Tag Archives: Atwill: Caesar’s Messiah

Did the Roman Emperors Use Josephus to Help Pacify the Jews?

The Caesar’s Messiah myth proponents appear to involve Josephus in some sort of conspiracy to pacify the Jews. Their primary method, according to their view, is that Josephus was involved in the creation of the Christian religion as a kind of pacifist-messiah cult to replace their traditional supposedly militaristic messiah cult said to be found in their Scriptures.

I recently had a difference of opinion with Joseph Atwill, author of Caesar’s Messiah, over whether Josephus’s history of the Jewish War was an “official” history. I had written that it was not an “official” history in the sense that it was commissioned or ordered to be written and vetted by the emperor. (The claim I was responding to was that “Josephus was employed to write the official history” and that is quite simply incorrect.) Joseph Atwill was nevertheless right to correct me insofar as I should have added that the emperor Titus, Vespasian’s son, at least did like Josephus’s history and ordered it published, at least according to Josephus’s own account. In his Life or autobiography Josephus boasted about his history of the Jewish War:

Now the emperor Titus was so desirous that the knowledge of these affairs should be taken from these books alone, that he subscribed his own hand to them, and ordered that they should be published; and for king Agrippa, he wrote me sixty-two letters, and attested to the truth of what I had therein delivered…

Why would Titus have done that if the Caesar’s Messiah theory of Atwill is correct and that history of the war apparently exposed the “truth” behind the gospels, that Jesus was a pacifist foil to Titus the conqueror?

Yet there were many other historians writing about that war at the time and Josephus compares his work with theirs:

Yet persons with no first-hand knowledge, accepting baseless and inconsistent stories on hearsay, have written garbled accounts of it; while those of eyewitnesses have been falsified either to flatter the Romans or to vilify the Jews, eulogy or abuse being substituted for factual record. . . .

Yet the writers I have in mind claim to be writing history, though beside getting all their facts wrong they seem to me to miss their target altogether. For they wish to establish the greatness of the Romans while all the time disparaging and deriding the actions of the Jews. But I do not see how men can prove themselves great by overcoming feeble opponents! Again they are not impressed by the length of the war, the vastness of the Roman forces which endured such hardships, and the genius of their commanders, whose strenuous endeavours before Jerusalem will bring them little glory if the difficulties they overcame are belittled.

However it is not my intention to counter the champions of the Romans by exaggerating the heroism of my own countrymen: I will state the facts accurately and impartially.

Josephus is telling readers what they would have expected to hear about other historians of the time, that they wrote flattering propaganda extolling the power and all-round superiority of the Romans while deriding the weakness and ineptness of their enemies, the Jews. Josephus, on the other hand, did point out certain failings of the Roman soldiers and the courage of his own countrymen. His own Judaeans, he writes, gave the Romans their money’s worth in order to win their victory.

The question must be asked, then, why did Titus, according to Josephus, prefer his work rather than one of the many other historians of the day? Why would Titus have ordered more widely disseminated a work that did not ostensibly flatter the Romans or denigrate the Jews?

I think Steve Mason in his study of the Jewish war gives a cogent answer to that question:

Why, then, might Titus have promoted Josephus’ work?

Titus was reportedly a man of the arts and letters (Suetonius, Tit. 3.2). Pliny’s dedication of his Natural History declares Titus an excellent judge of literature, with unmatched ability in oratory, letters, and poetic composition.226 Granted Pliny’s hyperbole, such interests might suffice to explain some level of support for his protege turned author Josephus. Titus recognized quality when he saw it, and might have preferred Josephus’ obviously knowledgeable account to the thin agitprop of the Flavianist hacks.227

Second, the obvious independence of Josephus’ War could have been useful. After all, Christians would exploit Josephus’ work precisely because it was so clearly Judaean that it could not be suspected of bias toward them (Chapter 1).

