Rewriting Sacred History Part II
In the three and half years since I posted Rewriting Sacred History, I have made a number of observations that strengthen my conclusions. It is well known that Moses and Abraham are mentioned more often in Luke-Acts than in Matthew, Mark or John. Therefore we will begin Part II with Moses and Abraham.
The New Testament presents Jesus as a prophet like Moses. If Josephus were seeking to undermine the appeal of the New Testament, it would make sense that he would rewrite the story of Moses. Josephus gives an account of the years Moses spent in
Feldman asserts that Josephus rewrote the biblical narrative of Moses to defend the Jews against the charges of their critics, particularly cowardice, provincialism, and intolerance, and by his positive desire to portray Moses as comparable to the great leaders of
There is no question that Paul reworked the biblical traditions about Abraham to create a new identity for the people of God. According to Paul, Abraham has established a new kind of family, one made up of Jews and Gentiles. Therefore, Abraham is an ancestor who encompasses many nations and thus enables Jews and Gentiles to become kin.
According to Luke, Abraham is the primary recipient of God’s promise to the fathers. This theme of God’s promise is constant throughout Luke’s masterpiece. Nils Dahl commenting on Stephen’s Sermon wrote: “God’s word to Abraham is seen as the beginning of a history in which partial realizations are interconnected with new promises, until the coming of the Righteous One, of whom all the prophets spoke.” Stephen’s Sermon also indicated there was continuous resistance to the prophetic Holy Spirit.
Josephus recognized that the followers of Jesus had made Abraham an important person in their presentation of the gospel. Josephus also rewrote the biblical accounts of Abraham. Feldman indicated that Josephus was interested in demonstrating that Judaism had produced persons of accomplishments. Josephus wrote: “He was a person of great sagacity, both for understanding all things and persuading his hearers, and not mistaken in his opinions; for which reason he began to have higher notions of virtue than others had, and he determined to renew and to change the opinion all men happened then to have concerning God; for he was the first that ventured to publish this notion, That there was but one God, the Creator of the universe; ...."
Josephus also had another concern: how to address the success of the followers of Jesus in the Diaspora? As noted earlier, 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. Since Josephus has targeted as his audience the Diaspora that was the same audience targeted by Paul with considerable success, we should consider how Josephus has presented the story of Abraham to his audience and its significance.
The monotheistic view of Abraham was important to both Paul and Josephus. Both Paul and Josephus relied upon the tradition of Abraham as the one who rejected idolatry and astral worship in favor of the creator God. This tradition found, inter alia, in Jubilees and Philo exalted the faith of Abraham in the one God as a revolutionary departure from Mesopotamian beliefs.
Josephus placed emphasis on the oneness of God which is seen in the “one holy city,” “one temple,” and “one altar.” For Josephus, the one God and one temple are the central themes of the Jewish law. Near the end of Book IV of Antiquities, Moses gives his last address to the people. His directives include, inter alia, the requirements that: the one city is to be chosen with one temple and one altar "And let there be neither an altar nor a temple in any other city; for God is but one, and the nation of the Hebrews is but one"; the people shall not blaspheme the gods of foreign cities or steal from their temples; they shall recite the shema twice daily and remember with thanksgiving the deliverance from Egypt; place a mezuzot on the doorpost and the men shall wear phlacteries.
Josephus expands the biblical accounts of Abraham recorded in Genesis 12-36 in two significant ways while proclaiming Abraham as “the one from whom the Hebrews sprang and to whom they owe their distinctiveness.” According to Josephus, Abraham ascertained the truth of monotheism from his observations of the movement of celestial bodies (
Feldman notes that Josephus presents Abraham as open-minded distancing the Patriarch from the pagan views of Jewish monotheism as intolerant. In Genesis, Abraham is expelled from
There are numerous instances both in ancient Jewish and non-Jewish texts illustrating Jewish self-affirmation and their identification by others in clearly monotheistic rhetoric. Of the non-Jewish writers, Tacitus is a representative example: “the Jews acknowledge one God only, and conceive of Him by the mind alone,” reflecting Jewish monotheism and rejection of cult images. Among non-rabbinic texts of Jewish provenance, affirmations of God's uniqueness can be found in Sibylline Oracles, Aristeas, Wisdom of Solomon, and references in Philo and Josephus (e.g., Ant. 2.12:4; Apion 2:33ff.).
The followers of Jesus also proclaimed their adherence to monotheism. Paul, in I Cor 8., recognized the difficulty of defining and explaining monotheism in these words: “For although there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth--as indeed there are many "gods" and many "lords"-- yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist. However, not all possess this knowledge.” The Lucan Paul taught the monotheism of the followers of Jesus in his speech at Areopagus and acknowledged that not everyone possessed this knowledge.
Schlatter and Shutt both conducted an in-depth study and analysis of the writings of Josephus. Schlatter concluded that the language and conception of God employed by Josephus demonstrated that he had an indebtedness and fidelity to the Jewish emphases on the uniqueness and sovereignty of the God of Israel. Shutt concluded that the “fundamental theological principles of Judaism” remained dominant in Josephus' writings, including the belief in the sovereignty of the God of Israel over all.
