactor of the poor; he settled non-Jews in his Judean kingdom. But he could not have himself proclaimed as a god or even a demi-god as was the usual status of such leaders in his part of the world. He could, however, have his scribes fiddle with the genealogical records to show he was a descendant of David and hence — especially given his great accomplishments as king, expanding the borders and undertaking monumental building projects — potentially the promised Davidic Messiah. Unfortunately Herod had too many other faults to persuade enough others to that opinion. But even a powerful personality like Herod could not exist in an environment totally alien to everything he stood for.

The crucial point, it seems to me, is that Herod’s “Judaism” was in synch with that open or universalist idea we encounter in the books of Ruth, Jonah, Job, Ecclesiastes, Sirach etc. Herod failed to win the approval of the “legalists” and I cannot help but wonder if his failure was felt by others who were on his side with the more open kind of Second Temple religion.

There were evidently a significant number of Judeans who opposed their isolationist kin. And as evidenced by the Dead Sea Scrolls there were equally many Judeans who called down the judgment of God upon those of their kin who compromised with the Laws of Moses.

Now look again at our earliest Christian texts. Do not the gospels, certainly the Synoptic ones of Matthew, Mark and Luke, teach the highest values of the Greco-Roman culture? In case you’ve forgotten, have another quick look over

and

Recall the Stoic underlay throughout Paul’s epistles.

Recall the Gospel of Matthew opening up its account of Jesus by reminding readers of the sinners and gentiles — Tamar, Rahab, Ruth, Bathsheba — in Jesus’s ancestry.

Even recall the Roman imperial motifs in the gospels: The Gospel of Mark beginning with a line from Augustus’s propaganda about the “good news”; the imitation of emperor Vespasian’s miracles of healing the blind and lame; the inversion of the Roman Triumphal procession as Jesus is led to his crucifixion:

See also for further emperor-inversions in Jesus…

Recall, also, some of the earliest archaeological evidence we have for Christianity and how serene and “at home” it looks as if its creators were well-integrated members of society.

I have some sympathy for those who have attempted to locate Christianity’s origins in a Roman imperial conspiracy. But there is no evidence for such a hypothesis. There is even precious little evidence for the proposed motive behind such a conspiracy: a desire to pacify an unusually rebellious people by seducing the Jews into a religion of submission to Roman authority. The Jews were not particularly rebellious in comparison with others who chaffed at Roman rule. No, surely the initiative for a religious idea that did away with the exclusivist identity of many Judeans would have arisen among other Judeans of a different persuasion, of those who felt some embarrassment with their ethnic relatives.

How much more impetus must there have been for Judeans of that universalist mindset to present an “ecumenical” front to their pagan neighbours in the wake of the calamitous results of the Jewish wars in 70 and 135 CE.

Then recall how Jesus himself in the gospels is delineated as a fulfillment of all that can be described as the epitome of “Judaism”. I posted not long ago a lengthy series on one particular study that delves into the details of how the gospel Jesus is created out of so many texts and motifs of the Jewish Scriptures and Messianic viewpoints: Jésus-Christ, sublime figure de papier / Nanine Charbonnel

If some Judeans of the day did indeed attempt to sideline their “legalistic” family members by producing texts that unambiguously set the universalism of Ruth, Jonah, Sirach, and the rest front and foremost, they could not have done better than make a new successor to Moses, another Joshua, their focus.  One might almost say that if Jesus had not existed it would have been necessary to invent him.

There is much more to add. One must, of course, account for persecutions and sectarianism in early Christian history. But the above is for now enough to set down the basis of initial thoughts on what might have led to the creation of Christianity.


2021-08-12

Understanding the Sacrifice of Jesus (Charbonnel contd)

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by Neil Godfrey

Book cover: Jesus-Christ, sublime figure de papierWe now arrive at Nanine Charbonnel’s discussion of the source of the Passion narrative in the gospels. Her approach is in three parts:

  1. the failure of traditional approaches to bring us to a satisfactory answer and a recognition that the expectation of a suffering messiah who liberates his people was very much a part of Second Temple Judaism;
  2. the relationship between the “killing of the messiah-body of the people of Israel”, the eucharist, the Passion, the Jewish Scriptures;

  3. the central roles of personification, the substitution involving Barabbas and midrash.

