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)

Expulsion of the Jews from Rome:
Acts 18.1-2

After this Paul left Athens and went to Corinth. There he found a Jew named Aquila, a native of Pontus, who had recently come from Italy with his wife Priscilla, because Claudius had ordered all Jews to leave Rome.

Antiquities 18.3.5 81-84 (related)
Tiberius ... ordered the whole Jewish community to leave Rome. The consuls drafted four thousand of these Jews for military service and sent them to the island of Sardinia; but they penalized a good many of them, who refused to serve for fear of breaking the Jewish law. Thus the Jews were banished from the city for the wickedness of four men.
 

Comment
Josephus describes a (temporary) expulsion of Jews from Rome under Emperor Tiberius, but not a later one under Claudius (reigned 41 to 54). However, the Roman author Suetonius, writing several years after Josephus, briefly mentions that Claudius expelled the Jews from the city because of "continuous disturbances at the instigation of Chrestus."
This is puzzling, as Claudius was a firm friend of the Jews, Josephus emphasizes; in fact, he was a close friend since childhood of Agrippa I, who assisted him in gaining the throne. Josephus' view of Claudius is unrelievedly favorable. Does this mean that Josephus did not want to mention this anti-Jewish action because of a bias toward Claudius? Or does it mean the action was so small and irrelevant to the Jews as to be neither worth mentioning nor able to have any effect on Josephus' opinion of the emperor?

A modern analysis of all available evidence is given in Jerome Murphy-O'Connor's Paul: A Critical Life (1996). The most probable scenario we can construct, he determines, is that the action of Claudius was small, and that he expelled from the city only Jews who were not Roman citizens. Christian missionaries would have been in this group; they may have been causing conflict with the Jews of the city by their proselytizing. Murphy-O'Connor dates this action to 41, but doubts that Luke is accurate in associating it with Paul's arrival in Corinth. 

The Egyptian:
Acts 21.37-38

Just as Paul was about to be brought into the barracks, he said to the tribune, "May I say something to you?" The tribune replied, "Do you know Greek? Then you are not the Egyptian who recently stirred up a revolt and led four thousand of the sicarii out into the wilderness?" 

Antiquities 20.8.6 169-172 (War 2.13.5 261)
These deeds of the robbers filled the city with all sorts of impiety. And now conjurers and deceivers persuaded the multitude to follow them into the wilderness, and pretended that they would show them manifest wonders and signs that would be performed by the providence of God. And many that were persuaded suffered the pain of their folly, for Felix brought them back and punished them. 

At this time there came out of Egypt to Jerusalem a man who said he was a prophet, and advised the multitude of the common people to go along with him to the mountain called the Mount of Olives, which lay a distance of five furlongs from the city. He said that he would show them that at his command the walls of Jerusalem would fall down, through which he promised that he would procure them an entrance into the city. 

Now when Felix was informed of this he ordered his soldiers to take up their weapons, and with a great number of horsemen and footmen from Jerusalem he attacked the Egyptian and the people that were with him. He slew four hundred of them and took two hundred alive. But the Egyptian himself escaped from the fight and did not appear any more. And again the robbers stirred up the people to make war with the Romans. 

Comment
The time Josephus describes is the latter 50s, which is consistent with the quoted Acts incident; the latter is depicted as occurring in 57/58. As in the case of Theudas, Jesus' followers are confused with the deceivers who were seen as a threat to Rome. Josephus does not say that the Egyptian was interested in revolt, but he sandwiches the account between two descriptions of the rebels. On the other hand, Acts explicitly states the Egyptian's followers were sicarii, the knife-wielding terrorists that assassinated Roman sympathizers. It's easy to speculate that this equation by the Romans of "popular leader = mortal threat" had a strong influence on how Jesus and his followers were treated by those in power. 

Ananias the High Priest:
Acts 23.2

While Paul was looking intently at the council he said, "Brothers, up to this day I have lived my life with a clear conscience before God." Then the high priest Ananias ordered those standing near him to strike him on the mouth. 

Acts 24.1
Five days later the high priest Ananias came down with some elders and an attorney, a certain Tertullus, and they reported their case against Paul to the governor. 

Antiquities 20.5.2 103
Herod, king of Chalcis, now removed Josephus son of Camei from the high priesthood and appointed Ananias son of Nedebeus as successor.

Comment
Ananias was appointed in 49 and was succeeded in 59 by Ishmael son of Phabi. This dating accords with the account in Acts, which is set in the time of Felix (52-59).

Ananias was very wealthy and influential, and an ardent anti-revolutionary. He used all his skill to keep the revolution in check; but he was killed at the start of the war in 66 by Menahem, the son of Judas the Galilean (War 2.17.9 441).

The hostility of the high priest to the Christians matches that described by Josephus when he describes the death of James at the hand of the high priest Ananus (note the spelling; this is not Ananius). It's a good possibility that Ananus learned from the failure the priests had had with Paul, whom they also, according to Acts, had desired to kill. Paul had been saved by a centurion who brought him to the governor, Felix. In the case of James, Ananus waited until there was no governor - Festus died in office - and while the nation was temporarily without Roman authority he had the chance to seize and kill James without interruption. But he did not get away with it - the hasty action cost him the high priesthood when the new governor arrived. 

Felix the Procurator, and his wife Drusilla:
Acts 24.24
Some days later when Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, he sent for Paul and heard him speak concerning faith in Christ Jesus. And as he discussed justice, self-control, and the coming judgment, Felix became frightened and said, "Go away for the present; when I have an opportunity, I will send for you." At the same time he hoped that money would be given him by Paul, and for that reason he used to send for him very often and converse with him. 

