Friday, September 30, 2011

Did Josephus invent Jesus?

An old friend of mine recently notified me of a message he had received from an unbeliever explaining why specifically he rejected Christ. This individual introduced what is perhaps the most unique attempt I've ever read to prove parallels between Christ and something else. Most people try to compare Christ with Attis, Horus, Osiris, Mithra, and various other deities, but...well...have you ever heard anyone compare Christ with the works of the Jewish historian Josephus?

I am not making any of this up. Here is the first part of what my friend received:
The Roman-Jewish wars where ongoing, the destruction of Jerusalem is possibly the most famous event during these conflicts. Josephus wrote the official history of the war and follows the conquests of Titus on his march through 'the holy land'.

I am going to use Josephus' Jewish War and the ministry of Jesus as described in the New Testament to illustrate five events.
That's right - the supposed parallels are between the New Testament and Josephus's Wars of the Jews (from here on I will use the acronym WotJ). This account, written in the first century by a Jewish historian and officer who, originally a rebel, became close to the Roman emperors, tells of the Jewish wars up to that time. In particular detail is the rebellion against Rome in the 60's, up to the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

Let's review these "five events" bit by bit and try to provide a response.
JW - Titus begins his campaign in Galilee, his men fish the enemy out of the water, killing them
NT - Jesus begins his ministry at Galilee, he makes men the fishers of men.
This is completely false. Titus did not start his own campaign in Galilee, but rather marched with his legions out of Caesarea, on the coast of Samaria, heading straight for Jerusalem (WotJ, 5.1.6).

What the individual is confusing this with is the earlier campaign by Titus's father Vespasian, under whom Titus served as a legion commander. Vespasian started his campaign at Ptolemais (on the west coast, near Phoenecia and Galilee). In fact, Galilee had already been overrun by another Roman commander, Placidus (WotJ, 3.6.1), and Vespasian was joining in support. Therefore it is completely erroneous to say that Titus started his military campaign in Galilee, and thus Titus was supposed to be like Christ.

In regards to Christ's saying they will be fishers of men...well, most of the apostles were fishermen, so the metaphor made sense. Were Titus's soldiers all fishermen? Also, Titus soldiers were fishing dead or dying men out of the water...all the men the apostles fished were living, and in fact were given eternal life. Where is the parallel there?

In this regard, pertaining to Titus fishing men out of the water, nothing like this is reported. Instead, this individual may be referring to what happened when Vespasian sent a detachment of troops to Joppa to destroy the Jewish pirate fleet that was forming there:
They also built themselves a great many piratical ships, and turned pirates upon the seas near to Syria, and Phoenicia, and Egypt, and made those seas unnavigable to all men. Now as soon as Vespasian knew of their conspiracy, he sent both footmen and horsemen to Joppa...yet did they not endeavor to keep the Romans out, but fled to their ships, and lay at sea all night, out of the reach of their darts.

...Now as those people of Joppa were floating about in this sea, in the morning there fell a violent wind upon them; it is called by those that sail there "the black north wind," and there dashed their ships one against another, and dashed some of them against the rocks, and carried many of them by force, while they strove against the opposite waves, into the main sea; for the shore was so rocky, and had so many of the enemy upon it, that they were afraid to come to land...but some of them thought that to die by their own swords was lighter than by the sea, and so they killed themselves before they were drowned; although the greatest part of them were carried by the waves, and dashed to pieces against the abrupt parts of the rocks, insomuch that the sea was bloody a long way, and the maritime parts were full of dead bodies; for the Romans came upon those that were carried to the shore, and destroyed them... [WotJ, 3.9.2-3]
In other words, a group of Vespasian's men (not Titus's) goes to Joppa, the Jews sail out at sea, are caught in a storm, and most of them drown, with those who make it to shore being killed by Roman soldiers. Please tell is any of this related to the context of the apostles being "fishers of men"? Was Pentecost carried out by the Jews going out into boats, only to be caught in storms with the apostles killing anyone who made it ashore?
JW - Titus then arrives in Gadara with his legion. The enemy are described as wild beasts that fled into the water.
NT - Jesus then arrives in Gadara and meets a men called legion. He casts demons into swine and they fled into the water.
Firstly, Vespasian took Gadara, not Titus (WotJ, 4.7.3).

Secondly, Vespasian had more than one legion, and the man in the New Testament wasn't himself named Legion - that was the name the demons inside him collectively took. Mark's account, which has the demoniac speak for himself, has him say, "My name is Legion, for we are many" (Mark 5:9; emphasis mine). The word "legion" itself was often used simply to refer to a large number of something. Think of how people today use the phrase "You could feed a whole army with that."

