Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Why did Josephus rewrite the story of Balaam?

In rewriting the story of Balaam, Josephus changed the speaking role of the ass and elevated the status of Balaam. The Holy Spirit depicted as a whining ass does not inspire more than 3000 people who on the day of Pentecost became followers of Jesus. This was an incredible event. In the story of Balaam there is a shift back and forth between the “angel” and the “spirit”. Josephus mimics the same shift back and forth between the “angel” and the “spirit” that occurs in the story of Philip and the eunuch in Acts 8:26-40. The question of dependency of Josephus on Luke can not be determined by reference to this one pericope. However when we examine other rearrangements made by Josephus the dependency becomes obvious.

Louis Feldman has said that Josephus in order to make the narrative more appealing to his primary audience consisting of pagans diminished, inter alia, the role of God in places and eliminated or rationalized miracles. When Josephus does refer to a miracle, he sometimes used the well-known disclaimer line of other historians including Herodotus, Thucydides, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, Lucian, and Pliny: “Everyone is welcome to his own opinion.” Feldman has also indicated that Josephus departs from the biblical text in order to avoid any indication that the Jews seek to convert others to Judaism or that the Jews will establish an independent state in the future. Yet as noted by 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.”

The 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. Josephus has rewritten Sacred Scriptures altering the various texts relied upon by the followers of Jesus.

John Paul Heil has indicated that the experience of a “pivotal mandatory epiphany” by Balaam (Num 22:31-35), Joshua (Josh 5:13-15), and Heliodorus (2 Macc 3:22-34) provides the principal model for characterizing the transfiguration as an extraordinary “epiphany” of heavenly beings on earth (Jesus, Moses, and Elijah) culminating in a divine “mandatory” announcement to Peter, James, and John: “Listen to him!” In Rewriting Balaam we have shown the story of Balaam has been significantly altered.

Josephus also extensively rewrote Joshua 22 as I noted on my blog two years ago. He also extensively rewrote Joshua 2 making Rahab, the harlot, an innkeeper and Joshua 3-5 to eliminate these three verses:

When Joshua was by Jericho, he lifted up his eyes and looked, and behold, a man stood before him with his drawn sword in his hand; and Joshua went to him and said to him, “Are you for us, or for our adversaries?” And he said, “No; but as commander of the army of the LORD I have now come.” And Joshua fell on his face to the earth, and worshiped, and said to him, “What does my lord bid his servant?” And the commander of the LORD's army said to Joshua, “Put off your shoes from your feet; for the place where you stand is holy.” And Joshua did so (Josh 5:13-15).

Heil’s third example of an epiphany concerns the expulsion of Heliodorus from the Temple. He was sent by King Seleucus of Syria to seize the temple treasures. According to Second Maccabees, God, at the request of the High Priest Onias, sends a horseman assisted by two youths who beat and expel Heliodorus from the Temple. Josephus used 1st and 2nd Maccabees as a source and extensively rewrote this source material. The apparition to Heliodorus was not mentioned by Josephus although he used material from Maccabees from this same time period. This event was recorded by Jason of Cyrene, a source used by Maccabees and Josephus.

Josephus on two separate occasions in Antiquities stated that his narrative of the Scripture will neither add nor omit anything, Ant. 1.17; 10.218, yet he rewrote the story of Balaam and Joshua. Thus Josephus removed from his writings any possibility that someone could argue that the epiphany experiences cited by Christians to support the Transfiguration can be found in the writings of Josephus. For the same reason, Josephus has also changed the depictions of the deaths of Enoch, Moses and Elijah. This rewriting was a response by Josephus to the views of the early church about the death and resurrection 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. 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.

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 Gabriel and Lot and has Enochic references. Finally 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.

Recognizing the phenomenon success of Christianity in part due to the writings of Luke and the continuing success of the Jews in winning proselytes, it easy to see that the writings of Josephus may have been utilized in that effort. So many of the rearrangements made by Josephus relate to the writings of Saint Luke and are not otherwise explainable such as the rewriting of the story of Lot and Balaam. Luke has made the Holy Spirit a very important character in the narrative of Luke-Acts so much so that Josephus to undermine the effectiveness of this writing had to denigrate the Holy Spirit.

Josephus, who “speaks as a committed Jew,” rewrote sacred history in support of the cause of Jewish proselytism.

