Archive for the Historicity Category

Threat against U.S. author by Armenian Government Official

Posted in Historicity, Various on June 21, 2013 by vahagnakanch

27494In the aftermath of a controversial interview on literature and religion conducted by Hetq online with the exiled Armenian author Armen Melikian, the Chief of the Publications Bureau at the Ministry of Culture of Armenia, Mr. Gagik Khachatryan, issued the following threat against the author: “Should you one day come across me in my holy fatherland, I’ll make sure that you eternally vanish from my nation’s sight as a disfigured and forgotten member of my race.” The threat was posted on the official’s personal Facebook page on June 20 around 7:00 p.m. Yerevan time.

Melikian has received several hundred death threats from Armenian citizens over the last six months, mainly from Orthodox Armenian adherents believed to be incited to anger by religious leaders and officials, as well as members of fundamentalist Christian sects which have made inroads into Armenia following its independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, embarking on a rampant proselytization campaign.

A charismatic clergyman, Father Komitas Hovnanian, widely known as a spokesman for Catholicos Garegin II, head of the Armenian Orthodox Church, recently went on official public television and referred to Melikian as “the Anti-Christ,” as well as “cobra poison,” “a foreign government mole,” “a Luther,” “a Lenin,” and “a Trotsky.” The clergyman dubbed Melikian “an enemy of the Armenian nation” and incited his listeners to “unlike” Melikian’s Facebook page and join in a national campaign to ostracize him. The threat from the Ministry of Culture, however, is the first of its kind by an actual government official issued publicly against the author’s personal safety.

Melikian moved to Armenia from the United States in 2002, but was forced into exile since 2005 after the National Security Agency of Armenia located an old and incomplete manuscript of his book Journey to Virginland: Catena and interrogated his wife at its headquarters in Yerevan. The book is scheduled for release this November in the United States.

Melikian has been the recipient of over 10 literary awards in the United States for his writing alone.

Melikian places the ultimate responsibility for the official’s conduct with Armenia’s president, the prime minister, the minister of justice, and the minister of culture, all of who, says the author, should resign if the official in question is not immediately dismissed from his post, arrested and prosecuted. Melikian also blames the human rights organizations in the country and all major political or cultural Armenian organizations in Armenia and the Diaspora, both supporting its governing oligarchy and so called “pro-democracy,” for what he refers to as a “conspiracy of silence” on the issue of exiled Armenian writers, calling them “hypocrites and murderers of Armenian intellectual life and literature.” Armenia has several writers who are currently in exile in France, the United States, and Sweden.

Armen Melikian is the prize winning author of Journey to Virginland

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Historicity

Posted in Historicity on July 1, 2012 by vahagnakanch

Brunner’s Gottkoenigs & the Nativity of Jesus: A Brief Communication
Can the Historical Jesus be Made Safe for Orthodoxy?
Christ a Fiction (1997)
Detoxifying Self-Deception
Did Jesus Christ Really Live?
Did Jesus Exist?
Did Jesus Exist? Earl Doherty and the Argument to A historicity
Historicity Of Jesus FAQ (1994)
Jesus: Fact or Fiction
Review of The Historical Figure of Jesus (2008)
Severus Is Not Quoting Tacitus: A Rebuttal to Eric Laupot (2006)
Tacitus Fragment 2 The Anti-Roman Movement of the Christiani and the Nazoreans (2000)
Testimonium Flavianum
Thallus: an Analysis (1999)
The Date of the Nativity in Luke (5th ed., 2006)
The Jesus of History: A Reply to Josh McDowell
The Jesus Papyrus – Five Years On
The Search for the Historical Jesus
The Search for Jesus
The search for no-frills jesus
The Twelve: Further Fictions From The New Testament
Where Jesus Never Walked 
Who Was the Historical Jesus?

Thallus: an Analysis (1999)

Posted in Historicity on July 1, 2012 by vahagnakanch

Richard Carrier

This is a preliminary essay, outlining some important facts about Thallus, a pagan chronologer of unknown date who is occasionally mentioned in the works of Christian apologists, modern and ancient, as a 1st century pagan witness to the gospel tradition of a “darkness” at the death of Christ: see Mark 15:33; Luke 23:44; and Matthew 27:51-53, whose account includes an earthquake, split rocks, and zombies; John makes no mention of any such events, nor does Paul or any other New Testament author.

Such a story has obvious mythic overtones and can easily be doubted. That a solar eclipse should mark the death of a king was common lore among Greeks and other Mediterranean peoples (Herodotus 7.37, Plutarch Pelopidas 31.3 and Aemilius Paulus 17.7-11, Dio Cassius 55.29.3, John Lydus De Ostentis 70.a), and that such events corresponded with earthquakes was also a scientific superstition (Aristotle Meteorology 367.b.2, Pliny Natural History 2.195, Virgil Georgics 2.47.478-80). It was also typical to assimilate eclipses to major historic events, even when they did not originally correspond, or to invent eclipses for this purpose (Préaux claims to have counted 200 examples in extant literature; Boeuffle andNewton have also remarked on this tendency). The gospel stories also make a solar eclipse impossible: the crucifixion passover happened during a full moon, and the darkness supposedly lasted three hours (indeed, Julius Africanus claimed it covered the whole world). Such an impossible event would not fail to be recorded in the works of Seneca, Pliny, Josephus or other historians, yet it is not mentioned anywhere else outside of Christian rhetoric, so we can probably dismiss the idea of this being a real event.

Nevertheless, Thallus is cited at least as a witness to the early date of the gospel story of the darkness, if not to the factuality of the darkness itself. But the facts surrounding Thallus are all too often incorrect, or asserted with unjustified boldness, calling for a proper historical treatment of the facts. Being an unfinished work, this essay is brief and does not cite sources in detail–most of the relevant sources are already cited in my translation of two other non-English commentaries on Thallus: for those who can stomach the detailed scholarly text, see Jacoby. A bibliography of all the works I consulted (but not including those mentioned by Jacoby or Müller) is collected at the end of this essay. In the future, a completed version of this essay with full references will be published, but until then anyone desiring to know more about the sources should write to me directly (see my bio for contact information).

Introduction to the Problem

We know next to nothing about Thallus or his works. We don’t even know if he wrote only one book or several. The only information we have about him, even his name, comes entirely from Christian apologetic sources beginning in the late 2nd century, and that information is plagued with problems. Scholars since the 18th century have even invented facts about him, and some of these groundless notions–like the idea that he was a Samaritan–are repeated even today. Claims are also made, mainly but not exclusively by modern Christian apologists, which make Thallus into the earliest literary witness to the gospel tradition. There are two commentaries which collect and discuss all remnants and attestations, but they are not available in English, and are outdated (I have translated and commented on these: see Jacoby). A new survey of what we know about Thallus needs to be made available in English, and this essay is the first, brief draft toward that aim.

What Thallus Wrote

On various occasions Thallus’ work is referred to as the Histories (HISTORIAI in George Syncellus, and possibly in Eusebius, quoting Julius Africanus; HISTORIA in Theophilus, and in Lactantius quoting Theophilus, and possibly in Eusebius quoting Julius Africanus). This is the only work by Thallus of which we have a title. Attempts to reconstruct a title from an Armenian translation of a Greek chronology composed by Eusebius are not trustworthy, since the text seems only to describe the work, not name it, in a list of authors which sometimes names their works and sometimes merely describes them. But whether a discription or a title, the work described in that text does not appear to be the same work quoted by everyone else. This is because it is described as a “brief compendium” (in three volumes, which is indeed exceedingly brief–equivalent to three chapters in a modern book) covering the years from the fall of Troy (1184 BC) to the 167th Olympiad (109 BC), but Thallus is often cited for events long preceding the Fall of Troy, and on one occasion appears to be cited regarding an event at the death of Christ, which comes long after 109 BC (leading several scholars to amend the text to give a later date). In all cases the nature of the facts being drawn from Thallus further suggests a rather detailed work, and not a “brief compendium.” It is most likely that the book referenced by Eusebius is one of at least two works by Thallus, and not the work in which he mentions the darkness associated with the death of Christ (if he mentioned this at all). This is an altogether more likely explanation than the many alternatives that have been suggested (for example, that a later, anonymous author expanded Thallus’ work).

As for what Thallus wrote about, we are told by Eusebius, quoting Julius Africanus, that Thallus recorded Syrian history just as Castor did, which is consistent with other remarks by Tertullian placing Thallus among historians of Eastern events, and with several authors who cite Thallus on details of Assyrian history (Theophilus, Lactantius, George Syncellus) and with another who possibly cites him as an expert on Lydian affairs (Malalas). But Thallus is also listed among those who recorded Greek and Roman history, especially the deeds of Saturn inItaly(Tertullian, Lactantius, Minucius Felix). To confuse matters further, the late forger of a work in the name of Justin Martyr claims Thallus among those who mentioned Moses and the antiquity of the Jews in the context of Athenian history! This last can be dismissed, however, since the forged text is almost a word-for-word adulteration of a quote from Julius Africanus, which we have more reliably preserved in the works of Eusebius, which merely lists Thallus, with Castor, as a reliable historian of Syrian affairs and nothing more.

When Thallus Wrote

The Armenian reference places the end of Thallus’ “brief compendium” at the 167th Olympiad (which spans 112-109 BC). This would remain uncontested if it were not for a single reference to Thallus regarding an event long after that time: namely, the darkness at the death of Christ. Since this event must have occurred in the 1st century AD, and no doubt sometime between 28 and 38 AD, there are two possibilities: either the Armenian text is referring to a different work, or the date has been corrupted. Virtually every scholar to date has opted for the latter and made efforts to conjecture the original date–the only two plausible (though still unlikely) options are the 207th Olympiad (which spans 49-52 AD) and the 217th Olympiad (which spans 89-92 AD). The latter in fact is the more likely, judging from palaeography. But as I’ve already noted, it seems far more likely that the Armenian reference is to a different work. It could even be an excerpted epitome of a longer chronology.

This leaves us with no clue as to when Thallus wrote. Since the 1st-century darkness was probably not mentioned in the “brief compendium,” there is no reason to suppose that the date of 109 BC is incorrect–there is nothing physically wrong with the text, nor any other reason to suspect an error (although Mosshammer claims otherwise, his reasoning is hard to justify). However, if Thallus did mention the darkness in another work (probably the Histories), he clearly had to have written after 28 AD. Although the guess of 52 AD as the end-date for the compedium is the one most commonly mentioned, if the date is wrong at all then 92 AD is more likely correct. But all these possible dates–109 BC, 52 AD, 92 AD–only give us the “time after which” he had to have written this “brief compendium.” These dates do not tell us when he wrote the Histories or whatever work that mentioned the darkness.

It is also supposed that the final date covered by the compendium should be close to the time the compendium was written, but that also does not follow. Eusebius, for instance, wrote a world chronicle that ended some thirty years before he wrote it. Moreover, when an author writes a compendium there is no telling how much history he intends to cover, or how far back he will end it–and a work as short as three books might very well have been so short because it was unfinished. In other words, the “compendium” could have ended in 109 BC even if it was written in 109 AD, and if the compendium’s end-date was 52 AD or 92 AD, it could still have been written in 109 AD, or later. So we have to look elsewhere for a “time before which” Thallus wrote. All we have is this: the first time Thallus is ever mentioned is by Theophilus, writing around 180 AD, which leaves us with over a century of grey area: Thallus could have written any time between 28 and 180 AD. And if he did not mention an eclipse occurring in the first century, then he could have written any time between 109 BC and 180 AD, a span of almost three centuries.

This is where proper historical method turns the tables on Christian apologists. The usual argument is that Thallus is the earliest witness to the gospel tradition, proving that the story was circulating, and taken seriously enough by pagans to debunk it, before the 2nd century. But the opposite reasoning applies: since we do not know that Thallus wrote in the 1st century, but know that he could have written in the 2nd, and since no other sources attest to any gospel tradition earlier than the 2nd century, it follows that Thallus most likely wrote in the 2nd century–or at the earliest, the 90’s AD, since there is some evidence that Josephus referred to Luke in that decade, although that same evidence just as easily suggests that Luke used Josephus, dating that gospel after 96 AD. Otherwise, since all other sources which mention any gospel tradition appear only in the 2nd century, and Thallus may easily have written in that period, it follows that Thallus most likely wrote in the 2nd century. This conclusion would change if any further data were rescued from the sands of time which made an earlier date more plausible, but odds are, Thallus is not the earliest witness to the gospel tradition. Even at best, there is at present no reason to assume he is.

The Invented Evidence

One of the key pieces of “evidence” used to prove a 1st-century date for Thallus was actually innocently invented in the 18th century. The item in question is a supposed reference in Josephus to a Samaritan freedman of Tiberius, which places a man by the name of Thallus from Samaria, a region in the East (from where a historian of Syrian affairs might come), in a position which would produce historians in later years (Phlegon, a freedman of Hadrian, also wrote a chronicle), in a definite first-century date (Tiberius reigned from 14 AD to 37 AD). Too good to be true? Indeed. First of all, it has long been noticed that Josephus says nothing about this “freedman” composing any literary work, and thus it is already a leap to suppose it would be the same man. Thallus, as it turns out, is a common name, appearing regularly in inscriptions throughout antiquity.

But most importantly, the name does not in fact appear in any extant text of Josephus. The passage in question (Antiquities of the Jews 18.167) does not have the word THALLOS in any extant manuscript or translation, but ALLOS. The addition of the letter theta (TH) was conjectured by a scholar named Hudson in 1720, on the argument that ALLOS didn’t make sense, and that Thallus was the attested name of an imperial freedman of Tiberius in inscriptions: in his own words, “I put ‘Thallos’ in place of ‘allos’ by conjecture, as he is attested to have been among the freedmen of Tiberius, going by the inscriptions of Gruter” (p. 810, translated from Hudson’s Latin). But there is no good basis for this conjecture. First, the Greek actually does make sense without the added letter (it means “another”), and all extant early translations confirm this very reading. Second, an epitome of this passage does not give a name but instead the generic “someone,” which suggests that no name was mentioned in the epitomizer’s copy.

Finally, the most likely name, if one were needed here at all, would be HALLOS, requiring no added letters (there is no letter for the H-sound in Greek), since an imperial freedman by this name is also known in the time of Tiberius from inscriptions. Thus,Hudson’s conjecture is groundless and is to be rejected. Although we still have an inscription recording a man named Thallus as an imperial freedman, this name we know is common, and appears often in inscriptions. And the inscription in question says nothing about the man being a Samaritan, much less an author. Therefore, this attempt to place Thallus in the 1st century fails. It also fails to establish him as a Samaritan, a detail which is still cited as if it were a fact, even by good scholars.

What Thallus Said About Jesus

What exactly is Thallus supposed to have said about Jesus? We don’t really know. We can only guess, based on an obscure passage passed down to us second-hand which already shows signs of at least one interpolation. George Syncellus, a 9th-century monk, composed a world chronicle, quoting verbatim from numerous previous chroniclers, one of whom being the 3rd-century Christian chronicler Julius Africanus. In one such case, Africanus is quoted regarding “what followed the savior’s passion and life-giving resurrection” as follows:

This event followed each of his deeds, and healings of body and soul, and knowledge of hidden things, and his resurrection from the dead, all sufficiently proven to the disciples before us and to his apostles: after the most dreadful darkness fell over the whole world, the rocks were torn apart by an earthquake and much of Judaea and the rest of the land was torn down. Thallus calls this darkness an eclipse of the sun in the third book of his Histories, without reason it seems to me. For….how are we to believe that an eclipse happened when the moon was diametrically opposite the sun?

This is all we get. It isn’t clear what Thallus actually said, or whether he even mentioned Jesus at all. Africanus is merely criticising the possibility that the darkness at the death of Christ was a solar eclipse, and thus a natural rather than a supernatural event–an attack addressed in the Apology of Tertullian, and voiced by the Jews in the Gospel of Nicodemus, which may have been written in the time of Africanus. Although this implies that Thallus mentioned the death of Christ in some way, it does not entail it. For Thallus may have simply recorded an eclipse that occurred around the time that Christ was believed to have died, with Africanus connecting the events on his own. We do not have the context of this quote, and we do not know what else Africanus said about this event or about Thallus. Of course, even if Thallus did mention the death of Jesus, we have already shown that he then probably wrote in the 2nd century, when we know this gospel story was already circulating nearly a century after the event. In such a case, Thallus is not an independent witness to the story, but is merely responding to Christian literature. This makes him of practically no use to apologists.

The Curious Case of Phlegon of Tralles

The story gets more curious, however. For the quoted Africanus passage continues:

In fact, let it be so. Let the idea that this happened seize and carry away the multitude, and let the cosmic prodigy be counted as an eclipse of the sun according to its appearance. Phlegon reports that in the time of Tiberius Caesar, during the full moon, a full eclipse of the sun happened, from the sixth hour until the ninth. Clearly this is our eclipse! What is common about an earthquake, an eclipse, rocks torn apart, a rising of the dead, and such a huge cosmic movement? At the very least, over a long period, no conjunction this great is remembered. But it was a godsent darkness, because the Lord happened to suffer, and the Bible, in Daniel, supports that seventy spans of seven years would come together up to this time.

There is a lot of interesting material here, but I only wish to discuss what relates to Thallus. Most scholars have assumed that Africanus is here quoting Phlegon, too, as a witness to the darkness story–although we know for a fact that Phlegon wrote in the 140’s AD, and was fond of fantastic stories, so it would not be surprising to find him borrowing this one from Christian literature. But Martin Routh noticed some telling details: the sentence mentioning Phlegon is grammatically and logically out of place.

In Greek, new sentences are marked by certain special words, usually left untranslated, such as MEN or DE or OUN, etc. The Phlegon sentence is not marked. That is like not leaving a period at the end of the preceding sentence. Also, Africanus has just finished attacking Thallus’ idea of a solar eclipse, yet here cites Phlegon favorably, who calls it the same exact thing. Moreover, the flow of thought is broken by this sentence. Africanus has begun a rhetorical argument with the phrase “let it be so,” which is otherwise interrupted by interjecting a historical note about Phlegon. Remove that sentence (and the added “Clearly this is our eclipse!”) and we have a continuous stream of thought that makes more sense. The Phlegon sentence, for all of these reasons, does not belong here.

In fact, the phrase “Clearly this is our eclipse” (literally “clearly this is it”) is a telltale sign of an interlinear note by some other scribe. It appears that some copyist was copying or reading this passage in either Africanus or Syncellus and remembered the Phlegon connection, writing it as a note to the side or in between the lines. A later copyist then mistook this marginal note as text to be re-inserted, since, not having erasers, scribes who forgot a line would add it in the margins or between the lines (if they noticed the error at all). This was very common in the transmission of ancient and medieval books. There was no standard rule for distinguishing between added notes and re-inserted text. Both were marked and written the same way, leading to many marginal notes being read as re-inserted text and many lines of re-inserted text being mistook for marginal notes. Without further data, we might say that Syncellus mistook the marginal note of a previous owner of his copy of Africanus, or made the note himself while a later copier of Syncellus mistook it as text, or that the note and the mistake happened entirely before or after the involvement of Syncellus. But since Syncellus immediately follows the Africanus quote with a passage from Eusebius which quotes Phlegon correctly, it is almost certainly the case that the Phlegon passage here was inserted after Syncellus. This is further supported by the extent of the insertion’s inaccuracy, which looks more like something that appears in the work of Agapius in the 10th century, or in Michael the Syrian in the 12th century.

This leads us to the most important reason for supposing this line to be an insertion by someone other than Africanus (or Syncellus): Phlegon almost certainly said no such thing. Eusebius quotes Phlegon verbatim (the only one to do so), and what Phlegon actually said is telling–the text is attested in Syncellus in the original Greek, but also in the Latin of Jerome, the Syrian epitome, and the Armenian:

Jesus Christ..underwent his passion in the 18th year of Tiberius [32 AD]. Also at that time in another Greek compendium we find an event recorded in these words: “the sun was eclipsed, Bithynia was struck by an earthquake, and in the city of Nicaea many buildings fell.” All these things happened to occur during the Lord’s passion. In fact, Phlegon, too, a distinguished reckoner of Olympiads, wrote more on these events in his 13th book, saying this: “Now, in the fourth year of the 202nd Olympiad [32 AD], a great eclipse of the sun occurred at the sixth hour [noon] that excelled every other before it, turning the day into such darkness of night that the stars could be seen in heaven, and the earth moved in Bithynia, toppling many buildings in the city of Nicaea.”

This quotation shows that Phlegon did not mention Jesus in this context at all (he may still have mentioned him in some other obscure context, if we believe Origen). Rather, Phlegon merely recorded a great earthquake in Bithynia, which is on the coast of the Black Sea, more than 500 miles away from Jerusalem–so there is no way this quake would have been felt near the crucifixion–and a magnificent noontime eclipse, whose location is not clear. If the eclipse was also in Bithynia, as the Phlegon quote implies but does not entail, it also could not have been seen in Jerusalem, any more than partially, since the track of a total eclipse spans only 100 miles and runs from west to east (Jerusalem is due south).

In fact, the only coincidence with the gospel story is the year (although some modern scholars calculate the eclipse in question to have actually occurred in 29 AD) and time: it began at the sixth hour. Prigent suspects this last detail is a corruption by another scribe drawing from the gospel stories, although a noon eclipse is particularly startling and might get special mention (although the total eclipse would only occur at noon in one location–are we to suppose it was in Nicaea?). What is most important, however, is that Phlegon says nothing about the eclipse occuring during a full moon or lasting three hours (both physical impossibilities), yet these details are attributed to him in the lines added to Africanus. Clearly the quote has been altered over time.

Africanus wrote in the early 3rd century. His contemporary, Origen, also cites Phlegon’s mention of an earthquake and eclipse but does not repeat the exaggerations. Indeed, he expressly denies one of them in his commentary on Matthew, stating that “Phlegon, who mentioned an eclipse during the reign of Tiberius Ceasar, did not say that it happened during the full moon.” This suggests that the exaggerated quote, which would surely have been seized upon as a valuable testimony, did not yet exist, in Africanus or anywhere else. But it appears in Agapius in the 10th century. And by the time of Michael the Syrian, in the 12th century, the Phlegon quote had already gone way over the top, to include the astonishing sentence: “the dead were resurrected, enteredJerusalemand said ‘Woe to the Jews!'” Syncellus wrote in the 9th century. So a copier of his work who had also read Agapius probably put two and two together and gullibly added the note, which was eventually pulled into the text as copies continued to be made by other scribes.

This is significant for the Thallus passage because it shows that another chronologer who did not mention Jesus was distorted and later believed to have mentioned him or events surrounding him. The same thing could have happened to Thallus.

Conclusions

Eusebius, in the passage quoted above, cites “another” Greek historian as reporting the eclipse and earthquake in Bithyniain the year of the crucifixion. Was this Thallus? If so, then Thallus did not actually mention Jesus, and Africanus was clearly drawing his own conclusions. Indeed, if Thallus had mentioned Jesus, why wouldn’t Eusebius quote so precious a source? Possibly because his Histories were lost, explaining why Eusebius only had a “brief compendium” to work from, which probably did not include this event (although he did have Africanus to consult). But if Eusebius had the right text at hand, another explanation for why he did not use it is that he did use it: the sentence quoted, after all, is exceptionally concise–exactly what we would expect from a “brief compendium.”

Although this would entail a corrupted date for the conclusion of that work, this is a tempting theory, especially since there are two other tantalizing details that might support the notion: first, the quoted passage of Africanus identifies the reference as the third book of the histories of Thallus, which, as many scholars have noted, nicely corresponds to the “three books” of the “brief compendium” listed by Eusebius. Second, his name might in fact have been written by Eusebius after all: the Greek now reads EN ALLOIC MEN ELLHNIKOIC UPOMNHMACIN, “in another Greek compendium,” and the Latin and other versions say essentially the same thing, so if this was corrupted, the error had to have happened very early–but this is still possible. If so, it could have originally read EN THALLOY MEN ELLHNIKOIC UPOMNHMACIN, “in the Greek compendium of Thallus.” The only changes required here are the loss of a single letter (theta), just asHudsonhad supposed in the text of Josephus, and the mistaking of IC as Y, which is not impossible.

It seems likely that even if the text as we have it is correct, Eusebius was thinking of Thallus, since he lists him as a source in the introduction which survives in the Armenian translation. If we accept this, then we must conclude that Thallus did not mention Jesus or the gospel tradition at all, since the quote is clearly devoid of any such references. On the other hand, it is also possible that Africanus was thinking of Phlegon, and simply wrote Thallus by mistake, confusing the two chronologers. We know from Eusebius (and from Origen) that Phlegon recorded the Bithynian earthquake and eclipse in the thirteenth book of his own work. This opens the possibility that the nice correspondence of “third book” and “three books” is a red herring, and in fact an error made by Africanus, or a later scribe who was fated to vex us. Thirteen would have been written TRITHI KAI DEKATHI, while three would have been written simply TRITHI. Africanus may have simply confused himself, or a scribe may have skipped over the KAI DEKATHI, as commonly happens: looking away to write and then returning to the text, seeing the second THI and mistaking it for the first before continuing to copy.

Or, if the original text were alphanumeric, thirteen would have been IG’ and three would have been G’. A mistake then would be even easier: letters were run together in ancient texts, and it would be easy to see (or think) ENIG’TWN and write ENG’TWN by mistake. If anything like this happened, then Africanus was thinking of the same reference to an eclipse that everyone else thought of–Origen, Philopon, Eusebius, Agapius, Michael, and the anonymous interpolator of Africanus or Syncellus–and, again, drawing his own conclusions about the correspondence with the death of Jesus, a conclusion that was also easily drawn by his contemporary, Origin. In support of this theory is the fact that even though Thallus is well known by Christian apologists, being cited by Eusebius, Theophilus, Lactantius, Tertullian, Minucius Felix, Pseudo Justin, and Malalas, no one ever mentions his reference to Jesus or to any events of any kind after 109 BC. This is a very strange state of affairs–certainly such a juicy reference would have been quoted repeatedly and gleefully, not ignored.

This leaves us with four options: Africanus meant Phlegon, not Thallus; or Eusebius quoted Thallus verbatim, revealing that Thallus did not mention Jesus; or Thallus mentioned Jesus, but wrote in the 2nd century, when we know the gospels were already in circulation; or Thallus mentioned Jesus and wrote in the 1st century, and is the earliest witness to the gospel tradition. Although all of these are possible, it is clear that any of the first three are more likely than the last one, since there are several facts which support each of them, but none which support the last one–in other words, it is a “mere” possibility, whereas the others actually have some arguments in their favor.

Bibliography

To this list must be added all additional works cited by Jacoby or Müller.

André le Boeuffle, Le Ciel des Romains (1989)

Richard Carrier, “Cultural History of the Lunar and Solar Eclipse in the EarlyRoman Empire,” Masters Thesis (Columbia University, 1998)

M. Eisler, “Un Nouveau Témoignage Non-Chrétien sur la Tradition Évangelique,” Revue de l’Histoire des Religions, vol. 98 (1928)

M. Goguel, The Life of Jesus (1933)

Guignebert, Jesus (1935)

MurrayHarris, “References to Jesus in Early Classical Authors,” Gospel Perspectives: the Jesus Tradition Outside the Gospels vol. 5 (1985): pp. 343-68

F. Jacoby, Fragmente der griechischen Historiker (1923)

Ida Miévis, “A Propos de la Correction ‘Thallos’ dans les ‘Antiquités Judaïques’ de Flavius Josèphe,” Revue Belge de Philologie et d’Histoire, vol. 13 (1934): pp. 733-740.

Alden Mosshammer, The Chronicle of Eusebius and Greek Chronographic Tradition (1979)

Carolus Müller, Fragmenta Historicorum Graecorum (1840)

Robert Newton, Ancient Astronomical Observations and the Accelerations of the Earth and Moon (1970)

B. G. Niebuhr and W. Dindorf, “Georgius Syncellus et Nicephorus,” Corpus Scriptorum Historiae Byzantinae (1828)

Pauly’s Real-Encyclopädie der Classischen Altertumwissenschaft s.v. “Thallos”

Claire Préaux, “La Lune dans la Pensée Grecque,” Memoires de L’Académie des Sciences de Belgique. 2. Ser. Classe des Lettres 61.4 (1973)

P. Prigent, “Thallos, Phlégon et le Testimonium Flavianum Témoins de Jésus?” Paganisme, Judaïsme, Christianisme: Influences et Affrontements dans le Monde Antique, ed. Frederick Bruce (1978)

Horace Rigg, “Thallus: The Samaritan?” Harvard Theological Review, vol. 34 (1941): pp. 111-9.

Martin Routh, Reliquiae Sacrae, 2nd ed. (vol. 2, 1846)

W. N. Stearns, Fragments from Graeco-Jewish Writers (1908)

Testimonium Flavianum

Posted in Historicity on July 1, 2012 by vahagnakanch

Flavius Josephus published a history of the Jews in twenty books around 93 CE. In the 18th and 20th books, there are two little references to Jesus that have inspired a massive literature on their authenticity or spuriousness. The purpose of this paper is to survey all of the relevant arguments concerning the authorship of these passages.

The Testimonium Question

The following passage is found in the extant Greek manuscripts of Josephus (Ambrosianus in the 11th century, Vaticanus in the 14th century, and Marcianus in the 15th century). This passage is quoted by Eusebius in the fourth century: in the Evangelical Demonstration 3.5, in the Ecclesiastical History 1.11, and in the Theophany.

Antiquities 18.3.3. “Now there was about this time Jesus, a wise man, if it be lawful to call him a man, for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure. He drew over to him both many of the Jews, and many of the Gentiles. He was the Christ; and when Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned him to the cross, those that loved him at the first did not forsake him, for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousand other wonderful things concerning him; and the tribe of Christians, so named from him, are not extinct to this day.”

Here is the text in Greek.

Ginetai de kata touton ton chronon Iкsous sophos anкr, eige andra auton legein chrк: кn gar paradoxфn ergфn poiкtкs, didaskalos anthrфpфn tфn hкdonкi talкthк dechomenфn, kai pollous men Ioudaious, pollous de kai tou Hellкnikou epкgageto: ho christos houtos кn. kai auton endeixei tфn prфtфn andrфn par’ hкmin staurфi epitetimкkotos Pilatou ouk epausanto hoi to prфton agapкsantes: ephanк gar autois tritкn echфn hкmeran palin zфn tфn theiфn prophкtфn tauta te kai alla muria peri autou thaumasia eirкkotфn. eis eti te nun tфn Christianфn apo toude фnomasmenon ouk epelipe to phulon.

Opinion on the authenticity of this passage is varied. Louis H. Feldman surveyed the relevant literature from 1937 to 1980 in Josephus and Modern Scholarship. Feldman noted that 4 scholars regarded the Testimonium Flavianum as entirely genuine, 6 as mostly genuine, 20 accept it with some interpolations, 9 with several interpolations, and 13 regard it as being totally an interpolation.

In my own reading of thirteen books since 1980 that touch upon the passage, ten out of thirteen argue the Testimonium to be partly genuine, while the other three maintain it to be entirely spurious. Coincidentally, the same three books also argue that Jesus did not exist. In one book, by Freke and Gandy, the authors go so far as to state that no “serious scholar” believes that the passage has authenticity (p. 137), which is a serious misrepresentation indeed.

It is impossible that this passage is entirely genuine. It is highly unlikely that Josephus, a believing Jew working under Romans, would have written, “He was the Messiah.” This would make him suspect of treason, but nowhere else is there an indication that he was a Christian. Indeed, in Wars of the Jews, Josephus declares that Vespasian fulfilled the messianic oracles. Furthermore, Origen, writing about a century before Eusebius, says twice that Josephus “did not believe in Jesus as the Christ.”

Either the passage received a few glosses, or the passage was inserted here in entirety. Those who favor partial authenticity usually bracket the phrases “if it be lawful to call him a man,” “He was the Christ,” and “for he appeared to them alive again the third day, as the divine prophets had foretold these and ten thousan other wonderful things concerning him.”

Arguments that the Testimonium is Spurious

There are several arguments of various quality that aim to show that the Testimonium Flavianum is entirely spurious.