Thirdly, in regards to the "wild beasts" and the sea, there was an incident where Roman soldiers under Placidus were sent after those Jews who had fled Gadara and were then caught inside the walls of a small village. The description of "wild beasts" is not about fleeing into the water, but is actually about the Jews courageously running into the Romans like wild beasts out of desperation. A quotation:
So the horsemen cut off the flight of the fugitives, while the foot terribly destroyed those that fought against them; for those Jews did no more than show their courage, and then were destroyed; for as they fell upon the Romans when they were joined close together and, as it were, walled about with their entire armor, they were not able to find any place where the darts could enter, nor were they any way able to break their ranks, while they were themselves run through by the Roman darts, and, like the wildest of wild beasts, rushed upon the points of the others' swords; so that some of them were destroyed, as cut with their enemies' swords upon their faces, and others were dispersed by the horsemen. [WotJ, 4.7.4; emphasis mine]
Much later on, when the Jews retreat from the village, they are caught not at the Sea of Galilee but the Jordan River, and, having nowhere else to escape, are cut down and massacred (WotJ, 4.7.5). There is absolutely, positively no parallel between this account of the campaign and Christ's expulsion of Legion. Unless, of course, one rips certain words and phrases out of the account and completely robs them of their original context.
JW - In Jerusalem a woman called Mary eats her own son during passover.
NT - In Jerusalem, Jesus offers his flesh to be eaten during passover.
This is perhaps the weakest connection between the two, and proves that some enemies of Christ truly grasp for straws when trying to come up with supposed parallels. For one, the story of "a woman called Mary" is from Josephus's account of a woman forced to eat her own child in the midst of the famine that struck Jerusalem during its fierce siege. This is a sad tale, and it's unfortunately a true one (WotJ, 6.3.4).

However, for the purpose of our discussion, we have to realize that we're talking about two completely different contexts here. Christ was having the Passover meal, in which everything was representative of something from the Passover story, including the body and blood of the lamb. Under this context, Christ holds up the bread and wine and says "This is My body" and "This is My blood," referring to the coming crucifixion, where He would be slain for the passing over of sins as the original Passover lamb was slain for the passing over of death. Now we're trying to compare that to a woman who runs out of food during a siege and so eats her baby. Do we see now how illogical this comparison is?

Also, let's review the train of thought thus far: earlier, we had established that Titus was the figure of a woman called Mary is? With the allegorical methodology of Harold Camping, we are supposed to believe that symbols and representations change meaning almost mid-thought. This is both irrational and inconsistent.
JW - Three men crucified, one survives.
NT - Three men crucified, Jesus rises from the dead (survives).
Jesus didn't survive the crucifixion, if one wants to get technical. Saying that He rose from the dead forgets that this means He...well...died. Which also means, of course, He didn't survive the crucifixion. A person shot by a bullet who doesn't die can be said to have survived being shot, a person who dies from a bullet can't be said to have survived. If that person is somehow miraculously raised, you can't say he survived the wound, as the bullet did what it was sent out to do.

I'm actually not aware of what this person is referring to specifically in WotJ - though a lot of people get crucified in Josephus's account. Crucifixion was, of course, a common execution back then. The closest thing I could find in Josephus's account was related to Vespasian and a supposed deserter during the siege of Jotapata:
But Vespasian had a suspicion about this deserter, as knowing how faithful the Jews were to one another, and how much they despised any punishments that could be inflicted on them; this last because one of the people of Jotapata had undergone all sorts of torments, and though they made him pass through a fiery trial of his enemies in his examination, yet would he inform them nothing of the affairs within the city, and as he was crucified, smiled at them. However, the probability there was in the relation itself did partly confirm the truth of what the deserter told them, and they thought he might probably speak truth. However, Vespasian thought they should be no great sufferers if the report was a sham; so he commanded them to keep the man in custody, and prepared the army for taking the city. [WotJ, 3.7.33]
A deserter from the city is distrusted by Vespasian and so tortured, partially by crucifixion. The phrase at the end ("keep the man in custody") therefore suggests that the Romans probably took him down from the cross and so he didn't die from the crucifixion. However, this is far different from the story of Christ, since there was only one man, and he didn't die from the crucifixion like Christ did. Again, there's no comparison between these two accounts.
JW - Simon is killed in Rome and John is spared.
NT - Simon is killed in Rome and John is spared, just as Jesus predicted.
The Simon and John referred to from Josephus are the Jewish leaders who were part of the rebellion. Simon Bar Giora had tried to escape from Jerusalem by disguise but was caught and sent to Rome as a trophy of war (WotJ, 7.2.1), while John of Gischala was likewise captured and sent to Rome. Simon, being the nominal leader of the Jewish rebellion, or at least the largest part of it, was hung at the Temple of Jupiter Capitolinus (WotJ, 7.5.6). John is not mentioned again, and so it is assumed (from Josephus's account) that he was spared.