Although Josephus clearly intended to demonstrate the antiquity of the Jews and that that Judaism had produced persons of accomplishment, we should not ignore the fact that Josephus was responding, inter alia, to the writings of Luke and Paul. Both Luke and Paul demonstrated that the followers of Jesus were good Jews and descendants of Abraham. The importance of legitimating a new sacred order to its members was recognized by Peter Berger in Social Reality of Religion and the principle of legitimacy as applied to Luke-Acts was discussed by Esler in Community and Gospel in Luke-Acts. Luke and Paul also suggested that their Gentile followers are also descendants of Abraham.
Abram becomes Abraham but no explanation is provided. The failure of Josephus to discuss an important aspect of conversion in antiquity, changing one’s name, is significant. Many new followers of Jesus adopted new names, as did Saul, using Abraham as their example.
There is one change for no apparent reason. Josephus mentions Lot in
Josephus in rewriting sacred scripture intended to destroy not only the lineage but also the linkage of the followers of Judaism by deleting and rewriting the passages relied upon by them. This theory is not so wild when one considers that both sides accused the other side of rewriting scripture to meet their needs. See generally Ehrman, The Orthodox Corruption of Scripture. Lewis has recently examined in Legitimating new Religions the methods by which new religions legitimate themselves by charismatic appeals, rational appeals, and appeals to tradition and how repression of them is legitimated.
Mason argues that Against Apion aims primarily to “encourage potential converts to Judaism.” 1996, 222. It is likely that Antiquities of the Jews also has encouragement of conversion to Judaism as one of its goals.
All of earlier examples of rewriting involved biblical characters. In this next section, we will demonstrate how Josephus sought to undermine the Holy Spirit.
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
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,
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.
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 rewrote Joshua 2 making Rahab, the harlot in the biblical account, an innkeeper and Joshua 3-5 to eliminate these three verses:
When Joshua was by
Heil’s third example of an epiphany concerns the expulsion of Heliodorus from the
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
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
The followers of Jesus found meaning in the events of the life of Jesus by looking to scripture. For instance, “Moses replied, ‘Why do you quarrel with me? Why do you put the LORD to the test?’” This provided context and meaning for understanding the temptations of Jesus in the wilderness.
“‘Sir,’ the woman said, ‘I can see you are a prophet.’”
I have wondered if there was a disconnect. Malachi was regarded as the last really canonical prophet. While doubtless there was not a total lack of prophetically endowed seers and speakers of God, nevertheless the general conviction prevailed that there was a cessation of prophecy.
For instance, we read several passages in 1 Maccabees:
And they laid up the stones in the mountain of the temple in a convenient place, till there should come a prophet, and give answer concerning them. (1 Maccabees 4:46)
And there was a great tribulation in
And that the Jews, and their priests, had consented that he should be their prince, and high priest for ever, till there should arise a faithful prophet. (1 Maccabees 14:41).
So the thought occurred to me that Josephus affirms the prevailing belief in the cessation of prophecy in War because he is attempting to discredit all who claimed to be prophets including by implication the one whose followers said was “a prophet like Moses” and/or “a prophet greater than Moses”. Josephus has lumped together all those so-called prophets with the bandits and troublemakers. His essential thesis (War 1.9-12) is that only a few trouble makers among the Jews--power-hungry tyrants and marauders who drove the people to rebel against their will, caused the revolt. Josephus revised his view somewhat in Antiquities. In making these statements, I recognize the existence of a heated debate among Feldman, Gray and Mason as to the meaning of being a prophet in the works of Josephus and whether or not Josephus claimed to be a prophet based in part upon their lexical study. It is my understanding that this quote from Josephus figures prominently in the debate: “From Artexerxes to our own time the complete history has been written but has not been deemed worthy of equal credit with the earlier records because of the failure of the exact succession of the prophets.” (Flavius Josephus, Against Apion 1:8).
I am wondering if Josephus in any of his discussions of prophecy mentioned Deuteronomy 18:21-22 which includes the only biblical test of a prophet. If the prophet is in error, then the Scripture instructs us to conclude the prophecy is not from God. The penalty for prophesying falsely was death (18:20). Deuteronomy 13:2 warns us that false prophets sometimes prophesied accurately. Even if what a “prophet” says comes true, the prophet is not necessarily genuine. Jeremiah 5:30-31 provides an accurate commentary on the charismatic movement's prophetic practices, “An appalling and horrible thing has happened in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, and the priest rule on their own authority; and my people love it so!”
I will be checking Josephus to see if he (or for that matter Feldman, Gray or Mason) discussed Deut. 13:2 or Jer. 5:30-31.
Throughout the sacred writings we have 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?
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
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 κυρίουdoes 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.
