DON CUPITT

 

Is it possible for people, and even for a whole society, to lose faith in God? ... [If] it happens, [it is] not primarily because something they used to think existed does not after all exist, but because the available language about God has been allowed to become too narrow, stale and spiritually obsolete ... the work of creative religious personalities is continually to enrich, to enlarge and sometimes to purge the available stock of religious symbols and idioms ... (The Sea of Faith, 1984)


DENNIS NINEHAM

 

... people of different periods and cultures differ very widely; in some cases so widely that accounts of the nature and relations of God, men and the world put forward in one culture may be unacceptable, as they stand, in a different culture ... a situation of this sort has arisen ... at about the end of the eighteenth century a cultural revolution of such proportions broke out that it separates our age sharply from all ages that went before (The Use and Abuse of the Bible, 1976)


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New Testament Parallels
to the Works of Josephus
(Continued)

Render Unto Caesar:
Mark 12.13-17 (Matthew 22.15-22, Luke 20.19-26)

Then they sent to him some Pharisees and some Herodians to trap him in what he said. And they came and said to him, "Teacher, we know that you are sincere, and show deference to no one; for you do not regard people with partiality, but teach the way of God in accordance with truth. Is it lawful to pay taxes to the emperor, or not? Should we pay them, or should we not?" But knowing their hypocrisy, he said to them, "Why are you putting me to the test? Bring me a denarius and let me see it." And they brought one. Then he said to them, "Whose head is this, and whose title?" They answered, "The emperor's." Jesus said to them, "Give to the emperor the things that are the emperor's, and to God the things that are God's." And they were utterly amazed at him. 

War 2.8.1 118 (Antiquities 18.1.1 3)
Under his administration a certain Galilean named Judas prevailed with his countrymen to revolt; and said they were cowards if they would endure to pay a tax to the Romans and submit to mortal men as their lords. This man was a teacher of a peculiar sect of his own that was not at all like the others � For there are three philosophical sects among the Jews ... 

Comment
It was seen above that an important part of the political background in Jesus' time was the Fourth Philosophy of Judas the Galilean. In the present passage is the clearest indication that Jesus was seen by some of his contemporaries as involved with that group. The originating tenet of the Fourth Philosophy was that one should not pay taxes to Rome, as this was interpreted as a turning away from God. When the people in the cited passage ask Jesus if it is "lawful to pay taxes to the Emperor, or not," they are referring to the Fourth Philosophy's reading of the Law of Moses. The questioners, even if they were hostile to them, can't be seen as setting a devious trap - they were trying to pin Jesus' philosophy down by asking him his opinion on the central question of the times.

In his answer, Jesus clearly states he is not a member of the Fourth Philosophy. Instead, he graphically advocates the separation of church and state. This answer clearly was not what his questioners expected. It is possible they did not believe him, and the authorities continued to regard him as a revolutionary until he was swept up during the arrests of rebels by Pilate.

James the Brother of Jesus:

Matthew 13.55 (Mark. 6.3)
Is not this the carpenter's son? Is not his mother called Mary? And are not his brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? 

Galatians 1.19
But I did not see any other apostle except James the Lord's brother.

Acts 15.5-21
Some believers who belonged to the sect of the Pharisees stood up and said, "It is necessary for them to be circumcised and ordered to keep the law of Moses." ... James replied, "My brothers, listen to me...I have reached the decision that we should not trouble those Gentiles who are turning to God, but we should write to them to abstain only from things polluted by idols and from fornication and from whatever has been strangled and from blood." 

Antiquities 20. 9.1 199-203
The younger Ananus, who had been appointed to the high priesthood, was rash in his temper and unusually daring. He followed the school of the Sadducees, who are indeed more heartless than any of the other Jews, as I have already explained, when they sit in judgment.

Possessed of such a character, Ananus thought that he had a favorable opportunity because Festus was dead and Albinas was still on the way. And so he convened the judges of the Sanhedrin, and brought before them the brother of Jesus, the one called Christ, whose name was James, and certain others, and accusing them of having transgressed the law delivered them up to be stoned. Those of the inhabits of the city who were considered the most fair-minded and who were strict in observance of the law were offended at this. They therefore secretly sent to King Agrippa urging him, for Ananus had not even been correct in his first step, to order him to desist from any further such actions. Certain of them even went to meet Albinus, who was on his way from Alexandria, and informed him that Ananus had no authority to convene the Sanhedrin without his consent. Convinced by these words, Albinus angrily wrote to Ananus threatening to take vengeance upon him. King Agrippa, because of Ananus' action, deposed him from the high priesthood which he had held for three months and replaced him with Jesus the son of Damnaeus. (Louis Feldman translation) 

Comment  
The death of James does not appear in the New Testament. The events described by Josephus occurred about 62, which is just about when the latest writing of the New Testament, the Book of Acts, comes to a close, with Paul waiting in Rome for two years after arriving there in 60.

