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


Blogger Dr. Claude Mariottini said...


Since you post often on Josephus, I have a question for you: How did Josephus get his story of Moses marrying a Cushite woman while he was still in Egypt? Any reference that you could provide?

Claude Mariottini

6:36 PM

Blogger Richard H. Anderson said...


check the writings of Louis Feldman. Josephus re-arranged/re-wrote his material for reasons unrelated to the existence of better sources. In this instance, he may have done for reasons relating to the prohibition against inter-marriage.

Richard H. Anderson

9:28 PM

Blogger Dr. Claude Mariottini said...


Thank you for this information. I will check Feldman.

Claude Mariottini

3:20 PM

Blogger Richard H. Anderson said...


goggle: Did Moses Marry a Cushite?
Early Traditions Suggest He Did by
J. Daniel Hays.

2:30 PM


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