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
Heil’s third example of an epiphany concerns the expulsion of Heliodorus from the
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
Josephus, who “speaks as a committed Jew,” rewrote sacred history in support of the cause of Jewish proselytism.