The false leads of past enquiries

A man is put to death as atonement for the sins of others. The idea is found in other ancient religions, folklore and customs so it has seemed quite reasonable to look there to understand the origins of the gospel story.

Do mystery religions hold the key? No, they have not given a fully satisfactory explanation of what we read in the gospels. Other gods did not die as sacrifices to save their devotees. It cannot be said that Dionysus, Attis or Tammuz “died for our sins”. Gods in their wrath did require substitutes (an animal, even a child) as sacrifice at times but that’s not the same thing.

Paul Wendland
Paul Wendland

What of the Saturnalia? In 1898 Paul Wendland a specialist in Philo of Alexandria and future professor at Göttingen, in an article entitled “Jesus als Saturnalien-Koenig“, suggests that the mockery of Jesus by the Roman soldiers could be linked to the Saturnalia, an annual custom observed by Roman soldiers in which victim was crowned as a god-king (Kronos/Saturn) and mocked until finally executed quite some time later. But this was a December custom.

A better hypothesis, however, is one that caught my attention some years ago now, so it’s like catching up with an old friend. NC alerts us to Salomon Reinarch’s 1902 text online:

Salomon Reinarch
Salomon Reinarch

However, the resemblance of the Passion with the Sacaea is even more striking than that which it presents with the Saturnalia. Here is the text of Matthew (XXVIII, 26-31): “So Pilate released Barabbas to them; and after having whipped Jesus, he delivered him to be crucified. And the soldiers brought Jesus to the Praetorium, and they gathered the whole company around him. And having stripped him, they put on him a scarlet robe. Then, having made a crown of thorns, they put it on his head and put a reed on his right hand; and kneeling before him, they laughed at him, saying: “Hail, King of the Jews!” And spitting at him, they took the reed and hit him on the head. After making fun of him,they took off the mantle and put his clothes back on him, and led him away to crucify him. “

Compare this passage with the treatment of the king of the Sacaea, as reported by Dion Chrysostom:

“They take one of the prisoners sentenced to death and have him sit on the royal throne; they dress him in royal clothes and let him drink, amuse himself and use the king’s concubines for several days. But then they strip him of his clothes, scourge him and cross him. “

Haman hanging from gallows
Haman hanging from gallows

Other suggestions have surfaced: that Jesus was filling the role of the villain Haman in the Esther story: Jews celebrated the occasion annually by destroying an effigy of Haman; and Philo’s account of Carabbas in Alexandria:

There was a certain madman named Carabbas, afflicted not with a wild, savage, and dangerous madness (for that comes on in fits without being expected either by the patient or by bystanders), but with an intermittent and more gentle kind; this man spent all this days and nights naked in the roads, minding neither cold nor heat, the sport of idle children and wanton youths; and they, driving the poor wretch as far as the public gymnasium, and setting him up there on high that he might be seen by everybody, flattened out a leaf of papyrus and put it on his head instead of a diadem, and clothed the rest of his body with a common door mat instead of a cloak and instead of a sceptre they put in his hand a small stick of the native papyrus which they found lying by the way side and gave to him; and when, like actors in theatrical spectacles, he had received all the insignia of royal authority, and had been dressed and adorned like a king, the young men bearing sticks on their shoulders stood on each side of him instead of spear-bearers, in imitation of the bodyguards of the king, and then others came up, some as if to salute him, and others making as though they wished to plead their causes before him, and others pretending to wish to consult with him about the affairs of the state. Then from the multitude of those who were standing around there arose a wonderful shout of men calling out Maris; and this is the name by which it is said that they call the kings among the Syrians; for they knew that Agrippa was by birth a Syrian, and also that he was possessed of a great district of Syria of which he was the sovereign . . .

Philo, Flaccus VI (36)

Rene Girard
Rene Girard

René Girard refers (I See Satan Fall Like Lightning, pp. 49ff) to a horrific episode in the life of Apollonius of Tyana when the prophet stopped a plague in Ephesus by inciting the crowd to stone a poor beggar to death in the belief that he was a demon. The citizens are cured of the plague. Everything is restored to rights. They acted as necessity required.

But how can one reconcile these scapegoat ideas with the sacrifice of the messiah? The scapegoat in non-Christian scenarios above is a fool, an innocent, an unworthy reject whose death draws away all the evil inflicting a community. That scenario clashes against the gospel Passion where the “scapegoat” is indeed the son of God and order is not restored merely as a result of his death alone. The crowd is acting correctly and necessarily, if mercilessly and cruelly, in the scapegoat traditions.