  1. It is sometimes argued that the phrase “to this day” at the end of the passage indicates the perspective of a writer who was writing long after the events in question and that Josephus was too close in time to make it believable that he would have used the expression. On the contrary, a span of 60 years time after the death of Jesus is sufficient to cause some surprise at the survival of the cult. According to the speech of Gamiliel in Acts 5:35-39, most movements disbanded shortly after the death of the leader.
  2. It is often argued that the description of Jesus is unusually short for Josephus. For example, Josephus devotes over twice as much space to the description of John the Baptist. Although suggestive, this argument is not conclusive. Professor Sanders considers this passage to be “the best objective evidence of the importance of Jesus during his own lifetime. The gospels create the impression that the entire populace was vitally interested in Jesus and what happened to him. Certainly he did attract attention. But if we measure the general impact of prophetic figures by the degree of disturbance they caused, we shall conclude that Jesus was less important in the eyes of most of his contemporaries than were John the Baptist and the Egyptian…” (pp. 50-51)
  3. Earl Doherty argues: “In the section on Pilate in the earlier Jewish War, written in the 70s, Josephus outlines the same two incidents with which he began chapter 3 of Book 18 in the Antiquities of the Jews, incidents which caused tumult in Judea during the governorship of Pilate. In the Antiquities, these descriptions are immediately followed by the Testimonium about Jesus. In Jewish War (2.9/169-177) no mention of Jesus is included.” (p. 222) This is also suggestive but inconclusive. Robert Grant notes that “none of them [John the Baptist, James, or Jesus] is to be found in the parallel passages in his earlier War; presumably Christians had become more important in the interval.” (p. 291)
  4. It is sometimes claimed that manuscripts before Eusebius do not have the passage in question. This is simply not true; there are no extant manuscripts before Eusebius. It is also sometimes pointed out that the Josippon, a medieval Hebrew version of Josephus, lacks the passage in question. However, Josippon is dependent on the text of the Antiquities preserved by Christians, so it is clear that the author of Josippon does not represent an independent manuscript tradition but rather purposely omits the passage.
  5. R. Joseph Hoffmann notes: “Further, the language used to describe John is very close to the language used to describe Jesus, leading some to theorize that the original version of the Antiquities carried no reference to Jesus at all.” (p. 54)

In Ecclesiastical History 1.11, Eusebius writes: “After relating these things concerning John, he makes mention of our Saviour in the same work, in the following words…” This suggests the possibility that the Testimonium was inserted in some manuscripts after the passage concerning John.

  1. Louis H. Feldman writes (Josephus, Judaism and Christianity, p. 57): “The fact that an ancient table of contents, already referred to in the Latin version of the fifth or sixth century, omits mention of the Testimionium (though, admittedly, it is selective, one must find it hard to believe that such a remarkable passage would be omitted by anyone, let alone by a Christian, summarizing the work) is further indication that there was no such notice…” I regard this as an important and powerful piece of evidence, although one that doesn’t get much attention.
  2. It is argued that the reference to “the tribe of Christians so named from him” requires the earlier phrase “He was the Christ.”

Meier writes: “But as Andre Pelletier points out, a study of the style of Josephus and other writers of his time shows that the presence of ‘Christ’ is not demanded by the final statement about Christians being ‘named after him.’ At times both Josephus and other Greco-Roman writers (e.g., Dio Cassius) consider it pedantry to mention explicitly the person after whom some other person or place is named; it would be considered an insult to the knowledge and culture of the reader to spell out a connection that is taken for granted.” (p. 61)

This reply is seen to be insufficient. Pelletier points out the example of Antiquities 17.5.1, where Josephus explains the name of the port Sebastos by saying: “Herod, having constructed it at great expense, named it Sebastos in honor of Caesar.” Josephus leaves out the technical explanation that Caesar’s honorific name in Latin is Augustus, which was translated into the Greek language as Sebastos. It may be assumed that the reader would be aware of Caesar’s title. However, it cannot be assumed that the reader would be aware that Jesus was known as the Christ.

Some would avoid this problem by substituting “He was believed to be the Christ” or “He was the so-called Christ” in place of the phrase, “He was the Christ.” This is possible, though not without its problems. Meier argues that the statement “seems out of place in its present position and disturbs the flow of thought. If it were present at all, one would expect it to occur immediately after either ‘Jesus’ or ‘wise man,’ where the further identification would make sense. Hence, contrary to Dubarle, I consider all attempts to save the statement by expanding it to something like ‘he was thought to be the Messiah’ to be ill advised. Such expansions, though witnessed in some of the Church fathers (notable Jerome), are simply later developments in the tradition.” (p. 60) It is also problematic that Josephus would have introduced the term Christ here without any explanation of its meaning. This problem will be considered in more detail in relation to the 20.9.1 passage.

  1. Steve Mason states: “the passage does not fit well with its context in Antiquities 18. . . Josephus is speaking of upheavals, but there is no upheaval here. He is pointing out the folly of Jewish rebels, governors, and troublemakers in general, but this passage is completely supportive of both Jesus and his followers. Logically, what should appear in this context ought to imply some criticism of the Jewish leaders and/or Pilate, but Josephus does not make any such criticism explicit. He says only that those who denounced Jesus were ‘the leading men among us.’ So, unlike the other episodes, this one has no moral, no lesson. Although Josephus begins the next paragraph by speaking of ‘another outrage’ that caused an uproar among the Jews at the same time (18.65), there is nothing in this paragraph that depicts any sort of outrage.” (p. 165)

Earl Doherty argues: “G. A. Wells and others have argued that the continuity of the flanking passages works best when no passage about Jesus intervenes. The final thought of the previous paragraph flows naturally into the words of the one following, whereas the opening of the latter paragraph does not fit as a follow-up to the closing sentence of the Testimonium. This argument is somewhat tempered by the fact that since the ancients had no concept of footnotes, digressional material had to be inserted into the main text, as there was nowhere else to put it. However, one might ask whether the Testimonium should be considered digressional material, since it continues with the theme of Pilate’s activities and about various woes which befall the Jews. One might also suggest that, digression or no, once Josephus had written it, his opening words in the subsequent paragraph ought to have reflected, rather than ignored, the paragraph on Jesus.” (p. 207)

The fact that Josephus was prone to digressions does allow that Josephus could have inserted this passage here simply because it relates to Pilate. Meier suggests the following explanation: “In the present case, one wonders whether any greater link need exist for Josephus than the fact that the account of Jesus (who is crucified by Pilate) is preceded by a story about Pilate in which many Jews are killed (Ant. 18.3.2, 60-62) and is followed by a story in which the tricksters are punished by crucifixion.” (p. 86)

However, the real difficulty is not that the content of the Testimonium is only tangentially related to the surrounding content; the real difficulty is the way that Josephus begins the subsequent paragraph with a reference to “another outrage,” a reference that skips over the Testimonium entirely and points to the previous section.

  1. No form of the Testimonium Flavianum is cited in the extant works of Justin Martyr, Theophilus Antiochenus, Melito of Sardis, Minucius Felix, Irenaeus, Clement of Alexandria, Julius Africanus, Pseudo-Justin, Tertullian, Hippolytus, Origen, Methodius, or Lactantius. According to Michael Hardwick in Josephus as an Historical Source in Patristic Literature through Eusebius, each of these authors shows familiarity with the works of Josephus.

Jeffery Jay Lowder writes: “Assuming that contemporary reconstructions of the passage are accurate, it is difficult to imagine why the early church fathers would have cited such a passage. The original text probably did nothing more than establish the historical Jesus. Since we have no evidence that the historicity of Jesus was questioned in the first centuries, we should not be surprised that the passage was never quoted until the fourth century.”

John P. Meier argues: “One possible explanation of this silence would jibe well with my reconstruction of the Testimonium and my isolation of the Christian interpolations. If until shortly before the time of Eusebius the Testimonium lacked the three Christian interpolations I have bracketed, the Church Fathers would not have been overly eager to cite it; for it hardly supports the mainline Christian belief in Jesus as the Son of God who rose from the dead. This would explain why Origen in the 3d century affirmed that Josephus did not believe Jesus to be the Messiah (Commentary on Matthew 10.17; Contra Celsum 1.47). Origen’s text of the Testimonium simply testified, in Christian eyes, to Josephus’ unbelief — not exactly a useful apologetical tool in addressing pagans or a useful polemical tool in christological controversies among Christians.” (p. 79)

Earl Doherty counters: “Meier’s argument is that the Christian Fathers would have recognized that Josephus did not accept Jesus as the Messiah and Son of God, or believe that he had risen from the dead. The Testimonium witnessed to Josephus’ unbelief and was therefore avoided. But should the apologists have found this disconcerting in a non-Christian? They dealt with unbelief every day, faced it head on, tried to counter and even win over the opponent. Justin’s major work, Dialogue with the Jew Trypho, did just that. Origen, in his own confrontation with Celsus, did not shy away from criticizing Josephus for attributing the fall of Jerusalem to God’s punishment on the Jews for the death of James, rather than for the death of Jesus (see below). In fact, Origen refers to the very point which Meier suggests Christian commentators shied away from, that Josephus did not believe in Jesus as the Messiah. It hardly seems that the silence on Antiquities 18.3.3 by all the apologists prior to Eusebius can be explained in this way.” (pp. 209-210)

So there was some cause for the early Church Fathers to have quoted from a reconstructed Testimonium. Consider Origen, who quoted from the Antiquities of the Jews in order to establish the historical existence of John the Baptist even though there is no evidence that the historicity of John the Baptist was questioned. If Origen found it useful to quote Josephus in order to establish the historicity of John, how much more so would Origen be eager to quote Josephus in order to establish the historicity of Jesus? Indeed, Origen cites Josephus to establish the existence of the Baptist even though Celsus represented the Jew in his discourse as accepting the historicity of John (Contra Celsus 1.47). Celsus grants that Jesus performed “miracles” for the sake of argument but attributes them to sorcery. Interestingly, Eusebius’ motive for quoting Josephus in the Evangelical Demonstration is precisely to establish that Jesus performed true miracles, not merely to establish the historicity of Jesus. Thus, there was a motive for the early Church Fathers to have quoted a reconstructed Testimonium.

  1. Steve Mason indicates several ways in which the Testimonium deviates from Josephan style.

First, Mason writes:

It uses words in ways that are not characteristic of Josephus. For example, the word translated “worker” in the phrase “worker of incredible deeds” is poietes in Greek, from which we get “poet.” Etymologically, it means “one who does” and so it can refer to any sort of “doer.” But in Josephus’ day it had already come to have special reference to literary poets, and that is how he consistently uses it elsewhere (nine times) – to speak of Greek poets like Homer. (p. 169)

Second, Mason observes:

Notice further that the phrase “they did not cease” has to be completed by the translator, for it is left incomplete in the text; the action which his followers ceased must be understood from the preceding phrase. This is as peculiar in Greek as it is in English, and such a construction is not found elsewhere in Josephus’ writing. (p. 169)

Third, Mason argues:

Again, the phrase “the tribe of the Christians” is peculiar. Josephus uses the word “tribe” (phyle) eleven other times. Once it denotes “gender,” and once a “swarm” of locusts, but usually signfies distinct people, races, or nationalities: the Jews are a “tribe” (War 3.354; 7.327) as are the Taurians (War 2.366) and Parthians (War 2.379). It is very strange that Josephus should speak of the Christians as a distinct racial group, since he has just said that Jesus was a Jew condemned by Jewish leaders. (Notice, however, that some Christian authors of a later period came to speak of Christianity as a “third race.”) (pp. 169-170)

Finally, there is a peculiarity with the reference to the “principal men among us.” Josephus elsewhere refers to the “principal men,” but Josephus consistently refers to the principal men “ofJerusalem” or “of the city,” using these phrases instead of the first person plural. In his autobiography, Josephus refers to the “principal men of the city” (2), “the principal men ofJerusalem” (7), the “principal men of the city” (12), the “principal men belonging to the city” (12), the “principal men of the city” (12), and the “principal men ofJerusalem” (44). In each case Josephus identifies the leading men as belonging toJerusalem.

  1. Ken Olson indicates several ways in which the Testimonium aligns with the style and argument of Eusebius of Caesarea.

Olson writes:

In Adversus Hieroclem Eusebius argued that if he had to accept the supernatural feats attributed to Apollonius, he must regard him as a GOHS [wizard] rather than a wise man (A.H. 5); here he has Josephus call Jesus a ‘wise man’ and thus, implicitly, not a GOHS.

Olson states:

The term PARADOXWN ERGWN POIHTHS is markedly Eusebian. POIHTHS never occurs in Josephus in the sense of “maker” rather than “poet,” and the only time Josephus combines forms of PARADOXOS and POIHW it is in the sense of “acting contrary to custom” (A.J. 12.87) rather than “making miracles.” Combining forms of PARADOXOS and POIHW in the sense of “miracle-making” is exceedingly common in Eusebius, but he seems to reserve the three words PARADOXOS, POIHW, and ERGON, used together, to describe Jesus (D.E. 114-115, 123, 125, H.E. 1.2.23)

Olson argues:

Eusebius’ opponents were not denying that Jesus was crucified by the Roman and Jewish authorities; this was probably a main part of their argument that Jesus was a GOHS. Eusebius, however, cleverly inverts this argument. If Jesus had been a deceiver, and his followers had been deceivers, would not self-interest have compelled them to abandon his teachings after they had witnessed the manner of his death at the hands of the authorities? The fact that they did not abandon Jesus after witnessing the punishments he had brought upon himself can only mean that the disciples had recognized some greater than normal virtue in their teacher. This argument is developed at great length in D.E. 3.5, but I shall quote only a part of it here, “Perhaps you will say that the rest were wizards no less than their guide. Yes – but surely they had all seen the end of their teacher, and the death to which He came. Why then after seeing his miserable end did they stand their ground?” (D.E. 111).

Olson concludes: “the Testimonium follows Eusebius’ line of argument in the Demonstratio so closely that it is not only very unlikely that it could have been written by Josephus, but it is unlikely it could have been written by any other Christian, or even by Eusebius for another work. There is nothing in the language or content of the Testimonium, as it appears in the Demonstratio Evangelica, that suggests it is anything other than a completely Eusebian composition.”

  1. Earl Doherty states: “the entire tenor of such an ‘original’ does not ring true for Josephus. In the case of every other would-be messiah or popular leader opposed to or executed by the Romans, he has nothing but evil to say. Indeed, he condemns the whole movement of popular agitators and rebels as the bane of the century. It lead to the destruction of the Temple, of the city itself, of the Jewish state. And yet the ‘authentic’ Testimonium would require us to believe that he made some kind of exception for Jesus.” (pp. 210-211)

Doherty argues: “To judge by the Christians’ own record in the Gospels and even some of the epistles, ‘the tribe of Christians’ toward the end of the first century was still a strongly apocalyptic one. It expected the overthrow of the empire and established authority, along with the transformation of the world into God’s kingdom. What would have led Josephus to divorce this prevailing Christian outlook – for which he would have felt nothing but revulsion – from his judgment of the movement’s founder?” (p. 212)

Crossan emphasizes that the description of Jesus by Josephus is “carefully and deliberately neutral,” indicating “prudent impartiality” on his part (Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography, pp. 162-163). However, there was no reason for Josephus to be neutral concerning Jesus. Doherty argues:

His readers were primarily Roman, some Jewish. What reason would he have had for being, in Meier’s phrase, “purposely ambiguous”? He had nothing to fear from Christians, and no reason to consider their sensibilities. Regardless of what he may have thought about the character of Pilate, if Pilate had executed Jesus, then there had to have been – in official Roman and Flavian eyes – a justification for doing so. Crucifixion was a punishment for rebels, and Jesus’ crucifixion would have been seen as part ofRome’s ongoing campaign to deal with the problems of a troubled time in a troubled province. (p. 213)

Thus, the fact that the reconstructed Testimonium has nothing but nice things to say about Jesus tends to work in favor of its inauthenticity. Consider the reference to Jesus as a “wise man” (sophos aner). Josephus reserves this phrase elsewhere for such worthies as King Solomon (Ant. 8.53) and the prophet Elisha (Ant. 9.182). Mason notes, “If Josephus said it, it was a term of high praise.” (p. 171) But it is inconceivable that Josephus should have such high praise for one who is only given so little space and who is attributed with such negative characteristics (to Josephus) as apocalyptic prophecy and the cleansing of the Temple.

Arguments that the Testimonium is Authentic

There are also arguments of various quality that aim to show that the Testimonium Flavianum is partially authentic.

  1. The argument is made that much of the vocabulary and style matches that of Josephus. His opening phrase, “Now about this time…” is used regularly to the point of nausea. The description of Jesus as “a wise man” is not typically Christian, but it is used by Josephus of, for example, Solomon and Daniel. Similarly, Christians did not refer to Jesus’ miracles as “astonishing deeds” (paradoxa erga), but exactly the same expression is used by Josephus of the miracles of Elisha. And the description of Christians as a “tribe” (phylon) occurs nowhere in early Christian literature, while Josephus uses the word both for the Jewish “race” and for other national or communal groups.

John P. Meier concludes the following from his analysis of the vocabulary of the Testimonium compared to Josephus and to the New Testament: “No one of these differences means all that much; but the accumulated evidence of all these differences may point to an author who is not taking his material from the NT…The upshot of all this is that, apart from Christianon, not one word of what I identify as the original text of the Testimonium fails to occur elsewhere in Josephus, usually with the same meaning and/or construction. As indicated in the first part of this note, the same cannot be said of the NT.” (pp. 81-82)

Meier writes: “The comparison of vocabulary between Josephus and the NT does not provide a neat solution to the problem of authenticity but it does force us to ask which of two possible scenarios is more probable. Did a Christian of some unknown century so immerse himself in the vocabulary and style of Josephus that, without the aid of any modern dictionaries and concordances, he was able to (1) strip himself of the NT vocabulary with which he would naturally speak of Jesus and (2) reproduce perfectly the Greek of Josephus for most of the Testimonium — no doubt to create painstakingly an air of verisimilitude — while at the same time destroying the air with a few patently Christian affirmations? Or is it more likely that the core statement, (1) which we first isolated simply by extracting what would strike anyone at first glance as Christian affirmations, and (2) which we then found to be written in typically Josephan vocabulary that diverged from the usage of the NT, was in fact written by Josephus himself? Of the two scenarios, I find the second much more probable.” (p. 63)

Against this contention, it is maintained that a scribe who had been copying Josephus for the previous 17 books would be able to acquire without effort some characteristics of the author’s style. For example, the fact that the phrase “Now about this time…” was used very regularly means that it would come to the pen of a reader of Josephus without difficulty and without the need to postulate that the interpolater was attempting to create versimilitude.

Moreover, it is maintained that the vocabulary of the Testimonium is just as well understood to be the vocabulary of Eusebius. The description of Jesus as a “wise man” is an intentional contrast to the description of men such as Apollonius as a GOHS. The description of Jesus’ miracles as “astonishing deeds” is, as Olson points out, “markedly Eusebian.” Finally, a reference to Christianity as a tribe (phylon) is found in Justin Martyr (Dialogue 119.4), and such a reference is found in Eusebius himself (Ecclesiastical History 3.33.2, 3.33.3).

Finally, this argument is invalidated by the elements of the Testimonium that contradict the style of Josephus: the three examples noted by Mason above and the reference to “the leading men among us.”

  1. James H. Charlesworth argues: “We can be confident that there was a minimal reference to Jesus…because once the clearly Christian sections are removed, the rest makes good grammatical and historical sense. The peculiarly Christian words are paranthetically connected to the narrative; hence they are grammatically free and could easily have been inserted by a Christian. These sections also are disruptive, and when they are removed the flow of thought is improved and smoother. For example, once the reference to the resurrection is deleted, the thought moves from Christian continuance active after the crucifixion to the nonextinct nature of the tribe.” (pp. 93-94)

Against this, it is maintained that the so-called “Christian sections” are integral parts of the text. The phrase “for he was a doer of wonderful works, a teacher of such men as receive the truth with pleasure” refers to the phrase “if it be lawful to call him a man” and, in the present text, explains why Jesus is considered to be more than a man. The phrase “He was the Christ” is presupposed by the phrase that the “tribe of Christians” is named from him, as it has been argued above. And the phrase concerning the resurrection provides the explanation for why those who loved Jesus did not cease to do so. Although it is possible to consider these phrases to be parenthetical, it is also possible to see them as part and parcel of the entire text.

Moreover, if this argument is valid, then it should be valid to excise the entire Testimonium Flavianum because it is parenthetical and because the flow of thought is interrupted by the passage (see the argument above).

  1. Steve Mason states, “To have created the testimonium out of whole cloth would be an act of unparalleled scribal audacity.” (p. 171) On the contrary, such audacity is paralleled by the extensive interpolations found in the Slavonic Josephus. Concerning the Slavonic Josephus, Meier writes:

The clearly unauthentic text is a long interpolation found only in the Old Russian (popularly known as the “Slavonic”) version of The Jewish War, surviving in Russian and Rumanian manuscripts. This pasage is a wildly garbled condensation of various Gospel events, seasoned with the sort of bizarre legendary expansions found in apocryphal gospels and acts of the 2d and 3d centuries. Despite the spirited and ingenious attempts of Robert Eisler to defend the authenticity of much of the Jesus material in the Slavonic Jewish War, almost all critics today discount this theory. In more recent decades, G. A. Williamson stood in a hopeless minority when he tried to maintain the authenticity of this and similar interpolations, which obviously come from a Christian hand (though not necessarily an orthodox one). (p. 57)

Meier adds further bibliographic detail on the Slavonic Josephus on pp. 71-72 n. 5.

  1. It is sometimes argued that it is unlikely that the Testimonium was inserted whole-cloth into this part of Josephus’ Antiquities. “Further,” as Sanders observes, “the passage on Jesus is not adjacent to Josephus’ account of John the Baptist, which is probably where a Christian scribe would have put it had he invented the entire paragraph.” (p. 50) Meier explains this point in detail:

A final curiousity encompasses not the Testimonium taken by itself but the relation of the Testimonium to the longer narrative about John the Baptist inAnt. 18.5.2, 116-119, a text accepted as authentic by almost all scholars. The two passages are in no way related to each other in Josephus. The earlier, shorter passage about Jesus is placed in a context of Pontius Pilate’s governorship of Judea; the later, longer passage about John is placed in a context dealing with Herod Antipas, tetrarch ofGalilee in Perea. Separated by time, space, and placement in Book 18, Jesus and the Baptist (in that order!) have absolutely nothing to do with each other in the mind and narrative of Josephus. Such a presentation totally contradicts — indeed, it is the direct opposite of — the NT portrait of the Baptist, who is always treated briefly as the forerunner of the main character, Jesus. Viewed as a whole, the treatment of Jesus and John in Book 18 of The Antiquities is simply inconceivable as the work of a Christian of any period. (p. 66)

I do not challenge the authenticity of the John the Baptist passage. However, the authenticity of the Testimonium Flavianum remains in doubt. As Eusebius shows in his quotation in the Ecclesiastical History, it is possible that the Testimonium at one point was placed after the passage on John the Baptist. Moreover, the interpolator need not have inserted the passage after the one on John the Baptist; to place the passage among the accounts concerning Pilate is at least equally compelling, if not moreso.

  1. James Charlesworth writes: “Josephus must have made a reference to Jesus because the passage, divested of the obvious Christian words, is not Christian and is composed in such a way that it is very difficult to attribute to a Christian. What Christian would refer to Jesus’ miracles in such a way that a reader could understand them as merely ‘surprising works’? Would a Christian have written that ‘first-rate men’ or ‘men of the highest standing amongst us’ accused Jesus before Pilate, leaving the impression that he deserved a guilty verdict? Would a Christian scribe have ended a reference to Jesus by referring to ‘the tribe of Christians’ who ‘are not extinct,’ as if they should soon become extinct?” (p. 93)

The argument on the non-extinction of Christianity is also made in more detail by Meier: “But the phrase does not stand in isolation; it is the subject of the statement that this tribe has not died out or disappeared down to Josephus’ day. The implication seems to be one of surprise: granted Jesus’ shameful end (with no new life mentioned in the core text), one is amazed to note, says Josephus, that this group of post-mortem lovers is still at it and has not disappeared even in our own day (does Josephus have in the back of his mind Nero’s attempt to get it to disappear?). I detect in the sentence as a whole something dismissive if not hostile (though any hostility here is aimed at Christians, not Jesus): one would have thought that this ‘tribe’ of lovers of a crucified man might have disappeared. This does not sound like an interpolation by a Christian of any stripe.” (p. 66)

Concerning the argument that an interpolator would not comment that the Christians had not yet become extinct, the passage does not imply that the Christians should soon become extinct. Moreover, the statement is just the kind to be expected if the forger were Eusebius. As Olson explains, Eusebius made the argument that Christianity is validated because the followers of Jesus did not abandon him after the crucifixion. The phrase is thus seen to suit Eusebius’ apologetic purposes quite nicely.

Concerning whether the passage leaves the impression that Jesus deserved a guilty verdict, Earl Doherty reaches the opposite conclusion: “The words and their context give the impression that the crucifixion was due to ‘an accusation made by men of the highest standing among us,’ that this was the execution of a wise and loved man, a teacher of truth who was obviously innocent. Nothing could better reflect the Gospel image. But that would mean that Pilate had acted improperly, or that he had been misled or coerced by others. There could be no basis on which Josephus would be led to interpret the event this way, much less put it in writing for a Roman audience. There would have been no channel through which such a judgment would come to him that he would have accepted. And no way he could have avoided explaining himself if he did.” (p. 213)

Concerning the reference to “surprising works” (paradoxa erga), it is noted that Eusebius is one Christian who would refer to Jesus’ miracles in this way (Ecclesiastical History 1.2.23). Also, if this phrase were used by Josephus, it would not in any way be diminutive. The same phrase is used by Josephus to describe the miracles of Elisha, for example (Ant. 9.182).

  1. Meier argues:

Moreover, the treatment of the part played by the Jewish authorities does not jibe with the picture in the Gospels. Whether or not it be true that the Gospels show an increasing tendency to blame the Jews and exonerate the Romans, the Jewish authorities in the Four Gospels carry a great deal of responsibility — either by way of formal trial(s) by the Sanhedrin in the synoptics or by way of the Realpolitik plotting of Caiaphas and the Jerusalem authorities in John’s Gospel even before the hearings of Annas and Caiaphas. Of course, a later Christian believer, reading the Four Gospels, would tend to conflate all four accounts, which would only heighten Jewish participation — something which the rabid anti-Jewish polemic of many patristic writers only too gladly indulged in. All the stranger, therefore, is the quick, laconic reference in the Testimonium to the ‘denunciation’ or ‘accusation’ that the Jewish leaders make before Pilate; Pilate alone, however, is said to condemn Jesus to the cross. Not a word is said about the Jewish authorities passing any sort of sentence. Unless we are to think that some patristic or medieval Christian undertook a historical-critical investigation of the Passion Narratives of the Four Gospels and decided a la Paul Winter that behind John’s narrative lay the historical truth of a brief hearing by some Jewish official before Jesus was handed over to Pilate, this description of Jesus’ condemnation cannot stem from the Four Gospels — and certainly not from early Christian expansions on them, which were fiercely anti-Jewish. (pp. 65-66)

On the contrary, the account in the Testimonium is an accurate reflection of the account found in the canonical Gospels. The Jewish leaders bring accusations against Jesus, and Pilate arranges the crucifixion. It need not be assumed that the interpolator would have gone to extravagant lengths to emphasize Jewish involvment.

  1. Also contrary to the Gospel presentation, says Meier, is the statement that Jesus “won over” or “gained a following” both (men) many Jews and (de kai) many of those of Gentile origin. Meier argues:

In the whole of John’s Gospel, no one clearly designated a Gentile ever interacts directly with Jesus; the very fact that Gentiles seek to speak to Jesus is a sign to him that the hour of his passion, which alone makes a universal mission possible, is at hand (John 12:20-26). In Matthew’s Gospel, where a few exceptions to the rule are allowed (the centurion [Matt 8:5-13]; the Canaanite woman [15:21-28]), we find a pointedly programmatic charge to the Twelve: “Go not to the Gentiles, and do not enter a Samaritan city; rather, go only to the lost sheep of the house ofIsrael” (Matt 10:5-6). The few Gentiles who do come in contact with Jesus are not objects of Jesus’ missionary outreach; they rather come to him unbidden and humble, realizing they are out of place. For Matthew, they point forward to the universal mission, which begins only after Jesus’ death and resurrection (28:16-20). While Mark and Luke are not as explicit as Matthew on this point, they basically follow the same pattern: during his public ministry, Jesus does not undertake any formal mission to the Gentiles; the few who come to him do so by way of implication. (p. 64)

Meier concludes: “Unless we want to fantasize about a Christian interpolator who is intent on inserting a summary of Jesus’ ministry into Josephus and who nevertheless wishes to contradict what the Gospels say about Jesus’ ministry, the obvious conclusion to draw is that the core of the Testimonium comes from a non-Christian hand, namely, Josephus’. Understandably, Josephus simply retrojected the situation of his own day, when the original ‘Jews for Jesus’ had gained many Gentile converts, into the time of Jesus. Naive retrojection is a common trait of Greco-Roman historians.” (p. 65)

Against this argument, Olson writes:

It is sometimes argued that a Christian author would have known that Jesus did not attract many gentile followers during his ministry, but this is contradicted by Eusebius’ testimony. Elsewhere he reports of Jesus that “by teaching and miracles He revealed the powers of His Godhead to all equally whether Greeks or Jews” (D.E. 400). The paired opposition of Jews and Greeks is especially common in the first two books of the Demonstratio, where Eusebius claims, “Christianity is neither a form of Hellenism nor a form of Judaism” (D.E. 11). It is, in fact, the re-establishment of the religion of the patriarchs, who worshipped the one God but did not have the restrictions of the Mosaic law, and thus was “that third form of religion midway between Judaism and Hellenism” (D.E.: Ferrar 8, Migne 25a). The MEN. DE construction used in the Testimonium situates the “nation” founded by Jesus nicely between the two other religions.

  1. It is sometimes argued that the statement by Origen that Josephus “did not believe in Jesus as the Christ” requires that there stood a reference to Jesus here in the Antiquities. Against this, it is maintained that the reference to “Jesus who is called the Messiah” in 20.9.1, which could be interpreted as “Jesus the so-called Christ,” would be sufficient for Origen to make this observation. Doherty suggests that the declaration in Jewish War 6.5.4 that the messianic oracles pointed to Vespasian would have been sufficient for Origen to reason that Josephus didn’t believe in Jesus as the Christ (p. 210). I would suggest that so simple a fact as that Josephus was known to be a Jew would have been sufficient in this regard.
  2. This broad survey would not be complete without a mention of the discovery of Schlomo Pines, which caused some stir with a different Arabic version of the Testimonium Flavianum in Agapius’ Book of the Title, a history of the world from its beginning until 941/942 A.D. Agapius was a tenth-century Christian Arab and Melkite bishop of Hierapolis who wrote the following:

Similarly Josephus, the Hebrew. For he says in the treatises that he has written on the governance (?) of the Jews: ‘At this time there was a wise man who was called Jesus. His conduct was good, and (he) was known to be virtuous. And many people from the Jews and other nations became his disciples. Pilate condemned him to be crucified and die. But those who had become his disciples did not abandon his discipleship. They reported that he had appeared to them three days after the crucifixion, and that he was alive; accordingly he was perhaps the Messiah, concerning whom the prophets have recounted wonders.

