Rewriting Sacred Scriptures
Over the past three months I have written a number of blogs on the subject of how Josephus treated material obtained from his sources. Today I will summarize my findings.
Josephus addressed the War of the Jews to persons residing in the Roman Diaspora. Mason notes that Josephus has a problem of “conflicting loyalties.” “He resolves the problem deftly, by developing an interpretation of the Jewish war that allows him both to remain loyal to his patrons and to speak as a committed Jew. His essential thesis (War 1.9-12) is that the revolt was caused by only a few trouble-makers among the Jews--power-hungry tyrants and marauders who drove the people to rebel against their will. The vast majority of Jews, he contends, have always been peace-loving, devoted to the Roman virtues of order and harmony. Those who fomented revolt were aberrations from true Judaism. They introduced innovations in the ancestral customs and polluted God’s temple by their actions. So in destroying Jerusalem and its temple the Romans were acting as God’s agents, bringing divine punishment for the outrageous actions of a few rebels.”[i]
The following are the persons, groups and movements mentioned by Josephus in War:
Judas son of Ezekiel (Ant. 17:271-272; War 2:56).
Simon of Peraea (Ant. 17:273-276; War 2:57-59).
A movement similar to the group led by Simon of Peraea (Ant. 17:277; War 2:59).
Athronges (Ant. 17:278-285; War 2:60-65).
Judas of Galilee (Ant. 18:4-9, 23-25; War 2:117-118)[Acts 5:37].
The Egyptian false prophet (Ant. 20:169-172; War 2:261-263)[Acts 21:38].
The religious enthusiasts who led their followers into the wilderness (Ant. 20:167-168; War 2:258-260).
Manaemos (Menahem), son of Judas the Galilee (War 2:433-440).
Simon bar Giora (War 4:514-544, 556ff, 763ff and elsewhere).
John of Gischala (War 4:389ff and elsewhere).
Jonathan the Weaver (War 7:437-450; Life 424-424).
Rome-hating imposters (War 2:264-265).
A false prophet in Jerusalem who prophesied God’s salvation even after the burning of the Temple (War 6:285).
Josephus has described thirteen persons, groups or movements that could be included in the category of “power-hungry tyrants and marauders who drove the people to rebel against their will.” Josephus has transferred blame for the war from the temple establishment, of which he was a ranking member and one who was selected to be one of the generals in the war against Rome, to what might be called a group of messianic pretenders, although Josephus calls them trouble-makers. Since Josephus relied heavily on sources, there is reason to believe that even his idea for resolving his problem had its origin in a document Josephus found circulating in Rome when he arrived there after the war. Furthermore, and this needs to be developed, this document contained the phrase, “many shall come in my name.”
Josephus is in fact responding to the NT and in particular to Luke-Acts. However the evidence that supports this bold statement is totally unexpected. Just recently, I realized that Josephus has rewritten the story of the flood[ii] to eliminate all references to the covenant with God[iii] as he did with the covenant of circumcision.[iv] In Judaism, the rite of circumcision is the sign of covenant between God and Abraham.[v] In Book One, God charged Abram “that they should be circumcised in the flesh of their foreskin.” However according to Josephus the purpose is “to keep his posterity unmixed with others.”[vi]
The promise of the land was one of the most basic elements of the Abrahamic Covenant. In Genesis 17:8 this everlasting quality of the covenant was again related directly to the promise of the land: “The whole land of Canaan, where you are now an alien, I will give as an everlasting possession to you and your descendants after you . . ..” This land theology, first set forth in the stories of the patriarchs, is a major theme of the Biblical history of Israel. However, in Josephus’ treatment of the patriarchal period, “the covenant with the patriarchs, all of which describe covenant in terms of land promise, Josephus connects Moses with the patriarchs through a totally unscriptural reconstruction of a dream, in which God reassures Amram by reviewing the providential care He had given to Abraham” citing Ant. II, 212-13.[vii] Josephus never used the term “covenant.”[viii] There is a complete absence of the concept of the land covenant and, as noted, of the covenant of circumcision.
Josephus re-worked the story of Lot. You may recall that Lot was the nephew of Abraham who moved away from Abraham to the city and region of Sodom, became a civilian captive when the region becomes engaged in war, was rescued by Abraham and later by two angels although he had not been circumcised. Josephus has made several minor changes to the story and one change for no apparent reason. Josephus mentions Lot in Ant. 1.6.5; 1.9.1ff; and 1.11.4 - the latter being most significant. In Jos. Ant. 1.9.1ff, we read that Lot "had come to assist the Sodomites". Likewise, in 1.11.4, we read that Lot "lived a miserable life, on account of his having no company, and his want of provisions". Anyone vaguely familiar with Genesis would not recognize the rewriting done by Josephus and they would ask why?