There are analogies in the mystery religions and other practices. There are the rites of death and rebirth as we see in the gospels, and the death of the god or scapegoat does have a benefit for many others. It is conceivable that such ideas in the Greco-Roman world made the spread of the Christian message somewhat recognizable or at least comprehensible and facilitated its spread. But those Greco-Roman analogies cannot explain the content of what we read of the death of Jesus in the gospels.

What we read in the gospels is almost entirely made up of a rewriting of Jewish Scriptures. Yes, the book of Esther with its violent fate of Haman is relevant, and so is the scapegoat theme as we find it in Leviticus 16. But these sources are some of the threads selected to weave a quite different story for a new situation.

NC finds an idea stressed by Girard of special interest. With the gospels we find a shift from the view that the persecuting mob are acting correctly against a necessary and demonic target:

myths are based on a unanimous persecution. Judaism and Christianity destroy this unanimity in order to defend the victims unjustly condemned and to condemn the executioners unjustly legitimated.

(Girard, I See Satan Fall, p. 172)

One must understand that we are not talking about a real divine man or man believed to be divine. The story is a historical fiction in which the people of God (who are the “son of God”) was sacrificed as an innocent victim, and therefore as an expiatory victim, a victim who gives new life to the people. This is a new story of a different type of death and resurrection.

The dramatic innovation that this gospel story introduces is identified by the French Dominican scholar Étienne Nodet. To begin with, one must recognize that John the Baptist had been preaching the imminence of the Final Judgment and the arrival of the Messiah and Kingdom of God with that Day of Judgment. On that Day of Judgment each person will be punished or rewarded according to their sins or to having their sins cleansed by the sacrifice of a victim in their stead. 

Étienne Nodet
Étienne Nodet

The model for this [sacrificial exchange] is the scapegoat of the Day of Atonement, who is pure and who receives the sins of the people (Leviticus 16:20-22); it is he who bears the condemnation. It is a precept of the Law, but in another sense, it is like all sacrifices an injustice, if one equates the animal with a reasonable being. The persecuted righteous person, or more generally the martyr, represents a transfer of the same nature, where the injustice is clearer, especially if it is not obedience to a precept. Such is the case of John the Baptist or James. This is also the case with Jesus, but there is a major difference, which is underlined by Peter’s speech at Pentecost: he began by recalling the injustice of the crucifixion (Acts 2:23), and then he declares (vv. 32-33):

“God has raised this Jesus from the dead; we are all witnesses to this. And now, exalted at the right hand of God, he has received the Holy Spirit of promise from the Father and has poured him out.”

In other words, the final judgment is done, the injustice is redressed, and the Spirit is poured out. All these aspects are concentrated in the affirmation of the resurrection, which is a kind of thwarted sacrifice: the being on whom the faults are transferred is finally promoted, since he is resurrected, that is, justified. The Epistle to the Hebrews, by making Jesus both the high priest and the victim, develops at length this whole sacrificial dimension.

Nodet, Baptême et Résurrection, p. 117

NC’s thesis

Continue reading “Understanding the Sacrifice of Jesus (Charbonnel contd)”


2021-08-11

Another prophecy that Vespasian would become the next emperor

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by Neil Godfrey

Vespasian

We know the account Josephus gives of his telling Vespasian that he would be the next emperor. Less well known is a rabbinic tradition that another prominent rabbi delivered the same prophecy to Vespasian.

When Vespasian came to destroy Jerusalem . . . . Vespasian learned that R. Johanan b. Zakkai was friendly to Cæsar (and so he really was, and confessed it frankly to the leaders of Jerusalem).

When R. Johanan b. Zakkai saw that his efforts during several days in succession to win the leaders for peace proved futile, for the leaders did not listen to him, he sent for his disciples, R. Eliezer and R. Joshua, and said:

“My sons, try to take me out of here. Make me a coffin, and I will sleep in it.”

They did so, and R. Eliezer held the coffin by one end, and R. Joshua held it by the other, and thus carried him at sunset to the gates of Jerusalem. When the gate-keepers asked them whom they had there, they answered:

“A corpse; and you know that a corpse cannot remain in Jerusalem over night.”