Of course, here we have another weak connection, and one that is only based on names - Simon bar Giora and John of Gischala compared with the apostles Simon bar Jonah (Peter) and John son of Zebedee. However, the individual forgets other details to the story. For one, Simon bar Giora and John of Gischala were opposed to each other, and their men fought one another inside Jerusalem before the arrival of the Romans - were Peter and John opposed to one another? For another, there was a third party - Eleazar ben Simon - who led the Zealots inside Jerusalem (WotJ, 5.1.4) and who was killed by John of Gischala shortly before the arrival of Titus (WotJ, 5.3.1). Which disciple was Eleazar supposed to represent? Who did John kill in the Gospels? Perhaps John killed Judas with Matthew and Luke claiming it was suicide to cover it up - now there's a conspiracy! Also, let's remember Titus is supposed to be an image of Christ - did Christ take Peter to Rome and hang him?

But in all seriousness, we see here that whoever this individual is getting his facts from has not read the New Testament, for it never says Peter was killed, nor John was spared. In fact, Acts ends with Paul still alive in Rome, with neither Peter nor John present with him. The most we get in regards to the fate of Peter and John is the following section from scripture:
"Truly, truly, I say to you, when you were young, you used to dress yourself and walk wherever you wanted, but when you are old, you will stretch out your hands, and another will dress you and carry you where you do not want to go." (This he said to show by what kind of death he was to glorify God.)...When Peter saw [John], he said to Jesus, "Lord, what about this man?" Jesus said to him, "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you? You follow me!" So the saying spread abroad among the brothers that this disciple was not to die; yet Jesus did not say to him that he was not to die, but, "If it is my will that he remain until I come, what is that to you?" [John 21:18-19, 21-23]
All we are told here is that Christ gave a foreshadow of how Peter would die (not exactly how, nor where) and that it was no one's concern how long John should live. The only clarification John makes is to dispel a rumor obviously spread among some early Christians that Christ predicted John would live forever. Otherwise, nothing else is said. Nothing about Rome, being crucified upside down or being exiled to Patmos, let alone "spared". All of that comes from traditions regarding the last years of the apostles, not the New Testament.

The individual continues:
Similar events, same names, same locations and all appear in exactly the same sequence. They are both the ONLY known works on Judea during this time period. So what is going on here?
Actually, as we saw, most of this is completely false. What is going on here is fraud and deception to blaspheme He who is the Truth. This individual is uncritically accepting another man's argument and not cross-referencing original source materials.
The ministry of Jesus is a satire. It was devised by the Flavians to mock the Jews whilst amusing themselves and creating a cult that combines many known religious ideas. This religion would eventually unify the Empire under one God (political) and pacify it's followers with it's teachings.

Josephus' Jewish War would have been a well-read and well-known work throughout the Roman hierarchy. The exploits of Titus where renowned and he was revered, as was his father Vespasian. The gospel of Jesus would have amused those in the know and the Flavian cult was born.
With all due respect (and I am trying to present some level of respect), this is where the individual's argument flies into the realm of sheer fantasy. We've already shown that the five supposed parallels between Josephus's work and the New Testament were poor comparisons at best, and now we're expected to believe, from this shallow evidence, that a "Flavian cult" created a satire known as the New Testament to mock the Jews and also create a religion that would later unify the empire under a political god and pacify its followers with its teachings. Yet can anyone who has honestly read the Gospel account of Christ come to the conclusion it's just a satire of Titus's campaign against the Jews? Did anyone before reading this post ever read Christ's words at the Passover supper and think, "Oh yeah, that reminds me of the time a woman ate her baby!" Are we really supposed to think anyone in Josephus's time would have made that connection?
In the autumn of 81, Titus died after only 2 years on the throne. His younger brother, Domitian was made Roman Emperor and reigned for the next 15 years. He completes the "Trinity" and the Gospel of John, the Pauline Epistles and the book of Revelations are written under his rule. Coincidently, in these three works the Holy Spirit is more visible.
I have absolutely no idea what this person means when they say Domitian "completes the 'Trinity'", as if there was a collection of books called Trinity. If he's claiming that Domitian invented the Trinity, then I have to confess that's a fairly unique claim as well. Usually people attribute either the First Council of Nicaea or Tertullian as being the inventors of the Trinity. If he means Vespasian, Titus and Domitian are a kind of "trinity", then this individual has no concept of what the Trinity is to begin with.