Some scholars, notably Charlesworth, have been quick to receive this passage as being an important textual witness, as much or even moreso than the earlier Greek quoted by Eusebius. Charlesworth declares: “What is immediately obvious — when one compares the Arabic and the Greek recensions — is that the blatantly Christian phrases are conspicuously absent in the Arabic version.” (p. 95) Of course, it must be acknowledged by everyone there is some redaction in the Arabic recension: “The possibility that anyone, including Jesus, was the Messiah, was not a proposition that could be taken lightly by any Jew, especially one with the experiences and credentials of Josephus. But it is even more apparent that no Christian could have originated such words as ‘he was perhaps the Messiah…’ It is best to assume that what Josephus wrote is not accurately preserved in any extant recension (Greek, Slavic, or Arabic); it has been at least slightly altered by Christian scribes.” (p. 95) Further, Charlesworth says:

It seems obvious that some Christian alterations are found in the Arabic recension, even if they are more subtle in the Arabic version than in the Greek. Agapius’ quotation in Arabic was translated from Syriac, and the Syriac had been translated from a Greek version that seems to have received some deliberate alterations by Christian copyists, and the Greek itself, minus the redactions, ultimately derives from Josephus, who composed the Antiquities in 93 or 94 C.E. Translation from Greek into Syriac and then from Syriac into Arabic is demanded for the tradition in Agapius’ work; that means the pejorative connotations at least would have been dropped by each translator, and surely the translators were Christians. (p. 96)

In short, there is not much critical argumentation here, but rather some almost sensationalistic claims, with a purely negative defense emphasizing how late and adulterated the Arabic recension really is. Meier stays within the confines of mainstream scholarship in writing:

Feldman (Josephus and Modern Scholarship, 701) believes that Agapius used both Josephus and other sources and combined them: “We may…conclude that Agapius’ excerpt is hardly decisive, since it contains several elements, notably changes in order, that indicate that it is a paraphrase rather than a translation.” Nodet (“Jesus et Jean-Baptist selon Josephe”) thinks that Agapius represents a deformed tradition of the Eusebius text found in the Ecclesiastical History (pp. 335-36). Personally, I am doubtful that this 10th-century Arabic manuscript preserves the original form of the Testimonium, especially since it contains sentences that, as I have just argued, are probably later expansions or variants of the text. (pp. 78-79)

One might add that this phrase of Agapius’ version — “Pilate condemned him to be crucified and to die” — seems clearly directed against Muslims who held that Jesus was not killed by crucifixion. It is not even certain that Agapius is quoting straight from a manuscript; and if he is, it is certainly very late and corrupted, and thus practically worthless.

  1. Finally, the authenticity of the shorter passage in Ant. 20.9.1 would lend support to the authenticity of a reconstructed Testimonium. The identification of James by referring to “Jesus who is called Christ” presupposes an earler reference to Jesus.

This is disputed. There is at least one other occasion in which Josephus identies an individual by identifying his brother and in which this brother is not mentioned earlier in the text.

Wars of the Jews 2.247. “After this Caesar sent Felix, the brother of Pallas, to be procurator of Galilee, and Samaria, and Perea, and removed Agrippa from Chalcis unto a greater kingdom; for he gave him the tetrarchy which had belonged to Philip, which contained Batanae, Trachonitis, and Gaulonitis: he added to it the kingdom of Lysanias, and that province [Abilene] which Varus had governed. But Claudius himself, when he had administered the government thirteen years, eight months, and twenty days, died, and left Nero to be his successor in the empire, whom he had adopted by his Wife Agrippina’s delusions, in order to be his successor, although he had a son of his own, whose name was Britannicus, by Messalina his former wife, and a daughter whose name was Octavia, whom he had married to Nero; he had also another daughter by Petina, whose name was Antonia.”

The name “Pallas” occurs twice in the Wars of the Jews. The first time is in 1.561, but as this is a woman, this cannot be the same Pallas.

This, then, would furnish an example in which Josephus identifies an individual by another who is not mentioned earlier in the Wars of the Jews. Either Josephus assumed a knowledge of the identity of Pallas, or Josephus did not care whether his audience would know who he is.

The 20.9.1 Reference

The following passage contains the shorter reference to Jesus.

Antiquities 20.9.1. “And now Caesar, upon hearing the death of Festus, sent Albinus intoJudea, as procurator. But the king deprived Joseph of the high priesthood, and bestowed the succession to that dignity on the son of Ananus, who was also himself called Ananus. Now the report goes that this eldest Ananus proved a most fortunate man; for he had five sons who had all performed the office of a high priest to God, and who had himself enjoyed that dignity a long time formerly, which had never happened to any other of our high priests. But this younger Ananus, who, as we have told you already, took the high priesthood, was a bold man in his temper, and very insolent; he was also of the sect of the Sadducees, who are very rigid in judging offenders, above all the rest of the Jews, as we have already observed; when, therefore, Ananus was of this disposition, he thought he had now a proper opportunity. Festus was now dead, and Albinus was but upon the road; so he assembled the sanhedrim of judges, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, who was called Christ, whose name was James, and some others; and when he had formed an accusation against them as breakers of the law, he delivered them to be stoned: but as for those who seemed the most equitable of the citizens, and such as were the most uneasy at the breach of the laws, they disliked what was done; they also sent to the king, desiring him to send to Ananus that he should act so no more, for that what he had already done was not to be justified; nay, some of them went also to meet Albinus, as he was upon his journey from Alexandria, and informed him that it was not lawful for Ananus to assemble a sanhedrim without his consent. Whereupon Albinus complied with what they said, and wrote in anger to Ananus, and threatened that he would bring him to punishment for what he had done; on which king Agrippa took the high priesthood from him, when he had ruled but three months, and made Jesus, the son of Damneus, high priest.”

Although Rajak is an exception, most have granted that this passage is substantially authentic for two reasons.

  1. Josephus’ emphasis is not on Jesus or James, but on why Ananus was deposed as high priest. As John P. Meier says, “we have here only a passing, almost blasй, reference to someone called James, whom Joseph obviously considers a minor character. He is mentioned only because his illegal execution causes Ananus to be deposed.” (p. 57)
  2. Josephus’ account of James being stoned is different from the account given by the church historian Hegesippus c. 170 CE. Meier writes: “According to Hegesippus, the scribes and Pharisees cast James down from the battlement of theJerusalemtemple. They begin to stone him but are constrained by a priest; finally a laundryman clubs James to death (2.32.12-18). James’s martyrdom, says Hegesippus, was followed immediately by Vespasian’s siege ofJerusalem(A.D. 70).” (p. 58)

However, there has been considerable dispute as to whether the phrase “the brother of Jesus who was called Christ” was part of the original passage. Wells notes: “Schurer, Zahn, von Dobschutz and Juster are among the scholars who have regarded the words ‘the brother of Jesus, him called Christ’ as interpolated.” (p. 11) To this list, we could add Karl Kautsky, S.G.F. Brandon, Charles Guignebert, and Twelftree.

Before presenting the arguments for and against the authenticity of this phrase, it is necessary to offer an excursus on the references to this passage in the patristic authors.

Here are the references from Origen, Eusebius, and Jerome.

Origen, Commentary on Matthew 10.17. “And to so great a reputation among the people for righteousness did this James rise, that Flavius Josephus, who wrote the ‘Antiquities of the Jews’ in twenty books, when wishing to exhibit the cause why the people suffered so great misfortunes that even the temple was razed to the ground, said, that these things happened to them in accordance with the wrath of God in consequence of the things which they had dared to do against James the brother of Jesus who is called Christ. And the wonderful thing is, that, though he did not accept Jesus as Christ, he yet gave testimony that the righteousness of James was so great; and he says that the people thought that they had suffered these things because of James.”

Origen, Against Celsus 1.47. “Now this writer [Josephus], although not believing in Jesus as the Christ, in seeking after the cause of the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple, whereas he ought to have said that the conspiracy against Jesus was the cause of these calamities befalling the people, since they put to death Christ, who was a prophet, says nevertheless-being, although against his will, not far from the truth-that these disasters happened to the Jews as a punishment for the death of James the Just, who was a brother of Jesus called Christ,–the Jews having put him to death, although he was a man most distinguished for his justice. Paul, a genuine disciple of Jesus, says that he regarded this James as a brother of the Lord, not so much on account of their relationship by blood, or of their being brought up together, as because of his virtue and doctrine. If, then, he says that it was on account of James that the desolation of Jerusalem was made to overtake the Jews, how should it not be more in accordance with reason to say that it happened on account (of the death) of Jesus Christ, of whose divinity so many Churches are witnesses, composed of those who have been convened from a flood of sins, and who have joined themselves to the Creator, and who refer all their actions to His good pleasure.”

Origen, Against Celsus 2.13. “But at that time there were no armies around Jerusalem, encompassing and enclosing and besieging it; for the siege began in the reign of Nero, and lasted till the government of Vespasian, whose son Titus destroyed Jerusalem, on account, as Josephus says, of James the Just, the brother of Jesus who was called Christ, but in reality, as the truth makes dear, on account of Jesus Christ the Son of God.”

Eusebius, Ecclesiastical History 2.23.22. “James was so admirable a man and so celebrated among all for his justice, that the more sensible even of the Jews were of the opinion that this was the cause of the siege ofJerusalem, which happened to them immediately after his martyrdom for no other reason than their daring act against him. Josephus, at least, has not hesitated to testify this in his writings, where he says, ‘These things happened to the Jews to avenge James the Just, who was a brother of Jesus, that is called the Christ. For the Jews slew him, although he was a most just man.’ And the same writer records his death also in the twentieth book of his Antiquities in the following words: ‘But the emperor, when he learned of the death of Festus, sent Albinus to be procurator ofJudea. But the younger Ananus, who, as we have already said, had obtained the high priesthood, was of an exceedingly bold and reckless disposition. He belonged, moreover, to the sect of the Sadducees, who are the most cruel of all the Jews in the execution of judgment, as we have already shown. Ananus, therefore, being of this character, and supposing that he had a favorable opportunity on account of the fact that Festus was dead, and Albinus was still on the way, called together the Sanhedrim, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, the so-called Christ, James by name, together with some others, and accused them of violating the law, and condemned them to be stoned. But those in the city who seemed most moderate and skilled in the law were very angry at this, and sent secretly to the king, requesting him to order Ananus to cease such proceedings. For he had not done right even this first time. And certain of them also went to meet Albinus, who was journeying fromAlexandria, and reminded him that it was not lawful for Ananus to summon the Sanhedrim without his knowledge. And Albinus, being persuaded by their representations, wrote in anger to Ananus, threatening him with punishment. And the king, Agrippa, in consequence, deprived him, of the high priesthood, which he had held threemonths, and appointed Jesus, the son of Damnaeus.'”

Jerome, Illustrious Men. “Josephus records the tradition that this James was of so great sanctity and reputation among the people that the downfall ofJerusalem was believed to be on account of his death.”

Eisenman has suggested that this reference derives from a copy of Josephus from a passage distinct from our Ant. 20.9.1 reference, which nowhere says that the death of James led to the destruction ofJerusalem. Although one can’t be sure, it would help such a theory to propose a possible location. Where in Josephus could this quote be? Origen tells us that it appears when Josephus was “seeking after the cause of the fall ofJerusalem and the destruction of the temple” (in Contra Celsum 1.47). That makes me think of Wars of the Jews 6.5.3, shortly after a vivid description of the Roman seige. In this passage, along with some miraculous portents, Josephus tells us about a certain lunatic who went about for seven years and five months saying, “Woe, woe toJerusalem!” He was killed in the seige c. 70 CE, which means that he began this wailing in the year 62 CE according to Josephus, “four years before the war began.” This is the same year that James was executed by the high priest. So this is a possible location.

Other scholars, such as Steve Mason, think that the reference derives from Origen misreading Josephus. I can see how that could happen. One might interpret the whole of Josephus as seeking the causes for the war. Maybe Origen just needed a scapegoat for his polemic. Josephus fit the bill. This suggestion could be supported by the observation that Jerome doesn’t seem to have a clue of where this would be found in Josephus, and Eusebius’ apparent quotation looks so very fragmentary. Even Origen, who refers three times, never gives an exact quote. So this could be something like a patristic rumor about what Josephus said, started by Origen. This suggestion could also be supported by the observation that, perhaps, scribal deletion of the so-called lost reference is not entirely explicable in a satisfactory way. Zvi Baras writes: “Such an assumption [that there was a lost reference] overlooks the question of why the Testimonium passage should have remained in Josephus’ text, while the story of James’ martryrdom – neither disdainful nor defamatory toward Christ – should have been excised from Josephus’ writings.” (Josephus, Judaism, and Christianity, p. 343) Moreover, Zvi Baras quotes Against Celsus 1.47 and Ecclesiastical History 2.23.20 and comments: “The precise parallelism between the two texts has already been remarked by Chadwick, who proved that Eusebius quoted Origen’s passage verbatim, but changed it to direct speech.” (op. cit., p. 345) So it seems likely that there was no other passage concerning James to be found in Josephus. Of course, this theory then casts aspersions on the ability of the Church Fathers (particularly Eusebius) to quote Josephus accurately.

I will now analyze the arguments concerning the authenticity of the phrase “the brother of Jesus who is called the Christ.”

Arguments that the 20.9.1 Reference is Spurious

  1. Wells states, “The words have the character of a brief marginal gloss, later incorporated innocently into the text. Josephus probably wrote of the death of a Jewish Jerusalem leader called James, and a Christian reader thought the reference must be to James the brother of the Lord who, according to Christian tradition, led the Jerusalem Chruch about the time in question. This reader accordingly noted in the margin: ‘James = the brother of Jesus, him called Christ’ (cf. the wording of Mt. 1:16: ‘Jesus, him called Christ’) and a later copyist took this note as belonging to the text and incorporated it. Other interpolations are known to have originated in precisely such a way.” (p. 11) Doherty elaborates: “If he [Josephus] knew nothing else about James or chose to say nothing more, he would simply have used some equivalent to ‘a certain James’ or ‘someone named James.’ And what in fact do we find in the Greek? The words referring directly to James are: Iakobos onoma autoi. Translations render this ‘James by name’ or ‘whose name was James’ or ‘a man named James.’ Such a phrase could have stood perfectly well on its own (with a slight cahnge in grammatical form), and had the reference to a brother Jesus added to it by a Christian interpolator.” (pp. 216-217) While these observations do not prove that the reference was interpolated, they do indicate the possibility of the interpolation hypothesis.
  2. Doherty argues: “Why would Josephus think to make the Jesus idea paramount, placing it before the James one? James is the character that brought about Ananus’ downfall, while mention of Jesus is supposed to be an identifying afterthought. It would have been much more natural for Josephus to say something like: ‘(Ananus) brought before them a man named James, who was the brother of Jesus, the one called (the) Christ . . .’ On the other hand, if the phrase is the product of a Christian scribe, it may be understandable that he, consciously or unconsciously, would have given the reference to Jesus pride of place.” (p. 217)

This argument is weak. The fact that “the brother of Jesus who is called the Christ” is placed first, in the accusative, does not mean that the reference to Jesus is given some kind of “pride of place.” It is simply one grammatically correct way of identifying James.

  1. Steven Carr supplies a reason for doubting the authenticity of the reference to Jesus:

How does Josephus refer back to people he has previously mentioned in those days when books had no indexes? Here he is going back two books, so readers will need more than a casual reference.

Judas of Galilee was first mentioned in ‘Wars of the Jews’ Book 2 Section 118 ‘Under his administration, it was that a certain Galilean , whose name was Judas , prevailed with his countrymen to revolt ; and said they were cowards if they would endure to pay a tax to the Romans , and would, after God , submit to mortal men as their lords.’

Josephus refers to him again in Book 2 Section 433 as follows ‘”In the meantime one Manahem, the son of Judas , that was called the Galilean (who was a very cunning sophister, and had formerly reproached the Jews under Quirinius , that after God they were subject to the Romans )” – considerable detail is included.

In Wars, Book 7 Section 533 we read about Judas again – “… Eleazar, a potent man, and the commander of these Sicarii, that had seized upon it. He was a descendant from that Judas who had persuaded abundance of the Jews , as we have formerly related , not to submit to the taxation when Quirinius was sent into Judea to make one; …’ . So a change of book causes Josephus to say ‘as formerly related’.

Judas was also in Antiquities 18 ‘Yet was there one Judas , a Gaulonite, of a city whose name was Gamala, who, taking with him Sadduc, a Pharisee, became zealous to draw them to a revolt , who both said that this taxation was no better than an introduction to slavery, and exhorted the nation to assert their liberty’.

Josephus referred back to Judas in Antiquities 20 ‘the sons of Judas of Galilee were now slain; I mean that Judas who caused the people to revolt, when Quirinius came to take an account of the estates of the Jews, as we have shown in a foregoing book .’

So Josephus usually put in detail and when he referred back from Ant. 20 toAnt.18, he reminded the reader that it was in a different book. None of these factors apply to Josephus’s reference to Jesus in Antiquities 20. A Christian interpolator would naturally need not need to supply such detailed back-references. His readers would know exactly who Jesus called the Christ was.

This argument is also weak. It presumes that the reference in 20.9.1 was intended to be a cross-reference to an earlier place. However, Josephus may not have intended this identification to serve as a reference to an earlier passage. The plausibility of such an identification without any earlier reference is established from the similar example in Wars of the Jews 2.247 (see above).

  1. Doherty mentions the anomalous character of the reference to “Jesus who is called Christ” in Josephus:

In the Antiquities 20 reference we actually have a double identification: one for James, that he was Jesus’ brother, the second for Jesus, that he was the one called the Christ. But would Josephus have been likely to offer this identification for Jesus? First of all, it implies that the historian had explained just what “the Christ” was at some previous point. (His readership was a Greco-Roman one, who would not be expected to have much familiarity with the idea.) The fact is, he has not, and certainly not in the Antiquities 18 passage, where the declaration “He was the Messiah” is rejected as a later and obvious Christian insertion.

Moreover, the entire Jewish tradition of messianic expectation is a subject Josephus seems to avoid, for he nowhere else describes it, not even in connection with the rebellious groups and agitators in the period prior to the Jewish War. (His one clear reference to the messianic “oracles” of the Jews, the object of whom he claims was Vespasian [Jewish War 6.5.4], is in a different book, and is dealt with in very cursory fasion.) This silence and apparent reluctance would seem to preclude the likelihood that Josephus would introduce the subject at all, especially as a simple aside, in connection with Jesus. (p. 218)

Doherty suggests that a more likely reference would identify Jesus by his crucifixion under Pilate. Another possibility is that Josephus would not refer to Jesus at all but rather make use of a more traditional patrilineal reference.

Concerning the reference to Jesus as the one called Christ, Steve Mason explains that Josephus would not have assumed his readership to understand the term:

First, the word “Christ” (Greek christos) would have special meaning only for a Jewish audience. In Greek it means simply “wetted” or “anointed.” Within the Jewish world, this was an extremely significant term because anointing was the means by which the kings and high priests of Israel had been installed. The pouring of oil over their heads represented their assumption of God-given authority (Exod 29:9; 1 Sam 10:1). The same Hebrew word for “anointed” was mashiach, which we know usually as the noun Messiah, “the anointed [one].” Although used in the OT of reigning kings and high priests, many Jews of Jesus’ day looked forward to an end-time prophet, priest, king, or someone else who would be duly anointed.

But for someone who did not know the Jewish tradition, the adjective “wetted” would sound most peculiar. Why would Josephus say that this man Jesus was “the Wetted”? We can see the puzzlement of Greek-speaking readers over this term in their descriptions of Christianity: Jesus’ name is sometimes altered to “Chrestus” (Suetonius, Claudius 25.4), a common slave name that would amke better sense, and the Christians are sometimes called “Chrestians.”

Since Josephus is usually sensitive to his audience and pauses to explain unfamiliar terms or aspects of Jewish life, it is very strange that he would make the bald assertion, without explanation, that Jesus was “Christ.”

The fact that the term “Christ” appears only in Ant. 18.3.3 and here in 20.9.1 seems to do little to suggest the authenticity of the phrase. It has been often observed that Josephus avoided the subject of messianic expectation. Crossan states:

The more important point, however, is that neither there nor anywhere else does Josephus talk about messianic claimants. He makes no attempt to explain the Jewish traditions of popular kingship that might make a brigand chief or a rural outlaw think not just of rural rebellion but of regal rule. The reason is, of course, quite clear and was seen already. For Josephus, Jewish apocalyptic and messianic promises were fulfilled in Vespasian. It is hardly likely, that Josephus would explain too clearly or underline too sharply the existence of alternative messianic fulfillments before Vespasian, especially from the Jewish lower classes. (The Historical Jesus, p. 199)

Even in the passage where Josephus seems to describe Vespasian as the fulfillment of the messianic oracles, Josephus does not make use of the term “Christ.”

Although strong at first glance, this argument does not hold up to examination. The simple fact is, there is no good evidence that anyone, anywhere was ever referred to as “Christ,” with the exception of course of Jesus himself. One searches the extant Jewish literature in vain to find some example of a messianic pretender who had actually been called “Christ” by anyone. Jesus was unique in being called “Christ,” and so it is not surprising that this term is only used when identifying Jesus. Josephus could have used it in the sense of a nick-name, not as a title, and thus there would be no need to explain the meaning of the name. Josephus may have simply assumed that his readers would have heard of this “Christ” of the sect called “Christians” and left it at that.

  1. Finally, it has been argued the identification of James by way of mentioning Jesus presupposes that Josephus had previously mentioned Jesus, while there are several arguments that Jospehus did not write any part of the famous Testimonium. On the other hand, it has been argued that Josephus could have made such a passing reference to Jesus without any earlier identification.

Arguments that the 20.9.1 Reference is Authentic

  1. The reference appears in all extant manuscripts. However, as Doherty points out, “we have nothing earlier than the 10th century, and by then one of the universal tendencies in manuscript transmission, that all copies of a well-known passage gravitate toward the best-known wording, as well as toward the inclusion of the passage itself, would have ensured that this reference to Jesus in its present form would long since have been found in all copies.” (p. 216) More importantly, however, the reference appears in the works of Origen in the early third century. The fact that this is textual evidence of the highest order for a passage in Josephus is not to be diminished. As is the normal practice, the burden of proof falls on the person who would suggest that there is an interpolation. However, as we have seen, this burden of proof has not been met.
  2. At least five five different people in Josephus’ works alone are known to have the name of James. But Josephus is generally careful to supply details to locate his characters in history. As this is a common name, if Josephus referred only to “James and certain others,” it might be confusing as to what James is meant. Against this argument, Doherty writes: “This inclusion of an identifying piece of information, say those arguing for authenticity, is something that Josephus does for most of his characters. True enough, but this does not necessarily make the present phrase the original one. Josephus may have said something else which Christians subsequently changed. Or he may have written nothing. If he knew nothing else about James or chose to say nothing more, he would simply have used some equivalent to ‘a certain James’ or ‘someone named James.'” (p. 216)
  3. It is sometimes suggested that, if a Christian was tampering with this passage, he would probably also want to deny the charges against James as well as get it “straight” with Hegesippus’ version of his death. However, Doherty rightly counters that there were limitations to the amount of tampering that could take place in “a tightly-packed account of James’ death and its repercussions on Ananus” (p. 218). Moreover, if the reference were originally a marginal aside as suggested by Wells, then there would be no thought of purposely altering the passage; a later scribe would have included the marginal gloss under the assumption that it belonged in the text.
  4. It is suggested that, if a Christian was tampering with this passage, he would have taken the opportunity to definitely assert the messiahship of Jesus (rather than just referring to Jesus “who is called the Christ,” Gk. tou legomenou Christou). Morton Smith writes: “Since Josephus’ works have been preserved by Christian copyists and no Christian would have forged a reference to Jesus in this style, the text has generally been accepted as genuine.” (p. 44)

There are problems with Smith’s argument. First, Smith depends upon a translation of the reference as “Jesus the so-called Christ,” when this translation is not a necessary one. Gerd Theissen and Annette Merz state, “The formulation o legomenoV cristoV (who is called Christ) implies neither assent nor doubt (cf. Matt 1.16).” (p. 65) Doherty points this out:

The frequent translation of “tou legomenou Christou” as “the so-called Christ,” with its skeptical and derogatory overtone, is in no way necessary, and is in fact belied by the usage of the same phrase in Matthew [1:16, 27:17] and John [4:25] where it obviously cannot have such a connotation. The word legomenos is found in many other places in the New Testament without an implied derogation. Those using the term in their translations of Josephus betray a preconceived bias in favor of his authorship. (p. 217)

If we assume that there was originally a note in the margin identifying this James as “the brother of Jesus who is called Christ” and that this note was later incorporated into the text, then there would be no intentional interpolation, and the idea that the interpolator would have wanted to more definitely assert messiahship collapses.

On the other hand, if we assume that the passage was intentionally modified, it could have been modified by a slightly sophisticated interpolater. It has often been suggested that Jerome, whose quotation has “Credabatur esse Christus” in a place in the Testimonium, altered the original “He was the Christ” — he knew that Josephus wouldn’t think so. This interpolator would have inserted the reference to “Jesus who is called the Messiah” on the same basis; the interpolator realized that Josephus would not actually consider call Jesus the Christ. The plausibility of this suggestion is also seen from the reference in Matthew 27:17, in which the author of Matthew puts words on the lips of Pilate that refer to Jesus as “Jesus who is called Messiah.”

While the argument concerning the non-commital nature of the reference isn’t quite conclusive, it is certainly quite suggestive. The significance of the references to “called Christ” in the New Testament is exaggerated. Van Voorst observes:

For the few occurences of the phrase “called Christ” in the New Testament, see Matt 1:16 (Matthew’s genealogy, where it breaks the long pattern of only personal names); Matt 27:17, 22 (by Pontius Pilate); John 4:25 (by the Samaritan woman). Twelftree, “Jesus in Jewish Traditions,” 300, argues from these instances that “called Christ” is “a construction Christians used when speaking of Jesus” and therefore an indication that this passage is not genuine. He also cites John 9:11, but there the phrase is “called Jesus” and so does not apply to this issue. But if these passages are indicative of wider usage outside the New Testament, “called Christ” tends to come form non-Christians and is not at all typical of Christian usage. Christians would not be inclined to use a neutral or descriptive term like “called Christ”; for them, Jesus is (the) Christ.

Furthermore, I note that no extracanonical works in the second century use the phrase “Jesus who is called Christ,” even though this would be the period when an interpolation would have to have been made.

  1. John P. Meier argues:

…the way the text identifies James is not likely to have come from a Christian hand or even a Christian source. Neither the NT nor early Christian writers spoke of James of Jerusalem in a matter-of-fact way as “the brother of Jesus” (ho adelphos Iesou), but rather — with the reverence we would expect — “the brother of the Lord” (ho adelphos tou kyriou) or “the brother of the Savior” (ho adelphos tou soteros). Paul, who was not overly fond of James, calls him “the brother of the Lord” in Gal 1:19 and no doubt is thinking especially of him when he speaks of “the brothers of the Lord” in 1Cor 9:5. Hegesippus, the 2d-century Church historian who was a Jewish convert and probably hailed from Palestine, likewise speaks of “James, the brother of the Lord” (in Eusebius’ Ecclesiastical History 2.23.4); indeed, Hegesippus also speaks of certain other well-known Palestinian Christians as “a cousin of the Lord” (4.22.4), the “brothers of the Savior” (3.25.5), and “his [the Lord’s] brother according to the flesh” (3.20.1). The point of all this is that Josephus’ designation of James as “the brother of Jesus” squares neither with NT nor with early patristic usage, and so does not likely come from the hand of a Christian interpolator. (p. 58)

This argument is a strong one. A search of theante-NiceneChurchFathers, the extracanonical writings, and the New Testament will produce no instance in which James is identified as “the brother of Jesus.” It is thus not likely to be a phrase to come from a Christian pen when identifying James.

Conclusion

Proverbs 18:17 may well have been commenting on arguments concerning the Testimonium: “The first to plead his case seems right, until another comes and examines him.” The present author was once firmly convinced that both references in the Antiquities were authentic. After reading the study of Ken Olson that shows the vocabulary of the Testimonium to be not Josephan but rather Eusebian, I was inclined to regard both references as spurious. But now that I have found evidence that the reference in 20.9.1 does not require an earlier reference to Jesus, I am presently persuaded to regard the shorter reference as authentic.

Even if one is convinced that the passages are interpolated, there is a satisfactory explanation for the silence of Josephus on Jesus and Christianity. W. D. Davies explains:

But it is still more likely that the silence of Josephus is due to the character of his work: his career suggests what his aim was in his writings. He desired to remain in the good graces of the Roman Emperor: to do so he avoided in his history all that might offend Roman susceptibilities. To mention Christianity, a Messianic movement that proclaimed another King than Caesar (Acts 17:7), would be to expose Judaism, which inRomemight not be distinguished from Christianity, to “guilt by association.” Perhaps Josephus would not cavil at discussing a dead Messianic movement, which no longer offered any threat toRome, but Christianity was alive and militant. The part of prudence was to ignore it. (p. 66)

Maurice Goguel offers a similar explanation for what would be silence of Josephus:

So complete a silence is perhaps more embarrassing for the mythologists than for their opponents. By what right, indeed, should it be permissible to conclude from it that Jesus never existed, and not permissible to deny that a Christian movement existed inPalestineprior to the year 70? Since Josephus has been silent not only concerning Jesus, but also concerning Christianity, how is his silence to be explained? Uniquely by the character and the object of his work. The writer desired to flatter the Romans and gain their good graces. To do this he expunged from the picture he drew everything likely to offend or to excite their apprehension. Thus it is that he has scarcely at all spoken of the Messianic cult which nevertheless constituted the center of Jewish thought in the first century. That he did so was because this cult was a menace toRome, for the Kingdom of the Messiah could only be built upon the ruins of the Empire. (p. 36)

But assuming that at least the shorter reference is authentic, what can we conclude from this? It shows that Josephus accepted the historicity of Jesus. Simply by the standard practice of conducting history, a comment from Josephus about a fact of the first century constitutes prima facie evidence for that fact. It ought to be accepted as history unless there is good reason for disputing the fact. Moreover, it is reasonable to think that Josephus heard about the deposition of Ananus as soon as it happened. Ed Tyler points out in correspondence, “The passage is not really about James, but about Ananus. It’s the tale of how Ananus lost his job as High Priest. So why would Christians in Rome be the source for the tale of how a High Priest lost his job? Josephus was close at hand when it happened, and was a man of some standing in the Jewish community. I can’t imagine that he missed it when it was news, and didn’t find out about it until he talked to some Christians about 30 years later.” Thus, Josephus’ information about the identity of James brings us back to the period prior to the First Jewish Revolt. If Josephus referred to James as the brother of Jesus in the Antiquities, in all likelihood the historical James identified himself as the brother of Jesus, and this identification would secure the place of Jesus as a figure in history.

Works Cited

  1. Carr, Steven. “First Response by Steven Carr.” (URL:<http://www.bowness.demon.co.uk/marston2.htm>, 2000).
  2. Charlesworth, James H. Jesus within Judaism: New Light from Exciting Archaeological Discoveries (New York: Doubleday, 1988).
  3. Crossan, John D. The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1991).
  4. Crossan, John D. Jesus: A Revolutionary Biography (San Francisco: HarperCollins, 1994).
  5. Davies, W. D. Invitation to the New Testament, a Guide to its Main Witnesses (Garden City: Doubleday, 1966).
  6. Doherty, Earl J. The Jesus Puzzle: Did Christianity Begin with a Mythical Christ? (Ottawa: Canadian Humanist Publications, 1999).
  7. Feldman, Louis H. Josephus and Modern Scholarship (Berlin; New York: W. de Gruyter, 1984).
  8. Feldman, Louis H. Josephus, Judaism, and Christianity (Detroit: Wayne State University Press, 1987).
  9. Freke, Timothy and Peter Gandy. The Jesus Mysteries: Was the “Original Jesus” a Pagan God? (New York: Harmony Books, 1999).
  10. Goguel, Maurice. Jesus the Nazarene: Myth or History? (New York: D. Appleton and Company, 1926).
  11. Grant, Robert. A Historical Introduction to the New Testament (New York: Harper & Row, 1963).
  12. Hardwick, Michael E. Josephus as an Historical Source in Patristic Literature through Eusebius (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1989).
  13. Hoffman, Joseph R. Jesus Outside the Gospels (Buffalo: Prometheus Books, 1984).
  14. Lowder, Jeffery Jay. “Josh McDowell’s ‘Evidence’ for Jesus: Is It Reliable?” (URL:<http://www.infidels.org/library/modern/jeff_lowder/jury/chap5.html>, 2000).
  15. Mason, Steve. Josephus and the New Testament (Peabody: Hendrickson Publishers, 1992).
  16. Meier, John P. A Marginal Jew: Rethinking the Historical Jesus, v. 1 (New York: Doubleday, 1991).
  17. Olson, Ken. “Eusebian Fabrication of the Testimonium” (URL:<http://groups.yahoo.com/group/JesusMysteries/files/%22Eusebian%20Fabrication%20of%20the%20Testimonium%22>, 2001).
  18. Sanders, E. P. The Historical Figure of Jesus (New York: Penguin Press, 1993).
  19. Smith, Morton. Jesus the Magician (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1978).
  20. Theissen, Gerd and Annette Merz. The Historical Jesus: A Comprehensive Guide (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1998).
  21. Van Voorst, Robert E. Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2000).
  22. Wells, G. A. Did Jesus Exist? (London: Pemberton Publishing Co., 1986).

