Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Thursday, February 28, 2008

The New People of God

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 Temple particularly the references to war and enemies. In his prayer Solomon had asked that God hear and answer the prayer of a non-Jewish foreigner who comes to Jerusalem and directs his petition toward this house (1 Kings 8:41-43). Josephus rewrote this petition at the prayer’s conclusion to read: “For so would all know that Thou Thyself didst desire that this house should be built for Thee in our land, and also that we are not inhumane by nature nor unfriendly to those who are not of our country, but wish that all equally should receive aid from Thee and enjoy Thy blessings” (Ant. 8.117). For Josephus, God is not the exclusive God of Israel.

It is not surprising that Josephus has redefined the people of Israel. Judaism and the followers of Jesus were competing for members among same prospects.

Copyrighted 2008

Monday, February 25, 2008

The Samaritan Woman

Last Sunday’s gospel reading from the Gospel of John was about the Samaritan woman who met Jesus at the well. The preacher said that the story about the Samaritan woman at the well is about worship in whatever place you may be. The same point is made in Stephen’s Last Sermon. I suspect that neither Matthew nor Mark have included anything remotely related. This issue arose during the Samaritan controversy but was a mute point in the later half of the 1st century.

This is a work in progress.

Copyrighted 2008

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Rewriting Abraham

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, 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 (Ant. 1.154-156). Secondly, Abraham introduced astronomy and mathematics to the Egyptians and hence to the Greek (Ant. 1.166-168). According to Feldman and Spilsbury, it was most unusual for someone in this time period to appeal to the irregularity of the movement of celestial bodies. Annette Yoshiko Reed has recently stated that “scholars may have been too quick to dismiss the significant of the topic of monotheism for our understanding of the account of Abraham’s discussions with the Egyptian wisemen (esp. 1.166), suggesting that the superiority of the Jews’ rational monotheism may serve as the subtext for Ant. 1.154-68 as a whole.”

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 Egypt while Josephus has the Pharaoh giving Abraham gifts because the Egyptians are impressed with Abraham who is described as being “great in understanding concerning everything and persuasive to his listeners.”

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 descendants of Abraham.

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. Josephus has rewritten the story of the flood to eliminate all references to the covenant with God as he did with the covenant of circumcision. In Judaism, the rite of circumcision is the sign of covenant between God and Abraham. 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.”

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. Josephus never used the term “covenant.” There is a complete absence of the concept of the land covenant and, as noted, of the covenant of circumcision. By removing the language of covenant, Josephus responded to the theme of God’s promise to the fathers which Luke so effectively utilized.

Josephus also 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. Lot is adopted by Abram and 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.[i]

There is 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?

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.

Copyrighted 2008

[i] See Richard Fellows, Religious Renaming in the Ancient World,

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Rewriting Passover

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 Egypt.

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 Israel shall keep it. And when a stranger shall sojourn with you and would keep the passover to the LORD, let all his males be circumcised, then he may come near and keep it; he shall be as a native of the land. But no uncircumcised person shall eat of it. There shall be one law for the native and for the stranger who sojourns among you.”

Josephus acknowledges these prohibitions in his discussion and rewriting of Passover. Consequently, it is difficult to understand why Josephus “brings to light that at this feast, good Roman governors have been generously welcomed without any difficulty, ....” Colautti at 240. Josephus apparently did not understand the celebration of Passover as a boundary marker for Judaism.

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.

Copyrighted 2008

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Rewriting Moses

I have been on trial this past week in Chester County!

The New Testament presents Jesus as a prophet like Moses. If Josephus were seeking to undermine the appeal of the New Testament, would it make sense that he would rewrite the story of Moses? Josephus gives an account of the years Moses spent in Egypt before the Exodus and his campaign as leader of the Egyptian army against the invading Ethiopian army. After his success against the invaders, Moses according to Josephus, then invades Ethiopia and lays siege to the royal city of Saba. In Josephus, Moses agrees to marry the princess of the royal city of Saba in return for the surrender of the city.

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 Greece. Thus in his rewriting, Moses becomes a commander of the army and acquires a second wife named Tharbis, the daughter of the king of the Ethiopians. Both of these additional traits would undermine the efforts of Christianity to portray Jesus as a prophet like Moses.

Copyrighted 2008

Sunday, February 03, 2008

Community of the Holy Spirit

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 Jerusalem, for one of required Pilgrimage Festivals, were participating recipients of the outpouring of the Holy Spirit in a Jerusalem event that was the talk of the town for many years. Josephus was born in 37 C.E. and served as a priest in the Temple in Jerusalem five times a year including Shavuot. Josephus must have heard the miraculous stories about the Jews of the Diaspora being in Jerusalem for the festival who had experienced an incredible event that could not be explained.

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.

This is a work in progress.

Copyrighted 2008