Third, after the war it was in the rulers’ interest to rehabilitate Judaeans, the dominant and traditionally stabilizing ethnos of southern Syria (Chapter 4). Would not such a mature political analysis by one of the region’s prominent aristocrats, written from realist premises, help everyone to settle down? Titus’ endorsement and broader dissemination of Josephus’ War could help to tamp down lingering hostilities and unproductive reprisals as in Alexandria and Antioch (cf. Ant. 12.122-24).

(Mason, pp. 129-130)

That to me sounds more likely than the Caesar’s Messiah hypothesis. Josephus was as prepared to point out failings of the Roman armies at times as well as the courage of his own people against them. read more »

Fishing for Parallels

“But now I will send for many fishermen,” declares the LORD, “and they will catch them. After that I will send for many hunters, and they will hunt them down on every mountain and hill and from the crevices of the rocks. — Jeremiah 16:16

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And passing along by the sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and Andrew the brother of Simon casting a net in the sea; for they were fishers. And Jesus said unto them, Come ye after me, and I will make you to become fishers of men. — Mark 1:16 -17

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They lay in heaps in the blood and dust, like fish that fishermen have dragged out of the grey surf in the meshes of their nets onto a bend of the beach, to lie in masses on the sand gasping for the salt sea water till the bright sun ends their lives. Thus, like a catch of fish, the Suitors lay there heaped upon each other. — Odyssey, Book 22, 380ff

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Nakht escapes from the clap-net in which the divine ‘fishermen’ seek to trap him (spell 153A). Papyrus of Nakht, late 18th or early 19th Dynasty, c. 1350-1290 bc.

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On this papyrus the illustrations to two spells, 153A and 153B, appear side-by-side. Both concern the deceased escaping from a net stretched by the gods to entrap her. The vignette of spell 153A, at the right, shows an open clap-net stretched between two pegs, one of which bears a human head. The text relating to this spell contains the deceased’s declaration of knowledge of the components of the net, by means of which she avoids being caught in it. . . . To the left is the vignette of spell 153B, ‘for escaping from the catcher of fish’. Three gods are shown hauling on a large net which they are dragging through the water to catch those who are unworthy of entering the next world.

 


  • Homer. 1946. The Odyssey. Translated by E.V Rieu. Ringwood, Vic.: Penguin Books.
  • Taylor, John H., ed. 2010. Ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead : Journey through the Afterlife. London: The British Museum Press.

 

 

When is a parallel a real parallel and not parallelomania?

The question of parallels has been raised in different posts and comments lately on Vridar.

Firstly, I questioned Joseph Atwill’s claim that there was a parallel between Jesus calling disciples to become “fishers of men” beside the “sea of Galilee” and a scene in Josephus’ War where Romans kill drowning Judeans in a battle that had spread to a the lake of Galilee. I also took exception to his parallel between the act of cannibalism that Josephus narrates in the same work and the gospel accounts of the Passover.

Soon afterwards, I posted about parallels between the Hebrews Bible and certain Hellenistic myths and other literature in relation to the works of Russell Gmirkin and Philippe Wajdenbaum. Further, I posted something by a classicist, Bruce Louden comparing a scenario in the Odyssey with the biblical story of Lot and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, to which I added further details between Greek myths and the Lot story identified by Wajdenbaum.

So am I being inconsistent in being critical of one of Atwill’s parallels but posting without critical commentary some of the work by Gmirkin, Wajdenbaum  and Louden?

One reader, Austendw, has posted a frequent criticism when this topic surfaces, and no doubt he speaks for many others. I copy just part of his comment:

And as for Saul in Mizpah, you relate Saul in hiding among the baggage, to Rachel hiding the teraphim in the saddlebag. The Hebrew says merely that Rachel “put” them in the saddle-bag; a nit-picking difference perhaps, but bearing it in mind reveals that, apart from the common place-name Mizpah, (a different Mizpah of course – it’s an extremely common place name in the OT), there isn’t a single verbal correlation between the two passages. Therefore your comment that Saul turns up like “Laban’s long-lost idol” (singular, though Laban’s teraphim were plural), strikes me as nothing other than your own imaginative eisegesis; you have imposed a meaning on the text and thereby constructed a parallel between the two stories that simply isn’t found in either of the texts themselves.

