|New Testament Parallels
to the Works of Josephus
Then Jesus said to the crowds and to his disciples, "The scribes and the
Pharisees sit on Moses' seat; therefore, do whatever they teach you and
follow it; but do not do as they do, for they do not practice what they
teach. They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the
shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to
move them. They do all their deeds to be seen by others; for they make
their tefillin broad and their tallit long. They love to
have the place of honor at banquets and the best seats in the synagogues,
and to be greeted with respect in the marketplaces, and to have people
call them rabbi. But you are not to be called rabbi, for you have one
teacher, and you are all students."
Luke 14.1 - 14
On one occasion when Jesus was going to the house of a leader of the
Pharisees to eat a meal on the Sabbath, they were watching him closely
... He said to the one who had invited him, "When you give a luncheon or
a dinner, do not invite your friends or your brothers or your relatives
or rich neighbors; for they may invite you in return, and you would be
repaid. But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the
lame, and the blind. And you will be blessed, because they cannot repay
you. Then you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous."
One of the dinner guests, on hearing this, said
to him, "Blessed is anyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!"
Antiquities 18.1.2-3 11-13
(see also War 2.8.14 162-166 and Antiquities 13.171-173)
The Jews since antiquity have had three sects of philosophy peculiar to
themselves, that of the Essenes, of the Sadducees, and the third the
philosophy of those called the Pharisees; of which sects, although I
have already spoken in the second book of the Jewish War, yet
will I touch a little upon them now.
Now the Pharisees simplify their way of life
and give in to no sort of softness; and they follow the guidance of what
their doctrine has handed down and prescribes as good; and they
earnestly strive to observe the commandments it dictates to them. They
also show respect to the elders, nor are they so bold as to contradict
them in any thing they have introduced. Although they determine that all
things are done by fate, they do not take away the freedom from men of
acting as they think fit; since it has pleased God to make a combination
of his council-chamber and of the people who wish to approach with their
virtue and their vice. They also believe that souls have an immortal
power in them, and that under the earth there will be rewards or
punishments according to whether they showed virtue or vice in this
life; the latter are to be detained in an everlasting prison, but the
former are allowed an easy passage through and live again. Because of
these doctrines they hold great influence among the populace, and all
divine worship, prayers, and sacrifices are performed according to their
direction. In doing so the cities bear witness to all their virtuous
conduct, both in their way of life and in their words.
The Pharisees have a long and varied history. They became influential
during the reign of the Hasmoneans and gained considerable power under
Queen Alexandra. There are many references to Pharisees both in the New
Testament and in Josephus, as well as in the Talmud.
The passages quoted above demonstrate the
agreement in the two works that the Pharisees believe in the
resurrection of the virtuous. Moreover, we find in Luke that the key
term Jesus uses, the "kingdom of God," is used by the Pharisees to mean
the time after the resurrection, the world to come. Whether Jesus means
the same thing by this phrase or not is one of the open questions of
scholarship. See, for example, Luke 17.20: "Once Jesus was asked by the
Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, "The
kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will
they say, 'Look here it is!' or 'There it is!' For, in fact, the kingdom
of God is among you."
In agreement also is the dependence the people had on the Pharisees to
instruct them in doctrine. Jesus agrees with the majority in saying "do
what they teach you and follow it."
But Matthew's Jesus varies from Josephus in saying the Pharisees do not
conduct their "way of life" as they teach it, nor do they live with
complete simplicity. But note the different versions of this passage in
Mark 12:38, where it is only the "scribes," and not the Pharisees, who
are castigated for their love of long clothing, honors, and the best
seats in the synagogues and at banquets. (Compare this to Luke 20:46 and
Luke 20.27 (Mark 12.18, Matthew 22.23; Acts 5.17, 23.8)
Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to him and
asked him a question.
Antiquities 18.2.4 16-17 (War 2.8.14
But the doctrine of the Sadducees is that souls die with the bodies. Nor
do they perform any observance other than what the Law enjoins them.