Sacred Scripture recorded by Moses tells us that God established a covenant relationship with his people. The competition with the
Then Jeremiah stated: “Behold, the days are coming, says the LORD, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel and the house of Judah, not like the covenant which I made with their fathers when I took them by the hand to bring them out of the land of Egypt, my covenant which they broke, though I was their husband, says the LORD. But this is the covenant which I will make with the house of
The followers of Jesus believed He was the Messiah who established the new covenant promised by Jeremiah with His people, all of which is recorded in the writings of Luke and Paul. The Qumran community also understood itself as the fulfillment of the Jeremian promise to
The unknown author of The Epistle of Barnabas made a radical conclusion based upon his interpretation of the golden calf incident. When Moses “cast the two tables from his hands” because the Israelites had turned to idols, they lost the covenant.
Josephus, responding to Luke-Acts and Barnabas, rewrote sacred scriptures so that there is no covenant relationship. If there is no existing covenant relationship there can be no new covenant and his people could not have lost that which did not exist. Josephus solved a problem.
Colautti in Passover in the Works of Josephus reviewed all the passages in the writings of Josephus that mentioned Passover and concluded that in Josephus' estimate the Passover was the most important Jewish feast. This is confirmed near the end of Book IV, where Moses gives his last address to the people. His directives included, inter alia, the requirement that they shall recite the shema twice daily and remember with thanksgiving the deliverance from
Exodus 12:43-49 states: “And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, "This is the ordinance of the passover: no foreigner shall eat of it; but every slave that is bought for money may eat of it after you have circumcised him. No sojourner or hired servant may eat of it. In one house shall it be eaten; you shall not carry forth any of the flesh outside the house; and you shall not break a bone of it. All the congregation of
If this is true, this ambivalence may be an indication that Josephus did not consider exclusivity and strict adherence to the boundary markers as necessary but this ambivalence did not make any him any less effective as an advocate for Judaism. It may be that Josephus has in his own way defined the people of God to include those who are possible converts to Judaism. Therefore, we can conclude that Josephus, who “speaks as a committed Jew,” rewrote sacred history in support of the cause of Jewish proselytism.
Both groups have created a new definition of the people of God. Luke and Paul have said the followers of Jesus and even those believers who are not ethnic Jews are part of the people of God. For Josephus, you are part of the people of God if you are interested in Judaism; Josephus also includes Jews who marry non-Jews, Jews who do not believe in the covenant status of Judaism and Jews who allow outsiders to participate in the family Passover meal. Both groups were competing for the same prospects for members.
Josephus removed all evidence of exclusivism from Solomon’s prayer at the dedication of the
It is not surprising that Josephus has redefined the people of
The followers of Jesus in the days following Pentecost were a community established by the Holy Spirit. On that day, the Jewish harvest festival of Shavuot, more than 3000 people in
Josephus had to recognize that the words of Isaiah that had been proclaimed in 32:14-17 had been fulfilled at a festival celebrating the relation between Yahweh and His worshippers. Isaiah had declared that the Holy Spirit is now promised to be conferred upon not a few chosen ones but upon an entire community of believers in a new era. Within a few years, there were numerous communities throughout the Diaspora founded by individuals who had experience the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Since Josephus considered himself to be a prophet, these events must have had a profound but disturbing effect on him. What did Josephus do? In his rewriting of sacred scriptures he omitted numerous references to the Holy Spirit appearing in sacred scriptures and all references to the Prophet Isaiah.
That the law was given by the angels is a well attested tradition that we found in the New Testament and Josephus. Therefore it would seem strange to suggest Josephus has rewritten part of sacred scripture to change and/or eliminate references to angels. However, it is clear that he did so in his rewriting of the Book of Daniel. For some reason Josephus removed the two references to the archangel Gabriel. Consequently we need to investigate further to ascertain the reason why Gabriel appears in the Book of Daniel and the Gospel of Luke but not in the writings of Josephus. As noted in Rewriting Sacred Scriptures, Josephus has altered tests relating to personalities that only appear in Luke-Acts. This is yet another example.
Josephus on two separate occasions in Antiquities stated that his narrative of the Scripture will neither add nor omit anything,
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
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
In Rewriting Sacred History Part I and II, I noted numerous examples where Josephus rewrote sacred scriptures in an effort to undermine the foundations of Christianity. In Part III, I will write to suggest that the premises of Mason that Josephus is reliable and should be trusted and preferred when compared to the writings of Luke is not warranted. It is more likely that Josephus is dependent upon Luke.
 See Richard Fellows, Religious Renaming in the Ancient World, http://members.shaw.ca/rfellows/My_Homepage_Files/Page36.html
 Exodus 17:2.
 John 4:19.
 I recognize that Josephus in revising 1 Maccabees 12:1 felt the need to insert God’s providence in Antiquities 13:163 but I did not see any rewrite of the above quotes.
 Louis Feldman, “Prophets and Prophecy in Josephus,” JTS 41 (1990) 386-422.
 Rebecca Gray, Prophetic Figures in Late
 In Historians’ Fallacies, D.H. Fischer wrote that “history-writing is not story-telling but problem solving.”