James is depicted in Acts as the leader, with Peter, of the Jerusalem Christians after the death of Jesus, and shows James as adhering to the full Jewish law while ruling that non-Jewish Christians do not need to do the same.

Josephus' account is interesting in that it shows the Sadducees as enemies of James and the Christians, to the extent of resorting to summary execution to dispose of them. The accusation against James is that he transgressed the law of Moses. But he is defended by those "strict in the observance of the law," which is a way Josephus often refers to the Pharisees. The dispute here thus seems to be another of the Sadducee-Pharisee arguments, with James the victim in the middle; Acts depicts Paul as being in the same spot three years earlier (Acts 23.6-10).

Thus there was some question in the minds of both Jews as well as Christians as to whether James completely supported adherence to the law of Moses. It is interesting to see Pharisees defending James, as some Pharisees are also shown, in the Acts passage cited above, to belong to James' group of Christians. And in Acts 5.34, Rabbi Gamaliel of the Pharisees similarly defends Peter and John.
Some scholars have questioned the authenticity of this reference to Jesus, just as they have the Testimonium Flavianum passage. But the current consensus is that there is no indication this is a late interpolation; if it is, it is an unusually subtle and skillful one. In addition, the implied Sadducee-Pharisee factional battle and the vague accusation of transgression of the law support the idea that whoever was the subject of this passage played a role in the city similar to that of James; thus the context supports the name identification.

It appears that Josephus was not in Jerusalem at this time to witness the events. From his autobiography, he was most likely on his way to Rome. 

Theudas, and Judas the Galilean:  
Acts 5.33-39

When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill him. But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a short time. Then he said to them, "Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do to these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and disappeared. After him Judas the Galilean rose up at the time of the census and got people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them - in that case you may even be found fighting against God." 

Antiquities 20.5.1 97-99
During the time when Fadus was procurator of Judea a certain enchanter named Theudas persuaded a great number of the people to take their belongings with them and follow him to the Jordan River. He told them he was a prophet and that he would, by his own command, divide the river and afford them an easy passage through it. And many were deluded by his words. However, Fadus did not permit them to gain the result of this wildness, but sent a troop of horsemen out against them who, falling upon them unexpectedly, slew many of them, and took many of them captive. They also took Theudas alive, and cut off his head, and carried it to Jerusalem. This was what befell the Jews in the time of Cuspius Fadus's government. 

Antiquities 20.5.2 102
And besides this, the sons of Judas of Galilee were now slain. This was the Judas who caused the people to revolt against the Romans when Quirinius came to take an account of Judea, as we have showed in a foregoing book. The names of those sons were James and Simon, who were crucified by order of Alexander. 

Comment  
Theudas was one of the many charismatic figures described by Josephus who gained large followings for short periods of time before succumbing to the forces of the procurator. Some of these are explicitly linked to the revolutionaries, particularly as war approached during the time of Nero, and some just seem to be religious leaders, such as the Samaritan killed by Pontius Pilate. They all seemed to claim that Deuteronomy 18.15-22 refers to them.

Judas the Galilean again makes his appearance in these parallels, although this is the only time he is mentioned by name in the New Testament. Here, two of his sons are crucified; but others would go on to take part in the War. The procurator involved here, Alexander, governed from 46 to 48.

There is a famous discrepancy here between Josephus and the quotation from Acts. The speech made by Gamaliel occurs in the 30s, not long after Jesus' death. But Theudas arose under Fadus, who was procurator from 44 to 46. So Gamaliel's speech is anachronistic. Furthermore, Gamaliel here states that Judas the Galilean arose after Theudas, in the time of the census; but this was in 6.

The usual scholarly positions have been taken to alternately preserve or attach the accuracy of the New Testament. Perhaps there was another, earlier Theudas that Josephus forgot to mention; perhaps the text of Acts has been corrupted in transmission. One interesting theory is that Luke (the author of Acts) read Josephus erroneously.

Supporting this notion is the mention of Judas the Galilean's sons at section 102, just a few lines after the end of the description of Theudas at 99. A misreading or poor note taking could cause someone to think Theudas appeared before Judas. It is rather hard to see, though, how someone could so badly misread the Antiquities in this way, including ignoring the references to the procurators. A reasonable secular explanation is that Luke used some other, less reliable history that bore similarities to Josephus; perhaps this also served as one of Josephus' sources.

The import of the parallel is that Jesus was not seen by his contemporaries as a wholly unique figure. There were other charismatic leaders whom the people believed to be prophets and miracle-workers. Like the others, he fell victim to the procurator. What made Jesus different in the eyes of his contemporaries was that his followers did not cease their activities even after his death.