Antiquities 20.7.1 137-144
Then Claudius sent Felix, the brother of Pallas, to manage the affairs of Judea. After completing the twelfth year of his reign, Claudius granted to Agrippa the tetrarchy of Philip, and Batanea, and added to them Trachonites with Abila, which had been the tetrarchy of Lysanius ...

After receiving this gift from the emperor, Agrippa gave his sister Drusilla in marriage to Azizus king of Emesa, who had consented to be circumcised. ...  And when Agrippa had received these countries from the emperor, he gave his sister Drusilla in marriage to Azizus, king of Emesa, upon his consent to be circumcised. For Epiphanes, the son of king Antiochus, had refused to marry her, and although he had promised her father to convert to the Jewish religion he would not now fulfill his promise ... The marriage of Drusilla to Azizus was not long afterward dissolved upon the following occasion: While Felix was procurator of Judea, he saw this Drusilla and fell in love with her; for she exceeded all other women in beauty. 

And so he sent to her one of his friends, Atomus, a Jew from Cyprus who pretended to be a magician, who endeavored to persuade her to leave her present husband and marry Felix. He promised, that if she would not refuse, he would make her a very happy [felix] woman. Accordingly she acted ill, and because she desired to avoid the jealousy of her sister Berenice - for she was very ill treated by her on account of her beauty - was prevailed upon to transgress the laws of her forefathers, and to marry Felix. She gave birth to a son by him whom she named Agrippa. How this young man and his wife perished in the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, in the days of Titus Caesar, shall be described later. 

Comment
Felix was procurator from 52 to 59/60. The first date is specified by the passage cited here, the twelfth year of Claudius. The second date is not given anywhere in Josephus (although he does tell us Felix's governorship ended under Nero, who became emperor in 54). The latter date is a speculation derived chiefly from the end of procuratorial coins after 58.

During the time of Claudius, Felix was well-behaved, but under Nero, like the other governors, he bloomed into full corruption. Paul was arrested in 57 CE, near the end of Felix's term in office, so the report that he wanted Paul to bribe him agrees with Josephus' account, as does the implied criticism of Felix for lacking "justice" and "self-control."

Drusilla, sister of Agrippa II, married Felix about 54, at the age of 16. We don't hear anything else about her in Josephus after this.

Festus the Procurator:
Acts 24:27-25:2

After two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus; and since he wanted to grant the Jews a favor, Felix left him [Paul] in prison. Three days after Festus had arrived in the province, he went up from Caesarea to Jerusalem where the chief priests and the leaders of the Jews gave him a report against Paul. 

Antiquities 20.8.9-10 182-186 
When Porcius Festus was sent by Nero as successor to Felix, the leaders of the Jewish community of Caesarea went up to Rome to accuse Felix ... When Festus arrived in Judea, it happened that Judea was afflicted by robbers, for all the villages were being set on fire and plundered by them. And then it was that the sicarii, as they were called, who were robbers, grew more numerous.

Comment
Festus was procurator from 59/60 to 62. The first date is deduced as described in the discussion on Felix. The date of the end of Festus' reign is more certain; he died in office and was replaced by Albinus, who Josephus tells us interrogated the soothsayer Jesus at the Succoth celebration four years before the war, i.e., in autumn 62 (War 6.5.3 305).

Thus Acts gives us one fairly firm date: Paul was brought before Festus in Jerusalem in 59/60, and not long afterward was sent to Rome to appeal to Nero. Since we are also told Paul was two years in prison prior to Festus' arrival we know he was arrested in 57/58; and we know from Acts 28.30 that he spent two whole years in Rome, putting the end of Acts, and the New Testament, at about 62.

While at the moment of Festus' arrival Acts depicts leaders of the Jews concerned with accusing Paul to Felix in Caesarea, Josephus notes they had more serious social concerns: justice for the misdeeds of Felix and some control over the anarchy arising from the "robbers," many of whom, such as the sicarii, were anti-Roman revolutionaries; there was also ethnic rioting in Caesarea.


Agrippa II and Berenice:
Acts 25.13

After several days had passed, King Agrippa and Berenice arrived at Caesarea to welcome Festus. Since they were staying there several days, Festus laid Paul's case before the king...

Acts 26.27-28
Paul said,..."King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know that you believe." Agrippa said to Paul, "Are you so quickly persuading me to become a Christian?" 

Antiquities 20.7.3 145
Berenice lived a widow for a long time after the death of Herod [king of Chalcis], who had been both her husband and her uncle. But when the report circulated that she had sexual relations with her brother [Agrippa II], she persuaded Poleme, the king of Cilicia, to be circumcised and to marry her, supposing that in this way she would prove those accusations about her to be false. Poleme was prevailed upon chiefly on account of her riches. Yet this marriage did not endure long; for Berenice left Poleme, so it is said, out of licentiousness. He abandoned his marriage and the Jewish religion at the same time.

Comment
Herod, King of Chalcis, was the brother of Agrippa I, who was the father of Berenice and Agrippa II. So this Herod was Berenice's uncle, and eventually became her husband. He died in 43, when Berenice was 15. After her brief second marriage, Berenice did not marry again. Her brother Agrippa II never married. Neither of them had any children we know of.

The brother and sister tried to keep both Florus and the rebellion in check, but ultimately did not succeed; they lost much in the war. But Agrippa continued to be recognized by the Romans as king of his lands, as his coins attest.

Agrippa II was a friend of Josephus, over time writing him sixty-two letters (Life 1.65 364). This forms a connection between Josephus and Paul at only one degree of separation: we are certain Josephus knew Agrippa well, and we also know that Paul discussed Christianity with Agrippa, if the Acts report is accepted. It's quite possible, then, that Josephus knew of Paul's activities. 

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