The details are indeed very different. But what is it, then, that makes it a “genuine” parallel in the minds of some others? Are we stretching different images almost to breaking point to make them seem somehow, even bizarrely, like one another? Is it reasonable to compare a person hiding in baggage and another person putting an incriminating object in a saddlebag?

Ideal Type compared with specific details

In order to try to understand what is going on here, to help us understand if we are manufacturing artificial parallels or discovering “real” ones, here is something written by Robert Price in The Christ-Myth Theory and Its Problems. Price is addressing a concept developed by the sociologist Max Weber, the Ideal Type. (Ideal relates to the world of ideas, not perfect ideals.) read more »

Telling lies for Jesus mythicism

[Josephus] was employed to write the official history that we have. The other histories from this period have been destroyed ruthlessly by the Romans. Josephus tells us this in very chilling passages how the Romans exerted complete control of the literature of this period. There were alternative histories of the Jewish war written, while the Romans rounded up the writers of those histories and executed them. They rounded up all the copies of those histories and destroyed them. That is to say they ruthlessly wiped out any alternative history, so that the only history we have is written by Josephus.” — Dr Rod Blackhirst, Lecturer in Religious Studies, La Trobe University

On my shelf I have a book titled Telling Lies for God by I.R. Plimer. I was a bit disappointed in it when I read it because I thought it was itself misrepresenting some of the apologist arguments and could have had more credibility by not sometimes garnishing the facts at hand.

Not long ago I took up a request to engage with a video on youtube, Caesar’s Messiah: The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Christianity. The presentation contains so many exaggerations and falsehoods that it would take me forever to address in detail, but I did tackle some of them here and here. Some of the contributors interviewed, namely Dr Robert and Timothy Freke, did not make any extravagant claims, but others did — namely Joseph Atwill, Rob Blackhirst, John Hudson and D.M. Murdock/Acharya S.

One point I have not yet addressed in depth, however, and that is the claim I placed in the quotation box at the top of this post, the one made near the video’s beginning by Dr Rob Blackhirst. To fast forward to the conclusion, I am astonished that a serious academic employed at a bona fide university could mouth such total fabrication. Not a word of what is quoted is true, but that’s what he claimed for the “benefit” of viewers of the video.

Point #1. Josephus’s history of the Jewish war is not an “official history”. It was Josephus’s personal history that did not have to be submitted for approval to the emperor or his agents.

Point #2. We have no record to substantiate the claim that “other histories from this period [the period of Josephus in the time of Vespasian and Titus] have been destroyed ruthlessly” — or leave off the “ruthlessly” and just say “destroyed”. There is absolutely nothing in the sources that permits Rob Blackhirst to make that claim.

Point #3. Alternative histories were written? Romans rounded up their authors and executed them? These claims are absolute fabrication. There is not a shred of evidence in our records that any such things ever happened.

Not quite. There is another series of false claims from about the 17th minute. We hear the following: read more »

Conclusion of feedback on the Atwill-Murdock video about the Roman Conspiracy to invent Christianity

In the previous post we ended with the Video’s fabricated claim that

12. Josephus tells us Romans rounded up writers of alternate histories and executed them. Only the official history of Josephus was to survive. All the copies of those alternate histories were destroyed.

This assertion is entirely fiction. There is no evidence for any of these claims, as far as I am aware, and I have read reasonably widely on literature in the time of the Flavian emperors. The history Josephus wrote was not an “official” history somehow “approved by” the authorities, either. It is quite unlikely that the Flavian emperor’s ever read or heard a reading of Josephus’s work. They had other propaganda and administrative issues to take up their time.