Copyrighted 2008

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Rewriting Phinehas

The Bible does not link the Balaam episode with the Phinehas incident. According to Feldman, Josephus makes Balaam the originator of the Phinehas incident. Feldman also notes that Josephus changes the order of the Biblical event recorded in Num. 15:1-8 from immoral acts, plague, Phinehas killing the Israelite with a javelin and the woman with whom he is having sex, and the end of the plague with the plague beginning after Phinehas killed the two engaged in sex.

“Then stood up Phinehas, and executed judgment: and [so] the plague was stayed.” Psalm 106:30

The Biblical account then says: Thus the plague was stayed from the people of Israel. Nevertheless those that died by the plague were twenty-four thousand. And the LORD said to Moses, “Phin'ehas the son of Elea'zar, son of Aaron the priest, has turned back my wrath from the people of Israel, in that he was jealous with my jealousy among them, so that I did not consume the people of Israel in my jealousy.

Therefore say, 'Behold, I give to him my covenant of peace; and it shall be to him, and to his descendants after him, the covenant of a perpetual priesthood, because he was jealous for his God, and made atonement for the people of Israel.'” Numbers 25:8-13

As noted, the Psalmist presents him as an intercessor with God. Intertestamental literature celebrates Phinehas as one who made atonement for Israel (Sir. 45:38). The Jewish historian, Josephus, considers him the greatest man of his age (Ant. 4.152) yet he omits “the covenant of a perpetual priesthood” received by Phinehas and his descendants after him. Josephus does record in agreement with the Bible that Moses sent an army against the land of Midian and appointed Phineas for the commander.

Copyrighted 2008

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Rewriting Balaam

John R. Levison has suggested that Josephus removed all references to “divine spirit” in his rewriting of the Torah so that his first mention of the “divine spirit” is intentionally set in the story of Balaam. Levison indicates Josephus does this to emphasize that “it is a focal point for Josephus's understanding of inspiration.” I write to suggest that Josephus rewrote sacred scriptures to eliminate references to πνεῦμα κυρίου translated as “spirit of the Lord” just as he rewrote other passages of sacred scriptures relied upon by the followers of Jesus. In Rewriting Sacred Scriptures, I noted that Josephus has altered texts relating to personalities that only appear in Luke-Acts. I now suggest that one of his reasons for eliminating references to πνεῦμα κυρίου is because the Holy Spirit is such an important character in the Acts of the Apostles.

Other scholars have indicated that Josephus did so in deference to his non-Jewish audience that would not understand the Jewish conception of the spirit. This is not a plausible explanation given that the story of Balaam is so prominent in Antiquities. This deference to his non-Jewish audience provides an important clue since this audience would be unlikely to be familiar with the story of Balaam and his ass as it appears in the Book of Numbers. This introduces the possibility that Josephus told the story of Balaam in such a way that it was understood as a ridicule of the Holy Spirit.

Although speaking animals are a common theme in mythology and folk tales, I suspect that the appearance of speaking animals, in a serious work such as Antiquities, would normally detract from its value as a scholarly tome.

Numerous scholars have recognized have recognized the story of Balaam is an example of the use of ridicule and satire. In the Biblical account, the narrative is opened and closed by the command, “You shall say only the words I put into your mouth” given at the beginning, repeated at midpoint and again at the end. Balaam three times refuses to obey the angel resulting in separate blessings and three prophecies against the enemies of Israel. David Marcus has indicated the biblical story of Balaam is an example of anti-prophetic satire. Balaam is the target.

In the biblical story of Balaam and the ass, King Balak sent for Balaam, a seer, to request an oracle from him predicting the defeat of Balak's enemy, Israel. Balaam does not want to meet Balak but does agree to do so. Balaam set off on his ass. This ass was confronted by an angel, which Balaam, the seer, failed to perceive. After the ass startled Balaam by explaining its vision, Balaam continued on, having resolved to speak on behalf of Israel, rather than for Balak. Although the ass perceived the angel, nowhere in the biblical tale is it associated with the divine spirit. In the Bible, Balaam does not give advice.