Tacitus Fragment 2 The Anti-Roman Movement of the Christiani and the Nazoreans (2000)

Posted in Historicity on July 1, 2012 by vahagnakanch

Eric Laupot

UniversityofAlabama,Tuscaloosa

 


 

ABSTRACT

There is little consensus as to the historical nature of the sect identified by Tacitus in Annales 15.44 as the Christiani. Nor is there any firm consensus on the authenticity and historicity of all of that fragment known as Tacitus’ fragment 2 (= Sulpicius Severus Chronica 2.30.6-7), whose references to “Christiani” are widely suspected of being later Christian interpolations. Much of this fragment is thought, nevertheless, to be from the lost portion of the fifth book of Tacitus’ Historiae.

A solution can be found to both of these problems by adducing from fragment 2 new evidence indicating that this fragment indeed represents a primary historical source. This new evidence takes the form of the discovery of a significant statistical relationship among the following three words: (1) The metaphor stirps (branch, descendants) used to describe the Christiani in fragment 2, (2) and (3) NazwraîoV and NazarhnóV (Nazorean), describing the New Testament sect associated with the Cristianoì of Acts 11.26. The connecting link among, as well as the common source for, the three words listed above appears to be the Hebrew netser (branch, descendants–apparently influenced by Isa 11.1), which both translates into stirps and transliterates into NazwraîoV/NazarhnóV. It is mathematically extremely unlikely that this link with netser represents a random coincidence. Also, it appears that a later Christian redactor of fragment 2 or his target audience would not have known of this connection. Because of this and other contextual explanations, the possibility is largely eliminated that fragment 2 could have been significantly redacted by a later Christian. We are thus left with the substantial probability that this fragment constitutes a primary historical source, most likely via Tacitus. In turn this source supplies us with a probable solution to the problem of the Christiani’s identity by depicting them in fragment 2 as being major participants in the first Jewish revolt againstRome in 66-73 CE.

 


 

In the well-known section of Annales 15.44, Tacitus refers unmistakably to “Christiani.” We shall presently take a fresh look at another passage thought to be at least partly Tacitean and which also mentions a sect called “Christiani.” In so doing, this will demonstrate how much historical data can be successfully concealed in one brief passage. As will be seen, when it comes to these “Christiani,” things are not at all as they have seemed. The second passage in question is commonly known as Tacitus’ fragment 2, much of which is generally considered to have once been part of the now lost portion of the fifth book of Tacitus’ Historiae. Fragment 2 was preserved by the Christian historian Sulpicius Severus in his Chronica 2.30.6-7 (ca. 400-403 CE).

This fragment will enable us to demonstrate who the Christiani really were, and, as we shall see, they were not Christians. Here as elsewhere in this paper I am using “Christians” (as opposed to “Christiani”), “Christianity,and “the Church”to refer to the Pauline version only.

The present study demonstrates that frag. 2 is a primary historical source that in all probability correctly identifies frag. 2’s “Christiani” as the Latin name for a group of major participants in the first Jewish revolt against Rome of 66-73 CE. In addition, we shall see that the Hebrew name for at least a portion, if not all, of this group was probably “Netsarim” (Nazoreans).

Let us now turn to frag. 2 and see why it shows the Christiani to have been major opponents of the Romans. This fragment gives the details of the debate within a high-level military council of war called by the Roman army commander Titus just prior to the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in Jerusalem in 70, near the end of the first Jewish revolt against Rome. The debate was over whether or not the Roman army should destroy the Temple. For our purposes here, the last half of frag. 2 (= Severus’ Chronica 2.30.7) is the most relevant because it specifically mentions “Christiani”:

(2.30.6) It is reported that Titus first deliberated, by summoning a council of war, as to whether to destroy aTempleof such workmanship. For it seemed proper to some that a consecrated Temple, distinguished above all that is human, should not be destroyed, as it would serve as a witness to Roman moderation; whereas its destruction would represent a perpetual brand of cruelty.

(2.30.7) But others, on the contrary, disagreed–including Titus himself. They argued that the destruction of the Templewas a number one priority in order to destroy completely the religion [per Severus. Tacitus or another classical author would have used the word superstitio (alien religious belief). Compare Hist. 5.8 and Ann. 15.44 (exitiabilis superstitio)] of the Jews and the Christiani: For although these religions [i.e., superstitiones] are conflicting, they nevertheless developed from the same origins. The Christiani arose from the Jews: With the root removed, the branch [stirps] is easily killed.[1]

The discovery that the Christian historian Severus took most of frag. 2 from a now-lost portion of Tacitus’ Historiae was first made in 1861 when Jacob Bernays published his seminal study[2] demonstrating that the fragment is reasonably Tacitean in style. He also showed it is apparently fairly accurate historically,[3] as against Josephus’ parallel account of the same council of war in Bell. 6.236-243, which Bernays termed a whitewash of Titus. Bernays’ finding that frag. 2 is for the most part Tacitean has been generally accepted by the editors of the various critical editions of the Historiae and the Chronica.[4] Momigliano sums up the consensus by stating there is no question Severus depended, at least in part, on Tacitus: “Sulpicius Severus uses Tacitus elsewhere, and this particular passage shows traces of Tacitean style under the early fifth-century veneer. It is therefore reasonable to conclude with Bernays that Sulpicius Severus depended on Tacitus. His conjecture has indeed been generally accepted.”[5]

Nevertheless, a number of writers have expressed the opinion that the last half of frag. 2 with its references to “Christiani” represents in large part a “Christianizing” redaction by either Sulpicius Severus himself or some other later Christian.[6] Momigliano remarks, “This passage has undergone Christian modification, but this modification affects only the reasons for Titus’ decision and not the decision itself.”[7] However, the proponents of this theory (see note 6 above) demonstrate only that Severus had a motive to Christianize this passage and that he might have done so, not that he did. Another hypothesis[8] holds that Sulpicius or a later redactor may have interpolated an actual historical account of Titus’ council of war from a non-Tacitean but classical eyewitness source such as Marcus Antonius Iulianus. In that case though, as Momigliano observes in “Jacob Bernays” (167), the net effect would be simply to replace “the name of Tacitus as the source of Sulpicius by the name of the man who was probably the source of Tacitus, Antonius Iulianus: no gain and greater obscurity.”

In any event, however, a straightforward reading of the last half of frag. 2 supports the view that the Romans considered destroying the Templein an attempt to cripple Judaism and eliminate the base of operations of a group known as “Christiani.” If we accept frag. 2 as a primary historical source (and as we shall presently see, this course of action is logically justifiable), there can be no doubt that the Christiani were a Jewish group who, along with those referred to as “the Jews,” were major participants in the first Jewish revolt against Rome. These Christiani are also distinguished in frag. 2 from those who were presumably, from the Roman perspective at least, more normative Jews: the Christiani and “the Jews,” though on the same side against the Romans, are depicted as having religious beliefs that are conflicting. According to frag. 2 then the Christiani were major participants in the war and Titus burned the Temple primarily to destroy them by crippling Judaism–thus destroying the Christiani’s base of operations inIsrael.

This point of view in frag. 2 is consistent with the other extant references by classical Roman historians to “Christiani” of the Second Temple period. We may note Tacitus’ description in Annales 15.44 of the “Christiani’ssuperstitio as dangerous (exitiabilis), sinister (atrocia), an evil (malum), etc. and Suetonius’ portrayal of the “Christiani” in Nero 16.2 as following a “new and dangerous [malefica] superstitio.”

There are a number of arguments that demonstrate frag. 2 to be a primary historical source. The first of these points was made by Bernays and others; the rest are new to this study. This paper will focus on the more relevant portion of the fragment, the second half. Here then is the criticism, primarily literary/statistical, in favor of the classification of frag. 2 as a primary historical source:

1. The second half of frag. 2, like the first, is reasonably Tacitean in style. This is particularly true with respect to (A) quippe used instead of nam before the expression of explanatory and contrasting opinions in a subordinate sentence,[9] (B) the use of the typically Tacitean at contra,[10] and (C) the fact that everything else in the last half of this fragment other than the Severean word religio appears either Tacitean or in any event not non-Tacitean.[11]

2. The clear impression given in frag. 2 of the “Christiani” as opponents of the Romans is even more strongly reinforced by something Bernays did not mention. There can be little doubt the Roman general staff under Titus is portrayed in the final part of frag. 2 (“… they nevertheless developed from the same origins. The Christiani arose from the Jews: With the root removed, the branch [stirps] is easily killed”; see note 1 above) as quoting from Isa 11.1 in describing frag. 2’s “Christiani” by using the Latin word stirps (branch, descendants), one of whose Hebrew equivalents from Isa 11.1 (Heb./Aram., netser) just happens to transliterate into the two names (NazwraîoV and NazarhnóV [i.e., “Nazorean”]) in the Greek New Testament for what would have been, to Severus or any other later Christian redactor, virtually the same sect as “Christiani.” As will be shown, the odds of this being a random coincidence are so remote (along with the likelihood Severus or his readers would even have been aware of this connection) that as a result we may virtually eliminate Severus as the primary source for most of the last half of frag 2.

As will be shown more clearly, frag. 2’s “Christiani” are portrayed, after Isa 11.1, as a “branch” of Jesse–father of David–growing out of Jesse’s Jewish “roots” (radix).[12] This is exactly how we would expect a Jewish resistance movement to be described and is entirely consistent, as we have seen, with the manifest content of frag. 2.[13]

Stirps would have been a good choice in frag. 2 with which to translate netser from Isa 11.1 since each of these substantives meant both “branch” and “descendants” (in this case, presumably, of David).[14] For instance, stirps was used by Jerome to translate netser in Isa 14.19 (Vg).[15]

The branch metaphor in frag. 2, stirps, is one of relatively few Latin words with a Hebrew equivalent (netser) that can be transliterated into “NazwraîoV” (Matt 2.23, 26.71, Luke 18.37, John 18.5, 7, 19.19, Acts 2.22, 3.6, 4.10, 6.14, 22.8, 24.5, 26.9) and “NazarhnóV” (Mark 1.24, 10.47, 14.67, 16.6, Luke 4.34, 24.19)–two words describing the sect that is associated also with the New Testament’s “Christiani” (“Cristianoí”: Acts 11.26). The first three Semitic consonants of netser can be transliterated into the first three Greek consonants of either NazwraîoV or NazarhnóV.[16] It is almost impossible this is a coincidence since there are altogether relatively few words we know of today that might have been used as substantives in Hebrew or Aramaic in first-century Israel and could also have been transliterated this way into NazwraîoV or NazarhnóV – and netser (= stirps) just happens to be one of them. I am including only substantives here since the metaphor actually used in frag. 2 was couched in terms of a noun (stirps).

These few Semitic words (from biblical Hebrew, Jewish Palestinian Aramaic, and Talmudic Aramaic [the latter included for reasons given below]) containing only the consonants N-TS-R or N-Z-R are listed as follows, together with all their known meanings: (1) From the Hebrew, by root (see Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon; also James H. Charlesworth, Graphic Concordance to the Dead Sea Scrolls [Tübingen: J. C. B Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1991]): nezer (crown; a priest’s miter [Lev 8.9]; [a woman’s] hair; a consecration [Lev 21.12]; a Nazirite’s consecrated hair [Num 6.19]; a separation [Num 6. 8, 12, 13]), nazir (one consecrated or crowned [e.g., a prince, ruler, etc.]; a Nazirite; an untrimmed vine [like the Nazarite’s untrimmed hair–see Lev 25.5, 11]), natsar (one who watches; the preserved [of Israel–see Isa 49.6]); a secret thing [Isa 48.6]; a secret place [Isa 65.4]; the besieged [Ezek 6.12]; a besieger [Jer 4.16]; those observing [Torah: Ps 119.2, Prov 28.17]; one tending [a fig tree–Prov 27.18]; one who is crafty [Prov 7.10]), and netser (branch; shoot; descendants). (2) From the Aramaic (see Marcus Jastrow, Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature [1903; repr., New York: Pardes, 1950]; also Michael Sokoloff, A Dictionary of Jewish Palestinian Aramaic of the Byzantine Period [Ramat-Gan, Israel: Bar Ilan Univ. Press, 1990]): Notseri (a Christian or Nazorean [= Lat., Christianus; see note 17 below]), nezirah (a nobleman; a Nazarite’s vow), Nezirah (a man’s name [Gen Rab. 12.6, etc.]), natsir (a fetus), netser (a cricket; willow), and nitsrah (a wicker basket).

I have eliminated Semitic meanings that are duplicative. For the statistical reasons, see below. There are thus a total of only 29 distinct meanings of Semitic words that could have been transliterated into either “NazwraîoV ” or “NazarhnóV.”[17]

The odds of this verbal relationship among stirps, netser, and NazwraîoV/NazarhnóV being a coincidence can be calculated mathematically roughly as follows: Working backwards from the Greek “NazwraîoV” and “NazarhnóV” (the end results of the putative transliterations), we have already noted above the 29 different meanings of the only Semitic words this author is aware of that could conceivably have been transliterated into the two Greek words in question. If we then make the very generous assumption that for each of the 29 Semitic meanings there were as many as 10 nouns in Latin which could originally have expressed each meaning, we arrive at a total figure of 290 (= 29 x 10) Latin nouns that could originally have been used to express these 29 Semitic meanings by the Roman general staff (or a later redactor of frag. 2). Thus, in theory any one of these 290 Latin nouns could have been chosen randomly as a metaphor for the Christiani by the Romans or a later redactor and still given us Semitic translations that could ultimately have been transliterated into NazwraîoV and NazarhnóV. We are assuming here for the sake of argument that the Romans or a later redactor picked their “Christiani” metaphor completely at random–and not with any preexisting knowledge of the Christiani’s Semitic name, if any. All we have to do at this point then is divide 290 by the total number of nouns in the Latin language to obtain the probability of the Romans or anyone else having randomly arrived at a metaphor which happened to correctly transliterate ultimately into the two Greek names for the sect the New Testament also associates with the “Christiani” of Acts.

To simplify this calculation and at the same time ensure reasonable accuracy, we shall eliminate from consideration all Latin proper nouns, since these refer mainly to people and places outside of Israel and it is most unlikely the Christiani would have chosen their Semitic name, if any, from such a list (for the effect of this on our calculation, see below). Therefore, we shall consider only Latin common nouns. An estimate based on a representative sampling of common nouns from the Oxford Latin Dictionary (1982) indicates there were approximately 18,000 common nouns in Latin. This gives us, therefore, an estimated probability of randomness in this case of 290 divided by 18,000, or 1.61%. Subtracting this fraction from 100% to obtain a probability of non-randomness gives us 98.39%.

It is quite possible, of course, that some first-century Semitic words and meanings that are unknown to us today have been inadvertently omitted from this analysis. In the present author’s opinion, however, this particular problem has been more than adequately compensated for by the very generous use of 10 Latin common nouns for every Semitic meaning as well as the inclusion of Semitic words and meanings from Talmudic Aramaic. In addition, the failure to consider the use of metaphors or similes involving Latin proper nouns (see above) may also understate the probability of non-randomness–by drastically limiting the total number of Latin words under consideration to just 18,000.

In any event, the overall results indicate a probability of non-randomness well within the range of statistical significance (i.e., > 95%). Q.E.D.[18] We may also note that the apparent presence in frag. 2 of a paraphrase of Isa 11.1 (one of only four passages in the Hebrew Bible containing the rarely-used word netser [the other three being Isa 14.19, 60.21, and Dan 11.7]) provides further confirmation of this high probability of non-randomness.

There is a statistical relationship here that is almost certainly not random. This virtually eliminates Severus or another later Christian as the source for this material since a later Christian redactor almost certainly could not have arrived at the choice of stirps simply by accident, as we have seen. Nor probably would Severus (or another later Christian) even have known anything of this verbal relationship. Furthermore, had he known, writing about it in such an utterly oblique way would have been pointless; his readers would not for the most part have understood the connection. This can be inferred by the absence of references to it in Christian and other literature.[19]

Thus, by process of elimination we are almost certainly left with a classical source, probably Tacitus (see above at note 4), for frag. 2, demonstrating that frag. 2 is in all likelihood a primary historical source. In addition, since frag. 2 is probably Tacitean, its Christiani can now probably be identified with the Christiani of Tacitus’ Annales 15.44.

3. Moreover, in Rom 11.16-24 Paul seems to derive from the Hodayot of the Dead Sea

Scrolls (1QH 14[6].14-17, 15[7].18-19, 16[8].4-11) a root-branch metaphor that originally compared the Qumran community to a tree or planting established by God. All three of these passages from the Hodayot employ netser and thus all were apparently influenced in turn by the parallel Isa 60.21 (one of only four passages in the Hebrew Bible to contain netser), and perhaps Isa 11.1 as well.[20] In Romans Paul deliberately reapplies this metaphor to the Christian community. We can infer Paul’s selection of the word “branch” (kladoV) in Rom 11.16-24 was deliberate for the same statistical reasons we were able to infer the Roman general staff in frag. 2 did not just choose their branch metaphor at random either: For the mathematical reasons mentioned above, the odds are overwhelmingly against any random selection by anyone of a branch metaphor for the Nazoreans and, to a somewhat lesser extent, for any other group such as the early Christians who were reportedly linked to them.[21] This principle applies equally well to any direct description of a Nazorean leader such as Jesus as a descendant (= netser) or “branch” of David as, for instance, by Paul in Rom 1.3. We can thus infer that in Rom 1.3 Paul was consciously following Isa 11.1–in part, moreover, because the word netser appears rarely in the Hebrew Bible and only once in connection with David (Isa 11.1), so there can be little doubt under the circumstances as to what exactly Paul was referring to. Compare also the numerous other examples of “son of David” applied to Jesus in the New Testament in one form or another: Matt 1.1-17, 15.22, 20.30-31, 21.9, 15, Mark 10.47-48, Luke 2.4, 3.31, Acts 13.22-23, Rom 15.12, Rev 3.7, 5.5, 22.16, etc. We may note also in Justin Apol. 32 and Dial. 86-87 the portrayal of Jesus as fulfilling the prophecy in Isa 11.1. These parallel phenomena indicate the existence of an important tradition involving a convergence of opinions (including frag. 2’s) connecting the Nazoreans with Isa 11.1.

4. To the extent that Severus or any other later Christian may have redacted the second half of frag. 2 by Christianizing it, he would have had to mimic successfully Tacitus’ style and vocabulary. This would have had to be done with sufficient expertise to deceive both people in his own time who were fluent in Latin and future generations of scholars (see note 4 above). But in so doing, the redactor would have risked exposure by his contemporaries because the complete Historiae were still extant during the early fifth century.[22] If Severus had simply introduced such interpolations in his own style into, say, the secondpart of the fragment–without making a hopeless attempt to pass them off as Tacitus’–his credibility would not have suffered; but this was not done. Therefore, frag. 2 as we have it today could probably not have been significantly redacted by Severus or any other later Christian since in so doing the redactor would have been exposed by his contemporaries, including his peers in the Church.

For this reason it is almost equally unlikely that Severus would have, had he possessed any caution at all, (1) inadvertently or subconsciously copied Tacitus’ style in the second part of frag. 2 or (2) consciously attempted to interpolate just one or two of the passage’s key words–such as “Christiani”–while leaving the others relatively undisturbed. Furthermore, any such hypothetical interpolations of “Christiani” into frag. 2 would almost certainly had to have been made before 418 CE when the entire fifth book of Tacitus’ Historiae was still available (see note 22 above). This follows from the fact that in his parallel account of Titus’ destruction of the Temple in Hist. adv. Pag. 7.9.4-6 (ca. 418) Paulus Orosius almost certainly emulated but Christianized the wording of the last half of frag. 2 by changing “Christiani” to “Ecclesia Dei” and “stirps” to “germinante.”[23] Assuming therefore a Christian interpolation of the word “Christiani”into frag. 2, then by 418 Orosius was almost certainly aware of it.

Having largely ruled out Severus or another Christian as the source for the last half of frag. 2, let us note that the classical author of this fragment, presumably Tacitus, was a historian or eyewitness observer who was in all likelihood accurately quoting the majority opinion of the Roman general staff; an opinion in this case involving a description of the Christiani as a “branch” that exactly matches the opinion of all the various authors of the canonical Gospels writing in Greek, and which is therefore almost certainly not a random coincidence. We have a number of sources who appear to have had the same very particular idea about the Christiani as a “branch.Since it is obvious that the Roman generals during the first Jewish revolt did not get their ideas from the Gospels and since it is also unlikely that the authors of the Gospels would have turned primarily to historical accounts of the Roman generals for subtle suggestions as to what to call the Nazoreans, then it is clear all parties must have derived their information on netser from a common source. This source must have been a very reliable one, or the Roman general staff would not have used it in any form at their high-level meeting. Surely the Romans would have known the proper names of their enemies. The alternative would be too fantastic. Ultimately, this reliable common source could only have been the Christiani’s actual Semitic name, derived from netser. This name in Hebrew would have been, presumably, “Netsarim” (i.e., î_ or Nazoreans), that is to say, “followers of the branch (= descendant[s]) of David.”[24]

It may also be noted that in Isa 60.21 (see above) the branch (netser) God plants represents the righteous of Israel. Thus, the name “Netsarim” would most likely have carried the additional meaning in Hebrew (a meaning presumably grasped and perhaps even implied in frag. 2 by the Roman high command) describing those who belonged to this “big branch,” i.e., the Christiani (see also Lewy, Jewish Hellenism, 192).[25]

As to what else the Roman general staff might have meant by their root-branch metaphor in frag. 2, Lewy provides several examples in Jewish Hellenism (192-3) of the words stirpitus, radicitus, and exstirpare used to describe the uprooting of foreign religions by the Romans. However, to the best knowledge of this author, the explicit use of a root-and-branch metaphor in its entirety is to be found nowhere else in classical literature other than in frag. 2 and is otherwise unique to the Judeo-Christian tradition. This provides additional evidence that the Roman general staff’s precise choice of metaphor in frag. 2 was influenced by the Jewish culture in which they found themselves and in particular, as has been demonstrated by the statistical inferences above, by the distinctive Semitic name and identity of their opponents.

As we have seen, a straightforward reading of the last half of frag. 2 supports the view that the Romans considered destroying the Templein an attempt to cripple Judaism and eliminate the base of operations of a Jewish group they called “Christiani.” The Christiani must have been major participants in the revolt against Rome in order to have had the Roman general staff focus on them and destroy the Temple. The razing of the Temple could only have been justified by Titus’ council of war, with its keen eye on history and public opinion, if this action would have undermined Rome’s main opponents in Israel. The destruction of the Temple can also be seen in this light as an extension of the tortures inflicted on the Christiani six years earlier by Nero in Rome, as described by Tacitus in Ann. 15.44.

This construction of frag. 2 also harmonizes with the meaning of the name “Christiani” given in Ann. 15.44 as describing the ideological supporters of a certain Christus, executed several decades earlier by Pontius Pilate in Judea. The name “Christus” refers presumably to “the anointed one [of God],” i.e., the king of Israel.[26] Tacitus describes Christus as “the source for the [Christiani’s] name” (auctor nominis eius).[27] Thus, the meaning of “Christiani” in Latin parallels the first definition of “Netsarim” given above, as referring to the followers of Isa 11.1’s royal branch of David. The extant evidence suggests, however, that after the overwhelming defeat of Israel and the Jewish resistance in the 70’s the name “Christiani” was used largely to designate Pauline Christians,[28] who had presumably stepped into the historical vacuum left by the decimation of the earlier Jewish Christiani.

We are now in a position to adduce some additional evidence demonstrating that stirps (= netser) in frag. 2 leads us to Isa 11.1: (1) Isa 11.1 is the one primary reference in ancient Jewish literature to use netser in a way most consistent with both the warlike context and the root-branch metaphor in frag. 2. Compare the three other uses of netser in the Hebrew Bible: Isa 14.19, 60.21, and Dan 11.7. (2) It is quite likely that a Jewish group as Temple-based as the Christiani would have received their Semitic name from the Hebrew Bible. (3) On 17 of the 18 occasions in which Tacitus uses stirps elsewhere in his works he refers to descendants or descent, particularly royal or noble.[29] All told, we are led to consider Isa 11.1 as an almost certain basis for the root-and-branch metaphor underlying the last part of frag. 2.

The Christiani’s Judaism most likely included, as may be deduced in part from their founder’s title of Christus, a messianic/royalist component. Tacitus reports in Ann. 15.44 that their teachings had spread as far as Rome: exitiabilis superstitio rursum erumpebat … per urbem etiam (“… the dangerous superstitio broke out again … throughout Rome also”). It was the Empire’s opposition to the Christiani’s teachings that explains Titus’ proposal in frag. 2 to destroy not only the Christiani themselves (the “branch” of Judaism) but the Temple that in his view sustained their belief in monotheism and their anti-Romanism. The Romans felt that as long as the Temple stood those who stood against Rome were assured of a rallying point (Josephus Bell. 6.239).

In conclusion, out of all the myriads of different metaphors utilizing substantives which anyone, whether Roman general or later Christian redactor, could have employed to describe the Christiani in frag. 2, the branch metaphor just happens to match up, via netser, with (1) the identical sounding Greek words for “Nazorean” in the New Testament for what would have been virtually the same sect as “Christiani” to a Christian redactor and (2) what appears strongly therefore to be a parody of Isa 11.1, implicitly containing netser, embedded in frag. 2. This entire correlation is further confirmed by a consistent tradition in other sources (Rom 1.3, Justin Dial. 86-87, b. Sanh. 43a, etc.) linking the Nazoreans to Isa 11.1. Since under the given circumstances the odds that all these phenomena are a coincidence are extraordinarily low, it is clear that frag. 2 is too highly detailed to have been substantially redacted by a later Christian. It thus represents almost certainly a primary historical source, probably via Tacitus, portraying the Christiani as a major Jewish group acting in opposition toRome and in defense ofIsrael.

Notes

[1] fertur Titus adhibito consilio prius deliberasse, an templum tanti operis everteret. etenim nonnullis videbatur, aedem sacratam ultra omnia mortalia illustrem non oportere deleri, quae servata modestiae Romanae testimonium, diruta perennem crudelitatis notam praeberet. at contra alii et Titus ipse evertendum in primis templum censebant, quo plenius Iudaeorum et Christianorum religio tolleretur: quippe has religiones, licet contrarias sibi, isdem tamen ab® auctoribus profectas; Christianos ex Iudaeis extitisse: radice sublata stirpem facile perituram. C. Halm, ed., Sulpicii Severi libri qui supersunt, CSEL, vol. 1 (Vienna, 1866). Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are my own.

[2] “Über die Chronik des Sulpicius Severus,” in Jahresbericht des jüdisch-theologischen Seminars Fraenckelscher Stiftung” (Breslau, 1861) 1-72, esp. 48-53, 57-61, reprinted in Jacob Bernays, Über die Chronik des Sulpicius Severus: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der classischen und biblischen Studien (Berlin, 1861; repr., Berlin, 1862) and also in H. Usener, ed., Gesammelte Abhandlungen von Jacob Bernays (1885; repr., Hildesheim: Olms, 1971) 2.81-200, esp. 159-67, 174-81. The publishing history is derived in part from Jean Bollack, “Un homme d’un autre monde,” in John Glucker and André Laks, eds., Jacob Bernays: Un philologue juif, Cahiers de philologie, série Apparat critique, vol. 16(Villeneuve d’Ascq, France: Presses Universitaires du Septentrion, 1996) 168 n. 111. All references to page numbers in Bernays are from the originalBreslau edition.

For more recent commentary on frag. 2, see Brian W. Jones, The Emperor Titus (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1984) 54-5; Yochanan H. Lewy [Johanan Hans Levy], Studies in Jewish Hellenism (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1960) 190-4 [Hebrew]; T. D. Barnes, “The Fragments of Tacitus’ Histories,” Classical Philology 72, no. 3 (1977) 224-31; G. K. van Andel, The Christian Concept of History in the Chronicle of Sulpicius Severus (Amsterdam: Adolf M. Hakkert, 1976) 33-4, 43-8, 51-2; Hugh Montefiore, “Sulpicius Severus and Titus’ Council of War,” Historia 11 (1962) 156-70; Arnaldo Momigliano, “Jacob Bernays,” Mededelingen der Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen, afd. letterkunde, n.s., 32, no. 5 (1969) 151-78, esp. 167; Flaminio Ghizzoni, Sulpicio Severo (Rome: Bulzoni, 1983) 207-9; and André Lavertujon, La Chronique de Sulpice Sévère, vol. 2 (Paris, 1899) 69, 394-400.

[3] “Chronik,” 48-53, 59-61. Most recent historians have largely agreed with Bernays on this point, at least with respect to those portions of frag. 2 they do not consider to have been redacted. See esp., Jones, Titus, 55, 55 n. 69; also, Zvi Yavetz, “Reflections on Titus and Josephus,” Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 16, no. 4 (1975) 416-8 passim; Lavertujon, Chronique, 394-400; Barnes, “Fragments,” 226-7; and Momigliano, “Jacob Bernays,” 167.

[4] Historiae: Kenneth Wellesley, ed., Historiarum libri, vol. 2, pt. 1, Cornelii Taciti libri qui supersunt (Leipzig: B. G. Teubner, 1989); H. Heubner, ed., Historiarum libri, vol. 2, pt. 1, P.Cornelii Taciti libri qui supersunt (Stuttgart: B. G. Teubner, 1978); E. Koestermann, ed., Historiarum libri, vol. 2, pt. 1 of P. Cornelii Taciti libri qui supersunt (Leipzig: B. G. Teubner, 1969); Rudolf Till, ed., Cornelius Tacitus Historiarum libri, Heidelberger Texte, Lateinische Reihe, vol. 33 (Heidelberg: F. H. Kerle, 1963); Caesar Giarratano, ed., Cornelii Taciti Historiarum libri (Rome: Reale Officina Poligrafica, 1939); C. D. Fisher, ed., Cornelii Taciti Historiarum libri (1911; repr., Oxford: Clarendon, 1967); G. Andresen, ed., P. Cornelii Taciti libri qui supersunt, 5th ed., vol. 2 (Leipzig: B. G. Teubner, 1914); C. Halm, ed., Historiae et libri minores, vol. 2, Cornelii Taciti libri qui supersunt, 4th ed. (Leipzig: B. G. Teubner, 1901), etc. See also Clifford H. Moore, trans., Tacitus: The Histories, vol. 2, Loeb Classical Library (1931) and additional bibliography in Wellesley, Historiarum libri, xi-xx.

Chronica: Ghislaine de Senneville-Grave, ed., Sulpice Sévère, Chroniques, SC, no. 441 (Paris: Cerf, 1999) 41, 294-5, 429; Lavertujon, Chronique, 69, 394, 398; and Halm, Sulpicii Severi libri, 85.

For additional discussion, see Barnes, “Fragments,” 224.

[5] “Jacob Bernays,” 167.

[6] See particularly Montefiore, “Council of War,” 156-70, esp. 164 (citing other sources); van Andel, Chronicle, 33-4, 43-8, 51-2; and Lewy, Jewish Hellenism, 190-4.

[7] “Rebellion within the Empire,” CAH 10.862 n. 1.

[8] Montefiore, “Council of War,” 162-3.

[9] Bernays, “Chronik,” 59. See also A. Gerber and A. Greef, Lexicon Taciteum (1877-1903; repr., Hildesheim: Olds, 1962) 2.1327-9 and Clarence W. Mendell, Sentence Connection in Tacitus (New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press, 1911) 133-5: “Certe, nimirum, quippe, scilicet, serve rather the purpose of italics in English: they emphasize the word with which they are used and in so doing bring out strongly some contrast which is already present without the addition of the adverb. Further than this, they regularly mark the clause in which they stand as explanatory in some way of a statement, either uncertain or unusual, in the preceding sentence … quippe [has] a serious tone … Quippe is used more frequently by Tacitus and in more various ways than the other similar adverbs … ”

[10] Barnes, “Fragments,” 227 n. 13.