Other extravagant claims in the video are that the Roman authorities seized the holy books of the Jews from the temple, somehow implying that such an action was targeted at reducing the Jewish belief in a messianic leader to come and free them from the Romans. That, we saw, was also a misleading claim since the Jews held many other copies of the Scriptures and they probably never even read the actual copy deposited in the Temple to begin with. It was there as a sacred relic. Besides, belief in an imminent messiah, even if it existed (and we linked to evidence there was no such disturbing movement at that time) would not be quelled by removing texts from a mostly illiterate population. Josephus and other sources that inform us about the Jewish War and Roman military concerns inform us of other reasons for the Jewish was that had nothing to do with a so-called “messianic movement”. The video’s claims or inferences that the Flavian emperors (Vespasian and Titus) were confronted by widespread and regular Jewish uprisings are simply not true.

13. At one point we hear on the video: “All of the Roman Flavian historians record that Vespasian and family was the Christ.

I don’t know the basis for that claim but I know of not a single ancient historian that said the Vespasian family were “the Christ”. Josephus said there was a prophecy that a world ruler would come from Judea and that’s all there is. Josephus did not tell us the actual source for that claim, but it was a timely one to make to ensure his survival and to assist Vespasian in establishing his status as a rightful emperor. He used the propaganda to declare that he was a fulfillment of an ancient prophecy from the east, but the notion of a Jewish “christ” or “messiah” was alien and meaningless to him.

14. The video presentation points out that the Roman emperors and their bureaucracy were dedicated to enforcing the Roman imperial cult, so that the emperor was to be worshiped as a god. read more »

Did Roman Emperors Vespasian and Titus Create Christianity to Fool the Judeans?

The title question sounds quite unlikely to most historically informed readers but it is answered in the affirmative by those mythicists I have classified as “type twos“. A Vridar reader asked for my views of the arguments presented on a youtube video featuring Joseph Atwill and D.M. Murdock.

 

 

1. About 4 minutes in someone says the gospel Jesus was a composite of the many different messianic figures of the time.

That’s the first problem right there. Contrary to what is often assumed there were no “messianic figures” at the time of Jesus (early first century BCE). At least there is no evidence that there were and arguments claiming that they were popping up all over the place have to read words into our sources that are simply not there. Josephus mentions a few maverick leaders in the second half of the first century but at no point does he indicate that they were viewed as “messiahs”, and from everything we know about Josephus he would have loved to have mocked them as “false messiahs” if he felt he could. I have posted the evidence and arguments related to this topic, most recently tangentially in the Questioning apologetics post. (See also earlier posts questioning Carrier’s reading messianic figures into the evidence; also the myth post.)

Jesus in the gospels is certainly a composite figure as many critical scholars have long recognized. He is a bit of Moses at times, other times an Elijah or Elisha figure sometimes a Joshua, sometimes, perhaps, even an Odysseus or Hector.

2. Someone in the video soon afterwards misinforms us that the Dead Sea Scrolls are dated to the time of Jesus.

But that claim is certainly not a fact; it is an argument for which there is only the most tenuous evidence. See earlier posts on the dates of the Dead Sea Scrolls. On might make an argument for dating to the time of Jesus but it will always be an argument and cannot be assumed to be fact.

3. Next, in the video we hear the rhetorical question, “How did Christianity come to exist in Roman dominated area with anti-Roman zealots in it?

We have no reliable evidence that the early Christian movement consisted of anti-Roman zealots. Someone in a list of disciples is said to be a “zealot” but unless I am badly mistaken critical scholars (as opposed to apologists) consider the institution of the “twelve disciples” to be an invention by evangelists some decades after the time of Jesus. It was a symbolic creation pointing to a “new Israel” in the church. We hear nothing of any “zealot” after the time of Jesus except for Paul who is quoted as saying he was a “zealot for God”.

Perhaps none of that will make any difference to those who are attracted to the point of Zealots being among the earliest Christians. After all, the theory is that Jesus is constructed out of the person and deeds of Titus. Are the authors meant to be persuading other Jewish “zealots” to follow Titus? Perhaps so.