In Antiquities, the ass is the first to become aware of the divine spirit: “the ass whereon Balaam rode, conscious of the divine spirit approaching her, turning aside thrust Balaam against one of these fences.” When Balaam inflicted stripes upon the ass, “she made use of the voice of a man, and complained of Balaam as acting unjustly to her.” Then “the angel plainly appeared to him, and blamed him for the stripes he had given his ass; and informed him that the brute creature was not in fault, but that he was himself come to obstruct his journey, as being contrary to the will of God.” Josephus changed the speaking role of the ass from an explanation of its vision to a whining complaint of its owner.

Josephus identified the angel with the divine spirit that many would recognize as the Holy Spirit of Acts of the Apostles. This identification is consistent with the Jewish heritage of Josephus. However, Josephus omitted the most significant part of the story which is the famous prophecy of Balaam that a star would arise from Jacob, a scepter from Israel (Numbers 24:17). Furthermore Josephus added two additional references in this story to the divine spirit as if to emphasize that the ass was inspired to speak by the divine spirit. In addition, Josephus states the reason why God had refused the request of Balak saying the Israelites were in his favor. Josephus presents Balaam as counseling the envoys to renounce their hatred of the Israelites. Finally, Josephus omits the account of the death of Balaam in battle. Feldman has noted that Josephus “has added importance to Balaam by having him offer the sacrifice (Ant. 4.113) before he prophesies.”

Perhaps the most famous and inspiring words in the Acts of the Apostles is the speech delivered on Pentecost where Peter quotes the Prophet Joel saying, inter alia, “I will pour out my spirit.” As might be expected, Josephus has omitted this passage which Peter quoted on that day when the Spirit of God poured out upon three thousand people who must have been assembled in the courtyard of the Temple. Josephus has omitted not only this passage but all references in his writings to the Prophet Joel.

Josephus in his rearrangement elevates Balaam and makes the Holy Spirit the subject of his ridicule and satire.

This is a work in progress.

Copyrighted 2008

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Angels and spirits

Josephus was not averse to mentioning angels in his rewriting of sacred history. He did so when he discussed the fallen angels who married women producing a race of giants. He also mentioned angels in discussing the stories of Sodom and Gomorrah, Hagar, Jacob wrestling with the angel and Balaam the talking mule. As noted earlier, he did omit the reference to Gabriel in discussing Daniel. Of these examples, and I am sure I missed a few, the most interesting is probably the story of Balaam (Ant. 4.111).

One Greek phrase of particular interest is πνεῦμα κυρίου
translated as “spirit of the Lord.” This Greek phrase appears in Isaiah 61:1 and throughout the Septuagint, Luke 4:18, Acts 5:9; 8:39, 1 Cor. 3:17-18 but no where else in the NT. This Greek phrase does not appear in the writings of Josephus but on eight occasions Josephus does use “divine spirit.” Attempting to ascertain why πνεῦμα κυρίου does not appear in Josephus or more frequently in the NT may be related to the Two Powers in Heaven controversy (or the binitarian heresy) which Matthew and Mark avoided by deleting πνεῦμα κυρίου from their rewriting of Luke.

Josephus did likewise and included “divine spirit” on eight occasions thereby implicitly acknowledging that he too was avoiding πνεῦμα κυρίου. Josephus regularly omitted references to the divine spirit. Therefore his first three references to the divine spirit which occur in his rewriting of the story of Balaam probably deserve a separate article.

Copyrighted 2008

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Dream reports

Throughout the sacred writings we found reports of dreams. Josephus who rewrote these sacred writings included numerous dream reports. What is interesting is that, with the exception of the Gospel of Matthew, we do not found these reports in the New Testament. Earlier I had noted that Josephus seems to state his belief in “the cessation of prophecy” yet he asserts that he like the prophets is able to interpret dreams. It seems to me that Josephus says that the true prophets are able to interpret dreams and predict the future. Josephus may in fact be commenting on the general lack of dream reports in the New Testament and the absence on any interpretation of dreams by Jesus, the prophet like Moses and Elijah. Neither Moses nor Elijah interpreted dreams.

Josephus considered Daniel to be one of the greatest prophets. Joseph, the man who interpreted the dreams of the Pharaoh, also receives favorable mention. Josephus like Daniel and Joseph could interpret dreams.