[11] Bernays, “Chronik,” 58; also, 57 n. 75 (on plenius as non-Severean).

[12] The similarity between frag. 2 and Isa 11.1 is even more striking in the LXX, Targum, Syriac, and the Vulgate, as against the MT. See John D. W. Watts, Isaiah 1-33 (WBC 24; Waco, Word, 1985) 168 n. 1. With regard to the Vulgate, however, see n. 19 below.

[13] It is not necessary to assume Titus’ generals were religious scholars in order to believe they could have known something about the origin of their enemy’s name. In addition, the Roman generals had a large staff, including military intelligence units, to delegate such research to.

[14] Cf. the parallel use of netser to mean “[royal] descendants” in Dan 11.7.

[15] Roger Gryson, ed., Esaias, vol. 12, pt. 1, fasc. 6 of Vetus Latina: Die Reste der Altlateinischen Bibel (Freiburg: Herder, 1991) 410.

[16] H. H. Schaeder, “NazwraîoV, NazarhnóV,” TDNT 4.879; also, Fausto Parente, “NazarhnóV – NazwraîoV: An Unsolved Riddle in the Synoptic Tradition,” Scripta Classica Israelica 15 (1996) 185-201, esp. 192.

[17] There may be 30 if we consider that Notseri may have two distinct meanings (see below). However, both of these, as far as we know, translated into Latin as the same word, “Christianus”–which makes the difference in their Semitic meanings statistically unimportant, as will be seen.

[18] The author wishes to express his gratitude for a review of the mathematics and attendant logic in this paper to Robert T. Gorman, Ph.D. (statistics), Blue Hen Consultants, Elkton, MD (former assistant professor, Department of Mathematical Sciences,UniversityofDelaware).

[19] Nor would Jerome’s Isa 11.1 (Vg) from the Hebrew Bible or the Old Latin translations of Isa 11.1 that we know of today have helped Severus’ readership (or Severus) identify stirps in frag. 2 as a quote from Isa 11.1. These translations into Latin consistently rendered netser from Isa 11.1 as flos (Gryson, Esaias, vol. 12, pt. 1, fasc. 5 of Vetus Latina [1990] 339) which, unlike stirps, meant neither “branch” nor “descendants” but “flower.”

[20] See, e.g., S. Wagner, “Neser,” TDOT 9.549-51 and Ray A. Pritz, Nazarene Jewish Christianity (Jerusalem: Magnes Press; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1988) 14 n. 14; also, James D. G. Dunn, Romans 9-16 (WBC 38B; Dallas, Word, 1988) 659-60.

[21] Cf. also the Talmud’s more direct application of netser from Isa 11.1 to the Nazoreans. b. Sanh. 43a (MS Munich).

[22] It is well known that in his Historiarum adversum Paganos libri septem (ca. 418) the Christian writer Paulus Orosius, for instance, had access to and made use of these now lost portions of the Historiae. Barnes, “Fragments,” 224, 227-8 passim; and Bernays, “Chronik,” 55, 58 n. 77.

[23] See, e.g., C. Zangemeister, ed., Pauli Orosii Historiarum adversum Paganos libri VII: Accedit eiusdem liber apologeticus, CSEL, vol. 5 (1882; repr.,New York: Johnson Reprint, 1966) 460 n. While there is a remote possibility that Orosius and Severus could have independently arrived at similar-sounding language at the same point in their narratives, this is extremely unlikely. Cf. Barnes, “Fragments,” 228.

[24] Cf. the parallel construction describing the adherents to one of Josephus’ “four philosophies,” the Tseduqim or Saddoukaioi (Sadducees) of Bell. 2.119, 164, 166, Ant. 13.171, 173, 293, 296-8, 18.11, 16, 20.199, and Vita 10; see also b. Sanh. 33b, b. Yoma 19b, 53a, etc. The Tseduqim appear to have been the followers of David and Solomon’s priest Tsadoq and his descendants (2 Sam 8.17, 1 Kings 2.35, Ezek 44.15, etc.). See generally, R. Meyer, “Saddoukaioi ,” TDNT 7.35-54; and EncJud, s.v. “Sadducees.”

[25] Note, too, the parallel construction to Netsarim, used in this second sense, of other similar denominative nouns such as Yehudim, YiÌre’eli (2 Sam 17.25 [MT]), etc. GKC § 86.2.5.

[26] Justin Dial. 86; Tertullian Apol. 3.5; Ad nat. 1.3; Adv. Prax. 28; Lactantius Inst. 4.7.4; and Elias J. Bickerman, “The Name of Christians,” HTR 42 (1949) 109-24, esp. 119 (repr., Studies in Jewish and Christian History, vol. 3 [Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1986] 139-51): “… ‘Christus’ is, of course, a literal … rendering of the Hebrew Mashiah (Aramaic: Meshiah), meaning ‘Anointed’ … ” See, e.g., Ps 2.2, 2 Sam 22.51, etc.

[27] Ann. 15.44. “The formation of such a name from ‘Christus’ is in accordance with late Latin usage (cp. ‘Augustiani’ [Ann.] 14.15,8, ‘Tertullianus,’ etc.) … ,” Henry Furneaux, ed., Cornelii Taciti: Annalium ab excessu Divi Augusti libri [The Annals of Tacitus], vol. 2 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1891) 528. Cf. esp. the parallel “Caesariani”: C. Spicq, “Ce que signifie le titre de chrétien,” Studia Theologica 15, no. 1 (1961) 68-78, esp. 74-5. See also Harold B. Mattingly, “The Origin of the Name Christiani,” JTS, n.s., 9 (1958) 26-37; J. le Coultre, “De l’étymologie du mot «chrétien»,” Revue de Théologie et de Philosophie 40 (1907), 188-96, esp. 188-90; Bickerman, “Name of Christians,” 109-24; and Henry J. Cadbury, “Names for Christians and Christianity in Acts,” in F. J. Foakes Jackson and Kirsopp Lake, eds., The Beginnings of Christianity. Part I: The Acts of the Apostles, vol. 5 (1933; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1979) 375-92, esp. 383-6. Pauline Christians would arguably have been regarded as the followers of the resurrected ó: Baruch Lifshitz, “L’origine du nom des chrétiens,” VC 16 (1962) 65-70.

[28] Pliny Ep. 10.96-97; Ignatius Rom. 3.2; Martyrdom of Polycarp 10.1, etc.

[29] Gerber and Greef, Lexicon Taciteum, 2.1547-8.


 

Severus Is Not Quoting Tacitus: A Rebuttal to Eric Laupot (2006)

Posted in Historicity on July 1, 2012 by vahagnakanch

Richard Carrier

In “Tacitus’ Fragment 2: The Anti-Roman Movement of the Christiani and the Nazoreans,” (see below)a paper that was originally published in Vigiliae Christianae (54.3, 2000: pp. 233-47), Eric Laupot argues that a passage in Sulpicius Severus actually comes from the lost section of the Histories by Tacitus, and is therefore a very early testimony to first century Christianity. In particular, he claims it proves that the original “Christians” represented a major Jewish rebel movement (almost completely unrelated to the Christians of the New Testament) that participated in the War of 66-70 A.D. and used theTemple as its base of operations. However, Laupot’s arguments are multiply flawed, and no such conclusion is warranted. The following rebuttal is by no means comprehensive (many more problems could be cited), but aims to summarize the main points that are fatal to Laupot’s argument.

The passage in question reads (in my own translation):

It is reported that Titus had first deliberated, in a council called up for the purpose, whether he should destroy a Templeof such workmanship. For it seemed improper to some that a sacred shrine, famous beyond everything mortal, should be destroyed, a shrine which could serve as a testimony to Roman moderation, but if torn down would provide a continual evidence of their cruelty. But, on the other hand, others, even Titus himself, argued the Templehad to be torn down above all things, so the religion of the Jews and Christians could be swept away even more completely. For these religions, although hostile to each other, nevertheless arose from the very same authors. The Christians appeared from among the Jews, so with the foundation torn away, the offspring will easily pass away. And so by the will of God, once everyone’s mind was inspired to the task, the Templewas destroyed.

Fertur Titus adhibito consilio prius deliberasse, an templum tanti operis everteret. Etenim nonnullis videbatur, aedem sacratam ultra omnia mortalia illustrem non oportere deleri, quae servata modestiae Romanae testimonium, diruta perennem crudelitatis notam praeberet. At contra alii et Titus ipse evertendum in primis templum censebant, quo plenius Iudaeorum et Christianorum religio tolleretur: quippe has religiones, licet contrarias sibi, isdem tamen ab auctoribus profectas. Christianos ex Iudaeis extitisse: radice sublata stirpem facile perituram. Ita Dei nutu accensis omnium animis templum dirutum.

(Sulpicius Severus Chronica 2.30.6-8)

The key words here reveal that Laupot is stretching the evidence even from the beginning. The word radix often refers to the foundations of physical structures, and it is a physical structure whose destruction is being contemplated. And by Laupot’s own admission, stirps routinely means descendants (as well as root, plant, or stem), not just branch, and it is the common descendants of the shared originators (auctores, “founders”) whose destruction is being sought. Therefore, my translation actually fits the context better than his. And yet when we see it in this light, there is no obvious link to Isaiah at all–the same words could readily be inspired by the context even for an author who knew nothing of Isaiah. But since Laupot’s argument requires such a connection, it is clear his entire argument rests on a very thin thread of supposition.

But even if we buy into that supposition, Laupot’s argument remains weak, and this is what I shall argue below. Note that Laupot’s case for the origin of the Christian appellation “Nazareans” from Isaiah 11:1 is well argued and may be correct. However, the rest of his argument suffers from a fundamental flaw: failing to rule out plausible alternative hypotheses. Besides the hypothesis above (that the phrase was simply an obvious logical way to articulate the thinking of Titus), there are at least two others that Laupot also does not consider or argue against: (1) that the original passage (whether from Tacitus or anyone else) referred to the Zealots, and a later Christian redactor simply swapped “Christian” for “Zealot,” or, much more probably, (2) that the passage was entirely written or redacted by a 4th-century Judeo-Christian author. We shall discuss each of these in turn.

Zealots Rather than Christians

The fact that the Christians called themselves Nazareans (or were called that by others) does not entail the Jewish root word netser only ever applied to their movement, nor does the use of netser entail an allusion to a proper name, since such a word (and the corresponding passage from Isaiah) could be used to refer to any “branch” of Judaism–especially any branch that had Davidic messianic expectations. And Christianity was certainly not the only such faction among the Jews.

In fact, such a metaphor and reference is more probable if the original text said “Zealots” and not “Christians,” and therefore Laupot’s thesis is less probable than the Zealot thesis. This is because the content of the passage in question makes absolutely no sense as a reference to any Christians we know from any source. All other sources know only of Christians who were an anti-Temple movement even as early as the prewar letters of Paul, for whom destroying the Temple would have had no effect at all. This was surely known to anyone in Titus’ staff who knew enough to grasp the linguistic and Biblical nuances required by Laupot’s argument. If anyone understood Christianity that well, they could not have been so ignorant as to think destroying theTemple would do any good.

Laupot might insist that the anti-Temple structure of Christian theology (which at every level used Jesus to supplant the Templecult as obsolete) was a late development, but he would then have to argue that all the epistles are postwar forgeries, which is surely an incredible thesis. He would also have to argue that Acts is almost entirely fiction. Yet this is the only way his theory could ever hope to attain even a modicum of probability–unless, of course, he insisted that Pauline Christianity developed in parallel to the “rebel movement” even before the war. But for such a “rebel” faction of Christianity there is absolutely no evidence, not even in the letters of Paul, and there is no evidence the Romans ever encountered such a thing.

Indeed, the very Histories of Tacitus all but proves this: we still have the first half of book 5 directly from Tacitus, which covers the Jewish War all the way up to the battle for Jerusalem (where the text cuts off in the middle of his detailed account of the siege), and yet never once are Christians mentioned as a force the Romans had to contend with or were worried about. Tacitus devotes his first ten chapters of book 5 to detailing the history and geography of Judaea as faced by the legions of Titus. No Christians. In chapter 12 he discusses the importance of the Temple and the fact that two factions of the Jews were attacking each other for control of the Temple and Jerusalem–the factions of Eleazar and John. This is exactly what is reported by Josephus, who also records that Eleazar was the leader of the Zealots and at the time using the Temple as their base of operations (Jewish War 4.216-29). Laupot’s thesis requires Tacitus to have believed the Christians were using the Temple as a base of operations, and while his passage from Severus mentions two factions “hostile to each other,” here Tacitus mentions two such factions, one of which is definitely the Zealots, but neither of which is Christian. Nor even in what survives on the siege of Jerusalem (Histories 2.14-26) is any mention made of Christians. So it would seem next to impossible that Tacitus ever thought or wrote that Christians were a military force vexingRome by using theTemple as their base of operations. But he did know the Zealots were.

In contrast, it is only Paul whom Acts tells us went to Rome for an audience with Nero, and the correspondence between Pliny and Trajan (Letters 10.96-97) shows no awareness of any “rebel” movement. Yet this exchange took place shortly before Tacitus wrote the Annals (in which Tacitus describes Christianity in 15.44), when Tacitus was governing a neighboring province to Pliny, his good friend and regular correspondent–which means Pliny is the most probable source of information for Tacitus’ knowledge of Christianity. Conversely, if Tacitus knew of a rebel Christian movement that even Titus wanted crushed, he surely would have told his friend about it. Yet, again, Pliny shows no awareness of any such threat, and even the emperor Trajan himself explicitly tells Pliny not to make any special effort to crush the Christian movement. Therefore, Laupot’s thesis utterly fails to fit the surrounding evidence, and lacks any evidence in its support.

However, the passage Laupot argues from makes perfect sense if it originally named the Zealots instead of the Christians. As Laupot himself explains, his thesis requires that the “Christians” in this passage constituted a group that aimed to use the Temple as a military base of operations for restoring Israel’s liberty (and hence God’s promised monarchy). But that describes the Zealots, not any Christians we know from any source. And the Zealots were also an offshoot of the Jews with Davidic messianic expectations (as a faction of the Essenes per Hippolytus Refutation of All Heresies 9.26.2), just as the Christians probably were (per Sid Green, “From Which Religious Sect Did Jesus Emerge?“). Furthermore, the Zealot movement was obsessively Temple-focused (per Josephus, Jewish War 4 & 5).

Destroying the Templewould indeed be essential to stamping out the Zealot ideology, and that, too, would be obvious to any informed advisor–indeed, it would be obvious even to Titus himself. And so we have it from an actual eyewitness: Josephus blames the war on the Zealots, gives a completely different account of the reasons the Templewas destroyed, and makes no mention of any participation of Christians in the war, nor any deliberation about Christians by Titus. All of this is so even though Josephus was with Titus for the whole relevant part of the war (Jewish War 6, esp. § 236-61) and thus would have been present at the debate Laupot alleges to have taken place there. Josephus may even have been the very advisor who summoned the allusion to Isaiah in describing the Zealots as a “branch” of theTempleJews seeking to restoreIsrael to its divinely-promised freedom. That Josephus places the Zealots in the conceptual place of the Christians here–as the only offshoot of Judaism he records that needed to be crushed by the Romans, and that could only be crushed by destroying the Temple–provides strong evidence for the Zealot thesis, evidence Laupot’s thesis completely lacks. And the Zealot thesis fits all other surrounding evidence in exactly the way Laupot’s thesis does not.

Later redactors could easily have changed Zealotes to Christiani without changing the style of the passage at all, thus escaping every tool Laupot claims to have for excluding imitators or redactors. Josephus certainly describes the Zealots actually fighting with the Jews (with both military actions and regular assassinations)–even Tacitus himself reports this–and so the two would indeed be called “hostile” to each other. And since everything in Laupot’s argument applies equally well to Zealots (they, too, were a branch of Judaism that probably had the Davidic messianic expectations of theTemple cult “root”), this would appear to be a considerably stronger thesis than his. And it agrees with most scholars, as Laupot himself observes, who believe the passage has been subject to Christian redaction.

Laupot claims that Severus would not perpetrate or accept a redacted “forgery” like this, but this argument makes no sense at all. Severus does not name the passage’s author. In fact, he never even claims to be quoting anyone. He merely says “it was reported” that Titus said and did all that. Therefore, there could be no claim of forgery or doctoring from his peers. Only after some 19th century scholar “assumed” the passage came from Tacitus did even the question of forgery or redaction arise. Of course, it is possible that Tacitus himself, typically poorly informed about the Jews, actually mistook the Zealots for the Christians–for the very same reasons that Laupot proposes (and both the Zealots and the Christians appear to have been Essene movements). But then we would expect some mention of their role in the upcoming war in Annals 15.44. It is more likely, especially if everything else Laupot argues is correct (e.g. if this passage came from Tacitus or any early author), it originally said “Zealots” and not “Christians.” Laupot cannot prove otherwise.

Late Source Rather than Tacitus

But more probable than even that is the theory that this passage in Severus does not come from Tacitus at all, but rather some 4th-century Judeo-Christian author, or Severus himself. Many Christian authors had the required skill set. Jerome, for example, was an ample master of Hebrew and the Old Testament, and he was not the only one. Therefore, any number of authors in the 4th century could have written the passage exactly as Laupot argues, complete with the pun on netser and the paraphrase of Isaiah and the root-branch metaphor.

There are several reasons this is the most probable theory. First of all, there is no indication the passage even is a quote. Severus only says “Titus is reported to have deliberated…” He never mentions Tacitus as his source, and we know Severus must have used sources other than Tacitus in the same work. Moreover, the manner of expression (“Titus is reported to have deliberated”) and non-Tacitean vocabulary (the repeated use of religio) suggests Severus is speaking in his own voice, not someone else’s.

There is in fact no good case for Tacitean authorship. The passage in question is much too brief to confirm its authorship by any stylistic analysis accepted by 20th-century scholars. Of course, even if Tacitean, most scholars agree the material has been tampered with, and even Laupot admits to this when he notes that Tacitus would never use the word religio. But there is no reason to believe it originated with Tacitus anyway: none of the words or phrases are peculiar to Tacitus (even the ones Laupot calls attention to are routinely found throughout Latin literature), and the grammar is actually un-Tacitean in my professional opinion. Having passed an advanced course on Tacitean style, I must say this passage does not look like Tacitus. It is too wordy. Tacitus is infamous for his amazingly tight and concise style. And in that very vein, the passage lacks the most trademark of Tacitean characteristics: frequent use of the ablative absolute to form entire sentences.

But the final blow is the fact that a contemporary of Severus, Paulus Orosius, records a very similar story in completely different words. Comparing the two, it is undeniable that Severus and Orosius are drawing from a common source (or from each other). Yet Orosius makes no mention of “destroying the Christians” as a reason for destroying theTemplevoiced by Titus or anyone else. Instead, Orosius says:

After seizing the Temple, which he nevertheless admired because of its workmanship and antiquity, Titus deliberated for a long time whether to set on fire this inspiration of the enemy, or spare it as a testimony to his victory. But since the Churchof Godhad already grown very fruitfully throughout the whole world, this temple was essentially vain and pointless, and suitable for no good use to anyone, so by the will of God it had to be destroyed. And so, once the emperor was pronounced by the army, Titus burned the Templein Jerusalem.

Quod tamen postquam in potestatem redactum opere atque antiquitate suspexit, diu deliberavit, utrum tamquam incitamentum hostium incenderet, an in testimonium victoriae reservaret. Sed Ecclesia Dei jam per totum orbem uberrime germinante, hoc tamquam effetum ac vacuum, nullique usui bono commodum, arbitrio Dei auferendum fuit. Itaque Titus imperator ab exercitu pronuntiatus, templum in Hierosolymis incendit.

(History Against the Pagans 7.9.4-6)

Orosius therefore says nothing about Titus knowing anything about Christians, and does not say what reason Titus himself gave for deciding to destroy the Temple–except that it was an “incitement to the enemy” (which certainly would not have been true for any Christians we know). What Orosius says instead is that God didn’t need the Templeany more and so it was God’s will that it be destroyed. God let Titus destroy it.

That Orosius gives a completely different account than Severus, while both clearly employed a common source, is a serious problem for Laupot. We can only be sure the material that is shared by two authors quoting or paraphrasing a common source actually originated from that source. And this rule is fatal for Laupot. For Severus completes his story in almost exactly the same way as Orosius: “and so, at the pleasure of God … the Temple was destroyed” (Chronica 2.30.8), “and so, by the will of God, the Temple had to be destroyed” (History Against the Pagans 7.9.6). This confirms the common source theory–yet clearly this source could not have been Tacitus! Tacitus would not have included this element of the story (that the Temple was destroyed because of the will of God), for Tacitus is well noted for excluding divine causation from his historical accounts. Even if Tacitus, unknown to us, once dared to credit gods with moving historical events, he would never have said God’s reason was the fact that Christianity was now large enough to make the Temple obsolete. Indeed, that is exactly the opposite of what Laupot’s thesis requires Tacitus to have said. Instead, only a Christian apologist could ever have contrived such a notion. So it would seem quite obvious that whatever source Severus and Orosius share would have a Christian author.

As far as I can see, this destroys Laupot’s case. For now we have a different, and far more probable theory of how this passage came to be written, even assuming everything Laupot says about the netser connection and the Isaiah paraphrase is true (statistics and all). For it would seem quite certain that some 4th-century Christian author wrote the original passage (possibly, though not necessarily, drawing loosely on Tacitus), and Orosius and Severus are both relying on that author. Their shared source attributed the event to divine causation, which Tacitus would never do–but a 4th-century Christian author certainly would, especially since the alleged purpose of God carries a pro-Christian slant. And a 4th-century Christian author could have all the knowledge and skills to produce the passage even as Laupot theorizes, and argues for statistically. Therefore, it is far more probable that the passage comes from a 4th-century Christian author, and not from Tacitus.

It is also possible that Severus is the origin of the material that Laupot insists could not be his. Suppose for a moment that Orosius was more faithful to their source. On this assumption, it would follow that Severus simply inferred that the growth of the church was the reason Titus went ahead and burned theTemple, from the fact that his source (shared by Orosius) said the size of the Church made theTemple obsolete. After all, Orosius knows nothing of such an inference about Titus, and though both share the same source, only Severus inserts this material–which even seems to say the exact opposite of what Orosius says (that destroying theTemple was harmless, rather than a threat, to the Christian Church).

And this is where Laupot’s probability argument derails: Laupot assumes there was no other possible cause of the correspondence, and therefore the only thesis other than his own is pure “accident.” But that does not follow. We’ve already seen another possible cause in the Zealot theory, as well as the simple fact that destroying a “base” to cut off a “descendant” of Judaism is simply an obvious way to articulate such an inference. Both of these theories actually carry greater probability than Laupot’s.

Even assuming Severus crafted the passage, Laupot’s arguments against this still don’t hold up. Severus certainly knew the Bible well enough to be able to paraphrase Isaiah. And the entire “root and branch” metaphor could easily have been inspired by the language used by Orosius (or his source)–that the Church “germinated” and no longer needed the temple from which it came–or by the simple fact that removing a “foundation” to destroy its “descendants” is an obvious turn of phrase, even without Isaiah in mind. Either way, no knowledge of Hebrew was required in order to contrive a root-and-branch metaphor or a “foundation-and-descendant” argument, whether from Isaiah or on one’s own.

Supposing Laupot is right that radix and stirps were meant agriculturally (and as we have seen, there is no strong reason to suppose this), agricultural metaphors are quite common throughout ancient literature. Antiquity was an agriculture-based civilization, and everyone was more familiar with agricultural concepts than any others. Such metaphors would be most readily understood by the most people, and therefore authors would, and did, favor them. Severus certainly believed Christians were in fact a “branch” that sprouted from the “root” of Judaism. He also believed that Christianity derived from, but branched away from, theTemple cult. From Orosius we find that their shared source probably already used an agricultural metaphor (germination) and believed theTemple was no longer necessary–which implies that it once had been, and constituted Christianity’s root. And Severus could certainly have believed that Titus would not have known this, but would have instead seen the size of the Christian Church as a menace, rather than a boon.

It is not at all improbable that Severus would have put all these pieces together and inferred that Titus destroyed the Temple to fulfill God’s will because he believed destroying the Temple would sever Christianity’s “root” (by destroying its radix, “base”) and thus kill the “branch” (the stirpes, “descendants”). This assumption could surely evoke the Isaiah passage as a stylistic source of the metaphor–though it didn’t have to, since Temple foundations and physical descendants already inspired the metaphor on their own (especially the very words radix and stirps). That this also happened to be the same connection made in the 1st century by or about the Christians in forming their original name would then be a coincidence–but not a coincidence born of pure random chance, as Laupot thinks (and his statistical argument requires). Rather, it would be a coincidence born of the fact that both inferences were made in the same way, from the same core assumptions, in much the same way that the wheel was simultaneously invented by several cultures–not because of blind chance, but because the same thinking was set to the task of solving the same problem.

So I think ordinary authorial creativity could have lead to the colorful (but fictional) embellishment that Severus added to the story, even if Severus knew nothing of the netser connection that Laupot sees. This certainly seems more probable than that Orosius would consciously exclude so crucial a point, as well as so clever a turn of phrase, in his own account of the same story, even though he clearly used the same source as Severus. But even if someone should disagree with me about this, it still follows that a 4th-century Christian author with knowledge of Hebrew and Christian tradition, comparable to that possessed by Jerome (hence conforming to all the requirements set by Laupot himself for crafting the passage) is the most probable source. This is even more probable than the theory that Tacitus (or someone comparably early) originally wrote about Zealots rather than Christians, and yet even that theory is more probable than Laupot’s. Therefore, there is no reason to believe the passage in question ever came from Tacitus, or if it did, that it originally mentioned Christians.


Tacitus’ Fragment 2: The Anti-Roman Movement
of the Christiani and the Nazoreans (2000)

Eric Laupot

UniversityofAlabama,Tuscaloosa


ABSTRACT

There is little consensus as to the historical nature of the sect identified by Tacitus in Annales 15.44 as the Christiani. Nor is there any firm consensus on the authenticity and historicity of all of that fragment known as Tacitus’ fragment 2 (= Sulpicius Severus Chronica 2.30.6-7), whose references to “Christiani” are widely suspected of being later Christian interpolations. Much of this fragment is thought, nevertheless, to be from the lost portion of the fifth book of Tacitus’ Historiae.

A solution can be found to both of these problems by adducing from fragment 2 new evidence indicating that this fragment indeed represents a primary historical source. This new evidence takes the form of the discovery of a significant statistical relationship among the following three words: (1) The metaphor stirps (branch, descendants) used to describe the Christiani in fragment 2, (2) and (3) NazwraîoV and NazarhnóV (Nazorean), describing the New Testament sect associated with the Cristianoì of Acts 11.26. The connecting link among, as well as the common source for, the three words listed above appears to be the Hebrew netser (branch, descendants–apparently influenced by Isa 11.1), which both translates into stirps and transliterates into NazwraîoV/NazarhnóV. It is mathematically extremely unlikely that this link with netser represents a random coincidence. Also, it appears that a later Christian redactor of fragment 2 or his target audience would not have known of this connection. Because of this and other contextual explanations, the possibility is largely eliminated that fragment 2 could have been significantly redacted by a later Christian. We are thus left with the substantial probability that this fragment constitutes a primary historical source, most likely via Tacitus. In turn this source supplies us with a probable solution to the problem of the Christiani’s identity by depicting them in fragment 2 as being major participants in the first Jewish revolt againstRome in 66-73 CE.


In the well-known section of Annales 15.44, Tacitus refers unmistakably to “Christiani.” We shall presently take a fresh look at another passage thought to be at least partly Tacitean and which also mentions a sect called “Christiani.” In so doing, this will demonstrate how much historical data can be successfully concealed in one brief passage. As will be seen, when it comes to these “Christiani,” things are not at all as they have seemed. The second passage in question is commonly known as Tacitus’ fragment 2, much of which is generally considered to have once been part of the now lost portion of the fifth book of Tacitus’ Historiae. Fragment 2 was preserved by the Christian historian Sulpicius Severus in his Chronica 2.30.6-7 (ca. 400-403 CE).

This fragment will enable us to demonstrate who the Christiani really were, and, as we shall see, they were not Christians. Here as elsewhere in this paper I am using “Christians” (as opposed to “Christiani”), “Christianity,and “the Church”to refer to the Pauline version only.

The present study demonstrates that frag. 2 is a primary historical source that in all probability correctly identifies frag. 2’s “Christiani” as the Latin name for a group of major participants in the first Jewish revolt against Rome of 66-73 CE. In addition, we shall see that the Hebrew name for at least a portion, if not all, of this group was probably “Netsarim” (Nazoreans).

Let us now turn to frag. 2 and see why it shows the Christiani to have been major opponents of the Romans. This fragment gives the details of the debate within a high-level military council of war called by the Roman army commander Titus just prior to the destruction of the Second Temple by the Romans in Jerusalem in 70, near the end of the first Jewish revolt against Rome. The debate was over whether or not the Roman army should destroy the Temple. For our purposes here, the last half of frag. 2 (= Severus’ Chronica 2.30.7) is the most relevant because it specifically mentions “Christiani”:

(2.30.6) It is reported that Titus first deliberated, by summoning a council of war, as to whether to destroy aTempleof such workmanship. For it seemed proper to some that a consecrated Temple, distinguished above all that is human, should not be destroyed, as it would serve as a witness to Roman moderation; whereas its destruction would represent a perpetual brand of cruelty.

(2.30.7) But others, on the contrary, disagreed–including Titus himself. They argued that the destruction of the Templewas a number one priority in order to destroy completely the religion [per Severus. Tacitus or another classical author would have used the word superstitio (alien religious belief). Compare Hist. 5.8 and Ann. 15.44 (exitiabilis superstitio)] of the Jews and the Christiani: For although these religions [i.e., superstitiones] are conflicting, they nevertheless developed from the same origins. The Christiani arose from the Jews: With the root removed, the branch [stirps] is easily killed.[1]

The discovery that the Christian historian Severus took most of frag. 2 from a now-lost portion of Tacitus’ Historiae was first made in 1861 when Jacob Bernays published his seminal study[2] demonstrating that the fragment is reasonably Tacitean in style. He also showed it is apparently fairly accurate historically,[3] as against Josephus’ parallel account of the same council of war in Bell. 6.236-243, which Bernays termed a whitewash of Titus. Bernays’ finding that frag. 2 is for the most part Tacitean has been generally accepted by the editors of the various critical editions of the Historiae and the Chronica.[4] Momigliano sums up the consensus by stating there is no question Severus depended, at least in part, on Tacitus: “Sulpicius Severus uses Tacitus elsewhere, and this particular passage shows traces of Tacitean style under the early fifth-century veneer. It is therefore reasonable to conclude with Bernays that Sulpicius Severus depended on Tacitus. His conjecture has indeed been generally accepted.”[5]

Nevertheless, a number of writers have expressed the opinion that the last half of frag. 2 with its references to “Christiani” represents in large part a “Christianizing” redaction by either Sulpicius Severus himself or some other later Christian.[6] Momigliano remarks, “This passage has undergone Christian modification, but this modification affects only the reasons for Titus’ decision and not the decision itself.”[7] However, the proponents of this theory (see note 6 above) demonstrate only that Severus had a motive to Christianize this passage and that he might have done so, not that he did. Another hypothesis[8] holds that Sulpicius or a later redactor may have interpolated an actual historical account of Titus’ council of war from a non-Tacitean but classical eyewitness source such as Marcus Antonius Iulianus. In that case though, as Momigliano observes in “Jacob Bernays” (167), the net effect would be simply to replace “the name of Tacitus as the source of Sulpicius by the name of the man who was probably the source of Tacitus, Antonius Iulianus: no gain and greater obscurity.”