4. About 7 minutes in the question is raised: Why would the Flavians (i.e. the Roman emperors Vespasian, Titus and Domition) be interested in creating a religion?

That’s a good question. I don’t believe I ever came across any indication they did anything other than restore the prestige of older Roman cults. But let’s continue with the video.

5. We are told that the Jews were rebelling against their Roman rulers, that they were angry over taxes and having an emperor (Claudius, before the Flavian emperors) trying to set up his statue in the Temple. We are told that the Jews were more focused on a religion “of the book” than on cultic rituals. And that because they believed their books they believed in a prophecy that a messiah was going to rise up and lead them to victory against their enemies. We are then informed that a series of Jewish messiahs or messianic claimants fought against Rome and that there was a widespread Palestinian messianic movement fueling these anti-Roman rebellions.

By such assertions are viewers misinformed.

  1. If there were any resistance of bandit movements over taxes then they were over taxes. There is no need to bring in a messianic motivation to these revolts, especially since we have no evidence that there were any messianic pretenders among the various bandits.
  2. The episode of Claudius hoping to have his statue erected in the Jewish temple was but one incident that was soon resolved in favour of the Judeans. There was no lingering fear after Claudius withdrew.
  3. Most important and what was not mentioned in the video was that the Roman authorities allowed the Jews to practice their own religion. They were not forced on pain of death to worship Caesar as a god.
  4. There is no evidence in our sources that Jews in the first century had any general expectation of a coming messiah (see above for links to the evidence). Josephus makes a very opaque remark about a world ruler being prophesied to come out of Judea but gives no indication what books were sourced. He could have been referring to any of the Pseudepigrapha, (perhaps the Sibylline Oracles?) …. But he gives even less evidence for how the Jews supposedly responded to this prophecy. Everything he says about the rebels was that they were more engaged in fighting against other Jews than they were against the Romans, and the reason Rome sought to crush them was because of their role in fomenting a type of civil war in Judea and because they were defiant power-hungry rebels, not because they were anticipating a messiah.

I will be posting something from Steve Mason’s book on the Jewish War that hopefully will knock down a number of popular misunderstandings about the nature of the Jewish War with Rome 66-70 CE.

6. Next we are told that Vespasian came in and destroyed the Jewish towns of Galilee. read more »

The Different Meanings of “Fishers of Men”

Since we have been talking about “fishing for men” and how it can be interpreted in different ways . . .

  • Jindrich Mánek postulates that Jer 16:16 and cosmological myths involving the sea elucidate a sense of rescue in the expression [i.e. “fishers of men”].
  • Charles W. F. Smith argues that the dark motif of judgment in the Hebrew prophets and Qumran literature supplies the expression with an ominous ring.
  • Wilhelm Wuellner suggests that the multivalent usage of fishing in antiquity informs the call of disciples as one denoting partnership in Jesus’ eschatological mission.
  • And J. Duncan M. Derretí posits that the expression is derived from Ezekiel 47.
  • More recently, Joel Marcus has synthesized much of the relevant scholarship:

There may not be any need to choose among these different interpretations; the disciples’ fishing for people is probably a multivalent image that includes their future missionary preaching, their future teaching, and their future exorcisms (cf. 3:14-15; 6:7,12-13, 30; 13:9-10), all of which are understood as a participation in God’s eschatological war against demonic forces; this war, moreover, recapitulates God’s redemption of Israel from Egyptian bondage.

(Wassell 637, my formatting; my bolding in all quotations)

There was once a time when I thought the idea of “fishing for men” was not a particularly irenic image, certainly not for the fish or for comparing people to fish being pulled, gasping, out of the water to die a slow death. I recall trying to rationalize the metaphor. We are “alive in our sins in the world” today and have to “die” or “mortify the flesh” in order to live a new life in a new kingdom. But that didn’t really work because the image offers no pleasant lease of life for the fish.