Deuteronomy 13 contains a warning that “you shall not listen . . . to that dreamer of dreams; for the LORD your God is testing you, to know whether you love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.” This suggests that the ability to interpret dreams is not always the sign of a true prophet. Jeremiah warned the people against those “that prophesy false dreams.” Jude warns that filthy dreamers defile the flesh. It appears that by the time of the first century the ability to interpret dreams may have been a questionable talent. But Peter declares “And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams.”

These findings would not be remarkable but for the fact that Josephus used words like “chosen,” “sent,” “messenger,” “minister” and “inspired” in reference to himself. It is clear that Josephus utilized numerous literary and rhetorical devices to elevate himself. Did he also do so to distinguish himself from Jesus who is one of the reasons Josephus rewrote sacred scriptures?

This is a work in progress.

Copyrighted 2008

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Last Harvest

I am reading several very good books. The Last Harvest by Witold Rybczynski is about a new real estate development in southern Chester County which we watched every Sunday from ground breaking to near completion. The story is told in a very easy to read fashion in a conversational way by an award winning author. This allows the reader to learn the history of residential real estate developments in general and in southeastern Pennsylvania in particular beginning with William Penn and a little bit about the process by which a community develops from idea to plans, hearings, permits, construction and occupancy as well as the economic cycle in which a development strives and/or fails almost as a participant.

After the Baby Boomers by Robert Wuthnow is a more academically challenging book with numerous charts and statistics documenting how the post baby boomers are shaping the future of American religion by staying away from churches in droves. It is interesting that these two books are related in that churches target married people with children residing in suburban real estate developments like New Daleville. The post baby boomers generation is marrying later, having children later, moving frequently and staying away from churches. This is true even among church groups encouraging early marriages. The un-church segment of this group is increasing. Churches have a tendency to wait for these people to marry, have kids and return to their roots in the church. These people are a significant part of “the harvest that is plentiful” yet the church has responded “but the laborers are few.” There is no question that the words of the Lucan Jesus were uttered in the missionary context. Not is there any question that the church has not met the challenge uttered by Jesus.

It is easy for churches to target recent home buyers. For the last harvest, the churches will need to re-tool their marketing. More importantly churches need to provide services for those people who have delayed marriage and making important life decisions perhaps because there is no support system in place to help people the church considers to be adults. They have turned to internet dating sites because they do not have any alternatives. They have probably made a number of bad choices. Churches provide Sunday school and youth groups to target families with young people but no services for a group that may represent people between 20 and 40 numbering over one hundred million people.

There are exceptions. There are churches which have organized singles groups for those between 20 and 30 and singles groups for those over thirty. However even churches which have made this effort are being impacted by the demographics described in After the Baby Boomers. The most important point made by Wuthnow is that being married or unmarried is the single most factor affecting church attendance.

I will be discussing these and a number of other issues which have been overlooked by the religious communities in the USA.

Copyrighted 2008

Monday, January 07, 2008

Chalking the doors

I was invited to “chalk the doors” yesterday in a neighborhood probably 35 miles from my residence. I was surprised to learn that this is a religious event to celebrate Epiphany where people visit friends, relatives and also persons interested in learning more about Christianity. You write the names of the magi and the year 2008 on the door using chalk, sing hymns and tell the story. You become yet another person preaching the good news. Many people who have been “chalked and blessed” invite the “chalkers” inside for warm refreshments.

Belated Happy Epiphany.

Copyrighted 2008

Tuesday, January 01, 2008

Leaving the grid

It used to be that only the religious ones left the grid; now the green people have made it a quest to make their own energy and/or find sustainable alternates for society. I am thinking about our extended weekend in Lancaster County made possible by the calendar and how we enjoyed having no computer, telephone or television and what it might be like to live without electricity. We ate dinner last night with an Amish family in Paradise family style and likewise at the Bed & Breakfast and in the restaurants. Our Amish host explained how he could live in a brand new house the envy of his neighbors and the English by using a combination of solar, battery and wood furnace to provide radiant heat and light. The psychotherapist from Manhattan told us all of his patients came to see him not because of drugs, alcohol or depression but because they were alienated and not connected to the grid but he was talking about the societal grid. Last year, there were certainly a lot of celebrities not connected. And our meals were delicious and the conversations most enjoyable. Our B & B host told us how he is the richest poor man in Lancaster in a million dollar B & B on six acres with some sustainable energy alternatives which left me wondering if this was the road to Paradise which is not straight and easy.

Copyrighted 2008