In any event, however, a straightforward reading of the last half of frag. 2 supports the view that the Romans considered destroying the Templein an attempt to cripple Judaism and eliminate the base of operations of a group known as “Christiani.” If we accept frag. 2 as a primary historical source (and as we shall presently see, this course of action is logically justifiable), there can be no doubt that the Christiani were a Jewish group who, along with those referred to as “the Jews,” were major participants in the first Jewish revolt against Rome. These Christiani are also distinguished in frag. 2 from those who were presumably, from the Roman perspective at least, more normative Jews: the Christiani and “the Jews,” though on the same side against the Romans, are depicted as having religious beliefs that are conflicting. According to frag. 2 then the Christiani were major participants in the war and Titus burned the Temple primarily to destroy them by crippling Judaism–thus destroying the Christiani’s base of operations inIsrael.

This point of view in frag. 2 is consistent with the other extant references by classical Roman historians to “Christiani” of the Second Temple period. We may note Tacitus’ description in Annales 15.44 of the “Christiani’ssuperstitio as dangerous (exitiabilis), sinister (atrocia), an evil (malum), etc. and Suetonius’ portrayal of the “Christiani” in Nero 16.2 as following a “new and dangerous [malefica] superstitio.”

There are a number of arguments that demonstrate frag. 2 to be a primary historical source. The first of these points was made by Bernays and others; the rest are new to this study. This paper will focus on the more relevant portion of the fragment, the second half. Here then is the criticism, primarily literary/statistical, in favor of the classification of frag. 2 as a primary historical source:

1. The second half of frag. 2, like the first, is reasonably Tacitean in style. This is particularly true with respect to (A) quippe used instead of nam before the expression of explanatory and contrasting opinions in a subordinate sentence,[9] (B) the use of the typically Tacitean at contra,[10] and (C) the fact that everything else in the last half of this fragment other than the Severean word religio appears either Tacitean or in any event not non-Tacitean.[11]

2. The clear impression given in frag. 2 of the “Christiani” as opponents of the Romans is even more strongly reinforced by something Bernays did not mention. There can be little doubt the Roman general staff under Titus is portrayed in the final part of frag. 2 (“… they nevertheless developed from the same origins. The Christiani arose from the Jews: With the root removed, the branch [stirps] is easily killed”; see note 1 above) as quoting from Isa 11.1 in describing frag. 2’s “Christiani” by using the Latin word stirps (branch, descendants), one of whose Hebrew equivalents from Isa 11.1 (Heb./Aram., netser) just happens to transliterate into the two names (NazwraîoV and NazarhnóV [i.e., “Nazorean”]) in the Greek New Testament for what would have been, to Severus or any other later Christian redactor, virtually the same sect as “Christiani.” As will be shown, the odds of this being a random coincidence are so remote (along with the likelihood Severus or his readers would even have been aware of this connection) that as a result we may virtually eliminate Severus as the primary source for most of the last half of frag 2.

As will be shown more clearly, frag. 2’s “Christiani” are portrayed, after Isa 11.1, as a “branch” of Jesse–father of David–growing out of Jesse’s Jewish “roots” (radix).[12] This is exactly how we would expect a Jewish resistance movement to be described and is entirely consistent, as we have seen, with the manifest content of frag. 2.[13]

Stirps would have been a good choice in frag. 2 with which to translate netser from Isa 11.1 since each of these substantives meant both “branch” and “descendants” (in this case, presumably, of David).[14] For instance, stirps was used by Jerome to translate netser in Isa 14.19 (Vg).[15]

The branch metaphor in frag. 2, stirps, is one of relatively few Latin words with a Hebrew equivalent (netser) that can be transliterated into “NazwraîoV” (Matt 2.23, 26.71, Luke 18.37, John 18.5, 7, 19.19, Acts 2.22, 3.6, 4.10, 6.14, 22.8, 24.5, 26.9) and “NazarhnóV” (Mark 1.24, 10.47, 14.67, 16.6, Luke 4.34, 24.19)–two words describing the sect that is associated also with the New Testament’s “Christiani” (“Cristianoí”: Acts 11.26). The first three Semitic consonants of netser can be transliterated into the first three Greek consonants of either NazwraîoV or NazarhnóV.[16] It is almost impossible this is a coincidence since there are altogether relatively few words we know of today that might have been used as substantives in Hebrew or Aramaic in first-century Israel and could also have been transliterated this way into NazwraîoV or NazarhnóV – and netser (= stirps) just happens to be one of them. I am including only substantives here since the metaphor actually used in frag. 2 was couched in terms of a noun (stirps).

These few Semitic words (from biblical Hebrew, Jewish Palestinian Aramaic, and Talmudic Aramaic [the latter included for reasons given below]) containing only the consonants N-TS-R or N-Z-R are listed as follows, together with all their known meanings: (1) From the Hebrew, by root (see Brown-Driver-Briggs Hebrew and English Lexicon; also James H. Charlesworth, Graphic Concordance to the Dead Sea Scrolls [Tübingen: J. C. B Mohr (Paul Siebeck), 1991]): nezer (crown; a priest’s miter [Lev 8.9]; [a woman’s] hair; a consecration [Lev 21.12]; a Nazirite’s consecrated hair [Num 6.19]; a separation [Num 6. 8, 12, 13]), nazir (one consecrated or crowned [e.g., a prince, ruler, etc.]; a Nazirite; an untrimmed vine [like the Nazarite’s untrimmed hair–see Lev 25.5, 11]), natsar (one who watches; the preserved [of Israel–see Isa 49.6]); a secret thing [Isa 48.6]; a secret place [Isa 65.4]; the besieged [Ezek 6.12]; a besieger [Jer 4.16]; those observing [Torah: Ps 119.2, Prov 28.17]; one tending [a fig tree–Prov 27.18]; one who is crafty [Prov 7.10]), and netser (branch; shoot; descendants). (2) From the Aramaic (see Marcus Jastrow, Dictionary of the Targumim, the Talmud Babli and Yerushalmi, and the Midrashic Literature [1903; repr., New York: Pardes, 1950]; also Michael Sokoloff, A Dictionary of Jewish Palestinian Aramaic of the Byzantine Period [Ramat-Gan, Israel: Bar Ilan Univ. Press, 1990]): Notseri (a Christian or Nazorean [= Lat., Christianus; see note 17 below]), nezirah (a nobleman; a Nazarite’s vow), Nezirah (a man’s name [Gen Rab. 12.6, etc.]), natsir (a fetus), netser (a cricket; willow), and nitsrah (a wicker basket).

I have eliminated Semitic meanings that are duplicative. For the statistical reasons, see below. There are thus a total of only 29 distinct meanings of Semitic words that could have been transliterated into either “NazwraîoV ” or “NazarhnóV.”[17]

The odds of this verbal relationship among stirps, netser, and NazwraîoV/NazarhnóV being a coincidence can be calculated mathematically roughly as follows: Working backwards from the Greek “NazwraîoV” and “NazarhnóV” (the end results of the putative transliterations), we have already noted above the 29 different meanings of the only Semitic words this author is aware of that could conceivably have been transliterated into the two Greek words in question. If we then make the very generous assumption that for each of the 29 Semitic meanings there were as many as 10 nouns in Latin which could originally have expressed each meaning, we arrive at a total figure of 290 (= 29 x 10) Latin nouns that could originally have been used to express these 29 Semitic meanings by the Roman general staff (or a later redactor of frag. 2). Thus, in theory any one of these 290 Latin nouns could have been chosen randomly as a metaphor for the Christiani by the Romans or a later redactor and still given us Semitic translations that could ultimately have been transliterated into NazwraîoV and NazarhnóV. We are assuming here for the sake of argument that the Romans or a later redactor picked their “Christiani” metaphor completely at random–and not with any preexisting knowledge of the Christiani’s Semitic name, if any. All we have to do at this point then is divide 290 by the total number of nouns in the Latin language to obtain the probability of the Romans or anyone else having randomly arrived at a metaphor which happened to correctly transliterate ultimately into the two Greek names for the sect the New Testament also associates with the “Christiani” of Acts.

To simplify this calculation and at the same time ensure reasonable accuracy, we shall eliminate from consideration all Latin proper nouns, since these refer mainly to people and places outside of Israel and it is most unlikely the Christiani would have chosen their Semitic name, if any, from such a list (for the effect of this on our calculation, see below). Therefore, we shall consider only Latin common nouns. An estimate based on a representative sampling of common nouns from the Oxford Latin Dictionary (1982) indicates there were approximately 18,000 common nouns in Latin. This gives us, therefore, an estimated probability of randomness in this case of 290 divided by 18,000, or 1.61%. Subtracting this fraction from 100% to obtain a probability of non-randomness gives us 98.39%.

It is quite possible, of course, that some first-century Semitic words and meanings that are unknown to us today have been inadvertently omitted from this analysis. In the present author’s opinion, however, this particular problem has been more than adequately compensated for by the very generous use of 10 Latin common nouns for every Semitic meaning as well as the inclusion of Semitic words and meanings from Talmudic Aramaic. In addition, the failure to consider the use of metaphors or similes involving Latin proper nouns (see above) may also understate the probability of non-randomness–by drastically limiting the total number of Latin words under consideration to just 18,000.

In any event, the overall results indicate a probability of non-randomness well within the range of statistical significance (i.e., > 95%). Q.E.D.[18] We may also note that the apparent presence in frag. 2 of a paraphrase of Isa 11.1 (one of only four passages in the Hebrew Bible containing the rarely-used word netser [the other three being Isa 14.19, 60.21, and Dan 11.7]) provides further confirmation of this high probability of non-randomness.

There is a statistical relationship here that is almost certainly not random. This virtually eliminates Severus or another later Christian as the source for this material since a later Christian redactor almost certainly could not have arrived at the choice of stirps simply by accident, as we have seen. Nor probably would Severus (or another later Christian) even have known anything of this verbal relationship. Furthermore, had he known, writing about it in such an utterly oblique way would have been pointless; his readers would not for the most part have understood the connection. This can be inferred by the absence of references to it in Christian and other literature.[19]

Thus, by process of elimination we are almost certainly left with a classical source, probably Tacitus (see above at note 4), for frag. 2, demonstrating that frag. 2 is in all likelihood a primary historical source. In addition, since frag. 2 is probably Tacitean, its Christiani can now probably be identified with the Christiani of Tacitus’ Annales 15.44.

3. Moreover, in Rom 11.16-24 Paul seems to derive from the Hodayot of the Dead Sea

Scrolls (1QH 14[6].14-17, 15[7].18-19, 16[8].4-11) a root-branch metaphor that originally compared the Qumran community to a tree or planting established by God. All three of these passages from the Hodayot employ netser and thus all were apparently influenced in turn by the parallel Isa 60.21 (one of only four passages in the Hebrew Bible to contain netser), and perhaps Isa 11.1 as well.[20] In Romans Paul deliberately reapplies this metaphor to the Christian community. We can infer Paul’s selection of the word “branch” (kladoV) in Rom 11.16-24 was deliberate for the same statistical reasons we were able to infer the Roman general staff in frag. 2 did not just choose their branch metaphor at random either: For the mathematical reasons mentioned above, the odds are overwhelmingly against any random selection by anyone of a branch metaphor for the Nazoreans and, to a somewhat lesser extent, for any other group such as the early Christians who were reportedly linked to them.[21] This principle applies equally well to any direct description of a Nazorean leader such as Jesus as a descendant (= netser) or “branch” of David as, for instance, by Paul in Rom 1.3. We can thus infer that in Rom 1.3 Paul was consciously following Isa 11.1–in part, moreover, because the word netser appears rarely in the Hebrew Bible and only once in connection with David (Isa 11.1), so there can be little doubt under the circumstances as to what exactly Paul was referring to. Compare also the numerous other examples of “son of David” applied to Jesus in the New Testament in one form or another: Matt 1.1-17, 15.22, 20.30-31, 21.9, 15, Mark 10.47-48, Luke 2.4, 3.31, Acts 13.22-23, Rom 15.12, Rev 3.7, 5.5, 22.16, etc. We may note also in Justin Apol. 32 and Dial. 86-87 the portrayal of Jesus as fulfilling the prophecy in Isa 11.1. These parallel phenomena indicate the existence of an important tradition involving a convergence of opinions (including frag. 2’s) connecting the Nazoreans with Isa 11.1.

4. To the extent that Severus or any other later Christian may have redacted the second half of frag. 2 by Christianizing it, he would have had to mimic successfully Tacitus’ style and vocabulary. This would have had to be done with sufficient expertise to deceive both people in his own time who were fluent in Latin and future generations of scholars (see note 4 above). But in so doing, the redactor would have risked exposure by his contemporaries because the complete Historiae were still extant during the early fifth century.[22] If Severus had simply introduced such interpolations in his own style into, say, the secondpart of the fragment–without making a hopeless attempt to pass them off as Tacitus’–his credibility would not have suffered; but this was not done. Therefore, frag. 2 as we have it today could probably not have been significantly redacted by Severus or any other later Christian since in so doing the redactor would have been exposed by his contemporaries, including his peers in the Church.

For this reason it is almost equally unlikely that Severus would have, had he possessed any caution at all, (1) inadvertently or subconsciously copied Tacitus’ style in the second part of frag. 2 or (2) consciously attempted to interpolate just one or two of the passage’s key words–such as “Christiani”–while leaving the others relatively undisturbed. Furthermore, any such hypothetical interpolations of “Christiani” into frag. 2 would almost certainly had to have been made before 418 CE when the entire fifth book of Tacitus’ Historiae was still available (see note 22 above). This follows from the fact that in his parallel account of Titus’ destruction of the Temple in Hist. adv. Pag. 7.9.4-6 (ca. 418) Paulus Orosius almost certainly emulated but Christianized the wording of the last half of frag. 2 by changing “Christiani” to “Ecclesia Dei” and “stirps” to “germinante.”[23] Assuming therefore a Christian interpolation of the word “Christiani”into frag. 2, then by 418 Orosius was almost certainly aware of it.

Having largely ruled out Severus or another Christian as the source for the last half of frag. 2, let us note that the classical author of this fragment, presumably Tacitus, was a historian or eyewitness observer who was in all likelihood accurately quoting the majority opinion of the Roman general staff; an opinion in this case involving a description of the Christiani as a “branch” that exactly matches the opinion of all the various authors of the canonical Gospels writing in Greek, and which is therefore almost certainly not a random coincidence. We have a number of sources who appear to have had the same very particular idea about the Christiani as a “branch.Since it is obvious that the Roman generals during the first Jewish revolt did not get their ideas from the Gospels and since it is also unlikely that the authors of the Gospels would have turned primarily to historical accounts of the Roman generals for subtle suggestions as to what to call the Nazoreans, then it is clear all parties must have derived their information on netser from a common source. This source must have been a very reliable one, or the Roman general staff would not have used it in any form at their high-level meeting. Surely the Romans would have known the proper names of their enemies. The alternative would be too fantastic. Ultimately, this reliable common source could only have been the Christiani’s actual Semitic name, derived from netser. This name in Hebrew would have been, presumably, “Netsarim” (i.e., î_ or Nazoreans), that is to say, “followers of the branch (= descendant[s]) of David.”[24]

It may also be noted that in Isa 60.21 (see above) the branch (netser) God plants represents the righteous of Israel. Thus, the name “Netsarim” would most likely have carried the additional meaning in Hebrew (a meaning presumably grasped and perhaps even implied in frag. 2 by the Roman high command) describing those who belonged to this “big branch,” i.e., the Christiani (see also Lewy, Jewish Hellenism, 192).[25]

As to what else the Roman general staff might have meant by their root-branch metaphor in frag. 2, Lewy provides several examples in Jewish Hellenism (192-3) of the words stirpitus, radicitus, and exstirpare used to describe the uprooting of foreign religions by the Romans. However, to the best knowledge of this author, the explicit use of a root-and-branch metaphor in its entirety is to be found nowhere else in classical literature other than in frag. 2 and is otherwise unique to the Judeo-Christian tradition. This provides additional evidence that the Roman general staff’s precise choice of metaphor in frag. 2 was influenced by the Jewish culture in which they found themselves and in particular, as has been demonstrated by the statistical inferences above, by the distinctive Semitic name and identity of their opponents.

As we have seen, a straightforward reading of the last half of frag. 2 supports the view that the Romans considered destroying the Templein an attempt to cripple Judaism and eliminate the base of operations of a Jewish group they called “Christiani.” The Christiani must have been major participants in the revolt against Rome in order to have had the Roman general staff focus on them and destroy the Temple. The razing of the Temple could only have been justified by Titus’ council of war, with its keen eye on history and public opinion, if this action would have undermined Rome’s main opponents in Israel. The destruction of the Temple can also be seen in this light as an extension of the tortures inflicted on the Christiani six years earlier by Nero in Rome, as described by Tacitus in Ann. 15.44.

This construction of frag. 2 also harmonizes with the meaning of the name “Christiani” given in Ann. 15.44 as describing the ideological supporters of a certain Christus, executed several decades earlier by Pontius Pilate in Judea. The name “Christus” refers presumably to “the anointed one [of God],” i.e., the king of Israel.[26] Tacitus describes Christus as “the source for the [Christiani’s] name” (auctor nominis eius).[27] Thus, the meaning of “Christiani” in Latin parallels the first definition of “Netsarim” given above, as referring to the followers of Isa 11.1’s royal branch of David. The extant evidence suggests, however, that after the overwhelming defeat of Israel and the Jewish resistance in the 70’s the name “Christiani” was used largely to designate Pauline Christians,[28] who had presumably stepped into the historical vacuum left by the decimation of the earlier Jewish Christiani.

We are now in a position to adduce some additional evidence demonstrating that stirps (= netser) in frag. 2 leads us to Isa 11.1: (1) Isa 11.1 is the one primary reference in ancient Jewish literature to use netser in a way most consistent with both the warlike context and the root-branch metaphor in frag. 2. Compare the three other uses of netser in the Hebrew Bible: Isa 14.19, 60.21, and Dan 11.7. (2) It is quite likely that a Jewish group as Temple-based as the Christiani would have received their Semitic name from the Hebrew Bible. (3) On 17 of the 18 occasions in which Tacitus uses stirps elsewhere in his works he refers to descendants or descent, particularly royal or noble.[29] All told, we are led to consider Isa 11.1 as an almost certain basis for the root-and-branch metaphor underlying the last part of frag. 2.

The Christiani’s Judaism most likely included, as may be deduced in part from their founder’s title of Christus, a messianic/royalist component. Tacitus reports in Ann. 15.44 that their teachings had spread as far as Rome: exitiabilis superstitio rursum erumpebat … per urbem etiam (“… the dangerous superstitio broke out again … throughout Rome also”). It was the Empire’s opposition to the Christiani’s teachings that explains Titus’ proposal in frag. 2 to destroy not only the Christiani themselves (the “branch” of Judaism) but the Temple that in his view sustained their belief in monotheism and their anti-Romanism. The Romans felt that as long as the Temple stood those who stood against Rome were assured of a rallying point (Josephus Bell. 6.239).

In conclusion, out of all the myriads of different metaphors utilizing substantives which anyone, whether Roman general or later Christian redactor, could have employed to describe the Christiani in frag. 2, the branch metaphor just happens to match up, via netser, with (1) the identical sounding Greek words for “Nazorean” in the New Testament for what would have been virtually the same sect as “Christiani” to a Christian redactor and (2) what appears strongly therefore to be a parody of Isa 11.1, implicitly containing netser, embedded in frag. 2. This entire correlation is further confirmed by a consistent tradition in other sources (Rom 1.3, Justin Dial. 86-87, b. Sanh. 43a, etc.) linking the Nazoreans to Isa 11.1. Since under the given circumstances the odds that all these phenomena are a coincidence are extraordinarily low, it is clear that frag. 2 is too highly detailed to have been substantially redacted by a later Christian. It thus represents almost certainly a primary historical source, probably via Tacitus, portraying the Christiani as a major Jewish group acting in opposition toRome and in defense ofIsrael.

Notes

[1] fertur Titus adhibito consilio prius deliberasse, an templum tanti operis everteret. etenim nonnullis videbatur, aedem sacratam ultra omnia mortalia illustrem non oportere deleri, quae servata modestiae Romanae testimonium, diruta perennem crudelitatis notam praeberet. at contra alii et Titus ipse evertendum in primis templum censebant, quo plenius Iudaeorum et Christianorum religio tolleretur: quippe has religiones, licet contrarias sibi, isdem tamen ab® auctoribus profectas; Christianos ex Iudaeis extitisse: radice sublata stirpem facile perituram. C. Halm, ed., Sulpicii Severi libri qui supersunt, CSEL, vol. 1 (Vienna, 1866). Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are my own.

[2] “Über die Chronik des Sulpicius Severus,” in Jahresbericht des jüdisch-theologischen Seminars Fraenckelscher Stiftung” (Breslau, 1861) 1-72, esp. 48-53, 57-61, reprinted in Jacob Bernays, Über die Chronik des Sulpicius Severus: Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte der classischen und biblischen Studien (Berlin, 1861; repr., Berlin, 1862) and also in H. Usener, ed., Gesammelte Abhandlungen von Jacob Bernays (1885; repr., Hildesheim: Olms, 1971) 2.81-200, esp. 159-67, 174-81. The publishing history is derived in part from Jean Bollack, “Un homme d’un autre monde,” in John Glucker and André Laks, eds., Jacob Bernays: Un philologue juif, Cahiers de philologie, série Apparat critique, vol. 16(Villeneuve d’Ascq, France: Presses Universitaires du Septentrion, 1996) 168 n. 111. All references to page numbers in Bernays are from the originalBreslau edition.

For more recent commentary on frag. 2, see Brian W. Jones, The Emperor Titus (New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1984) 54-5; Yochanan H. Lewy [Johanan Hans Levy], Studies in Jewish Hellenism (Jerusalem: Bialik Institute, 1960) 190-4 [Hebrew]; T. D. Barnes, “The Fragments of Tacitus’ Histories,” Classical Philology 72, no. 3 (1977) 224-31; G. K. van Andel, The Christian Concept of History in the Chronicle of Sulpicius Severus (Amsterdam: Adolf M. Hakkert, 1976) 33-4, 43-8, 51-2; Hugh Montefiore, “Sulpicius Severus and Titus’ Council of War,” Historia 11 (1962) 156-70; Arnaldo Momigliano, “Jacob Bernays,” Mededelingen der Koninklijke Nederlandse Akademie van Wetenschappen, afd. letterkunde, n.s., 32, no. 5 (1969) 151-78, esp. 167; Flaminio Ghizzoni, Sulpicio Severo (Rome: Bulzoni, 1983) 207-9; and André Lavertujon, La Chronique de Sulpice Sévère, vol. 2 (Paris, 1899) 69, 394-400.

[3] “Chronik,” 48-53, 59-61. Most recent historians have largely agreed with Bernays on this point, at least with respect to those portions of frag. 2 they do not consider to have been redacted. See esp., Jones, Titus, 55, 55 n. 69; also, Zvi Yavetz, “Reflections on Titus and Josephus,” Greek, Roman, and Byzantine Studies 16, no. 4 (1975) 416-8 passim; Lavertujon, Chronique, 394-400; Barnes, “Fragments,” 226-7; and Momigliano, “Jacob Bernays,” 167.

[4] Historiae: Kenneth Wellesley, ed., Historiarum libri, vol. 2, pt. 1, Cornelii Taciti libri qui supersunt (Leipzig: B. G. Teubner, 1989); H. Heubner, ed., Historiarum libri, vol. 2, pt. 1, P.Cornelii Taciti libri qui supersunt (Stuttgart: B. G. Teubner, 1978); E. Koestermann, ed., Historiarum libri, vol. 2, pt. 1 of P. Cornelii Taciti libri qui supersunt (Leipzig: B. G. Teubner, 1969); Rudolf Till, ed., Cornelius Tacitus Historiarum libri, Heidelberger Texte, Lateinische Reihe, vol. 33 (Heidelberg: F. H. Kerle, 1963); Caesar Giarratano, ed., Cornelii Taciti Historiarum libri (Rome: Reale Officina Poligrafica, 1939); C. D. Fisher, ed., Cornelii Taciti Historiarum libri (1911; repr., Oxford: Clarendon, 1967); G. Andresen, ed., P. Cornelii Taciti libri qui supersunt, 5th ed., vol. 2 (Leipzig: B. G. Teubner, 1914); C. Halm, ed., Historiae et libri minores, vol. 2, Cornelii Taciti libri qui supersunt, 4th ed. (Leipzig: B. G. Teubner, 1901), etc. See also Clifford H. Moore, trans., Tacitus: The Histories, vol. 2, Loeb Classical Library (1931) and additional bibliography in Wellesley, Historiarum libri, xi-xx.

Chronica: Ghislaine de Senneville-Grave, ed., Sulpice Sévère, Chroniques, SC, no. 441 (Paris: Cerf, 1999) 41, 294-5, 429; Lavertujon, Chronique, 69, 394, 398; and Halm, Sulpicii Severi libri, 85.

For additional discussion, see Barnes, “Fragments,” 224.

[5] “Jacob Bernays,” 167.

[6] See particularly Montefiore, “Council of War,” 156-70, esp. 164 (citing other sources); van Andel, Chronicle, 33-4, 43-8, 51-2; and Lewy, Jewish Hellenism, 190-4.

[7] “Rebellion within the Empire,” CAH 10.862 n. 1.

[8] Montefiore, “Council of War,” 162-3.

[9] Bernays, “Chronik,” 59. See also A. Gerber and A. Greef, Lexicon Taciteum (1877-1903; repr., Hildesheim: Olds, 1962) 2.1327-9 and Clarence W. Mendell, Sentence Connection in Tacitus (New Haven, CT: Yale Univ. Press, 1911) 133-5: “Certe, nimirum, quippe, scilicet, serve rather the purpose of italics in English: they emphasize the word with which they are used and in so doing bring out strongly some contrast which is already present without the addition of the adverb. Further than this, they regularly mark the clause in which they stand as explanatory in some way of a statement, either uncertain or unusual, in the preceding sentence … quippe [has] a serious tone … Quippe is used more frequently by Tacitus and in more various ways than the other similar adverbs … ”

[10] Barnes, “Fragments,” 227 n. 13.

[11] Bernays, “Chronik,” 58; also, 57 n. 75 (on plenius as non-Severean).

[12] The similarity between frag. 2 and Isa 11.1 is even more striking in the LXX, Targum, Syriac, and the Vulgate, as against the MT. See John D. W. Watts, Isaiah 1-33 (WBC 24; Waco, Word, 1985) 168 n. 1. With regard to the Vulgate, however, see n. 19 below.

[13] It is not necessary to assume Titus’ generals were religious scholars in order to believe they could have known something about the origin of their enemy’s name. In addition, the Roman generals had a large staff, including military intelligence units, to delegate such research to.

[14] Cf. the parallel use of netser to mean “[royal] descendants” in Dan 11.7.

[15] Roger Gryson, ed., Esaias, vol. 12, pt. 1, fasc. 6 of Vetus Latina: Die Reste der Altlateinischen Bibel (Freiburg: Herder, 1991) 410.

[16] H. H. Schaeder, “NazwraîoV, NazarhnóV,” TDNT 4.879; also, Fausto Parente, “NazarhnóV – NazwraîoV: An Unsolved Riddle in the Synoptic Tradition,” Scripta Classica Israelica 15 (1996) 185-201, esp. 192.

[17] There may be 30 if we consider that Notseri may have two distinct meanings (see below). However, both of these, as far as we know, translated into Latin as the same word, “Christianus”–which makes the difference in their Semitic meanings statistically unimportant, as will be seen.

[18] The author wishes to express his gratitude for a review of the mathematics and attendant logic in this paper to Robert T. Gorman, Ph.D. (statistics), Blue Hen Consultants, Elkton, MD (former assistant professor, Department of Mathematical Sciences,UniversityofDelaware).

[19] Nor would Jerome’s Isa 11.1 (Vg) from the Hebrew Bible or the Old Latin translations of Isa 11.1 that we know of today have helped Severus’ readership (or Severus) identify stirps in frag. 2 as a quote from Isa 11.1. These translations into Latin consistently rendered netser from Isa 11.1 as flos (Gryson, Esaias, vol. 12, pt. 1, fasc. 5 of Vetus Latina [1990] 339) which, unlike stirps, meant neither “branch” nor “descendants” but “flower.”

[20] See, e.g., S. Wagner, “Neser,” TDOT 9.549-51 and Ray A. Pritz, Nazarene Jewish Christianity (Jerusalem: Magnes Press; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1988) 14 n. 14; also, James D. G. Dunn, Romans 9-16 (WBC 38B; Dallas, Word, 1988) 659-60.

[21] Cf. also the Talmud’s more direct application of netser from Isa 11.1 to the Nazoreans. b. Sanh. 43a (MS Munich).

[22] It is well known that in his Historiarum adversum Paganos libri septem (ca. 418) the Christian writer Paulus Orosius, for instance, had access to and made use of these now lost portions of the Historiae. Barnes, “Fragments,” 224, 227-8 passim; and Bernays, “Chronik,” 55, 58 n. 77.

[23] See, e.g., C. Zangemeister, ed., Pauli Orosii Historiarum adversum Paganos libri VII: Accedit eiusdem liber apologeticus, CSEL, vol. 5 (1882; repr.,New York: Johnson Reprint, 1966) 460 n. While there is a remote possibility that Orosius and Severus could have independently arrived at similar-sounding language at the same point in their narratives, this is extremely unlikely. Cf. Barnes, “Fragments,” 228.

[24] Cf. the parallel construction describing the adherents to one of Josephus’ “four philosophies,” the Tseduqim or Saddoukaioi (Sadducees) of Bell. 2.119, 164, 166, Ant. 13.171, 173, 293, 296-8, 18.11, 16, 20.199, and Vita 10; see also b. Sanh. 33b, b. Yoma 19b, 53a, etc. The Tseduqim appear to have been the followers of David and Solomon’s priest Tsadoq and his descendants (2 Sam 8.17, 1 Kings 2.35, Ezek 44.15, etc.). See generally, R. Meyer, “Saddoukaioi ,” TDNT 7.35-54; and EncJud, s.v. “Sadducees.”

[25] Note, too, the parallel construction to Netsarim, used in this second sense, of other similar denominative nouns such as Yehudim, YiÌre’eli (2 Sam 17.25 [MT]), etc. GKC § 86.2.5.

[26] Justin Dial. 86; Tertullian Apol. 3.5; Ad nat. 1.3; Adv. Prax. 28; Lactantius Inst. 4.7.4; and Elias J. Bickerman, “The Name of Christians,” HTR 42 (1949) 109-24, esp. 119 (repr., Studies in Jewish and Christian History, vol. 3 [Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1986] 139-51): “… ‘Christus’ is, of course, a literal … rendering of the Hebrew Mashiah (Aramaic: Meshiah), meaning ‘Anointed’ … ” See, e.g., Ps 2.2, 2 Sam 22.51, etc.

[27] Ann. 15.44. “The formation of such a name from ‘Christus’ is in accordance with late Latin usage (cp. ‘Augustiani’ [Ann.] 14.15,8, ‘Tertullianus,’ etc.) … ,” Henry Furneaux, ed., Cornelii Taciti: Annalium ab excessu Divi Augusti libri [The Annals of Tacitus], vol. 2 (Oxford: Clarendon, 1891) 528. Cf. esp. the parallel “Caesariani”: C. Spicq, “Ce que signifie le titre de chrétien,” Studia Theologica 15, no. 1 (1961) 68-78, esp. 74-5. See also Harold B. Mattingly, “The Origin of the Name Christiani,” JTS, n.s., 9 (1958) 26-37; J. le Coultre, “De l’étymologie du mot «chrétien»,” Revue de Théologie et de Philosophie 40 (1907), 188-96, esp. 188-90; Bickerman, “Name of Christians,” 109-24; and Henry J. Cadbury, “Names for Christians and Christianity in Acts,” in F. J. Foakes Jackson and Kirsopp Lake, eds., The Beginnings of Christianity. Part I: The Acts of the Apostles, vol. 5 (1933; repr., Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1979) 375-92, esp. 383-6. Pauline Christians would arguably have been regarded as the followers of the resurrected ó: Baruch Lifshitz, “L’origine du nom des chrétiens,” VC 16 (1962) 65-70.