They were allowed to go, and they carried him till they came to Vespasian.

There they opened the coffin, and he arose and introduced himself to Vespasian, who said:

“Since thou art the Rabban Johanan b. Zakkai, I give thee the privilege to ask a favor of me.”

He answered: “I request nothing but that the city of Jamnia shall be free to me to instruct there my disciples. I will build there a prayer-house, and will perform all the commandments of the Lord.”

Hereupon Vespasian said: “It is well. Thou mayest go thither, and undisturbed carry out the object of thy desire.”

R. Johanan b. Zakkai then asked permission to say something to Vespasian. This having been granted, he said:

“I can assure you that you will become a king.”

“How dost thou know it?”

He answered: “We have a tradition that the Temple will not be delivered to a common man (in the name of the king), but to the king himself.”

As it is written [Is. x. 34]: “And he will cut down the thickets of the forest with iron, and the Lebanon shall fall by (means of) a mighty one.” [Elsewhere the Talmud explains that Lebanon means the Temple, and “mighty one” a king.]

It was said that scarcely had a few days elapsed when a messenger came from the city of Rome with the tidings that Cæsar was dead, and the resolution was adopted that Vespasian be his successor.

From Chapters of the Fathers

Vespasian, coming from a non-aristocratic family, made much of the prophecy “from the east” that he was divinely destined to become emperor in his massive propaganda campaign after taking that position. Josephus is not mentioned in the rabbinic writings. Was Josephus the only one to deliver the prophecy to Vespasian? Is the above story true? Did Josephus claim credit for the sayings of another? No answers here.

 

 


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)”


2021-03-12

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”


2021-01-03

Jesus embodies all the Jewish Messiahs — continuing Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier

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by Neil Godfrey

Continuing the series  . . .

A Messiah to combine the different messianic visions

Nanine Charbonnel [NC] has been exploring various ways the Jesus figure of the gospels was drawn to embody certain groups of people and now proceeds to discuss the way our evangelists (gospel authors) also found ways to encapsulate the different Jewish ideas about the Messiah into him as well. I have posted many times on Second Temple messianic ideas and questioned a common view that there was “a rash of messianic hopes” in first-century Palestine. I post links to some of these posts that illustrate or expand on NC’s points.

Various Messiahs

Vridar posts on Second Temple Messiahs

Here are some tags linking to the posts. (As you can see, there is some overlap here that needs to be tidied up but this is the state of play at the moment):

Dying messiah 5 posts
Jewish Messianism 11 posts
Messiah 17 posts
Messiahs 11 posts
Messianic Judaism 2 posts
Messianism 15 posts
Second Temple messianism 41 posts

And a catch-all category

Messiahs and messianism 95 posts

NC lists different views of the messiah as listed by Armand Abécassis (En vérité je vous le dis):

  • the messiah would be a priest (said to be “the Sadducee” view — though I cannot vouch for all of these associations)
  • the messiah would be a royal heir of David (said to be “the Pharisee” view)
  • the messiah would be a scribe descended from Aaron (said to be an Essene view)
  • the messiah was related to a kind of baptist or purification movement (said to be the Boethussian view)

Among the texts of the Dead Sea Scrolls are found at least three different types of messiah

1. the royal messiah, the branch or offspring of David, who is accompanied by a prophetic figure who is an interpreter of the law
2. the priestly messiah, an ideal priest from the line of Aaron

In some scrolls these two messiahs appear together. They are perhaps the idealistic corrective to historical kings and priests who were considered corrupt.

3. a “Son of God” figure, “probably a unique celestial figure”, appears to be divine, without a name assigned although in other manuscripts he is given the name Melchisedech, the agent of divine judgment against evil.

André Paul (whom NC is quoting) concludes that these three messianic figures were part of Jewish thinking in the century or century and a half preceding the time of Jesus of Nazareth.

Pre-Christian Jewish thought about these three different messiahs drew upon Scriptures to flesh out what they were to accomplish. The promise Nathan made to David in 2 Samuel 7 that his throne would endure “forever”, and the prophecy in Isaiah 11:1-5 that a “branch will arise from the stump of Jesse”, and that of Isaiah 61:1 that “he will heal the wounded and revive the dead and proclaim the good news and invite the hungry to feast”, and many others, were applied to their respective messiahs.