There was once a time when I felt that the original metaphor as found in Jeremiah 16:16 was more judgmental than pastoral. Sure, if one reads the verse in the context of the previous two or three it does sound quite positive, presenting Jeremiah’s readers with a scene of drawing lost Israelites back from captivity to a restored happy kingdom:

14 Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that it shall no more be said, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt;

15 But, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands whither he had driven them: and I will bring them again into their land that I gave unto their fathers.

16 Behold, I will send for many fishers, saith the Lord, and they shall fish them;

Reading in context

But when I studied the Book of Jeremiah more attentively I had to discard that shallow interpretation. In its fuller context the image is one of judgement.

10 And it shall come to pass, when thou shalt shew this people all these words, and they shall say unto thee, Wherefore hath the Lord pronounced all this great evil against us? or what is our iniquity? or what is our sin that we have committed against the Lord our God?

11 Then shalt thou say unto them, Because your fathers have forsaken me, saith the Lord, and have walked after other gods, and have served them, and have worshipped them, and have forsaken me, and have not kept my law;

12 And ye have done worse than your fathers; for, behold, ye walk every one after the imagination of his evil heart, that they may not hearken unto me:

13 Therefore will I cast you out of this land into a land that ye know not, neither ye nor your fathers; and there shall ye serve other gods day and night; where I will not shew you favour.

Verses 14-15 are in interpolation from Jeremiah 23:7-8 7

14 Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that it shall no more be said, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt;

15 But, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands whither he had driven them: and I will bring them again into their land that I gave unto their fathers.

16 Behold, I will send for many fishers, saith the Lord, and they shall fish them; and after will I send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks.

17 For mine eyes are upon all their ways: they are not hid from my face, neither is their iniquity hid from mine eyes.

The image of fishing is associated now with the image of pulling people out of their land and exiling them to “a land they know not”. It is no longer an image of salvation but an image of judgment.

Contrast the Gospels of Luke and John

But in certain of the gospels it clearly is an image of salvation. read more »

Does Josephus intend to bring to mind an image of “fishing for men”?

This post is a post-script to Why Joseph Atwill’s Caesar’s Messiah is “Type 2” mythicism

The synoptic gospels depict Jesus calling disciples to become “fishers of men”. The context indicates that Jesus wants them to gather people to Jesus, to have many Israelites repent and follow Jesus. The most obvious source for the image is Jeremiah 16:16. Look at it in context:

14 Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that it shall no more be said, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel out of the land of Egypt;

15 But, The Lord liveth, that brought up the children of Israel from the land of the north, and from all the lands whither he had driven them: and I will bring them again into their land that I gave unto their fathers.

16 Behold, I will send for many fishers, saith the Lord, and they shall fish them; and after will I send for many hunters, and they shall hunt them from every mountain, and from every hill, and out of the holes of the rocks.

We know the authors of the synoptic gospels drew upon the “Old Testament” writings for many of their images and ideas.

Joseph Atwill, however, introduces an alternative explanation for the image of the disciples being called to fish for men in Caesar’s Messiah. Atwill sees “fishing for men” in the gospels as a cynical re-write of an actual battle on the lake of Galilee between Romans and Jews, and argues that the slaughter of Jews in that context was the original source for the concept of Jesus (a cipher for a Roman emperor) telling his followers to “fish for men”. Below I have copied his suggested source as Josephus narrates the battle along with my commentary on how it might relate to Atwill’s thesis. I have additionally raised a few questions about the narrative that I would be interested in following up — how much was Josephus fabricating the scene? The section is from the Jewish War 3:10

But now, when the vessels were gotten ready, Vespasian put upon ship-board as many of his forces as he thought sufficient to be too hard for those that were upon the lake, and set sail after them.

The battle on the lake of Galilee is about to begin. The Romans prepare in numbers to take on the Jews who had fled into the lake on their small boats.

[Question: Whose ships were the Romans boarding if the Jews had already fled in available ships?]