[28] Pliny Ep. 10.96-97; Ignatius Rom. 3.2; Martyrdom of Polycarp 10.1, etc.

[29] Gerber and Greef, Lexicon Taciteum, 2.1547-8.

Review of The Historical Figure of Jesus (2008)

Posted in Historicity on July 1, 2012 by vahagnakanch

Jacob Aliet

Introduction

New Testament scholars involved in historical Jesus research typically crown the years spent on it by presenting their personal reconstruction of the historical Jesus. Because of the way in which the Gospels were written, this effort involves painstaking separation of fact from myth. Though they have assiduously attempted to prevent their confessional interests[1] from intruding upon their research, their religious beliefs have doggedly militated against their best efforts, forcing them to question the objectivity of their own scholarship.[2]

Since the 18th century, biblical scholars have tried to use historical rather than religious methods to reconstruct a biography of a historical Jesus free from mythological elements. Albert Schweitzer called this endeavor a quest for the historical Jesus. The first quest was started by Hermann Samuel Reimarus and included William Wrede and Schweitzer himself, among others, and continued up to the 19th century. A second quest started in the 19th century and recognized that the New Testament texts had been redacted over time and that the Gospels were written decades after the death of the putative Jesus. The third quest started in the mid-19th century and used archaeology and extrabiblical texts to attempt to uncover a historical Jesus.

One of the notable figures in the third quest, J. D. Crossan, lamented that “historical Jesus research is becoming something of a scholarly bad joke,”[3] while his compatriot J. P. Meier, who believes that Jesus performed miracles and was resurrected, openly admits in an interview that “it is impossible to avoid the suspicion that historical Jesus research is a very safe place to do theology and call it history.”[4]

Lacking a reliable methodology and dogged by confessional interests, the result of their efforts has been a confusing profusion of divergent portraits of who the putative historical Jesus was,[5] a competitive affair that Peter Steinfel of the New York Times has named “the Jesus wars.”[6] It is in this backdrop that we review Professor Ed Parish Sanders’ The Historical Figure of Jesus (hereafter known as HFoJ). In HFoJ, Sanders presents the historical Jesus as a radical eschatological prophet,[7] a portrait that has increasingly gained acceptance among those that believe a historical Jesus existed, hence the need to scrutinize HFoJ.

Sanders retired in 2005 as Arts and Sciences Professor of Religion atDuke University,North Carolina, where he had been since 1990. He holds a Doctor of Theology degree from theUniversityofHelsinkiand a Theology degree from Union Seminary inNew York City. His specialty is Judaism and Christianity, and he has authored or coedited over a dozen books and taught in several universities.

Because Sanders avoids technical jargon in HFoJ and provides substantial introductory material before getting down to New Testament exegesis, one can infer that it is intended for laymen. But as a final product marking the end of Sanders’ intellectual trajectory in historical Jesus studies, and bracketing his perspective in the quest for the historical Jesus, it is of great interest to those interested in the origins of Christianity.

Brief Outline of The Historical Figure of Jesus

Sanders starts by outlining Jesus’ life and its political setting under Roman administration and the competing religious parties ofJudaea. He then examines Judaism and its effect on the sociopolitical setting of earlyPalestine. After that, he goes through a few extrabiblical sources that mention Jesus, and points out that Roman sources mentioning Jesus are dependent on Christian reports. He then explains problems with the primary sources (the Gospels), including the fact that they were written anonymously, that they contradict each other, and that they were redacted for theological interests. Then provides a discussion of the messianic hopes among the Jews, how miracles were viewed by the ancients, the comingKingdomofGod, and Jesus’ view of his role and his last week. The book ends with an appendix followed by notes, and an index of names and subjects.

Overall Impression of the Book

HFoJ is a useful resource, especially as an introduction to the view of Jesus as an eschatological prophet. The presentation of mainstream New Testament scholars’ understanding of how the Gospels were developed is informative from a form-critical point of view. Sanders’ description of the historical setting of ancientPalestine and the Roman mode of administration is also very edifying and easily digestible. On the whole, readers are acquainted with how to weigh the truth of New Testament claims, how to detect inventions by the authors, and how to separate theological redactions from preceding traditions.

If Sanders has a religious side, he doesn’t openly show it in the book and maintains a critical and objective tone throughout its 337 pages. At one point, though, a voice that seeks to assure Christian readers interrupts his scholarly tenor and declares that “there is good news”[8] because Christian scribes probably only rewrote Antiquities 18.63. This means that Josephus likely mentioned Jesus, which is good news for Christians seeking affirmation that a historical Jesus indeed existed.

Sanders wins over the critical reader by his open willingness to point out invented passages and by conceding his inability to extract historical information from certain passages–as opposed to contriving such information. However, after making such concessions he sometimes claws back what was conceded and proceeds with his reconstruction. In other instances, he gives up the search and says that it is impossible to reach a judgment about historicity when in fact it is apparent that the historicity of the events can be determined. We shall examine examples of these in this review. Considering the subtlety of this approach, it is no wonder that Sanders has won over many readers.

Sanders does not meaningfully engage other scholars and only fleetingly refutes the idea that Jesus was a reformer. By closing the door on other scholars’ works, he can indulge his chosen approach and pick and choose his sources without having to provide cogent explanations. Because of this, he writes as if there were no difficulties underlying some of his positions when difficulties exist that are not discernible to those unfamiliar with the field of New Testament scholarship.

One conceptual weakness is Sanders’ failure to question the existence of a historical Jesus. When he writes that he aims at “recovering the historical Jesus”[9] he treats Jesus’ historicity as an unstated premise, making no effort to establish that a historical Jesus indeed existed. If any scholar approached the documentary record with the aim of “recovering the historical Ebion,” they would likely be able to extract “a few basic facts about Ebion” paralleling Sanders’ “basic facts” about Jesus–yet it is quite probable that Ebion never existed.[10]

A Note on the Historical Jesus and Mythical Jesus

New Testament scholars generally respond to questions about the historicity of Jesus with derision. In recent years, however, some Biblical scholars have seriously questioned the existence of a historical Jesus. These include Robert Price in Incredible Shrinking Son of Man: How Reliable is the Gospel Tradition? (2003) and Thomas L. Thompson in The Messiah Myth (2005). Though not a New Testament scholar, Earl Doherty developed the Jesus myth hypothesis in The Jesus Puzzle (2001), which proposes that Paul (the first person to write about Jesus) believed that Jesus was an intermediary savior figure who died in an upper realm, and that this mythical Christ[11] was only later historicized in the Gospels.

Though mainstream New Testament scholars dismiss the Jesus myth hypothesis as a fringe theory, they have never demonstrated it to be false or invalid.[12] This neither confirms the Jesus myth hypothesis nor implies that it is irrefutable, but it does indicate that it is worth examining. In recent years, the validity of the question “Did Jesus exist?” has received serious attention.[13] Richard Carrier has examined the subject from a historical perspective and notes that trust and doubt are in balance over all of the existing evidence regarding the historical Jesus. In his review of The Jesus Puzzle, Carrier concludes that compared to the orthodox position, the Jesus myth hypothesis has greater explanatory power and “is a better explanation of this evidence–even if not decisively better.”[14]

Sanders relies on the canonical Gospels for his reconstruction of the historical Jesus without explaining why Paul does not speak of an earthly Jesus in his several letters[15]. Germane questions include: Why does Paul state in 1 Corinthians 2:6-8 that demons (arcontes) killed Jesus[16] and not that Pilate killed Jesus as narrated in the Gospels? Why does Philippians 2:8-11 say that a god humbled himself by taking the form of a man and dying and as a result was exalted by being named Jesus?[17] Why does Paul totally fail to mention historical markers like Pilate and Herod while speaking of Jesus? Why is the Pauline Christ devoid of earthly markers likeNazareth,Bethlehem andGalilee? Why is it that almost every unit in the first gospel can be traced back to the Old Testament? These are questions that the Jesus Myth Hypothesis can answer more meaningfully than the mainstream position.

Examining Sanders’ Approach

Sanders states that a historian is required to recognize the fact that the authors of the New Testament had theological convictions and must have redacted the Gospels to support their theology. In this backdrop, he suggests, a historian has a professional obligation to rigorously cross-examine the sources. The aim of the book, Sanders states, is to “lay out, as clearly as possible, what we can know [about Jesus], using the standard methods of historical research, and to distinguish this from inferences, labeling them clearly as such.”[18] As for a methodology for separating fact from fiction, Sanders points out that doing ancient history requires “common sense and a good feel for sources.”[19]

This review is basically an examination of how Sanders employs “common sense,” a “good feel for sources,” and standard methods of historical research to reconstruct the historical Jesus. We shall focus on how Sanders uses the Gospels to arrive at the year that Jesus was allegedly born, how Sanders determines that Jesus was a flesh-and blood man who had no divine pedigree, and how he handles abundant New Testament allusions and borrowings from the Old Testament. In examining the last point, we shall assess his treatment of the triumphal entry inJerusalemand the temple ruckus incident. It is hoped that this will illuminate the reliability of his methods, the limits of his approach, and his objectivity as a scholar.

Was Jesus Born c. 4 BCE?

Sanders begins his reconstruction by laying out Jesus’ life as described in the Gospels and listing ten statements about Jesus’ life that he says are almost beyond dispute. Before we examine these statements, note that Sanders is appealing to the scholarly consensus on these points. This is important because “the scholarly consensus” and “evidence” are not equivalent. Moreover, an appeal to the consensus of New Testament scholars might be reasonably expected from someone who is not himself an expert in New Testament studies; but as an expert himself, Sanders is in a position to say exactly why New Testament scholars regard these propositions as almost indisputable. What is the evidence compelling this consensus? Throughout the entire 337 pages, Sanders does not say. The lay reader might be forgiven for suspecting that the consensus reflects the common presuppositions of (almost entirely Christian) New Testament scholars, rather than what the historical evidence implies.

The first statement in his list is that “Jesus was born c. 4 BCE, near the time of the death of Herod the Great.”[20] Is this statement almost beyond dispute? Actually, on the next page Sanders notes that “The year of Jesus’ birth is not entirely certain,” adding that “some scholars prefer 5, 6 or even 7 BCE” a little further down.[21] Of course, if scholars have such a range of preference in years, one wonders how the claim that “Jesus was born c. 4 BCE” can be almost beyond dispute. Sanders argues that “the decisive fact is that Matthew dates Jesus’ birth at about the time Herod the Great died.”[22] But how does Sanders pick the correct date from the two conflicting dates in Luke? Sanders’ answer appears in the seventh chapter. We examine it below. But first, we must lay down some basic ideas.

Critical scholars, including Sanders, generally regard the birth narratives in Matthew 1:18-23 and Luke 2:1-20 as invented by the evangelists[23]. Sanders notes that the “two gospels have completely different and irreconcilable ways of moving Jesus and his family from one place to the other.”[24] He also questions the likelihood of Augustus (who Sanders regards as the most rational of all of the caesars until him) issuing a decree requiring people to register in their ancestral homes for tax purposes.[25]

Sanders finds several difficulties with Luke’s census. One is that Luke “dates it near Herod’s death (4 BCE) and also ten years later, when Quirinius was the legate of Syria (6 CE).”[26] Luke writes in Luke 2:1-2 that Jesus was born during a census that was held when Quirinius was governing Syria. And we know from the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus that this census took place in 6 CE[27], around ten years after Herod the Great had died. (Herod died in 4 BCE.) But at the same time, Luke 1:5 has the annunciation of the birth of John the Baptist “in the days of Herod” and Luke 1:36 states that Mary bore Jesus approximately 16 months after annunciation of the birth of John the Baptist, putting Jesus’ birth “no later than 3 BC.”[28] Yet Matthew 2:1-3 claims that Jesus was born while Herod the Great was still alive, probably two years before he died (Matthew 2:7-16). Thus Luke inconsistently dates the birth of Jesus at 6 CE and at 3 BCE, while Matthew dates Jesus’ birth near 4 BCE.

Another problem is that Rometook a census of people who lived in Judea Samaria and Idumaea; it did not take a census at Galilee, as Luke asserts. Moreover, there was no requirement for travel, as Sanders notes. Sanders suggests that the most likely explanation for all of these problems is that Luke or his source accidentally combined 4 BCE, the year of Herod’s death, with 6 CE, the year when Quirinius’ census took place.[29] After Luke or his source had ‘discovered’ that there was a census at the time of Herod, Sanders claims, he decided to elaborate the event to make it a reason for Joseph to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem.[30]

Sanders’ accidental combination argument is based on Roman historian Ronald Syme’s assertion that similarities between 4 BCE and 6 CE lead to confusion. And that assertion, in turn, is based on the fact that W. W. Tarn, “a well-known Hellenistic historian, once wrote that Herod died in 6 CE.”[31] Whether the inconsistent statements about the year of Jesus’ birth were due to a typo, a chronological error, or a genuine mix-up of the dates is not demonstrated in HFoJ. But Sanders treats the error as sufficient evidence of a phenomenon, and then proceeds to ascribe Luke’s error to that phenomenon. By ascribing this alleged error to Luke, Sanders opens the door for Matthew’s date, which is thereafter treated as the correct one. Such spurious methodology amounts to a means to fix a preference for one date over another on the basis of no evidence at all.

By attributing the discrepancy to some 4 BCE-6 CE dyslexia, Sanders is in effect maintaining that Luke probably knew the correct date of Jesus’ birth. The date mix-up can be conveniently explained away as selective dyslexia. Sanders’ harmonization of the dates in Luke and Matthew through such tenuous arguments is more akin to what one finds in biblical apologetics than in historical research. This is a serious indictment against Sanders’ scholarship.

That there are “similarities” between 4 BCE and 6 CE making these two years difficult to differentiate is a peculiar argument. Similar events may have taken place between those two years, like the different instances of rioting Sanders mentions (namely, those in Jerusalem that resulted in the death of James the Just, and later riots during Caligula’s reign). But he fails to show that common events between two particular dates which are ten years apart were sufficient to make these two years almost interchangeable. There is simply no credible evidence that selective dyslexia led Luke to mistake 4 BCE for 6 CE. Moreover, no evidence presented in HFoJ or elsewhere supports Sanders’ assertion that the dating of Jesus’ birth c. 4 BCE is almost beyond dispute.

Richard Carrier has extensively researched the date of the nativity in Luke. On the numerous attempts by conservative scholars and Biblical apologists to harmonize Luke and Matthew, he writes:

There is no way to rescue the Gospels of Matthew and Luke from contradicting each other on this one point of historical fact. The contradiction is plain and irrefutable, and stands as proof of the fallibility of the Bible, as well as the falsehood of at least one of the two New Testament accounts of the birth of Jesus.[32]

One of the most extensive works done on the infancy narratives, Raymond Brown’s The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, departs from Sanders’ attempt at fixing a Lukan date for the birth of Jesus. Brown suggests that there are three basic approaches for dealing with the date conflicts in Luke:

First, one may seek to reinterpret the Herod chronology of Luke 1 to agree with the Quirinius census dating (A. D. 6-7) of Luke 2. Second, one may seek to reinterpret the Quirinius census chronology of Luke 2 to agree with the Herod dating (4-3 B.C.) of Luke 1. Third, one may recognize that one or both of the Lukan datings are confused, and that there is neither a need nor a possibility of reconciling them. Basically, this appendix will come to the conclusion that the third approach is the most plausible.[33]

Against Sanders, Brown notes that 6 BCE is usually assigned for Jesus’ birth.[34]

Ironically, although Sanders admits that we don’t know who wrote the Gospels[35] and that the conflicting, irreconcilable narratives are clearly fabricated, he nonetheless goes out on a limb to date Jesus’ birth on the basis of accounts of the supposed event (the birth narratives) that he himself regards as invented. Clearly, this is nothing more than an attempt to contrive a presumably historical factoid (the year the putative Jesus was born) from ahistorical stories.

Sanders’ historical criticism[36] fails to recognize literary[37], tendenz[38], and redaction criticism. He states correctly that Matthew likely “derived elements of the birth narrative stories from stories about Moses”[39], and that both Luke and Matthew may have had no information regarding Jesus birth–and therefore resorted to “transferring” birth stories from the Old Testament into the Gospels. But then he simply sets these literary critical ideas aside and proceeds to extract “history” from the Gospels.

In the process, he encounters and sidesteps several difficulties, including the idea that there may have been no synagogues in pre-70 Galilee[40], and the idea that very little if anything was known about first-century Nazareth[41] and the etymological problems surrounding the derivation of the appellation “the Nazarene” from Nazareth.[42] To be fair, Sanders does mention that there are problems regarding the presence of pre-70 synagogues, but he barely addresses them. Instead, he offers a one-sided presentation on the matter. He maintains, in the face of gathering difficulties, that “Something of the real Jesus was certainly preserved”[43], and that, although the evangelists had theological views, “nevertheless the Gospels contain material that the theological views did not create.”[44]

These are statements of faith since they are not supported by evidence, and they betray that Sanders did not start his research with a blank slate. Instead, he presumes that the historical Jesus is the fountain that brought forth the Gospel narratives. This concept forms an axis around which all his ideas circulate, and his conceptual and interpretive framework are ineradicably grounded by this basic but unfounded belief. Whether a historical Jesus existed is not at issue for Sanders in HFoJ, but his model of representation and interpretation is caught up in a rhetoric of historicist assumptions and tropes that entirely control his logic. Alongside the alternative theory of a mythical Jesus, there is a question about what literary genre the Gospels can be grouped under which would influence what Sanders can and cannot derive from the Gospels.

Sanders does not even once consider the possibility that Mark may have written his gospel as faux history which was mistaken as actual history by Luke and the other evangelists. This is possible and perhaps probable because ancient literature had considerable plasticity, as reflected in the case of the Sesonchosis fragment.[45] Regarding faux history and historiography, George Orwell wrote that:

The scholarly historian and the undocumented novelist … are confronted with faux history as it is construed by power, as it is perverted for political purposes, as it is hammered into serviceable myth by those who take advantage of its plasticity. For “History,” of course, is not only an academic study. It is, at all times, in all places, hot. “Who controls the past controls the future.”[46]

Orwell’s words are germane to the Gospel of Mark and how it was appropriated later by Christians who were intent on developing a story about a historical Jesus.

Mark’s portrayal of the disciples as ignorant clods, his reversal of the expectations of the disciples (Markan irony), and the use of doublets[47], triptychs[48], and other literary devices, among other reasons (like deriving thematic units, speeches, and structure from the Old Testament almost entirely), dispel the idea that Mark was writing actual history. These are ideas that Sanders does not give due consideration, even as he charges that there must be some real history in the Gospels.

Reconciling the Virgin Birth and Genealogies

Luke and Matthew say that the Virgin Mary conceived when the Holy Spirit “came upon” her. This semidivine conception renders Jesus a god-man, a hybrid similar to the Greek god Dionysus, who was born of an earthly woman (Semele) but sired by a god (Zeus). Like other critical scholars, Sanders does not assign any historicity to the virgin birth narratives. However, we also find genealogies in Luke 3:23-38 and Matthew 1:1-17 that attempt to link Jesus to an earthly father, Joseph, who is also linked to King David. These genealogies contradict each other.

Luke traces Jesus back to the lineage of David’s son, Nathan, while Matthew traces Jesus back to David’s son, Solomon. In addition, Luke has 41 people between David and Jesus, while Matthew has only 26. Sanders does not highlight these contradictions. Below we shall examine how Sanders handles these genealogical accounts and the birth narratives of Jesus. But first, a brief overview of how these genealogies are regarded with respect to the birth narratives is warranted.

Generally, scholars view the virgin birth narratives as later redactions that were grafted on to the earlier stories about Jesus. These earlier stories were presumably written by Christians who believed that Jesus had a human father of a Davidic pedigree. The genealogies are thought to precede the birth narratives because the earliest traditions about Jesus arose from among Jewish communities that believed that the messiah would be a flesh-and-blood man like the Old Testament Joshua. These early traditions are more likely to have sought to confer a Davidic pedigree to Jesus, as opposed to virgin birth traditions which entailed ideas foreign to Jewish theological thought. In fact, the first Gospel (Mark) pointedly argues against Davidic lineage in Mark 12:35-37. We thus infer that Christians who wanted to present Jesus as a divine son of God later added the virgin birth narratives. Anybody with a basic understanding of form and redaction criticism can deduce this since these are two conflicting traditions.

But Sanders departs from other scholars[49] and asserts that Jesus was regarded as the “Son of God” only in the adoptionist sense[50], not in the sense of divine conception displayed when Zeus took the form of a duck and impregnated Leda to bring forth Helen and Polydeuces. He argues that “Son of God” designated one standing in a special relationship to God, and that early Christians did not view Jesus as a hybrid. Sanders writes:

Matthew and Luke, in their birth narratives, do sow the seeds of this view [that Jesus was a hybrid], but even these accounts do not systematically suppose that God directly sired Jesus, since the genealogies trace Jesus’ descent from David through Joseph.[51]

Sanders is trying to argue away two blatantly conflicting genealogies, first by faulting Matthew and Luke for sowing the seeds of hybridism, and then quickly vindicating them for nipping the problem that they had created in the bud. To exculpate the evangelists further, he states that “in any case, the birth narratives did not shape the early Christian conception of Jesus.”[52] The furthest that Sanders goes toward admitting that the early Christians sought to portray Jesus as a (semi)divine being is when he writes: “The only passage that might have a metaphysical meaning–Jesus was something other than merely human–is the question at the trial, since the high priest follows the question by shouting ‘blasphemy’ when Jesus does not deny the title.”[53] The rest of his efforts are expended on valiantly downplaying the import of the virgin birth narratives (which he reminds us would have been heresy in creedal terms) and emphasizing that “Son of God” had no metaphysical connotations.

Sanders’ argument that Matthew and Luke never meant to assign Jesus a metaphysical pedigree is not forthright and denies what is patently clear. It is a fact that the majority of Christians believe that Jesus was a hybrid as a direct result of the virgin birth narratives. At this point, Sanders is engaging in apologetics, not scholarship, and this is one of the lowest points in HFoJ. He focuses on one bit of the evidence and is wholly preoccupied with extracting an eschatological Jesus from the bricolage of myth and invention found in the genealogies and birth narratives.

Sanders’ Treatment on Old Testament Allusions in the New Testament

New Testament scholars generally agree that several passages in the Gospels were borrowed in whole or in part from the Old Testament, including narrative sequences and speeches. Commentators only differ in how they interpret these parallels. The interpretations can be grouped into five broad categories.

  1. Some regard parallels as evidence of creativity by the evangelists using the Old Testament. The use of the Old Testament to create stories was labeled prophecy historicized by John Dominic Crossan.[54] On this basis, some regard the entire Gospels as whole cloth inventions.[55]
  2. Some regard parallel passages as embellished history and assume that there is a historical core behind the Gospels generally and parallel passages specifically.[56]
  3. Still, others argue that such passages indicate that early Christians chose to recast actual contemporaneous events using the more prestigious history and language of the Old Testament, in part to make the Gospels more Jewish. This hypothetical process, termed scripturalization by Judith Newman[57], refers to the casting of events within the language and models of scripture.[58]
  4. Others believe that Jesus read the Old Testament and acted using the Jewish messianic expressions in the Old Testament as a script, and even uttered words and speeches in Psalms and other Old Testament books.[59]
  5. A mixture of (2), (3) and (4).

Sanders’ approach is a mixture of (4)[60] and (2).[61] We shall now examine how Sanders employs (4) to interpret New Testament passages.

It is generally agreed that some Jewish messianic claimants believed that they had the powers ascribed to Old Testament prophetic figures. For example, Josephus narrates in Antiquities of the Jews 20.5.1 that Theudas marched to the Jordan river believing that God would part it for him in the way he parted the Red Sea for Moses in Exodus. Josephus’ Antiquities 20.8.6 also narrates how “the Egyptian” stood on Olivet and issued a command, expecting the walls of Jerusalem to tumble down, the way the walls of Jericho did in Joshua 6 when Joshua blew a trumpet. “The Egyptian” also chose Olivet because Zechariah 14:4 says that that is where the Lord would stand and do battle. As such, the idea of people acting out Old Testament scenes is supported by examples in history.

There are two points to note concerning interpretation (4). First, where crowds act in a manner that is reminiscent of an Old Testament passage, the Josephan examples are not comparable because the crowds are not said to have messianic aspirations. Second, the Josephan examples only vaguely allude to Old Testament passages. Where accounts of New Testament events are clearly guided and structured by an Old Testament passage, this interpretation is inadequate as an explanation, particularly where there are New Testament statements that follow the exact order of words found in the Old Testament. In such cases, invention through literary borrowing is more plausible.

Sanders believes that, like other messianic claimants, Jesus sought to act out Old Testament prophecies.[62] Below we will examine how Sanders uses approaches (4) and (2) to judge the historicity of the temple ruckus incident in Mark 11, and the triumphal entry inJerusalem in the same chapter.

The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

Mark 11:1-11 narrates that Jesus entered Jerusalem on the back of a donkey with crowds welcoming him shouting ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!’ Sanders argues that Jesus’ ride into Jerusalem was a symbolic action meant to fulfill the prophecy in Zechariah 9:9, which talked of triumphal entry on the back of a donkey. Did this event actually take place as narrated in Mark? Sanders writes that he is unsure whether the prophecy created the event or vice versa, but adds that he inclines “to the view that it is Jesus himself who read the prophecy and decided to fulfill it.”[63] Sanders doubts that there would have been a “large” crowd to welcome Jesus, as Mark narrates, because the presence of a large crowd shouting “King” would have been highly inflammatory and would have drawn the reaction of the High Priest or the Roman prefect, who were alert for danger during Passover. His aporetic remarks notwithstanding, Sanders nonetheless suggests that “Jesus’ demonstration was quite modest”[64] and was a symbolic action for insiders “who had eyes to see.”[65]

Even a “modest demonstration” is unfounded because this triumphal entry is not attested by Paul, Josephus, or any other sources not dependent on Mark. Sanders’ assertion does not appeal to historical Jesus methodology or any of its associated complex of criteria, such as the dissimilarity criterion, embarrassment criterion, friend and foe criterion, coherence criterion, and so on. It is pure conjecture, comparable to a historian finding a statement like “Jesus walked on water” and thus concluding that “That is obviously an exaggeration. I suggest that he merely walked on the beach.” History is not done by revising unacceptable claims to make them acceptable. Historical claims require historical evidence; but Sanders has no evidence that there was a modest demonstration by Jesus, and is therefore not doing history when he makes that claim.

In addition, the fact that this event is “presaged” in Zechariah 9:9 impairs its historicity, suggesting instead that it is historicized prophecy. Even the location from which Jesus approaches Jerusalem, the mount of Olives, is presaged in Zechariah 14:4 as the place where the messiah would launch his mission.

First, a number of factoids render this event highly unlikely. For instance, as Robert Gundry notes in Mark: A Commentary on His Gospel (1993):

Though Mark does not tell the mileage to Jerusalem (it is about two miles), the paving of the road from a point farther away than Bethpage and Bethany makes for a “red carpet” the astoundingness of whose length magnifies the VIP [very important person] that Jesus is…. [T]he doubling of the pavement with straw as well as with garments[,] despite the fact that since Jesus is sitting on the colt instead of walking on foot he does not need any pavement at all[,] adds to the astoundingness of its length.[66]

Second, as Randel Helms points out in Gospel Fictions (1988), it would have been impossible for Jesus to ride smoothly on a colt that had never been ridden before. Third, the words uttered by the crowds, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” are pulled from Psalm 118:26. So unless the crowd, like Jesus, was engaged in the agenda of enacting symbolic acts, this speech is clearly fictionalized. Fourth, Jesus is portrayed as one who was coming toJerusalem for the first time. As such, the residents are not likely to have recognized him, and their spontaneous acts of lining along the road and spreading their garments require organized action and an anticipation by the crowds that is not mentioned in the Gospels. Fifth, it is also very unlikely that the sophisticated ruling elite inJerusalem, the capital city with its imperial authority, could make a red carpet using their own garments to an unknown peasant fromGalilee who could not speak or read Greek, riding on the back of a donkey.

One may object to this argument and assert that if they did this, they were certainly not the elite, but were likely pilgrims from Galilee who were in Jerusalemfor the Passover. This argument fails, though, because the evangelists, who were keen on portraying Jesus as endeared to the poor and the meek, would certainly have exploited that event to further distance the aristocrats and the rich from Jesus. The evangelists regularly pointed out the social status of the characters. And while doing so, they portrayed the poor and lowly as more favored and more inclined to be faithful; this spirit is best expressed in the beatitude that says “blessed are the meek.” Luke 6:20 says that the Kingdom of God is for the poor, and Luke 16:19-31 narrates about a poor Lazarus and a rich man with the latter being tortured in the afterlife. Mark 12:38-44 talks of a poor widow giving the smallest of coins who is presented as giving more than the rest. As such, the evangelists are not likely to have been silent on this point if it were indeed the case.

Together, all of these reasons combined leave us with no conceivable reason to assign historicity to Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem. Sanders’ scholarship at this point is patently at odds with critical scholarship, and fails to deal with or even acknowledge the considerable difficulties surrounding the historicity of the triumphal entry into Jerusalem. As we have seen, instead of dealing with the passage as it is, or confirming whether the event was attested by independent sources, Sanders instead seeks to redeem the event and make it more realistic–which would be fine if he had a basis for doing so. No external sources or methodology are provided. With an approach like this, one can successfully extract “history” from the parting of theRed Sea by Moses.

We shall now examine Sanders’ take on the temple ruckus incident that is narrated in Mark 11:15-19, which says that Jesus turned the tables of moneychangers and drove them out of theTemple.

The Temple Ruckus Incident

The temple ruckus incident, also known as the temple cleansing scene, refers to the passage in the Gospels where Jesus goes into the temple and throws the moneychangers out, overturning their tables and accusing them of turning the house of prayer into a den of robbers. Notably, Sanders admits that the account of this incident is more “difficult to interpret” than the triumphal entry into Jerusalem.[67] He discounts the possibility that Jesus uttered the words “house of prayer” and “den of robbers” in reference to the temple because those words were derived from Jeremiah 7:11 and Isaiah 56:7, respectively. He also doubts the historicity of Jesus’ statement that the temple was a “den of robbers” because there is no hint that the money and sacrifices offered in the temple were being misappropriated. Misappropriation is not the only avenue that could have attracted that accusation, however.[68] Sanders also deems it unlikely that Jesus was against the temple because first, Jesus paid his temple tax (Matthew 17:24-27), and second, that would have been tantamount to being against Judaism as a whole, as well as “an attack on the main unifying symbol of the Jewish people.”[69] Sanders relegates the incident to a possible flash of Jesus’ anger and discounts the possibility that it was part of Jesus’ mission.

He suggests that the “action of overturning symbolized destruction”[70] and argues that Mark 13:1, which has Jesus saying that none of the stones of the temple will be left upon another, is a prediction of the destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem. He vindicates the evangelists from the possible charge of writing the prophecy after the event by arguing that the prophecy and the event are not in perfect agreement, since the temple was destroyed by fire and not completely torn down. He surmises that “This prophecy, then, is probably pre-70, and it may be Jesus’ own.”[71] He argues that it is likely that Jesus threatened to destroy the temple because the evangelists are at pains to assure readers that Jesus did no such thing. Mark 14:57-59//Matthew 27:40 have Jesus claim that he would rebuild the temple, while Luke excludes the passage entirely. From these denials, Sanders concludes, like Gertrude in Shakespeare’s Hamlet (III, ii, 239), that “They protest too much. It is probable that he made some kind of threat.”[72]

Sanders conclusion is that Jesus’ demonstration at the temple and subsequent speech as he was leaving the temple constituted a prophetic threat. And for this, the high priest and Antipas wanted him dead because they feared that like John, he might cause trouble by inciting a riot.

The first thing to notice is that Sanders approaches the passage believing that an incident actually occurred. His ten-page vermiculations on this temple incident are geared towards arguing away the idea that Jesus was a reformer engaged in cleansing the temple, and instead presenting Jesus as an eschatological prophet. To facilitate this, he fuses together the “overturning” and Jesus’ speech outside the temple as a single, unified act, which he declares constituted a prophetic threat. Though he correctly denies the historicity of the words uttered in the incident, he is eager to interpret it as an action that constituted a prophetic threat apparently because that is consistent with his thesis that Jesus was an eschatological prophet. Thus, his main goal is to extract eschatological meanings in Jesus’ words and deeds, not to demonstrate that the events actually took place as narrated, or otherwise. This is not historical criticism but biased interpretation on top of the historicist assumption that Jesus existed. We shall now weigh the historicity of this temple incident.