They think it virtuous to dispute with the teachers of the wisdom they
pursue. This doctrine is accepted but by a few, but those are of the
highest standing. But they are able to accomplish almost nothing, for
when they hold office they are unwillingly and by force obliged to
submit to the teachings of the Pharisees, because the multitude would
not otherwise tolerate them.
The quoted passages agree that the Sadducees do not believe in a
resurrection. Otherwise, the gospels have little to say about them,
usually lumping them in with the Pharisees, which perhaps indicates how
little impact they had on daily life, as Josephus explains.
In Acts, however, Sadducees are somewhat more active. Paul takes
advantage of the disagreement on the resurrection after his arrest (Acts
23:6-10), by siding with the Pharisees and creating a debate among the
council, thus distracting everyone from the charge against him.
All things in common: The Essenes
Matthew 10.5-14 (Mark 6.11, Luke 9.5)
These twelve Jesus sent out with the following instructions: "Go
nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go
rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. As you go, proclaim the
good news, 'The kingdom of heaven has come near.' Cure the sick, raise
the dead, cleanse the lepers, cast out demons. You received without
payment; give without payment. Take no gold, or silver, or copper in
your belts, no bag for your journey, or two tunics, or sandals, or a
staff; for laborers deserve their food. Whatever town or village you
enter, find out who in it is worthy, and stay there until you leave. As
you enter the house, greet it. If the house is worthy, let your peace
come upon it; but if it is not worthy, let your peace return to you. If
anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake off the dust
from your feet as you leave that house or town."
All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would
sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as
any had need.
War 2.7.4 119-127 (see also Antiquites
The Essenes...are despisers of riches, and so very communal as to earn
our admiration. There is no one to be found among them who has more than
another; for they have a law that those who come to join them must let
whatever they have be common to the whole order, so that among them all
there is no appearance of either poverty or excessive wealth. Everyone's
possessions are intermingled with every other's possessions; as if they
were all brothers with a single patrimony ...
They have no one city, but in every city dwell many of them; and if any
of the sect arrive from elsewhere, all is made available to them as if
it were their own; and they go to those they have never seen before as
if long acquaintances. Thus they carry nothing at all with them in their
journeys, except weapons for defence against thieves. Accordingly, in
every city there is one appointed specifically to take care of strangers
and to provide them with garments and other necessities.
In their clothing and deportment they resemble
children in fear of their teachers. They change neither their garments
nor their shoes until they are torn to pieces or worn out by time. They
neither buy nor sell anything to one another, but each gives what he has
to whomever needs it, and receives in exchange what he needs himself;
and even if there is nothing given in return, they are allowed to take
anything they want from whomever they please.
The Essenes are not mentioned by name in the New Testament. The
similarities shown above between their organization and that of the
apostles - holding possessions in common, simplicity of clothing,
traveling from town to town carrying almost nothing and relying on
finding welcome in a sympathetic house - has led scholars to theorize
that Jesus had his origins in the Essenes.
Bolstering this idea is Jesus' relationship
with John the Baptist. The descriptions of John's preaching in the
desert and baptising in the Jordan River suggest to some scholars a
connection to the Essene community on the Dead Sea. The Essenes are also
thought to be the authors of many of the Dead Sea Scrolls, although not
all scholars are convinced of this; in any case, the scrolls have shown
many affinities to the messianic concerns of the New Testament.
When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to
Jerusalem. And he sent messengers ahead of him. On their way they
entered a village of the Samaritans to make ready for him; but they did
not receive him, because his face was set toward Jerusalem . When his
disciples James and John saw this, they said, "Lord, do you want us to
command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?" But he turned
and rebuked them. Then they went on to another village.