[Update 15th November 2018: My first question was based on the Whiston translation. Another translation speaks of “rafts” and I suspect that would be correct since it makes better sense in the context.]

Now these which were driven into the lake could neither fly to the land, where all was in their enemies’ hand, and in war against them; nor could they fight upon the level by sea, for their ships were small and fitted only for piracy; they were too weak to fight with Vespasian’s vessels, and the mariners that were in them were so few, that they were afraid to come near the Romans, who attacked them in great numbers.

The Jews who had fled in the ships were now isolated, unable to return to land because of the Roman forces there. Their ships were too small to take on the Roman forces, and they were too few in number, so they attempted to keep their distance from the Romans who were coming towards them in larger ships and greater numbers.

[Again, where did the Romans’ ships come from? It appears from the account that the Romans had larger ships than those of the Jews. If correct, did the Romans take time to build them? If they did, then could not the Jews in the smaller ships have sailed well away to some other part of the lake? Or were they completely surrounded? And if they were surrounded, then what need was there for the Romans to go to the trouble of building larger ships to pursue them? Why not simply let them die there?]

[Update 15th November 2018: As above — My first question was based on the Whiston translation. Another translation speaks of “rafts” and I suspect that would be correct since it makes better sense in the context.]

However, as they sailed round about the vessels, and sometimes as they came near them, they threw stones at the Romans when they were a good way off, or came closer and fought them; yet did they receive the greatest harm themselves in both cases.

They catapulted (presumably, rather than threw by hand) stones at the Romans. Some came closer to a Roman ship to engage in combat but only for the worse.

[Presumably the Romans in fact came up to the Jewish ships when they could catch them. Where did the stones that the Jewish forces threw come from? Did they gather them up before boarding? Did they have supplies for the light infantry slingers left over that they took with them?]

As for the stones they threw at the Romans, they only made a sound one after another, for they threw them against such as were in their armor, while the Roman darts could reach the Jews themselves; and when they ventured to come near the Romans, they became sufferers themselves before they could do any harm to the ether, and were drowned, they and their ships together.

Here we have an extension of the previous sentence. The significant difference of detail added this time is that Josephus tells us that those Jewish forces who made contact with the Romans in their ships were slaughtered. The Romans were able to sink their ships and fend off any Jewish attacker so that all the Jewish soldiers on board were killed by direct Roman action or indirectly by drowning.

Here we finally come closest to any conceivable image of “fishing for men”. For the first time “men” (Jewish) are said to be in the water, but drowned. They are not “fished” for in any sense that I can imagine.

As for those that endeavored to come to an actual fight, the Romans ran many of them through with their long poles. Sometimes the Romans leaped into their ships, with swords in their hands, and slew them; but when some of them met the vessels, the Romans caught them by the middle, and destroyed at once their ships and themselves who were taken in them.

Again we have an expansion on the previous image. Sometimes the Romans soldiers were able to leap into the Jewish ships and begin their slaughter; other times the Roman ships rammed and broke up the Jewish ships.

And for such as were drowning in the sea, if they lifted their heads up above the water, they were either killed by darts, or caught by the vessels; but if, in the desperate case they were in, they attempted to swim to their enemies, the Romans cut off either their heads or their hands;

Here we continue the extended elaboration of detail of the contact between the Romans and Jews on the lake. We have seen how the Jewish forces were overwhelmed by the ramming Roman ships so that many were struggling to stay alive after their ship was wrecked and they were left in the water. Some of the desperate Jews swam towards whatever ship they could see only to find that they had approached a Roman ship. They were duly dispatched.