One scholar who has doubted the authenticity of this temple incident is Paula Fredriksen, who writes in From Jesus to Christ that she learnt quite a bit about the temple from Sanders’ book Judaism: Practice and Belief (1992), including the temple’s measurements, which she describes as follows: “The total circumference of the outermost wall ran to almost 9/10ths of a mile; twelve soccer fields, including stands, could be fit in; when necessary (as during the pilgrimage festivals, especially Passover) it could accommodate as many as 400,000 worshipers.”[73]

When Fredriksen visited theTempleMount, she was aghast at how huge it was, and its size “shrank” Jesus’ alleged action, prompting her to ask herself:

If Jesus had made such a gesture, how many would have seen it? Those in his retinue and those standing immediately around him. But how many, in the congestion and confusion of that holiday crowd, could have seen what was happening even, say, twenty feet away? Fifty feet? The effect of Jesus’ gesture at eye-level would have been muffled, swallowed up by the sheer press of pilgrims. How worried, then, need the priests have been?[74]

Needless to say, her confidence in the historicity of the temple scene diminished as she contemplated these questions, and she states as much in the referenced article.

Had Jesus’ action been as disruptive as portrayed in the Gospels, the Roman soldiers would have arrested Jesus or forcefully restored order because, as Josephus intimates in Antiquities of the Jews 20.5.3 and Wars Of The Jews 2.12.1, the Romans always had soldiers on stand-by during Passover because riots were particularly likely then. The Roman administration also needed the taxes that the moneychangers and other traders paid, and they would not watch idly as the temple activities were disrupted by a lone man.

Though Sanders identifies the Old Testament sources of the speeches in the temple ruckus scene, he does not identify the sources of the structure and components of the temple ruckus narrative. One scholar who has attempted to do this is Geoffrey Troughton, who has identified the ‘intertextual echo’ between Mark 11:15-16, which states that Jesus ejected the moneychangers out of the temple, and Nehemiah 13:4-9, which states that Nehemiah ejected Tobiah from ‘the assembly of God.’ Besides thematic similarities, Troughton also points out the linguistic links between the two passages. In Echoes in the Temple? Jesus, Nehemiah and their Actions in the Temple, he writes:

Perhaps the most vivid similarity between the actions of Jesus and Nehemiah is the overturning of the tables. Both actions involve a direct, physical interaction with the equipment that furnished the ‘foreign’ presence. In each case, violence is enacted against inanimate objects rather than directly against people…. [T]he prohibition against carriage through the Templeis the likeliest source of allusion to Nehemiah. Specifically, … the linguistic connection through common use of the term skeuoj (‘vessels’). In the gospel accounts, it appears that Jesus endeavored to disrupt the carriage of certain objects through the Temple…. NRSV [New Revised Standard Version] translates skeuoj as ‘anything’ (thus, ‘he wouldn’t allow anything to be carried’), but the word is more properly rendered ‘vessel’…. Nehemiah was concerned about the ‘proper’ functioning of the Temple, including ensuring that the items necessary for proper worship were readily available. These included the ‘vessels’.[75]

Although Troughton doesn’t argue the point, his paper suggests that the author of Mark distinctly borrowed aspects of the temple cleansing incident from Nehemiah. This is a further argument against the historicity of the temple incident.

As George Wesley Buchanon pointed out in Symbolic Money-Changers in the Temple? (1991), the temple was the most fortified place in Jerusalem, for it acted as the treasury, and could even be used as a Fortress. As such, Jesus could not have simply walked in and thrown the moneychangers out as depicted in the Gospels. Michael Turton explains in Historical Commentary of the Gospel of Mark:

The moneychangers undoubtedly had their own guards and servants, and so did the local priests. It is therefore unlikely that Jesus could have generated an incident there that was prolonged enough for anyone to notice. There were too many warm bodies to squelch it before it got rolling. A further problem, as Buchanon (1991) points out, is that the Templewas not merely the main religious institution of the Jewish religion; it was also the national treasury and its best fortress. The Temple’s importance should not be underestimated: all three sides in the internal struggle during the Jewish War fought to gain control of the Temple. Not only is it highly unlikely that Jesus could have simply strolled in and gained control of the Temple, it is also highly unlikely that anyone would have permitted him to leave unmolested after such a performance.[76]

In Jesus’ Temple Act Revisited: A Response to P. M. Casey (2000), David Seeley states some of the practical obstacles that Jesus would have had to countenance. For example, at least one of the moneychangers would have been angry at having his table overturned and wrestled with Jesus. It would have been next to impossible for an individual to prohibit hundreds of people from carrying vessels. And if his disciples helped out, that would have been tantamount to an insurrection, which the Roman soldiers would have crushed brutally, and Jesus would not have been crucified alone.[77]

It should be clear at this point that at every unit and narrative sequence, the incident narrated in the Gospels as temple cleansing was a remote possibility, if not impossible. This impairs its historicity.

Further, Josephus mentions several messianic claimants and the prophecies that they made. He never mentions Jesus making a ‘prophetic threat’ through such an incident, though Sanders reads the purported incident as such. Considering the thousands of witnesses that would have been present, and the extent to which it could have disrupted the trading activities, an event of this magnitude would not have missed Josephus’ radar. Even Paul does not mention it. This lack of corroboration outside of the Gospels further argues against its historicity.

Sanders also analyzes the crucifixion scene and identifies literary borrowings by the evangelists of speeches and actions from Psalm 22. Acts such as casting lots for the clothes of Jesus by Roman soldiers (Mark 15:24), which is borrowed from Psalm 22:18 (“They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing”), exposes the weakness of Sanders’ approach of interpreting allusions to the Old Testament as symbolic acts. He guesses, against evidence to the contrary, that in the midst of pain as the iron nails tore through Jesus’ flesh and broke his bones, Jesus recalled Psalm 22:1 and, like a good stoic actor reading a script, cried out “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). Sanders states that we don’t know which elements of the crucifixion took place. But he neglects to mention that the very act of piercing hands and feet is also mentioned in Psalm 22:16, and that it is almost impossible that the Roman soldiers who pierced Jesus’ feet and hands and cast lots for his clothing were also acting out Psalm passages. Having arrived at Jesus’ death, Sanders’ reconstruction of the historical Jesus is complete, and he remarks that strictly speaking, the Resurrection is not part of the story of the historical Jesus.

Conclusion

Five main weaknesses in Sanders’ approach have been demonstrated in this review. The first one is treating the existence of a historical Jesus as an axiom. Second is approaching the Gospels with a preconception that Jesus was an eschatological prophet and not a revolutionary, a reformer, an itinerant teacher, or a cynic. His preoccupation with supporting his portrait and refuting the other portraits of Jesus limits his perspective and undermines his objectivity. Third is his failure to give due regard to redaction, tendenz, and literary criticism, and relying largely on historical criticism. The fourth one is his failure to consider the Pauline Christ, which anteceded the Gospel Jesus that had been embellished through historicization and scripturalization. Fifth is the lack of a reliable methodology. “Common sense” and a “good feel for sources” are not methods, but purely subjective approaches that are doomed to yield invalid results.

As noted earlier, Sanders’ book is otherwise useful for anyone interested in New Testament scholarship. But it must be approached carefully with the above weaknesses in mind.[78]

Notes

[1] M. H. Goshen-Gottstein writes in “Christianity Judaism, and Modern Bible Study,” Supplements to Vetus Testamentum 28 (1975): 68-88, p. 83: “However we try to ignore it–practically all of us are in it [Biblical studies] because we are either Christians or Jews.” As quoted by Jacques Berlinerblau in “The Unspeakable in Biblical Scholarship” (accessed on 8th May, 2007).

In “Comprehensively Questing for Jesus?” (accessed on 8th May, 2007) Mark Goodacre notes that Gerd Theissen and Anette Merz regard Helmut Koster as “running the risk of reconstructing an ‘anti-canonical picture of Jesus'” in his work. That there are ideas in the field that are regarded as risky to contradict speaks volumes.

[2] Michael V. Fox writes regarding biblical scholarship in “Bible Scholarship and Faith-Based Study: My View” (accessed on 8th May, 2007): “Any discipline that deliberately imports extraneous, inviolable axioms into its work belongs to the realm of homiletics or spiritual enlightenment or moral guidance or whatnot, but not scholarship, whatever academic degrees its practitioners may hold. Scholarship rests on evidence. Faith, by definition, is belief when evidence is absent.”

[3] Dominic Crossan, The Historical Jesus: The Life of a Mediterranean Jewish Peasant (1991), xxvii.

[4] Finding the Historical Jesus: An Interview With John P. Meier (accessed on 8th May, 2007)

[5] There are several competing theories of who the historical Jesus was. Jesus has been characterized as a prophet, a charismatic preacher, a magician, a sage, a revolutionary, and so on. Early proponents of Jesus as an apocalyptic prophet include Johannes Weiss and Albert Schweitzer, and more recently E. P. Sanders in The Historical Figure of Jesus (1993), J. P. Meier in A Marginal Jew volumes I and II (1991 and 1994), Dale Allison in Jesus of Nazareth: Millenarian Prophet (1998), Bart Ehrman, Jesus: Apocalyptic Prophet of the New Millennium (1999), and Paula Fredriksen From Jesus to Christ (2000). Proponents of Jesus as a man of spirit include Stevan L. Davies, Jesus the Healer (1995), Marcus Borg, Meeting Jesus Again for the First Time (1995), and Geza Vermes, The Changing Faces of Jesus (2001). Proponents of Jesus being a cynic sage include: John Dominic Crossan in The Historical Jesus (1991), Gerald F. Downing in Christ and the Cynics (1988), and Burton Mack in A Myth of Innocence (1988). Richard Horsley, Hyam Maccoby, and Gerd Theissen present Jesus as a prophet of social change. Robert Eisenmann presents him as a revolutionary. Luke Timothy Johnson, Robert H. Stein, and N. T. Wright propose that Jesus was a son of God and a savior for mankind. See Peter Kirby’s Historical Jesus Theories for more.

[6] Peter Steinfels, “Jesus Revisionists Draw the Ire of ‘a Jolly Elf.’New York Times, April 29, 1996.

[7] Eschatos means “last” in Greek. Thus eschatology concerns ideas about the last times. Jewish thought held that judgment and redemption by God was at hand, and through that judgment, God would alter the scheme of things, then reign either directly or through a viceroy (like a messiah).

[8] Op. cit., p. 50.

[9] Op. cit., p. 76.

[10] Whereas Tertullian (On the Flesh of Christ, Chapter 15) incorrectly assumed that the founder figure of the sect of Ebionites was called Ebion, in the same fashion Valentinians derived their name from the name of their founder Valentinus, Origen stated that Ebion came from a Hebrew word signifying “poor” among the Jews (Contra Celsum, Book I, Chapter I).

[11] This mythical Christ figure is consistent with that of several pagan religions who believed that their gods also died and resurrected in a mythical realm. The location of this realm shifted upward under Platonism. Most of those ancient religions that had dying and rising gods were linked to the agricultural cycles of seasonal vegetation, like Dumuzi/Tammuz. From Sumerian clay tablets we learn that the goddess Inanna descended to the underworld and was killed and then resurrected after three days (Samuel Kramer, History Begins at Sumer: Thirty-Nine Firsts in Man’s Recorded History [1981], p. 162). Although her resurrection, like that of the Egyptian Osiris, is not exactly like that of Jesus, the underlying concepts are similar because the deaths have the same effects on each set of believers. As such, the common objection from Christian apologists that Osiris’ resurrection was not a true resurrection because he remained a king of the dead is not valid. In The Mystery Cults and Christianity Part Two: On Comparing the Cults and Christianity, Earl Doherty explains the parallels between Christianity and mystery religions:

If Osiris “became ruler over the dead, not the living,” the same can be said for Jesus. The resurrected Christian who goes to heaven is part of “the dead” and not “the living,” in the sense of the departed from this world, the same as “the dead” pagan. And Christ in heaven is the same as Osiris in the underworld. Both are rulers over “the dead” in that same sense. The location of the happy afterlife is hardly significant. (A heaven in the sky simply sounds better to us than an eternity under the ground.) In essence, they are exactly the same, and Osiris gives such benefits to his devotees as much as Jesus to his. We as a culture, and Christianity in its writings, may have managed to paint a brighter, fuller picture of the Christian afterlife than did the mysteries, but this is in large part because we have the greater literary production of the two, and such things were not expressed openly in the cults.

[12] There are superficial refutations of a few passages in the literature, but no comprehensive rebuttal of the Jesus myth hypothesis based on evidence. Moreover, the superficial refutations critique old Jesus myth proponents who did not present an alternative origin of Christianity (unlike the contemporary proponent Earl Doherty), and who relied inordinately on an argument from silence. See the opening chapters of Robert E. Van Voorst’s Jesus Outside the New Testament: An Introduction to the Ancient Evidence (2000). See also Earl Doherty’s comprehensive Alleged Scholarly Refutations of Jesus Mythicism (accessed on 8th May, 2007).

[13] The Center for Inquiry started The Jesus Project, which seeks to explore the question “What if the most influential man in human history never lived?” This means that the question regarding the existence of Jesus is getting serious treatment instead of being as rashly dismissed as it was in the past.

[14] Richard Carrier, Did Jesus Exist? Earl Doherty and the Argument to Ahistoricity (2002) (accessed on 8th May, 2007).

[15] To be sure, there are passages that have human-sounding connotations, like Galatians 1:19 and 1 Corinthians 9:5, which mention “James brother of the Lord,” and Galatians 4:4‘s “born of woman,” Romans 1:3‘s “of the seed of David,” and Romans 9:5‘s “according to the flesh.” These all have alternative interpretations that do not necessarily have earthly meanings. See 20 Arguable References to the Gospel Jesus in the New Testament Epistles (accessed on 8th May, 2007).

[16] Scholars are divided over how to interpret arcontes/archotons (“princes of this world”). Those that favor the idea that arcontes means earthly rulers include James Walther, Gene Miller, Leon Morris, Archibald Robertson, Alfred Plummer M. Pesce, A. W. Carr, and T. Ling. Those that allow a spiritual meaning of the word include W. J. P. Boyd, Paul Ellingworth, Paula Fredriksen, R. Brown, J. Fitzmyer, R. Murphy, S. G. F. Brandon, and Tertullian (Adversus Marcionem, Book 5, Chapter 6). See Earl Doherty’s Who Was Christ Jesus? Note that most scholars who assign a spiritual meaning to the word assume that the demons stood behind earthly rulers. The appeal to scholarly interpretation here is purely on what the word arcontes means, not how the arcontes achieved their ends. Scholars import a lot of unwarranted earthly suppositions when describing how arcontes operated.

[17] The Philippians 2:8-11 hymn is consistent with pre-existent and resurrection Christologies (see note 50), which differ from the Gospel Christologies. In Who Wrote the New Testament? The Making of the Christian Myth (1995),Burton L. Mack writes:

[A]ccording to the Christ myth, Jesus became the Christ by virtue of his obedience unto death. Here in the Christ hymn, Jesus is the incarnation of a divine figure who possessed “equality with God” already at the very beginning of the drama and had every opportunity to be lord simply by “taking” possession of his Kingdom. His glory however, is that he did not “grasp” that opportunity … but took the form of a slave. Because of this, God exalted him to an even higher lordship (p. 92).

[18] Op. cit., p. 5.

[19] Op. cit., p. 56.

[20] Op. cit., p. 10.

[21] Op. cit., p. 11.

[22] Ibid.

[23] Even leaving aside the supernatural claim of the virgin birth, the birth narratives of Jesus fit the mythic hero archetype. And some of its elements were crafted from the story of the birth of Moses. For example, Herod instigates a massacre of innocents, just as Pharaoh did when Moses was born. These alleged massacres were not attested by either Roman or Egyptian documents, respectively. In The Myth of the Birth of the Hero, Otto Rank characterizes the mythic hero archetype:

The hero is the child of most distinguished parents, usually the son of most distinguished parents, usually the son of a king [Jesus is portrayed as coming from the lineage of King David and alternatively as the son of God]. His origin is preceded by difficulties, such as continence, or prolonged barrenness, or secret intercourse of the parents due to external prohibition or obstacles. During or before the pregnancy, there is a prophecy, in the form of a dream or oracle, cautioning against his birth [the wise men from the east and angel Gabriel], and usually threatening danger to the father (or his representative) [as quoted by Alan Dundes in In Quest of the Hero (1990), p. 57].

In The Birth of the Messiah: A commentary on the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke (1977), p. 36, Raymond Brown writes that the birth narratives are rewritings of Old Testament scenes and themes. The story of the magi who saw the Star of David, he says, echoes Balaam’s story, Balaam being like a type of magus who saw the star rise out of Jacob. The story of Herod as written above recalls how Pharaoh sought to kill all Israelite firstborn males in Exodus, and Luke’s description of Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist, is derived from the Old Testament story of Abraham and Sarah.

[24] Op. cit., p. 85.

[25] Sanders suggests that it is unlikely that everyone would know the place where their ancestors (42 generations according to Luke’s genealogies) came.

[26] Op. cit., p. 86.

[27] Josephus Flavius, Antiquities of the Jews, 17.355.

[28] Raymond Brown, The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, p. 547.

[29] Op. cit., p. 87.

[30] Sanders references Joseph Fitzmyer, The Gospel According to Luke I-IX, 1981, pp. 404ff. He notes that Fitzmyer “cites the distinguished Roman historian, Ronald Syme. Syme pointed out that the similarities between 4 BCE and 6 CE easily led to confusion and still sometimes do: W. W. Tarn, a well-known Hellenistic historian, once wrote that Herod died in 6 CE.” Sanders, op. cit., p. 300.

It is quite probable that Luke was aware of Matthew’s midrashic attempt at building the birth narrative using the birth of Moses, and knew that it would not resonate well with his (Luke’s) gentile audience. While excising Matthew’s scripturalization, Luke sought to present Jesus as a good tax-paying citizen to his Roman audience, while using Josephus to craft his birth narrative. The dating conflict that remained can be attributed to what Mark Goodacre has described as “editorial fatigue” and the little weight attributed to chronological significance at the time. See Richard Carrier’s Luke and Josephus (2000) and Mark Goodacre’s Fatigue in the Synoptics. Goodacre defines editorial fatigue as

a phenomenon that will inevitably occur when a writer is heavily dependent on another’s work. In telling the same story as his predecessor, a writer makes changes in the early stages which he is unable to sustain throughout. Like continuity errors in film and television, examples of fatigue will be unconscious mistakes, small errors of detail which naturally arise in the course of constructing a narrative. They are interesting because they can betray an author’s hand, most particularly in revealing to us the identity of his sources.

[31] Op. cit., p. 300.

[32] Richard Carrier, The Date of the Nativity in Luke (5th ed., 2006).

[33] Raymond Brown, The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, p. 548.

[34] Op. cit., p. 172.

[35] Op. cit., p. 63.

[36] Working on the assumption that a text refers to actual events, historical criticism deals with the referential function of a text. See Mark Allan Powell, What is Narrative Criticism? (1990), p. 8.

[37] Powell (ibid.) states that literary criticism deals with a text apart from consideration of the extent to which it reflects reality. It seeks to uncover the intended effect that the author would like the story to have on readers.

[38] Tendenz criticism is concerned with the motives or tendencies of the author(s) of the documents being examined. For example, the tendency of the author of Acts was to present the early Church as unified and working in harmony.

[39] Op. cit., p. 88.

[40] In Defining the First Century Synagogue, Howard Clark Kee writes that “the supposed architectural and institutional synagogue of the first century C.E.” is a “highly dubious scholarly construct” (as cited in Evolution of the Synagogue: Problems and Progress [1999], p. 9). On the unlikelihood of that synagogues existed as architectural edifices in pre-70 Galilee, see: Rachel Hachlili, in Anchor Bible Dictionary (1992), pp. 447-54; Joseph Gutmann, The Synagogue: Studies in Origins, Archaeology and Architecture (1975); and L. Michael White, Building God’s House in the Roman World: Architectural Adaptation among the Pagans Jews and Christians (1990), pp. 102-39.

[41] There is a great deal of confusion concerning the size of first-century Nazareth. Sanders writes that Nazareth”must have been a minor village, since it is not mentioned in the Hebrew Bible, Josephus or rabbinic literature. It was not on a major road.” (Op. cit., p. 104). These sentiments are echoed by M. Goguel, Jesus the Nazarene: Myth or Fact (1926), J. D. Crossan and J. Reed, Excavating Jesus (2001), and J. L. Reed, Archaeology and the Galilean Jesus (2000), p. 132. Against the idea that Nazareth was a small village, in The Life and Times of Jesus Messiah (1993), p. 147, A. Edersheim wrote that among the major cities located along the caravan route from the Mediterranean to Damascus was Nazareth; hence it was an important and well-known city. In Sacred Sites and Ways trans. P. P. Levertoff (1935), the Semitic Scholar Gustav Dalman proposed that Nazareth was a radiating point of important roads and a thoroughfare for extensive traffic. J. P. Meier states in Marginal Jew (2001), p. 301 that “Nazareth was not a totally isolated village.” Others like W. B. Smith, A. Drews, and G. T. Sadler argued that Nazareth is not attested outside the of Gospels (in the Old Testament, the Mishnah, and Josephus) because it never existed in the first century.

[42] The appellation Nazarhnos (Ναζαρνος) in Mark 10:47, which is translated as “Nazarene,” cannot be derived from the word Nazareth or Nazaret. Neither can Nazwraios (Ναζωραιος) in Matthew 2:23, which is also translated as Nazarene. The gentilic form for Nazareth would be Nazarethnos (Ναζαρεθνος). The consequence of this is that “Nazarene” cannot mean “of Nazareth” as we find in Mark 10:47. The Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament states that “linguistically, the transition from Nazaret to Nazwraois is difficult.” Gerhard Kittel details some of the etymological problems in The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (1967), Vol. IV. See William F. Arndt and F. Wilbur Gingrich, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (1957). In The Birth of the Messiah: A Commentary on the Infancy Narratives in the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, Raymond Brown writes:

In the story of Peter’s denial, where Mark 14:67 has Nazarenos, Matthew 26:71 has Nazoraios. Some scholars, like Kenard, argue that neither adjectival form should come from Nazaret(h); he would expect Nazarethenos or Nazarethaios. But a larger group of scholars recognize that Nazarenos, at least, is derivable from the place name, especially if it had the form Nazara…. (Parallels are offered by Magdalenos and Gadarenos, derived from Magdala and Gadara.)… [S]o most questioning has centered on the form Nazoraios, which has its clearest analogy in adjectives referring to parties, e.g., Saddoukaios and Pharisaios … and indeed in Acts 24:5 Christians are called “the sect of Nazoraioi.” This fact has led to the suggestion that Jesus was called a Nazorean, not because he came fromNazareth, but because he belonged to a pre-Christian sect of that name (p. 209).

Brown references J. S. Kennard Jr.’s “Was Capernaum the Home of Jesus?” in the Journal of Biblical Literature 65 (1946), pp. 131-141.

[43] Op. cit., p. 90.

[44] Op. cit., p. 91.

[45] Ancient novels had remarkable plasticity, as Mikhail Bahktin observed in The Dialogic Imagination: Four Essays (1981). For example, the Sesonchosis fragment narrated about a historical romance of Pharaoh Senwosret/Sesostris of the twelfth dynasty. When it was first published, it was identified as history and was only later reclassified when another part of it was obtained. See Susan A. Stephens and John J. Winkler (Eds.) in Ancient Greek Novels (1995) for more on this. More recently, a British businessman went on a treasure hunt inspired by H. Rider Haggard’s King Solomon’s Mines (1885).

[46] George Orwell, as quoted by E. L. Doctorow, Notes on the History of Fiction: Who Would Give Up the Iliad for the “Real” Historical Record? (accessed on May 8, 2007).

[47] In literary criticism, a doublet is a parallel narrative, parable, or saying which grew out of, or alongside, an original narrative. For example, Matthew 16:19 is a doublet of Matthew 18:18–the two miracles of loaves and fishes in Mark 6:35-44 and Mark 8:1-9 are probably two accounts of a single event or narrative. See Richard N. Soulen and R. Kendall Soulen (eds.), Handbook of Biblical Criticism (1989), p. 50. The Sanhedrin trial (Mark 14:53-65) and the trial before Pilate (Mark 15:1-20) are doublets among several other passages in Mark that are also doublets. See Gerd Lüdemann, Jesus after 2000 Years: What He Really Did and Said, (2001), p. 101. Raymond Brown shows that Mark 14:32-43 is a doublet of the Mount of Olives scene and the Gethsemane scene. See Raymond Brown, The Death of the Messiah, Volume 1 & 2 (1994), pp. 219-220.

[48] A triptych (or tryptych) is a composition or presentation that has three parts or sections. The word “triptych” is derived from the Greek “triptychos,” formed by combining “tri-” (“three”) and “ptyche” (“fold” or “layer”). As Turton (op. cit.) notes, in Binding the Strong Man: A Political Reading of Mark’s Gospel (1988), p. 356, Ched Myers observed that the mockeries of Jesus complete a tryptich in which Jesus is mocked by Jewish guards as a prophet (Mark 14:65), Roman guards as a king (Mark 15:16-20), and Jewish onlookers as the Messiah (Mark 15:30). Compare this with rising on the third day and the transfiguration scene where Jesus was with Moses and Elijah. Referring to Tolbert Mary Ann’s Sowing the Gospel: Mark’s World in Literary-Historical Perspective (1989), p. 272, Turton (op. cit.) writes:

Pilate makes three attempts to release Jesus, just as Peter makes three denials of Jesus. In the typology of the gospel as delineated back in Mark 4 in the Parable of the Sower, Peter is rocky ground, while Pilate represents thorny ground. Both fail to recognize and respond to Jesus, but whereas Peter makes a comprehensive threefold failure, Pilate nearly succeeds in releasing Jesus, a partial success. This, Tolbert avers, shows the difference between the infertility of rocky ground and the stunted fertility of thorny ground.

[49] See Randel Helms, Gospel Fictions (1988); Bart Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture (1993); and David Freidrich Strauss, The Life of Jesus Critically Examined (1994), translated from the fourth German edition of 1892.

[50] Adoptionist Christology is the idea that Jesus was chosen or adopted by God when he was a grown man, with the Christological moment during the baptism of Jesus. It is argued that Mark does not have a birth narrative because the writer favored adoptionist Christology. Besides adoptionist Christology is conception Christology, said to be present in the virgin birth narratives of the Gospels. Sanders argues on p. 244 that the declaration “You are my beloved son” in Mark 1:11//Luke 3:22 is a “statement of adoption” borrowed by Mark from Psalm 2:7, where “son of man” referred to the King of Israel, a human being. He adds that Pauline resurrection Christology (Romans 1:4) held that Jesus became “son of God” upon his resurrection. Brown mentions a fourth kind of Christology that he calls pre-existence Christology. On p. 141 Brown (op. cit.) writes that “incarnational thought is indicative of pre-existence Christology (’emptied himself taking on the form of a servant; the word became flesh’); and works reflecting that Christology show no awareness of or interest in the manner of Jesus’ conception.”

[51] Op. cit., p. 245.

[52] Ibid.

[53] Ibid.

[54] John Dominic Crossan, The Birth of Christianity: Discovering What Happened in the Years Immediately After the Execution of Jesus (1998), pp. 520-521. See also Mark Goodacre’s When Prophecy Became Passion: The Death of Jesus and the Birth of the Gospels (accessed on 8-May, 2007).

[55] This is the position of most of those that favor the Jesus myth hypothesis as presented in Earl Doherty’s The Jesus Puzzle. See also Thomas L. Brodie’s The Elijah-Elisha Narrative as an Interpretive Synthesis of Genesis-Kings for more on this. Though Brodie does not believe that the entire Gospels are fiction, he nonetheless believes that Jesus’ life and activity were modeled on Elija-Elisha prophetic biographies.

[56] This is the position of mainstream New Testament scholars. See Joel Marcus, The Old Testament and the Death of Jesus: The Role of Scripture in the Gospel Passion Narratives, in John T. Carroll and Joel B. Green, The Death of Jesus in Early Christianity (1995), pp. 205-233, and John Dominic Crossan, The Birth of Christianity: Discovering What Happened in the Years Immediately After the Execution of Jesus (1998). The alleged “historical core” is an assumption that they share not in an academic sense, but in a social sense, as it has never been questioned or established by them. It is protected almost impregnably by what Jacques Derrida called “institutional closure.”

[57] Judith H. Newman, Praying by the Book: The Scripturalization of Prayer in Second Temple Judaism (1999).

[58] Goodacre writes in When Prophecy Became Passion: The Death of Jesus and the Birth of the Gospels: “Events generated Scriptural reflection, which in turn influenced the way the events were remembered and retold. And the process of casting the narrative in this language might be described, to utilize a somewhat cumbersome but nevertheless illuminating term from Hebrew Bible scholarship, scripturalization. This term is used by Judith Newman of Jewish prayers in the Second Temple Period, which increasingly used Scriptural models, precedents and language.”

[59] In The Jesus Dynasty (2006), James Tabor argues that Jesus went to great lengths to fulfill Old Testament prophecies and applied Isaiah, Zechariah, and Jeremiah to himself. Sanders employs this interpretation.

[60] Sanders argues that Jesus’ actions were probably all symbolic. “Symbolic actions were part of a prophet’s vocabulary. They simultaneously drew attention and conveyed information” (Op. cit., p. 253). He adds: “I incline to the view that it was Jesus himself who read the prophecy [Zechariah 9:9–which talks about a king riding triumphantly on a donkey] and decided to fulfill it” (Op. cit., p. 254).

[61] Sanders writes that he doubts the authenticity of the “den of robbers” statement in Mark 11:17, which is found in Jeremiah 7:11. He argues that it looks to him “like an easy phrase for the evangelists to lift from Jeremiah to make Jesus appear politically innocuous to Greek-speaking gentile readers” (op . cit., p. 260). See also p. 270.

[62] Op. cit., p. 254.

[63] Ibid.

[64] Ibid.

[65] Ibid.

[66] Robert Gundry, Mark: A Commentary on His Gospel (1993), p. 626, as cited by Michael Turton in Historical Commentary on the Gospel of Mark (accessed on 8-May, 2007).

[67] Op. cit., p. 254.

[68] Geoffrey Troughton explains in Echoes in the Temple? Jesus, Nehemiah and their Actions in the Temple, Journal of Biblical Studies 3/2 (April 2003), p. 16:

Concern for the ‘proper’ functioning of theTemplealso lay behind Jesus’ action. It may be plausibly argued that Jesus was opposing the carriage of sacred supplies that would later be sold to worshippers at a significant profit. Thus, Jesus was protesting against theTempleestablishment for turning the sacrificial system into an oppressive profit-making industry.

Troughton references Kim Huat Tan, The Zion Traditions and the Aims of Jesus (1997), p. 181.

[69] Ibid.

[70] Op. cit., p. 257.

[71] Ibid.

[72] Op. cit., p. 258.

[73] Paula Fredriksen, From Jesus to Christ (accessed on 8-May, 2007)

[74] Paula Fredriksen, ibid.

[75] Troughton, ibid. For the linguistic connection of σκενοψ (‘vessels’) between Mark and Nehemiah, Troughton refers to W. D. Davies and Dale C. Allison Jr., A Critical and Exegetical Commentary on the Gospel According to Saint Matthew, Volume 3 (1997), p. 134.

[76] Michael Turton, Historical Commentary of the Gospel of Mark (accessed on 8-May, 2007).

[77] David Seeley, “Jesus’ TempleActRevisited: A Response to P. M. Casey.” The Catholic Biblical Quarterly, 62(1): 55-63 (January 2000), as cited by Michael Turton, op. cit.

[78] I am grateful to Michael Turton, Ben Smith, and Keith Augustine for their helpful comments on this review.