One striking example outside the biblical texts is found in the Messianic Apocalypse of the Dead Sea Scrolls. To translate Andre Paul’s observation (quoted by NC):

We are struck by the astonishing relationship between this description of future blessings linked to the coming of the Messiah and Jesus ‘answer to John the Baptist’s question in the Gospels:’ “The blind see, the lame walk ” (Matthew 11, 5 and Luke 7, 22). […] A tradition identifiable in other writings of ancient Judaism serves as their common basis. 

The gospel authors were doing what Jewish writers before them had done. They were creating their messiah by pastiching different passages from the Scriptures. The gospels were even copying or incorporating the works of earlier exegetes as we see in the example of the Messianic Apocalypse.

It is these three types of messiah that “Christianity” will unite: Mashiach-Christos, High Priest (in particular in the Epistle to the Hebrews), and Son of Man. It has long been known that in the period of Christianity’s establishment there were struggles over the titles to be given to Jesus Christ. Can we not think that far from depending on different “legends”, the Gospels are midrashim voluntarily composed with a view to celebrating an existing messiah (existing in texts) to unite these divergent expectations? Those who call themselves the disciples of Jesus will make him at the same time the prophet, the priest and the king “thus cumulating all the functions of society and guaranteeing them” (Abécassis p. 290), aided in this by traditions already anchored in the Jewish society of the time.

(Charbonnel, 278, my translation with Google’s help)

We further have texts that have long been known to us, those we label pseudepigrapha. Among these are the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs. Some of these (the Testaments of Levi and Judah) speak of messianic variants: see TLevi ch2 and TJudah ch4.

NC next turns to biblical scholars questing for the historical Jesus and the significance they attach to the contexts of and emphases on different messianic allusions and sayings in the gospels — all in an effort to attempt to discern what Jesus may have thought about himself vis a vis what others (contemporaries, later generations) thought about him. But the whole exercise collapses when one approaches the gospel Jesus as a literary creation woven from the many messianic threads known to Second Temple Judaism.

From Amazon. Disclaimer: I know nothing about this CD set apart from what is stated on the Amazon site. I chose it entirely for the sake of adding a quick and easy graphic to the post and do not suggest that the contents relate to the principle theme of the post.

Both the Messiah Son of David . . . .

The view that the messiah was to be a son of David is well understood: Isaiah 9:5-6; 11:1; Jeremiah 23:5-6; 30:9; etc …; Psalms of Solomon 17:21-43) — even if the details varied somewhat in the different writings. Matthew and Luke make Jesus a genealogical descendant of David; and whereas David was anointed with oil by Samuel Jesus was anointed directly by the Holy Spirit, and so forth. 

NC takes us in for a closer look at what it means to be a “Davidic” figure.

First: the name David means Beloved. At Jesus’ baptism we are to hear a voice from heaven declaring Jesus to be God’s Beloved son (Matthew 3:17). (The name given for the Jesus figure in the Ascension of Isaiah is Beloved; further, see the series on Jon Levenson’s book The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son. There we learn that the “Beloved son” is virtually a technical term for an only or firstborn son who is destined for sacrifice. NC does not touch on this work, however.)

That Jesus was resurrected from the dead is another “Davidic” qualification given that a “Psalm of David” was interpreted by early Christians as a prophecy that “David” would not “be abandoned to Hades” — Acts 2:22-23.

(NC does not mention in this context other Davidic features of Jesus such as his ascent to the Mount of Olives in mourning for his life; his suffering of false and cruel persecutions by his former associates and family; his role as a meditative figure. See What might a Davidic Messiah have meant to early Christians?)

What NC does bring out, though, is the link with the nation of Israel itself being named by God as his Beloved. In the Septuagint we find Continue reading “Jesus embodies all the Jewish Messiahs — continuing Jésus-Christ, Sublime Figure de Papier”


2020-08-27

continuing … Biblical Narratives, Archaeology, Historicity – Essays in Honour of Thomas L. Thompson

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by Neil Godfrey

With thanks to those contributors who encouraged and assisted me to obtain a review copy of this volume, and thanks, of course, to the publisher T&T Clark/Bloomsbury for sending it to me.

The first part of this review is at https://vridar.org/2020/08/25/biblical-narratives-archaeology-historicity-essays-in-honour-of-thomas-l-thompson/

. . .