Ant. 20.6.1 118 (also War 2.12.3-4 232-235)
It was the custom of the Galileans, when they came to the Holy City at
the festivals, to take their journeys through the country of the
Samaritans. On their route lay a village called Ginea, which was
situated on the border between Samaria and the Great Plain, and at this
time certain persons fought with the Galileans, and killed a great many
of them. When the leaders of the Galileans were informed of what had
been done they came to Cumanus and desired him to avenge the murders;
but he was bribed by the Samaritans to do nothing. The Galileans,
indignant at this, urged the Jewish populace to resort to arms and to
regain their liberty, saying that while slavery was a bitter thing but
that, when it was joined with direct injuries it was completely
intolerable....they entreated the assistance of Eleazar son of Dineus, a
robber who had for many years made his home in the mountains, and with
his assistance they set afire and plundered many villages of the
The Samaritans had their own scriptures and their own temple. There was
an enmity between Samaritans and Jews that sometimes became violent. The
forced contact between the groups as Galileans journeyed to festivals
appears both in Josephus and the New Testament; in the Luke excerpt, the
festival is the Passover at which Jesus planned to make his entrance
into the city. The incident described by Josephus took place about 50.
Some other points: In both passages there is a
mention of Galileans setting fire to Samaritan villages (or wanting to)
as revenge. One of these, Eleazar is a "robber," l�ist�s, of the
sort that recur in Josephus, some of whom were anti-Roman guerillas that
followed the revolutionary philosophy of Judas the Galilean.
Incidentally, this Eleazar is also mentioned in the Mishna, the Rabbinic
work compiled about 100 years after Josephus wrote the Antiquities;
describing a time "when murderers became many," Mishnah Sotah 9.9 reads:
"When Eleazar son of Dinai came (and he was also called Tehinah son of
Parishah) they changed his name to 'son of the Murderer.'"
The particular incident recorded by Josephus
was extremely serious, resulting in mass crucifixions and beheadings and
eventually in an embassy to the Emperor Claudius. As a result Cumanus
was deposed as procurator in favor of Felix, and the latter finally
captured Eleazar son of Dineus and sent him in chains to Rome (Antiquities
Insurrection in the City under Pilate:
At that very time there were some present who told him about the
Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. He asked
them, "Do you think that because these Galileans suffered in this way
they were worse sinners than all other Galileans? No, I tell you; but
unless you repent, you will all perish as they did."
They they all shouted out together..."Release Barabbas for us!" This was
a man who had been put in prison for an insurrection (stasis)
that had taken place in the city, and for murder.
And there was one called Barabbas who had been imprisoned with the
rebels, who in the insurrection (stasis) had committed murder.
Mark 15.27; Matthew 27.38 ( Luke 23.32)
And they crucified two robbers with him, one on the right, and one on
Antiquities 18.3.2 60-62 (War 2.9.4 175-177)
Pilate undertook to bring water to Jerusalem using money from the sacred
treasury, and deriving the source of the stream from the distance of two
hundred furlongs. However, the Jews were not pleased with what had been
done about this, and many ten thousands of people got together and made
a clamor against him, insisting that he should leave off that design.
Some of them also cried insults and abuse at the man, as crowds of such
people usually do. So he clothed a great number of his soldiers in the
people's garments, under which they carried clubs, and sent them off
where they might surround them, he bid the crowd to withdraw. While they
boldly cast abuse upon him, he gave the soldiers a prearranged signal.
But the soldiers laid upon them much greater blows than Pilate had
commanded, and equally punished those that were tumultuous and those
that were not. Showing no softness, the people were caught unarmed by
men prepared for the action, a great number of them were slain, and
others of them ran away wounded. And thus an end was put to this
The gospels agree that Jesus was crucified along with two thieves; the
Greek word for "thieves" used by Mark and Matthew is li�stai
(singular l�ist�s), the same word Josephus uses throughout his
works (77 times) to indicate both simple robbers and anti-Roman
revolutionaries. There is an implication that these thieves were involved
in the recent insurrection in Jerusalem. Barabbas, who was to be crucified
at the same time as Jesus, is identified by Mark and Luke as a participant
in the insurrection. These suggest that Jesus may have been grouped by the
authorities with those involved in an anti-Roman riot.
The quoted passage by Josephus describes one such insurrection in
Jerusalem under Pilate. Josephus does not describe an event where the
blood of Galileans "is mixed with the sacrifices." Galilee, which wasn't
under direct Roman rule, was the origin of the anti-Roman Fourth
Philosophy developed by Judas the Galilean, whose descendants were
eventually leaders in the revolt against Rome. It's a good possibility,
then, that in any insurrection, Galileans were involved.