I blogged separately on the “Abomination of Desolation” and how the prophecy of the Lucan Jesus was fulfilled as shown by the descriptive details provided by Josephus in War. I further noted that the “abomination of desolation,” as the gospel writers use the term, means the same as “pollution of the Temple” mentioned by Josephus. I also noted that Josephus believed in the veracity of Daniel 7-12.[ix] In fact, Josephus considered Daniel to be one of the greatest of the prophets.[x] In his Wars of the Jews, which furnishes a full account of the struggle from his perspective on the Roman side, Josephus sees the miseries of the city as the fulfillment of an ancient oracle, which Josephus, in his later work, Antiquities of the Jews, named Daniel as the source of this oracle.[xi] However, Josephus in his rewriting of Daniel conveniently omitted chapter 7 and the “son of man” phrase while including Daniel 1-6 and 8-9. Not only did Josephus omit the “son of man” phrase appearing in Daniel 7, he also omitted the 104 other occurrences of this exact phrase, appearing throughout the Sacred History (OT), which he rewrote.
Furthermore Josephus has eliminated all references to a messiah including all references to a son of David. Josephus “had made a point of deleting and altering Biblical passages in order to nullify attribution of an eternal or messianic character’s to David’s line.”[xii] King Saul is more important in the writings of Josephus than either David or Moses. Saul, of course is the name by which the Jewish community knows Paul. Finally Josephus has targeted as his audience the Diaspora that was the same audience targeted by Paul with considerable success.
Josephus has also changed the depictions of the deaths of Enoch[xiii], Moses[xiv] and Elijah.[xv] This rewriting was a response by Josephus to the views of the early church about the death and resurrection of Jesus. This rewriting is directed particularly at Luke because only Luke includes unmistakable references to Enoch, Moses, Elijah, Lot, the Diaspora, covenant-rooted ingathering of the exiles, and a circumcised messiah out of the house of David.
I suggest that all of this rewriting is an attempt by Josephus to answer the "New Covenant" of the NT. If there is no old covenant, as evidenced by the rewritten sacred scriptures, there can be no new covenant. Bamberger[xvi] suggested that the decline of Jewish nationality with the loss of the Temple in 70 led to a reorientation toward a religious rather than a political definition. Josephus participated in the reorientation by lending his support to Jewish proselytism by undermining the theological premises relied upon by the followers of Jesus.
Amaru concludes that Josephus was influenced by his aversion to the contemporary revolt of the revolutionaries against Rome and consequently shifted the stress, in his paraphrase of the Bible, from the covenanted land of Israel, which was so central to the revolutionaries, to the biblical personalities themselves, to the role of the Diaspora, and to the great increase in Jewish population due to proselytism. His moral is that disobedience of the law leads to expulsion or dispersion without a covenant-rooted ingathering of exiles; and there is no link with, or even mention of, a messiah out of the house of David.[xvii]
I have placed in bold type for emphasis the conclusions of Amaru critical to my conclusions.