Furthermore, if the Pauline epistles were written during Domitian's time, does that mean that the Petrine epistles were written before? If that's the case, then we have a bigger miracle on our hands, because that means Peter referred to Paul's epistles long before they were written! (2 Pet 3:15). It is also interesting that we are told "the Holy Spirit is more visible" in these mentioned works - then why does the Holy Spirit appear as a dove in the Synoptics (Matt 3:16; Mark 1:10; Luke 3:21-22) and descend upon the apostles in Luke's account of Acts (Acts 2:1-3)? By the way, just a little pet peeve of's Revelation, not Revelations.

Now some of my readers might be wondering at this point: Wait a minute - didn't Domitian persecute the Christians? In fact, didn't the Romans persecute Christians for the next 300 years? The individual has an answer to that contention:
Explaining the persecutions. What is a Christian? Or what was a Christian?

The term "Christian" simply means a follower of a Christ (a leader claiming to have been foreseen by the Jews' messianic prophecies). The word Kristos is Greek for the Hebrew word Messiah. So while the Romans did indeed persecute "Christians" in the way that history recorded, these were not "Roman Christians" but Jewish zealots.
Is that so? Is that why Justin Martyr, a mid-second century Church Father and full blooded Greek, was martyred for his faith? Is that why most of the martyrs for the next 300 years were Gentiles? During the time of Domitian's rule specifically, even those Christians in his own family were not spared. To give a quote:
But Domitian (81–96), a suspicious and blasphemous tyrant, accustomed to call himself and to be called "Lord and God," treated the embracing of Christianity a crime against the state, and condemned to death many Christians, even his own cousin, the consul Flavius Clemens, on the charge of atheism... [Philip Schaff, History of the Christian Church Vol. II; § 16; emphasis mine]
Was Flavius Clemens a Jewish zealot? One must only imagine not - in fact, it's clear from this he was a "Roman Christian," and yet he too was martyred. This entire idea of "Roman Christians" wiping out "Jewish zealots" is easily proven false from history.
In order to conceal how Roman Christianity began, the Romans stole parts of the history of the Jewish messianic movement to use as the history for their fictitious religion. In other words, since they knew they could not simply evaporate the knowledge of a movement large enough to have fought successfully against the empire, they decided to claim some of that movement's history as belonging to Roman Christianity.
As brave as they often proved themselves to be, the Jews were never a major threat to the Roman Empire, and after the destruction of Jerusalem the Jews as a united people continued to weaken until the mid-second century (this is something Josephus speaks of himself in his works). Also, when we say "Jewish messianic movement," do we imply that there were Messiahs to follow? There were certainly false Messiahs, but the only Messiah to ever be deemed a threat to the Roman Empire in toto was Jesus Christ.
The Jews where expecting a Christ, their coming Messiah, and are still waiting. Jesus was invented by Roman Christianity. Therefore Jesus never existed. I am yet to see any evidence of anyone called Jesus that Roman Christianity could of been based on. It is simply assumed. It's nonsense, in my opinion.
Note the part I highlighted here - "it is simply assumed." Actually, all this individual has written is mere assumption. The parallels were mere assumption, the conspiracy by the Flavian family to invent Jesus and the idea of "Roman Christians" persecuting not Christians but "Jewish zealots" were likewise mere assumption. All of this has been based on thin evidence which is entirely conspiratorial, and belongs more with the ranks of 9/11 truthers and fake moon landing cults than serious history.

The sad thing, however, is that we're not dealing with simply September 11 conspiracies or whether or not man landed on the moon...we're dealing with life or death. We're dealing with man trying to justify his natural inclination to deny God. Man, by nature, will not only seek to practice what, deep down, he knows is wrong, but will give approval to those who likewise believe or practice it (Rom 1:32). This individual, seeking to have his itching ears tickled, has latched onto philosophical-historical nonsense and is attempting to put it forward as true, despite the fact that nothing about it can be demonstrated from original sources. As I've said in the past, it's one thing to just be ignorant, but it's another to be willfully ignorant.

I strongly encourage anyone who may have been caught up in this belief to read this review carefully, and to examine the comparisons made. Realize one thing: Christ was real. He was not made up. He existed. He taught, He preached, He was crucified and on the third day rose again, dispatching His apostles to preach repentance and forgiveness of sins to all nations (Luke 24:47). The times of ignorance God overlooked in the past, but now, under the new covenant, God is calling all men to repentance for the day when Christ will judge all men of their sins (Acts 17:30-31). If you take your life seriously, this will be something you should seriously ponder. Eternity is a long time. God bless.