The Famine under Claudius:
Acts 11.27-28

At that time prophets came down from Jerusalem to Antioch. One of them named Agabus stood up and predicted by the Spirit that there would be a severe famine over all the world; and this took place during the reign of Claudius. The disciples determined that according to their ability, each would send relief to the believers living in Judea; this they did, sending it to the elders by Barnabas and Saul.

Antiquities 20.2.5 49-53
Her arrival was very advantageous to the people of Jerusalem; for a famine oppressed them at that time, and many people died for want of money to procure food. Queen Helena sent some of her servants to Alexandria with money to buy a great quantity of grain, and others of them to Cyprus to bring back a cargo of dried figs. They quickly returned with the provisions, which she immediately distributed to those in need. She has thus left a most excellent memorial by the beneficence which she bestowed upon our nation. And when her son Izates was informed of this famine, he sent great sums of money to the principal men in Jerusalem. 

Antiquities 20.5.2 101

The successor of Fadus was Tiberius Alexander ... it was in that (or their) administration that the great famine occurred in Judea, during which Queen Helen bought grain from Egypt for large sums and distributed it to the needy, as I have stated above. 

Comment
The date of the famine described by Josephus is uncertain, due to a difficult text. If under Alexander it occurred between 46 and 48, but it may have started in Fadus' time, as early as 44. The Emperor Claudius ruled from 41 to 54, matching the dating in Acts. This also helps to date the activities of the apostles prior to Acts 11. 

The Death of Herod Agrippa I:
Acts 12.20
Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon. So they came to him in a body; and after winning over Blastus, the king's chamberlain, they asked for a reconciliation, because their country depended on the king's country for food. On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat on the platform, and delivered a public address to them. The people kept shouting, "The voice of a god, and not of a mortal!" And immediately, because he had not given the glory to God, an angel of the Lord struck him down, and he was eaten by worms and died. 

Antiquities 19.8.2 343-361
Now when Agrippa had reigned three years over all Judea he came to the city
of Caesarea, which was formerly called Strato's Tower; and there he exhibited spectacles in honor of Caesar, for whose well-being he'd been informed that a certain festival was being celebrated. 

At this festival a great number were gathered together of the principal persons of dignity of his province. On the second day of the spectacles he put on a garment made wholly of silver, of a truly wonderful texture, and came into the theater early in the morning. There the silver of his garment, being illuminated by the fresh reflection of the sun's rays, shone out in a wonderful manner, and was so resplendent as to spread awe over those that looked intently upon him. 

Presently his flatterers cried out, one from one place, and another from another, (though not for his good) that he was a god; and they added, "Be thou merciful to us; for although we have hitherto reverenced thee only as a man, yet shall we henceforth own thee as superior to mortal nature." Upon this the king neither rebuked them nor rejected their impious flattery. 

But he shortly afterward looked up and saw an owl sitting on a certain rope over his head, and immediately understood that this bird was the messenger of ill tidings, just as it had once been the messenger of good tidings to him; and fell into the deepest sorrow. A severe pain arose in his belly, striking with a most violent intensity. 

He therefore looked upon his friends, and said, "I, whom you call a god, am commanded presently to depart this life; while Providence thus reproves the lying words you just now said to me; and I, who was by you called immortal, am immediately to be hurried away by death. But I am bound to accept what Providence allots, as it pleases God; for we have by no means lived ill, but in a splendid and happy manner." 

When he had said this, his pain became violent. Accordingly he was carried into the palace, and the rumor went abroad everywhere that he would certainly die soon. The multitude sat in sackcloth, men, women and children, after the law of their country, and besought God for the king's recovery. All places were also full of mourning and lamentation. 

Now the king rested in a high chamber, and as he saw them below lying prostrate on the ground he could not keep himself from weeping. And when he had been quite worn out by the pain in his belly for five days, he departed this life, being in the fifty-fourth year of his age and in the seventh year of his reign. He ruled four years under Caius Caesar, three of them were over Philip's tetrarchy only, and on the fourth that of Herod was added to it; and he reigned, besides those, three years under Claudius Caesar, during which time he had Judea added to his lands, as well as Samaria and Caesarea. The revenues that he received out of them were very great, no less than twelve millions of drachmae. But he borrowed great sums from others, for he was so very liberal that his expenses exceeded his incomes, and his generosity was boundless. 

Comment
Agrippa the First was the grandson of Herod I and Mariamne; his father was Aristobulus. Josephus informs us he reigned from 37 to 44, dates which are confirmed by many coins found in Israel. The reference in Acts thus helps to date early Christian activities, particularly the travels of Paul. Josephus does not describe settling a conflict with Tyre and Sidon as Acts does, but the two accounts do agree that Agrippa was being hailed as a god at the moment he was struck down by pain.

A few lines after this section, Josephus tells us that Agrippa left four children: three daughters, Berenice, aged 16, Mariamne, aged 10, and Drusilla, aged 6; and a son, Agrippa II, aged 17. Three out of these four are mentioned later in Acts. 

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