Denova stated that the role of Paul in Acts “is to complete the ingathering of the exiles of the Diaspora and to bring hope of salvation to god-fearing Gentiles.”[xviii] Paul therefore travels to the synagogues of the Diaspora. The Apostolic Council “dictates that salvation for Gentiles is found in God’s promises to Israel.”[xix] Luke “accomplishes this by not offering a Law-free mission to the Gentiles but by offering Gentiles specific ties that bind them to the Law.”[xx] “Outside the context of synagogues, there is no direct mission to Gentiles in Acts that results in the establishment of a Gentile Christian community.”[xxi] This is true because the message of Paul “only has meaning within the context of Judaism.”[xxii] Denova concludes her book with these words: “Luke-Acts, we may conclude on the basis of a narrative-critical reading, was written by a Jew to persuade other Jews that Jesus of Nazareth was the messiah of Scripture and that the words of the prophets concerning ‘restoration’ have been ‘fulfilled.’”[xxiii]
Antiquities was directed to the Greek-speaking world as an apologia for Judaism and Jewish history. Against Apion was written as a defense of Judaism. According to Feldman, Jewish missionaries utilized both works.[xxiv]
Rodney Stark, using his solid background in the sociology of religion, has shown that the mission to the Jews probably succeeded.[xxv] Furthermore, the principle of cultural continuity and the principle that “Social movements grow much faster when they spread through social network”[xxvi] do provide a partial explanation for the explosive growth of Christianity. The network growth rate exhibited by Christianity has been confirmed by the Mormon example.[xxvii] Stark has shown that “Christianity offered twice as much cultural continuity to the Hellenized Jews as to Gentiles.”[xxviii] Stark stated, and his conclusion is well documented, “that not only was it the Jews of the diaspora who provided the initial basis for the church growth during the first and early second centuries, but that Jews continued as a significant source of Christian converts until at least as late as the fourth century and that Jewish Christianity was still significant in the fifth century.”[xxix]
Furthermore, Stark demonstrated how successful networking occurred by comparing the expansion of Christianity in large urban areas with a significant Diasporan Jewish population with large urban areas with no significant Diasporan Jewish population. “There is a powerful, positive correlation (.69) between synagogues and Christianization.”[xxx] Trebilco has documented the existence of these communities.[xxxi] Not only has Stark written a provocative book challenging the assumptions of biblical scholars about the rise of Christianity, he has conclusively established that the Jewish people were the source of converts during the first five centuries.
Luke proclaims the significance of Jesus' words and deeds in the context of Old Testament prophecy, which argument would only be impressive to an audience that already believed and respected the text as sacred. Only a Jew would listen to an argument based on the fulfillment of the promises to David through Jesus the Messiah. Jesus' royal Davidic status would not impress a Gentile, but the Jewish community would entertain such an argument. Josephus rewrote sacred scripture to undercut the force of this argument.
The early part of Acts (1-15) was not written for Gentiles. Acts is not particularly edifying for Gentile Christians with its proclamation: “to the Jews first and also the Greek.” This is, in fact, corroborated by the concepts of cultural continuity, expansion through preexisting social networks and the findings of Rodney Stark. For the reasons presented by Stark, the first missionaries concentrated on Hellenized Jews. The audience of Luke-Acts was predominantly of Jewish background[xxxii] as was the target of Stark's missionaries. A number of scholars have challenged the essentially Gentile composition of the Lucan audience by noting the Judaic roots of Christianity as emphasized by Luke. Fletcher-Louis writes, “there is a growing consensus, spearheaded by the work of Jacob Jervell, that accepts essential interaction with Jewish concerns and a Jewish readership.”[xxxiii]
Hans Conzelmann has stated that “ . . . the principle difficulty for a mutual understanding between Judaism and Christianity consists precisely in the fact that they have the same fundamental ideas and concepts: there is one God, who . . . has chosen one people. . ..”[xxxiv] Conzelmann has noted that J. Geffcken established in 1907 with Zwei griechische Apologeten “the continuity between Jewish and Christian apologetic in their motifs and arguments” recognizing that “Indeed, this continuity derives from the fact that monotheism and the Old Testament are the common denominators between Jews and Christians.”[xxxv] There would be no continuity in motifs and arguments of their apologetics if there were not a close cultural continuity derived and maintained from ongoing recruitment. Yet it is because they have the “same fundamental ideas and concepts” that cultural continuity exists. Cultural continuity made it so easy to recruit in the preexisting social networks represented by the Jewish communities.
As noted by Louis Feldman, even after the empire became Christian, “The Jews continued to engage successfully in winning proselytes and especially ‘sympathizers’ to their ranks – a genuine tribute to their inherent vitality.”[xxxvi]
In his Gospel, Luke showed considerable interest in those people who were the religious outcasts of Jewish society. These people although Jewish were excluded from participation in the religious life of the community because of their status. The new Jewish sect targeted the religious outcasts. It also targeted those people whom Luke has identified as 'God-fearers', not without conflicts. Perhaps to the extent that there was a body of people who were not Jewish but who nonetheless attended the synagogues, then Judaism and Christianity in accepting converts from this group each felt the other was stealing their prospects and members. These tensions explain the many passages in Acts where conflict erupted between the Jews and Paul over his proselytizing activities. Evidence of such jealousy appears in Acts 13:45 and 17:5-19.[xxxvii]
Initially, as noted at the beginning, Josephus, the historian, accused those responsible for the revolt, inter alia, of introducing “innovations in the ancestral customs.” Furthermore, Josephus says that he will set forth the “precise details of what is written in the Scriptures, neither adding nor omitting anything.” Since ancestral customs are recorded in sacred scriptures, one has to wonder why Josephus makes changes on practically every page.