One can understand “fishers of men” referring to a gathering of people in a way fish are gathered in nets. And that’s the image that comes to mind in Jeremiah 16:16. But I suggest the image is far removed from Josephus’s account. Simply hacking at drowning remnant of a force doe not strongly bring to mind an image of “fishing”. read more »

Why Joseph Atwill’s Caesar’s Messiah is “Type 2” mythicism

Joseph Atwill, author of Caesar’s Messiah: The Roman Conspiracy to Invent Jesus, from time to time challenges some of my points on this blog and I have tended to respond only in generalities. A week ago I posted what I see is the difference between two types of mythicist arguments: There are two types of Jesus mythicism. Here’s how to tell them apart. Type 1 I described as scholarly; it is one that engages in depth with the scholarly output of biblical studies and strives to follow the best in historical methods and logically valid argument; Type 2, on the other hand, I described as non-scholarly because it does none of those things.

I think all arguments that are taken seriously by others ought to be addressed seriously, and that applies to creationist arguments, holocaust denial arguments, and Joseph Atwill’s conspiracy theory argument. Is not the aim of any argument to try to persuade? So why not, at least at some point, try to set out a persuasive argument against a view that is embraced by others but that we consider to be flawed?

I will only focus on one particular argument in Caesar’s Messiah in this post. Hopefully that will be enough for now to prompt maybe one person at some time to think through afresh one explanation for Christian origins that they may have been wondering about.

The opening of chapter 1 announces the main argument:

I shall show that intellectuals working for Titus Flavius, the second of the three Flavian Caesars, created Christianity. Their main purpose was to replace the xenophobic Jewish messianism that waged war against the Roman Empire with a version of Judaism that would be obedient to Rome.

One of the individuals involved with the creation of the Gospels was the first-century historian Flavius Josephus. (p. 12)

In chapter 2 Joseph Atwill begins first serious comparison between the gospels and the works of Josephus in order to demonstrate that the gospels are a coded satire of Titus’s march on Jerusalem.

In Matthew 4:18-19 and Luke 5:9-10 we read how Jesus, while walking along the “Sea” of Galilee, called disciples to become “fishers of men”. Later in Matthew 11:23 (also in Luke 10:13f) Jesus prophecies doom for Chorazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum for rejecting his word.

Joseph Atwill argues that Jesus’ calling his disciples to become “fishers of men” and his pronouncement of doom upon Chorazin are satires of a slaughter by Romans of rebellious Jews in the lake of Galilee.

In support, he quotes the following sections from Josephus’s War, Book 3, chapter 10:

This lake is called by the people of the country the Lake of Gennesareth . . . they had a great number of ships . . . and they were so fitted up, that they might undertake a Seafight. But as the Romans were building a wall about their camp, Jesus and his party . . . made a sally upon them.

. . . Sometimes the Romans leaped into their ships, with swords in their hands, and slew them; but when some of them met the vessels, the Romans caught them by the middle, and destroyed at once their ships and themselves who were taken in them. And for such as were drowning in the sea, if they lifted their heads up above the water, they were either killed by darts, or caught by the vessels; but if, in the desperate case they were in, they attempted to swim to their enemies, the Romans cut off either their heads or their hands . . . (p. 39)

The passage reads like a single unit about a sea battle but the thee dotted lines at the beginning of the second paragraph represent over 3000 words of Whiston’s translation. The main thrust of the story is omitted. To see the full passage see below where I have copied the totality between “The lake is called by the people . . .” to “their heads of their hands.”

Atwill introduces the above words of Josephus with a comparison to “fishing for men”:

In War of the Jews, Josephus describes a sea battle where the Romans caught Jews like fish. The battle occurred at Gennesareth, where Titus attacked a band of Jewish rebels led by a leader named Jesus. (p. 39, my bolded emphasis in all quotations)

If you have not read the Josephan passage do so now. Josephus makes no comparison at all with the Romans catching Jews like fish. The image never surfaces in Josephus’ account of the battle. If one reads the passage in full (as I have copied below) one encounters a grisly image of slaughter of desperate humans struggling in the water. Heads and hands are cut off. Victims are not “caught like fish” but are stabbed with spears, shot with arrows, cut with swords.

Atwill has transferred the image of “fishing for men” from the gospels and gratuitously injected it into the passage in Josephus.
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