Continuing the section Part 2. History, Historiography and Archaeology . . . 

Jesper Høgenhaven’s chapter explores evidence in the Qumran texts for how Second Temple Judeans thought about the Biblical writings. We can be puzzled by the way biblical passages were joined to one another to create new texts (Thomas Thompson, Høgenhaven informs us, spoke of a ‘Copenhagen Lego hypothesis’ with regard to 4Q175). An early quotation in the essay jumped out at me since it addresses the basic method of gospel interpretation by Maurice Mergui and Nanine Charbonnel whose books I have been discussing on this blog. (I will be returning to them both in coming months.)

The late Philip R. Davies made the following pointed remark on scholars striving to collect the elements necessary for writing a ‘sectarian history’ based on Qumran scriptural commentaries (pesharim):

The first direction in exegesis of the pesharim must always be towards their midrashic function, for until we understand how these commentaries work – and that means as midrashim – we have no warrant to plunder them for historical data, especially given that (a) no continuous tradition can be established as lying behind them and (b) where they do contain – as we know that they do (I think in particular of 4QpNah) – some historical information, any kind of plausible analogy we could invoke would warn us that it will be mixed up with invention, will be distorted, garbled and anachronistic. (Davies 1989: 27-8)

(pp. 101f. The Davies 1989 link is to the Open Access book at Project Muse)

Amen. I recall Liverani’s observation about lazy historians running with a narrative that looks like history without too much second thought. Investigating the genre of a source ought to be the first priority of any historical inquiry.

So Høgenhaven surveys the way Israel’s past is utilized in various Qumran texts. He concludes that there is little conceptual difference between myths of ancient times and recent historical experiences. Metaphor and history are blurred in a way that it is not always obvious to modern readers which is which. Stories are rewritten, reinterpreted, rationalized, expanded, and commented upon as their functions vary over time. History is salvation history (“or ‘perdition history’), and along with its dualistic motifs, discerning what texts meant to readers at any particular time can be a challenge. Høgenhaven’s concluding reference to “renewed and repentant ‘Israel’ or the faithful and obedient remnant of Israel” as a stock identifying motif for the creators of the texts and their audiences links up with a dominant theme in Thompson’s The Mythic Past.

2 heads: John Hyrcanus II and John the Baptist


Next essay is by Gregory L. Doudna, another scholar some of whose work (especially on Qumran and the DSS) has been addressed here. This time Doudna takes on the passage about John the Baptist in Josephus’s Antiquities of the Jews. After having read a variety of cases for the passage being an interpolation by a Mandean or Christian hand and other suggestions that the passage is definitely Josephan but straining at ways to reconcile Josephus’s chronology with Jesus, I learn now that there is yet another possible explanation for the various curiosities raised by the account. I admit I approached this chapter with some scepticism but by the time I had finished had to concede that I think Doudna makes a very good case that Josephus’s John the Baptist report is “a chronologically dislocated story of the death of Hyrcanus II”:

In the same way [as another apparently dislocated account], Josephus’s John the Baptist story reads as a doublet or different version of Hyrcanus II chronologically dislocated to the time of the wrong Herod. In this case Josephus did not place the two versions of the death of Hyrcanus II close together in the same time setting as in some of the other cases of doublets. If Josephus had done that, the doublet in this case would have been recognized before now. Instead, Josephus mistakenly attached one of the traditions of the death of Hyrcanus II to the wrong Herod, just as he separately mistakenly attached documents to the wrong Hyrcanus. (p. 132)

I hope to discuss Doudna’s chapter in more detail in a future post.

The next chapter by Jim West is a “re-evaluation” of

the book by Thomas Thompson titled The Messiah Myth: The Near Eastern Roots of Jesus and David and discusses the appropriateness of his methodology, the correctness of his interpretation, and the continuing importance of his contribution on the topic of the historical Jesus. (p. 138)

West laments the lack of more general scholarly interest in The Messiah Myth given that it has, he claims, been taken up by

an army of ‘Jesus Mythicists’ who latched onto Thompson’s work as support for their view that Jesus actually never existed and who were bolstered by Thompson’s book. (p. 139)

Continue reading “continuing … Biblical Narratives, Archaeology, Historicity – Essays in Honour of Thomas L. Thompson”