This lengthy blog has shown that followers of Jesus and the followers of Moses were competing for the same recruits in the critical time period that the literature was being created. Mason and others have argued using other criteria that Luke-Acts was published after Antiquities. This blog has shown how Josephus has rewritten the Bible altering the various texts relied upon by the followers of Jesus. The alteration of the covenant of circumcision undermines only the claim of Luke that Jesus is the circumcised messiah out of the house of David. The alteration of the land theology undermines only the covenant-rooted ingathering of the exiles proclaimed by Luke. As noted Josephus has altered texts relating to personalities that only appear in Luke-Acts. The alteration of the story of Lot is truly senseless. Only Luke among the gospel writers mentioned Lot and has Enochic references. Finally Josephus is responding to Luke-Acts because only the Lucan Paul successfully targeted Jews of the Diaspora promoting a covenant-rooted ingathering of exiles.
Therefore, we can conclude that Josephus, who “speaks as a committed Jew,” rewrote sacred history in support of the cause of Jewish proselytism.
[i] Steve Mason, Josephus and the New Testament, (Peabody, 1992), 60-61.
[ii] Ant. 1.103.
[iii] Andre Paul, “Flavius Josephus’ Ant. Of the Jews: An Anti-Christian Manifesto,” NTS 31 (1985): 473-480.
[iv] Ant. 1.192.
[v] Genesis 17:10-11.
[vi] Ant. 1.192.
[vii] Betsy H. Amaru, “Land Theology in Josephus’ Jew. Ant,” JQR 71 (1980-81): 213-214.
[viii] Amaru, 205.
[ix] Goldstein, 1 Maccabees, A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, (Garden City, 1976), 560.
[x] Ant 10.11.7
[xi] Antiquities 10.11.7.
[xii] Amaru at 227. The footnote states “In Ant. VII, 93 he deletes God’s unconditional promises to David, ‘And thy house and thy kingdom shall be made sure for ever before thee; thy throne shall be established forever (II Sam. 7:16).’”
[xiii] Ant. 1.85.
[xiv] Ant. 4. 326.
[xv] Ant. 9.28. “And indeed, as to Elijah, and as to Enoch, who was before the deluge, it is written in the sacred books that they disappeared, but so that nobody knew that they died.”
[xvi] Bamberger, Bernard J., Proselytism in the Talmudic period, (Cincinnati: Hebrew Union College Press, 1939), 17.
[xvii] Amaru at 227.
[xviii] Denova, Rebecca I., The Things Accomplished Among Us: Prophetic Tradition in the Structural Pattern of Luke-Acts, (Sheffield, 1997), 198.
[xix] Denova, 199.
[xx] Denova, 199.
[xxi] Denova, 199.
[xxii] Denova, 199.
[xxiii] Denova, 230-231.
[xxiv] Louis H. Feldman, “Jewish Proselytism”, in Eusebius, Christianity, and Judaism edited by Harold W. Attridge and Gohei Hata, (Detroit, 1992), 385.
[xxv]. Rodney Stark, The Rise of Christianity, (Princeton 1996), 49-71.
[xxvi]. Stark, 55.
[xxvii]. Stark, 18, 56.
[xxviii]. Stark, 59.
[xxix]. Stark, 49.
[xxx]. Stark, 139.
[xxxi]. Paul R. Trebilco, Jewish Communities in Asia Minor, (Cambridge, England, 1991).
[xxxii]. Anderson, “Theophilus: A Proposal,” EQ 69:3 (1997), 195-215.
[xxxiii]. Fletcher-Louis, 19; footnote 83 on page 19 mentions Jervell, Drury, Salmon, Sterling, Evans, Ellis; and 'mixed community' with respect to Esler and Tyson.
[xxxiv]. Hans Conzelmann, Gentiles - Jews - Christians: Polemics and Apologetics in the Greco-Roman Era, translated by M. Eugene Boring, (Minneapolis 1992), 240-241.
[xxxv]. Conzelmann, 237.
[xxxvi]. Louis H. Feldman, “Jewish Proselytism”, in Eusebius, Christianity, and Judaism edited by Harold W. Attridge and Gohei Hata, (Detroit, 1992), 396.
[xxxvii]. This is understandable in light of Paul's success in Antioch, 13:43; Iconium, 14:1; Thessalonica, 17:4; Beroea, 17:11-12; Corinth, 18:4; Ephesus, 19:8-10; and Rome, 28:24.